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Children of the Force

Chapter Text

Packed into the small turbolift with several other members of Fulcrum's network and a few Republic troopers, Kanan felt like he couldn't breathe. He could feel Janus’ eyes boring into his back, not moving even as the turbolift beeped at every floor passed. Beside him, Zeb was nearly vibrating with curiosity, despite staring straight ahead with military focus. Chopper kept burbling quietly to himself, but his head kept swiveling between Kanan and the other rebel. Even the others that had been brought along in this final sweep of the captured star destroyer could feel the tension in the air, making the lift as quiet as if they were in vacuum. It made Kanan glad that they had left Sabine in one of the upper levels; if she was here, she would have undoubtedly already begun to dig into why a member of another cell were so interested in Kanan. And that was a question that he wasn't ready to answer.

Not now. Not ever.

The pings began to slow down. As if on signal, everyone took out there weapons. Kanan pulled out his blaster, quickly checking that its tibanna gas levels were good.

This was the last level; if there was going to be any more resistance from the Imperials, it would have to be here. Taking the ship had been a hard-fought battle; the flying that Hera had had to do to keep them from being blasted to pieces had been intense, with all of them having to man the guns. Several times, they had been hit with glancing blows, making the metal of the ship shriek and the electronics groan with effort. It reminded Kanan of nothing more than what it had been like during his first battles at his master's side as a padawan - whirling chaos spilling over and around him like a flood.

When the doors finally opened, no one spoke. They all knew what they had to do.

Stepping out, he, Zeb, and Chopper immediately peeled off of the main group, heading down a hallway with purpose. Kanan ignored how his flesh crawled as they made their way down the bland hallway. It was grey, with its blank walls only broken by the occasional door. Imperial or Rebel, all star destroyers looked the same inside, bringing back memories that he knew would have him sitting in the galley and staring at the wall for a few sleep cycles.

Why had he agreed to do this? He hit a button to open the first door, peering in. Inside, there were only crates. Chopper wheeled himself in, beeping, with Zeb following him to check on what was in the crates. Kanan stayed outside, feeling his muscles slowly knot as he waited for something to happen. When the call had gone out for volunteers to finish sweeping the ship, Kanan hadn't intended to help. The damage that the Ghost had taken meant that it needed pretty significant repairs - and while Kanan didn't quite have enough knowledge to know how to do that, he had been looking forward to spending time with Hera as she did the necessary tune-ups.

But then - then he had felt it. The Force. Usually quiet, it respected his resistance to letting it into his life again, flowing around him but never through him like it did when he was a child. But as soon as the call had gone out -

It had been like someone was standing behind him, not quite touching, but close enough to feel the warmth of their body, it's metaphorical gaze burning holes into the back of his head. And then Zeb had passed by on his way to get Chopper, mentioning that they needed more people capable of slicing open locks, and Kanan had found himself rising from his seat and offering to join them.

And then things had gone to pot as soon as they met at the rendezvous point, just like it always did whenever Kanan listened to the Force. Janus, one of the two people he wanted to see least in the galaxy, had been waiting there, and of course the Kalleran had immediately noticed him and begun to make their way towards him. It had been a blessing when the head of their little squad had started to talk, giving Kanan and excuse to ignore him. But from the way he could feel the other man's gaze on the back of his neck, Kanan fully expected that he would have to spend the rest of their time at the Republic space station hiding in the Ghost.

Zeb and Chopper finally trundled out of the room, the droid beeping irritatedly to himself. Kanan glanced over to Zeb and raised an eyebrow.

Zeb shook his head. "Nothin' interesting," he grumbled. "Just rations and some dust."

Kanan shrugged. "No news is good news," he replied. "Unless you were looking forward to getting into a firefight with some Imps."

"Who says I wasn't?" Zeb said, pressing the button for the next door.

Kanan shook his head and laughed softly, feeling some of the tension leave his muscles. He was glad that Zeb and Chopper were here; both of them knew when not to press him. Even if it was burning them up with curiousity, which judging by the way Zeb kept glancing back towards him, was the case.

They went through several more rooms exactly like the first one. Dusty crates, filled with random supplies, were tabulated by Chopper for later uploading for reports. In the distance, Kanan could hear the murmuring of the other groups, undoubtedly finding the exact same thing. Kanan wasn't surprised. As well as wanting to stay with Hera, he hadn't expected any more Imps to be hiding out in the lower decks. He wasn't quite sure what had gone on once the vessel had been boarded, but from the sounds of it, it had been over fairly quickly. It took a certain type of person to keep fighting after that, and Kanan had never seen one of those in Imperial ranks. Plenty of commanders that would sell out their own mother to save their own skins, but never really someone who would fight to the death.

Kanan had almost entirely relaxed, wondering to himself why the Force had wanted him to come on the sweep when Zeb grunted, sounding puzzled. Tensing, Kanan glanced over at him as Chopper warbled a question.

"This one's got a double lock," Zeb said, his brow furrowing as he jammed a finger against the button again. Kanan raised an eyebrow.

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"I mean, this door isn't opening like all the others did when the computers got reset," Zeb said, irritation colouring his tone as he jabbed at the button over and over again. "What do they got that needs this much security down here, anyways?"

Kanan frowned and stepped forward, holstering his blaster. "Let me see," he said, nudging Zeb out of the way. The Lasat obligingly shuffled to the side, letting Kanan get a better look at the lock.

Looking at it, Kanan narrowed his eyes. Reaching out, he tapped at it with a finger. There was a single brief flash of red on the screen, and then nothing.

"This definitely isn't the usual lock," he muttered, thinking.

"Yeah, no kidding," Zeb said, huffing out a humourless chuckle. Chopper burbled and rolled forward, extending his interface prod with an irritated wah-wah.

Kanan held up his hands and backed off, a smile twitching at the corners of his mouth. "Sorry, Chop, my bad," he said. "Do your stuff."

With a huffy beep, Chopper inserted his prod and twisted it, connecting to the lock's system. He was still whistling insults when there was a sharp hiss and pop of electricity. Wheeling back with a shriek, Chopper pulled back his probe and let out his little arms from the side of his head to wave about as he beeped and whistled out several curses.

Zeb chuckled. "Eating our words, are we?" he said, roughly patting the unit on the head. "Guess we'll have to get one of the other groups to come and help then, eh, Kanan?" Zeb then gave out a yelp as the little droid jammed his shock-prod into the nearest bit of flesh.

Kanan chuckled and leaned back against the wall as Chopper revved his way back to the port, chirping determinedly.

"Kanan!" Zeb whined, rubbing his thigh.

"Hey, you deserved that one," Kanan said, grinning. Zeb frowned, his beard bristling. Before he could say anything else, though, the door to the locked room whooshed open and the Force pressed up against Kanan like a wave just about to crest.

Chopper's triumphant hoots faded into the background, as did Zeb's growls. The bright, pitiless lights of the hallway dimmed. The room was dark, but to Kanan's eyes it seemed as clear as day.

There was a boy, sitting bolt upright in the room on a bench bolted to the wall, his chin tucked tight to his chest. His dark hair was shorn close to his head, his eyes closed and face lined with exhaustion, and he looked almost painfully small in the neat dark clothes that covered him. A black mask covered his mouth and nose, and his hands were chained together with thick cuffs that covered half of his forearm.

That feeling in the Force was back, Kanan noted numbly. Standing right behind him, almost touching and so close he could practically feel its breath on his neck. He took one step, and then another.

Zeb and Chopper had fallen silent behind him. Kanan took no notice, couldn't take notice. The boy in front of him -

Kanan nearly choked as he took that first step into the room, no, the cell. There was nothing in the cell but the boy and the Dark, echoing in on itself. Fear and pain rolled over each other in waves, spreading through the space until it hit the walls and rebounded upon itself. If the door hadn't been open, Kanan would have thought that nothing else in the galaxy but the room existed. He tore his gaze from the boy to stare at the walls, his heart in his throat.

What sort of material could block out the force? He had never, in all of his travelling, in all of his education at the Temple, heard of such a thing.

Turning back to the youngling, he was seized by the desire to take him and carry him far away from the cell.

"I thought all the prisoners were held on the middle decks."

Kanan jumped. He turned around, his heart thumping in his chest to see Zeb's horrified face staring just over Kanan's shoulder.

Clenching his fists and straightening, Kanan said, "I thought so too." He turned back to boy and took a deep breath, trying to pull up the mental shields he had just a little bit higher. Until he stopped wanting to run away screaming, at least.

It took several heartbeats. The pain, the fear, even the little laps of anger, were overwhelming as they turned back in on each other and tangled up tighter than the sarlaac's tongues. Kanan felt like he was drowning in the emotions, struggling to find solid ground to plant his feet onto. He found himself retreating, pulling away from the Dark Side's tendrils and curling in on himself until he found that spark of light he had carried within himself for all of these years.

It was only once he had found that spark again that he felt that he could open his eyes again.

The Dark had retreated from him, letting him see the youngling a little clearer. Taking a step forward, he felt the boy's fear and pain wash over him. But he could keep it at bay, now, just like the Force.

Small and half-starved looking, what was visible of the boy's skin was littered with signs of abuse. There was a nick in one of his ears, and a larger white slash over the bridge of his nose, long healed and contrasting sharply with delicate pink scrapes along his left cheekbone. One closed eye was mottled with yellow and green, an old healing bruise that told the story of a powerful blow. And looking closer, Kanan realized that the kid wasn't sitting bolt upright; his posture was due to a collar welded to the wall and shut tight around the youngling's neck. Kanan could already see the purple bruises forming underneath the kid's jaw.

Behind him, Zeb choked. "Is that -"

"A collar?" Kanan said grimly, standing. "Yes."

"Karabast," Zeb hissed through gritted teeth. He strode into the room, his steps thumping against the metal floor. "We have to get that off of him."

"No argument here," Kanan replied, standing to one side. "You got this?"

Zeb grunted and reached out, grabbing the metal ring around the kid's throat. "'Course I do," he said, starting to pull. The muscles in his arms bulged from the effort. "Just be ready - to -"

The collar split with a flat groan, like a ship's engine struggling to turn over. A sharp pop accompanied it with a few sparks, and the kid slowly began to tilt forward. Kanan swooped in and caught him, just keeping his head from hitting the cell's floor, and grimaced at the feel of him in his arms.

The kid was nothing but skin and bone. Even through the odd black clothes he was wearing, Kanan could feel the kid's ribs. His elbow was also jabbing into Kanan's stomach, feeling almost like a knife blade. Cupping the kid's head in one hand, Kanan gently let him down onto the floor from the bench he had been sitting on, arranging his limbs into an undoubtedly more comfortable position. Cradling the kid's upper body, he tugged the kid's cuffed hands so that they were nicely folded in his own lap with his elbows tucked in and no longer digging into Kanan's chest before examining the rest of his bonds more closely.

Glancing at the cuffs encircling the kid's wrists, Kanan dismissed them quickly. Just the usual durasteel, they were probably uncomfortable, but Kanan was pretty sure that the kid would survive having them on for a little while longer. The mask however -

Totally black and with a small grill in the front of it, the smooth metal seemed to fit around the kid's jaw perfectly without any seams. Scrabbling at it and trying to figure out how to take it off, Kanan frowned. What could this kid have done to be in such a strange getup? The clothes, too - they were black, sleek and almost tailored-looking in a way that the grey shapeless uniforms that the other prisoners had been wearing just weren't. Was the kid just too small to fit into one? Kanan had seen a few Sullustans and the like amongst the prisoners, but -

Chopper beeped and wheeled forward into the cell, his head swivelling. Kanan glanced over at the squawking droid, still feeling for a seam in the kid's mask.

Chopper whistled derisively at his attempts, waving his little arms about impatiently and extending his shock prod. Before Kanan could stop him, he wheeled over to the kid's other side and gave the mask a sharp zap. There was a whine, like something powering down, and the mask suddenly loosened in Kanan's hand, now falling off of the boy's face.

Kanan raised an eyebrow at the droid, not quite pleased at the sudden zap. If he hadn't removed his hand in time, he would have gotten a nasty shock as well. Chopper whirred back at him, unaffected by his look and smug in his superiority.

Whatever. The mask was off. He could yell at him later.

Peeling the mask away, Kanan tossed it to one side, not caring where it landed. The other rebels would probably want to look at it closer, but seeing how it had dug into the kid's face, leaving red lines, Kanan couldn't bring himself to keep it nearby any longer than necessary.

The kid's cheek was damp as Kanan patted it gently with his fingertips.

"Kid going to be okay?" Zeb asked, shaking out his hands from pulling the collar apart as he knelt down beside him.

"I don't know," Kanan said distractedly. The Force was back, pressing up against him, but Kanan did his best to ignore it. Focusing in on the kid's face, he saw his eyelashes flutter. Slowly, as if he couldn't remember how to operate his body, the kid opened his eyes.

For a second, Kanan would have sworn that he saw a flash of yellow. His stomach clenched, and for a wild moment he was incredibly aware of the Dark in the room pressing down on him. Shutting his eyes, he took in a deep breath and centered himself.

When he opened his eyes again, the kid's eyes were half-open and appeared to have stopped. There was no trace of yellow now, making Kanan think that maybe it was the lighting in the room. No, now the kid's eyes had revealed themselves to be an intense shade of royal blue, reminding Kanan of a lake on one of the first planets he had ever gone to with Master Billaba. The planet itself had mostly been reconquered for the Republic by the time they had arrived, with only a little mopping up being needed. Rather than bunking in the nearest city to their landing area, they had set up camp by a lake with the bluest water that Kanan had ever seen. It was there that he had first been officially introduced to the rest of Master Billaba’s legion -

He cut that thought off harshly. That part of his life was long gone.

"Hey kid," he said softly, cupping the back of the kid's head in his hand. "Don't worry. Everything's going to be okay now."

The kid didn't react for a second. Then he slowly blinked, his lips moving silently. Kanan huffed out a soft laugh. "Don't strain yourself now," he said. "I don't know how long you've been down here."

The kid stared at him through heavy-lidded eyes, a few sweaty strands of hair sticking to his forehead. Then slowly, as unstoppable as the revolution of the planets, his eyelids slid down, sending a sharp jab of fear through Kanan's chest.

"Kid," his half-whispered, tapping the side of the kid's face in alarm. "Kid, don't do this to me!"

"Karabast," Zeb swore, pulling out his comm. "I'm getting the medics."

Kanan didn't look up, still focusing on the kid's face. "Tell them to hurry," he said. "He's going cold."

Chapter Text

Kanan sighed and flopped down in his chair in the Ghost's cockpit.

"Long day, love?" Hera asked distractedly, wrist-deep in an opened and sparking console.

"The longest," Kanan muttered, dragging a hand down his face. After calling a medic, he had barely been able to dodge Janus before he escaped back to the Ghost. If Zeb hadn't distracted him by asking about his helmet...

Well. Kanan was going to have to pick up some extra space waffles for Zeb the next time they went shopping.

Hera pulled back from the console and grabbed a rag to wipe her fingers off on, shooting Kanan a concerned look.

"Janus and Grey found you again, then?"

Kanan wasn't surprised that she knew the two sentients were around. She'd been helping him dodge them for years, and they in turn now made a habit of first checking the Ghost for him every time they met.

"Nearly got cornered by Janus," Kanan said, staring out of the cockpit at the space station's bustling hangar. "Zeb distracted him, though."

Hera shook out the cloth she'd been cleaning her hands with, frowning thoughtfully. "How long have they been following you, again?" she asked.

Kanan clenched his hands into fists. "Too long," he said in a warning tone. She may hide him from the two when they came knocking, but Kanan knew that as the years had passed she had become slightly less patient with his resistance to talking to them.

It came from a loving place. Hera waas the only crew member that knew the whole story of his past, a fact that he knew sometimes irritated the others. She respected his boundaries and reasons for not wanting to talk about it and by extension respected his desire to not talk to two such painful reminders of it. But lately, she had been gently urging him to face his past more, and that had caused more than one argument.

"Hera, please," he said, keeping his eyes straight ahead, "not today."

Only silence met him. Risking a glance, he saw Hera press her lips together tightly and turn back to the console, something that he knew meant that the subject was only delayed, not dropped. Still, small mercies.

They sat together in silence for several minutes, with only the occasional hiss or pop coming from the console, until finally Kanan couldn't take it anymore.

"I notice Sabine isn't doing her usual post-battle restocking," he said, more to break the silence than anything else. "Where is she?"

"A lot of data was retrieved during the attack before the Imperials could flush it from their systems," Hera said coolly, letting him know that she wasn't happy with his attempt to change the subject. "Fulcrum asked for volunteers to go through it and Sabine jumped at the chance."

Despite her irritation, Kanan found himself smiled tiredly. He would have to make it up to Hera later, he knew, but he could handle that. "Hope she won't be too put out being pulled away when we leave," he said.

Hera sighed, her lekku slumping. "About that..."

Kanan sat up, his smile slipping off of his face. Turning towards Hera, he leaned forward. "What do you mean?"

"Our hyperdrive motivator's given up the ghost," she said, no trace of amusement on her face. "A lucky shot hit us and cracked its casing. We're not going anywhere until we get a new one."

Kanan cursed, mentally going over their funds. They had had a couple of decent-paying missions lately, but motivators weren't cheap. And finding one all the way out here -

Hera nodded grimly. "I have a line already on one, but it'll wipe out our cushion. The seller wants to meet me in person, too."

Rubbing his eyes with the heels of his palms, Kanan sighed. "Need me to come along?" he asked.

Hera shook her head. "I know the seller," she said. "We grew up together during Ryloth's first occupation. Most likely he just wants to make sure that its me that's using the Syndulla name."

Kanan settled back in his chair. "Alright," he said, "but don't totally let down your guard. You don't know if he's who he says he is, either."

She smiled at him. "Of course," she said. But she didn't move.

"Anything else?" he asked after a second.

"During the fight, Chopper picked up an odd transmission," she said, placing the console cover back on.

Kanan frowned. "Odd how?"

"It was heavily encrypted, more so than usual. And it was on a very narrow bandwidth, so it wasn't just a distress call."

Kanan felt a rock sinking in his gut. "What sort of message would the Imps be sending out like that in the middle of a fight?"

"Exactly." The cover clicked back into place and Hera turned to look at him fully. "I wanted to take it down to the slicing room they've set up on Level 32, in case it's time-sensitive information, but my contact is only going to be on the station for a few hours longer-"

"And you can't be in two places at once," Kanan finished. He had intended to stay on board and de-stress, but -

"Give it to me then," he said, sticking his hand out. "I'll take it down, check on Sabine while I'm there."

Hera smiled again, laying her hand on his. ""Would you?" she asked.

Kanan shrugged, grinning ruefully. "Not like I'm doing anything else today," he said.

Hera pulled a data-chip out of one of her coverall's many pockets and placed it in his palm. "The woman in charge of it is a Sullustan called Brahlee," she said, getting up. "I hopefully will be back before you, but if not, just keep a portion of dinner warm for me." She brushed her lips against his cheek. "See you soon, love."

Kanan smiled a little and watched her go, her lekku swaying behind her. His cheek tingled where she had pressed her lips against it.

Chopper wah-wahed from the doorway, gesturing wildly with an arm.

"Alright, alright," Kanan said, getting up, "I'm going."

Chopper beeped and rolled out of the way as Kanan passed through the doorway, tucking the chip into his coat's pocket. Just as he reached the cargo bay, a loud chirp attracted his attention back to the cockpit.

Chopper was swivelling his head irritatedly between Kanan and the console Hera had been working on, making inquisitive beeps. Kanan shrugged in reply, swinging himself onto the ladder down to the floor.

"No idea, Chopper," he called. "Good luck!"

Outside, Kanan swore that the hangar had gotten even more crowded than when the battle had first ended. The press of sentients was intense, the air filled with the smells and sounds of a hundred different species chattering in a hundred different tongues. Kanan slipped his way through the crowd easily, dodging crate and sentient alike until he reached the floor's main turbolift. Not that the lift was any less crowded, of course. It was used for both cargo and people, and Kanan soon found himself forced to shuffle out of the way of a pair of Trandoshans and their hovercart filled with something squirming, muttering apologies, until he was pressed up against viewport facing out into space. Normally, Kanan didn't mind; he found watching ships going in and out of a station's many hangars to be soothing. But the sight that met his eyes this time was nothing so comforting.

The captured star destroyer hung in the inky blackness, battered but still defiant. Longer than the station itself, the windows that dotted its body were lit up, no doubt filled with Resistance workers still cataloging and processing what they had found in it.

And who. Kanan frowned as he remembered the kid he and Zeb had found in a the cargo hold. The way the Force had acted around him, the Darkness that had suffused the cell - what had been going on in there?

Not your business, he reminded himself sternly, cutting off that train of thought. It's not in your hands anymore. Besides, that kid was one of hundreds of prisoners they had found; in all likelihood, Kanan would never see the kid again.

The lift dinged, breaking Kanan out of his thoughts. Glancing up, he saw the number 32 lit up above the lift’s doorway. Pushing his way out of the lift, murmuring more apologies, he stepped into the hallway just before the doors hissed shut. Straightening his coat, he looked around, suddenly aware that he didn't know which room the slicers were holed up in.

Bland and empty, there was no helpful sign hanging on the wall of the corridor to point him towards the appropriate room. Nearby to his right, though, there was a door hanging open, letting out the almost sub-sonic hum of electronics. Figuring that he might as well stop there first, he headed over to it only to freeze when a crisp, Coruscanti-accented voice began to emanate from it.

"I am fully aware that the actions taken to capture that star destroyer out there were mostly done by Fulcrum's agents," the voice said. Tentatively, Kanan peeked through the doorway.

"However," Jedi Master Luminara Unduli said, her back to the door and flanked by two white-haired clones, "it was the Jedi Order's clones that were key and making sure that those actions were successful. As such, I do not think that it is too much to ask that we are kept informed as to what was in the ship's databanks."

The Sullustan standing in front of Master Unduli looked unimpressed, shaking her head. "We are grateful for your soldiers' help, Master Unduli," she said, "but the fact remains that until I get permission from Fulcrum I cannot release this information to the Jedi. We have worked too hard to let it slip out of our hands to people who may let it leak and destroy any advantage we currently have."

Master Unduli's shoulders squared along with the clones. Seeing as she was currently occupied, Kanan decided that now was probably going to be the best time to slip into the room and forced his limbs to start moving again. Slipping into the room, the hum of electronics only increased until it almost drowned out his thoughts. Stepping over several thick bundles of cords and glancing around, he tried to spot Sabine's brightly-coloured hair.

"Are you implying that one of our people would willingly leak information to the Empire?" Master Unduli said, her voice cold.

"Willingly, no," the Sullustan said, crossing her arms. "Unwillingly though..."

Even retreated from the Force as Kanan was, he could feel the attention of the people in the room being drawn towards the argument unfolding in front of them. Well, that worked just fine for him. In the time that little exchange had taken, he had spotted Sabine's current mix of blue and gold hair, bright in the shadows of the high seat that she had wedged herself into. Heading towards it, he tried to keep his body language an even mix of casual but slightly embarrassed. It would be just his luck to capture Master Unduli's attention on top of Janus and Grey's.

He sat down quietly beside Sabine's station, careful not to disturb her helmet, perched precariously on the console as it was. Sabine herself was completely ignoring the work on the screen in front of her, watching the argument with rapt attention.

"The fact of the matter is," the Sullustan was saying, "the fewer people who know the information, the less likely it is that the Empire will be able to get anything truly damaging if someone is caught. More people in the know means that there are correspondingly more points of failure, and that is a risk that Fulcrum is unwilling to make at this time."

Master Unduli's eyes narrowed slightly, a temper-tantrum by most Jedi Master standards if Kanan remembered correctly. "Our people have been trained to resist interrogation, Miss -?"

"Brahlee." The Sullustan was unmoved. "And everyone breaks."

"Hey," Kanan said, leaning close to Sabine. "Got something for you from the fight."

Sabine jumped a little in her seat from where she had been watching the unfolding argument, relaxing only once she saw that it was just Kanan. "I didn't realize that a Jedi was involved in the attack, did you?" she whispered. "If I had known -"

Kanan grimaced and cut her off by pulling the datachip from his pocket. "We weren't told for a good reason," he said, a little more sharply than he intended. "Do you want this or should I come back later?"

Internally, he winced at the sharp look she shot him. He'd be paying for his tone later, undoubtedly, but he hadn't come up here to listen to her gush about the abilities of a Jedi Master. He wiggled the datachip.

She snatched it from his hand with a scoff. "Of course I want it," she snapped quietly. "Where did it come from?"

"The star destroyer parked outside," Kanan said, letting her snatch it. "Hera says we picked it up on a narrow band near the end of the fight. It's double-encrypted as well."

Sabine narrowed her eyes, looking over the now-scrolling lines of text on her screen. "Huh, she wasn't kidding. This may even be triple-encrypted." Glancing back up at him, she cocked an eyebrow. "It might take a while to break through."

Kanan shrugged. "You'll have the time," he said, "our hyperspace motivator is completely cracked. Hera's got a line on a new one, but we'll have to see if that actually goes anywhere or not."

Sabine nodded in understanding. "Right then," she said. "I'll tell Brahlee once she's done down there with the Jedi."

"Quit pussyfooting around!"

The sharp snap of a clone's voice had Kanan stiffening in his seat, his heart in his throat and his hands clenching into fists. Brutally stomping down on the desire to bolt from the room, both he and Sabine's heads snapped around to look at the suddenly escalated argument in the middle of the room.

"If you got something to say about us or our Jedi, don't dance around it!" one of the clones was saying. His white hair was shaved into two thick stripes on the very top of his head, and he had thick white detached muttonchops as well. "Just come out and say it!"

"Gree." Master Luminara held out a hand and pressed it against his chest. "It is alright. I do not need my honour defended."

The clone's lip curled. "You may not," he said darkly, "but the Jedi do. People like this are always spreading shit about the Order -"

"Nevertheless, Gree," she said, "her words will not make us bleed. Stand down, now."

For a second, Kanan thought that the clone would disobey Master Unduli. His lips pressed together into a colourless, furious line, he looked ready to lunge at the Sullustan woman. But slowly, with reluctance in every line of his body, he backed down.

Brahlee seemed to have nerves of steel. Even after the near attack, she only raised an eyebrow at the clone's outburst. "My apologies for being unclear, then, Mister Gree," she said, a sneer in her voice. "But the answer is still the same, regardless of your threats. You get nothing until Fulcrum gives the okay."

It was at this point, with Master Unduli and her clone both narrowing their eyes at the Sullustan, that Kanan decided that it was time for him to leave. Carefully, he got up from his seat.

"Leaving already?" Sabine asked.

"Gotta make pick a few things up for dinner," Kanan said, keeping his eyes locked on the scene in front of him. "I'll make sure to save you some."

He could feel Sabine smile disbelievingly. "Don't give me that look, young lady," he warned, only half-joking as he turned away, "or there's no dessert for you."

"Oh, I'll just shut up then," she said, grinning after his leaving form. Kanan just waved at her and slipped out the door as the argument started up again.

Once back in the lift, Kanan let himself be moved back towards the viewports. Leaning his head against the cool glass, he sighed, his breath misting against it, and began to carefully relax his muscles. He didn't want to return to the Ghost wound tighter than a spring.

"Long day?" asked a sympathetic voice.

"The longest," Kanan agreed. Then he stiffened.

But it was too late. Janus Kasmir had already slung an arm over his shoulders, tilting his head close to Kanan's with a smile that Kanan could see reflected in the glass. "Been a long time," the Kalleran said, his crest expanding slightly in what Kanan knew was glee. "Too long, in my humble estimation."

Kanan gritted his teeth and restrained himself from violently throwing Janus' arm off of him. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw that the lift was still too crowded to start anything.

“Now,” Janus said, his tone a mocking sing-song, “how long has it been since we talked? Four, five years?”

“Six,” Kanan said tightly.

“Six!” Janus’ eyes widened theatrically. “Can you imagine - I can’t believe it! Six whole years!”

Kanan was not in the mood for this. “Cut the shit,” he snapped in a low, angry voice. “What do you want?”

For a moment, Janus looked actually surprised. But it was quickly wiped off by a sleazy grin. “Really now, can’t I just want to catch up with an old friend I haven’t seen in a while?”

Friend. Yeah right. Kanan remembered how they had parted ways after the incident with Grey, and he didn’t doubt that Janus did as well. This playing nice just meant that Janus wanted something from him. His little line just cinched it.

“What do you want?” he asked, crossing his arms.

Janus pressed his three-fingered metal hand to his chest in mock display. “Kanan!” he said, “I can’t believe that you’d accuse me of such a thing! When have I ever been anything less than completely honest with you?”

Kanan stared at him for a moment before raising a meaningful eyebrow. “Would you like an alphabetized list?”

“That is hurtful. Very hurtful.” But Janus didn’t move his arm, still slung over Kanan’s shoulders. “Honestly, though, kid, I just want to talk. I swear.” He pressed his hand against his own chest again, but this time it was missing the mocking flourish. “That’s all I’ve wanted to do, you know. Just talk.”

“Yeah, well,” Kanan said, glaring out the viewport, “I haven’t. I would have thought you’d get the hint by now - you and Grey.”

Janus’ smile faded in the reflection in the window. “Kid -” he began.

“Don’t call me kid.”

Janus’ smile was completely gone now. “Kanan,” he said, “I know that you’re worried that Grey’s going to try and drag you back to the Order -”

“Oh is that not his stated goal?” Kanan asked sarcastically. “Because, you know, him repeatedly saying that he’s going to ‘bring me home’ is kind of vague, I can see how I might have misinterpreted that.”

“Kanan, he isn’t going to take you if you don’t want to go. But you should at least talk to him -”

“Why?” Kanan kept his eyes locked on the outside, his hands squeezing into fists. “So he can guilt me into coming, as opposed to having to shoot and kidnap me? The Order doesn’t need me, Janus.”

“Is that what you really think, Kanan?” Janus now looked more serious than Kanan had ever seen him before. “Do you really think that -”

“That that’s exactly what Grey wants to do to me? Yes.”

Janus’ frill slimmed in disappointment. “No,” he said, “I meant, do you really think that the Jedi don’t need you?”

Of course they didn’t need him. Jedi Knights were brave; they protected the helpless and frightened, fought for justice and peace. He mostly fought for Hera; before Hera, it had been alcohol, or sex, or just for the feeling of someone else’s flesh smacking against his knuckles. None of those things required protection. As for the second part -

The Jedi didn’t need a coward in their ranks.

“The Jedi are fine as they are,” Kanan said coldly, refusing to look Janus in the eye. He didn’t have to to know that he was disappointed in his answer.

“I’m sorry, then,” Janus said. The solemn note in his voice made Kanan look up sharply, half-expecting an attempted jab with a sedative hypospray.

But Janus’ hands hadn’t moved. His free hand dangled beside him, but his eyes -

Hurriedly, Kanan looked away again, rattled. Janus was not the type to look that sad and worried. He usually was grinning like a loon, even when he had several blasters pointed at him. Hell, he had even been smiling after nearly being beaten to death that one time.

“Listen,” Janus said. “The Kasmiri II is a Y60 in hangar 98D. If you wanna talk, great, come on up. If you don't, don't, we'll start this chase all over again after we both leave. Just -” He shook his head slightly, making the wrapped tendrils by the side of his head sway. “Stop being so hard on yourself. Okay? If not for me, then for that little crew you’ve been building the last few years.”

Kanan flicked his fingers nervously and didn’t reply, words clogging in his throat.

The lift dinged, and Janus looked over his shoulder. “That’s my level,” he said quietly. “Hope to see you soon.”

His arm slid off of Kanan’s shoulders, and then he was gone, disappearing into the bustling crowds Kanan could see reflected in the transparisteel.

Determinedly, he did not acknowledge just how cold his shoulders now felt.

Chapter Text

Run. Run. Run.

His master's last words echoed in his ears as Caleb scrambled up the hill. Branches swayed above him and reached towards him like hands. Dirt and leaves were torn out of the ground by his fingers, getting stuck underneath his nails as twigs broke off in his hair.

Run.

He could hear the clones coming after him as he crested the hill. The thump thump thump of their steps as the followed him, his master already gone. Gunned down, her flesh smoking and left to rot in the dirt.

He needed to hide.

Run.

Somewhere that they wouldn't couldn't find him. But the tree branches started up too high to reach. The bushes were scant, just branches like delicate bones picked clean under the moonlight. There was only the ground.

He'd have to dig. Dig a grave, for Caleb Dume, the Jedi that would never be. He clawed at the dirt frantically. It was dark, so the clones surely wouldn’t notice its disturbance -

But now he was clawing at rock, surrounded by rock - where had all the dirt gone? The thump thump thump of the clones was loud now, loud enough that the trees were shaking, shedding their leaves and blinding him.

Armoured white hands grabbed at him through the leaves, grabbing his arms and legs and hair, erupting from the ground itself like the clones his master had killed were reaching up from their graves to finish their mission. The trees had no leaves now, their branches reaching up into the sky beseechingly like the other Jedi, the dead Jedi, begging for mercy, screaming in betrayal as their deaths echoed through the Force.

The hands in his hair wrenched his head back as Styles stepped forward, a sheet of blood coating his mouth and chin and his eyes bulging out of their sockets like the last time Caleb had seen him, lying on the floor of the cargo hold, his brains spilling out of the back of his head and blood spreading out around his head like a halo. He knelt down close to Caleb, gripping his shoulder to keep him in place and smiling apologetically with each tooth outlined in red as he pressed the barrel of his gun underneath his stubble-coated chin his finger on the trigger -

Caleb screamed, his face wet with tears and sweat, rolling his eyes wildly and Grey was there too, his hands bruised and covered in blood and Janus lying in a broken pile at his feet with blank eyes staring up at the sky -

- And lying beside Caleb on his other side was his master dead with half her face scorched off and her jaw shattered from the heat of the blasters, gripping his wrist tight and gurgling at him to RUN -


"KANAN!"

Kanan flailed awake, a scream pressing at the back of his teeth and nearly hitting Hera in the nose with his elbow.

"Kanan!" Hera shouted, grabbing his arm, "it's okay! You're in the Ghost. I'm here. We're all here. You're safe."

Kanan gasped for air, struggling up and out from underneath his sheets and tearing his arm away from her grip. He couldn`t breathe. He couldn't bear to be restrained right now, not even by the person he trusted most in the world. He huddled away from her, arms pressed tight against his bare chest, gulping down breaths like he had been drowning.

Kneeling at the side of his bed, Hera waited, outline in the dim sleep cycle light spilling in from the hallway. She was dressed for bed in her usual pajamas, one of Kanan's old shirts with the neckline torn open for her lekku to fit through and a pair of baggy pants, and belatedly Kanan felt a flush of embarrassment for waking her creep up his neck.

"Sorry," he forced out through numb lips, his heart still hammering in his chest. "Didn't mean to wake you and the kids."

He could just barely make out her sympathetic smile. She reached towards him to cup his jaw, slowly so as not to make things worse. Kanan appreciated the thoughtfulness; he didn't think he could take anything jarring right now. He felt like a sack full of broken glass, where any wrong movement would shred the facade of everything being okay, of 'Kanan', to pieces.

Her hand was warm against his skin, and he nuzzled into it with a sigh. Her thumb brushed over his cheekbone soothingly, the familiar motion like a balm for the horror still sparking through his limbs.

He didn’t know how long he just sat there, calming himself with her presence. His heart slowed, and his breaths evened out. The crazed and tilting race that was his mind leveled itself until it was purring along like the Ghost's engines.

Carefully, he placed a hand over the green one on his jaw, pulling it away just far enough to press a kiss onto its palm. Hera sighed softly, and got up from the floor to sit on the side of his bed.

"I’m sorry," Kanan said, keeping a grip on her hand. He transferred the limb to his lap, where he could hold it with both of his own hands, rubbing the green knuckles with his thumb. "I didn't mean to wake you up."

"It's fine, dear," Hera said. "I was up anyways. I only got back an hour or two ago."

Kanan frowned. "The contact kept you waiting that long?" he asked.

"Not on purpose. There was some confusion on his end; apparently one of his employees had been selling parts on the side without him knowing and -"

"Don't tell me; our motivator was one of the parts this employee sold."

Hera nodded, her lekku curling slightly in frustration. "He apologized, of course, and said that he'd order a new one for us at a discount and have it shipped here for our troubles." She smiled slightly and looked down at their hands, entwined. "Still afraid of my father after all these years," she murmured under her breath. "It'll be a good month before it gets here, though."

Damn. "We're in it for the long haul, then," Kanan said, unable to keep the gloom from his voice.

"Afraid so. At least there's a market for food, though," she said.

Her optimism failed to lift his spirits. Rubbing his face, he tried to keep from thinking about the many chances that were opening up for Grey to corner him. "Yeah," he muttered. "At least we won't be eating rations for all that time."

There wasn't really anything Hera could say to that. For several minutes, they just sat in silence, taking comfort from each other's company after the trying day the two of them had had. Kanan could feel sleep tugging at his eyes, even though his mind was still wide awake. It was going to be a long time before he could fall back asleep, he knew - but even now, with Hera beside him, he could feel it starting to slow his head down.

Then Sabine peeked around the corner, her hair a tangle around her sleepy eyes. "Is everything okay?" she asked, her voice thick enough with sleep that Kanan could tell she had only just awoken a few moments ago. "Zeb wanted me to ask."

"Sabine!" came the indignant growl from beyond the door frame, forcing a strained and surprised chuckle from Kanan's lips.

"It's alright, everybody," he said, raising his voice slightly, "just a nightmare."

Sabine blinked sleepily, reaching up to scrub at an eye childishly. "Oh," she said. "Okay. I'm going back to bed." She turned and went back to her room, her shuffling steps soon joined by Zeb's heavier thumps.

Kanan sighed again, shaking his head. He turned to Hera, opening his mouth only to stop before he even began.

There, on her soft cheeks, were the silvery trails of dried tears. Dropping her hand, he reached out to cradle her her face.

"You were crying," he said, swiping at the dried tears with his thumbs. "Why?"

It was Hera's turn to sigh. Reaching up, she gently placed her hands over his, stopping the motion of his thumbs. "For the same reason as you, love."

Kanan abruptly became aware of the stiffness of his own face. He couldn't find it in him to care, though. Leaning close, he touched his forehead to hers. "Which one?" he asked.

"My mother," she said, avoiding his eyes. "The riots."

Kanan nodded in understanding. Just as he had shared his story with her, so had she done the same with her own. He knew of the sniper's shot that had killed her mother in front of her and started the first of Ryloth's Great Riots, and how it haunted her like his master's death haunted him. Rather than saying anything else, he just brushed her lips with his own.

"Want to stay?" he asked. "For company?"

Hera didn't answer verbally. Instead, she simply squeezed his hands slightly and leaned forward, catching his lips in a long, deep kiss.

For a few seconds, Kanan just enjoyed the kiss. Reluctantly though, they eventually had to part. Letting go of her face, he lifted up his blanket and scooted back in his bunk until his back was pressed against the bulkhead, giving her room to crawl in with him. As soon as she had, he let the blanket drop, covering them both and letting him wrap his arms around her, breathing in her scent.

It had been a long day today. It would be the start of several long weeks tomorrow. But right now - he was just going to be with Hera, cradled within the Ghost's comforting walls.


Kanan`s prediction from that night, silent as it was, began to come true almost immediately. Breakfast that morning had been scant, most of their rations having already been eaten before the attack on the star destroyer, which made things tense in the little galley. Zeb had been especially disgruntled, having run out of space waffles over a week ago, and hadn't let anyone forget that as he shoveled tasteless gruel into his mouth.

So that was why Kanan was now standing in an alleyway with a grocery list in one hand, a bulging bag in the other, and a knapsack on his back that felt like it was filled with duracrete blocks.

Placing the bag on the ground between his feet, Kanan rubbed at the bridge of his nose with his now-free hand as he looked over the grocery list again. Most of the items had been easy to find. Kanan had even been able to get his head on a meiloorun fruit as a treat for Hera. But Zeb's space waffles of all things seemed to not exist on this station.

Just thinking about it made his head throb unpleasantly. The things were so easily preserved, being almost impossible to destroy let alone digest, that they were usually ubiquitous at space-ports. But somehow, out here, he just got a helpless shrug whenever he asked about them.

Well. Alright. He could still deal with this. He still had a few credits left; maybe he could buy some from another group of smugglers. He nodded to himself, folding the flimsi and tucking it into the pocket of his long coat.

Now if only he could shake the kriffing bastard that had been following him for over an hour, everything would be just perfect.

Peeking out from the alleyway, Kanan sighed. He couldn't see anything, that much was true. But his gut continued to insist that he was being followed. (His gut being an entirely distinct entity from the Force, one developed from years of hanging around some of the seediest parts of the galaxy.) And his gut had never steered him wrong before.

It was probably Grey, he thought gloomily as he picked his bag back up. The clone, in all the years he had been chasing Kanan, had never started by openly approaching him. Neither had he ever approached wherever Kanan was staying at the time while Kanan was in it; not after Kanan had taken a drunken pot-shot at him while he was still in the Kasmiri with Janus.

Not that he had lasted much longer with the Kasmiri after that incident. Janus had not been pleased with either part of that statement; not the pot shot, and definitely not the drunken.

Stepping out of the alleyway and back into the main corridor of the station’s level, Kanan grimaced at the memory of the argument after the incident. It had been a bitter affair, and some of the things Janus had said still made his blood boil at the memory. He hadn't handled it well at the time either; in the end, it had come to blows, with Kanan winning and taking off in the Kasmiri. That had been the start of his life as a true roughneck, a life that had lasted six years until he had met Hera on the tiny planet of Gorse.

Reaching the turbolift, his gut gave another warning sensation. This time, Kanan didn't bother to look behind him like the other half-dozen times. Instead, he smoothly changed direction, heading down another alleyway. He was not going to run and hid for the whole time he was here. If he had to hold a blaster to Grey's head again to get him to back off, so be it.

Force knew the man had done it to him before.

Reaching the end of the alleyway, Kanan ducked into a doorway and slid off his knapsack, quietly placing it on the ground along with the bag. Sliding into the shadows that the doorway offered, he pulled out his blaster from his hip holster and clicked off the safety.

His patience was soon rewarded. Shuffling footsteps hurried down the alleyway towards him. Kanan breathed silently through his nose, steadying himself.

The steps came closer and closer. Kanan kept himself still, his eyes half-hooded, waiting for the right moment.

A dark-haired figure blew past him and Kanan stepped out, aiming his blaster at the back of the figure's head.

"Alright Grey," he growled, keeping his barrel trained on the dark head in front of him, "you got me alone. Now say your piece and -"

Wait. Grey hadn't had dark hair for years now. And he had never been this short as long Kanan had known him.

Slowly, the dark-haired figure began to raise his hands, trembling slightly with what Kanan could only assume was fear from having a blaster pointed at the back of their head. Short and slight, with his hair sheared carelessly close to his scalp to the point that Kanan could see hints of pale skin peeking out from the hair, something about the sapient was familiar.

The person shifted slightly as the seconds drew out, turning their head just a little. Their eyes -

They were blue. That unforgettable blue of the lake, the blue he had seen in that dark cell in the bowels of the star destroyer that was still parked outside.

"- what in Malachor’s tombs?" he whispered, lowering his blaster. How was the kid already outside of the med-center when he had been unconscious and chained to a wall just yesterday?

"Uh, hey." The kid turned his head a little more, showing part of a sheepish grin.

Kanan let out a breath and re-holstered his blaster. "Kid," he said tiredly, all of the energy that had just been bouncing around in his body began to ebb away, "a word of advice. Don't start following people randomly. Not all of them check before they start firing." Turning back to the doorway, he grabbed the knapsack and slung it back over his shoulders.

"What if it wasn't random, though?"

Kanan paused, half bent over and with a bag of groceries half-lifted from the floor. Looking over his shoulder, he really looked the kid over, trying to see if he was serious.

The kid was thin. Even thinner than Kanan had first thought - and not prisoner thin, though Kanan doubted that imprisonment had helped. The kid was more like begging for years on the street thin. It made his jaw and cheekbones, probably naturally prominent to Kanan's eyes at least, stick out all the more. And right in the middle was a great beak of a nose. The scrapes and bruises he had seen yesterday seemed even more livid in the station’s lighting as well, mottling along his jaw and eye in painful purples and yellows. In fact, if it weren't for the fact that he was wearing what looked to be an old flightsuit with the arms and legs rolled up several times and a ragged scarf rather than that odd black uniform, Kanan would have been skeptical that the kid hadn't just come straight from cell.

"If it wasn't random," he said slowly, finishing straightening up, "I'd probably have to repeat what I said before: What in Malachor’s dark tombs?”

The kid looked away, rubbing his arm nervously. "Well, I - when I woke up, in there, I saw you, and you seemed kind of worried. So when I left the med-center -"

"You just - left the med-center?" Kanan raised his eyebrows. "Are the doctors aware that you did that?"

There was a very telling pause before the kid replied.

"O-of course," he said, still not looking Kanan in the eye. "I was just dehydrated."

Kanan grunted skeptically and began to walk back towards the mouth of the alley. "Yeah, I'm sure that's exactly what they said," he said dryly. "Good to see you up and about, though. See you."

"Wait!" the kid cried, trotting after him.

Kanan walked a little faster. He felt sorry for the kid, truly; but right now, he didn't have the patience or the energy for this. It had been a very long day, looking for groceries. All he wanted to do was go back to the Ghost, make some dinner and play a game or two of dejarik with Hera before going to bed. He didn't want to have to deal with an inscrutable urchin saying weird things.

A hand grabbed his sleeve just as he ducked into an empty, smaller turbolift. Kanan tried to ignore it, pulling further forward, but all that did was drag the kid into the empty lift with him.

"Jeez," the kid said, finally letting go of Kanan's sleeve after the lift started moving to brush himself off. "I just want to talk to you."

Kanan pressed his head against the cool metal of the lift and closed his eyes.

"Alright then," he said gustily, "what did you want to talk about?" He might as well listen; these smaller lifts were so slow it would take several minutes before they reached the hangar the Ghost was in.

"Right," the kid said, a 'Charming' smile sliding onto his face. Rolling his shoulders back, he tucked his chin to his chest and folded his hands behind his back in what Kanan recognized as a calculated move to make himself look harmless and cleared his throat.

"So," he said in a voice that Kanan had heard a thousand times from various salesmen, "I noticed in the market that you looked a little burdened there with all your groceries. I was thinking since it looks like you don't have anyone to help you with these things, if maybe you could use an extra pair of hands on your ship?" The kid looked up at him through his lashes, clearly checking Kanan's expression. Kanan was careful to keep his face still, not giving anything away.

His smile faltering slightly, the kid nevertheless rallied in the face of Kanan's indifference. Puffing out his thin chest, he thumped it with a fist.

"I'm a lot stronger than I look," he bragged, "and I'm quick, too. I can fix things with practically nothing. I don't take up a lot of space -"

"I'll say," Kanan interrupted. Reaching up with his free hand, he pinched the bridge of his nose. "Kid," he asked, "did you really just stalk me through the market to ask for a job?"

The kid shrugged overly casually. "I know how the galaxy works," he said. “It’s not like I could just expect a free ride.”

Even irritated as he was, Kanan felt a twinge at the kid's words. It was hard to get a read on his age, boney as he was; but Kanan would bet all of his remaining credits that the kid was not much older than thirteen. Even with being a prisoner of the Empire for who knew how long, those words were from experience, not hearsay.

The turbolift dinged and the doors opened, letting the roar of the hangar in. Kanan bit the inside of his cheek and looked out at the press of sapients. The Ghost was just a short walk away. He could leave now, go have a cup of tea with Hera before making dinner. Forget about finding the space waffles, about today, period.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the kid falter. The slick, practiced mask cracked just a little, and a hint of fear and anxiety peered out.

He closed his eyes again and sighed.

"This isn't a decision I can make by myself," he said heavily. Opening his eyes, he pretended to not see the Charming mask slip off entirely. "I'll have to talk with the captain before any decision is made."

Hunching his shoulders, he stepped out of the lift. He made it twelve steps into the crowds before he stopped.

Turning, he saw that the kid was still standing in the lift. All the confidence, fake as it was, that he had been exuding was gone. Hanging his head, he was wringing his hands and practically radiating anxiety and misery.

Kanan pressed his lips together, wavering.

But his conscience wouldn't let him walk away. One last time, he closed his eyes and sighed. Then he opened them, and walked back towards the kid.

"Didn't you hear me, kid?" he asked gruffly. The kid's head snapped up, those blue eyes wide and staring at him in disbelief. Kanan swallowed and looked away, unable to stand the scrutiny. "I said I have to talk to the captain before making any decisions. And she won't do that without meeting you first."

The smile that broke out across his face made Kanan feel like a sleemo for ever trying to walk away in the first place. This time, as he walked away, the kid trotted along at his side.

"By the way," Kanan asked. "What's your name?"

"Eh - uh, Dev. Dev Morgan."

Chapter Text

Hera was waiting for him at the ship's ramp, tapping at a datapad. As Kanan drew closer, she looked up and smiled.

"Kanan," she said, letting the datapad fall to her side, "we were getting worried."

Reaching her, Kanan bent down a little to give her a peck on the cheek. "Yeah, well," he said, "for some reason space waffles don't seem to exist out here."

Hera frowned, but good humour still danced in her eyes. "Zeb is not going to be a happy camper, then," she warned, a warm laugh lurking in tone. Kanan rolled his eyes dramatically.

"Ugh," he said, "don't remind me."

She grinned and dusted off his shoulder, then laid a hand on his chest and leaned up to his ear. "You know, dear," she said, "I couldn't help but notice that you seem to have been followed home."

The little bit of good cheer that had entered Kanan fled at that reminder. Grimacing, he leaned back a little and put down the bag. "Yeah," he said, "he followed me through the market and made a pitch while I was trapped in the turbolift."

"Oh?" Hera raised a tattooed-on eyebrow. "What sort of pitch?"

"Oh, just a little of this, a little of that," the kid said.

Kanan turned slightly. The kid had originally stopped at the bottom of the ramp, apparently too nervous to just follow Kanan up, something that made him wonder just how many ships the kid had been on before.

Loping up to the two of them, the kid stuck his hand out, a grin on his face and nervousness in his eyes. "Dev Morgan, nice to meet you. I saw Kanan in the market after getting out of the med-center and I thought, 'you know, he looks like he could use some help,' and so I followed him and then -"

"Wait, stop," Hera said, holding up a hand. "What do you mean, you recognized Kanan?"

The kid shifted from one foot to the other, looking away. "Uh, well, we met on the star destroyer. That, you know, is outside."

Hera turned her head and shot Kanan a Look. Kanan winced and looked away, rubbing the back of his head. He never had told Hera about that cell, had he? His conversation had Janus had kind of driven out anything else on his mind, what with how spitting mad he had ended up that night.

"I'll tell you later," he promised. She raised an eyebrow, and he knew that she would definitely be taking him up on that promise before the station hit its sleep cycle.

"Anyways," the kid said in a rush, "like I was saying to Kanan in the lift, I'm small and fast, I can fix just about anything with nothing, I don't take up a lot of room, and I'm willing to work for room and board."

Hera hummed quietly. "I see," she said. "And would you be needing to be dropped off anywhere or have anyone contacted? We're not really a transport shuttle, but if your looking for one I know a few that take that sort of payment."

The kid stopped still for a second, then shrank slightly, looking away again. "No," he said shortly, with a tone that spoke of old wounds being torn open once more. "There hasn't been anyone but me for a long time."

Kanan looked at the kid. The words were not, strictly speaking, a surprise. The thinness of the kid spoke to long-term lack of food, the sort where you couldn't even open up a cupboard of your death-stick addled parent for an old tin of soup. But -

But -

There were so many orphans these days. So many widows and widowers. So many people who had lost their entire families to the violence of a galaxy in a civil war. This kid - Dev's - story was the same as so many other people's story. So why did his gut give a little clench at the thought of him being alone in the universe?

Hera's face was sympathetic as well. Before she could say anything, though, there was a loud thud and a curse. Zeb appeared, sliding down the ladder in the cargo bay and striding towards them with an irritated look on his face.

"What's taking so long?" he asked. "Isn't Kanan back - oh, there you are. Did you get anything good?" He had already grabbed a bag when he stopped, noticing Dev. "Who're you?" he asked, a little rudely.

A flash of irritation, so quick Kanan almost didn't notice it, flashed across Dev's face, only to be wiped away by a wide smile. "Hey," he said, sticking out a hand towards Zeb, "my name's Dev, I might be working with you soon!"

Zeb looked at the kid from head to toe and snorted. "With what?" he asked, pulling out the meiloorun fruit Kanan had gotten for Hera. "You don't exactly look like you'd be much help with labour. And we already got Sabine and Chopper for tech."

Kanan sighed. "That's not our decision Zeb, it's Hera's. Now how about you go put the food away before dinner?"

Zeb frowned. "If he's going to work with us, why don't we have a say? We're a team, throwing in another person willy-nilly would just mess us up."

Okay, that was definitely a look of anger on the kid's face. Kanan hastily stepped in before Zeb said anything that would start a fight.

"Look, I get what you're saying Zeb, and you're right. But it wouldn't be right to leave a kid that has no one else to fend for himself."

Zeb snorted. "Doesn't change what I said," he replied. "Doesn't make it less true, either."

"He's right, dear," Hera noted. She didn't look at the two of them, though. Her eyes were on Dev. "But so are you. And we probably could use an extra set of hands. I've had to turn down a few jobs because we just don't have enough people."

Kanan studied her for a moment, noticing how her lekku were twitching with thought.

"What do you have in mind?" he asked.

"Well," she said, "since we are going to be here for a few weeks while we wait for the motivator, why not use this as a probation period? See if he really can pull his weight day-to-day."

Kanan saw how Dev perked up at Hera's words out of the corner of his eye. Out of the corner of his other eye, he saw Zeb slump.

"With what sort of work?" Kanan asked, ignoring them both. "There’s not a lot to do while we’re grounded."

Hera shrugged. "Oh, I'm sure that we can find something for him to do," she said, surprisingly breezy. "If nothing else, we can see if get along with him or not."

"And if we don't?" Zeb interrupted, having put the groceries back down and rummaging through them. "If it turns out that we hate his guts?"

"We'll find someone that he does get along with. Fulcrum can always use another pair of hands."

"Uh, you do know that I can hear you, right?" Dev asked, looking between the three of them.

Hera turned back to him and gave him a sheepish smile as Kanan rubbed the back of his neck. "I'm sorry, Dev," she said. "You're right, that was rude of us. But I think that we've agreed on a probation period for you." Reaching out to touch his shoulder, she pulled back when the kid flinched. Kanan noted that reaction and filed it away for further thought.

"Woah woah woah," Zeb said, "we've decided on nothing. We don't even know why the kid's latched on to us in the first place! Seriously kid," he said, turning to face him fully, "there are plenty of programs for people in you situation. Why choose us?"

Dev took a step back, a flicker of nervousness flashing across his face. "Uh, well, I recognized Kanan from the cell -" he stuttered.

Zeb snorted. "So?" he asked. "There were plenty of other people that helped you out of there, including the medics. Why not ask for a job from them?"

"Zeb," Hera said warningly.

Kanan didn't say anything. He just crossed his arms, looking down at the kid. Because what Zeb said was true - the med-centre always needed extra hands. And they had probably done more to help the kid than Kanan. So why had Dev followed him around the market. And why didn't he want to talk about it?

Kanan hadn't survived this long by being careless.

The kid's eyes darted between him and Zeb. He opened and closed his hands rapidly, biting the insides of his cheeks. "I - uh," he stuttered.

Kanan narrowed his eyes.

The kid flushed slightly and looked down. Zeb grunted.

"Thought so," he said. "Listen kid, I feel for you. But we can't just take anyone on, no matter how nice they seem."

Kanan mentally sighed. It was a sad thing to say, and he felt like a sleemo doing this after promising to take the kid to talk to Hera. But Zeb had a valid point; working for Fulcrum, they had to be able to trust their crewmates unconditionally, and if the kid wouldn't even tell them why he wanted to join them in particular - well. That started setting off alarm bells in his head.

He turned to pick up the rest of the groceries, preparing to take them into the galley.

"I don't - I can't stay here," Dev said behind him.

Kanan stopped and looked behind him.

The kid was still standing there, stiff and with quivering fists bunched at his sides. His head was bowed, shadowing his eyes. "I can't stay here," he repeated, his voice breaking. "I can't - the star destroyer, the people -"

Kanan traded looks with Hera. He knew that tone. That 'I'll-break-if-I-have-to-do-the-thing-you're-asking-me-to' voice. He had had it, once, in the aftermath of Sidious' Order 66 and the Temple Massacre. Raw and ragged, like an open wound still oozing blood that couldn't be treated by anything except time. It had signified the end of his time as a padawan, as part of the Jedi Order, and it tore something open in his chest.

"Please," the kid - Dev - begged. He was still staring at his feet, but Kanan caught a glimpse of suspicious shininess around his eyes. "I'll do whatever you need, whatever you want - I learn really fast, I always had to - just please," he said, looking up, "don't make me stay here."

Yeah. Those were definitely tears in his eyes. Kanan could tell that they weren't for effect, either. Dev was tipping his head back slightly and widening his eyes in an attempt to keep them from falling.

He looked at Hera. She was biting her bottom lip. Behind her, halfway to the ladder, Zeb had stopped as well. He wasn't looking back, but Kanan could tell from the stiffness of his shoulders that the kid's voice had effected him as well.

Turning back, he saw Dev scrub at his eyes angrily.

"Hera," Kanan said quietly. "It's your ship. You have the final say on this."

Hera stayed silent for several heartbeats more. Then she closed her eyes. "I stand by what I suggested before," she said softly. "A probationary period, to see if we can actually work together. Only once that done will we make a decision."

Kanan watched as the kid sucked in his lower lip and rubbed the back of his head, blinking rapidly. "All right," he said, his voice shaky, "that makes sense." He looked back up, swallowing. "So do you have anything you need me to do now, or should I just show up tomorrow?"

Hera traded looks with Kanan again. "Tomorrow would probably be best, Dev," she said kindly. "I'll have some chores lined up by then.”

Dev nodded jerkily, then spun on his heel. In seconds, he had disappeared into the crowds, and an odd feeling settled in Kanan's stomach. Like he wanted to go after the kid.

"Well," Hera sighed, placing her hands on her hips. "That was - something."

Zeb grunted and grabbed ahold of the ladder. "Yeah," he muttered, "It was something."


Dev was standing at the foot of the ramp the next morning, rocking slightly on his heels with his hands tucked behind his back. He grinned at Kanan. "Hey," he said, "didn't want to be late."

Kanan stared at him for a moment, his toothbrush still in his mouth and very aware that he was still wearing his pyjamas, a sleeveless top and a pair of loose pants just barely hanging onto his hips. Taking the toothbrush from his mouth, he wiped the foam away from his mouth with the back of his hand. "Uh, okay," he said, rubbing the back of his neck. "I'm not going to lie, I wasn't actually expecting you to show up yet." The kid's face fell, and Kanan hurried to reassure him. "Not that it's a problem! Do you want to come in?" he asked, gesturing inwards. "We were just finishing up breakfast."

Dev shrugged, smiling awkwardly. "Sure," he said, walking up the ramp.

Kanan stuck his brush back into his mouth as they climbed up the ladder. Coming out, he helped Dev up and pointed down the hall. "The galley's just down there," he said. "Make yourself comfortable. I'll be back in a minute."

"Doing what?" Dev asked.

Kanan paused, halfway through a turn. He gestured towards himself. "All this," he said.

The kid paused, and then looked embarrassed. He looked down at the floor and rubbed his arm. "Right," he said with a sheepish smile, "that makes sense. Sorry."

Kanan shook his head and made a shooing gesture. "It's nothing," he said. "Go sit in the galley, I'll be back soon." He turned, before pausing as a thought struck him. "Oh," he said, turning back around, "and don't let Zeb intimidate you. He's just cranky because we've run out of his favourite breakfast."

The kid shot him a lopsided grin. "Duly noted," he said, giving Kanan a two-finger salute before turning and heading towards the galley.

Kanan felt his lips twitch. Turning, he headed back to finish off his morning ritual.

Twenty minutes later, and feeling much more human, Kanan walked into the galley as he finished tightening the last straps of his shoulder armour to an odd scene.

Zeb was still sitting where Kanan had left him earlier. By now his plate was cleaned, and he was sitting back with his arms crossed and an unimpressed look on his face. Dev was also there, mimicking Zeb's posture and expression except he was sitting on top of an oddly well-behaved Chopper, who had also slid out his own arms for the express purpose of attempting to cross them.

"-you're going to have to do a lot better before we decide to keep you, kid," Zeb was saying as Kanan came in. "We already got a pet in Chopper, we don't need another one."

Chopper burbled indignantly and uncrossed his arms to wave them in anger. Zeb barely glanced at him, keeping a challenging look on Dev.

Dev seemed equally unimpressed with Zeb. "Hey," he said, "at least I have talents beyond hitting things. That's more than you can say."

"Kid, stop acting like you know anything -"

"How about we stop with the attitude altogether," Kanan interjected before things could escalate further. Both of the arguers jumped slightly and turned to look at him in surprise. "Zeb, I know that Hera gave you a list of parts to look for replacements. They're not broken yet, but Hera would feel more comfortable with replacements on hand. Take Chopper with you; he'll be able to keep you from being sold any limons."

"Where is Hera, anyways?" Zeb asked.

Kanan grimaced, his mouth puckering like he had tasted something sour. And as far as he was concerned, he had when Hera had told him what she would be doing today.

"Her contact, the one selling us our new motivator, apparently wanted to talk some more about prices with her," he said. "Hera thinks he just wants to ask her to put in a good word for him with her father."

Zeb snorted. "What he do to piss off Cham Syndulla?" he asked.

Kanan grumbled and placed his hands on his hips. "She was a bit vague on that," he said. "But she said she'd be fine on her own. She thinks she'll be back late day-cycle. So I want all of this done before she gets back."

Sighing, Zeb got up from his seat. "In that case, I better get going," he said. "Come on, Chopper. And no shocking me this time, you can just wave your arms if I'm being cheated!"

Chopper made indignant noises as he followed Zeb out of the galley. Kanan had just taken a step further into the kitchen when there was a sharp crackle and a loud 'ow!" Rolling his eyes, he ignored Zeb cursing and turned to Dev.

After getting off of the astrodroid, the kid had hopped up to sit on the small counter, and was now drumming his heels against the cabinets. "So," he asked brightly as Kanan's gaze turned to him, "what do you have me doing today."

Kanan smiled. "Oh, something very exciting," he said, keeping his voice mild. He turned and slid open the door to the cleaning cabinet. "Have you ever cleaned a vent?" He turned back with the cleaner in his hand just in time to catch the look of disgust sliding across Dev's face. He chuckled. "I'll take that expression as a yes," he said. Tossing the bottle of cleaning liquid and a box of disposable wipes at him, he grinned. "Welcome to the crew."

The kid rolled his eyes, but didn't refuse. Satisfied, Kanan turned and left, heading towards the cockpit. Hera had left him to go over their accounts and make sure that they still had enough money for supplies after buying the motivator.

Several hours later, Kanan jumped in his chair at the sound of a vent covering clattering against the floor in the cockpit. Turning around, the datapad he had stored their accounting books on dangled from his fingers as he searched for the source of the sound. His eyes immediately fell on a small, filthy figure of Dev, coughing and crawling from the vent.

"Hey," Dev said in between coughs, waving at him a little, "I think I'm done with the vents now."

"Wait, were you actually in the vents?" Kanan asked in amazement. Putting down the datapad, he knelt down beside the kid and helped him to his knees. "You didn't need to crawl in there, we have a pole that the rags attach to -"

"Those never go in far enough," Dev said dismissively. "If you wanted those air scrubbers clean, you need a good up close and personal scrub."

Kanan shook his head. "True enough," he said, "but I was going to ask you to do that tomorrow. I thought that it would be a bit much for your first day."

Dev shrugged. "It wasn't hard," he said. "The vents were pretty clean already, and they're plenty big enough to fit into." He wiped his fingers off on the nearly-black rag he had been using to clean. "Mostly it was just kind of moist. There was some mold in some of the harder to reach corners. Nothing I haven't dealt with before."

Kanan raised an eyebrow. "You've done this sort of thing before?"

Dev nodded. "Yeah, I used to live in an abandoned communications tower. I got in and out by a vent, so I had to clean it out regularly to make sure I wasn't always filthy."

An abandoned communications tower. Kanan inwardly raised an eyebrow, curious as to where someone could find one. With how expensive they were to build, few officials were willing to just let them slide into disrepair to the point of allowing squatters.

"What planet are you from?" he asked. "I thought Imperials weren't the type of people to let something like a communications tower go to waste."

Dev stiffened underneath his hand. "Uh, Lothal," he said, looking up at Kanan with an awkward smile. "You know, plains, rocks, not much else. The tower was pretty old anyways; I think pre-war. So it was already stripped by the time I moved in. As to why it was left alone..." He shrugged. "I don't know what the Imperials were thinking. I don't think anyone knows what they think."

The last part was muttered almost underneath his breath as he looked away. Kanan frowned and made a mental note to tread carefully when talking about the Imperials. What had happened to Kanan was an old wound, but clearly things were still too fresh for Dev to talk about it comfortably. He could respect that. Force knew that he still didn't like talking about Order 66 and the Temple.

"Well," Kanan said, peeking into the vent, "you certainly did do a good job. Even if you seem to have used your clothes as a brush more than the actual brush."

Dev huffed a laugh.

"Zeb and Chopper should be back soon anyways. If you want, you can use the washing machine for your jumpsuit." Kanan stood up and brushed his knees off. "In the meantime, I'll get started on lunch. You want to join us?"

"Yeah!" Dev popped up from where he had been kneeling like a jack-in-the-box. "Though, uh, I don't really have anything else to wear, so I'll skip on the wash if that's okay."

Kanan waved a dismissive hand. "It's okay," he said, "I think I have some old pants you can borrow while your clothes are being washed."

"That's really not necessary -"

"I told you, it's fine." Kanan looked over his shoulder at the kid and softened at the look of confusion on his face. "If you're going to be a part of this team, you better get used to this," he said gently. "We take care of each other."

The look of confusion that crossed the kid's face was painful. "Haven't had anyone take care of me for a while," he said.

I guessed, Kanan thought. He didn't say it out loud, though. Instead he opened the door to his cabin and walked in.

"So," Dev said. "What exactly is it that you guys do? I mean, you don't exactly strike me as the usual group of smugglers."

Kanan looked up from where he was kneeling and pulling out a sweater from a drawer, narrowing his eyes. "And what exactly is giving you that idea?" he asked. If there was something that could give them away during their work, he wanted to know about it yesterday.

Dev shrugged and leaned against the doorway, crossing his arms. "Just little things, you know," he said. "You don't seem as obsessed with money, for one. I mean, you left me alone with your ship - last time I even looked at a smuggler's stuff I nearly got my head blown off my shoulders." He mimed shooting himself in the head.

"How do you know we don't have camera's onboard?" Kanan asked, ignoring the disturbing implications of what Dev had just said. "I could have been watching you from the cockpit."

Dev made a derisive noise. "And yet I surprised you when I came out of the vents? Yeah right."

Kanan couldn't help but smirk a little. "You're pretty sharp, kid," he said. "Yeah, we're not just smugglers." Standing up, he shook out a particularly large sweater. "Sometimes we do smuggle, but that's not the point of our activities." He turned and tossed the sweater to the kid. "Any more information is going to have to wait though; it's on a need to know basis."

The kid caught the faded grey sweater with a pout that would probably be a little intimidating once he had worked off the last of the baby fat from his face. "Oh, come on," he complained, "this 'mysterious group on a secret mission' thing is so old." He paused, as if a thought had just occurred to him. "Wait," he said. He leaned forward and squinted at Kanan. "Are you guys involved with the Rebellion?"

Kanan chuckled. "Kid," he said, kneeling back down to search for pants, "everyone on this station is involved with the Rebellion. Though outside of the Empire, most people just call it the Resistance."

Dev scrunched his nose at Kanan's words. "Well, excuse me," he grumbled, "it's not like I had an archive or anything growing up."

"Huh. Censored or closed?" Kanan asked.

"Censored, then closed." Dev rubbed his fingers along the collar of the shirt with a pensive look on his face. "Not that my mum and dad let me go in all that often. Said that they didn't want me to read the Empire's lies." He only seemed half aware that he had said the last sentence out loud. Watching from where he was kneeling, Kanan felt some small part of him that was holding itself apart soften slightly. The kid seemed to be lost in memories, his blue eyes looking at something past the thin cloth of the shirt he was holding.

"If you don't mind me asking," he began hesitantly, keeping on eye on the kid's expression, "do you know what happened to your parents?"

For several seconds, Dev didn't move. Kanan had half-risen from his kneeling position, an apology on his lips, when he finally spoke.

"Yeah." He didn't look at Kanan. "My parents - they believed in standing up for what was right, for other people. And they were vocal about it. They had this pirate radio show they'd put on in a secret room in our house, where they'd talk about what the Empire didn't want us to know and urge people to stand up as one against things. I think they actually caused a few riots, or something. And people liked them - told them that what they were doing was right, that they were inspirations. I loved it. I thought that revolution was just around the corner, the way people talked when they met my parents." Dev's face darkened. "But those people that called my parents inspirations? They did nothing when the Empire tracked my parents down. I waited for days after my parents were taken, but no one ever came, not even our neighbours -"

The kid's knuckles were white and straining against the thing fabric in his hands. "My parents told me -" Dev started, his voice strained. "They told me that if something happened to me, I could go to some of these people for help, for shelter. But when I tried - they ignored me. They acted like I wasn't there, or they chased me away." He paused for a second to press trembling lips together, still staring down at his hands. "I mean, I understand why - they had families too, but -"

"But it still hurt," Kanan finished. He stood up, a pair of pants dangling from his fingers and sympathy churning in his gut.

Dev started, almost like he had forgotten Kanan was there. "Y-yeah," he said, turning away again to surreptitiously wipe at his face. "Sorry, I don't know where all that came from -"

"It's fine," Kanan soothed. He reached out and placed a hand on the kid's shoulder, placing the pants on top of the sweater the kid was already holding. Dev's muscles tensed underneath his palm, before relaxing with a sort of exaggeratedness that Kanan decided to ignore. "Everyone in the crew was someone before we came onboard the Ghost. Not all of us have shared what happened to us, either. I won't mention this to anyone if you don't want me to."

Dev stared down at the pants now in his arms. "...Maybe Hera?" he said. "I think - I mean, you two seem to share everything, it doesn't take a genius to see that - but I think that she'd understand."

Kanan smiled gently. "She probably would," he noted fondly, remembering his recruitment. Dragged from a gutter by a revolutionary that promised him the stars, Hera had always been the heart and soul of their activities in the wider rebellion. It was encouraging that Dev had already noticed her importance to the crew. Maybe he would make a good addition of the crew after all.

"Now come on," he said, gently smacking the kid's shoulder encouragingly. "Go take a shower so your clothes will be clean before sleep cycle. Kind of defeats the purpose of cleaning if you're just tracking the dirt to new places."

That got the kid to look up. He smiled shyly at Kanan, and nodded. "Sure," he said. "Be out in a few minutes."

"Right," Kanan said. "I'll be getting lunch ready. Washer's in the fresher already, so you can just throw it in."


Caleb was running. Caleb was still running. Caleb was always running.

The hallways of the Temple were supposed to be welcoming. They should have been welcoming, anyways. Cradling him with their walls and the warmth of ten thousand Jedi Knights around him, they had been the only home he could remember. But now they stretched on and on and on and on and on without end, and Caleb couldn't feel that warmth anymore. Shadows lurked behind every bench and behind every pillar, and it was dark outside without a single bit of light from the buildings that surrounded them. Caleb wanted to look out and see what had happened to the other buildings, but he was running and he couldn't.

In the distance and all around him, he could hear screaming. It rose and fell, high pitched but horribly familiar. He didn't want to, but he could pick out the screamers - Sammo and Tai, Bruk and Espa. Their voices twined around each other, drawing his attention. The more he listened, the more he heard, too.

"Caleb, help!"

"Please, Caleb - we need you!"

"Stop! Please stop! They're killing us!"

"Why did you run away?!"

"Why did you leave us to die?"

"You were going to be a Jedi Knight! Jedi Knight's don't run, you coward!"

"Coward!"

"Coward!"

"Coward!"

Caleb squeezed his eyes shut and clamped his hands over his ears. It was useless, though; the word reverberated through his head and body, rattling his bones. He was a coward, running away when everyone needed him. And they did need him, their blades flashing through the air as they struggled to block a thousand blaster bolts coming at them. His was only one more blade, he knew, one of many that would fall if he was with the others, and yet, and yet, and yet -

The word etched itself onto his bones. Caleb crawled into a vent, the sound of a hundred metallic footsteps behind him. The voices were silent now, only the echo of "coward coward coward coward coward coward coward" following him, twining around his limbs and throat until he thought that he would choke. Now he could smell burned flesh, the burned flesh of the people he had known, scorched by blaster bolts as Coruscant watched and did nothing as the Temple lit up like it was filled with lightning -

"Caleb," came the whispers through the grills that he had to crawl over, "Caleb."

"Caleb," they whispered as his eyes filled with tears until they spilled from his eyes and dropped onto the durasteel panels that he climbed on, "Caleb, you coward, why did you leave?"

There were grills everywhere now, the whole vent was made of grills that hid nothing. He could see the bodies that littered the Temple floors, smell them, see their dead eyes watch him as their lips moved in question "Caleb you should be here too why did you leave why did you survive you don't deserve to live what makes you so special your master took pity on you she only took you because you made her feel important it wasn't like you actually had anything to offer you should be here too look at us look at us look at us"

A sob burst from his lips and he shook his head. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," he mouthed over and over, pressing his hands against his ears. "I know, I know."

"then why aren't you here with us," Sammo said, his lips not moving and death-whitened eyes staring up at him, "you should have died too and you know it who are you to reject the will of the Force"

"Oh, my padawan," a soft voice, a familiar voice said, "my sweet padawan. What have you done?"

Cold, stiff limbs wound around Caleb's shoulders and the scent of burnt flesh filled his nose and mouth. Burnt and leaking flesh pressed against his cheek.

"Oh my little one," Master Billaba said, dead and rotting, "oh my little padawan. What have you done?"

This time, at least, Kanan didn't wake up screaming.

No, he woke up tangled in his sheets, silent and staring at the ceiling of his cabin with his heart thundering in his chest. With shaking limbs, he began to untangle himself.

The ship was silent, only the soft hum of electronics around him. Sitting up, he threw his legs over the side of the bed and hunched over, rubbing his eyes. These dreams - he hadn't had them this often since...

Well. Since they had actually happened. What did it say that his worst nightmares were the things that had actually happened to him? Nothing good, he bet. Breathing in and out deeply, he tried to calm himself down and make the dizzy feeling that suffused him go away.

He felt sick. Jumpy. Like he was going to tremble right out of his skin and fall apart on the floor of the ship. Sighing, he stood up. He wasn't going to get to sleep again. He knew the signs by heart at this point in his life - the way his arms and legs trembled, his heart pounded and his vision blurred all pointed towards yet another sleepless night for him. He would go to the galley then, and make himself a cup of tea. That ritual way he made it, learned by heart growing up in the Temple, was soothing enough and had been done enough times by him for him to no longer completely associate it with things lost.

When the door to the galley hissed open though, Kanan was surprised to see that he was not the only one awake at this hour. Sitting at the table and staring down at their steaming cups were Hera and Zeb.

"Kanan," Hera said, smiling at him despite the dark circles under her eyes. "Nice to see you. It's almost a party now."

"Not really my type of party," he said, scratching at the back of his head. "No one's passed out on the floor. Do we still have some tea?"

"Far left cabinet, dear, where it always is."

Kanan pulled back the corners of his mouth in a way that he hoped would be classified as a smile. "Thanks," he mumbled.

As the kettle boiled, he crossed his arms and leaned back against the counter. They sat in silence until it clicked off. Pouring it over the loose tea leaves in a measured stream, stirring the water in the cup three times counter-clockwise; all the little things calmed and centered him in their familiarity. The steam floated up from the cup, carrying the sweet scent of the tea to his nose, signifying it was done, and Kanan carried it over to the table, squeezing in beside Hera.

She scooched aside obligingly, and took another sip of her own drink. From the scent, Kanan was pretty sure it was Rylothean sweetwine, mulled and heated. She had told him before, when it was just them on the ship, about how she had always drunk it with her mother during winter. That night had been a very quiet one. The radio had had no messages, and even Chopper had confined himself to muttering in the Phantom.

Quietly, he laid a hand over hers on the table. With how comforting she found the drink, whatever was keeping her awake had to be bad.

"I hate this damn station," Zeb grunted from across the table. Kanan looked up at him. He wasn't sure what, exactly, it was that Zeb drank on bad nights. All he knew that it was served hot and stank like a bar fresher after a Hutt was through with it. You could tell how bad the night was with how intense the smell got. Hera had actually had to enforce a rule that Zeb had to keep the drink covered so that it didn't stink up the entire ship.

Judging by the whiff he got when Zeb uncovered it to take a sip, it was a really, really bad night.

"Why?" Kanan asked.

Zeb shrugged sullenly, looking more like a teenager than the adult Lasat that he was. "Don't know why," he said, "but I've been getting nightmares, staying here. More often than usual."

"Might just be the star destroyer," Hera said gently, wrapping her hands around her mug.

But something in Kanan disagreed.

"Nightmares?" he said.

Zeb's eyes flicked over to him for just a second before he looked away again. "Yeah," he said, looking down at his covered mug. "About my home."

Kanan inclined his head in acknowledgement, but that had not been the part of Zeb's complaint that had attracted his attention. "You've been having a lot of them?"

Zeb shrugged, still not looking at Kanan. "Yeah," he said, a note of defensiveness entering his voice. "Almost every night since we got here."

"We've all been having trouble sleeping," Hera interjected smoothly, reaching across to lay a hand on Zeb's thick forearm. "I know that going into that star destroyer certainly was an uncomfortable experience for me. I can't imagine what it was like finding Dev down there."

Zeb just grunted. Kanan didn't pay attention. There was something here, just beyond his reach. He could feel his mind struggling to grasp it, a feeling that if he just reached out -

Kanan put down his mug with a sharp noise. Both Hera and Zeb looked at him.

"Sorry," he gritted out, standing up. "Tea's not agreeing with me." He was out the door before either of them could make a sound.

The Force, now that he had identified it, pulled back slightly from the pressure it had been placing on him, making him snarl as he re-entered his cabin. Slamming his fist against the control panel for his door, he sat down sharply and placed his head in his hands.

Go away, he thought at the Force. Go. Away. I don't need you. I don't want you. All you've ever done is bring me pain, so go. Away. He punctuated each harshly thought word with pulling inwards just a little bit more. It was like curling up in a little ball so that nothing could hurt you. But the Force was stubborn, scrabbling at the edges of his consciousness. It wanted him to let it in like it hadn't in years, almost feeling desperate. If it was a person and not an energy field, Kanan would have compared it to a junkie begging a dealer for a fix.

Anger rose up in him, and he pulled back even more in the force even as he reached down and ripped open a drawer in his bunk, pulling out his lightsaber from its usual hiding place. With trembling fingers, he roughly unscrewed its two pieces and pulled out the kyber crystal in its array.

The blue rock glittered, even in the cabin's dim light. He was shaking so hard that he couldn't keep a grip on his lightsaber hilt. His fingers were pressed against the rock so tight that they hurt.

He wanted to smash it. To snap it. To erase every trace of it so that the Force would forget that he had ever been a Jedi. So that the Force would leave him alone and stop pressing up against him like some lover when he had abandoned it, abandoned everyone all those years ago. So that he could forget that he was ever a Jedi, in a way that not even alcohol could erase.

But even as he held it in front of his eyes, glaring at it, he couldn't. His hands shook; his eyes felt hot. But he couldn't break this crystal. His first crystal, from when his master had taken him to construct his own lightsaber rather than continue using a training saber. He had been so proud, so happy -

The Force moved. It was like a clinging slime, trying to stay attached to him the way that they were discouraged to -

But with a final clench, a final inwards tug, he was gone. The Force couldn't find a grip on him; he was a smooth, frictionless ball. He didn't care what the Force had been trying to tell him. It had never told him anything important before. Never warned him of anything truly important.

He was no Jedi, and it would do well for everyone to remember that.

Especially him.

There was a quiet knock at his door.

Kanan ignored it, still with his head in his hands.

The knocking got a little louder.

"Kanan," said Hera, only slightly muffled by the door, "if you don't let me in, I will get Chopper to hack your control panel."

Kanan very nearly ignored her anyways. He didn't want to talk to anyone right now. He could feel himself shaking with the effort of keeping himself apart from the Force. But the silence from the outside, the lack of footsteps walking away like nearly everyone else Kanan had met -

Well. It reminded him that he did stay on the Ghost for more than one reason.

Slowly and reluctantly, he pulled his head out of his hands and glared balefully at the door. He never should have left the cabin after that nightmare, he noted bitterly. But nonetheless, he got up and opened the door.

Hera greeted him with an arched eyebrow. "Care to explain what that was about, dear?" she asked, pushing past him into the room. "Zeb thinks that he may have offended you."

"I'll apologize in the morning," Kanan muttered, jabbing the button to close the doors a little harder than was strictly necessary.

A warm, calloused green hand gently touched his jaw, guiding him to look down into Hera's eyes. "Kanan," she said, her voice quiet but unyielding. She must have seen his lightsaber, lying disassembled on the floor.

Kanan pulled away from her, runnign his tongue over his teeth. "It's nothing," he finally muttered. "Just tired."

He was met with a disbelieving and slightly annoyed silence. Risking a glance out of the corner of his eye, he saw Hera cross her arms, looking unimpressed, and grimaced. He clenched his hands, and the kyber crystal, half-forgotten, dug into his palm.

"Just..." he said, every word feeling like it had to struggle past his lips, "realized something."

Hera was quiet for a minute. Then - "Is it something to do with the Force?"

Kanan stiffened, realizing too late that that was as good as a yes to her. She sighed.

"Kanan," she said softly.

"Hera, please," he said. He meant for it to come out firmly. Instead, it came out softly, like a plea. His stomach clenched, and he stared at the door.

Behind him, he heard her sigh. He dropped his chin to his chest and closed his eyes. He knew that she meant well; he knew that she only wanted to see him reach his full potential. But he knew that he couldn't be the Jedi that she wanted him to be. That part of him was dead and burned, its ashes scattered to the winds of some lost planet. And no matter what she said or did, that person, the Knight That Never Was, could not rise from the grave. All they had was Kanan Jarrus now, recovering drunk and crack shot.

Her hands were warm on his shoulder and chest as she stood on her toes and kissed the corner of his mouth. He couldn't bring himself to reciprocate. "I love you," she whispered into his ear. "You do know that, right?"

Kanan just stood still. He would have told her that she shouldn't, otherwise.

Hera caressed his cheek gently, and pulled him into a more full kiss. He knew what she was searching for. Some sign of life. But he couldn't bring himself to give it to her.

"Hera," he whispered instead.

"Kanan, love," she replied.

Kanan stayed still for one heartbeat, two. Studying her eyes, so filled with kindness and concern.

He didn’t deserve that. Turning away, he sat back down on his bed. “I’ll be fine,” he said tonelessly. “Enjoy your sweetwine.”

For a moment, he thought that she would press the issue. He could almost feel her hands on his shoulders.

But she didn’t. She just sighed, quiet and disappointed in a way that made him want to hunch over in shame. The door opened and closed, and then he was alone.

Chapter Text

"Hey, Kanan!"

Kanan opened the door to the fresher that he had been washing his hands in and nearly got hit in the face by an attempted knock from Dev. Jerking back, he quickly reached out and gently pushed the kid's arm down.

"What is it that couldn't wait?" He was only a little sarcastic. Seriously, as well as Dev was working out, the kid needed to know that he could wait a moment when doing what he was told to do. Kid was almost off-puttingly eager to get along with them all. It wasn't like Kanan could blame him though; he'd begged for a chance to get away from the Temple after the Massacre. He knew just how far someone could try to get along with everyone when they were dependent on someone's good humour for their survival.

Dev grinned sheepishly up at him and held up a small lento box with a thermos. "Captain Hera said that she needed someone to take some lunch up for someone called Sabine?" he asked, still smiling. "She said she was worried that she wasn't eating right."

Kanan's lips twitched. Sabine hadn't been returning to the ship except long after the start of the station's sleep cycle and leaving before the wake cycle started; worrying whether or not she was eating had been weighing on his mind as well. It was just like Hera to do something about it before Kanan did, though.

"Alright.” He took the lento box from Dev's hand and stepped out of the fresher. "Tell Hera I've gone to do just that. Did she say what was in it?"

Dev shrugged. "I didn't see specifically, but she was grabbing stuff from the freezer, so I think it's just leftovers."

Kanan nodded. "Thanks, kid," he said. "Don't kill yourself working." Dev shot him a mocking salute, and turned to go back to whatever Hera had had him doing previously.

Turning, Kanan smiled and shook his head as he made his way to the cargo bay. Sliding down the ladder with one hand, he grabbed his coat from on top of a crate where he had left it and shrugged it on as he walked down the ramp into the hangar.

Days now after the great star destroyer attack, the crowds of ships that had been hanging out on the station had thinned considerably. This meant that he didn't end up having to wait in line to use a turbolift, and he got up to the slicer room much faster than before. Entering it, he spotted a wild-haired Sabine very quickly.

Empty cans and wrappers of the sugariest and most caffeinated food and drink surrounded her station. Her eyes were wide and unblinking as she scrolled her way through the data on the screen in front of her. The only sign that she wasn't a statue were the occasional twitches of her fingers and her mussed hair that spoke of having fingers repeatedly run through it.

Carefully, he sat down beside her and thought about how he was going to break her out of the trance that she seemed to be in. Surprising her with a tap on the shoulder would probably just end with him being smacked - the same with a sudden verbal greeting, both things that had happened to him before. Luckily, those experiences had also taught him how to drag her out of her information trances without getting hurt.

Cracking open the lento box, he set the lid and thermos down on a patch of console that seemed slightly less crowded with the detritus of slicing. The bantha-meat chunks and slices of unidentifiable vegetables steamed gratifyingly; Hera had warmed it up before handing it off to Dev. Holding it up to about mid-chest level, he fanned the steam with his hand a little, blowing it over to Sabine.

A few seconds passed. Then Sabine suddenly sucked in a breath and straightened, blinking. She turned towards him and started a little. Kanan grinned.

"Hey Sabine," he said, brushing a few wrappers off of the console and setting the lento box down in their place. "How's the slicing going?"

Sabine blinked a few times before answering, looking a little like a stunned jakrab, all big eyes and frozen stillness. "Kanan," she said, sounding surprised.

"Sabine," he replied, pulling out the utensils packed into the side of the lento out.

There were several more seconds of confused blinking, during which Kanan neatly arranged the utensils so that they were balanced on top of the lento box and poured a cup of tea for her. Finally, after an eternity, Sabine's brain seemed to reboot. "Sorry." She rubbed her eyes and shook her head. "I've been staring at this screen for hours. Why are you up here?"

"I'd think it was obvious," Kanan replied. "Or should I start feeding you myself?"

Sabine flushed a little. "I realized that part," she said. "I'm just wondering why you decided to come now? Isn't it the middle of the station's sleep cycle?"

Kanan raised an eyebrow. "Yeah you definitely need to take a break. It's practically mid-wake cycle, Sabine."

"Oh kriff."

"You haven't eaten, have you?"

Sabine's stomach growled, answering that question nicely. Kanan shook his head amusedly.

"Looks like Hera sent me up just in time," he joked, letting a red-eared Sabine reach in front of him to drag the food and drink towards her. As she began to shovel chunks of meat into her mouth, he asked, "Now what's got you so absorbed in your work, then?"

Sabine swallowed a particularly large chunk of meat and coughed. Covering her mouth, she cleared her throat a swallowed a bit of her tea before answering.

"It's that chip that you brought the other day," she said. "We've all been slammed so Brahlee said that I could work through the encryptions, since I was the one that got it. It's a beautiful piece of work, though. I've tried almost everything I know and I still haven't broken it."

"Really?" Kanan blinked and huffed. "That's impressive."

"Tell me about it.” Sabine put the cup down and wiped at her mouth with the back of her hand. "Triple layered, self-destruct sequences, and I'm not even sure that it's in Basic."

Kanan whistled. "That's a lot of work for a single message," he said. "Good thing you have a knack for languages, at least."

Sabine huffed a laugh, her cheeks packed with food. "Yeah," she said, "small mercies, huh?" Digging her fork further into the lento box, she licked a trace of sauce off of her upper lip. "Anyways, thanks for the food and all, but I doubt that Hera sent you up here just to make sure I was eating. Is there something you guys need down there?"

Kanan smiled. "Maybe just for you to come down for meals a little more often. We can't keep shuttling leftovers up to you, you know."

"But I'm so close to a break-through!" Sabine pouted. "I can feel it!"

"Maybe a break will help, then," Kanan said. "I know that tough problems sometimes solve themselves when I'm not thinking about them, if you know what I mean." He patted her back and stood up. "Besides, we've been looking into bringing another person into our cell. It would help if you two could meet; get a bead on each other."

Sabine raised an eyebrow. "A new guy? From where?"

Kanan paused and sucked on his lower lip. How much to tell…

He shrugged. "Bit of a story. How about a deal? You come down for dinner for the next standard week, and I tell you how we met the kid?"

Sabine frowned. "A kid? Are you sure that's a good idea?"

Kanan raised an eyebrow. "You're still a kid too, Sabine." He smirked at her returning pout. With the little bit of sauce still at the corners of her mouth, she really did look like one. "And like I said, tell you at dinner."

"You are so frustrating some times," she said after a long silence.

Kanan grinned. He had her, and they both knew it. "See you tonight, Sabine," he said as he slipped out the door.


Kanan slipped out of the room with a spring in his step, glad to be able to give Hera the good news that Sabine would come down for dinner. He'd have to go to the market again and pick up something special. Make it so that Sabine would show up back at the Ghost at least once a day for food.

Caught up in his thoughts, Kanan bumped into someone as he made his way back to the turbolift.

"Oh, sorry." He automatically reached out to touch the person’s shoulder, checking for damage. "Wasn't watching where I was going -"

"It's alright, son," said a familiar voice. "No harm done."

Kanan's muscles locked. The shoulder he was touching was covered in a dented and scratched white shoulder plate, with faded and chipped green paint slathered on on top. Above the armour was a white-bearded face, lined and notched with scars.

He was touching a clone. Abruptly, Kanan became very aware of exactly where he was standing. In the middle of the hallway, roughly in between the slicer room and the turbolifts, with a clone. Two clones, actually, he noted as his eyes rapidly darted around. And -

A Jedi Master. Master Luminara Unduli, the Jedi he had seen the previous day arguing with Brahlee.

A sharp stab of panic shot through his chest, one that he ruthlessly stomped down on. Casually removing his hand and ignoring the urge to wipe it off on his pants, he reminded himself to play it cool. There was no reason that the clone in front of him would see anything other than an oddly polite spacer so long as he didn't give any hint of knowing exactly who and what they were.

"Right then," he said, the panic in his chest winding its way up around his throat. "I'll just be on my way, then." He jerked his thumb at the turbolifts, shoving his free hand into his coat pocket and playing with a credit chip he had forgotten was in there. Swallowing down the sour taste of fear coating the back of his throat, he turned and began to make his way down to the nearest turbolift.

"Wait."

He was just a few feet from the lifts when Master Unduli called out. Despite everything, all the time he had spent ironing out the little tells that screamed Jedi to observers, he found his feet locking to into place on the floor like they were attached to magnets. In the creche, you always stopped when a Master Jedi called out to you.

The sound of Master Unduli's footsteps were a steady tap tap tap against the durasteel floors as she came closer. His mouth dry, Kanan breathed in through his nose and out through his mouth, trying to slow the thudding of his heart. She didn't know who he was. She wouldn't try to drag him back to the Order.

She walked up behind him and stopped.

"Turn around?" she asked.

Kanan clenched his jaw and complied.

Master Unduli tilted her head up, studying his face silently. Kanan studied her right back, trying to keep his emotions under control. He knew that if he slipped, if he showed his distress, she would feel it. And if that happened -

His throat burned as bile began to force its way up his throat. The vision of Styles, lying on his back with his brains leaking out onto the floor flashed through his mind. He hoped that Master Unduli hadn't picked that up.

She looked older than the last time he had seen her, pulling him out of his hiding place in the Temple's vents. Fine lines radiated from the corners of her eyes, and there were lines around her mouth too that Kanan didn't remember. The tattooes on her chin were faded as well, and her clothing was simpler too. No more richly embroidered tabard and belt; they had been replaced with plain grey, along with a slimmer headdress.

"You feel...familiar," she said slowly after several seconds. "Have we met before?"

Kanan forced himself to shrug casually. "Maybe," he said, thickening his Outer Rim drawl as much as he dared. "I've met a couple of Mirialans in bars before - but you don't quite look like the sort of lady that hangs around in my sort of bar."

A small smile curled the corners of her lips at his words. "No, you're right. I'm not the bar sort of person."

The cold coil of fear that had wound around his throat loosened slightly. Maybe just maybe he could pull this off. "Well then, I dunno where else we could have met." He turned on his heel again, lazily waving a hand. "Anyways, I got stuff to do. Nice meeting you though."

Two steps later and her voice froze him in his tracks again.

"Caleb Dume," Master Unduli called.

Kanan knew that his sudden stillness was as good as a confession. But it was like he was paralyzed by that poison dart that had been his name.

The soft click of Master Unduli's boots on the floor echoed in Kanan's head.

"So it is you," she said quietly from beside him. There was a smile in her voice, but Kanan couldn't move his head. All he could do was stare straight ahead and feel Caleb Dume's memories begin to rise.

"I am glad," Master Unduli continued. She paced forward to properly face him, her blue eyes studying his face. "We had mourned your loss when you disappeared."

The sour burn of vomit lapped at the back of Kanan's throat. Disappeared? He had run, like the coward he proved himself to be, unable to cut it even as a padawan. Run away from his master as she fought for her life against the clones. Run away from his friends as they died underneath the blasters of droids. They could not have mourned him. There was nothing of Caleb Dume that was worth mourning.

There was a gentle hand on his shoulder. Kanan became aware of the buzzing noise in his ears that was Master Unduli's words. Of the pain in his jaw from clenching it so tight.

She was looking up at him with concern that was undeserved.

Kanan opened his mouth, and nothing came out. The swollen coils of terror and nausea had tightened around his chest, choking him into silence.

"Padawan Dume?" one of the clones called. "Master Luminara, is he alright?"

Kanan turned his head and saw bloody-mouthed Styles standing behind them, looking concerned. He blinked, and it was the other clone again. All he could hear was his heartbeat now, thundering in his ears.

"I have to go," he forced out. "Now."

He turned and entered the turbolift, mashing the button to close the door. It hissed shut, cutting off whatever Master Unduli had been about to say.

Standing in the lift, all he could hear was the same buzzing that he'd heard while Master Unduli was talking. The world seemed to start and stop in fits; one moment he was in the lift, the next he was out in the hangar, the next on the ramp of the Ghost.

"Kanan?"

The rope of fear was wrapped tight around his chest, keeping him from breathing and forcing his lunch up from his stomach and into his throat. Ghosts flickered in the corners of his eyes, their whispers just below what he could make out. His skin itched. His nails were digging into his palms. His muscles twitched with excess energy. He couldn't stop grinding his teeth.

"Um, Kanan?"

His hands opened and closed spasmodically. He could see his friends, lying on the floor of the Temple with burned blaster holes in their chests and heads, reaching out for help. He could see his master in the mud, in a crate, stuffed in to be brought back for a proper funeral pyre, her face grey and rotting in death. He could see Janus, lying on the ground of a cell, his eyes swollen shut and spitting out shattered teeth with bloody-knuckled clones standing over him.

"Kanan, are you okay?"

There was a touch, as soft as an insect landing on his arm. Kanan was sure his arm damn near blurred as it slammed into whatever was touching him.

A shrill shout of pain made everything snap into focus.

He was back on the Ghost, in the cargo bay. The lights above him buzzed quietly to themselves. Hera was standing up on the level above, wide-eyed and silent. Zeb was crouched on the floor beside Dev, who was cradling the side of his face, a fallen crate beside him spilling its contents on the floor.

Kanan's knuckles stung.

Those blue blue eyes stared up at him in shock.

Kanan's knuckles stung. He looked down.

There were scrapes on them.

Zeb helped Dev stand up, his large purple hands steadying him as he swayed and clutched his now-reddening cheek, still staring at Kanan with those blue blue eyes. Kanan couldn't breathe. Hera was staring at him too. He turned and climbed up the ladder to the crew's quarters, away from all the eyes.

The corridor seemed to sway underneath Kanan's feet. He stumbled and grabbed a hold of the walls, struggling to stay on his feet. Chopper whirred behind him, barking questions. Kanan ignored him. His room was in front of him, and he almost fell in, groping at the switch to lock the door behind him. Then then he allowed himself to fall to his knees, the visions of the dead that littered his path filling up his eyes and buzzing filling up his ears.

Master Unduli had seen him. Master Unduli had recognized him. Master Unduli would drag him back, make him be a Jedi again and go die on the field Master Billaba had -

Distantly, he heard someone hiccup. His face was wet, and Kanan realized that he was crying, tugging at his hair in a useless attempt to soothe himself. He rocked back and forth, one arm wrapped tight around his middle and the other running through his hair, his back to the door and with tears trickling down his face.

He'd been recognized. Sweet Force, he had been recognized. He felt like he had been on a spacewalk, only to look back and see that his tether hadn't been attached to anything in the first place.

Caleb Dume. Just hearing that name spoken aloud made him ache right down to his core. The boy had died on Kaller buried under his own grief; the last vestiges had been burned along with his friends' bodies at the Temple after the Massacre. But Master Unduli's words had disturbed his grave, dragging him out into the open again.

Caleb, no, Kanan screwed his eyes shut, digging his fingers into his scalp. He was not in the Temple anymore. He was not a Jedi anymore. He was a rebel, Spectre One of the Ghost. He had a room and a lover and a family, something no Jedi could have. His name was Kanan Jarrus; he had only met the padawan known as Caleb Dume once in his life, at the padawan's funeral.

The door to his room hissed open. Kanan kept his eyes shut, his fingers in his hair.

The muscles under his skin jumped as someone sat down beside him. There was the sound of leather being dragged across skin and then a set of small calloused hands were gently stroking the top of his head, running over hair and hand alike.

Kanan cracked open an eyelid. Hera was kneeling beside him, her face slightly worried and slightly angry.

"I'm sorry," he mumbled, drawing his knees to his chest and burying his face in them. He pulled his hand from his hair and wrapped both arms around his legs, beginning to rock back and forth again. He hadn't realized that he had stopped in the first place.

"What happened?" she asked. "I've never seen you like this before."

Kanan shut his eyes again. For a minute, he just let himself feel Hera's fingers dragging against his scalp, soothing and calming him until the rope around his neck loosened.

"There's a Jedi on the station," he finally choked out. "Master Luminara Unduli. She recognized me."

"Oh, Kanan," Hera sighed. The hand in his hair stopped and he felt her arms wrap around his shoulders, her cheek pressed to the top of his head.

"She wanted to talk to me. Alone." Kanan pressed his lips together until it hurt. "She said that the Order had missed me." His voice cracked a little on the second to last word. "She was going to drag me back there, and I can't do that, Hera, I can't -"

"I'm sure that she didn't mean it that way," Hera murmured into the top of his head. Kanan didn't reply right away. He felt thin, skin stretched over jagged, protruding bones.

Like he was going to break down and start screaming at any moment.

He breathed in deep through his nose, concentrating on the feeling of air filling and leaving his lungs.

"I hate this," he said into the silence of the room, opening up his eyes. "All of this."

Hera didn't have to ask what he was talking about. "It's normal to react like this when confronted with your past like you were," she said.

Kanan shook his head. "Not like this," he said. "I was better, I felt better, but then she started talking to me and I just -" He fell silent.

"Fell apart." Hera's arms squeezed around his shoulders again. "You haven't exactly confronted your past before," she said gently. "It's normal that you would have trouble facing it that first time -"

"I've dealt with Janus and Grey before, though," Kanan said, feeling a lick of anger behind his eyes. With himself or Hera, he couldn't tell. "I've never ended up like this after talking to them."

"They aren't the root of Kanan, though," she said. "Not the way the Jedi are." She leaned close to him, pressing her forehead against his temple. "You weren't as okay as you thought you were," she said. "That's not something to be ashamed of."

But Kanan couldn't bring himself to agree. He pressed his face into his knees again, shuddering. All the jittering energy that had filled his body was draining away, leaving him a shivering mess. Without it, he felt like he was recovering from a fever - all weak and shaky, unable to concentrate on what was in front of his eyes.

Master Unduli's words had done this.

They sat together, rocking slightly in silence as the shaking began to recede. Kanan could hear the station continuing to function around them. Chopper burbled to himself in the cockpit, the occasional hiss and pop of him dealing with their navcomputer interjecting every once in a while. People moved around outside, their boots clattering against the station's durasteel floors. And inside the Ghost, the soft murmur of voices from the cargo hold -

"I hit someone," Kanan said, not moving from his position.

"You did belt Dev across the face pretty hard," Hera agreed.

Kanan tried to curl up a little more. Hit Dev? After everything that he had been through? Only some of those bruises had been from his    captivity -

"But Zeb's taking care of him. There's just a bit of a bruise on his cheek; nothing that a little bacta won't take care of." Hera leaned back slightly and tugged gently on his hair, making him open his eyes and look up at her. Her face was soft now, the anger from before gone. "It probably wouldn't hurt if you talked to him a little though. Explained what happened."

Kanan swallowed. "Tell him what? That I can't control myself from lashing out after a little shock -"

"Stop." Hera's beautiful brow wrinkled. "Stop that. That was not a little shock that you got up there and you know that, love."

Kanan looked away. He knew that what she said was right. That didn't make the guilt go away. How was Dev going to look at him now? Working with him on repairs for the ship, he had found himself honestly liking the kid. Liking how he seemed to slowly be getting pulled out of his shell by Zeb and Chopper's jokes, how he was always so polite to Hera. His small smile, that he always ducked his head to hide. How his eyes seemed to shine with happiness every morning when he showed up for work.

That hit could have snuffed that all out.

"Kanan." Hera tapped his forehead with one slim green finger. "Don't get trapped up here. Go talk to Dev. Don't let this fester."

Kanan bit the inside of his cheek, but nodded. He knew in his gut that Hera was right. He didn't like it, but he knew that she was right. Slowly, he stretched out his limbs and got up, his joints popping after sitting for so long.

On his feet, Hera stood on tiptoes to kiss his cheek. "Don't keep running away," she whispered. "I like Dev too."

He couldn't bring himself to be irritated at her comment. Instead, he just turned his head and captured her lips for a brief, chaste kiss. "I won't," he said. "Not this time."

Chapter Text

The quiet conversation that Kanan had heard in his cabin cut off as soon as he began to come down the ladder into the cargo bay. Letting himself drop to the floor, he stalled for a moment by dusting off his gloves before turning around.

Zeb and Dev stared at him from where they were perched on top of some crates. Lying beside them was the Ghost's old and battered first aid kit. There was a small bandage on Dev's left cheek, taped into place and very white against his tanned skin. Above it, those blue eyes watched Kanan carefully, reminding him of the mangy stray tookas that had congregated around the dumpster of an old diner he had worked at once. Half-starved, they had watched every sentient that came out of the building to empty the trash carefully, weighing their chances of getting a kick if they got too close. It made Kanan's gut squirm to see that same look on Dev's face.

Clearing his throat, he scratched the back of his neck, very aware that despite trying to clean himself up a bit he still looked like a wreck.

"Hey," he said, his voice rough. "Could I talk to Dev for a moment?"

Zeb pinned his ears back, frowning. He turned back to Dev, deliberately showing his back to Kanan. "You okay with that, kid? I'll stay if you want me to."

Dev looked at Kanan, his face slightly speculative. His eyes flicked over him, head to toe. Kanan tried not to squirm under the weight of the scrutiny.

Finally, he nodded silently. "Yeah," he said. "Okay. Let's talk. And you don't have to stay if you don't want to," he said, nodding at Zeb. "Thanks for the help, though."

"Believe me kid," Zeb said, fixing his bright green eyes on Kanan, "it's no problem at all." Leaning back, he crossed his arms across his broad chest, clearly not about to move an inch.

Kanan looked down and rubbed his thumbs over his knuckles as Zeb's glare burned a hole in the side of his head. "How's your face?" he asked.

Dev shrugged. "It's okay. I've been hit harder."

Kanan’s throat tightened. The neutrality of that statement made him feel like the lowest slime in the universe. From the way Zeb shifted on top of his crate, like he was sitting on the hood of a too-warm speeder, Kanan guessed that he was probably feeling the same.

"That...doesn't make what I did okay," Kanan said slowly. "you know that, right?"

There was a pause before Dev nodded. There was depressingly little comprehension in his eyes, though. Kanan wondered, not for the first time in the few weeks he had known him, just what Dev's life had been like before he was found in that cell. He had said that he didn't have anyone to go back to, which suggested that he had been -

But that was enough of that line of thought. He had come down to apologize and explain, not theorize.

"Listen, you deserve an explanation for - all that," Kanan said, looking everywhere but at the kid. "The thing is -" Blast, how to explain this without revealing too much?

"I met someone I knew a long time ago, and it brought up a lot of bad memories," he tried. "And sometimes, when I get hit with all of those bad memories at once, I kind of -"

"Go away inside?"

Kanan blinked. "What?"

Dev went a little pink and looked down at the floor. Raising a hand, he fluttered his fingers beside his temple. "Going away inside." He shrugged, raising his head but not quite looking at Kanan or Zeb. "You know, you go all floaty and not quite there and you're just watching everything going on around you." His eyes flicked up, first to Kanan, then to Zeb, who who had uncrossed his arms and was leaning forward with a furrowed brow. "I saw it all the time around the clone war vets" he shrugged helplessly. "They’d get this weird look on their face, like they were looking past you, or like no one was home, and then they’d flip out. I should have noticed you had the same sort of look. I’ll check next time."

Kanan swallowed. The way Dev was acting, looking away and fidgeting with a bruised and bandaged cheek - he had seen that a hundred times in the slums where he had stayed before meeting Hera. A kid sitting on the ground by a cantina, doodling in the filth as they waited for their dad or mom to finish drinking and come home, hoping that they didn’t get a fresh bruise for the next time. That familiar look and litany of self-blame on his lips after talking to him…

Nevertheless, Kanan forded onward. He could talk to Hera about that later. "Yeah, sort of like that. But anyways, I wanted to apologize -"

But Dev was shaking his head. "It's okay," he said, "you weren't yourself. I should have been paying attention -"

"Kid, it's not okay," Zeb rumbled. "He hit you. You shouldn’t be the one apologizing."

Dev looked irritated. "I've been hit before," he said, "it's no big deal. I should have taken the hint when he didn't answer when I talked to him."

Kanan winced and rubbed his forehead. "I'm actually going to have to agree with Zeb here, actually," he said. "It isn't right that I hit you, Dev. Just because you're used to it doesn't make it okay."

Dev groaned and drummed his heels against the crate impatiently. "Not you too."

"In any case," Kanan said, "I want to make it up to you."

Dev rolled his eyes. "With what?"

Kanan paused. He hadn't actually thought this far. "Er, dinner?" he suggested.

Dev cocked an eyebrow, then grinned. "I thought it was traditional to offer candy in your windowless speeder-van before dinner."

Zeb gave out a bark of startled laughter.

Kanan just rolled his eyes in reply. "Fine then," he said, "I guess I'll just let that fifth nerf steak go to waste."

"Woah, woah, woah," Dev said, hopping off the crate and holding up his hands. "Let's not be hasty."

Kanan smirked. "I thought so." A fragile sense of peace began to cool his churning gut, letting him breathe easier. "Dinner will be in two standard hours if you want to stick around until then. I'm sure Zeb can find something for you to do."

Dev just laughed. “You think I’m going to take off after you offer me nerf steak? You’ll have to pry me out of here with a crowbar.”


The sound of meat hissing in a frying pan was a familiar one for Kanan. Over his years spent as a drunk and a scoundrel, he had held down many jobs, and several of those had been as a cook. With its high turnover rate, no one much cared to look too closely into his history, making it perfect for someone looking to hide from the galaxy.

In those tiny, filthy kitchens that stank of rotting trash, he never dreamed that he would ever find himself in this sort of situation; standing in a ship's kitchen with an apron wrapped around his waist, quietly making dinner for a group of people that he could honestly say were like a family to him.

There was a small, hungry noise at the doorway. Peeking out of the corner of his eye, he hid a smile. Dev was standing there, his eyes glued to the small nerf steaks sizzling in the pan and looking very young. Dinner had definitely been a good idea.

Leaving the steaks cooking for a moment, Kanan turned back to the pile of vegetables and picked up a knife. The vegetables were not the best; they ranged from limp and droopy to withered. But finding actual vegetables on a space station this far between planets was a blessing that he wasn't going to throw away, so carefully he began to carve away the inedible bits as best he could.

"That smells wonderful," Hera said, walking through the doorway with an empty mug in her hand. She ruffled Dev's hair as she passed, making him duck his head with a smile and disappear, the sound of his footsteps quickly fading. "When will it be ready?"

Kanan looked up from his vegetables and grinned. "Not too long now," he said. "Once I'm done cutting these it's just a quick steam and then it's just waiting for the meat."

Hera smiled. "Good," she said. She sat down at the table, rubbing her face. "You know, I'm always shocked by how exhausting going through the Ghost's systems is, no matter how many times I have to do it."

Kanan, having finished carving away the bad spots, only briefly glanced over at her, focusing more on chopping up the vegetables into bite-sized chunks. "Chopper didn't help?" he asked.

"Not quite," she replied, inspecting her mug for remnants of caf. "He was there, but he was, well..."

"Chopper." Kanan huffed a laugh. "Don't know why we keep that bucket of bolts around."

Hera shrugged. "He's the only one that knows the whole system of the ship at this point," she said. "I'm afraid it's too late, dear."

Kanan hmm'd and continued to chop. Hera continued to sit, leaning back and closing her eyes, the two of them just enjoying each other's attention. Kanan had finished cutting and was just throwing the vegetables in to steam when she spoke again.

"Feeling better now?" she asked.

Kanan didn't have to ask what she meant. "Much better," he said. "Helps that Dev doesn't seem to have held a grudge."

Hera nodded her head. "He's a sweet boy." She ran a finger around the rim of her mug.

"You like him too, then."

"He's a very likeable boy. Even Chopper doesn’t mind him, and he hates everyone."

"Zeb too," Kanan said, turning his attention back to the meat and flipping it. "He stayed with me and Dev while we were talking so that Dev didn't feel threatened. Looked like he helped him with put on a bacta-patch too."

"Now all we need is for Sabine to like him and we'll be set," Hera joked. "It's a pity she hasn't been able to be around the past few nights."

"Well," Kanan said, sprinkling some salt on top of the meat, "I got some good news for you then. While I was up there giving her some food, I talked to her about eating with us and she agreed to come to dinner again, starting tonight."

There was a brief pause. Then Kanan heard Hera get out of her seat. He grinned as he felt her arms wrap around him, and freed a hand to lay on top of them.

"You are far too sweet sometimes," Hera murmured into his back.

"Ah, it was nothing," he said. "She needed a break anyways. She's driving herself crazy up there, trying to break that message that we caught for Fulcrum."

He felt Hera grin and shake her head. "She needs to relax," she said. "Fulcrum barely lets anyone know who they are - I had to wait for nearly two years before she trusted me with even a holocall, and that was before the network had become an actual threat to the Empire."

Kanan shrugged. "She's young," he said. "Being impatient is what teenagers do. And at least she's willing to put some work into it. I've known a few people that insisted on trust without giving any reason for it."

"Knock-knock!" came a call from the cargo bay. "I'm home!"

"Well, speak of the devil," Hera said. "I do believe that she has returned to us."

"Just in time too," Kanan said, pulling the meat off of the stove. "Dinner's just about ready."

Sabine appeared at the door, her hair looking far neater than it had up in the slicing room. She grinned and held up a small box. "Hey," she said, stepping into the room, "I brought some dessert."

"Thank you, Sabine," Hera said, pulling away from Kanan and taking the box. "I'm sure that it will be delicious."

Sabine stuck her hands into her pockets and shrugged. "It was nothing," she said. "Anyways, where's the new guy Kanan was telling me about? I want to meet him."

"Right here, Zeb said from the doorway. Dev peeked around him and lit up as his eyes fell on Sabine.

"Uh, hey," he said, squeezing past Zeb, "my name's Dev. Dev Morgan." He held out his hand for a shake, a Charming Smile on his face. Kanan grinned and shook his head, pulling out some plates.

Sabine quirked an eyebrow, clearly recognizing the Charming Smile for what it was, but smiled back anyways, returning the shake with a gentle fistbump. "The name's Sabine. Tech, weaponry and explosives." Letting her hand fall back to her side, she leaned against the table. "Nice to meet you. Kanan's told me a bit about you."

"Oh yeah, same thing here," Dev replied, his face a little pink. "I - I mean, he's told me a bit about you, not me, I mean, since, you know, me and him only met a few weeks ago and we haven't exactly swapped backstories and stuff." He chuckled nervously and looked away.

Zeb snorted and placed his hand on top of Ezra's head, his fingers covering the boy's eyes. "Kid," he said, "quit while you're ahead. You're just making a fool of yourself now."

"I wasn't making a fool of myself!" Dev complained, tugging at Zeb's hand.

"You kind of were," Kanan said, breaking in to stop the fight before it began. "But don't worry. I think we're all too hungry to hold it against you." Picking up a spoon, he grinned at them. "Besides, dinner's ready."

That stopped the two of them from glaring at each other. Pulling out the dish of vegetables, Kanan began to spoon a portion onto each plate, following it quickly with the meat as the kids hovered nearby, their eyes fixed on the food.

Snatching the plates up as they were finished, they all quickly settled into the galley and began to dig in, not bothering with conversation for now. All of them had had a long day, Kanan included. And personally, Kanan was surprised by his own appetite as he shoveled bits of nerf steak into his mouth as he leaned against the counter. Usually after having a flashback, all he wanted was enough alcohol to make him pass out - not that he had done that since joining up with Hera, but the urge was still there, no matter how many years passed. Today, though, there was none of that - just hunger for a good meal.

Kanan guessed that there was something to be said for attachment, despite how the Jedi had preached against it. Looking around the galley, with everyone squashed in and devouring the food he had prepared, he felt a great wave of contentment flow through him. After Order 66, the Temple Massacre, and Styles, Kanan had felt like he was broken and empty in some deep, fundamental way. A yawning hole had opened in his chest, one that he tried to fill with alcohol and sex. Neither had worked, only leaving him emptier than ever, and often face-down in a gutter with his wallet missing. He didn't want to even think of what would have happened to him had he not heard Hera's voice that night on Gorse, on the track to an early death as he was.

Sabine, nearly done with her plate of food, finally slowed down. Swallowing her mouthful, she put down her fork and knife. "So," she said to Dev, who had already finished his plate and busy scraping the last little traces of sauce off of his plate with his own fork. "What's with the bandage?"

Dev looked up, sucking on the tines of his fork. Pulling the now gleaming utensil from his mouth, he reached up and touched his cheek. "This? It split open again after Kanan hit me," he said.

Kanan choked.

"What?" Sabine's head snapped over to Kanan. Wincing, he pounded on his chest and coughed a few times.

"I, uh, met a few people today after bringing you lunch. They brough up some bad memories."

Sabine raised an eyebrow. "Bad memories?" she said incredulously. "What sort of memories make you attack people?" She leaned forward, furrowing her brow and looking fierce. "Are there people you want me to keep an eye out for?"

"Sabine!" Hera warned.

Kanan raised a hand wearily. "It's fine, Hera," he said. Sighing, he rubbed the back of his neck. "Look, Sabine," he said. "I know that your heart is in the right place, but these aren't the people who..." He gestured to himself, at a loss to explain in any real detail without collapsing once more. "They're just - other survivors. People I knew from back then. And I can't handle those reminders.” He looked down at his own scraped clean plate. “Not right now."

"Wait, other survivors?" Now Dev was leaning forward, looking equally as concerned as Sabine did. "What does that mean?"

Kanan grimaced. "Nothing I'm comfortable talking about right now," he warned.

Dev pressed his lips together in frustration, but leaned back in his seat, clearly dropping the subject. Kanan sighed again. This was not how he had wanted this to go.

"How about dessert, then?" Hera said, breaking the silence. Sabine, thankfully, despite her suspicious look, played along. "Yeah," she said, getting up from the table, "I saw a bakery on the way here, and decided 'why not'." Picking up the box from where it had been set down on the small counter she flipped it open and smiled as everyone craned their necks to get a better look.

Kanan smiled at the sight of a half-dozen small tarts, filled with what looked like jogan fruit preserves. “Thanks, Sabine,” he said, reaching down to pluck one from the box.

 

She smiled at the compliment, but the air still felt tense. It didn’t leave even as they all gobbled the tarts down, or after they all had begun to argue over who got the sixth tart. It made Kanan’s stomach cramp and the ship seem too close and stuffy.

That was why he found himself lingering outside on the ramp, scuffing the ramp with the toe of his boot as Dev scarfed down the last of the pastries, licking his fingers.

With a final, satisfied smacking noise, Dev reluctantly put the box down on top of a crate and looked up at him.

"I guess this is goodnight, then," he said, the words slightly hesitant as they left his mouth.

"Yeah, I guess." Kanan rubbed the back of his neck. "So, am I forgiven?"

Dev blinked, looking confused for a moment, before his face melted into a smile. "Yeah," he said, looking down at his feet, "yeah, you're forgiven. Just don't do it again," he said, shaking a finger at Kanan jokingly.

Kanan grinned back and caught the kid's finger, pushing it down "Message received," he said. "Anyways, you're okay to get to…?" Kanan paused; where was Dev staying again?

"Oh, you know, where they put all us prisoners," Dev said.

"I said that out loud?"

Dev grinned again, looking away. "Yep," he said.

Huh. He must still be pretty rattled if he couldn't keep track of what was coming out of his mouth.

"Anyways," Dev said, stretching his arms above his head, "I'll see you tomorrow, I guess." Letting his arms fall to his sides with a grunt, he began to walk down the ramp, into the now-quieter hangar bay. It was sleep cycle now, with the lights dimmed low enough for it to be hard for humans to see; fewer people were out and about as well, most taking advantage of the regular hours that being parked in a space station afforded.

A sudden thought struck Kanan as he watched the kid walk away.

"Hey kid," he called out, making Dev stop and turn around to look at him. Jogging down, he reached out and clapped a hand onto the kid's shoulder. "Dev," he said, "it just occurred to me; it's got to be a long way back to wherever you're sleeping, how about you stay with us for the night? I know I can get Zeb to give up one of the bunks in his room -"

"No."

Kanan looked down at Dev in surprise, just catching a flash of some unidentifiable emotion on his face before the kid looked away.

Dev breathed in deeply, his narrow shoulders going up and down, before looking back up at him. "Sorry," he said, "not that I don't appreciate the offer, but I kind of like having some space after that cell. Pretty much everyone else has left, so I can really spread out, and I know you guys would be willing to share but -"

"Uh, kid," Kanan interrupted, "you know that if you're going to join us, you are going to have to share a room. Right?"

Dev stuck his hands into the flightsuit's pockets and hunched up his shoulders around his ears. "I know," he said, "I just wanna enjoy the space while I can."

Kanan couldn't argue with that feeling. The Ghost did start to feel pretty cramped after a while with all five of them onboard. "If you're sure, then," he said, backing down. "Are you sure you don't wanna be walked back, at least?"

Dev brushed the offer off with a gesture. "I'll be fine," he said. "I'll see you guys tomorrow."

"Alright then," Kanan said, shrugging both internally and externally. "Offer's open if you change your mind.”

Dev flashed a smile as he turned to leave. "See you," he said.

"Yeah," Kanan said quietly as he watched the boy walk away, into the dark. He leaned back against one of the ramp's supporting struts, feeling disquieted for no apparent reason. "See you."


Sunlight filled the Temple, streaming in through the windows. Caleb could hear birds chirping outside, and the wind rustling through the Courtyard tree's leaves. Outside of his master's room, he could hear people moving about, making up the quiet hum of noise that was part of Temple life for as long as he could remember.

And yet, Caleb didn't want to go outside of the door. Sitting on his master's bed, the mattress not too hard and not too soft, covered in Chalactan quilts, he stared at the door, filled with the certainty that if he so much as went near it, everything would stop. Stop with the finality of death, like the deaths of the clones that they fought beside.

A faint knock at the door made Caleb jump. There was a pause, and then another knock.

"Yes?" Caleb called out from a mouth that seemed to have forgotten how to work. "What is it?"

"Caleb," came the soft voice of Master Billaba, "it is time for breakfast. Don't leave everyone waiting." The smile in her voice kept the words from stinging.

Obediently, Caleb slid off of the bed, sinking his bare toes into the lush carpet with a small burst of pleasure. He had nothing like this in the Initiates quarters. Hadn't Master Billaba promised him one of these carpets the other day, when he had expressed his admiration?

That was right, she had said it when she brought him here after a particularly hard training session. She had smiled at him, keeping him from feeling guilty for wanting such a luxury; she had run her fingers through his sweaty hair, her voice a throaty murmur as she told him what the different woven patterns meant. They had ended up talking for several hours, until his eyes had been drooping and she had smiled more, draping a quilt over him.

The door whooshed open, revealing Master Billaba with her hands folded in front of her and tucked into her sleeves, her hair pulled back into its usual braids. She was smiling again. The birds outside were were chirping.

"Come along now, my padawan," she said, holding out a hand. "We mustn't let the tea cool too much."

Caleb smiled back, and took her hand, following her into the adjacent room. His smile only grew as he saw who was waiting for him. Sitting at the long, low table were his friends, Sammo and Tai. Grey and Styles were there too, out of their armour but still in their undersuits. Grey was pouring tea for everyone while Styles poked at the rolls in a basket suspiciously. The door out to the rest of the Temple was open, letting the noise of the living in.

"Thank you, Grey," Master Billaba said, sitting down gracefully, her robes spread out around her. Caleb tried to sit down as gracefully as she did, but instead found himself thumping down, his own robes wrinkled and piled underneath his butt.

"Thank you, Grey," Caleb and his friends chanted, reaching for their own tea. That first sip was so familiar and comforting as it crossed his tongue, he could have drunk the whole pot by himself. It tasted like home, and the connection with the Force and all the other Jedi in the Temple.

"Right," Styles announced, picking up the rolls, "I don't entirely trust these, but who wants some bread?"

"Sweet rolls," Master Billaba corrected with a smile. "And I would love one this morning."

"And me!"

"And me!"

"Aw, heck, Captain," Grey said, his eyes crinkling and making the scar across his face flex, "give a round to everyone." He winked at Caleb, making an embarrassing giggle slip out.

"So, Caleb, what's it like out there?" Tai asked, his metal braid covers clinking together as they leaned forward. "Is it exciting?"

Caleb grinned and opened his mouth to answer, feeling a little superior in his knowledge of what it was like 'out there' compared to his still Temple-bound friends when an odd taste filled his mouth. Metallic and salty, it was familiar, like everything else here, but unpleasant, unlike everything else here.

Something red caught his gaze out of the corner of his eye. Looking down, Caleb didn't understand what he was looking at in his cup for a moment. Then it hit him.

Blood. His tea had been replaced with blood.

It stuck to the inside of the cup as he tilted it, leaving yellow and brown stains that stood out against the white porcelain. Looking at the roll on his plate, it looked squashed and a little muddy now, like it had been lying on the ground and stepped on.

"Caleb?"

Caleb turned his head and screamed. His master, looking down at him with a face slack in death, unrecognizable from the blaster bolts burning half of it off. His friends were slumped over the table, their own eyes blank and clouded, the smell of the burnt flesh overwhelming.

Jumping up, Caleb fell over again onto his butt and tried to crawl backwards. Styles stared at him across the table, smiling slightly. His eyes were bulging out of their sockets from the shockwave of the blaster bolt that had slammed through his skull, causing blood to flow from his nose and mouth until it painted a new red streak down the front of his armour. Grey was in his armour too, but he wasn't sitting at the table anymore. He was standing and aiming his rifle at Caleb, his helmet on and hiding his face, and looking up at through a sheet of tears across his eyes, Caleb couldn't recognize his friend in the familiar painted piece of armour. His finger wrapped around the trigger, and Caleb was staring down the barrel and could see the light of the tibanna gas igniting -

Caleb closed his eyes and wept.


Kanan sat on the ramp of the Ghost with a mug of hot Spiran caf in his hands and his warmest, loosest sweater wrapped around him.

He had awoken just at the very end of the sleep cycle of the station. The rest of the crew was sleeping in after the dinner from last night, having spent most of the sleep cycle talking rather than doing what the name suggested and sleeping.

They had mostly talked about Dev, everyone having finally met him. Hera had the final say in most decisions regarding the ship, being the captain and the leader of their cell, but she preferred to get everyone's opinion when it came to deciding whether or not to accept a new member. And since everyone was there and had talked to the kid, it had seemed to be natural to come to a decision then.

Kanan and Hera both liked the kid; Kanan especially appreciated in his clever resourcefulness and the sheer ballsiness of what he had done that day in the market. Hera also approved of the kid's boldness, but thought that he was also useful with how quickly he had picked up on the different repairs that the Ghost sometimes needed to stay flying. Zeb liked the kid too, though one was hard-pressed to tell with the amount of poodoo that he threw in Dev's direction whenever the kid was onboard.

And Sabine. She was a little more reserved. But even she had said that Dev 'seemed like a nice kid', and was willing to give him a chance, despite the awful bit of flirting he had done that night with her.

That was why Kanan was sitting out here this early, just as the lights were being raised to signify the start of the wake cycle. It certainly wasn't because of the nightmare that had awoken him twenty minutes earlier, he told himself, no matter how it had made his heart thunder in his chest and his brain forget the name he had been going under for nearly half of his life. It certainly had nothing to do with how he couldn't sleep after that, and had had to come out of his cabin and do something to keep himself from breaking down completely.

No, he thought as he took a sip of his Spiran caf, enjoying the scent that filled his nose, he was definitely just sitting out so that he could give the kid the good news as soon as he showed up for work this morning.

"That certainly smells good," someone said. Kanan turned his head and choked, hot caf nearly going up his nose.

Master Unduli was standing beside the ramp, one green hand resting on it and looking up at him calmly. She watched as he choked with mild concern. "Do you need some help?" she asked as he tried to regain his breath, tears gathering in the corners of his eyes.

"I'm fine," he croaked, his mind racing. How had she found him? How had she found the Ghost? He hadn't been around her long enough for her to memorize his Force signature enough to track him through a space station with hundreds of thousands of sentients onboard, surely? Unless -

Kriff. She must have just tracked down the only other Force-sensitive on the station that was Jedi-strong. Swallowing, he set down his mug beside him and quickly darted his eyes around, trying to pick her clone guards out of the sentients beginning to slowly moving around the hangar.

"Do not worry, Caleb," she said quietly, making him still, "I did not bring Gree and Vim. I realized how distressing that might have been."

And this isn't distressing? he wanted to shout hysterically. Staring his past in the face? It wasn't just the clones that had thrown him off his game the last time they had met. But he didn't shout that; instead, he just bit the inside of his lower lip instead, jerkily nodding in acknowledgement of her attempted comfort.

"May I sit with you for a moment and talk?" she asked, slipping around the the end of the ramp and folding her arms in the Jedi fashion. "Just talk, nothing else."

What could Kanan do to stop her? He nodded, again, feeling like his brain was going to rattle out of his skull. She bowed her head, climbing up to where he was sitting down and gracefully arranging her skirts around her before kneeling beside him. Some of those skirts were close to touching Kanan, so close he couldn't keep from flinching as folded her hands in her lap. He saw her eyes track his movements, and knew that she was filing the reaction away in her mind.

Kanan could hear, as if from a great distant, shouting from his memories. People looking for him. He buried his nose in his caf and took a swallow, trying to drown it out with the drink's heated reality.

For a minute, they just sat like that; Master Unduli kneeling, him with his legs drawn up to his chest and an arm resting on top, the both of them pretending to watch life drift past them.

"May I ask a personal question, Dume?" she asked, breaking the silence.

Kanan drew his knees closer to his chest, the sound of his previous name making something old and rotting move in his chest. "Jarrus," he said, his voice harsh to his ears. "It's Kanan Jarrus now." Why had he said that? He'd have to change his name again to keep the Jedi from following him. That was going to be so awkward to explain to everybody.

Master Unduli merely inclined her head slightly. "Jarrus, then," she said. "May I ask a personal question?"

A burst of humourless laughter dribbled from Kanan's lips. "I can hardly stop you, now can I?"

"Nevertheless." She was looking at him with solemn eyes that burned in the dim light until Kanan was forced to look away, pretending to inspect his mug.

"Sure," he muttered, aware that he sounded like a sullen Sabine more than the man that he had become.

"Why did you leave the Order?" she asked. "We did not blame you for your actions that day."

And of course she started with the hard questions. Kanan ground his teeth together, staring fixedly at the mug in his hands, still half-full of rapidly-cooling caf. A wordless shout pressed at his teeth as he struggled to put into words what he had been feeling that day. How did he explain his weakness, how he had wanted to puke and scream and cry like a Jedi never would - how the news of his reassignment to a new master had been like a voorpak gnawing at his guts, with the guilt of hiding while his friends had fought the attacking droids and died. How he had heard their screams and then their silence echoing through the ventilation shafts until Master Unduli had dragged him out into the Temple and through the halls where the other younglings had lain, their bodies still and eyes glassy in the death he hadn't deserved to cheat.

"Couldn't cut it as a Jedi, I guess," he said, not looking at her and forcing himself to take a sip.

"You don't know that," Master Unduli said, also not looking at him. "The future is always in motion. A moment of weakness is nothing to be ashamed of."

Weakness. The word slid into his chest and heart like a vibroblade. Her very words showed her lie. Kanan nearly tore the mug from his lips and put it down with a hard clink.
"What do you want, Master Unduli?"

The Mirialan Jedi Master tapped a finger against her skirt. "To make an offer," she said quietly, "and if the offer was refused, to understand why."

Kanan smoothed a hand over his hair. "Ask away then," he said. "I have a lot to do today."

"Will you return to the Jedi Order?"

"No." An easy enough question to answer.

"Why not."

"Because I said no." Kanan stood up and turned to return to the inside of the ship. "Anything else?" he asked, his back prickling from Master Unduli's stare.

There was a silence. Then -

"No, I suppose not." He heard her skirts rustle as she stood up and straightened her clothes. "My thanks for speaking with me, Jarrus."

Kanan just grunted and waited until he heard her footsteps fade, concentrating on his breathing. His hands were shaking, he realized, grabbing a hold of his mug with both hands. Shaking so hard that he could see it in the caf. Closing his eyes, he tried to pull himself together.

"Who was that?"

Kanan almost reacted the same way he had the previous day. Jumping he whirled, his arm pulling back to lash out until -

"Kanan?" Dev flinched back, ducking his head, and Kanan just managed to stop himself. He was breathing heavily through his nose now, his ears ringing again like he had just been in a firefight with a blaster right by his ear.

For a few seconds, they stood there, Dev peeking up at him from under his arm, Kanan about to backhand him in a twisted tableau that Kanan was sure would get Darth Sidious off. A Jedi-trained man, lashing out at those he was supposed to be protecting. Kanan wanted to run off and vomit in the fresher.

But he didn't. Instead, he took a deep breath and lowered his arm, sternly telling his racing heart to slow down. There was no threat here. It was just Dev, and himself. And Dev at least didn't think he was a coward or a runaway; Dev only knew Kanan, who had helped him when he had needed it.

Just the sort of person he wanted right now; someone who wouldn't urge him to face his past or discuss what had happened all those years ago.

Reaching up with his free hand, he smoothed his hair back and sighed, more at himself than at anything else. "Sorry," he said, "one of those people from yesterday showed up again today. I wasn't expecting it."

Dev lowered his arm, never taking his eyes off of Kanan. "If this is what you're like every time someone you know shows up," he said, flashing a smile that didn't reach his eyes,"you need a bouncer."

Kanan smiled weakly at the kid's attempt at humour. It didn't really work, but he appreciated the effort. He didn't appreciate the next sentence that came out of Dev's mouth, though.

"I mean, who are those people? Who can make you flip out like that?"

Looking away and grimacing, Kanan flexed his hand. "A Jedi," he said shortly. "Yesterday, she had some clones with her as well."

He expected a torrent of questions, but they never came. After a few heartbeats, he turned to look at the kid, curious about the silence.

All of Dev's blood seemed to have drained from his face. Clutching his chest so hard that his flightsuit was wrinkling under his grip, Dev stared up at him with his eyes so wide Kanan could see the whites all around the irises.

"A Jedi?" he said. "I thought -" He stopped, as if someone had reached out and choked him.

Kanan raised an eyebrow, mystified by the kid's strange reaction. He reached out to place a hand on Dev's shoulder to reassure him.

The kid nearly threw himself back to stay out of Kanan's reach. "Does that mean - does that mean that you're a Jedi too?" he demanded, a nasty, jagged, hysterical edge to his voice.

"Kid -" Kanan said, the words dying on his tongue. He knew that the Jedi had a bad reputation on Empire worlds; Sidious' propaganda had done a good job of that. But this reaction...

"I-I'm not feeling too good," Dev said, now avoiding Kanan's eyes as well as his hand. "I need to go lie down. I'll see you tomorrow."

"Kid, wait -"

But it was too late. Dev bolted away from the Ghost and Kanan, charging through the crowds and ships until he disappeared. Kanan watched him go, a bad feeling twisting in his gut.

Behind him, there was a clanging noise as someone jumped down from the upper level of the ship to the cargo bay. "Sorry Kanan," Sabine said, popping up at his elbow and already furiously fiddling with some device in her hands, "I gotta run. Something just occurred to me about that encryption. If I'm right, then I should be able to break it by this afternoon!"

Kanan continued to stare after Dev. "Yeah," he said distractedly, "good luck."

Normally, Sabine would have said something. But distracted with her bright idea as she was, all she did was clap him on the back with a brusque "Thanks" and take off, still staring at the little vidscreen in her hands.

Kanan had the feeling that it was going to be a long, long day.

Chapter Text

Dev didn't come back after that. Kanan, in turn, found it hard to focus. 

He couldn't stop wondering about Dev. What had been with his reaction to learning about Master Unduli? About finding out that Kanan had been a Jedi? That paleness, the horror in his eyes - even being raised on an Empire world couldn't explain that. Could it?

Kanan had spent a lot of today’s hours staring at the ceiling of his cabin, wondering.

He was doing just that, lying on his back in his sleep clothes, his hair loose, when someone started pounding on the cabin door. Starting, he sat up and tore his blanket off. Grabbing his blaster from the drawer under his bed, he crossed the room and slammed his fist against the door lock.

They hissed open, revealing Sabine. She was still dressed in her usual armour; more unusually, she was wearing her helmet as well.

"Kanan!" she said, her tone urgent, "where's Dev?"

Kanan blinked and pushed his hair back from his face. "I don't know, why?"

Sabine said something extremely rude in Mando'ade. Snatching her comm off of her belt, she flicked it on. "Master Unduli," she barked, "he's not here. We'll have to spread out further to find him."

"Understood," came the calm, slightly buzzing tones from the comm. "I will tell the others. See if Jarrus is willing to join our hunt. Unduli, out."

"What?" Kanan said, alarm jolting up his spine. How did Sabine and Master Unduli know each other? And what hunt were they talking about; what did it have to do with Dev?

Tucking her comm back in its usual place, she grabbed his arm and began to tug him out of his room. "I'll tell you once we're outside - now come on, time is of the essence!"

"What?" Kanan repeated, digging his heels in. "What are you talking about, Sabine? And what does this have to do with Dev?"

Zeb's door hissed open and its occupant poked his head out, yawning. "What's all the fuss about then?" he asked, scratching his jaw. "Is someone dead?"

"No," Sabine said, "but someone might be soon. Zeb, have you seen Dev lately?"

Zeb frowned. "No. Haven't seen him since dinner last night. Kanan said he was feeling ill, and I haven't seen him since."

"Ill?" Sabine sounded incredulous, and turned back to Kanan, her grip on his arm tighter than ever. "Kanan, do you know where he might be?"

"Sabine, what is this all about? You haven't answered me."

"Kanan," Sabine said, stepping closer to him. "This is a matter of life and death - we have to find Dev."

"What?" Zeb said. "What's wrong with the kid?"

"What's all the fuss about?" Hera asked, coming out of the cockpit with Chopper at her heels. "I was just finishing up fine-tuning the hyperdrive navigation computer -"

"Guys!" Sabine shouted. She dropped her hand from Kanan's arm and curled both hands into fists. Bowing her head, Kanan could hear her take a deep breath. "Do you remember the datachip you gave me a few weeks ago? The one with the strange transmissions from the star destroyer that was captured? Well, I broke them yesterday and started to go through the files, and it said something about Dev that you're not going to believe."

"Like what?" Hera asked, looking concerned.

Sabine breathed in deeply and let it out before looking up. "Dev wasn't a prisoner," she said. "He was a guest. He's an Inquisitor."

Kanan had to reach out and grab the frame of his door to steady himself. An Inquisitor? Dev? How was that possible?

Inquisitors were the bogeymen of Resistance forces. Force-users with red lightsabers, they were mostly only known through rumour and descriptions of the carnage they left behind wherever they showed up. Kanan had never seen one, but he knew of the duties that they performed for the Galactic Empire.

Putting down rebellions. Killing rivals to Palpatine’s power and highly-ranked Republic officials. They appeared and disappeared like ghosts, leaving only bloodstains and smears of Darkness where they had been. They were cruel and capricious, and lived only to serve Darth Sidious' will to the death.

Dev. Dev was supposed to be one of them. How - how was that even possible? How could Dev, kind, joking, sad Dev, be an Inquisitor?

"How is that possible?" Zeb asked, echoing his thoughts. "He was locked in a cell and chained to the wall when we found him!"

Sabine shook her head stubbornly. "I don't know why he was contained like that, but I know what the transmission said. The person in that room in the cargo hold was an Inquisitor's apprentice, going to his new master." She stepped forward towards Kanan again. "I took the matter to Master Unduli as soon as Brahlee confirmed. She wants to do a sweep of the station, but every extra set of hands helps. Any of you in?"

Kanan looked at Hera. She had covered her mouth as Sabine had revealed what she knew, her lekku slack in shock and her eyes wide. She looked back at him, and in a disorienting moment, Kanan realized that she felt just as off-balance as he did.

What to do? He knew, like he knew he had two hands, that Sabine was wrong. That Dev wasn’t an Inquisitor. But if Master Unduli was already involved…

Kanan stepped forward. "I'll help," he said.

Sabine nodded. "We're meeting in the slicing room to discuss who sweeps what level. I'll see you there in ten." Then she dashed out like a hssiss was on her tail.

Silence reigned for several heartbeats.

"Kanan," Hera said, her voice low.

Zeb just looked at him, his ears pinned back in disbelief. "You can't actually believe that the kid's an Inquisitor," he said hotly. "It makes no sense - you don't chain up your own people. You chain up your enemies."

Kanan closed his eyes. "I know," he said.

"If you know, then why did you agree to -"

"Zeb." Kanan held up a hand and opened his eyes. "I'm not actually going to go to the slicing room. That was just to get Sabine away for a few minutes."

"Then what are you going to do?" Hera asked.

Kanan took a deep breath and let it out, consciously relaxing his hands. "I'm going to find Dev first," he said. "And I'm going to ask him to explain what's going on." His shoulders sagged. "I know that the evidence is damning, but it doesn't match up with what we know of him - and no one is that good of an actor for that long. So I want to get to him first."

"And if he does turn out to be with the Inquisitors?"

Kanan curled his hands into fists and bit the inside of his cheek at Hera’s anxious words.

"Then I guess I'll raise Master Unduli on my comm," he said, "and alert her to his location."

Zeb nodded. "I'll come with you, then," he said brusquely, "just let me get my -"

Kanan cut him off with a gesture. "No," he said. "I doubt that he doesn't know that he's being tracked down." Several small pieces of the puzzle were coming together and making Kanan's gut churn. "The fewer people that approach him, the better."

"But Kanan -"

"No, Zeb," Kanan said, grabbing ahold of his shoulder, "I need you and Hera to stay here. If Sabine or anyone else comes back, I need you two to establish an alibi for me. If she asks where I am, tell her that I ran out after her after a few minutes. Whatever you do though, don't point her the way I actually went."

"And how are you going to find the kid before anyone else, then?"

Kanan paused in the doorway of his room, the answer that he had been trying to keep from thinking about shoving itself to the forefront of his mind. "I'll use the one advantage that I have," he said quietly. "The Force."

The inside of his room was very quiet. Kanan could hear the air flowing in and out of his lungs, the blood rushing through his veins. He shut his eyes to try and quiet himself. Smoothing back his hair, he grabbed a hair-tie from a shelf and tied it in its usual tail. If he wanted to find Dev first, he was going to have to act fast. 

Walking over to his bed, he sat down on it, tucking his legs up and crossing them, placing his hands on his knees. He could feel the Force; it was near him again, almost but not quite touching. Kanan would swear that it was quivering with eagerness.

He was really going to do this. After fifteen years, he was going to open himself up to the Force, all for one kid. It made his hands shake and his mouth feel dry. But he would do it, for the kid he had gotten to know during these past few weeks.

Breathing in deeply, he lowered his shields and hesitantly reached out to the Force.

Despite his impressions, the Force did not jump against him, or insistently force its way into his awareness. It was rather the slow and steady rise of the tides on a water planet, wrapping around him and consuming him. As warm and soothing as an old-fashioned water bath, Kanan found his muscles relaxing in spite of his nervousness.

Floating now in the Force's embrace like he did when he was a youngling, Kanan extended his senses. The web of life that all living beings were a part of was laid bare before his mind, the strands connecting them all glowing brilliantly in the Force. He could feel Hera and Zeb, their warmth and concern echoing outward in pulses. Stretching further, he could feel Sabine in the slicing room, filled with anxiety and a few dark strands of fear, wondering where he was. Master Unduli was there too, her light not as bright as he remembered but still there, steadily shining and doing its best to chase away those dark streaks that filled the room.

Whispering an apology that Sabine could not hear, he turned away from her and spread out even further.

Where was Dev? Where could he be? Kanan furrowed his brow and tried to focus and remember what his Master had taught him. He gathered up the memories and feelings Dev had given him over the past few weeks and tried to organize them into a signature he could look for.

Dev's boldness in the way that he had just walked up to Kanan and asked for a job. His wit, whenever he teased Zeb back. His quiet grief, talking about his parents. How he was always eager to help, how he joked with them all, how he opened up and showed his soft heart when he thought no one could see it - Kanan took all of these memories and cradled them close as he searched through the Force, trying to find him.

Throughout the station, there were more sticky smears of darkness, clinging to the station's inhabitants like tar and corroding the connections that they had with each other. The light that shone from them all dimmed and flickered in some parts of the station, in other places almost smothered altogether in a cloying way that made Kanan's gorge rise. There was way too much to have built up in only a few hours.

How had this not been noticed before? Was it maybe why he had been having so many nightmares? Sharp, sudden bursts, like a swamp bubble popping, attracted his attention. Slightly nauseous, Kanan allowed himself to look closer, and saw this darkness' effect on people.

Anger. Fear. Even the silent riptide of panic. Skimming the surface thoughts of the people he was reading, he could only pick out a few words, but they made his stomach sink. "Empire", "traitor", and "spy" were being bandied about, echoing in on itself until a low level of panic was tugging at everyone's ankles, the people in the slicing room the most. Kanan guessed that the word that an Inquisitor's apprentice was on board had spread, most likely either from Sabine or Master Unduli herself. As he watched, the darkness seemed to grow, clinging all the more to people's minds. The pressure mounted behind his eyes; if he wanted to help Dev, or even just keep him from being killed by a hysterical mob, he had to find him soon.

Pulling back, he focused in on his memories of Dev again, rolling them around in his mind to chase the dark away. Pulling in tight, he felt a gentle, almost non-existent tug. It was coming from the lower levels of the station.

He had no choice. He dove down.

As the levels passed, fewer and fewer minds brushed up against his. The connections in the Force dimmed like he was sinking down into the bottom of some great ocean, a cold desert empty of all life. Down, down, down, until he was sure that there were only droids, checking over the station's supplies.

Then, in the darkness, a spark. Kanan swam towards it urgently. Reaching out, he tried to touch it, to make a connection so he could warn Dev about the hunt for him.

Fear sliced through him, so intense that it was like vibroblade being dragged against his skin. It jumped and vibrated like an exposed nerve, making Kanan gasp and snap back into his body.

His eyes flew open in the dim light of his cabin, his heart thundering in his chest and sweat trailing down his jaw. Gripping his mattress tightly, he reeled. What had been that fear? How could anyone even live, that scared? Did Dev know that he was being hunted already?

That thought managed to get Kanan stumbling to his feet and pulling open a drawer, groping for a jacket. If he was that scared, and then Master Unduli and her men found him, it wouldn't end well. It would probably end with Dev getting a lightsaber through his chest.

His fingers finally snagged cloth, and he pulled out a long coat. He remembered this one - Hera had got it for him in the first few months he had been aboard, after the one he had had on Gorse had finally fallen apart. He had almost immediately shoved it into the back of a drawer, its length and hood reminding him too much of a Jedi’s over-robe. But he didn’t have the time to dig for another one. Pulling it on, he slammed his fist against the door panel and stumbled out into the hallway, hyper-aware of the sweat sticking strands of his hair to his neck. He promptly nearly tripped over Chopper. The ancient droid wah-wahhed at him furiously as he caught himself and kept moving, waving his manipulators in the air. Kanan ignored him, stumbling towards the cargo bay.

Zeb looked up from his seat on a crate where he had been polishing his bo-rifle. "You okay, Kanan?" he asked, slipping onto his feet. "Did you find the kid?"

Kanan breathed in deeply and straightened. "Yeah," he said. "He's down in the lower levels. Only droids there."

"What's he doing down there?" Zeb asked.

Kanan shook his head. "Don't know. All that matters now is finding him before Master Unduli and the others."

"I'll come with you," Zeb said, shouldering his weapon.

Kanan held up a hand and shook his head. "No," he said, "he's too scared right now. I don't want to crowd him."

"But the kid -"

"Kanan's right, Zeb," Hera said.

Kanan craned his head around and spotted her standing on the balcony above. Chopper peeked out from around her leg and made a rude gesture.

Her eyes softened slightly as she looked down at Kanan. "Are you alright, though, to go on your own?"

Kanan took a deep breath and smoothed his hair back. "Yes," he said firmly. "Please, both of you, keep Sabine and the others as far away from the lower levels as you can. I have to speak to Dev before they get there."

Both of them nodded in understanding. "Got it," Zeb said. "But are you sure that you want to go out like that?" He pointed at Kanan's chest.

Looking down, Kanan belatedly remembered that he was still in his sleeping clothes. Tugging his jacket shut, he shrugged defensively. "No time to change," he said brusquely. "I have to get to him first."

"We understand," Hera said. "Good luck."


It took half an hour to even get to a turbolift.

Leaning back against the lift’s doors, he scrubbed at his face and sighed. Three separate times, he had found himself having to turn back to avoid a patrol sweeping through that section of the station. He had to hand it to Master Luminara, she knew how to organize a search team in a snap.

Now though, he was finally heading towards the cargo bay. Crossing his arms, he closed his eyes and began to quickly run through a mental centering exercise. From the amount of fear he had felt coming from Dev, he was going to have to be as calm as possible to keep from being dragged down into a panic.

First, he began to pull himself inward, away from the currents and eddies in the Force that was surrounding him. The paranoia and fear was like a raging river, thundering around him as the people whispered rumours to each other about what Inquisitors were capable of, threatening to drag him down. Pulling himself in, he created a rock in the river that he could climb to the top of, keeping his head dry and clear. Then he began to build a wall on top of the rock, blocking out the still-audible roar of the fear that surrounded him.

Brick by brick, it went up, held together with the willpower and serenity he had been taught since he was a child. In each brick he put a little bit of himself - the way his heart leapt when he saw Hera smile, the smell of Sabine’s paints, the sound of Zeb’s roars whenever they fought the Imperials - just the way he had been taught. Those foundations of him and his relationships, keeping him sure of who he was and separate from everyone else. The only hole he left was made up of the signature of Dev, isolated and fearful and glowing inside of Kanan’s head.

The lift dinged just as he blocked out the last little bit of the station. Opening his eyes, he walked towards the door just as they opened.

And promptly nearly fell to his knees as fear slammed into his mind like a grav-hammer.

Staggering out of the lift, he swallowed convulsively as his gorge rose. Dev’s fear screamed around him, slamming into the intentionally-left hole and pouring in like it had been shot from a fire hose. Gasping, he leaned against a shelf and squeezed his eyes shut.

His name was Kanan Jarrus, he chanted to himself, clinging to the words like a flotation device. He was Specter One. He was not this fear - not Dev Morgan. The fear he felt was not his.

Pressing his forehead against the cold metal, he gulped down air until he could hear himself think again. The fear that had been overwhelming up in the Ghost was like an ocean down here, muddling the traces of Dev until it was practically impossible to follow.

For a moment, he thought about leaving. About throwing in the towel, and just trusting that Dev would be alright, that Master Unduli wouldn’t let him be harmed. The way the traces of Dev consumed the cargo bay, how would he ever be able to find him?

But then -

A small pulse. A lick of sadness, standing out in the terror like a candle in a dark room. Kanan’s eyes shot open and he grasped that feeling, holding it close.

That was Dev. That was where he was. Keeping the light fixed in his mind, Kanan stood up straight. The fear that had been drowning him receded, letting him move now against the current that had threatened to sweep him away.

The shelves and crates soared above him, creating a labyrinth of corridors that were harder to navigate than any series of seedy back alleys that Kanan had found himself drunkenly stumbling through before he met Hera. Following Dev’s Force signature as best he could, he found himself having to turn back more than once after finding himself facing a dead end.

The air was still and stale, filled with the stench of cheap droid oil and dust. Sneezing, Kanan rubbed his nose and cursed as he hit yet another dead end. Dev’s signature was fluttering through the Force like a trapped bird, alternately striking at him with terror and then fleeing into the swamp of emotion surrounding him. As he turned around to head back to the last crossroads, something crinkled underneath his boot. He stopped and looked down.

A ration bar wrapper.

Kanan cocked his head to one side. What was one of those doing down here?

Then his eyes drifted slightly, and he spotted another odd thing. Half-hidden between two crates pushed up against a shelf was a scrap of military-reg blanket, illuminated by a soft yellow glow.

Kneeling down, he squeezed between the crates, the cheap synthetic fabric of the blanket scratchy against his fingertips. The crates were close to each other, barely letting him through with his broad shoulders. After a few moments, though, he managed to slide through into something that made him let out a breath of amazement.

The entire shelf had been cleared out; the items that should have been there, gone. In their place were several blankets spread out to keep away the chill of the durasteel shelf, with extras wadded up further away. Shiny ration wrappers were crumpled up nearby, with a glow-pack lighting up the entire little apartment.

What in the stars…

Kanan plucked at the blanket beneath his knees, trying to make sense of what he was seeing. Who would make this? It looked like it was lived in recently, but he couldn’t feel anyone other than -

He stilled as knowledge he had tried to ignore forced itself to the forefront of his mind.

Dev. Dev lived here. He hadn’t been staying with the other refugees like he had said. He was sleeping down here, eating down here. Why hadn’t he said anything to them? They would have let him stay on the Ghost with them if he needed to. Didn’t he know that?

The sound of a muffled sob pulled Kanan out of his guilt spiral before he was too far gone. Looking further down the shelf, he saw another opening.

On his hands and knees, he crawled towards it, the sounds of someone trying very hard not to cry reaching him. Peering through, he didn’t see anything in front of him, so he began to squeeze his way between the crates into the next aisle.

He had just managed to pull his head and shoulders through when a wet gasp made him look to the side.

Dev stared at him, his face shiny and flushed, his eyes open wide and still welling with tears.

For several moments, they just stared at each other. Kanan could hear the blood rushing through his ears as he took in the kid’s messy hair and the dark circles under his eyes. He looked like he hadn’t slept in days.

“Dev,” he whispered, reaching out towards the kid.

Dev bolted.

“Wait, Dev!” Kanan shouted. Dev didn’t even pause, his bright orange suit quickly disappearing in the gloomy twilight of the cargo bay. “Karabast,” he hissed, scrabbling to drag himself out into the aisle proper and follow. Dust clinging to his hands, he scrambled to his feet and tore off into the darkness after Dev.

The aisles twisted and turned madly as he ran through them, struggling to follow the kid as he darted in and out of the shadows of the towering shelves. Far above, the lights shone weakly, barely penetrating the shadows that played across the floor and between the shelves. Even with the bright orange flight suit, Kanan found himself struggling to keep up with the kid as he plunged into the darkness.

“Kid!” Kanan shouted as he turned a corner and nearly crashed into a stack of crates. “Dev! Wait!”

“No!” Dev screamed back, his voice seeming to echo from all around them.

Kanan grit his teeth and focused on the flutter of Dev’s presence, barely there in the swamp of fear surrounding them. “Dev!” he shouted helplessly. How could he help the kid if the kid kept running away from him?

“Dev!” he shouted. “Dev, stop! I only want to help you!”

“Liar!”

That shout came from another direction. Heedlessly, Kanan plunged towards it.

“I’m not lying!” he shouted. “Dev, please -”

There was a shriek of metal, and the Force screamed. Not even thinking, Kanan used his momentum to jump several shelves up onto the nearest shelf, just barely avoiding the shelf on his other side as it came crashing down. Its crates and jars shattered and burst, scattering across the floor and slamming into the shelf he was on.

“Kriff,” he hissed as the shelf tilted underneath him. Below him was a sea of jagged, broken objects. The case he was holding onto was tilting madly, clearly about to fall as well.
He made his choice and leapt, the Force wrapping around him.

The crash of his shelf hitting the floor was deafening. The sound of Kanan hitting the metal struts of the already-fallen shelves was less so.

The cargo bay rang with the noise of destruction, echoes bouncing off the walls and careening around the enormous room. The noise drilled into Kanan’s ears, almost as loud as the rasp of his breath as he spotted the epicenter of the destruction.

Dev stood hunched over, breathing heavily and glaring at Kanan from underneath his brows. “You,” he growled, his hands twisted into claws that twitched spasmodically with each breath, as if longing to wrap around Kanan’s neck.

Kanan’s breath caught.

The fear…

The anger…

The hate…

It was like the Clone Wars all over again. A great, smothering darkness, slowly rising. Endlessly cold and empty and making him ache in the deepest corners of his soul. And all of it, emanating from Dev.

“Dev…” Kanan whispered, a prayer that he was wrong - that what he was feeling from the boy was wrong. “Dev, what -”

“Shut up!” Dev screamed.

Kanan jerked, took a step back, the boy’s voice ringing with all of his rage and fear and hitting him like a blow to the stomach.

“I won’t let you Jedi hurt me!” Dev shouted, pointing at him. “I know you’re going to kill me - I won’t make it easy for you!”

The shock of the accusation jerked Kanan out of his horror. He took a step forward, reaching out to Dev helplessly. “Dev, no,” he said, his throat tightening at the way the other flinched back despite the space still between them. “Dev, I’m not a Jedi, I’m not here to hurt you -”

“Liar!” Dev snapped, cutting Kanan off. “That’s what Jedi do - they kill people like me!”

“Dev, no one wants to hurt you -”

The kid’s face twisted in rage, his eyes flashing a sickening yellow. “I said,” he growled, “stop. LYING.”

Kanan choked. Literally.

Dev’s hand shot out, and it was like getting hit by a speeder. Kanan wheezed as all the air left his lungs, his ribs groaning in protest. Flying through the air, his hands flew up to his throat as the Force wrapped around it like a garrote to stop him.

Struggling for breath, he couldn’t do a thing as he was pulled towards Dev, his toes dragging through the debris of the fallen shelves. He clawed helplessly at his throat, struggling to remove a hand that wasn’t physically there.

Dev stopped him just a few feet away, madness echoing through his frame. Staring into Dev’s yellow eyes, Kanan felt a flicker of fear. Had he been wrong? Had he only come down here to die?

Dev’s teeth were bared, his eyes circled with dark bruises. “Don’t,” he gritted out, “lie to me. I saw you talking to that Jedi - and now she’s looking for me? You told! I knew you’d tell, I knew it!” He dragged the nails of his free hand against his scalp. “I can feel it - I’ve seen it!”

“S-seen what?” Kanan choked out, trying to distract Dev so that his grip would loosen.

Dev twitched, his eyes jerking around. He reached up and clawed at the back of his neck, dragging his nails along his skin hard enough that Kanan caught a glimpse of blood on his fingertips as he let it fall to his side.

“Polishing blasters, choking on their own fear - they’ll kill me or the Jedi will,” he muttered, swaying slightly as his eyes looked past Kanan’s face. “She’s holding her lightsaber, her finger on the button as they sweep through the corridors -” his face crumpled and his eyes welled up. “They’ll never listen,” he choked out, “never. I’m gonna - I’m gonna die here. I saw it.”

“Dev,” Kanan rasped her heart giving a painful squeeze despite the tight grip on his throat.

Dev shook his head violently and scrubbed at his eyes. “No, no, stop it,” he moaned, “stop it, no one cares. Remember, always remember, you’re nothing, nothing, nothing…” He began to rock, heel to toe, looking away and scrubbing at his face as he chanted the words over and over in an almost sing-song tone.

Kanan watched, horrified. What was this?

“Dev,” he croaked, reaching out with one hand. “Dev, you’re not nothing.”

Dev made no sign of hearing him, continuing to mumble to himself and rock back and forth. Kanan strained and tried to touch his cheek, trying to break the kid out of whatever nightmare he had fallen into -

Dev slapped the hand away so hard it stung.

“STOP IT!” he screamed in Kanan’s face, spittle flying from his lips. “STOP IT! I KNOW YOU’RE LYING, SO STOP IT!”

“What am I lying about?” Kanan pleaded with Dev, his hand stinging.

The kid hesitated, his eyes darting around as his chin wobbled and his eyes welled up again. “You care,” he said, his voice breaking. “I can feel it, you care, but you can’t. You have to be lying, you and Hera and Zeb -”

“Why can’t I?” Kanan asked, reaching out again. “Why can’t I care, Dev?”

The kid was breathing heavily, his gaze bouncing between Kanan’s hands and his eyes.

“Dev,” Kanan whispered, just brushing his cheek with his fingertips. “I do care. I care so much about you. I was so worried that Master Unduli and the others would find you first - would hurt you. Hera was worried, Zeb was worried - even Chopper was worried.”

A small, broken noise, left Dev’s throat and he squeezed his yellow eyes shut, tears spilling down his cheeks. The pressure on Kanan’s throat lessened, and he pressed his whole palm to the kids cheek, tenderly cupping his jaw.

“I care, Dev,” he whispered. “So much. I’ve seen the sort of person you are -”

“No,” Dev said, shaking his head. He opened his eyes and stared up at him, back to blue and bleeding desperation. “You haven’t seen the sort of person I am.”

“Kid, you can’t fake being a good person.” Reaching out with his other hand, he cradled Dev’s face in his hands and made him look up. “Maybe you’re a little eager to please, maybe you’re an embarrassing flirt - but you deserve to have someone care about you.”

Dev trembled underneath his hands, tears falling down his face non-stop now. He made a small sound as Kanan wiped them away with his thumbs, somewhere between a whimper and a sob.

“Dev,” Kanan said softly, bending over to press his forehead to the kid’s. “Dev, I just want to help you -”

“My name’s not Dev.”

Kanan paused, and in that moment, Dev wrenched himself away, rubbing his face and sniffing. He took a few steps, towards one of the still-standing shelves, refusing to look at Kanan.

“My name’s not Dev,” he repeated, a little louder. “It’s Ezra. Ezra Bridger.” He paused, his chin wobbling. “That’s my name.”

Kanan stood quietly, looking at Dev. He was standing frighteningly still, his shoulders stiff and hunched like he expected a blow.

There was an odd tension in the air. If Kanan had to compare it to anything, he would describe it as a vibroblade being pressed up against a cloth, just on this side of piercing it. The way Dev - no, Ezra was standing, Kanan knew that the next thing he said would change everything.

A piece of glass crunched underneath Kanan’s boot as he took a step forward.

“Ezra, huh?” he said, keeping his voice gentle even as the vibroblade pressed even harder against the cloth. “That’s a good name. Strong. It suits you.”

For a handful of heartbeats, Ezra didn’t move. He stood silently, his shoulders gently rising and falling the only indication that he was alive. Then slowly, like a building imploding, he sank to his knees and buried his face in his hands, keening.

The tension snapped and disappeared. Kanan lurched forward and fell to his knees beside Ezra, wrapping his arms around the boy and pulling him to his chest. “Hey, hey, hey,” he murmured, rubbing his back like he had seen fathers on several worlds do, “don’t worry. No one’s gonna hurt you. Not while I’m around.”

Ezra just cried all the harder and twisted his fingers into Kanan’s nightshirt.

He felt so small in Kanan’s arms. Bony, his sobs shaking his frame, Kanan just wanted to keep him safe from the galaxy forever as he howled out his pain and fear. Pulling him in close, he ignored the way the kid’s tears soaked his shirt and chest and just made soft, comforting sounds.

Ezra sobbed into his chest like a little boy, alternating between gulping down air and howling so loudly that it echoed through the cargo bay. Rocking back and forth, Kanan closed his eyes and tucked Ezra’s head underneath his chin.

“Shhh,” he whispered, “it’s going to be okay.”

That just made Ezra howl all the more.

Kanan wasn’t sure how long it took for Ezra to calm down. Long enough that the Dark that had been filling the air had begun to recede, letting Kanan breathe a little easier.
Finally, after Ezra’s sobs quieted down to whimpers, Kanan eased up on his grip. Loosening his arms, he let Ezra sway back, gently cupping his cheek and looking into his eyes. Relief filled him as he saw nothing but that warm royal blue, no trace of that poisonous yellow that had been there before.

“You back?” he asked quietly.

Sniffing, Ezra wiped his nose with the back of his hand and nodded morosely.

“Okay,” Kanan said, still keeping his voice low and soothing. “Let’s start over then. What’s been going on down here? What was -” he gestured in a circle, “all that?”

For several moments, Ezra didn’t answer. Just as Kanan was going to ask again, though, he abruptly began to speak.

“That morning, at the Ghost,” he said, his voice still shaky. “I saw the Jedi killing me.” Staring into nothing, he reached up and rubbed his chest. His face was slack with exhaustion. “She stuck her lightsaber through my chest. No one stopped her.” He looked up at Kanan with dull, hopeless eyes. “Not even you.”

Kanan stiffened. “Kid…” he said helplessly.

But Ezra was continuing. “I didn’t know what to do, so I stayed down here. Then everyone started getting really scared upstairs, and I could feel it.” He narrowed his eyes and looked away again. “Inquisitor, inquisitor,” he muttered, “they kept saying it, and they were getting so scared. They’re still scared,” he added, looking up. “And then I started getting visions again. The one I saw before, over and over. And new ones, too.” His face crumpled again, his eyes welling with tears. “They’ll tear me apart up there.”

“Well, your visions are wrong,” Kanan said, trying to sound more certain than he felt.

Ezra gave a wet, bitter laugh. “Yeah, right,” he said. He pulled away from Kanan’s nerveless grip, standing up. “I’m not stupid. That’s what Jedi do, they kill kids like me.”

Kanan stood up as well. “Ezra,” he said.

“You shouldn’t have come down here,” Ezra said. He turned so that his back was facing Kanan and hugged himself. “You’ll just get hurt too.”

“Ezra.” Kanan put a hand on his shoulder before the kid could take off again. “Look at me.”

Ezra pressed his fingers into his arms until the tips where white. His shoulders up around his ears, he turned back to Kanan.

Gently, Kanan reached up and brushed away a stubborn tear from his cheek with the back of his knuckles. “Ezra,” he said, his voice gentle. “Ezra, I swear. I won’t let anyone hurt you. I know that you saw something scary, but the station’s going to have to go through me before they get to you.”

Ezra stiffened. “Don’t say that!” he snapped, looking up from his feet with horror. “I don’t want you to die for me -”

Kanan laid both of his hands on Ezra’s shoulders. “I’m not going to die,” he said sternly. “Okay? But in return, I need to know what’s going on.”

Ezra bit his lip. Opening and closing his hands, he rocked back and forth slightly.

Bending over to better look the kid in the eye, Kanan let go of his shoulder and cupped his jaw, gently guiding him to look at Kanan again. “Hey,” he said softly. “Let’s just start at the beginning, okay? Who told you that the Jedi would kill you?”

Ezra’s eyes darted away and he swallowed. His mouth opened and closed soundlessly for several heartbeats before any noise came out.

“They did.” His voice was soft enough that Kanan had to strain to hear. “The people who took us.”

“Us?”

The kid sucked on his lower lip. “All of us that -” He stopped, taking a deep breath. “I was taken,” he said, staring down at his hands. “All of us were. Me and the others, we weren’t allowed to talk a lot, but some people were promised training, or they were told that it was some super-special course for high achievers, and others like me were just taken -”

“Ezra,” Kanan interrupted softly, “Ezra, who were these others?” He had a sinking feeling in his gut that he knew what the kid was talking about, but he wasn’t sure -

Ezra stared down at his feet. “The other kids.” His voice was dull and broken.

Kanan rocked back on his heels, his gut plummeting down to his feet. He hadn’t wanted to think it. Staring at Ezra, looking down at his feet and sounding so broken, he felt sick.

“There were more kids like you?”

Ezra nodded. “They were special. Like me. They could tell where people were, or they knew things before they happened. Or other stuff.” Reaching up, he nervously rubbed his upper arm, still looking down. “They said - they said that I had a talent for connecting with other minds, and that such a talent was ‘best put to work for Lord Sidious’ rather than ‘being wasted on petty thievery’.”

The venom in his voice was worrying. The mention of Sidious, more so. “Okay,” Kanan said, standing back up. “Okay,” he repeated. He had no idea what he was going to do.
There was a soft ping. Then another, and another. Looking over the mess they had been sitting by, Kanan realized that the pings were the sound of someone coming down in one of the lifts.

“Okay,” he said once more, squeezing Ezra’s shoulder. “Ezra, we should get going. I’ll find a place to hide you, and then I’ll explain what’s going on to Master Unduli. Is that alright?”

Ezra, still looking away, nodded slightly. Gently tugging on him, Kanan began to guide him towards the lift that he had come down in.

Chapter Text

It was about halfway through the ride up to the main hangar when Kanan belatedly realized that he couldn't hide Ezra on the Ghost. He began to curse. Ezra looked up at him from where he was pressed up against his side, startled.

"Sorry kid," he said, rubbing his forehead. "Just remembered something. I can't hide you on the Ghost."

"Hide?" Ezra looked up at him in confusion.

Kanan shrugged and rubbed the back fo his neck. "Well, yeah," he said, "since everyone's up in arms, and my -" completely half-baked and likely to get me killed "- plan kind of involves talking everyone down..." He gestured helplessly and grimaced. "It won't really work if they just grab you before I get anything out. And the Ghost would be the first place they look."

Ezra widened his eyes and bit his lower lip. "Then where am I going to be while you, you know, do the talking thing?"

Kanan flexed his hands open and shut and thought furiously; the kid seemed to have calmed down a bit more from the cargo bay. At the very least, he wasn't bleeding distress into the Force and drawing anyone with an inkling of his Force signature towards him. But already, he could feel Ezra’s distress rising, prickling against his skin like needles.

He rubbed his face. Karabast, where was he going to put Ezra? The Ghost was Kanan's home, his base - the first one he had had since the fall of the Temple on Coruscant. There just was no other place that Kanan could put Ezra and feel safe that he wouldn't be found and dragged out for a lynching. Biting the inside of his cheek, he looked around the turbolift for inspiration.

There was, predictably, nothing. Just the buttons that controlled its movements and smooth if slightly dented from age walls. This one didn't even look out into space, tucked into the narrow spaces between -

"You know what," Janus said, sighing and letting his arm fall back to his side, "kriff it. The Kasmiri II is a Y60 in hangar 98D. If you wanna talk, great, come on up. If you don't, don't, we'll start this chase all over again after we both leave."

...Poodoo.

“Kanan?” Looking down, he saw that Ezra was still looking up at him, worrying his lower lip. "Are you okay? You just suddenly looked kind of -"

"Yeah kid," Kanan said, cutting him off and pulling away to take off his jacket. "I got an idea. First though, we're going to have to give you a little disguise." Holding his coat out in front of him, he gave it a quick shake before turning and wrapping it around Ezra's shoulders.

"What -" the kid said, struggling, "wait, a disguise -"

"Yep." Kanan managed to catch a flailing arm with one armhole. "I don't know if any holos have been circulated yet, so just to be safe -"

Ezra relaxed, understanding what Kanan was driving at. Kanan managed a tense smile and pulled back slightly, letting Ezra finish the job of dressing himself. "Put up the hood too," he instructed, turning away to hit the stop button on the lift. "We're going to have to go into another hangar bay."

"You have friends? Outside of the Ghost?" Ezra asked.

Kanan forced himself not to tense. Were he and Janus still friends? After everything that had happened between them...

No. Janus had joined up with Grey to follow him around the damn galaxy, trying to get him to join back up with his smuggling operation. That had to be at least a little caring. And besides, the few times they had met again, it wasn't like they had really fought; just sniped at each other until Kanan could get away without drawing too much attention to himself.

"Yeah," he said, changing the destination of the lift to hangar 98D. "They're friends."

They were silent after that, waiting as the lift shuddered to a halt with an angry screech before reversing directions. As the doors hissed open after another minute, Kanan was careful to grab the kid by the wrist and draw him close, very aware that he was in his pyjamas.

The hangar itself was filled with chatter. Sapients of all shapes and sizes were out of their ships and on the hangar floor, furiously arguing with each other. They swirled around like some massive flood, charging through a canyon and forming whirlpools. Even as Kanan took his first few steps out of the lift, wrapping an arm back around Ezra's shoulders protectively, he saw three separate fights break out.

Hoo boy. Kanan stopped for a second and craned his head. It was going to be difficult to get through this without attracting attention; even more difficult to find a single Y60 in the crowd of ships that littered the hangar. A quiet curse passed his lips.

He was going to have to use the Force again.

Closing his eyes, he took a deep breath and opened up, letting the Force in once again. The anger and fear of the crowds were like a punch in the face, even with him bracing himself. A gasp escaped him, and his eyes fluttered open.

"Are you okay?" Ezra grabbed his shirt and looked up at him from underneath his hood.

Steadying himself, Kanan flashed him a smile that he could tell from the feeling of it was strained. "Yeah," he said, "I'm good." Closing his eyes again, he felt out through the Force, letting the anger and terror flow around him as he concentrated on finding that familiar signature that he had known during the worst part of his life.

For a frightening minute, Kanan couldn't feel it. Doubts were quick to creep in; it had been weeks, after all - for what reason would Janus hang around? Even Grey couldn't force Janus to stay somewhere when he didn't want to; in fact, Kanan had been saved more than once by Janus' insistence to Grey on leaving a planet for a shipment. If Janus was gone for a shipment again -

A spark crossed his 'vision'. The air in Kanan's chest left in a relieved whoosh. Opening his eyes, he looked down at the by now concerned Ezra and smiled, this time genuinely. "Ready to go?" he said lightly.

Ezra smiled tensely and tugged his hood up a little higher.

Straightening up, Kanan put on his old 'roughneck' face; back straight and shoulders down and back, with a sullen glare promising a trip to a med-center for whoever got in his way. Like a charm, the crowd parted around them as they passed through. Scowling at anyone that looked at them, Kanan kept a strong grip on Ezra's shoulder.

Keeping himself straight, he scanned around a snarl of spacers looking about five seconds away from a fistfight and spotted a Y60. There, in blocky Aurebesh letters along its side, were the words 'Kasmiri II', emblazoned as proudly as they had been on its hot red predecessor. The ramp was down and open as well, though no one was outside.

Hurrying a bit, he tugged Ezra with him and headed towards it. The blocky ship's cargo-bay ramp creaked as they walked onto it and into the main part of the ship, Kanan very aware of the people that surrounded them. None of them had noticed the two of them so far, but that could stop at any time. And with how worked up the crowds were, there wasn't anything Kanan could do if they got wind that Ezra was here.

But luckily, no one seemed to have noticed them. Inside the Kasmiri II, the sounds lowered somewhat, and the feeling of pressure lessened. Sighing, Kanan relaxed out of his roughneck pose and loosened his grip on Ezra. "Okay," he said, "so far, so good. Now we just -"

"Caleb?"

Kanan froze. That voice...

He looked up slowly to the entrance of the cargo bay, praying to the Force that it wasn't who he thought it was.

There, dressed only in a stained pair of pants and a black shirt Kanan recognized as being from his old undersuit, was Grey. He looked older than the last time Kanan remembered looking at him. Grey-er. His hair, always buzzed short when they had known each other, was longer now, sticking up in white tufts. He had a beard as well, sloppily trimmed in a way Kanan couldn't imagine the strict and disciplined Commander of his Master's legion having his facial hair done. But that scar, over the bridge of the nose and down the front of his cheek, and that ram-rod straight posture - even faded and surrounded by wrinkles, Commander Grey was still the recognizable figure that Kanan remembered from his nightmares.

"Caleb?" Ezra asked, looking up at him and wrinkling his nose in confusion. "I thought your name was Kanan?"

"It's a long story," Kanan said in a strangled voice, not looking at him.

"Wait, Kanan's here?" came the call from the cockpit. There was the sound of someone rapidly making their way down the corridor, and then Janus appeared, ducking slightly as he passed through the doorway. "Holy kriff," he said, spotting Kanan. "You actually came."

Focusing on the Kalleran over the old clone, Kanan managed to pull himself out of his shock even as he chided himself for it. Stupid, he knew that the two of them worked and travelled with each other; of course Grey would be here.

"Not quite," he called up to Janus. "Can I talk to you? I need a favour."

Immediately, the awe fled from Janus' face, to be replaced with sarcastic surprise. "Oh, of course," he said, leaning against the balcony's railing with his arms crossed, "you only ever seem to come to me when you need a favour. What is it this time?"

"Can you come down from there?" Kanan asked, aware of Ezra's attention bouncing between the two of them. "This isn't something I'm comfortable shouting up at you."

Janus' gaze quickly flicked over to Ezra, who shrank back slightly in Kanan's grip. "Alright," he said.

"Alone." Kanan looked at Grey meaningfully, trying not to flinch as he saw the hunger in the old clone's eyes.

"If you have something to say," Janus said as he slid down the ladder down to the cargo bay, "you can say it in front of Grey." The look he shot at Kanan as he landed and straightened made it very clear that that was a non-negotiable term.

Kanan grimaced and resolved to ignore Grey as much as possible. He needed this too badly to throw a fit. "I need you to hide this kid in here for a few standard hours," he said, bumping Ezra forward slightly.

"Uh huh," Janus replied, looking at Ezra from head to toe. "Does this have anything to do with the 'Inquisitor' that those fools are arguing about outside?"

Under Kanan's hand, Ezra stiffened. Kanan's grimace deepened.

Janus crossed his arms. "Nevermind, your silence is answering that question."

Kanan hissed a sigh out through his teeth. "Look," he said, "I know that it's a lot to ask -"

"You're damn right it is," Janus snapped. "I don't know if you remember, but Inquisitors are kind of known for being bad news."

"And how, exactly, do you know so much about the Jedi?" Kanan snarled back, bristling. "I sure as hell never told you anything, so maybe you can stop talking out of your ass -"

"I told him, Caleb," Grey interrupted from up above. Kanan couldn't keep his muscles from locking as the clone began to clamber down the ladder, and twitched at the sound of his boots hitting the durasteel floor. "I had to, to explain why I was after you."

"Good to know," Kanan gritted out, reaching up to pinch the bridge of his nose. He could feel a headache starting. "And it's Kanan now."

A sad look entered Grey's eyes. "I know," he said quietly. "But you've always been Caleb to me."

Kanan didn't know what to say to that. His stomach twisted uncomfortably; whether with anger or guilt from the hangdog look on Grey's face, he didn't know.

"Uh..." Ezra drawled, looking between Kanan and Grey, "does anyone want to explain to me what's going on right now?"

"No."

"Sure."

Kanan glared at Grey. "No," he enunciated carefully, jabbing his pointer finger. "This is not about me, anyways, this is about hiding Ezra until I can get everyone to calm the hell down."

"And I still haven't heard anything to make me want to keep a baby Inquisitor on my ship," Janus said. He was still standing with his arms crossed, his posture stiff. "And the Kasmiri is very much my ship."

Kanan almost snarled something rude, blood rushing in his ears. But he just managed to stop himself, remembering that he was asking for a favour, not a fight. Taking his hand off of Ezra's shoulder, he crossed his arms and squeezed his hands into fists until he felt a little better.

"Ezra's not an Inquisitor," he said.

Janus scoffed. Kanan glared at him and dug his nails into the calloused skin of his palms. "In case you don't remember, Janus," he said, "I have actually met a dark-sider before. I know what they feel like, and Ezra does not feel like one."

"In your gut, or in..." Janus trailed off meaningfully, twirling a finger in the air.

"Both," Kanan said flatly. Then he breathed in and out deeply, trying to release his anger and focus. He was not here to fight, he reminded himself. "Look, I heard the accusation too. One of my crew members was the one who deciphered the transmission in the first place."

"Let me guess," Grey said, resting his hands on his hips, "the Mandalorian girl?"

Kanan nodded jerkily and tried to shift so that he didn't have to look at the clone. "Yeah," he bit out, "Sabine."

"What?"

Ezra's quiet, pained voice cut through the tension that had been filling the cargo bay like a lightsaber. Kanan turned his head to look at the kid and stopped. The look on the his face - Kanan imagined that it was something like the look on his face during Order 66. Blindsided betrayal, coming from a group of people he had trusted with everything.

"Sorry," he said quietly, looking down at his feet and not even sure what he was apologizing for. "She actually wanted me to join the group hunting you."

"Then why -"

Why not join? Why protect him, and not believe his crewmate? Kanan shrugged, rolling his shoulders. "The way she was talking, what we know about Inquisitors; that didn't fit with what we knew about you, kid. You didn’t bug us to leave, or snap back when Zeb made fun of you or Chopper shocked you. Hera and Zeb agreed. No one's that good an actor. So I said I'd be along in a minute, and went looking for you instead."

Ezra looked down, biting his lower lip and still clearly confused. Kanan reached out and placed his hand on his Ezra's shoulder, looking over at Janus and daring him to say anything.

"So like I was saying," he said coolly, "I know Dark Siders. I've fought against them. And Ezra is not one of them."

"Then what is he?" Janus asked, still clearly skeptical.

"One of their victims." Kanan kept a hold of Ezra’s shoulder and took a step towards Janus. "Ezra wasn't in some plush little cabin in that star destroyer. He was chained to a wall and muzzled like an animal. You don't do that to a member of your own forces." Pulling Ezra closer again, he looked Janus in the eye until the Kalleran looked away. "He thought that he was going to be stabbed to death by the Jedi when I found him tonight, and all he did was try to hide. Does that sound like a Dark Sider to you?"

Janus was silent, still looking away. "...No," he finally muttered when Kanan kept his eyes locked on his face.

"Look," Kanan said, stepping back slightly, "I know that this sounds bad. And we don't have the full story. But I believe that Ezra is not an Inquisitor, and that he can give us information that could help stop them. And we won't be able to use that if he's lynched on sight by a mob."

"And what makes you think that he knows something?" Grey asked.

"Because I - I was being taught," Ezra said before Kanan could even open his mouth. "By them. But I wasn't an apprentice! I wasn't asked to join, I didn't have a master, they dragged me off the street and forced me into this - school and hurt me and said that the Jedi would kill me so I shouldn't even try to run -"

Kanan felt more than heard the crack in Ezra's voice. And from the look on Janus' face, he heard it too. Reaching up, the Kalleran rubbed between his eyes and grumbled.

"Fine," he said sourly, "the kid can stay. If anyone asks, though, I'm blaming you and saying that I didn't know who the kid was."

Kanan grunted. "That's all I can ask," he said, suddenly feeling very tired. Squeezing Ezra’s shoulder, he tried to smile. “Stay here, then. I’ll come back once I’ve talked to Master Unduli and Sabine.”

Ezra still looked anxious and was fiddling with the cuffs on Kanan’s coat, but he nodded. Smiling reassuringly one last time, Kanan turned and began to walk down the ramp, feeling the weight of the boy’s trust with every step.


"I'm telling you, he was heading towards you when he left." Zeb's accented tones floated over the crowd Kanan was shoving through. Pushing past the last row of people surrounding the Ghost, he stepped out into a clearing nearly ten feet across.

Standing at the foot of the ship's ramp was Master Unduli, her hands tucked into her sleeves and irritation coming through loud and clear in how she was holding herself. Behind her and slightly to her sides were the two clones that Kanan had seen with her before; at least, he thought that they were the same clones. They were wearing their helmets now, with their rifles in their hands and pointed at the floor. Kanan wasn't sure how many Master Unduli had brought with her to the station. He had been doing his best to ignore their presence and stay on the ship since he had learned that they were there.

Sabine was there, too. Not quite halfway up the ramp, she also had her helmet on, but Kanan could see the frustration in her frame. A bit of guilt wormed its way into his stomach at the sight of her. He hoped that he hadn't embarrassed her too badly by taking off after saying that he would help.

Zeb, standing in the entrance to the ship proper, lit up as he spotted Kanan. Uncrossing his arms, he gestured for Kanan to come closer. "There, now, you see?" he said to Master Unduli. "Here's the man himself, to give you your explanation." He added a little bit of emphasis onto the last word, glaring at Kanan a little. Mentally wincing, Kanan added on buying some good quality alcohol onto the next grocery list.

It was almost funny how everyone's heads turned towards Kanan, if he ignored how it made his skin itch like he had a thousand targets on him. Sticking his hands in the pockets of his loose sleeping pants, he forced himself to walk casually over to the ramp. Sabine's gaze was especially burning, even with her helmet on.

As he drew closer, she jumped off from the halfway point she was standing on and walked over to him on stiff, angry legs. "What were you doing?" she hissed as soon as she got close enough.

Kanan raised his eyebrows innocently. "Keeping everyone from making a huge mistake," he said, walking around her. He was not about to pick a fight with her as he was drawing nearer to the Jedi and her clones. He was already clenching his fists in his pockets until he could feel his nails biting into the skin. Breathing in and out through his nose steadily, he reminded himself that he couldn't fall apart here. Not now. As he drew closer, Master Unduli's eyes narrowed and her hand dropped to her lightsaber clipped to her belt. Kanan swallowed. There was someone's life depending on him.

"Morning," he said casually once he was close enough to be heard without shouting. "I won't bore you trying to pretend that I don't know what you're talking about, so how about we take this inside?" If anyone noticed how hurried and clipped the words were, or how tense his shoulders were, they were polite enough not to comment.

Master Unduli inclined her head, not taking her eyes off of Kanan. "If you would show us the way, then?" she said.

Hera was just inside of the ship, waiting by the ladder that would take them into the living quarters of the ship. "Kanan -" she said, her voice low and eyes flicking over towards the Jedi Master following him.

Kanan tightened his lips and shook his head slightly. He knew that she was probably burning with questions, but if he wanted to get through this without an incident and actually convincing Master Luminara of anything, he couldn't be dealing with anything else. Not with the way the space between his shoulder blades was itching with the knowledge that there were two clones with unholstered rifles behind him.

Hera's eyes tightened a little at the corners, but she moved slightly out the way all the same. There was something to be said for long relationships; you didn't have to talk to be heard.

Inside they headed to the briefing room. Small as it was, it still was the best place to fit several people into at once. Sitting down at the table, Kanan straightened and tried to keep his hands from trembling by interlacing his fingers and squeezing as Master Unduli sat down across from him. The rest of his crew and the two clones settled in various places around the room. Amusingly, the way they stood, the room could almost be divided down the middle; the clones on one side, Hera and the others on his. Except for Sabine. Worryingly, he could see her settle precisely between the two groups, leaning against the wall with her arms crossed and her helmet still on.

"Shall we begin, then?" Master Unduli asked, her voice unreadable.

Kanan made himself shrug casually. "Suppose we shall," he replied. "What do you need to know?"

Master Unduli did not look like she appreciated his attempted levity. "Where is the Inquisitorial agent, Kanan Jarrus?"

"Depends," Kanan replied. "What are you going to do to him when you find him?"

A small wrinkle formed between her eyebrows. "Hand him over to Resistance security forces, as I am sure that you know, Jarrus," she said, her voice still calm and inflectionless.

Kanan hummed to himself mock-thoughtfully. "That's funny," he said. "Because Ezra seemed convinced that you would be putting a lightsaber through his chest at the first opportunity."

"Wait, who's Ezra?" Zeb asked, breaking in. "I thought that his name was Dev."

"He gave a fake name, Zeb," Kanan said, not taking his eyes off of Master Unduli. "Nothing unusual. Told me his real name when I found him. Apparently he felt guilty for lying. Not very Inquisitorial of him." The last part was aimed at the Jedi sitting in front of him.

Master Unduli's eyes narrowed slightly. "If he resisted arrest, force would have been applied, yes, Jarrus," she said, a little bit of emotion entering her voice. "I do not like the implication that I would have just murdered him, though."

Kanan raised his eyebrows. "Master Unduli," he asked, "have you seen the crowds outside? He wouldn't need to resist arrest; all he has to do is exist and they'd tear him apart. Which, by the way, he was having visions of."

She was silent for a moment. Point to Kanan. He decided to push his advantage.

"Ezra was pretty terrified down there, you know," he said casually, scratching at his chin. "Do you want to know how he got the idea that you would kill him into his head. He said that he had a vision about it. Had a vision about a lot of people trying to kill him. Said that he didn't see a way out. And do you know what he did?"

"Mentally tormented an entire space station for several nights to keep anyone who might stop his escape off balance?"

"He - wait, what?"

Crap. Point to Master Unduli. Raising her hands, she steepled her fingers in front of her face. "That is an ability of the Dark Side, you know," she said. To her credit, she didn't seem to be gloating at his surprise. "Sending visions, usually ones that are frightening, so as to keep an opponent from fully focusing on the here and now. It's a common tactic, in fact. Or did you think that an entire station of people getting nightmares all at the same time on the same nights was normal?"

Kanan very quickly went through the last few nights. Yes, they had been sleepless, but - but -

No. He had no excuse. Kanan swallowed and pressed his fingers against his knuckles until they hurt. He had known he and the others had been having nightmares. The only reason he hadn't known that the rest of the station was having them as well was because he was playing the part of ship’s hermit.

"Actually," he drawled, deciding to stay on the path he had already chosen, "I was going to point out that he had hid, rather than attacking someone in a made attempt to steal their ship."

"I rather think that sending horrifying visions to others still counts as an attack."

Kanan clenched his jaw. "I doubt that that was on purpose."

"Really? You think that some random feral Force-using youngling is powerful enough to accidentally send tailor-made dreams to people who could possibly stop his escape?"

"Well, considering that said youngling was able to toss an entire shelving unit at me and then hold me in place without collapsing afterwards, yeah, I kind of do." He allowed himself a small bit of satisfaction at the way her eyes widened minutely. "Yeah, and all of that was after a sleepless night, what with all of the visions of getting shanked."

Master Unduli’s lips thinned. “That still doesn’t explain the dreams before the attack.”

Kanan thinned his lips right back at her. “We found him in a cell chained to a wall and looking like he’d been beaten recently. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to think he might have been having nightmares of his own.”

"Kanan," Sabine said unexpectedly.

"Yeah, Sabine?" he said, not taking his eyes off of Master Unduli. "I'm a bit busy right now."

Sabine made a frustrated noise and took her helmet off. "Kanan, the transmission said clearly that the kid you're defending is a Junior Inquisitor - that's kind of damning evidence for him not being the innocent calf you're talking about. Have you thought that maybe -"

Kanan frowned and broke eye contact with the Mirialan Jedi Master. "Thought what, Sabine?" he asked, knowing full well what she was implying.

Sabine shifted as all eyes in the room turned towards her, fussing and tucking her helmet underneath her arm. "Well, Master Luminara was saying that the Sith have been known to brainwash -"

"Sabine, I love ya," Zeb interrupted, "but I'm pretty sure that we would have noticed some brainwashing going on here."

Sabine shot him a scathing look. "It's brainwashing, Zeb," she said. "It's not supposed to be noticeable."

"Even so, Zeb has a point," Hera broke in, her gentle voice underlaid with durasteel. "Brainwashing takes time; breaking down a person and building them back up is no simple task, even for a Force-user." Chopper wah-wahed in agreement beside her, twisting his head from side to side. "Doing it to three people, in three weeks? Without anyone noticing?"

"Exactly," Kanan said, pointing towards Hera before turning back to Master Unduli. "None of us here are stupid, and I'm pretty sure that brainwashing would have attracted you attention a long time ago."

Master Unduli didn't move except for a slight narrowing of her eyes. "Do not point at me, please," she said quietly.

Immediately, Kanan put his hand down, feeling like he had gone back to being a youngling in the Temple creche. He only just managed to keep from apologizing profusely. "In any case," he said hastily, "like I was saying, yes, Ezra's strong, but even if he is the reason behind the nightmares, I don't think that he was doing it on purpose."

"And what is telling you this? I know that you do not use the Force, Jarrus - your young crewmember told me as much. Is it just your gut?"

Kanan wanted to defend his gut. It was a good gut, it had kept him alive for years now, cut off from the Force as he was, even if it was by choice. But he knew that if he did that, it would convince precisely no one in the room. And despite hiding Ezra, Kanan couldn't keep up such a balancing act forever. Janus couldn’t hide Ezra forever, either. He needed to at least get Master Unduli and the rest of the station's people to give Ezra a chance to explain himself.

"Look," he said. "Yes, I like the kid. We all do; and I think that if you spent any time in his presence, you'd feel the same. But it's not just feelings, it's facts." Kanan held up his hand. "Yes, Zeb and I found him in a separate cell from the rest of the prisoners. But it was a cell, not a cabin - ask anyone that helped sweep that floor and they’ll tell you the same. He was chained to a wall and wearing a muzzle. That’s not something that even a Dark Sider would do to someone fully on their side."

"And how many Dark Siders have you met in your life, precisely?"

Kanan frowned, struggling to keep from glaring at Master Unduli. Forging onward, he said, "Secondly, he hasn't tried to force his way off of the station. I know what you think, Sabine," he said, holding up a hand to cut off Sabine before she could start, "but he is powerful. He probably could have mind-tricked some crew into leaving immediately with him onboard after he found out we were waiting for a hyperdrive motivator. But he didn't; he stayed, helped around the ship, and was willing to wait. That's not what a Dark Sider trying to leave some place would do."

"Finally," he said, turning back to Master Unduli, "he tried to hide when he realized that he was being hunted. He didn't try to fight, or get the drop on you." He laid his palms flat on the table and leaned forward. "He just wanted to be left alone. When have you ever met a Dark Sider who did that?"

Her eyes were cold and unmoved as she replied, "Not often. But more than once I have met one that ran away when they thought that they were outmatched."

Kanan pressed his lips together. Silence fell over the cabin as the two of them stared each other down, waiting for the other to blink. Kanan knew that his points were good; but her's were good as well. He had wanted to keep this back, not make it seem like Ezra had dangled the information as some sort of bait, but -

"Fine," he said, leaning back in his seat. "Believe that he's a Dark Sider. But he’s not violent, and he’s got information that I think the Resistance is going to want."

Master Unduli put her hands down at that. "What do you mean?" she asked.

"He was dragged away from his home, against his will, by agents of Darth Sidious. And he says that he was not the only one.”

Master Unduli leaned back, her eyes widening ever so slightly, and Kanan knew he had a chance. Mimicking how she leaned back, he kept up eye contact with her.

For several heartbeats, Master Unduli simply breathed, clearly thinking furiously about this new piece of information. Then her eyes narrowed once again. "You believe that he knows where the Inquisitors are being trained."

Kanan shrugged. "At least some of them," he said. "Either way, I don't know about you, but I'm not exactly comfortable leaving a bunch of Force-sensitive younglings in Darth Sidious' hands."

"He says," one the the clones piped up, sounding suspicious. "This is all being taken on faith that the kid is speaking the truth. People can say anything."

Kanan couldn't help it. He had nearly forgotten that the clones were there, managing to not quite relax, what with the interrogation with Master Unduli, but keep from getting too wound up by their presence. "You weren't there," he snapped, venom seeping into his voice and curling up at the back of his throat, caustic and painful. "You didn't hear him when he told me about what happened to him."

"Listen," Hera said, stepping in just as the two clones stepped towards Kanan threateningly, "we're all jumpy. We all have good points. And somehow, I doubt that we are going to be able to convince each other that the other is wrong. So why don't we simply talk to De - Ezra?" She nearly stumbled over the unfamiliar name as she settled herself firmly in between Kanan and the clones. "Let him tell his story -"

"And I can see if he is lying or not," Master Unduli said quietly. Kanan dragged his eyes away from the clones' awful white armor to look back at her. Her look of simmering hostility had lessened, and now she looked thoughtful. "If he is telling the truth, about himself and the supposed others, then that is something that the Council and the Resistance will need to know."

"Glad to hear it," Kanan noted sarcastically, his eyes bouncing between her and her clones.

She ignored his statement, retreating into what Kanan recognized as the Serene Jedi Master mask from growing up in the Temple. "Kanan Jarrus," she said, "since you are so convinced of this Inquisitorial agent's innocence -"

"He's not an Inquisitor," Kanan snapped.

"- you should be the one to bring him to us. I will look into his mind to see if he is lying, and if he is not, we will begin to look into his claims."

Kanan pressed his lips together tightly, a hot knot in his gut at the way she was ignoring his words. He couldn't help but feel a little insulted on Ezra's behalf that he was only being allowed to plead his case because he might know where the Inquisitors were being trained. But this was also the best chance that they had for keeping Ezra safe.

"What about everyone else out there, then?" Zeb asked from his seet, crossing his arms. "You and your people have done a pretty complete job of spreading the news around. If they find out that the kid's still on the station and not getting gutted with a lightsaber, this whole argument is going to be a moot point."

"He will have a military escort," Master Unduli said. "I have several soldiers with me - they can keep the crowds under control while the apprentice is being fetched." She pinned Kanan with her gaze. "If Jarrus would not mind bringing him here from wherever he has hidden him."

Kanan looked at the clones, still standing where they had stepped closer during their brief spat with each other. His lip curled slightly at the thought of trusting clones to watch his back.

"Yeah, yeah," the clone on the right said, gesturing at him with his rifle. "We get it, you hate our guts. Can you stop looking like you sniffed bantha shit?"

Kanan grunted and looked away. This was going to be his best chance, he knew. So many things could go wrong from here - the crowds could get word that Ezra was being brought to talk with Master Unduli; Ezra could be lying about what had happened to him; the clones could decide that some random action on Ezra's part was a threat. But if this went right - if Ezra was telling the truth - they’d all be home free.

"Fine," he said, well aware that he sounded like some sullen padawan. "I'm bringing Hera with me, though. If it's okay with her," he added hastily, spotting the look she was shooting him.

She nodded graciously at him. "I can," she said softly. "If it will make Ezra feel more secure."

Kanan really appreciated that she didn't add 'and if it makes you feel more secure as well, dear.' It was little things like that that had kept him with her for this long. "Right then," he said. "Let me put some actual clothes on and we'll be on our way." He brushed past Master Unduli without a word.

Ezra was innocent. She would see that soon.


The doors to the cabin closed, leaving Ezra in darkness.

His legs trembling, he found himself falling to the ground more than sitting down, Kanan's coat settling around him in a pool of fabric as he listened to the loping footsteps of the Kalleran fade away. All the strength, the mad energy that had kept him on his feet after a night without sleep due to his visions of being sliced to pieces by lightsabers, left his body like some great dam of energy inside of him had burst.

On his knees, he wrapped his arms around his now-shaking body and curled up so that his forehead was touching the floor. The mark on the back of his neck burned, outlining its shape on his skin and pulling him back to the cell and the pain even as he tried to reassure himself that everything would be okay. The cold of the metal grounded him, its physicality and hardness comforting in its realness.

Kanan was gone, now. He could feel it, like a cold spot in his chest. The emotions of everyone around him, painful as a razor dragged across his nerves, bounced against him, echoing around his head. Nervousness shot through with fear from the Kalleran, who was now sitting in what was probably the ship's cockpit. Beside him was a heavy mace of shock and hurt - the older human that Kanan hadn't seemed to have liked. And all around them, like some great sea that threatened to drown him -

Fear. Panic. Whatever you wanted to call it, it was overwhelming and terrifying to Ezra.

Ezra. That was his name, right? Swallowing, he whispered the two syllables aloud and tried not to shake, expecting a blow. They had wanted him to forget that name, to be nothing, to be called nothing.

“Ez-ra Bridge-er.” The syllables rolled in his mouth so beautifully that his eyes began to well up again.

Ezra Bridger. That was his name, the name that he had been ordered to forget but kept in his heart, hidden from everyone. It wasn't Dev Morgan. It wasn't kid. It wasn't a long string of numbers forced on him.

His name was Ezra Bridger.

Over and over, he repeated this mantra to himself. He kept mouthing the words as he sat up and crawled over to the wall of the cabin. Leaning back against it, his knees drawn up to his chest and the cheap cloth of Kanan's jacked wrapped tight around his shoulders, he felt his shaking begin to slow down. The coat smelled of the man, a mix of sweat, metal and old cooking oil that just screamed his name in Ezra’s head. Scrubbing at his cheek, he wondered when he had started associating that mix of smells with the man. When he had been close enough to even notice in the three weeks he had been free?

Free. He had never expected to escape.

Ezra had honestly expected to die in that cell in the belly of the star destroyer, on his way to his new master. That in there would be the last time that the boy known as Ezra Bridger would draw breath. Oh, maybe he wouldn’t die in the flesh; his body would still be there, after all, but in mind and soul, in every way that counted, he would have been dead. Everything his parents had taught him, showed him in their actions before the Empire dragged them away. Every friend he had made on the streets, every rare good memory. That part had been slated for death in that cell. What would have been left would be some empty shell, ready to fulfill the will of the Emperor the way it had been whispered into his ear while he was in that hell. He may have left there, but it felt like he had left bleeding, leaving him with only a few stubborn scraps of who he was before he’d been taken.

Not that he was home free yet. The words felt strange on his tongue. Home free. Kanan had gone off to argue with the Jedi. The Jedi that Ezra had seen shoving a lightsaber through his chest while everyone watched.

That vision. Ezra could smell his own burning flesh in the memory of it, feel the pain. Feel the betrayal as Kanan and Hera and the others just watched as he died in agony, reaching out towards them. Breathing in through his nose and out through his mouth, Ezra tried to stay calm even as the panic began to rise up in his chest at the memory. It was just a vision. Surely this one wouldn't come true, even if all the others before did.

But. But. Ezra didn't know that for sure. And Kanan - Ezra didn't know what was with him, but he didn't seem to be too closely associated or high-ranked with anyone. What could he do? Those promises - they were just words in the end. Sitting in here, was he just waiting to die? Ezra wanted to know what was going on. He needed to know what was going on. And he knew how to figure that out. All he had to do was reach -

No no no, he scolded himself, burying his face into his knees. There was a Jedi there, she would know if he tried to reach out and look. Jedi could do that, right? Sense when someone was spying on them? And that was if Ezra could even find them in the storm of emotions outside, something that he was not sure that he could. So he should really just keep to himself. Just keep to himself, he repeated in his head. Just keep to himself.

The door to the cabin hissed open. Ezra jumped and tried to climb to his feet, the coat tangling around his legs and nearly making him fall back down. His heart hammered painfully in his chest.

"Hey, it's okay, kid," the man standing in the doorway said. He held up his hands as he stepped in, the door standing open behind him. "I'm not going to hurt you."

The words were heard but they didn't make sense. Keeping his back pressed to the wall, Ezra flicked his eyes from the white-haired man to the door behind him, trying to calculate his chances of escaping if the man turned out to be lying. "Sure," he said, his voice embarrassingly shaky.

The man's mouth twisted slightly into a disbelieving smile. Stepping further into the room, he stopped as Ezra tensed. For a few hard, hammering heartbeats, they stood in silence, staring at each other. Ezra looked over at the open door again.

Then very slowly and exaggeratedly, the man stepped to the side, giving Ezra a clear way out of the room. It should have relaxed Ezra more. But all Ezra could feel was his muscles knotting tighter as his mind spun, trying to figure out what game the man was playing. Was this some sort of temptation, to see if Ezra would follow Kanan's directions to stay put?

"Kid," the man said, drawing Ezra out of his own spinning thoughts.

Swallowing down the lump in his throat, Ezra forced himself to look up. He hadn't even realized that he had looked down.

"Kid," the man said, his voice gentler than anyone Ezra had heard in years, "it's okay. I don't know what you've been through, but both Janus and I made a promise to Caleb that we wouldn't hurt you."

"No," Ezra said, the words bursting from his lips, "you promised to hide me. That doesn't mean -" He bit his lip to cut himself off and mentally swore at himself in the foulest Huttese that he knew. What was he doing? Falling apart like this - like he was some stupid little kid…

"Most people would consider a promise to hide someone as automatically including a corollary of not hurting that person." The man was now directly across from Ezra. He couldn't keep himself clenching his jaw and looking at the door. His skin was shuddering, and he felt dizzy, trying to figure out what this guy was about. What was below his words, in the subtext? Ezra had been so good at reading that, before - why couldn't he now?

Then the man did something odd. He leaned back against the wall casually, like he was just loitering on some street, and slowly sank down to sit cross-legged on the floor.

"Hope you don't mind," he said casually. "My knees aren't so good these days; hurts to stand for too long."

Ezra bit his lower lip and looked to the door again. "N-no," he said, hating the tremble in his voice. "It's okay. It's your ship."

The man chuckled, making Ezra whip his head towards him again. "Actually, it's Janus' ship," he said lightly. "I'm more of an occasional passenger than anything else."

That was a joke, Ezra was pretty sure. He should probably laugh here. The man was looking at him. Reaching up, he scrubbed at his face in frustration. Blast it, why couldn't he do this? Why did he feel so unsteady and shaky, like he was going to fall apart? He'd been able to keep it together when he'd introduced himself to Kanan and Hera and Zeb, smiling like nothing was wrong and that he hadn't just escaped -

No, no. He wasn't going to think about that place. It was useless to do that now, when he was far away from it. And he wouldn't ever go back to it, either -

Karabast. Ezra gave up on looking even remotely like he was okay and buried his face in his hands, letting himself sink back to the ground. He couldn't even make himself believe that one lie, how was he going to get this man to believe he was fine and go away?

"Kid."

He couldn't do this. He couldn't keep going, couldn't keep it together - he wouldn't last a night out on his own.

"Kid!"

Someone touched his shoulder gently. That didn't keep Ezra from punching them in the face.

"Kriff," the man said, reeling back and laying a hand gingerly over his eye, "you have a hell of a punch, kid."

Ezra barely heard the man, his ears ringing as he stared down at his fist in horror. He had -

"Kid," the man said, taking a hold of Ezra's fist with both hands. They covered his completely, the way his dad's had used to. Poodoo, how was he going to keep them from throwing him out now? The crowds outside were still so scared, they’d fall on him in a second and tear him apart -

"Kid," the man said, his voice gentle again. "Look at me."

Slowly and reluctantly, Ezra looked up at the man, ready to see well-hidden anger, or scorn. Even a look of disappointment. But there was none of that. There was a red mark underneath his left eye that looked like it stung. But all Ezra could see behind that was concern.

"Kid," he said, "or whatever your name is. It's okay."

Ezra swallowed. "I hit you, though," he said.

The man shrugged. "And I grabbed you, even though I knew that you were, well -"

Ezra looked away, flexing the hand still in the man's grip.

The man sighed. "Kid," he said quietly, "there's no shame in having - trouble...after a bad shock like what happened today. I've seen it plenty of times after a bad op. It happens to everyone. I just came in here to check on you."

"And then I punched you in the face."

The man's lips twitched. "Wouldn't be the first time something like that’s happened," he said, with a bit of a chuckle under his voice. Then he sobered. "You looked pretty worried and out of it when Caleb brought you onboard. I didn't think it was fair for Janus to just shove you into my cabin -"

"This is your cabin?" Ezra asked incredulously, looking up at him in surprise.

The man shrugged. "I don't spend every night in it," he said, "but yeah, it's basically my cabin."

"Oh." Ezra looked around it with new eyes, now picking out the small signs of inhabitance that he had missed in the dark previously.
At this, the man did chuckle and sit back on his heels. "The name's Grey," he said, keeping a hold of Ezra's hand with one of his own, but pulling back the second. "What's yours?"

Wetting his lips, Ezra very carefully didn't pull away. "Ezra," he said, and stars, saying it out loud again felt so good. "Ezra Bridger."

"Nice to meet you, Ezra," Grey said, nodding politely at him. And he actually looked sincere about it. Ezra didn't know what to do with that information.

They sat quietly for a minute. Grey didn't seem in any hurry to make him talk, which was nice. Neither did he give the feeling that he was discouraging it, either. Ezra liked that. That feeling of choice. He hadn't had it in a long time.

Eventually, though, he had to break it. "So," he said, shifting slightly in his seat. "Why'd you come in?"

The man shrugged. "Like I said, to check on you," he replied. "No offense, but you weren't looking too hot when Caleb dropped you off. Thought that maybe it wasn't the brightest idea to leave you alone in here to brood."

The corners of Ezra’s lips pulled back in an unfamiliar feeling. "Can't say you were wrong," he said weakly. "I, uh, was kind of winding myself up in here, on my own." His cheeks burned, and he looked away. Why had he said that?

"Mm, I know that feeling," Grey said. And looking up at him underneath his brow, Ezra could believe that. There was a weariness to his face that Ezra had only seen on some of the oldest people on the street. A feeling of having seen some poodoo. Things that you couldn't unsee. Ezra wondered if he had the same look on his features now.

"Want to tell me about it?" Grey asked suddenly. Ezra jumped slightly in his skin.

Tell someone - no. His immediate reaction was a firm no. He didn't want to talk about it, or think about it, or -

But. But. Staying in here. Alone. That was not something that he wanted. That was not something that had helped.

"Uh, well, to start with, I've kind of been having visions of being killed by the Jedi onboard," he said with a weak chuckle, reaching up with his off hand to scratch at the back of his head.

"Visions?" Grey's brow furrowed. "Like a Jedi?"

"Jedi have visions too?" Though really, now that he thought about that, it made sense.

Grey nodded. "Yes. It seems to be a Force thing in general. I know that my general occasionally had them, at least. Warned us of a few ambushes that way."

Now it was Ezra's turn to furrow his brow. "General?" he asked. "You were in a war?" A thought hit him, and his eyes widened. "Wait, were you in the Clone Wars?"

Grey laughed quietly, the wrinkles around his eyes deepening. "Could hardly avoid it," he said. "I was born to fight in it."

It took a few seconds, but then it clicked in Ezra's head. "You're a clone?" he gasped. "I thought all of you were with the Jedi or dead!"

Grey laughed quietly again, but this time there was an undercurrent of sadness to it. "That is generally the case, yes."

"Then where's your Jedi?"

He didn't laugh this time. He just tightened his lips and looked away. "I've been looking for him," he said. "He was lost near the time the Jedi had to abandon the Temple. I promised myself that I would find him and bring him home, so I've been looking for him ever since."

Ezra was not a particularly well-educated person. It was hard to be one when you hadn't seen the inside of a classroom since you were seven. But even he knew about the Fall of the Jedi Temple, and how long ago it was.

"You've been looking for you Jedi for fourteen years?" he asked. He felt dizzy again, but this time it was different. It was less about feeling like he was going to fall down or break apart, and more from awe, like watching a storm roll in over Lothal's prairies. Some great and powerful force, utterly indifferent to the people around it and totally unstoppable, like the sun rising and setting. Ezra could feel, without asking anything further - this man would find his Jedi, no matter what.

Would anyone do that for him? Did anyone do that for him, back on Lothal, when he was taken?

"Fifteen, actually," Grey gently corrected. "And a few times, I've almost had him, too. But -" he looked away again and grimaced.

"But what?" Ezra prompted.

Grey suddenly looked very tired. It clung to the lines on his face, dragging the down further and making the scar that carved its way down the middle of his face stand out harshly.

"It's hard," he said slowly, "to help someone who doesn't want to be helped. Or can even bear to look at you."

Ezra leaned forward in concern, fascinated despite himself. "What happened?" he asked, knotting his brow. "Why wouldn't he be able to deal with even looking at you?"

Grey went very still. The sort of stillness that Ezra had seen before, in people who were reminded of the thing that had finally broken them. Ezra had seen a lot of that.

"Have you...ever heard of Order 66?" he asked, his voice slow.

Ezra shook his head and leaned even closer, eager to hear more. Grey looked hesitant, though, his eyes not quite focusing on Ezra's face.

Just as he seemed to gather himself and opened his mouth, though, a familiar voice interrupted.

"Ezra doesn't need that old history lesson," Kanan said, standing in the doorway with his arms crossed.

"Caleb," Grey said, turning his head to look at the man. His face settled into an odd expression. If Ezra had to describe it, it was a thin layer of indifference pulled over a roiling loth-rat den of pain.

"Come on, Ezra," Kanan said, not reacting to anything Grey said but keeping his eyes firmly locked on the clone. "We have to go, now."

Ezra hesitated, his eyes darting between the two men. His instincts said not to move, so as to avoid and having that intensity turned on him. But Kanan's tone brooked no opposition, in the same way some of the gangsters on his home planet's tones didn't when they were only just barely holding onto their anger and that the next person to do the slightest thing wrong was going to get beaten half to death.

"Ezra." The voice had even more of that 'gangster tone.' Ezra decided that discretion was the better part of valour.

"Um, nice talking to you, Grey," he said, tugging his hand out of the clone's grip. "I'll, uh, see you later, maybe?" He looked to Kanan at that statement, trying to gauge whether or not that was going to be true. From the look on Kanan's face at the mention of coming by again, Ezra had the sinking feeling that it was going to be a lie.

“Yeah,” Grey said, grunting as he stood back up. He clapped a hand onto Ezra’s back, not breaking eye contact with Kanan. “Don’t worry. We will.”

Chapter Text

Outside of the ship, the hood on the coat was roughly jerked over Ezra's head again, nearly blinding him.

"Don't let this fall off your head," Kanan said gruffly. "People still don't know about you."

"Kanan," said another familiar voice. Tugging back the hood to a more manageable depth, Ezra couldn't keep the smile from breaking out across his face at the sight of Hera. The Twi'lek smiled at him briefly before turning back to Kanan.

"Don't be too rough," she said. "This has been stressful enough for all of us, and I don't want to keep scaring Ezra."

Kanan sullenly stuck his hands into his pants pockets; pants that Ezra noticed had been changed. In fact, the man had changed into his day clothes entirely. Ezra didn't know if this was a good thing or a bad thing. Judging from his mood, Ezra was ready to bet that it was the latter.

"Yeah, well," Kanan was saying, "being out here isn't exactly helping me relax."

Hera didn't look impressed.

Ezra decided to cut in. "Hey, so," he said, darting between the two of them, "I was wondering, what's going on with me and the Jedi, now, exactly?" You know, since it's kind of why all of this started in the first place, he added silently.

Kanan gave him an odd look that for a moment had Ezra wondering if the man was reading his mind. "They're sort of good, sort of not so good," he said tersely, biting off each word. "You're going to have to meet her face to face."

Ezra's stomach dropped to his shoes and he curled his hands in to fists. "You said that you'd talk to them," he said, hearing the frantic edge to his voice. He could smell his own burning flesh, feel the ache in his chest.

Hera laid a hand on his shoulder. "To talk, not to be executed," she said, drawing him away from that awful, remembered and not-remembered smell. "Kanan talked her down from arresting you for existing, but she had a point about needing to make sure that you aren't an accomplice of the Inquisitorius."

"And what does that mean, exactly?" Ezra asked. “How is she going to tell that I’m not an Inquisitor?” He could still hear the frantic edge on his voice, cutting close to hysteria.

"Come on," Kanan said, placing his hand on Ezra's shoulder. "I'll tell you, but we need to get moving first."

Reluctantly, Ezra found himself being dragged along. Like the several previous trips with Kanan, they headed towards one of the less-used turbolifts, small and slow as they were. Punching the pad on the wall, this one came up surprisingly fast, and the three of them stepped in.

There were about three heartbeats of silence before Ezra couldn't take it anymore. He turned to Kanan and balled up his fists. "What do you mean by checking to see that I'm not an accomplice?" he demanded. "How do you even check for that?"

Kanan sighed and looked over Ezra's head. A set of warm hands landed on Ezra's shoulders, drawing him away a little.

"Don't worry, Ezra," she said.

But panic was now clawing its way up Ezra's throat once again, seeking the comfortable resting spot that it had found earlier. "No, Hera, I need to know," he insisted, turning to her. "Is she gonna - is she gonna go in my head?” Embarrassingly, he could feel tears pricking at his eyes at the thought. Going through that again - “That hurts more than any of the physical stuff, and it doesn't go away as easy, either. If this is going to include the Jedi messing with my head -"

Kanan traded another worried look with Hera over Ezra’s head as he babbled. As Ezra’s throat tightened, his voice becoming shriller with the panic picking at his heart,he turned back to him and crouched down, clapping his hands on Ezra's shoulders.

"Ezra," he said, looking Ezra in the eyes with a serious expression Ezra had never seen before on his face. "It took a lot of arguing to get even this. The station's security force wants you in a cell for this rather than the Ghost. I know that you don't want to do this, but it was the best we could get."

Guilt rose up in Ezra's stomach and he looked down, unable to keep Kanan's worried gaze. He could feel Kanan's sincerity like a warm blanket wrapping around his shoulders, dredging up old memories of sitting with his parents at night, cuddling as they read to him before bed. Safety and peace, two things he hadn't felt for years.

He truly did mean the best. How could Ezra explain, then, the horror and nausea that the very idea of letting another person inside of him? The back of his throat burned, and he could feel the ghost of a hand, stroking along his neck and collar. But if this was the best that he could get...

He could do this. He had survived it before. He could survive it again. They'd see that he was innocent, and then he wouldn't have to do this again.

"I get it," he mumbled through numb lips, reaching up to rub his arm. "I get it, okay. I'll do it. But it'll only be once, right?"

There was a stomach-plunging pause before Kanan said, "Of course."

Ezra just barely bit back some rude words and stared down at his feet.


After they reached the hangar the Ghost was in, it was only a short walk to the ship. But it was shorter than usual now.

There was a crowd in front of the Ghost. Normally, Ezra wasn’t worried by big crowds; lots of people meant a large haul at the end of the day back on Lothal. But this crowd wasn't the usual busy, on the move crowd that he liked to work. It wasn't even the worried and frightened crowd that the Imps rounded up every Empire Day on Lothal to watch the parade. This crowd filled the air with the heavy, clinging feel of anger, pressing against Ezra's skin until he could practically feel it burning against his nerves like ciggara butts. People were muttering to each other, looking around and squinting as if they expected some monster to pop out of nowhere and attack. The sort of crowd that was nothing more than a fuel-soaked pyre ready to ignite at the slightest spark.

It was only when Ezra came closer and the muttering quieted that he realized that he was the monster that they were waiting for. His stomach gave an unpleasant jolt.

The first person to turn was a chubby Pantoran man, his battered headdress swaying around his face. His eyes widened in unmistakeable fear as they settled on Ezra, and he jammed an elbow into the Ithorian beside him. The Ithorian turned, looking irritated until he caught sight of Ezra as well. By the time they reached the edge of the crowd, it had already begun to part, the chatter that had filled the air only seconds before quieting down.

Passing through it towards the ship, Ezra could feel the crowd's gaze burning against his skin. Swallowing convulsively, he had to remind himself that running now wouldn't help and would just make him look more guilty in their eyes. His eyes fluttered closed for a moment, and a vision, of hands tearing at his hair and flesh as blood ran down his screaming face flashed across the insides of his eyelids.

A soft gasp escaped his lips.

"You okay?" Kanan muttered out of the side of his mouth.

Ezra squeezed his hands into fists to stop their trembling. "Yeah, I'm fine," he lied.

Stars, he had hoped that the visions would stop up here! Down in the cargo hold, far away from the overwhelming feelings and voices that filled his head to overflowing whenever he went to one of the more populated levels of the station, there had been nothing to keep the visions from coming. They came and went like the giant waves he had heard of on water planets, ones that could swamp entire cities, drowning millions and dragging the survivors out to sea. Ezra had felt like one of those survivors, desperately treading water as waves crashed over his head, each one driving him a little deeper until he felt like he would never reach the surface. He had ended up rocking himself, his face buried in his knees as a thousand ways to die had rolled through his head, each one's individual hurts slowly sawing through his nerves.

Kanan's broad, warm hand on his shoulder nearly made him jump and trip over his own feet. Ezra looked up at him, startled, the hood of the coat falling back slightly from his forehead. But Kanan wasn't looking at him. He was looking straight ahead, his posture ramrod straight and a muscle in his jaw twitching as he pressed his lips together so tightly they disappeared.

He's scared too, Ezra realized. But of what? He wasn't the one in trouble - unless the angry at him for helping Ezra.

Oh man, they probably were. Ezra snapped his head back towards the front, another wave of nausea roiling through him. He swallowed. This wasn't just for him now, he realized. It was for Kanan, and Hera, and Zeb and even Chopper. Hiding him, helping him - if the Rebels were anything like any military that Ezra had ever met, they wouldn't be very happy about that. If the Jedi looking through his head said that he was guilty - they could all be facing a firing squad.

Breathing in deeply, he squared his shoulders. No. He was innocent. He hadn't done anything wrong, ever. Kanan and Hera and the rest had nothing to worry about because there was nothing to see.

He raised his head, determined to look confident and not let the crowds cow him. He had nothing to be ashamed of -

Then he saw the Jedi, and all the breath left him like he had been punched in the stomach. He had forgotten that she was a Mirialan.

Standing at the bottom of the ramp, her hands folded behind her back and flanked by helmeted clones, she looked like some statue that had been placed in front of a court building meant to represent Justice. What could only be a lightsaber was clipped to her waist, and her face was smooth and unmoved even as they came closer and the crowd continued to part around them.

"Good morning," she greeted as they reached the ship, her voice as smooth and blandly pleasant as if they were just meeting for some business meeting rather than to figure out if Ezra was an Inquisitor or not. "Was there any trouble retrieving the boy?"

"His name is Ezra," Kanan replied from his place beside Ezra, squeezing his shoulder, "and no."

Ezra couldn't help but be glad that Kanan had immediately replied. His throat felt dry, and he wasn’t sure that he could speak at all.

The Mirialan Jedi inclined her head graciously. "Very well then," she said. "Shall we continue this inside?"

Ezra could feel some amusement mixed with worry gently lap against him from Hera. "I think that that would be best, yes," she said calmly, not pointing out that the Ghost was her ship.

"Very well." The Jedi turned and began to head up into the Ghost. The clones that had flanked her straightened up, moving their rifles. Ezra flinched. Kanan's hand gave his shoulder another squeeze. The clones didn't do anything more, just resting the barrels against their shoulders and marching in after the Jedi.

Hera was the first to follow them inside, looking as calm and carefree as Ezra had ever seen her, even as her worry twined around his neck. Kanan slipped away from his side, and made to follow her, his concern more like a heavy weight.

Ezra knew that he had to follow them. That if he didn't, all of the arguing that Kanan had done for him would be for nothing; that he would be seen as just another member of the Dark Side. Ezra could feel the weight of the crowd's gaze on his shoulders, burning holes in his back. But he couldn't make his legs move. Not to follow the Mirialan woman into that enclosed space.

Just a few steps in front of him, Kanan paused and turned his head. Ezra could see how his eyes rested on him for only a moment before flicking out to take in the crowd.

"Come on, kid," he said softly, his lips barely moving. "Don't let this get ugly."

And Ezra could already hear the crowd muttering. The dull heat of suspicion began to rise, pressing up against Ezra's skin and making sweat drip down his spine. But still, Ezra couldn't make his feet move.

"Kid," Kanan said softly.

And Ezra could feel the vision of the crowd rushing forward, tearing at him, pressing up against his back with sharp nails scratching through his skin. He squeezed his eyes shut and breathed in deep.

"I'm coming," he said in a rush, opening his eyes. Stiffly, feeling like he was tearing his feet from the durasteel floor, he began to stiffly walk up the ramp as quick as he could without tripping. He could feel the relief flowing off of Kanan in waves as he passed, but couldn't stop to enjoy it. If he stopped, he wouldn't be able to move again.

Grabbing the ladder, he clambered up it as fast as he could with shaking hands. Behind him, Kanan made a small noise of concern, but Ezra didn't stop as he crawled up into the main living area of the ship.

A large, purple hand grasped his upper arm and helped him to his feet. Looking up, Ezra found to his surprise that it was Zeb, smiling down at him. Staring up at him dumbly, he tried to remember if he had ever seen Zeb smiling before.

"Kid," he rumbled, looking pleased. "Glad to see you're still in one piece."

There was a pause, where Zeb's brows began to dip into something that looked frighteningly like concern, before Ezra realized that he was expected to reply. Pulling up the corners of his mouth, he tried to look confident. "Was there ever any doubt?"

Zeb's smile softened slightly. "Yes," he replied, moving his hand from Ezra's arm to splayed on his back.

Oh.

Ezra didn't quite know what to do with that information, so he looked away and further down the hallway.

The door to the living room had been left open, Chopper burbling to himself as the two clone troopers took up their station on either side. And in the doorway, standing with her arms crossed and her lips pressed into a line -

Sabine.

A throb of hurt lanced through Ezra's chest, fading only slowly into a dull ache. The Mandalorian girl - well, Ezra hadn't been so deluded as to think he had charmed the armor of of her, but that night he had thought that he had made a good impression. Knowing that she was the one that had told everyone he was an Inquisitor, though; that stung.

"Sabine," Hera said, popping into view and laying a hand on the girl's shoulder. "The others need to get into the room as well."

Sabine stared at Ezra for a painful heartbeat before briskly nodding and allowing herself to be guided away from sight. Once she was gone, Ezra took a breath, aware suddenly that he had stopped breathing as Sabine had examined him.

Zeb's giant hand patted him gently on the back, making him stumble forward. "It's okay, kid," he said, his voice sympathetic. "She'll come around eventually."

"But right now," Kanan said from behind them, grunting a little as he pulled himself to his feet, "we are keeping Master Unduli waiting." Brushing his hands off against the front of his shirt, he put his hand on Ezra's shoulder again and began to gently push him forward.

"Uh, right," Ezra said, smiling nervously and nervously fiddling with the coat’s long sleeves. "Shouldn't keep her waiting, should we?" But Kanan's hand on his shoulder was the only thing keeping him from dragging his feet as they headed into the living room. As it was, Ezra couldn't keep a shudder from passing through him as the went past the clone troopers, still staring straight ahead as far as Ezra could tell with their helmets on.

Then they were in the living room, and it was almost offensively normal. Calm, warm, just like the last time Ezra had been inside of it for that dinner before he had found out about the Jedi. But now - now the Jedi was sitting at the table where he had sat beside Hera that night. Wrapped in a brown dress and close-fitting headcap, she didn't fit with the pale plasteel and grey metal of the room, sticking out in a way that drew all eyes to her.

"I feel that I should say hello properly before we begin, young one," she said, rising gracefully from her seat. Tucking her arms in front of her, once hand cupping the opposite arm's elbow, she did a short half-bow, her eyes cast down to the floor in a way that Ezra could distantly remember some of his parents' friends doing when they came over to visit. Before everything. The dull ache in his chest where the hurt had always lived was not a surprise, just that the Jedi had done it all.

"I am Master Luminara Unduli of the Jedi Order," she continued, straightening up and looking at Ezra with a gaze that gave away precisely nothing of what she was actually feeling. "It is a pleasure to meet you. May I request your name?"

Ezra looked over his shoulder at Kanan before he could stop himself. The older man nodded just a little at him from where he was leaning against the wall, an arm wrapped around Hera's waist. Neither of them looked judgemental, just quietly encouraging.

Swallowing, Ezra turned back to the Jedi and bowed as well, feeling clumsy and numb. "E-Ezra Bridger," he mumbled. There was a pause. "Nice to meet you too," he added belatedly.

The Jedi just nodded and sat back down at the table. She gestured to the seat across from her. "Sit, please, Ezra Bridger," she said. "I'm sure that we all would like to get this over with."

Well. She wasn't wrong. With shaking legs that felt like they were going to collapse at any moment, he crossed the room and fell into the seat the Jedi had gestured to.

"Thank you," she said politely, folding her hands in front of her. "Has Jarrus explained what I will be doing to ascertain that you are not a threat to this station or the larger Resistance?"

Ezra studied the dejarik board in front of him. He felt less like screaming if he didn't look like the Jedi. "Yes," he mumbled. "You're going to look into my head."

"Correct," she said. "If you could slip into a meditative trance, then, we can begin."

Meditative trance? What was that? He supposed that meant not fighting back, but…

Chewing on his lower lip, Ezra looked down into his lap, knotted his fingers and waited for pain. Sneaking a glance up through his eyelashes, he saw the Jedi close her eyes and go still, and chewed a little harder.

Several heartbeats passed. Looking back down at his hands, he curled and uncurled his toes in his boots.

Across from him, the Jedi cleared her throat.

"Ezra Bridger," she said, her voice frighteningly even. "I asked you to enter a meditative trance so as to facilitate this examination. If you are not willing to co-operate -"

Ezra felt his muscles jump at that. His head whipped up. "What? No, no, I’m co-operating -”

“Your actions are not precisely supporting that, Bridger.” The Mirialan Jedi’s voice was cold.

"But I am!" The words burst from his lips with a childish whine before he could stop him. The Jedi frowned, and Ezra looked over at Kanan. "I am," he repeated, begging him to believe him.

"Then why have you not done as I have asked?" the Jedi asked. She tapped her knuckles on the table, her lips thinning slightly and eye wrinkles deepening with impatience. Ezra flinched back.

"I-I don't know," he stammered, looking down at the table. There was a large scratch in its surface, curving up under a mysterious brown stain the same colour as the Jedi's skirt. He rubbed at it nervously with his thumb, still not looking up. "I don't - know what you're asking, what a meditative trance is -" He bit the words off and swallowed them down to where they could curdle in his stomach at the look she gave him. Humiliation pricked up his spine with needle-sharp legs.

“...You do not know what a trance is? That is one of the most basic parts of any form of Force training." The skepticism in her voice made Ezra hunch his shoulders up around his ears, and suddenly anger at the Jedi began to boil up in the back of his throat like heartburn.

"Lady, I don't even know what meditating is!" he snapped, digging his fingers into the scratch. The sound of the clones outside shifting, their guns cocking, instantly made him regret it. He flinched back and bit the inside of his cheek. Looking over his shoulder, he saw that the clones were not quite inside the room and their rifles were pointing at the floor. Kanan had pushed away from the wall and was standing in front of them, his back stiff.

Ezra looked back towards the Jedi, just in time to see her make a gesture with her hand to the clones to get them to stand down. Her eyes didn't leave him, though, making him want to squirm.

"You truly do not know what I am talking about?" she asked. Her eyes were a piercing blue, and looked at him like she was peeling away the layers of him to get to his core.

He looked away again, sucking on his lower lip, and shook his head. He could feel the Jedi's gaze drilling a hole into the side of his head. Swallowing, he crossed his arms.
There was another pause.

Then Ezra felt something strange. A soft tickle in his head. He reached up to scratch at it, nails scraping against his skull, but the itch only intensified. It was as if it was inside his skull, gently brushing up against his brain like a loth-cat's tail as it sauntered past you. It reminded him of when he was back there, but - not painful. Not hurting like everything there had.

"Youngling," the Jedi said, and now her voice was not cold or forbidding. It was soft and warm, like Ezra's mother's voice when she woke him up for school. "Can you feel me?"

"Feel you?" Ezra looked at her from the corner of his eye. She had settled back into her previous position, her hands folded in front of her on the table and her eyes closed. Her face was slack, empty of emotion.

"I am reaching out to brush against your mind - you should be feeling a tickling or itching sensation -"

Ezra stiffened. "Inside my skull?" he asked.

The Jedi's eyes fluttered open briefly. "That is how the sensation is described, yes," she said.

Ezra swallowed and pressed down against the fear that began to rise up through his chest. "Okay, yeah," he said, keeping his voice steady and trying not to show his fear, "I feel it."

"Good." The Jedi's eyes fluttered closed once more. "Now, I need you to reach out and connect to that sensation. That will allow me to drop you into a trance and enter your mind without pain."

That sentence made just as much sense as the Jedi's first mention of meditation. But with the clones still standing in the doorway with their guns cradled in their arms, Ezra didn't want to slow things down any further. So he shut his eyes as well, and tried to do as the Jedi instructed.

First, he tried to figure out exactly where the itching was in his head. It seemed to be near the back, making his scalp with its regrowing hair prickle. The sensation itself, now that he was examining it, didn't just feel like itching; it felt now like a warmth, with smudges of kindness that were nearly drowned out by a familiar sort of exhaustion. It was one that Ezra knew well, the sort that had nothing to do with how much you had eaten or how good a night's sleep you had had. It was the sort of tiredness that you felt when you looked at the future ahead of you and saw only the same grind for survival for your entire life, with no relief or joy.

Well. He guessed that he must have made contact. With that done, he wrinkled his nose and tried to imagine reaching for it. Forming a hand in his head and trying to imbue it with the same sort of feeling, he pushed it forward, groping blindly for the Jedi's presence.

A sharp pain almost immediately lanced through his head, like a hot nail being pushed through the ball of his foot. With a soft gasp, he felt his 'hand' dissolve and his eyes flew open. Across the table, the Jedi briefly opened her eyes at him.

Hurriedly, he shut his eyes again and focused on reforming the hand. This time, when the sting came, he ignored it and pushed forward. The feeling of the Jedi was more solid now, somehow - it felt like a hand outstretched, not quite touching him and waiting for something. For him.

But even as he got closer to the Jedi, another bit of pain lanced through his head, this one worse. It was a wave more than a spike this time, traveling along his head over his scalp and trickling down his back like someone was scraping needles along his spine. The inside of Ezra's head felt raw, like a scraped knee, stinging from the dirt and rocks that were pushed into the injury. But he pushed through, pushed it down until his hand met hers.

And then, with a lurch, he was still.

It felt like someone had wrapped his head with damp towels. Chopper’s little mutters quieted like he was in a fogbank; the rough feel of the dejarik board beneath his fingers softened like he was wearing gloves. A small itch squirmed on the back of his hand, and he couldn’t twitch a finger to scratch it.

This had never happened to him before. Even back there, he could squirm and scream, useless as it was. But like this -

He could do nothing but feel. Feel the clones standing by the door, their suspicion like sticky barbed wire digging into his skin. Kanan, a solid, reassuring presence like the first warm day after winter. Hera, the sun that warmed that day. Zeb, the dirt just as it began to soften as the ice mixed in with it melted. Even Sabine was there, a cold and distant star whose rays barely reached him.

But the Jedi. She burned all the rest away. She was the sun at the center of the galaxy, demanding his attention. The pain from before was now a burning. Unending, unrelenting, Ezra could almost feel the inside of his head blistering as she moved around, rummaging through his memories.

Panic rose up in his throat. The Jedi - he had to look away, get away, but the Jedi had him now, and she wouldn't let him go. Her nails dug into his head, tearing off tender strips as he tried to pull away. Ezra could feel thick spit gathering in his mouth like before he threw up, begging to be swallowed. But he couldn’t even do that. He needed to pull back. He needed to pull back! He was raw, no protection from her burning light, her nails digging into him inside and out and there was no escape as the doors closed cutting off all light -

"Kid!"

Ezra's eyes snapped open. The ceiling swam into view in front of him, the lights making his eyes water.

"Kid."

Someone was cradling his head in their lap, but Ezra couldn't quite focus his eyes. Reaching up, he rubbed clumsily at his eyes. To his surprise, his cheeks were wet under his fingers. He pulled his hands back slightly to get a better look at them.

But then someone else grabbed them, holding them between their own two hands. A green someone.

"You said that this wouldn't hurt him," someone growled. They had a low voice, oddly-accented. Names bounced around inside of Ezra's head, just slipping out of his grasp. He knew that person; why couldn't he remember what they called themselves?

"It should not have," someone else replied. Their voice was calm, too calm. But underneath, there was a little bit of real worry. "But his mind.."

"Ezra," said the person holding his head. "Look at me."

The worried tone made Ezra obey like his head was on a string, pushing the mystery of the two talkers to the back of his mind.

A man was looking down at him, his forehead creased with worry. He had dark brown hair pulled back in a ponytail and a scruffy beard on his chin, and his skin was tanned like Ezra's. His eyes weren't blue like Ezra's, though. They were an odd greenish-bluish shade that shaded greener as a Twi'lek woman leaned over to join him in looking down at Ezra, her tattooed lekku dangling down and blocking our the rest of the room.

"Ezra," the woman said, laying a hand over the man's and cupping his cheek. "How do you feel?"

Her voice was like flipping a switch. "Hera?" Ezra said weakly. "Kanan? What happened? I couldn’t move -"

"Bantha fodder," Zeb growled. He stepped forward from wherever he had been standing, just visible from behind Hera’s lekku. He looked murderous. "He was fine before you ‘looked into his mind’."

"I do not know why that happened, Garazeb Orrelios," the Jedi said, raising her voice just slightly. "I am not a mind healer. But I can tell you that whatever caused his collapse was due to the damage already present, not anything I did."

"Well I sure as hell hope you got what you needed from him because you aren't doing that again," Kanan snarled.

"Your threats are not needed, Jarrus," the Jedi said, turning towards him. Ezra couldn't help but flinch. Green skin and facial tattoos -

"I saw what I needed to see," she continued. "Young Bridger is no threat. However, several images I picked up from him were quite interesting."

Kanan stiffened and laid a protective hand over Ezra's forehead, almost blocking his eyes. Curious, Ezra clumsily tugged at it. He wanted to see what the Jedi was talking about as well!

She was standing in the middle of the room, completely ignoring how Zeb was looming over her with his arms crossed. Folding her hands behind her back, she looked down at Ezra in a way that made him regret moving Kanan’s hand.

“Youngling,” she said, “I am going to suggest to the authorities here that we set up a joint holoconference call with the leaders of the Jedi Order and the Resistance. If I did so, would you be willing to be there?”

“Why would Ezra need to be there?” Kanan jumped in before Ezra could even open his mouth. “I thought that you would have gotten all of the information that you need -”

“On the contrary,” the Jedi said, keeping her eyes on Ezra. “The images were greatly confused. I could see them, yes, but it is best to get it from the source, so to speak.”

Ezra could feel the anger in Kanan, like a hot light beside him but with the beam pointing elsewhere. He knew that if he let him, Kanan would refuse the offer. But -

“You don’t think I’m an Inquisitor, then?” he asked, his voice far softer and weaker than he wanted it to be.

For a moment, he would have sworn that the Jedi’s stern, expectant face softened just a little. “No,” she said brusquely. “I do not believe that you are a willing acolyte of the Dark.”

Ezra was not entirely sure of what an acolyte was, but he was far more interested in the first word of that sentence.

“If you don’t think I’m a - whatever,” he asked, struggling to sit up, “then what else do I have to tell?”

Immediately, he got the feeling that that was not the right thing to say.

“Youngling,” the Jedi said, her disappointment a low, steady heat just this side of painful, “I saw what your captors did to you, and you were not alone. Are you truly willing to leave those others behind to your tormentors?”

For a moment, Ezra couldn’t speak as his stomach dropped. She had seen - everything? No, she couldn’t have, he hastily assured himself, otherwise - otherwise -

He swallowed, his eyes burning with a mix of shame and guilt. The thought of the others hadn’t even crossed his mind in all of this time. All he had thought of was himself.

“N-no,” he said, averting his eyes and hating the way that his voice shook. “Sorry. Just - am I going to have to tell everything, to everyone there? All at once?”

Kanan placed a large, warm hand on his shoulder, his presence softening from a harsh beam of light to a warm, soothing blanket. “I don’t see why they would need you to recall everything the Empire did to you,” he said, his voice filled with warning directed at the Jedi.

The Jedi didn’t say anything, ignoring Kanan again. “Do I have your agreement, then?” she asked.

Ezra bit the inside of his cheek and nodded. Then he lay back down, his head spinning. Nodding had not been a good idea.

The Jedi nodded briskly. “In that case, I will take my leave and inform the authorities here what has transpired,” she said. “Once the holoconference has been set up, I will send some of my men for Bridger -”

“Hang on,” Kanan said, squeezing Ezra’s shoulder a little tighter than was comfortable, “we didn’t agree to just send Ezra along with your men -”

“Very well,” the Jedi said, a faint tone of frustration seeping into her voice, “you may come along as well. I will make sure that those involved will be warned of your presence.”

With that, she turned sharply on her heel and headed towards the doorway, only to pause for a moment and look back at them. “In fact,” she said, “if you will give me the names of those that were hiding the youngling while we were talking earlier, I will have them included as well. Let Commander Gree know.”

And then she was gone, leaving a silent room behind her.

Chapter Text

Kanan stepped out of Zeb’s room and let his shoulders slump. After Master Unduli had left, Ezra had almost collapsed again just trying to get up. Zeb had thankfully volunteered to share his room before Kanan had to think, saying that he had a free bunk anyways. Ezra was too woozy to complain about being carried there and had almost immediately gone to sleep as soon as his head hit the pillow.

Stepping into the kitchen, he was greeted by Hera with two cups of Spiran caf, still steaming.

“How is he?” she asked quietly, handing him a cup.

Kanan took the cup and sighed. “Exhausted,” he muttered, taking a sip. Swallowing his mouthful, he let himself enjoy the heat spreading across his tongue for a moment before continuing. “I’m not surprised, though - the way he collapsed…” He trailed off and stared down at the mug.

There was a moment of silence where the two of them just stood there, mulling over what they had seen that day.

Kanan couldn’t get it out of his head. When he had first mentioned the demand that the heads of security had made, he had immediately been able to tell that something was wrong. Ezra’s face had shut down, closing up like a shop at the end of a long day in the bad part of town. And then, once the whole thing had started -

Not knowing how to do something as basic as meditation. The way he had suddenly stiffened in his seat, his spine arching backwards in an arc as his eyes opened, revealing only white. Kanan knew that the way he had jerked, like someone being electrocuted, would be haunting his dreams for several nights from now. He had barely been able to catch the kid before he cracked his head open on the floor when he fell.

“…That wasn’t normal, was it?” Hera asked, pulling him out of his thoughts.

“What wasn’t?” Kanan asked, taking another sip of his drink in an attempt to banish the thought with more pleasant memories.

“The blacking out and falling onto the floor.” Hera arched an eyebrow at him. “I’ve never seen a Jedi Master up close, Kanan, but I’m pretty sure that that would have been mentioned more often if it was the usual effect of a mind probe.”

Kanan squeezed his mug so tightly he was surprised it didn’t shatter. “No,” he bit out. “It isn’t.”

“Then what could have caused it? Do you know?”

His back was itching, and he didn’t want to talk about this. What he wanted was to leave the room. But this was Hera, he reminded himself. She had seen him at his worse, heard his darkest secrets and still hadn’t thrown him off the Ghost. She deserved better than a surly growl.

“Well,” he said, scratching the back of his neck, “I’m not a mind-healer, so don’t take my word as the objective truth, but -”

The door to the galley hissed open abruptly, revealing Sabine standing in the doorway, still in her armour and with her helmet firmly on her head.

“Excuse me,” she said. “Just looking for a snack.”

Kanan pressed his lips together but didn’t call her out on her blatant lie.

The two of them stayed quiet as Sabine crossed the room, opening the cupboards with sharp, jerky movements. Reaching in, she pulled out several Ryloth-O ration bars. Far too many for a snack.

“There’s still more to decode,” she said into the silence. “Don’t wait up.”

Kanan pinched the bridge of his nose once the doors had whoomphed shut.

“Nice of her to let us know she’s angry,” he commented dryly.

Hera shrugged, bringing her caf up for a sip. “Can you blame her? She was pretty embarrassed to that you managed to play her in front of everyone.”

“Seriously?” He furrowed his brow and looked at the door. “Did she not catch the part about keeping someone from being lynched?”

Hera looked up at him from her cup. “She is a teenager with something to prove,” she pointed out.

Kanan’s frown only deepened. He had been there when Sabine had first come onboard, a bag of paints on her shoulder and a blaster on her hip. He had been the one to patch her up those first few ops where she had thrown herself against the Empire with a terrifying, careless fervor. He had also been the one she complained to when she felt shut out of larger operations with Fulcrum’s network.

He let his chin fall to his chest and sighed. “I’m going to have to talk to her, aren’t I?” he asked ruefully. It wasn’t really a question.

Hera didn’t even bother to say anything. She just pointed at the door and raised her eyebrows.

Grimacing, Kanan threw back the rest of his caf (because as far as was concerned, you didn’t waste a cup of Spiran caf), handed over his now-empty mug and set off after Sabine.

Luckly, he could still hear her rattling around old spraypaint cans in her room through the door. That meant that she was still packing for another night in the slicing room.
Reaching up, he rapped his knuckles on the door. Immediately, all noise coming from the room stopped.

Undeterred, he knocked again, and then stepped back and crossed his arms. Sabine had complained before about how she could feel it when he did that, saying that it was creepy and that she was too old for such tricks to be used against her.

Kanan had to hide a smile when less than a minute later the door hissed open. Complain all you like, he thought. He’d only stop using it when it stopped being effective.

A now-helmetless Sabine glared up at him from underneath her bangs.

“What?” she snapped.

“Just checking in,” he replied. “Been a long day for everyone.”

Her lip curled. “And it’s going to be even longer for some of us,” she said, her voice as cold as Hoth. “Now if you’ll excuse me, some of us have work to do.”

He stopped her from going around him with an arm and gently scooted her back into her room. Following her inside, he let the door shut behind him.

“That’s a load of bantha fodder,” he said. “Sabine, we both know you don’t have work. Why don’t you tell me what’s really bothering you?”

She glared at him, her golden eyes furious. “I don’t know what you mean,” she choked out through grit teeth. “Now let me go, I told you that there’s more to do -”

“Sabine.”

Her lips pressed together tightly and her cheeks went red. For a moment, Kanan wondered if she was going to explode like one of her art pieces. But when she finally spoke, it was more like all the air being let out of a balloon at once.

You could have died!” she hissed. “As far as anyone knew, the kid was an Inquisitor and you just ran off to confront him with no back up and the gut feeling that he was innocent!” Her hands were twitching like they wanted to be wrapped around the hilts of her blasters.

“Sabine -”

“No!” She jabbed a finger into his chest angrily. Her ears were almost as red as her cheeks. “Blast it! I know what Inquisitors are like, Mandalore knows what Inquisitors are like -”

“And so do I,” Kanan interrupted, grabbing her finger before she could retract it. “I haven’t forgotten Mandalore - I was there, remember?”

He softened as she stared stubbornly at his chest, her lips compressed into a line. “Sabine,” he said, letting go of her finger and gently grasping her shoulders, “I’m sorry that I pulled that on you.”

“Sorry wouldn’t bring you back to life if you were wrong.”

Kanan sighed. “I know,” he said. Guilt was quietly worming around in his stomach at the memory of that mission. It had been a total mess, with gaining Sabine as a crew member being the only silver lining of the entire thing.

Swallowing, he pushed down the memory of the sobbing girl in a cadet uniform pointing her own pistol at her head.

“Sabine,” he said. She didn’t move, except for her hands curling into fists.

Kanan sighed. “What can I do to prove to you that Ezra’s not an Inquisitor?” he asked. “Master Unduli -”

“Master Unduli isn’t infallible,” Sabine snapped.

“Master Unduli,” Kanan said sternly, “is still a Jedi Master. Believe me, she knows what a Darksider feels like.”

Sabine looked away.

Kanan sighed again. “Alright,” he said. He dropped his hands to his sides. “Alright. You can go to the slicing room.”

She made a derisive sound. “Like I needed you permission,” she muttered.

Kanan ignored that. “Just be back in the morning. Master Unduli said that she’d have a time and date for the meeting by that time.”

“I’ll be there,” Sabine said, turning away from him. She picked up her helmet from her bed and jammed it on before grabbing her bag. “Someone with sense has to.”

Kanan pressed his lips together and kept silent as she brushed past him. He had a promise, and had apologized. The ball was in her court, now. All he could do now was wait for her to cool off. He just hoped that she would before they had to go anywhere.


“So, on a scale of one to ten, how likely is it that we’re going to be dragged out of the ship to face a firing squad?” Janus asked as Grey entered the cockpit with two beers, not looking up from the mass of wires that the dashboard had become.

Grey snorted and rolled his eyes. “A zero,” he said. “Master Unduli herself confirmed that Ezra isn’t an Inquisitor.”

That, at least, got Janus looking up from the wires. “Good to know,” he said, plucking a bottle from Grey’s hands. Biting the cap, he gave the bottle a quick twist to loosen it and then spat the cap onto the floor before taking a swig. “So now all we have to worry about is lynch mobs.”

Grey frowned at him. Janus shrugged, unaffected, and turned back to the console. “You know not everyone worships the Jedi like clones do,” he said, placing the bottle on a clear patch of the floor.

“Perhaps,” Grey said testily, sitting down in the co-pilot’s chair, “but -”

“But what? I don’t have to remind you about that?” Janus snorted and pulled a small bundle of wires aside, squinting at something only he could see.

Grey found himself thinking rather uncharitably that that was rather impressive for a member of a species that didn’t have a humanoid nose.

“Forget the reputation of the Jedi, then,” he said testily, “and trust me when I say the kid isn’t evil.”

Janus picked up the bottle and took another swig, frowning. “C’mon, don’t snap,” he said, using the bottle to point. “That isn’t an insult to you. They’re the ones that ran off when the Empire rose.”

Grey’s scowl deepened. “That isn’t what it’s like and you know it,” he said. “You were there for the Massacre as well.”

Janus just shrugged in his usual infuriating way, unmoved by his words. “Yeah,” he said, “and I can understand them hiding wherever they are. What I don’t understand is the whole refusal to work with the Resistance. Didn’t they aways say they were the protectors of peace and justice in the galaxy?”

His jaw was beginning to hurt from how hard he was clenching it. “You know their numbers are low -” he began heatedly.

“Yeah, and so are the Lasat, but they aren’t off cowering in Wild Space,” Janus interrupted, pointing his omni-tool at Grey’s chest. “If the Jedi want respect then they’re going to have to actually do something once in a while -”

“Why do you think Master Unduli is here, then?” Grey interjected. “She and her men -”

“Showed up at the tail-end of the fight that bagged us that Star Destroyer out there and then started bugging Fulcrum’s people for information.” Janus was frowning now as well. “That’s doing something, yeah, but not something that’s gonna rebuild their reputation.”

Grey chewed on the inside of his cheek, furious, but unable to come up with a rebuttal. He talked to his brothers still with the Jedi sometimes, but not often enough for him to understand the ins and outs of the Order-in-Exile’s situation. He regretted it now more than ever.

Janus’ face softened slightly. “Hey, come on,” he said, reaching out and patting Grey’s thigh. “If it turns out she’s right about the kid not being a threat, this’ll turn out to be the good sort of doing stuff.”

For a moment, Grey held on to his anger. He did not want to calm down; traveling around as he did, he heard enough of people shitting all over the Jedi. He didn’t need to hear it from Janus as well.

But after a moment, he let out a long breath through his teeth. “Maybe you’re right,” he muttered, reaching up and rubbing the bridge of his nose. He glanced apologetically at the Kalleran. “Sorry,” he said. “People were just being stupid outside. Made me a little tense.”

Janus’ mouth twitched slightly at the corners. “How stupid?” he asked.

Grey groaned theatrically, throwing his head back. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Janus begin to grin.

“Well,” Grey said, staring up at the ceiling despairingly, “for starters, the kid is apparently simultaneously a human, a Pantoran, an Umbaran and a Nautolan, has blood red and Sith-yellow eyes, is capable of flight, spits poison, and possibly, according to a friend of a friend of a friend, farts shadows and red lightsabers.”

Janus was already sniggering halfway through the list. Grey rolled his eyes and added, “And those are some of the tamer rumours I’ve heard.”

That opened the can, increasing Janus’ laughter from chuckles to an out-and-out roar.

“Seriously, some people were claiming that the kid was actually a bunch of Geonosian mind worms all piled together in a cloak.” Grey continued, knowing that the man was still listening through his laughter. “The guy who suggested it was sober, too.”

Gasping for air, Janus wiped tears from his eyes. “You’re kriffing kidding me,” he said, still chuckling. “They’re freaking out this hard? I could pick my teeth with that kid.” Standing up, he placed the palms of his hands on his back and cracked it. His laughter finally fading, he scratched at his jaw frills “Anyways, this dash isn’t going to be doing much more today. Want some dinner?”

“Tired of this conversation already?” Grey asked, getting up from his seat.

Janus shrugged. “Not that tired,” he said. “Just hungry. Want to put this on pause until later?”

Grey thought for a moment, tugging on his lower lip. “Do you have those fishballs I like?”

Janus paused in the doorway long enough to flash him a smirk. “’Course,” he said.

Later turned out to be that night, squashed together in Janus’ bunk as they caught their breath.

“Hey, Grey?” Janus mumbled into Grey’s chest, his eyes closed.

“Yeah?” Grey replied, continuing to stroke the top of Janus’ hood like he liked it. “What is it?”

“That Jedi…she came by while you were out.”

Grey’s hand stuttered to a stop. Pulling back from where he had had Janus' head tucked under his chin, he looked at him in alarm. “Why was she here?”

Janus looked irritated. “I’m about to tell you, shut it.”

Grey pressed his lips together and raised an eyebrow.

Janus sighed. His face was grim. “Where was I? Oh yeah, that Jedi came by. She wants us to come to that meeting with all of the Resistance bigwigs.”

“Huh.” Grey frowned and narrowed his eyes, thinking. Now why would she want that? They were certainly not special, just being one of many smuggler crews that sold their wares to various Resistance cells spread across the galaxy. The only reason that she would want them -

He cursed. Janus grimaced and nodded.

“Yeah,” he said. “She’s a bit smarter than the average Jedi.”

Grey grunted and rubbed at his scar; he couldn't tell if he was irritated or just tired. “Or Caleb told her that we helped him hide the kid.”

The other man’s chin rubbed the crown of Grey’s head as he shook his own. “Nah, ain’t his style. He doesn’t sell people out.”

Grumbling, Grey took a deep breath and let it out. “Alright,” he said, looking up at the ceiling. “Are you okay with this?”

Janus shrugged. “I got nothing time sensitive in the hold. Besides…” He hesitated.

Grey poked him gently in the side after a moment. “Besides what?”

Janus grunted at the poke and swatted his hand away. “Besides, maybe we’ll have a chance to talk to Kanan a little more. Check in on him, make sure that little Twi’lek’s treating him right.” His voice lowered to a mumble, more to himself than to Grey. “See if he’s really happy there.”

There wasn’t much that Grey could say to that. All he could do was give him a squeeze around the ribs, communicating his own sorrow and worry for the kid.

“He’ll talk to us,” he said, not believing his own words. “He has to.”


No one would say that Luminara was not a dedicated Jedi. After informing Brahlee of her findings and getting station security to stand down, she had proceeded to send a sub-space transmission to the Jedi Fleet, telling them of what she had found. Then she had returned to her ship, Will of the Whills, to let her men know what was going on and answer any questions that they had.

It was only after all of that was done that she went back to her quarters and locked the door with trembling hands.

The Inquisitor - no, the boy. She had fought Inquisitors, and that youngling was not one of those foul, Dark little creatures that hunted the Fleet.

Breathing in and out deeply, she opened eyes she hadn’t realized she had closed and looked down at her shaking hands. She pressed her lips together, disappointment adding itself to the mixture of emotions that was churning in her chest.

She was a Jedi Master. Her hands should not be shaking from doing her duty.

She needed to meditate. Clear her mind. Crossing the the tiny room, she knelt down in front of the small shelving unit that was built into the wall of the ship. When the Order had bought the ship, this room had been filled with knick-knacks and holos from its previous pirate owners, many of them obscene. Now though, the shelves were empty aside from a small bit of incense and a statue of Efadu the Navigator, a traditional Mirialan spirit. Luminara had never truly believed in the spirits she had learned about on her visits to Mirial as a young woman; with the way that the Force wound its way around her with every breath, formless and shapeless but so very alive, how could she? The knowledge that the Force would not incarnate itself in such flawed beings seemed obvious to her, so obvious that no amount of scowling from the shamans could dislodge the belief.

But that had been when she was a much younger and more arrogant woman. The fall of the Temple, of the Jedi, had knocked the certainty that she had so cherished from her core. And for the past fifteen years, she had felt like she was six steps behind the galaxy. Now, she could see why her people had found their spirits so comforting - for if even the incarnation of the universe could struggle and fail, did that not make their own failures sting that much less?

Failure. A word that she had felt tugging at her skirts rather heavily, these past few days. And now -

She pressed her hands to her face and swallowed, giving up on meditating. Oh Force, she had been willing to kill a youngling. An abused youngling. All in the name of safety.
What sort of Jedi was she, to be so controlled by her own fear?

She had been prepared for many things, when Jarrus and Syndulla had returned. An attack from the youngling had been at the top of her list. Sith-yellow or red eyes, poorly-hidden hatred of the Light, even perhaps an attempt at manipulation. But there had been one thing that she hadn’t even thought about seriously, and the moment she had set eyes on the youngling it had hit her like a speeder.

Jarrus had insisted that the boy was innocent. With nights of nightmares behind her, Luminara had not been inclined to agree. In her exhausted state, she had found herself agreeing with his proposition only to reassure herself silently that this way, she would not have to tear the station apart. What could Jarrus know, anyways? He had been Master Billaba’s padawan for only a few scant months before everything had ended. What could he know of the Dark, compared to her?

But then the boy had clumsily pulled his hood back in the ship’s small leisure room, and her stomach had begun to sink.

The face that had looked up at her had not been one of a Dark Acolyte or Inquisitor. Small and awkward, with coltish limbs and dark hair that stuck off in a hundred different directions, the boy had looked like one of the thousands of human children she had seen in her lifetime.

Except for that scar. Pale and wide, it had traced over the bridge of the boy’s nose and bit into one of his cheekbones. It stood out against his dark skin and drawn attention to his large blue eyes, so filled with fear and determination. And Luminara knew exactly what had made it.

Only one weapon could have rendered such a scar. And standing there, across the dejarik table from the boy, she had barely been able to swallow the guilt that had suddenly made her very aware of the lightsaber hidden up her sleeve.

A knock at the door shattered the silence that had fallen over the room. Starting slightly, Luminara rose from her kneeling position on the floor and smoothed her skirt.

“Come in.”

The door hissed open, revealing Commander Gree standing there with two cups of steaming liquid.

“Evening, General,” the clone said. “May I come in? Got some tea for you.”

Luminara swallowed, dimly surprised by how dry her throat felt. “Thank you, Gree. That is much appreciated.”

Gree inclined his head and stepped into the room, holding out one of the cups. “This one’s that Alderaanian one you like.”

The one Barriss - no. She had let go of that years ago.

Pushing yet another upsetting thought from her mind, Luminara summoned a small smile and took the tea, breathing in the painful scent.

She didn’t miss how Gree didn’t move after handing her the tea, though. Leaning against the doorway, he sipped at his own drink, looking as casual as could be.

“So,” he said after she had taken a few small sips, “I heard you called the kid innocent after taking a dive into his head. How you holding up?”

Luminara meant to say that she was fine. What came out instead was “He thought that I would kill Jarrus and the rest of the crew if he did not co-operate.”

There was pause. Then Gree very carefully moved his cup away from his mouth and swallowed. “What?”

Luminara began to tap her finger against the cup in a nervous gesture she couldn’t stop.

“The first thing I found,” she clarified. “He was utterly convinced that if he did not co-operate, was not found to be innocent, that Jarrus and Syndulla and the others would be punished for harbouring him.”

“But we have no authority over them, not even Brahlee does! They’re part of Fulcrum’s network, we’re Jedi -”

“He didn’t seem to realize that. And looking closer -” Her voice caught in her throat. “I knew that the Imperial worlds were oppressive. I did not realize that it extended so far, however.”

“What do you mean?”

Luminara turned, recalling that one, cold memory that had stood out like a flare in the boy’s mind, drawing her towards it. That feeling of betrayal, of humiliation. Of pain searing across his face and up his back as he stared at a man who only wanted his wife back. Remembering the hundred other memories that had surrounded it, dimmer but still sharp with hunger and pain.

“One Inquisitor was able to co-opt nearly an entire planet’s government to hunt him down.” Her voice was quiet. “Not a single official tried to stop it.”

Gree growled. “Damned Sith bastards -”

“Not Sith.” Luminara continued to stare down in the steaming depths of her drink. “They have none of the intelligence of the Sith.” Her hands had stopped shaking. Now, they were gripping the mug with white knuckles. “The Inquisitors are nothing more than attack massifs let off of a leash to indulge in their darkest pleasures.”

The clone commander was silent.

After a moment, Luminara sighed and rubbed the bridge of her nose. “My apologies. I did not mean to snap.”

“Sir.” Gree’s voice was soft, like he was approaching a hissing tooka. “What did they do to the youngling?”

She saw it, in between heartbeats. It flashed on the insides of her eyelids and scratched down her spine with sharp nails, a parade of horrors and violation that went on and on, seemingly without end.

“Everything.”

A soft curse. “He’s just a youngling, can’t be more than twelve cycles -” Gree’s emotions were like one of Kamino’s mega-storms, the ones that could go on for months that Master Ti had told her of. Darkness, lit up with flashes of rage and despair.

“That has never stopped the Dark before.”

“But that scar on his face - that could only have come from a - a -”

“A lightsaber.”

Gree opened and closed his hand, grinding his teeth. “Even with that much power and greed, how could anyone just stand by and let that be done to a child?”

Luminara didn't answer. She knew how. She had seen it in the twilight of the Republic, those blinded by their own comforts to the suffering of others, becoming flustered and angry when confronted with their own apathy. Throwing accusations of sedition towards those who would improve the lives of the clones, or request longer rest periods for Jedi freshly back from the front, simply because they did not wish to look at those they so coldly ignored the suffering of.

They did not do anything, because to do so would be admitting that there was something wrong with the system they were a part of. And their comforts, their luxuries, were so quick to take all of that discomfort away, all just for the price of turning their heads and closing their eyes.

“Because it was the easy thing to do, Gree,” she said.

Gree fell silent again. Luminara drained her cup and stood up. “Thank you for the tea. I would like to be alone now.”

“Sir…”

“That is an order, Gree.”

Gree sucked in on his lower lip, but took her mug. With a slight bow, he exited the room, still a roiling mass of emotion she could feel through the now-shut door.

The easy thing. She let herself give a short, bitter laugh as her own memories began to rise.

She was so quick to throw accusations at others, so quick to ignore her own failings. Who was she to say that others had taken the easy way out when she had lead the way?

Barriss. Luminara was a Jedi Master. It had been fifteen years since she had taught a student. And still, Barriss haunted her. She wanted to let go as she had been taught since she was a small child, fresh from her forgotten mother’s arms, and yet Barriss still clung to her skirts like the smallest of the younglings in the creche.

Sometimes when she meditated, Luminara saw the sweet little girl her padawan had been, so quick to learn and eager to please, smiling up at her with tears in her eyes and fresh tattoos across the bridge of her nose.

Most of the time, though, Luminara only saw the broken woman that had spat the ugly, vicious truth at the Republic. At them all. Who had refused to look at her when Luminara had visited her cell. Who had walked to her execution, her back straight and tall. Who had looked Luminara in the eye as the clones took aim.

What sort of Master had she been, to not see her pain, her confusion over their role in the war? Luminara had been so proud. They had all been so proud. Barriss had been everything that a padawan should have been and everything a knight strove to be. But her Master had been a failure, unable to see how every death tore a little more at her until she was a walking corpse in the Force, filled with despair and echoing with the pain of a hundred worlds.

Today - she had felt that despair again. And this time, she could recognize it. But when the boy - Bridger, his name was Bridger, she reminded herself - when Bridger had awoken after his fit from having those memories dragged to the surface, his pain had ebbed. Jarrus had been there for him, to hold him in his arms and reassure him.

No. Luminara breathed in deeply and knelt down before the statue of Efadu. She was a Jedi Master. She was in control of her emotions. Folding her hands in her lap, she slipped into meditation once more. This time, she would purge her despair.

This time, Barris would finally leave.

 

Chapter Text

Mace sat in a sea of stars, focusing on everything and nothing. He wasn’t sure how long he had been like this, nor did he care. The peace of the rotation of the stars and their planets, their moons and comets, filled him with a contentment that had eluded him for far too long.

But he wasn’t here for fun. Dragging his attention away from the stars, he focused on the emptiness between them. He knew he had felt it earlier - he just had to -

There. A flash of light in the darkness like moonlight glinting off the scales of a fish in the sea at night. Carefully, carefully, he let himself drift in the Force, letting its natural flow draw him closer to the moving flash of light. It had been so long since he had felt such a pure light. For years, starting from before the Clone Wars, the Dark had been so overwhelming, choking and clouding their eyes -

And just like that, the Light was gone, and the Darkness rose in a great, crashing wave.

Mace tore himself from his meditation with a grunt, the kickback of the effort hitting him between the eyes like a miniature explosion. Grumbling, he reached up to uselessly rub at the bridge of his nose, knowing full well that it would have no effect on the pain.

Opening his eyes, he sighed and slouched, just staring out of the room’s viewport.

The many and varied ships of the Fleet met his eyes. Venators hung in space like battered old star dragons, swarmed by the myriad smaller ships that the Order had managed to get their hands on. As he watched, one Alderaanian hammerhead drifted closer to a particularly battered Venator and opened a hatch. From where he was, Mace couldn’t see the repair crew that he knew was coming out, ready to patch up one of the many weakened spots that had been put there by their last entanglement with the Inquisitors and their Imperial back-up.

Taking a deep breath, he carefully released his hatred and frustration into the Force. With how cramped things were here, it would have been the height of rudeness to allow himself to hold onto it any longer and risk it imprinting itself on the room.

Behind him, the door hissed open. Without turning his head, Mace knew that it was Kenobi.

“Master Windu, Master Ti is already in the communications room, setting up.”

Mace got up with a grunt, feeling every one of his sixty-eight years, and turned to face his fellow council member. “My thanks,” he nodded. “I will be along shortly.”

“It’s quite alright.” Kenobi tucked his hands into the fraying sleeves of his robes, smiling tiredly. “I’ll wait.”

Mace grunted again, nodding shortly, and stretched. His spine popped loudly. “Even more of my thanks, then.” Kenobi scooted out of the way as Mace made his way out of the tiny room, stepping into the main hallway of the cruiser. “How were talks with Kryze?”

Kenobi’s grimace was all the answer he needed.

“Poorly.” He shifted his shoulders, allowing his robe to slip open slightly and reveal the edge of a bacta patch covering his collarbone. “Bo-Katan’s people are becoming quite reticent, what with Rook’s people regularly attacking their supply convoys. They don’t feel much like getting more involved with another group’s problems.”

Mace let out a sigh through his nose. “And Rau?”

Kenobi shook his head and summoned a weak smile. “The Protectors made their feelings quite clear when they opened fire rather than comm channels.”

Yet another possibility, gone. Mace struggled to keep the black despair in his gut from climbing any higher.

Through the Force, he could feel Kenobi trying to send him some feelings of comfort. He appreciated the effort, even if it was for nothing.

He knew how low their supplies were getting, the same as how he knew that the shipboard gardens weren’t doing as well as Stance and the rest of the commissary had hoped. The same way he knew that they didn’t have the fuel to supply their ships with enough power to defend themselves on unfriendly routes.

They were flying in tighter and tighter circles, slowly starving, and there wasn’t a damned thing he could do about it.

“We will find another way,” Kenobi said quietly.

“We have been finding other ways for fifteen years.” Mace kept his eyes staring straight ahead. “Sooner or later, our luck is going to run out.”

They reached the communications room before Kenobi could think of anything to say in reply to that. Ti was indeed already there, her hood up as was her habit since Order 66. She turned her head slightly in greeting, showing just a hint of her many scars from her escape from Kamino; this one in particular tore through her lower lip, exposing her sharp teeth.

“It is time.”

Mace nodded at her and pulled up his own hood, crossing his arms. “Alright. Contact the station.”

They settled into their previously-agreed positions; Mace at the front, the head of the Order-In-Exile, with Kenobi and Ti as his right and left hands, standing just a step behind him and to the side.

He pressed a button, and they were connected.

Four figures flickered into existence. One was hooded - the mysterious figure Fulcrum, also known as Ahsoka Tano to a precious few; General Illesive Kleeve, of the Resistance; Master Luminara Unduli, one of their own who had alerted them to the situation that was under discussion; and finally, the Resistance’s main contact in the station, Commander Brahlee.

General Kleeve gave them a brief nod of acknowledgement. “Good to see everyone’s here.” Turning his head to Commander Brahlee, he asked, “Has everyone arrived on your end?”

The Sullustan woman nodded and shifted into a military parade rest position. “All of those intimately involved in this situation are present and accounted for.”

General Kleeve mimicked her position and nodded. “Recordings on our end are operational. If everyone’s ready?”

“I am ready at this end.” Fulcrum’s voice was heavily distorted.

Mace nodded. “As are we.”

Brahlee reached forward to fiddle with something that the hologram didn’t pick up. Her image jumped and went out for a moment before snapping back on. Mace could now see a miniature of the rest of the room that she was standing in.

It almost looked like a lecture hall at some university, with the emitter surrounded by raised seats and computer banks. Unlike at a university, though, the people sitting in the seats were rather a more motley crew of individuals than most students, most looking like they would rather be anywhere but there.

“Let this record show then, that in the matter of the Peixes Prime Refuelling and Communication Station’s Inquisitor Interrogation that the following are present.” Kleeve cleared his throat. “General Kleeve, of the Galactic Resistance.”

“Commander Brahlee of the Galactic Resistance.”

“Master Luminara Unduli of the Jedi Order.” Her face was still and serene, her hands tucked behind her back.

There was a pause, then one of the figures in the holographic room grunted. A Kalleran, if Mace remembered his species correctly.

“Captain Janus Kasmir of the Kasmiri II, with crewman Grey.” That said, he leaned back in his seat and crossed his arms. The man with a very familiar face that was behind him frowned down at the alien but didn’t say anything.

Mace focused on not showing any recognition of the clone, even as he eyed the distance between him and Master Unduli. He knew that not every one of their soldiers had followed them into their exile, and that that was their right as sentient individuals - but some small, unworthy part of him could not help but feel suspicious of their reasoning. Not every clone had been devastated by their forced betrayal, and the Order couldn’t afford to lose any more Jedi.

“Masters Mace Windu, Shaak Ti and Obi-wan Kenobi of the Jedi Order.”

A female Twi’lek in a flight-suit stepped forward, bowing her head slightly in respect. “Captain Hera Syndulla of the Ghost, with her crew of Kanan Jarrus, Garazeb Orrelios, Chopper, and -”

“Sabine Wren.”

Mace turned his head to look at the speaker as Captain Syndulla frowned. A young woman in Mandalorian armour had stepped forward from where she had been lurking in the back, a conspicuous distance between her and her captain. If Mace had been any less of a trained Jedi, he would have raised an eyebrow.

There was a moment of silence. Then the tall, well-muscled man who had been introduced as Kanan Jarrus coughed quietly and nudged a small figure forward.

Stiff-legged, the figure shuffled forward with his shoulders around his ears. Closer to the emitter, he was revealed to be a young human male.

“E-ezra.” There was a pause as the boy stared as his shoes before realizing that they were waiting for more. “Ezra Bridger.” Another excruciating pause. “Of the - Ghost?” He looked over his shoulder, back at the sullen-looking Jarrus and calm Syndulla.

Syndulla smiled and nodded slightly. After an elbow to the ribs, Jarrus smiled as well.

“And the accused Inquisitor in question?” Kleeve asked, scanning the holographic room.

Brahlee stepped forward. “The accused Inquisitor is present; the human male known as Ezra Bridger, also known as Dev Morgan, is the individual under question.”

Mace’s eyes darted back to the boy, who had frozen halfway back to Jarrus.

Cocking his head to one side slightly, he examined the boy, wishing that he was physically present so as to be able to get an impression through the Force as well.

Unfortunately, such a thing was impossible currently, and so all he had to rely on were his eyes.

Small. Thin. Unassuming. And terrified. All things that Inquisitors were not overly fond of projecting, in Mace’s experience. He watched as Jarrus reached out one well-muscled arm and dragged the child close to him, rubbing his shoulder with his thumb in a comforting, fatherly gesture.

Glancing over the rest of the room, he tried to judge how the others were looking at the child as well. If there was to be questioning, he would need to know their preliminary feelings towards the child so as to compensate for any biases.

Immediately, his eyes were drawn to the crew of the Ghost. Captain Syndulla and her second, Jarrus, had repositioned themselves so that the child was between the two of them in a protective gesture. The large Lasat and the droid had also positioned themselves protectively, with the Lasat looming over the other three and the droid letting his shock-prod spit sparks in the dimness of the room.

Interestingly, Wren was not with them, despite being with the Ghost as well. She was very obviously holding herself apart from them, staring straight ahead at where Mace and the others’ holograms were being projected despite the worried looks that Captain Syndulla kept shooting at her over Jarrus’ shoulder. Her armoured shoulders were stiff with tension, most likely dislike.

So the majority of that crew would be defensive of the boy, with only Wren providing a dissenting voice. A valuable bit of knowledge, especially since it was them that had been the most defensive of the child in the first place, according to Master Unduli’s report. Keeping his face still, Mace began to look over the other members of the interrogation.

The smuggler and the clone had retreated back to their seats once introducing themselves, their head bent together and mouths moving, despite Mace not hearing anything. The clone, Grey, kept looking away from the smuggler to look at the child, a sympathetic twist to his features, while the smuggler didn’t look that way at all and mostly looked like he would rather be anywhere than in that room at that moment. Grey, in that case, was sympathetic to the child, despite his captain’s distaste. That was definitely something to question.

As for Master Unduli and Brahlee - both of them were neutral, appearing almost uncaring to those who did not have a lifetime’s worth of experience in reading subtle Jedi body language. Brahlee’s body language was uncertain, considering that Mace did not know her, but Master Unduli was quite clear. The way her eyes subtly kept flicking over to where the child was standing, the way her shoulders seemed just a bit stiffer than was usual in a Jedi Master, the deep lines around her mouth - she was concerned. For the child or the others in the room, Mace was not sure.

He almost frowned at that. Master Unduli was one of the best Masters they had left. For her to seem so rattled was worrying. Not for the first time in even that week, Mace cursed the spottiness of their comms. They were over fifteen years old now at the youngest, with most older. Regardless of how well they were taken care of, they were starting to fall apart, cutting them off from the few agents the sent out, sometimes months at a time. The comms between their ship and ‘Will of the Whills’ had cut out midway through Master Unduli’s report and they had not been able to re-establish contact before the meeting had begun. If they had, Mace was sure that he would know what she was worried about.

He really hated going into situations blind.

“Well then, why don’t we begin with how this situation was discovered.”

General Kleeve’s voice pulled Mace’s attention back to the situation at hand. The Mandalorian girl, Wren, was standing at attention, her helmet tucked underneath her arm.
General Kleeve nodded at her. “If you could begin with what brought you to the conclusion that the boy in question was associated with the Empire’s Inquisitorius?”

“Sir.” The girl gave him a short, sharp nod. “It began when I was given the responsibility of decrypting a strange transmission that was caught at the tail end of our battle to capture the star destroyer known as Conqueror. It was noted as being highly unusual due to the amount of encryption surrounding it and the time it was sent out. I was given the responsibility due to it being captured by the crew of the Ghost and the fact that the rest of the slicers present were already swamped with decoding the other information found in the Conqueror’s databanks. The message was triple-encrypted and -coded, with multiple wipe points. As such it took me some time to break through without risking the destruction of the information. However, after making it through and beginning to decode the information, it was immediately clear that the message was meant for -” She stopped, a look of distress briefly crossing her face. “It was clear that the message was addressing the Grand Inquisitor of the Inquisitorius. Going in further, it revealed that the human male identifying himself as ‘Dev Morgan’ was in transit to him for further instruction in the ways of his organization.”

The Grand Inquisitor. And the girl was Mandalorian. Mace winced internally, feeling Ti and Kenobi doing the same. No wonder the girl had pushed for an immediate take-down of the boy.

General Kleeve crossed his arms. “And what did you do with this information?”

“I immediately informed Commander Brahlee of the situation and suggested that Master Unduli and her men be notified.” Her voice was steady, but she was staring straight ahead, looking at something past them that Mace was sure existed more in her memories rather than in her physical reality. “An Inquisitor is no small thing, and I believed that her experience with fighting such people would be invaluable. Commander Brahlee agreed.”

“I see.” General Kleeve’s expression was as serene as any Jedi Master’s. “After which, you contacted your fellow crew members who were known to be hosting the sentient in question rather than waiting?”

Wren’s ears reddened. Her face stayed composed, though. “I knew that at the time, the suspect would not be present. For the past several weeks, he had been working with the crew during the wake cycle of the station, and at the time it was still during the sleep cycle. I believed that I was contacting them for their own safety. Upon arriving, I informed them as to the situation, and offered them a place on the search team. Kanan agreed, and sent me on ahead.”

“You did not consider that he was lying?” Fulcrum’s voice buzzed.

Wren’s jaw clenched. “No. Usually, he's very honest.” Her tone had taken on a slight hint of bitterness, and behind her, Mace could see Jarrus shift uncomfortably.

“I see. Thank you for your time, Wren. Does anyone else wish to question her further?”

Mace felt no curiosity from either of his fellow masters, and so shook his head. Fulcrum shook her hooded head as well.

“Then we’ll move on.” General Kleeve hummed thoughtfully. “Moving along the chronological timeline, then, we would be arriving at Jarrus’ testimony, would we not?”

Jarrus grunted and stepped forward, his arms folded across his chest. “That’s right,” he said, his tone challenging.

In better lighting now, Mace frowned at the face of the human male. There was something familiar about it…

But the General had begun his questioning again.

“Kanan Jarrus.” The General regarded him carefully. “If you would begin from where you were alerted by Wren as to the identity of the boy?”

The man shifted uncomfortably, his eyes skittering away from looking directly at them. “Better to start from the beginning.” As if being reminded of something, his shoulders stiffened and he stood up straighter. “Before Sabine ran in and started telling us that Ezra was an Inquisitor - you have to understand, he approached us nearly a month ago and offered to work in return for passage off of the station. He knew that we were waiting around for a new hyperspace motivator, and was still willing to stick around as a probationary member of the crew.” He paused, swallowing, and looked up at them with an almost pleading look on his face. “He was hanging around with us for all that time before Sabine cracked the transmission. So when she came in saying that he was an Inquisitor…” The man shrugged with a helpless look on his face. “It didn’t fit with what we’d seen of him. It had been weeks, and there was no hint that he was anything but desperate to get the hell away from the station. He didn’t ask after Sabine, even after he learned that she was involved with the slicers. Didn’t ask about the Resistance. Didn’t ask about the station’s security. The only time he acted weird was after he saw me talking to Master Unduli, and even then he just excused himself. Didn’t act aggressive at all.”

How very defensive. Mace narrowed his eyes. Either this Jarrus had left something out already or was hyping himself up to do so. This would require watching.

“Thank you for that reassurance,” General Kleeve said, raising an eyebrow. “If you could get to why you lied to Wren, though?”

Jarrus flexed his hands open and shut, grimacing. He let out a sigh. “When Sabine said that Ezra was an Inquisitor, I couldn’t believe it. Neither could anyone else on the crew.”

Mace frowned. “Why was Wren not included in that everyone?”

Jarrus’ shoulders locked up. He stared straight ahead, not physically acknowledging Mace. “Sabine had been spending all of her time with the slicers. She had only interacted with Ezra once.”

General Kleeve turned to Wren. “Is this true?”

Wren looked like she had just bitten into something sour. She nodded.

Kleeve turned back to Jarrus and nodded. “Continue then.”

Jarrus rolled his shoulders. “I told Sabine that I would come so that she’d leave. Then, I went to find Ezra. I went down to the the main cargo bay of the station -”

“How did you know that he was down there?” Mace interrupted.

Jarrus froze for a heartbeat. Mace could see his Adam’s apple bobbing as he swallowed. “I…” he started before trailing off. He took a deep breath and looked down at his boots. “I used the Force.”

Shock hit Mace like a physical blow, echoing through the Force from Ti and Kenobi as well. Immediately, he began to scrutinize Jarrus even more, that nagging familiarity becoming urgent.

The man was rather tall, rivaling even the Kalleran in height and towering over his Twi’lek companion. The hologram didn’t allow Mace to gather much information on the colour of his skin or hair, but comparing it to the pale skin of Brahlee, he could tell that it was definitely several shades darker than the Sullustan’s. He had dark hair as well, but his eyes - they seemed oddly light, not the usual darkness that went with darker skin and hair.

Something about that combination niggled at Mace’s memory. He had seen that combination before somewhere - but Jarrus was speaking again.

“I could feel Ezra down there. I had to dodge a few patrols that were already out, but otherwise got down pretty fast. Once I was there, though…” He broke off, rubbing his face and grimacing. “It was like the cell I found him in. It was an echo chamber - just all this fear, bouncing off the walls until you could barely think.” A shrug. “I had to pull my shields up higher than I ever had before. Once that was done, though, I found him pretty quickly. Got him to calm down, tell me what was going on.”

There was a silence.

“And what, precisely, was going on?” Fulcrum asked in her buzzing voice.

Jarrus let his hand drop from his face, chewing on the inside of his cheek. “He said that he was having visions. Of dying. Of Master Unduli impaling him on her lightsaber, of the crowds tearing him apart, getting shot.” His voice was quiet. “Said that no one would care. Took a bit to convince him that I did, and so did the others. Afterwords, I hid him with Janus and talked Master Unduli and her clones down.” He cleared his throat and shrugged again. “And I bet that Master Unduli can tell you the rest better than I ever could,” he said, already shuffling back.

Mace could tell that the man was not saying telling the entire story. But something about him, the way he cocked his head to one side, the way his eyes were shaped - the Force was pressing up against him, whispering this is important, he is important, pay attention, and Mace just couldn’t grasp why. A sensation that was painfully familiar to him these days.

Thankfully, Kenobi was on it while he was distracted. “Pardon me, Jarrus,” he said, and Mace could picture his polite smile without turning his head, “and far be it for me to question your account, but I believe that you are not telling us the entire story.”

Jarrus’ shoulders stiffened, his body half-turned back to Syndulla. “What do you mean?” His voice had a rough undercurrent of nervousness.

“He means,” Mace smoothly interjected, pushing the Force back slightly so that he could focus, “that that tale ended rather abruptly.” The boy, Bridger, half-hiding behind Syndulla, bit his lower lip, his eyes wide.

Jarrus did not meet their eyes as he shrugged. “Nothing else to tell.”

Fulcrum’s hologram did not move, but her distorted voice sounded slightly impatient. “Jarrus,” she warned, “leaving things out won’t help your case. We will find out if you are lying.”

Jarrus’ chin rounded and his brows lowered. He looked ready to stick to his story and damn the consequences when -

“You’re right.”

Mace broke his gaze with Jarrus. Bridger had moved out from behind Syndulla, and was now standing, back stiff and hands flexing, staring at them defiantly.

“Ezra,” Syndulla said, placing a gentle hand on his shoulder, “you don’t have to do this -”

“You’re right,” Bridger continued, ignoring her and staring at them challengingly. “Kanan is leaving something out. When he came down there, I -” He swallowed, his hands curling into fists. “I didn’t react well.”

Kleeve shifted, crossing his arms. “Explain,” he said, all previous friendliness fleeing his tone.

Mace could see Bridger’s shoulders rise and fall as he breathed deeply. “When Kanan came down - I wasn’t able to sleep, before then. Ever since my first vision, they just kept coming - like Kanan said, I kept seeing people tearing me apart, or shooting me, or the Jedi - er, Master Unduli - killing me. It just kept coming, and I couldn’t sleep. So by the time Kanan found me…” He reached up and rubbed his arm, his eyes drifting down to look at his feet. “I didn’t really take it well.”

“What do you mean by that?” Kleeve’s voice was emotionless and businesslike.

Bridger swayed a little, keeping his eyes on the ground. “I dunno.” His voice was a mumble that had Mace straining his ears to hear. “I hadn’t slept in like, two days, and the visions and Kanan got mixed up in my head, I think. So when I saw him, I tried to run. And when I heard him following me -”

“Ezra,” Jarrus interrupted, placing a hand on Bridger’s shoulder, “it’s okay -”

“Jarrus, do not interrupt.” Kleeve’s voice was glacial. He didn’t look at the older human, keeping his eyes locked on Bridger’s ducked head. “What did you do, Bridger, when you heard him following you?”

Another deep breath that noticeably made his shoulders move up and down, and Bridger looked up again, staring them in the eye. “I tried to collapse a bunch of shelves on him.”

Mace’s fingernails dug into his arms underneath his sleeves. He could feel Ti and Kenobi’s shock behind him, swiftly followed by and mirroring his own concern. Not for the first time, he wished that holograms could be in colour. If only he could see the boy’s eyes properly - but no, wishing for what he could not have was unproductive and distracting. The way the boy fidgeted, there was more.

“You did something else, as well,” Mace said. It was not a question.

The boy’s eyes flickered over to him and hurriedly dove back down to the floor as he nodded, his frame tense. “When that didn’t work, I kind of…attacked him.”

“How.” Fulcrum’s demand came out coldly, despite its electronic distortion.

Again, those eyes flicking up to look at their faces.

“I uh, grabbed him and dragged him close. With the Force.” Bridger winced. “By his neck.”

A Force choke. It was starting to sound as if Jarrus’ words had been a lie. Distantly, he noted the surprise on the others’ faces as well, Syndulla’s eyebrows in particular climbing high onto her forehead as Mace focused back in on the boy.

“Jarrus,” and Mace could hardly recognize his own voice, “explain yourself.”

Syndulla took a step forward, her lips thinning. “Kanan isn’t the one being interrogated here; he didn’t think that it was important and it isn’t. Ezra is not -”

Jarrus made an irritated sound and clapped a firm hand down on Bridger’s shoulder. “It’s fine. He was scared and reacted poorly, and apologized.” His chin was rounded out stubbornly again, and he was very clearly ignoring the looks that Syndulla was shooting at him.

“But you cannot deny that such actions are usually under the purview of those who have Fallen to the Dark Side,” Ti interjected.

“Ugh, what is with you bunch and insisting that being angry is evil?”

Mace transferred his gaze away from Jarrus’ stubborn pout to see who had spoken.

Movement from behind Jarrus and Syndulla immediately captured his attention. The Lasat, who had been standing quietly through all of this with his arms crossed and eyes narrowed had stood up. He strode forward, revealing a frown and clenched fists by his sides.

“Seriously, the way you Jedi carry on you’d think that someone who even thought of this Dark Side of yours is irredeemable!” His beard bristled and he jabbed a threatening finger at them. “The kid got scared and lashed out. Believe me, speaking as a Lasat, that’s perfectly normal after the way me and Kanan found him.”

Mace ground his teeth together. He knew that the Lasat had had their own traditions in the Force, but these accusations were too much for him to stand. “Be careful of how you speak, Orrelios -”

“No!” the Lasat snapped, crossing his well-muscled arms. “Kriff that! All you guys are focusing on is how much of a threat you think that Ezra is! You haven’t even asked why we were so willing to believe that he wasn’t an Inquisitor -”

“Then why don’t you believe him to be an Inquisitor?” Kleeve’s voice was thick enough with sarcasm that it could be cut with a knife. “What piece of information flies in the face of everything that we have so far established -”

“Karabast! We found unconscious, muzzled and chained to a kriffing wall in a kriffing cell in the kriffing cargo bay!” The Lasat gesticulated wildly. “The cargo bay! Like he was a kriffing piece of luggage and not a person! That’s not how you transport a member of your crew, that’s what you do with a product being shipped to someone!”

“That means nothing.” Ti’s voice was glacial. “It could just have easily meant that the boy was unstable and dangerous to have loose - something that his actions as reported by one of your own crew supports.”

The Lasat scoffed and wheeled to glare at them specifically. “What, you never got angry during the Wars?” His voice was acidic. “I suppose you think he gave himself those scars, then?” Stepping forward even closer, he crossed his arms. “I’ve been through things like he has - and stars know, I’ve smashed up enough things after Lasan - and I haven’t become some raving loony that likes to kick tookas and cackle to myself! He was scared and kept seeing people killing him, of course he was going to lash out when someone started chasing him!”

“Yes, but your rage only breaks what’s within arms reach of you.” Ti’s voice was quietly furious. “Our rage can break entire governments and planets.”

“So by that logic, kid was actually pretty calm!” The Lasat flung out his arms, his face twisted with an irritation Mace felt mirrored in his soul. “Kanan isn’t holding a grudge, and the kid apologized -”

“Apologies mean nothing,” Mace jumped in, glaring back at the Lasat. “The Dark Side twists the minds of those who touch it irrevocably -”

“Hah, your even saying that Ezra wasn’t in his right mind -”

“STOP THIS.” The harsh electronic tones of Fulcrum cut through Maces burgeoning argumentativeness like a vibroblade through air. The holographic figure had just slightly turned their head towards them, giving the impression of a glare. “This is going nowhere. General Kleeve, may I make a suggestion?”

The Devaronian man dragged his hand down his face, looking very tired. “I’m all ears.”

“It is clear that this situation is more complicated than was previously thought. Talking to these people about what happened is going to take more than a few hours over comms, especially if we wish to get the entire story from Bridger. I would suggest that rather than trying to continue it here and now, we bring those involved to one of our bases for a more in-depth questioning.”

“Wait, what?” The Kalleran, what had been his name, straightened and leaned forward. “I can’t just sit around however long you want to chit-chat, I have a business to run!”

He was ignored.

Kleeve frowned, crossing his arms. “That is risky. What if this is a trick - an attempt to find out where the Resistance’s main base is? We still haven’t answered the youngling’s attacks on the minds of those in the station.”

“I do not believe that that is something to worry about,” Master Unduli said; the first words that had crossed her lips since her introduction. “And as for the attacks - I believe I have the answer to that.”

“Oh?” Mace asked, raising an eyebrow.

Master Unduli nodded. “I did not put this in my message because I was worried that it would not be clear, but Jarrus’ claim that the attacks were not attacks was true.”

“Explain.” Ti’s voice was cool, but not angry.

“When the youngling was returned to Captain Syndulla’s ship for a preliminary examination, I found several disturbing signs of mental tampering. And while I am not a trained mind-healer, it would not take one to see the damage that I believe was done purposefully to Bridger.”

Mace’s gut twisted at the disturbed look on Unduli’s face. Her eyes had drifted slightly to one side, her eyebrows furrowing. “What do you mean? What was done to him?”

Unduli hesitated for a moment. “For one, Bridger does not have any shields.”

What? Mace furrowed his brow. “How can he not have shields. Even untrained, most sentients have some form of shielding -”

“It was purposefully broken down, as near as I can tell. Even with them, though, it seems that Bridger has a natural talent towards connecting with others.”

It took a heartbeat, and then it clicked in his head. “You mean to say that the child, due to a lack of shields and a natural talent for connecting with other minds, accidentally ended up projecting his fears to others.”

Unduli nodded.

“So it was an accident.” Kleeve’s voice was heavy with doubt. “I will acquiesce to your greater experience in these matters, Master Unduli, but just because it was an accident does not mean that the danger is still not there. I have read your report, and I would rather not find myself in the middle of a base gripped by fear to the point of mass hysteria.”

“That is why I wished to speak with the Council as well as the Resistance.” She turned her head to look Mace directly in the eye. “Master Windu, I would like to put forward a request to have a mind-healer of the Jedi Order meet us halfway to our rendezvous with the greater Resistance, in order to treat young Bridger.”

Mace took in a breath through his nose and let it out. “We do not have many capable of such things,” he warned. If what Unduli said was true, then the child definitely needed one, but Mace was not fond of just dropping one off willy-nilly. They could not afford to lose any more with the less common talents.

“But luckily, we do have one on our current ship.” Mace almost turned to glare at Kenobi. As it was, he simply sent a sharp bite of irritation at the man and kept his face still. “Rig Nema’s talents would be very helpful in treating young Bridger. If it is alright for the Will of the Whills to take a small detour.” Kenobi turned his head to look to Kleeve for permission.

The Devaronian looked thoughtful. “I cannot lie, the idea of having another Jedi Knight present makes me feel better about this plan. If I could also add on a Resistance escort, I am sure that the other leaders of the Resistance will find it agreeable as well. Otherwise, they might not be so comfortable with such a risk.”

Damn Kenobi. “The Jedi Order is willing to lend Nema to such a project,” Mace said, letting no trace of his discomfort enter his voice. “As well, it offers it ship Will of the Whills for transporting Bridger to the one of the Resistance’s sub-fleets for an escort.”

“Then it is agreed,” Fulcrum said, their distorted voice still managing to sound satisfied. “General Kleeve, may we speak further in private to decide on a rendezvous point?”

Kleeve nodded. “Certainly. I’ll transmit a new set of codes to you. ” He turned his head to look at Mace. “To you as well.”

Mace nodded his thanks.

“Brahlee,” Unduli said, turning to the Sullustan woman, “might I prevail upon you to borrow this room to continue my conversation with the Council?”

The quiet woman, that Mace had nearly forgotten was in the room, briefly looked towards Kleeve and only nodded once he had given her a small sign of approval.

“Certainly,” Brahlee said. “I assume you would like some privacy?”

“If it is possible.”

Brahlee grunted and turned to the others. “You heard what they said. Get out of here. I’ll let you know what has been decided.”

Chapter Text

“You okay kid?”

Ezra jumped slightly on his bunk, where he had been drumming his fingers on his twisting stomach, feeling very cold and alone. He kept forgetting in the darkened room, that he wasn’t alone anymore. Zeb, despite his smell, was a very quiet person, both physically and through the Force.

“Um, yeah,” he mumbled.

There was a pause, then a snort. “No, really,” Zeb said, his voice floating out of the darkness, “it was a hell of a day. How are you doing?”

Ezra chewed on his lower lip, words roiling like vomit at the back of his throat. Seven years on the streets of Lothal told him to stay silent, to give nothing away that could be used against him. But after…

Swallowing, he rolled onto his side and tucked his hand underneath his pillow, plucking at his ragged blanket with his other one. “I’m okay, I guess,” he said. The room’s chronometer glowed in the darkness, its digits a steady, sick green. He’d never had one back in his tower - it had been hard enough to get the generator hooked up to the heater and stove, there wasn’t any point in trying for something as petty as a chronometer. “It’s just, you know, all that fuss and they didn’t even really talk to me.” He chewed on his bottom lip, doodling patterns on his blanket with a finger. “Everyone just seemed to want to yell at each other.”

Zeb chuckled. “Welcome to politics, kid,” he said. “Doesn’t matter if you’re with the Empire or the Resistance - it’ll somehow pop up.”

Ezra rubbed his cheek against his pillow uncomfortably. “Still…”

Zeb’s chuckle trailed off and he sighed. “Yeah, don’t worry. I understand.” His voice was sympathetic. “You got yourself all wound up in preparation for an interrogation, and then they got distracted talking over your head and now that energy’s gotta go somewhere.” Ezra could practically see him lying on his back, his hands folded on his stomach and nodding to himself in understanding. “Seen it all the time when ops were called off.”

“You were in the army?”

“…Yeah. I was in the Lasat Honor Guard.” Ezra could hear Zeb shift. “One of the youngest ever.”

Ezra blinked. He would have thought that Zeb would have sounded proud, saying that. But he just sounded sad. ‘I don’t want to talk about it’ sad.

“But this isn’t about me.” Zeb shifted again, the sound his fur rubbing against the mattress of his bunk loud in the quiet room. “Talk to me. Where’d you come from. What was it like?”

Ezra quirked an eyebrow, despite the fact that Zeb wouldn’t be able to see it. “Why do you want to know?”

“Because it’ll tire you out.” There was another shifting sound, and then a large hand reared out of the darkness and gently wrapped around Ezra’s wrist, giving it a small squeeze. “Now come on, where’d you come from? Or did you just spring from the void, fully formed?”

Ezra couldn’t remember the last time someone had touched him so gently - so kindly. He could feel Zeb’s worry, wrapped up in a warm blanket of no-strings concern. He couldn’t help it. He let out a huff of laughter, his toes curling. Zeb’s concern disappeared, quickly replaced by amusement that brushed up against him like a friendly Lothcat, flicking its tail underneath his nose and purring.

“Lothal,” he said. “I’m from Lothal.”

“Lothal, huh?” Zeb’s hand gave him another squeeze, then disappeared back down to the lower bunk. “I’m guessing Outer Rim?”

“Yeah.” Ezra drew the arm that Zeb had touched in close to his chest, pulling his other hand out from under his pillow to gently cradle it. The warmth from Zeb’s hand clung to his skin and spread to the inside of his chest, where it began to warm him from the inside out. “Mostly everybody just farmed. A few people fished. We were pretty much the breadbasket of the sector.” The warmth flickered. “Until the Empire came, at least.”

Zeb grunted. “Forget about them for now. We’re going to have to talk about them enough once we hook up with the larger Resistance. Were your family farmers?”

Ezra dragged his thoughts away from cold grey uniformed men in his memories and shook his head, his eyes misting over. “No. They were taken away when I was pretty young, but I think that they were in charge of the communications network for the planet or something. They were important enough that I remember them meeting the Governor a few times.” His eyelashes were starting to feel damp, but he smiled at the memory anyways. “He’d always bring me jogan pops.”

Zeb made an approving sound. “What happened to him?”

The warmth in Ezra’s chest disappeared like a candle being blown out. “He got accused of treason along with my parents. He’s probably dead.”

“Karabast, I’m sorry kid -” Zeb sounded honestly sorry.

“It’s not your fault.” Ezra rolled over to face the wall. “It was the Empire. It’s what they do.” A lump formed in his throat. “You’re either useful and working for them or dead.”

There was a pregnant pause. “Which were you?” Zeb asked, sounding like he was trying not to offend him. Ezra let out a bitter chuckle.

“I’m here, aren’t I?” His eyes were burning. Reaching up, he swiped at them angrily. He hated crying. It was useless, and he knew that, and still whenever he got angry he found his eyes welling up. That was why he always tried to crack a joke rather than fight. Crying just made you look like an easy mark.

Zeb didn’t say anything as Ezra swallowed furiously and wiped his nose on his blanket, dragging himself back under control. His chest already aching from holding back the sounds, Ezra was thankful.

“I just wish I knew what caught their attention.” The words burst from his lips without his permission and hung in the air.

“Kid?”

Ezra flinched and bit his lip to keep a whimper from slipping out. “Poodoo,” he spat, his voice cracking. “Ignore that! I didn’t say anything.”

“Ezra.” Zeb’s voice was serious. “That sounds like something that you need to get off of your chest.”

Curling into a ball, Ezra scrubbed his face roughly, willing the tears that kept welling up away. “It’s fine. It’s nothing, just -”

“Something that you’re probably going to have to tell a whole roomful of strangers.” Zeb’s voice was gentle. It made a fresh wave of tears well up in Ezra’s eyes.

“I don’t -” he muttered through clenched teeth, his throat closing up.

“Think of it as practice.” Zeb’s voice was calm. Not judging. “Say it here, get it off your chest, and the next time you have to tell it will be easier. Like a rehearsal.”

He didn’t want to think about that day. About the Pau’an, and that snooty minister and cold agent. About the hot burn of betrayal in his belly. But Ezra tried not to make a habit of lying to himself; he knew that Zeb had a point.

Squeezing his eyes shut, he breathed in and out deeply for a few seconds before reopening them. The wall in front of him was grey; scratched up a bit from the normal wear and tear that Ezra had seen every day back on Lothal. He focused in on one of the scratches in particular, longer than the others, like a sharp piece of metal had been dragged against it.

“Okay,” he said, struggling to keep his voice from breaking. “Okay. Like a rehearsal.”


Ezra didn’t think it was possible to hate Empire Day anymore than he already did. That something could make the Lothwasp hive of hatred in his chest buzz even more with rage but somehow, the universe always seemed ready to prove him wrong.

“-And it is on this day, citizens, that we celebrate our great victory over the corrupt Republic’s tyranny and its replacement with our Imperial Council! This is the day where we renew our vows to support our Committee of Public Safety in their quest to finally end the reign of the terror that the Rebellion has cast upon our Empire! And this is the day where we demonstrate our newest advances, which will so soon strike terror into our enemies’ hearts and bring peace to our beleaguered systems!”

Or, as translated into common Basic, We’re gonna show off some toys to remind you that it’s our job to oppress you, not the Rebellion. Ezra fumed silently, tucking his chin into his suit’s high collar as the Lothwasps buzzed louder.

The size of a full-grown humanoid’s hand and with a stinger that could go through the previously-mentioned appendage, the native burrowing insects of Lothal’s great plains were some of the meanest and most aggressive insects in the galaxy, swarming any living thing that came too close to their hives. Ezra had gone near one accidentally when he was smaller. He could still remember the buzzing roar as the swarm had begun to come out, looking to kill whatever had wandered too close; the way it had made the insides of his chest vibrate like he was standing too close to a starship engine starting up. Looking at the parade in front of him made that same feeling come back. A deep hum of rage, right before something got its teeth kicked in.

Except, of course, he would be doing nothing of the sort. Not with the large B2’s standing over the crowds, blank red lights where an organic’s eyes would be. Ezra had seen just what the clankers could do if someone was deemed to be ‘harming the peace’, and he knew that no amount of bacta in the galaxy would enable him to survive that.

No, he had survived this long by not being noticed. No matter how loud the chest-hive buzzed, he was just going to have to stand here and deal with it. Listen to the Minister’s lies as they floated through the night air. Applaud along with everyone else when the clankers gestured.

He just couldn’t wait to restock his food supplies. He couldn’t just power through a rough patch like he usually did, or steal a few decade-old rations in a poorly-guarded warehouse; no, things had been going good so he just had to treat himself and actually buy something and now look at him. Standing in the crowd at Empire Day, watching their stupid walkers jerkily stumble by and listening to the tinny Imperial March being piped into the streets over the intercom system. He couldn’t even liberate a little more money from the crowds, with the way the B2s kept their heads sweeping back and forth.

Why did he have to misjudge a jump like that? If he hadn’t spilled his last haul, he could be back at his tower right now, with one of his newer helmets and a jogan fruit, just killing time until the kriffing ‘holiday’ was all over.

His stomach gave a particularly sharp twinge of hunger and Ezra had to shift, grimacing. He couldn’t wait until all of this stupid self-congratulatory bantha fodder was done with. In the meantime, though, he kept his gaze straight ahead. He didn’t want to attract any attention.

That, unfortunately, meant that he had to watch up close and personal as a walker passed by, followed by a bunch of ‘militia men’ that waved to the silent crowd.

Those stars-damned round-heads, acting like they deserved the love of the people. They were the ones that dragged them out of their houses if they so much as whispered against kriffing Governor Pryce!

The hive in his chest thrummed with hatred. The wasps wanted to break free. Sting the round-heads right through their stupid black armor. He dug his fingers into his upper arms.

He hated Empire Day. He hated the announcements that were on every channel and were piped over Lothal’s communications network. He hated the way the round-heads and clankers were always out in force around this time, making it harder to get food and other supplies. He hated the government’s cheeriness and promises that as soon as the Rebellion was put down things would get better. He hated that his parents were gone. He hated that everyone was always so scared, how the round-heads always took any excuse to throw their weight around. And he hated that he was scared too, down in his core. Scared that one day he wouldn’t be fast enough, clever enough, and that he’d be caught and what had happened to his parents would happen to him, except that this time no one would be left behind to mourn as he rotted in some slimy stinking ditch. He hated it. He hated it. He hated it, he hated it, he hated it he hated it he hated it -

Cold, rotting fingers wrapped around his throat, underneath his skin, and amusement that was even colder rose in his mind. It was so cold, colder than the wind that whistled through the cracks in his tower on the freezing Lothalian winter nights, and it wasn’t his.

Ezra stiffened, his hand flying up to his neck, and the amusement only grew. He didn’t know how he knew that the amusement wasn’t his - it just felt slimy and cold, a cold that dropped from his head to his chest and spread from there, like a drop of dye in water. It was like a hand scratching inside of his skull, its nails rasping against bone -

“Hey, kid.”

Ezra jumped and gasped. He tasted blood in his mouth and realized that he had bitten through his lower lip. A Rodian woman looked at him with concern. “You okay?”

The cold was seeping in from the outside. Ezra swallowed and tried to answer, aware that he was shaking. His tongue felt like it was frozen in his mouth and about to shatter.

“I - I -” he tried to say.

But then that cold slimy rotting hand gripped his jaw, dragging his head around to look at the stage where all of the Empire VIPs were standing. Standing in their boring grey uniforms and boring dull dresses in a line, looking down their noses at the crowd that was forced to be there.

Except for one figure at the end. This one was dressed entirely in black, but with their pale head uncovered. This one wasn’t looking down their nose at the crowd that was arrayed in front of them. This one was looking right at him.

It was a Pau’an, Ezra noted distantly, fear winding a frozen rope made of wire around his throat. He hadn’t thought that the Empire would let some no-name person up on the stage with the rest of the VIPs. But the Pau’an was up there. And it was looking at him. Directly at him. He didn’t know how he knew that - he was in a crowd, surrounded by people, but Ezra knew that the Pau’an was looking directly at him. He was looking at Ezra, and Ezra didn’t know why.

The Pau’an smiled.

And Ezra ran.

Ignoring the shouts as he shoved himself past people, his heart in his throat and fear choking him, Ezra ran. He ducked past the B2s at the edge of the crowd, darted past a patrolling pair of round-heads that shouted in surprise and he kept running, heading down winding alleyways choked with trash and filth, scrabbling up and over rough walls, scraping his fingertips raw and leaving red streaks behind him. He could feel the cold following him, flowing like a flash flood, dark and devouring and utterly focused on drowning him. He was so close to where he had left his speeder, hidden underneath some worthless scrap. He was so close. He had to get away, he had to -

Something screamed in the back of his head as he neared the mouth of an alleyway that led to a road. He couldn’t stop, not in time, but found himself trying desperately, his arms and legs twisting and flailing as he tried to lean back.

There was a snap and a hiss, and Ezra’s face was burning.

He fell to the ground clutching his face, grinding his teeth together to keep from screaming.

“Well,” said a deep, Core-accented voice, “that was quite a chase you lead me on.”

Blinking away tears, Ezra struggled to his feet, half-expecting to feel someone grabbing his collar. But he didn’t. Gasping and blinking rapidly, he turned his head to see who had caught him.

The Pau’an. Ezra swallowed, his hand digging into the rough grit of the building, stinging his fingertips. The Imperial alien was just standing there in his uniform, watching him with an amused look on his face and a strange plasma sword in his hand that threw red light all over the pale walls of the alleyway. The red tattoos on his lined face crinkled slightly with the way he was smiling, showing sharp teeth that up close Ezra could imagine tearing through his flesh.

Just a heartbeat after taking this in, the cold that Ezra had felt earlier came back even worse. Like a winds of a winter storm, biting through clothing into unprotected flesh and making him back away, shivering so hard his teeth were chattering.

The Pau’an’s smile just widened, exposing more of those sharp fangs. “Good, good,” he said, the pleasure in his voice so thick that Ezra felt nauseous. “You do have it.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Ezra regretted talking as soon as the words left his mouth.

The Pau’an flat out chuckled at this. “You don’t need to know, child.” He held out his hand.

Ezra was just about to make a comment about how he was too old to hold hands when something clamped down around his throat and yanked him forward. Sputtering and clawing at his neck, he kicked wildly as his eyes rolled, trying to spot how the Pau’an was doing this.

“I am using the Force, youngling,” the Pau’an said, answering Ezra’s unspoken question. “As you will learn to do.” Even with the way his chest was burning, the way spots were flickering across his vision, Ezra could see the way his black and gold eyes gleamed. “I must admit, I was not expecting much when I was ordered to oversee excavations on this planet. To find an unpolished gem like you…” White fingers brushed against his jaw as those red-rimmed eyes bored into his, bringing back that awful scratch inside of Ezra’s skull and making his skin try to crawl off of his body. “My master will be most pleased.”

Ezra had no idea what the Pau’an was talking about. He could barely hear it over the ringing in his ears and the pressure around his throat. All he could focus on was how he couldn’t breathe.

He couldn’t -

Something pressed up against him. Something warm, and living, against his heart rather than anything outside of his body. It chased the cold that had settled in his bones away and loosened the grip around his throat. And suddenly, his legs felt like they weren’t just kicking aimlessly. The warmth seemed to whisper in his ear, singing in his skull and flowing down his nerves. This time, he wasn’t just kicking air. He was kicking with this warmth, this force -

And the pressure from his throat disappeared. Falling to the ground and greedily sucking in air, Ezra didn’t care that it stank of trash and piss, or that his head was pounding. He didn’t even care when he swallowed some of the drool that had begun to slip out of his mouth and the pain was bad enough that tears gathered in the corners of his eyes.
Panting, he looked up from the duracrete to see what had happened. In the distance, he could still hear the parade going on, the speeches of the various Imperial officials still being piped over loudspeakers. The Pau’an, however, was missing.

Ezra would have frowned, but he was too busy thankfully stumbling to his feet to do so. Wiping the last few traces of spit from his chin, he winced as it tugged the burnt and torn skin over his nose.

One of the mounds of trash at the other end of the alley groaned and moved. Ezra froze mid-wipe as a black-clad arm emerged, a jogan-fruit peel sliding off and hitting the alley floor.

The cold began to rise again, threatening to drown him in its black depths, and Ezra ran.


“Ezra? Ezra Bridger? What on Lothal happened to you?”

Ezra tensed from where he crouched in front of a shelf of the small med-store, looking over the prices of bacta-bandages. Peeking over his shoulder, he saw a white-haired man with a beard and a small basket of medicine looking at him.

“Sorry, do I know you?” Ezra asked, nervously tugging the hood of his ragged brown cape a little more over his head. It had been nearly a week since Empire Day and that weird Pau’an, and the burn on Ezra’s face from that laser sword was struggling to heal. As much as it had burned when he had gotten it, Ezra had hoped that it felt worse than it actually was. Getting back to his tower and the small mirror he had in the fresher there had dashed those hopes, though.

The burn was big, and it was ugly. Starting just on the left side of his nose, the charred and blistered flesh drew a line across its bridge before jumping slightly and restarting in the meat of his cheekbone, just underneath his right eye. A thick line of black with bits of pink peeking out, surrounded by red, blistering flesh, it hurt as bad as it looked, too. Ezra had been forced to pretty much completely deplete his stash of painkillers and disinfectant-soaked bandages as he stayed in his tower, waiting for the Empire VIPs to leave the planet before venturing out again. Normally, he wouldn’t have bothered; he would have just gone out again the next day to get the bacta needed, but…

That Pau’an. He had chased after Ezra specifically. Not because of anything Ezra had done - no, his interest seemed to be personal. And in Ezra’s experience, that usually meant bad things for kids his age.

So after watching the ships taking off from Capitol City’s spaceport for three days, he decided that they had shrunk in size enough to suggest that all the important people had left the planet. It was finally safe for him to try and find some bacta. Just in time too, as the skin around the burn had begun to to get red and hot in a way Ezra had been dreading.

Of course, his luck for the past week had held once he stepped foot in the damn city. ‘All bacta has been commandeered for Imperial use’ his ass! Of course that would happen right when he really needed the stuff!

“You don’t recognize me?” The man placed a hand on his chest. “It’s me - Sumar. Morad Sumar. I knew your parents!”

Ezra focused on keeping his face still as resentment welled up in his chest like he was about to puke. Knew his parents, eh? Then where was he when they were taken and he was left alone?

But Ezra didn’t say any of that. Instead, he stood up and forced a little smile, ignoring the way his face pulsed with pain. “I think I remember you,” he said slowly. Some memories, of a man with dirty hands that let him ride up front on his speeder, slowly began to rise. “You’d take me for rides on your speeder.”

Sumar smiled. “You do remember!” He sounded so happy that Ezra felt a little twist of guilt in his chest for his previous thoughts.

He looked down at his feet and shuffled in place. “Yeah,” he replied quietly. Then he took a breath and pasted another smile across his face. Let him think the moisture in his eyes was from meeting a friend of his parents and not from the gash across his face. “So, you finding pickings as slim as I am?” he joked.

Sumar stepped closer to him and he had to focus to keep from flinching back. “Never mind that,” the older man said, his smile disappearing, “what happened?”

Ezra grimaced. “Someone with a laser sword happened.” He didn’t bother to keep the gruffness out of his voice.

Sumar looked grimaced as well. “That’s one nasty burn.” He shook his head. “And I’m assuming that you’re having trouble finding any bacta for it.” The corner of his mouth quirked up as Ezra looked up at him in confusion. “I heard the announcements, too,” he explained.

Ezra nodded and scuffed the dirty floor with the toe of his boot. “Yeah,” he said. Then he shrugged. “But I got a few other places to check out.” Though that would completely wipe out what little money he had saved up over the years. And probably put him in debt to one of the many gangs that had sprung up on Lothal since the Empire came. But Sumar didn’t need to know that.

“Oh, Ezra.”

He jumped as a hand came down on his shoulder. He looked at Sumar in confusion. The look on the man’s face was strange, even to his experienced eyes; a mix of of sadness and - was that guilt?

“Listen,” Sumar said, his voice soft. “My wife’s back at the farm, and we’ve got a bit of bacta saved up. Come back with me for the night. She’d love to see you again.”

Ezra tensed. Something about this didn’t feel right…

Then his burn twinged. Hard enough to make him gasp.

“Ezra?” Sumar leaned over as Ezra tried to blink away the tears that had been driven to his eyes.

“I’m fine.” Ezra tried to bat away his arm but failed.

Sumar shook his head. “No, you’re not.” His voice was firm. “That burn’s only going to get worse the longer you don’t put any bacta on it. Come on. Come with me. You probably don’t remember, but my wife does an excellent nerf stew.”

Ezra’s stomach growled at that, and he bit his lip. Bacta and a meal would be nice; his ration bars had run out recently as well…

“Okay,” he said. “I’ll come with you.”

Sumar beamed, looking relieved. “Excellent. Let me just pay for these and we’ll be one our way.”

Outside, after Sumar had finished paying, the sun was setting, giving the breeze a bite. Climbing into Sumar’s speeder-van, Ezra let his arm dangle out the window and leaned back, closing his eyes.

The drive was long. Long enough that Ezra could watch the sun go down, turning the sky as red as human blood. He watched the plains speed by with dull eyes, quietly thankful that Sumar didn’t seem interested in keeping up a conversation while driving. He wasn’t sure what he would have said if the man was. In his experience, at least, people tended to get uncomfortable when he talked about how he lived.

Finally, just as the sun had become a red sliver of light on the horizon and the moons were rising, Sumar’s farm came into sight. Ezra leaned out of the window of the speeder-van, watching it come up. His eyes widened. “Wow,” he said. “I didn’t think there were any farms this big left that weren’t under Imperial control.”

“Yeah, it’s been tough,” Sumar said, making Ezra look back at him. He was staring straight ahead, his face set sternly. “But it’s been worth it.”

Ezra sat back down in his seat. “You don’t look happy about that, though.”

Sumar jumped slightly, his eyes darting to Ezra before fastening back to the road ahead. He shrugged. “Eh, just had a lot of Imps sniffing around the other day. Bit annoying.”
Ezra grimaced and looked away. Enough said.

The van squeaked to a halt. Ezra jumped out before the rumble of the engine cut and fell silent. Looking around, there was a sense of familiarity - like he had been here before. There was a tree by a power strut that made him think of his mother’s laughter and his father’s chest rumbling as he lay his head on it, dozing.

A touch to his back made him flinch and whirl around. Sumar leaned back, looking surprised.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to surprise you,” he said.

Ezra looked down. “It’s fine.” He shrugged and looked around the little cluster of buildings, spotting a glowing window. “Looks like your wife’s expecting us.”

Sumar took in a deep breath and let it out in an explosive sigh. “Yeah,” he said. “Looks like.”

Ezra looked at him and raised an eyebrow, wondering why he didn’t sound happy. Before he could say anything, though, Sumar took off, walking with long loping strides that had Ezra struggling to keep up.

The door to the house hissed open, revealing only darkness within. Ezra stepped in after Sumar, who quickly reached out and hit the button to turn the lights on. They whined and flickered as they came on before stabilizing, bathing the room in a warm yellow glow.

“Don’t worry about taking your boots off, by the way.” Sumar paused in the doorway that lead deeper into the house. “You should be okay just wiping them on the mat.”

Glancing down, Ezra saw the mat that he had stepped over without a thought and flushed. “Sorry,” he muttered, going back to rub his soles on it.

“No problem,” Sumar said, his voice moving away. “See you in the kitchen.”

Getting the dried mud off of his boots took a few minutes, with how thick the layers were. Ezra could hear Sumar talking quietly in the next room as he did so. He guessed that he was explaining to Mrs. Sumar what had gone on in the city.

“Okay, I got the mud off,” Ezra said, fiddling with his collar as he walked into the kitchen, trying to make its ragged edge look somewhat presentable. “So, you said you had bacta -”

He choked when he looked up. Two people were in the room; one was Sumar, standing in the corner by the sink with his arms wrapped around himself in a hug and looking down at his feet.

The other was the Pau’an that had given him the burn on his face.

“Ah,” the Pau’an said, sitting in a chair at the kitchen table. He put the cup that he was holding down and smiled widely at Ezra, showing his sharp yellowed teeth. “Welcome home, orphan.”

It took a heartbeat for Ezra to react. To turn on his heel and try to bolt back out the way he came.

That was a heartbeat too long.

The Pau’an leapt across the table just as Ezra turned, knocking his chair to the ground with a loud crash. Ezra barely got two steps away before a cold, hard hand wrapped around his upper arm and yanked him backwards. He stumbled back, off-balance, and was slammed down against the table.

Pain exploded across his face. The cheek that had been burned had been the one to hit the smooth wood, and he could feel something hot begin to leak out, dampening his cheek. Gritting his teeth, the pain only increased as his arm was yanked up further and pinned against his back.

“Your reflexes are already quite good; that is pleasing to see,” the Pau’an hissed, his rotten breath making Ezra wrinkle his nose. “That will make everything simpler.”

“Yeah, pity your breath can’t compare!” Ezra snapped back through grit-tight teeth.

The Pau’an just laughed and wrenched his arm up higher, forcing a scream of pain out from Ezra. “Such anger as well,” he purred.

“Stop!”

Ezra snapped his mouth shut with a click of his teeth and tried to see - it was Sumar! He was still here! “Mister Sumar, get out of here! This guy -”

“Ah yes, Mister Sumar,” the Pau’an interrupted. Glaring up at him, Ezra could see a look of satisfaction and condescension. “How can I help you?”

Sumar was still standing by the counter, with his hands half-raised and eyes wide and flicking between Ezra and the Pau’an above him. “You - you said you wouldn’t hurt him!”

For a moment, the words didn’t make sense to Ezra. What did he mean - why was he talking to the Pau’an like he knew him -

The awful feeling of betrayal started to bubble in Ezra’s gut as understanding began to seep in. “You - Mister Sumar, you were working with him?”

Sumar’s eyes looked down at him and then flicked away hurriedly. “Ezra, it’s not like that -”

“Oh but it is,” the Pau’an said with a laugh. “Would you like to know how quickly he agreed to this, orphan? How little convincing it took for him to lure you out here to be more easily collected?”

Sumar’s face twisted in anger. He wasn’t looking at Ezra, now. He balled his hands into fists and took a step forward. “You know it wasn’t like that,” he snarled. “You took my wife and said that the only way I’d get her back would be by helping you with - this!”

He swept his arm out towards the entire room, but Ezra couldn’t focus on that. All he could do was stare up at the older man, humiliation and betrayal burning in the back of his throat. “You knew this was going to happen. You did all this -” Embarrassingly, he could feel his eyes burning.

The Pau’an laughed again, pulling him to his feet and keeping his arm pinned painfully behind his back. Something cold and amused wriggled inside Ezra’s head, and again, he somehow knew that the emotion was not his own.

“Oh, don’t give him all of the credit, orphan.” The alien stroked the back of a cold hand down the side of Ezra’s face intimately before stopping and digging sharp nails into the burn oozing on his cheek. Ezra gasped and let out a strangled whimper as his ears began to ring from the pain. A thick snake of pleasure that wasn’t Ezra’s slithered through his head, making his gorge rise. Tears blurring his vision, he looked up and saw the Pau’an’s golden eyes narrowed with cat-like satisfaction as he continued to gloat. “Though I will admit that he has made things simpler, you would have been taken in eventually. You have a talent for connecting with other’s minds, and that is a talent wasted on petty thievery.”

There was another yank at his arm, and Ezra was forced to step back, pulled flush against the Pau’an’s armoured chest. His face and shoulder throbbing, he bit down on the inside of his cheek until he tasted blood. He knew the type of person the Pau’an was now - he’d seen it all the time living on the streets.

The Pau’an liked his pain. The Pau’an wanted his pain, reminding Ezra of a drug lord he once saw crush a loth-kit’s skull underneath his boot. Giving the Pau’an any sign that he was getting to him would only mark him further as a victim in his mind.

So he didn’t yell in pain as he was dragged out of the room, his shoulder feeling like it was being torn from its socket. He didn’t ask questions, even though he was burning up with curiosity over what the Pau’an meant by ‘a talent for connecting with other’s minds’. He just kept his eyes straight ahead as they walked out of the building, anger thrumming in his chest and buzzing in his ears.

He did, however, raise an eyebrow at the round-heads that were waiting for them. The farm was in the middle of the Great Plain that surrounded Capitol City - nothing to hide behind or in for miles around. So where had -

The roar of an engine answered that question. Looking up, Ezra pressed his lips together tightly as he watched a cloudjumper descend, one of its side-doors already open. There were two figures standing there, and he already recognized the first.

The cloudjumper touched down, and Provisional Minister Maketh Tua, voice of the Empire on Lothal, stepped out, her back ramrod straight and looking as always like someone had just pinched her ass. Ezra had never seen the man standing behind her; he would have remembered those weird muttonchops, but he was standing similarly to her. He, however, looked like he had bitten into a limon at the sight of him.

In fact, both of them were looking at him as if he was tooka poodoo that they had accidentally walked in and now had to scrape off. Tua in particular looked offended at the sight of him, smoothing the front of her tunic and making Ezra very aware of his ragged jumpsuit and cape. Resentfully, he wondered why she in particular looked so offended. Was she so delusional that she actually thought the Empire was helping Lothal like it said, and not just sucking it dry?

“Grand Inquisitor -” she began, her cheeks puffing out like a little kid about to throw a tantrum.

“Minister Tua,” the newly-titled Grand Inquisitor replied. “I assume you did as I ordered and brought Mrs. Sumar with you?”

Ezra tensed as the Pau’an reply and tried to subtly glance over his shoulder. ‘Grand Inquisitor’ certainly sounded like a fancy title; definitely not one handed out left right and center like ‘lord’. Mentally, he kicked up the Pau’an’s importance a couple of notches and began to make changes to the vague outline of an escape plan he had started to make.

Tua’s cheeks reddened and she sputtered as the man behind her stepped forward. “Certainly, Inquisitor,” he said, shooting Ezra an unimpressed glance, “but I must confess to some curiosity - this is the individual you were making such a fuss over?”

“Why yes, Agent Kallus, it is.” Ezra risked a glance up and couldn’t keep from shuddering at the cold little smile on the Grand Inquisitor’s face. “Is there a problem?”

Tua caught her breath and stepped forward, pointing a finger at the Grand Inquisitor’s chest. “You had all bacta on Lothal recalled, nearly grinding the government to a halt, just for this - this - street rat!”

Ezra nearly snapped an insult at the woman on principle. He might just be a petty thief, but what would someone like Tua know about that? The Empire was why he was even like this! Then he caught up to the rest of what she had just said. The Pau’an’s fingers dug into Ezra’s shoulder even as the boy’s mind whirled. All the bacta? Every last bit, just to lure him into this trap? How in Malachor did that make sense?

It seemed that the two in front of him agreed. Clearing his throat, the newly-named Agent Kallus spoke. “I’m afraid I must agree here with Minister Tua; this does seem to be a waste of Imperial time and money to hunt down random Loth-rats.”

“Ah, but you see, this was not random.” The Grand Inquisitor stepped towards the two humans, forcing them to step back, and pushing Ezra in front of him like an unstoppable wall, heading towards the cloudjumper the two of them had just left. “You see, this boy has some rather unusual talents. Talents that are wasted as a Loth-rat. The Inquisitorius has a specific program meant for this very situation, one that will mold him into a useful member of our dear Empire.” He paused and turned his head slightly, a sly, slitted look in his eyes. “Unless you believe yourself to know better than the Committee of Public Security when it comes to creating good Imperial subjects.”

Ezra couldn’t see very well around the bulk of the Pau’an’s muscular frame. But the way the slivers of the two human’s skin that he could see paled under the light of the two moons showed that they were perfectly aware of the implied threat behind that accusation.

“N-no, no, of course not.” Tua lifted her arms and waved them as if to dismiss the words. The tremor in her voice gave her fear away, though. Straightening, she cleared her throat. “Of course not. I was merely concerned that Lothal’s bacta supplies had been needlessly confiscated. I now understand your reasoning, though.”

“Mm. Quite.” Agent Kallus wasn’t looking at them, his hands twitching by his sides like he didn’t know what to do with them. He cleared his throat again. “However, there is the matter of how he became an orphan, though - I looked his records up, his parents were arrested for -”

The Inquisitor silenced him with a sharp gesture. “His parents do not matter,” he said loftily. “All that matters is what he can do for the Empire.”

“But without a sponsor -”

“The Committee is the sponsor of all children in the program.” And the big alien’s voice was a little sharper there. A ‘shut up and stop questioning me you little piece of -’ sort of sharp. “Now if neither of you have any more objections as to how I do my job, I and the orphan shall be on our way.” He punctuated the end of his sentence with a sharp shove, making Ezra stumble onto the ramp where a pair of bucket-heads were waiting. They grabbed his biceps in durasteel grips and half-guided, half-dragged Ezra deeper into the cloudjumper, the Pau’an following behind.

Ezra was just barely able to turn around and watch as the hatch began to close, slowly blocking out the familiar sights and sounds of the Lothalian plains that he had lived on all of his life. His gut lowered, and somehow he got the feeling that this was going to be the last time he ever saw his home again.


Ezra scrubbed at his wet face with both hands and swallowed furiously, embarrassed churning in his gut for how his voice had started cracking halfway through his story. Zeb hadn’t been very friendly when they had first met, snarking about how they were taking pity on just about everyone these days. But after a few days of grinning and bearing it, he had cooled it on the insults, and after Kanan’s fit -

Well. Ezra was no expert, but he was pretty sure that helping him out with the re-opened cuts on his cheek and staying so that he wasn’t alone with the guy that hit him counted as friendship. But it was definitely the sort of friendship that was based more on insulting each other than hugs.

So he was really surprised when Zeb sighed and stood up, his green eyes glowing in the dark of the room. He was even more surprised when the big guy reached out and pulled him off of his bunk, holding him close to his chest.

Sputtering, his feet dangling in the air, Ezra wrapped his arms around Zeb’s neck more to keep himself from falling than from any real feeling. “What are you doing?”

Zeb grunted and shifted, letting him down enough that his bare feet were against the cold metal of the floor but not letting go. “I’m hugging you, kid.”

Oh. Oh!

Ezra swallowed and blinked rapidly as his eyes began to feel wet again. He couldn’t remember the last time he was hugged, before Kanan down in the cargo bay. This was - this was nice.

“Thanks, but why?” He was proud that his voice didn’t shake.

There was a pause, and then Zeb’s grip loosened enough for him to lean back. Ezra couldn’t stop a noise of protest from leaving his mouth and didn’t let go, letting his feet be pulled off of the floor again.

“Seriously, kid?” His eyes, glowing in the dark, looked incredulous. “Were you not listening to yourself?”

“Uh…” Ezra found himself at a loss for words; something that he wasn’t used to.

Zeb rolled his eyes and bent back over, setting Ezra back down on the floor. This time, Ezra loosened his arms and tried to back away, embarrassment beginning to churn in his stomach. Zeb kept his hands around his back, though, and he wasn’t able to get far.

“Ezra,” he said. He paused for a moment, just long enough for Ezra to start to fidget uncomfortably. “Karabast,” he finally grumbled. “I’m no good at this sort of thing. Ezra, you were crying.”

“Yeah, I know -”

“No, damn it -” Those glowing eyes looked away and narrowed in irritation for a moment before turning back to him. “You were crying. You were hurt.”

“Yeah, I hate to break it to you, but that’s not a new thing?” Ezra looked away, suddenly feeling very uncomfortable underneath that green gaze. “Nobody’s really given a kriff about that before -”

“Karabast, kid, that’s the thing!” Zeb gave him a little shake, sounding exasperated. “Maybe those people before you came on board didn’t care but we do! So when you start crying, we’re going to try and make things better!”

“I -” Ezra blinked and shrank back, wrapping his arms around himself. He realized that, it was just -

Zeb sighed explosively and pulled Ezra back against his chest, tucking his head underneath his bearded chin. “Don’t strain yourself.” He sounded very tired, and began to rub a large, warm hand up and down Ezra’s back.

Feeling Zeb’s chest rumble underneath his cheek, Ezra kept still in his confusion for several heartbeats before hesitantly hugging back. When all he got when he looked up was an approving twitch of the Lasat’s ear, he found himself hugging tighter.

This - this was nice. Pressed up against Zeb’s warm chest, feeling his giant arms wrapped around him and blocking out the rest of the room, Ezra felt - warm? But inside of his chest. Safe? Was that the word? Yeah. Safe. Like things were going to be okay.

He couldn’t remember the last time he felt like that.

If Zeb felt the front of his chest getting soaked, he didn’t say anything. They just stood there for several minutes, hugging each other as Ezra’s shoulders slowly began to stop shaking. Finally, reluctantly removing his face from Zeb’s furry chest, Ezra sniffed.

“We, uh, should probably try to sleep,” he said, his voice cracking.

Zeb looked carefully at him for a long moment before nodding. “Yeah. Long days ahead of us.”

“Yeah.” Ezra turned back to the bunks and clambered into his, settling back underneath his sheets and listening to Zeb doing the same.

Looking up at the ceiling, he counted his breaths, feeling tiredness begin to seep into his limbs. He was almost asleep when Zeb’s voice floated up to him.

“By the way, kid, if you mention this to anyone outside, I’m denying it.”

Sleepily chuckling, Ezra rolled over and pulled the blankets up higher. “Deal,” he said.

He was asleep before Zeb replied.

Chapter Text

It took sixty-eight hours in hyperspace to get to the rendezvous point over Teth. Sixty-eight of the most awkward and tense hours of Kanan’s life. Sabine was still giving everyone on the ship the silent treatment for their roles in tricking her and in her view risking their lives. Ezra was a bundle of nerves, nearly sick from the anticipation of having to recall every dehumanizing and humiliating moment he was going to have to tell the leaders of the Resistance. Kanan had heard him quietly crying at night a few times, even. He didn’t blame the kid though. From what Zeb had told him of Ezra’s storytelling the night after the meeting, he had more than a few reasons to cry.

Once they reached Phoenix Nest though, Kanan had hoped that things would improve. No such luck.

“You are not. Throwing him. In a cell.” Kanan placed a protective hand on Ezra’s shoulder and drew him close as he snarled at Commander Sato.

They were standing in the landing bay of the carrier called Phoenix Nest, surrounded by ships and Resistance members. All of them were holding various tools and datapads, but if Kanan was any judge at least three quarters of the crowd were just gawkers. It made him glad to have his crew at his back.

Or at least, most of it. Sabine was still keeping herself aloof from the rest of them, standing closer to Master Unduli, who was watching the entire argument with her calm blue gaze.

The greying man narrowed his almond-shaped eyes, his already-squared shoulders stiffening further. The soldiers that he had brought with him to ‘escort’ Ezra to a cell rested their hands on their blasters. “That is not up to you. This is my ship, and I will not be having an Imperial defector running around without supervision.”

“Imperial defec-” Kanan sputtered and glared. “Did you not hear the part where he was tied up in a cell like a piece of cargo? In my experience, that doesn’t exactly scream ‘I’m here willingly’!”

“Kanan.” Hera slipped in front of him and pressed a firm hand against his chest, making him take a step back. “You’re not helping.” She looked at him with her lips pressed together into a line until he looked away, breathing deeply through his nose at the fine tremor in Ezra’s shoulders.

Satisfied that he would stay quiet, she turned back to the other man. “Commander Sato,” she said, flashing a picture-perfect salute, “I know that Imperial defectors are rare, but considering the points that Kanan has raised, can you not agree that placing Ezra in a triple-guarded cell for the duration of the trip is somewhat excessive?”

“Excessive?” Sato bristled and drew himself up even taller than he had been standing before. “Captain Syndulla, there has never been a defector from the Inquisitorius before. And considering that it was only twelve hours ago that we were informed that Bail Organa was assassinated by one of them in the middle of a supposedly secure base, no, I do not consider this to be excessive!”

Kanan couldn’t stop from flinching back in shock with Hera. Bail Organa was dead?

His mind raced at the news. While he had never met the man in person, he had always heard nothing but praise for the man’s unflinching support for the Resistance and democracy. He had been one of the founders of the Resistance, and a staunch friend of the Jedi while they were all on Coruscant. Loosing him -

Squished up against his side, Ezra squirmed and looked up, his eyebrows pulling together in confusion.

“Kanan,” he whispered worriedly as the crowd that had been gathering around them muttered, “who’s Bail Organa? And why’s everyone so mad about him dying?”

Seeing Hera’s own shoulders square and lekku twitch in determination, Kanan felt secure enough to leave the arguing to her. “He was a very important Senator in the Republic, and part of the Delegation of Two Thousand,” he said, keeping his voice low. “After they were forced to flee during the second Battle of Coruscant, he was one of the ringleaders in starting the Resistance.”

“The delegation of what?”

Kanan winced. Judging from the slight stutter in the argument going on in front of them, Ezra had been just a little too loud in that argument. He made a small gesture to quiet down.

“The Delegation of Two Thousand. They opposed Darth Sidious’ power grabs in the Senate peacefully, and allied with the Jedi when they removed him from the position of Chancellor.”

“Wait, Chancellor?”

Kanan blinked in surprise as Ezra flushed and looked down. “Yeah, the Chancellor - you know, the position that lead the Republic for thousands of years?”

Ezra shrugged. “I haven’t seen the inside of a classroom since I was seven, and all the Empire says on the holonews about the Republic is how amazing they are for replacing its ‘decadence’.”

“Commander Sato!”

Automatically looking up at the sound of a new voice joining the argument, Kanan was surprised enough to stutter to a stop in his reply to Ezra’s explanation. It was a powerful voice to be coming from such a small, dainty looking woman.

Briskly walking towards them, her arms swinging and hands in fists, was a short, dark-haired woman dressed in plain, functional clothing and a silky-looking blue scarf, a heavy-looking blaster at her hip. Trotting after her were two clones, similarly dressed in rough, functional clothing.

Kanan tensed at the sight of the white-haired men, breathing carefully through his nose as the clones’ faces blurred in his vision, blood dripping down his chin. Looking away, he counted to four breathing in, held it for three, and then let the breath out for five as he had been taught back at the Temple. He did it three times before the ringing in his ears stopped and he felt like he could look at the woman again.

“Lady Amidala.” Sato saluted as the woman reached them, but was frowning while doing so. “What are you doing down here? I ordered -”

“And I countermanded your order.” Coming to a stop, she crossed her arms and cocked a brow. “Commander, I appreciate your desire to keep me safe, but confining me to my room or the bridge is preventing me from doing my job.”

“My lady -”

“And in this case, as the highest-ranked person person on this ship with diplomatic training, it is my job to handle Imperial defectors, not you.”

Sato’s cheeks were looking a little pink. Kanan smothered a smirk.

“Lady Amidala, I gave that order for your safety.”

“Sato.” Kanan had never seen a woman that young look so much like a stern grandmother. “I will miss Bail. He was a dear friend. But I will not shame his memory by using it as an excuse to treat those who have chosen to join us in our fight and have been vouched for by a Jedi Master with derision and suspicion.” She then very obviously turned away from him before he could say anything else and folded her hands over her front formally, bowing her head gracefully.

“Greetings, Captain Syndulla. I am Padme Naberrie Amidala, and I welcome you and your crew to Phoenix Nest.”

For a moment, Hera’s lekku hung slack in confusion. Then she recovered and jumped on the chance the human woman had offered them, bowing back. “Thank you, Lady Amidala. We’re glad to be aboard.”

The two of them held their bows for a moment, and then Amidala straightened, a bright smile breaking up the formality in the air.

“Well,” she said brightly, “now that that’s out of the way, why don’t you introduce me to the defector?”

“Lady Amidala -”

But Kanan jumped on the chance before Sato could say anything else. “Lady Amidala,” he said, bowing low and dredging up old memories of classes on etiquette, “this is Ezra Bridger.” He nudged the boy forward slightly.

Amidala smiled brightly, her the corners of her eyes crinkling. She held out her hand to Ezra. “A pleasure to meet you, Ezra Bridger. Your courage is inspiring.”

Ezra stared at her for a moment with wide eyes and his shoulders hunching up. Jerkily taking her hand, he shook it once and then let go, shuffling slightly in place. “It’s uh - nice to meet you too, but - courage?”

Amidala didn’t seem offended by his confusion. Her eyes softened as she looked him over, and Kanan had the feeling that they had just won over another defender to Ezra’s side. “Yes, courage.” Reaching out, she placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. “I have no doubt that you’ve been through a great deal, experiences that would make lashing out your first reaction to most situations. And still, you peacefully turned yourself into Resistance custody without harming anyone when your previous affiliation was revealed, trusting that we would not be like the people who hurt you.” With her free hand, she delicately lifted his chin to look him in the eye. “After everything you’ve gone through, I have no doubt that relinquishing control and trusting others like that took just as much courage as charging into battle.”

Ezra’s cheeks were just a little bit pink by the time she was finished talking. He was looking up at her like she was an angel, a shy mixture of happiness and admiration clear on his face.

That had been one hell of a speech. Kanan’s own cheeks felt a little warm. The open admiration and praise almost made him feel embarrassed for those fleeting moments in the cargo bay, when he had questioned whether or not Ezra was of the Light. From the sly tilt of her head and the way the group of soldiers behind Sato were shuffling uncomfortably, Kanan was pretty sure that that wasn’t an accident, either.

Sato’s cheeks were pink as well. That seemed to be the only effect the speech had had on him, though.

“Regardless, Lady Amidala, it is standard procedure to keep recent defectors isolated for a set time in the interests of the safety of the Resistance. I cannot break it simply on your say-so.”

“Break what on her say-so?”

Kanan wasn’t the only one to turn his head to look at the newest person to speak. Striding across the hangar, Kanan couldn’t find it himself to pay too much attention to the man once he recognized one of the figures following him.

Jedi. And not just any Jedi.

Master Mace Windu. Master of Depa Billaba, and Caleb Dume’s grand-master.

Kanan only just stopped himself from diving behind Chopper. This close, it wouldn’t matter, and would draw attention to himself.

Instead, he looked away and worked his jaw furiously.Kanan didn’t recognize the other two figures with Master Windu. One was a woman, wearing a tight cap that covered her head and neck, only leaving her green-yellow face, with its large, sad-looking eyes, exposed. Another male human was striding just a step ahead of her, wearing an incredibly ugly blue wide-brimmed hat and his bearded mouth twisted unhappily.

Commander Sato didn’t seem surprised to see the little group. Reaching up, he rubbed his forehead and sighed. “Protocol, Master Skywalker,” he ground out. “New defectors are to be isolated and watched by trustworthy members of the Resistance until their devotion to the Resistance can be properly ascertained. Your wife is currently disagreeing with this perfectly normal protocol.”

Amidala raised one perfectly-groomed eyebrow. “I was not disagreeing with Ezra here being watched. What I was disagreeing with was your order to throw him into a cell for the entire trip to headquarters. Under the Galactic Agreement on the Treatment of Prisoners of War, sub-section twelve, all defectors are to be allowed out of their cells under supervision for no less than five hours of a Coruscanti standard cycle. What you were suggesting violates this -”

“That agreement was not made with the Inquisitorius in mind,” Sato interrupted, pausing mid-headrub. He looked thunderous. “And the possibility of Bridger being a sleeper agent for them has not been conclusively ruled out. You may be willing to be careless with your own life, Lady Amidala, but I am not willing to do the same with the lives of my crew.”

“Luckily,” Master Windu said, having finally reached them, “that is something that now can be ascertained.” He nodded to Master Unduli, who calmly glided over to stand beside him.

Sato switched from rubbing with his fingertips to his knuckles. “Master Windu. A pleasure.”

“Lying does not become you, Commander.” Master Windu’s eyes flicked over them, carefully weighing each of them. Kanan tried not to squirm. “I am fully aware of what the Resistance thinks of the Jedi. Do not lie to me, and I will not lie to you.”

“Okay, nice that we all now know where we stand, but that doesn’t exactly address the argument.” The man with the truly awful hat crossed his arms, his blue eyes narrowing.

It took a moment for Kanan to recall his name. As soon as he did, though, all of his nervousness washed away.

“Skywalker.” Hera said the words before Kanan could do much more than mouth it to himself. “Anakin Skywalker?”

The man paused mid-glare, switching on the smile that had featured in a hundred holos as he turned to Hera. “The one and only. And you?”

Hera smiled. Kanan couldn’t blame her for how the tips of her lekku darkened at the human man’s smile - Force knew nearly everyone had had a little crush on Skywalker back in the creche, platonic or not. Before Master Billaba, Caleb Dume had dreamed a few times of being chosen as his padawan and being in holos as well. And the years seemed to have been kind to the man - or at least, only cruel in a way that enhanced his features. His own lost years certainly hadn’t been so nice, leaving him looking more thuggish than dashing, as Skywalker had turned out.

“Hera Syndulla.” She held out her hand, her grin broadening as Skywalker took it and shook it firmly. “Of Ryloth. I saw you fly in the Clone Wars.”

“Really.” Echoing her expression, his grin widened as well. “Syndulla, eh? Any relation to Cham?”

“My father.”

Sato cleared his throat.

Skywalker straightened and wound an arm around Amidala’s shoulders. “In any case, back to the argument. You’re worried that the kid’s going to flip out and murder everyone, right?”

“Rather more casually put than I would prefer, but yes, I suppose you could say that that is my concern.”

Skywalker shrugged and gestured to Master Windu and Unduli with a dramatic sweep of his arm. “Even with two Jedi Masters and a Mindhealer?” He sounded skeptical. “I know the Jedi aren’t popular, but I highly doubt that even the Grand Inquisitor himself could take two Masters on.”

“And, there’s the whole point that back where he was found, Ezra was only interested in getting as far away from his prison as possible.” Kanan swallowed his nervousness as everyone’s heads turned around to look at him.

“He cannot just be allowed to roam free, regardless -”

“Look.”

Everyone turned to do just that at Ezra, who shrank back for a moment under the attention before rallying, raising his chin and glaring defiantly. “I’ll go into the cell,” he said in one breath. “Willingly.”

“Ezra, you don’t have to -” Kanan said, squeezing Ezra’s shoulder in a way he hoped was reassuring.

Ezra shook his head sharply, cutting him off. “No, I know when no one’s going to budge. And it’s not like Commander Sato doesn’t have a point.” He took a sharp breath and shrugged off Kanan’s hand. “I am dangerous. Even if I didn’t mean to, I did give an entire space station nightmares. If putting me into a cell will make everyone feel safer, I’ll do it.” He punctuated the end of his sentence with looking Sato in eye, challenging him to find fault with his words.

Kanan felt a massive swell of pride, quickly swamped by worry. “Ezra -”

But he was cut off by Sato, who looked at Skywalker and Amidala with a gleam of triumph in his eyes. “There, the boy has even agreed to it. Surely you cannot disagree now?”

Amidala pressed her lips into a line and narrowed her eyes. “It must be a comfortable cell,” she said after several seconds.

“We can bring the pillow and blankets that he’s been using.” Hera’s voice was quiet. Looking at her, Kanan could see the mix of pride and concern that was tightening his own chest on her face. “If we could visit as well, that would help.”

“Supervised visits.” But Sato’s voice had softened a little. “Otherwise, what you ask is reasonable. I will arrange it.” Tucking his hands behind his back and straightening once more, he said, “But that need not happen immediately. The rest of Resistance Command needs to be informed that everyone has arrived. My second, Morgan Katarn, will show you where the defector and the rest of you will be staying for the duration of the trip.” A one-armed man, middle-aged and resembling a farmer, casually sidled out from the group of Resistance troops, a datapad in his good hand. “In the meantime, Amidala, if you could follow me?”

Amidala, still thin-lipped, nodded briefly. “I’ll be right behind you,” she said. Turning, she placed a hand back onto Ezra’s shoulder. “Thank you for your co-operation,” she said quietly. “I only regret that it was necessary.”

Ezra shrugged and looked away, fiddling with the rolled-up cuffs of his flightsuit. “’S’no problem,” he mumbled. The pink had returned to his cheeks.

Amidala smiled sadly and turned away, following after Sato. Skywalker in turn followed her, also shooting them a sympathetic look.

Sighing through his nose, Kanan placed his hand on Ezra’s back. He could feel the fine tremble there, fear that Ezra refused to show.

“It’ll be okay,” he said quietly. “Amidala at least won’t let anyone be anything less than kind.”

Ezra breathed out shakily. “Amidala won’t be there all of the time. But thanks.”

It was, of course, at that moment that Janus and Grey finally appeared on the ramp of their ship.

“Damn,” Janus said, looking over their depressed forms. “Did we miss something?”


The bright Geonosian sunlight was nothing more than a memory long gone, down in these tunnels. The Jedi that she had fought beside in the arena had been left behind. Now, there was only Luminara and her padawan’s screams.

“Master! Master! Where are you? Please, I-I need help!”

“Barriss,” Luminara whispered underneath her breath, jumping over yet another pit, a yellow-knuckled grip on her lightsaber.

The screams bounced around the empty tunnels, echoing strangely. The source seemed to move about impossibly, first coming from one direction, then the opposite.

She shouldn’t have agreed to this. She should have known that Barriss wasn’t ready for a mission like this. But Luminara had been able to see the silent envy in her eyes as her fellow padawans came back from missions with their masters, bubbling over with enthusiasm and stories of the planets they had visited and the things they had seen. Luminara had been keeping close to the Temple, keeping in mind both Barriss’ young age and her developing talents in healing.

But those tiny looks, when she thought that Luminara wasn’t looking. Never an actual, verbal complaint. No, that was not Barriss - she was the perfect padawan, always obedient and ceding to Luminara’s wishes. But Luminara knew that her padawan wished that she had better stories to tell when she got together with the other padawans, not just tales of sitting up with yet another feverish youngling.

And so, keeping this in mind, when the Council asked for volunteers to go to Geonosis, Luminara and her padawan had been the first in line.

They had been practicing bladework so much lately. And Barriss - she had such a head for strategems and plans, and it was to be such a simple rescue mission. Just go in and rescue Obi-Wan, maybe pick up Senator Amidala and Skywalker if they had done as the Council suspected and gone against orders.

But then the droids had arrived, and everything had gone to hell. She and Barriss had been separated in the arena, and Luminara had been too busy deflecting blaster bolts to be able to look for her padawan.

Now she was down here, chasing a scream.

“Master!”

She sounded like the little girl in the creche that Luminara had seen growing up, near tears after tripping during a game of tag and calling out after her friends. That had been the first time she had shown her talent for healing, stopping the bleeding before the old creche-master had been able to hobble over with a small bacta bandage.

Luminara ran faster.

Then the tunnels suddenly opened up into the Temple hangar. Luminara’s brow wrinkled, but she didn’t have time to think as -

“Master!”

There. Ahead of her, standing between two tall Temple Guards, was little Barris, her first tattoo on the bridge of her nose and tears in her eyes.

“Master,” she sobbed. “Please, where were you? I was so scared.”

“Barriss.” Luminara tried to steady her breathing, still walking over to the girl too quickly. “I am glad to see you well, padawan -”

“Is that all you can say?”

Luminara twisted to look behind her. That was Barriss’ voice as well -

She was still standing between two guards, but she was not a youngling anymore. Her cheeks were fully marked now. There were still tears in her eyes, but the relief that had kept them company was gone.

“Is that really all you can say?” Barris demanded, the yellow blades of the guards humming in front of her. “Where were you? Where were you when I needed you?”

Luminara looked behind her, and they were now on Umbara, that cursed slaughterhouse. The blooms glowed in the dimness, throwing unpleasant shadows that writhed against the ground with the dying men. “Barriss, I don’t understand -”

“Of course. You never do.” Barriss spat out the words like they tasted foul. “Use your brain! You know perfectly well why, you just don’t bother to understand!”

“Barriss…”

The woman that looked up at her, a few strands of hair falling in her yellowed eyes, was not her padawan. Was not the little girl Luminara had watched in the creche, taught for years, and lov-

No. No, she could not say that, not even in her dreams.

Barriss’ eyes narrowed and her lip curled. Her hands were handcuffed together in front of her, but Luminara could just see that she was holding something in them. Barriss opened them, and Luminara realized that it was a detonator.

She sucked in a breath. “Barriss -”

“This is your fault,” Barriss hissed. The guards’ lightsabers didn’t move, just humming uselessly as she pressed the button and the world dissolved into flame.


Luminara heard huffing gasps as her eyes opened. It took several moments before she realized that she was hearing herself.

Closing her eyes again, she concentrated on the sensation of air whooshing in and out of her lungs. She was a Jedi. She did not wake up from dreams hyperventilating, no matter what she had seen.

After her breathing had slowed, she sat up in her small bed and pressed the heel of her hands against her eyes. That dream - she had not had it in years. She had thought -

No. Pulling her hands away from her face, she swung her legs over the side of her bunk. She should not dwell on the past. And in any case, she had work to do. The nightmare had the signs that she had begun to recognize as the mark of Bridger’s mental projections. And if it had been strong enough to get through her shields again, after she had started taking care to strengthen them before sleep…

Palming the sensor to lower the ramp to the landing bay, she found chaos. Alarms were blaring, someone was shouting over the comm system, and as she watched several Resistance soldiers charged past the ramp, half-dressed, wild-eyed and holding blasters. Darting out of the ship, she held up a hand to stop them.

“Master Unduli!” said the tanned Zabrak leading the squad, screeching to a halt. “Please, it seems that the Inquistorius prisoner is attacking -”

“Calm yourselves,” Luminara interrupted sternly. “This is no attack.”

“What do you mean?” piped up a small Mon Calamarian woman. Her blaster rifle was nearly as big as she was. “People are seeing things -”

“Those are an inadvertent side effect of the injuries that were inflicted upon Bridger’s mind while he was being held prisoner by the Inquisitorius.” Luminara emphasized the word prisoner, internally frowning. Had Sato not informed his people of the details of the report she had sent ahead? If so, that was an oversight that would have to be corrected as soon as possible. “If you wish to come with me to Bridger’s current quarters, you may, but I must insist that you keep your hands away from your weapons. It would not do to frighten him more.”

There was an unfortunately familiar undercurrent of resentment as the squad holstered their weapons. Its rough pass by her shields reminded her rather too-readily of the last few months before the fall of the Temple. Luminara did her best to ignore it as she set off and, with one hand checking that her sleep-cap was still covering her head, raised Sato on her comm.

“Master Unduli.” The man’s voice held a ragged undertone of exhaustion, underneath his rather more noticeable anger. “I suppose that you noticed the prisoner’s assault?”

“I was not aware that you held prisoners on this ship.” Luminara kept her voice calm with the practice of dozens of years as a diplomat. “If you are speaking of Bridger’s night terrors, though, yes, I have noticed and am on my way to stop them. I am calling you to ask your people to stand down before someone does something unfortunate.”

Sato’s snort crackled with static. “Of course. Very well. In the spirit of cooperation, I will do so. If by the time I have arrived at his cell, though, he is still assaulting my crew, however -”

Luminara switched the comm off, unwilling to listen to the rest of that diatribe. “Well then,” she said, turning back to the soldiers who were still standing by the ramp of her ship, “if you would follow me, please?”

It took them seven minutes to make their way to the section of the ship where Bridger was. In that time, Luminara focused on projecting her own calm as far as she could, pushing Bridger’s fear back even as it thickened the closer they got to him. Overhead, Sato’s voice crackled over the speakers.

They were not the first to arrive at the cell. Another squad had made it there first.

“On three,” the bulky human man was saying to his squad. In his hands, he held a blaster pointed at the ground. “One - two -”

“Stop!” Luminara reinforced her voice with the Force, stopping the last word from leaving the man’s lips. Projecting calm, she stopped in front of them and placed her hands on her hips, aware that she hardly cut the most imposing figure in her soft sleep tunic and trousers. “What are you doing?”

The human ground his teeth. “Defending the ship,” he said sourly, glaring at her from underneath blond bangs.

Luminara frowned right back at him and mustered her coldest voice. “Your ‘defence’ is not necessary. This is merely a side-effect -”

She broke off at the sound of rapid, heavy footsteps heading towards them. She just barely turned in time to keep Jarrus, wearing only a loose pair of grey sweatpants, from barreling right through her. “Jarrus,”she called, reaching out to grab his shoulder.

He ducked out away from her and slammed his own hand against the doorpad.

“Hey, wait, you can’t -” the human male said, reaching out as well.

Jarrus ignored them both and walked into the room as soon as the door opened, his muscled shoulders stiff.

Luminara did not try to stop him. She focused on not falling over as the sticky, overwhelming fear in that cell slammed into her like a mudslide.

As though from a long ways away, she heard someone whimper. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the soldiers surrounding her stagger, several letting their weapons fall to the ground as they reached up to cover their faces, their shoulders shaking with sobs and whimpers. Staggering forward and breathing heavily through her nose, Luminara peered into the cell.

And immediately wished that she hadn’t. Jarrus was a muscular man, broad-chested, but he did not entirely block her view of Bridger.

The boy lay on the small cot that was bolted the the wall of the cell, his back an almost perfect arch and his skinny arms twisted and pinned to his sides in a way that reminded Luminara horribly of a dead insect, half-crushed beneath someone’s boot. His tipped-back head revealed that his eyes were wide open and entirely rolled back in his head as his teeth sank into his lower lip, hard enough that Luminara could see blood outlining each one. Rocking back and forth, small choking grunts emanated from him like he was being strangled. Or raped.

Jarrus did not hesitate at the sight of the boy. Falling to his knees, he reached out and pulled Bridger off of the cot, tucking the boy’s head underneath his chin and cradling him in his arms like an infant.

The fear disappeared so quickly it felt like an airlock being depressurized. Luminara fell to her knees as the emotions that had felt like a mountain slowly crushing her immediately lightened, Bridger’s arms snapping around Jarrus’ back like lightning.

For a painful, thudding heartbeat there was silence. Then Bridger’s hands spasmed and clawed at the tan skin on Jarrus’ back, and the sound of heavy, gasping sobs pierced the air.

Luminara stared with wobbling legs, breathing heavily as Jarrus muttered soothing words, running his fingers through Bridger’s still-short dark hair.

“It’s okay, Ezra,” he muttered, only just loud enough for Luminara to hear. “I’s okay, it’s okay, you’re not there, you’re safe. No one’s going to hurt you here. I’m here, it’s okay…” He rocked back and forth like Bridger was an infant, needing to be soothed to sleep. Bridger’s fear and confusion, spiky and sour in Luminara’s senses, lessened with every repetition and rock. His wails became softer, until they were just tiny sobs, further muffled by Bridger’s face being pressed into Jarrus’ shoulder.

“Ezra…”

Looking up, Luminara saw that the rest of Jarrus’ gang had arrived as well. Even Wren, the Mandalorian was there, standing several steps away from the rest of the crew and had a hand on the handle of her blaster. Captain Syndulla had a hand over her mouth, her lekku tight and curling with concern. She looked like she wanted to go into the cell as well, but feared disturbing the equilibrium Jarrus was bringing to the youngling.

“What is going on here, Master Unduli?”

Luminara tore her eyes away from the Twi’lek woman at Sato’s hissed question. She hadn’t even realized he had arrived.

“Commander Sato.” She straightened gracefully, despite how shaky her knees felt. “As you can see, things are back under control.”

Sato’s face was pink with repressed emotion as he stared at the groaning soldiers on the ground that surrounded them. Standing just a little behind him was his grey-haired assistant, Katarn, who was craning his neck to look into the cell at the youngling.

As near as Luminara could tell, Bridger hadn’t noticed Sato arriving either. He was now just sobbing exhaustedly as Jarrus hummed an old Jedi creche tune.

“Really?” Sato flexed his hands open and shut, biting off the ends of his words. “I disagree.”

Luminara sighed internally. Folding her hands behind her back, she turned to face the Commander fully as Jarrus continued to soothe Bridger behind her.

Captain Syndulla spoke before Luminara could say anything. “Commander Sato, I am sorry that this has happened. He was fine on the way here -”

“And yet, in his first night here -”

“Commander Sato,” Luminara interrupted, very aware at how Jarrus had stiffened and glared over his shoulder and being far too tired for another shouting match, “if you had read the reports that I know were sent ahead, you would be aware that I warned of this possibility.” The older man turned and glared at her. Luminara was undaunted; his scowl was nothing compared to Master Windu’s. “Bridger has no shields and clearly a talent for connecting with other minds. I warned you in those reports that the events that caused such a panic on the station could happen again if he was sufficiently emotionally rattled.”

Before Sato could say anything, another voice chimed in.

“I agree.”

Luminara turned once more, wearily wishing that everyone was an equal distance from the cell. Maybe then they could have arrived at the same time and saved her neck a wicked crick.

Rig Nema, her headdress just slightly crooked, folded her hands in front of her and looked at their group steadily, two troopers with shiny tear trails staining their cheeks standing at attention just a few steps behind her.

“If you and your people were surprised by these events, Commander Sato, you only have yourself to blame,” she continued, calmly padding towards them. “Bridger is already known for strong projection of emotions and that was clearly stated on the report Master Unduli submitted. And being greeted with the news that he is to be confined to a small cell as soon as he arrived certainly counts as emotionally disturbing.”

Sato scowled. “I did, in fact, read this report you keep referring to.” His voice was icy. “And yes, perhaps I could have been slightly more welcoming. But regardless, I cannot just write off protocol, especially after the attacks that the Resistance has been weathering for the past several weeks.”

“Well, you’re going to have to.”

Everyone looked into the cell.

Jarrus was no longer kneeling on the floor, cradling Bridger in his arms. Now, he was standing, cradling a bloody-mouthed Bridger in his arms. The boy’s blue eyes were still shining with moisture as he looked out from Jarrus’ arms, slick red trails painting his chin and the front of his shirt.

Jarrus glared at them from underneath heavy, furrowed brows. “Ezra had stopped having these nightmares when he was sleeping on the Ghost. They only started when you -” and he pinned Sato with a particularly hard glare “- decided that he had to be chained up in some dark cell.”

“He was not chained up -”

“I don’t care. It’s close enough. I’ll take responsibility for his behaviour if that’s what you need, but he’s staying with us now.”

Sato narrowed his eyes, but Jarrus didn’t budge. Out of the corner of her eye, Luminara could see Syndulla rub at the base of a lek.

“Commander Sato,” she said, stepping in between the two men, “if I can suggest something, why don’t we compromise?”

Sato didn’t break eye contact with Jarrus, only narrowing his own further. “I will not -” he began, his voice hot with stiff anger.

“Certainly.” Katarn, who had been staring silently at Bridger and Jarrus all of this time, jumped in. “What do you have in mind?”

“Katarn…” Sato did break eye contact this time.

“Commander,” Katarn replied, his voice lowering in volume. “Look at the kid. He’s not a threat. I know you don’t trust the Jedi’s feelings, but trust mine. He’s didn’t mean to do this.”

Sato didn’t look happy, but after a moment he stepped back, crossing his arms. “Let it be on your head, then.” He made the sentence sound like a doomsday prophecy.

Katarn didn’t look affected, however. He just turned back to Syndulla.

Momentarily glancing between the two of them, Syndulla forged onward admirably. “Kanan is right, Ezra stopped having nightmares while he was on the ship. But so is the Commander - protocols are in place for a reason. That’s why I’m suggesting that we meet in the middle. Ezra can come back to the ship, but you can have him escorted by guards whenever he leaves. That way, you can keep him from too close to anyone or anything important, which is what I believe you were worried about in the first place.”

Katarn nodded. “That is why the rules were put in place, yes.” He turned back to Commander Sato, settling his remaining hand on his hip. “I think that this sounds like a good idea. Is that acceptable, Commander?”

Sato did not look pleased, his arms crossed in front of his chest. But he gave a short, sharp nod of assent. “I will have a squad sent over in the morning.”

Turning back, Katarn shot a brilliant grin at Syndulla, white teeth gleaming in the nest of his dark brown beard. “It’s settled, then. No fuss.”

Syndulla sighed, tension draining from her frame. “Good.” She turned to Sato. “I am sorry, Commander -”

“We will talk in the morning.”

She bit her lower lip and sighed again. “In that case, good night. And to everyone, I’m sorry for the fuss.”

“It is not a concern,” Luminara said. She gestured to Nema and then herself. “We will take care of everyone here. Just get him back to his bed.” She watched as Jarrus shifted his grip on Bridger to something more comfortable, tucking the youngling’s face into the crook of his neck tenderly and starting to walk off, trailed by Syndulla and the rest of his crew, Wren trailing several steps behind.

As she watched, something tickled at the back of her mind over Jarrus actions. There was something about them - how long did he have with the boy before he was discovered? She would have to ask Syndulla later. Shaking her head, she rolled up her sleeves to above her elbows. She had work to do.

“Ah, one moment.” Katarn brushed by her, muttering a quick sorry as he trotted after the small group and laid his hand on Jarrus’ free shoulder. “Before you go…”

“What?” Jarrus’ voice was as unwelcoming as one could get before just growling like some unintelligent mammal.

Katarn didn’t look offended. Holding up his hand, he smiled apologetically. “I just wanted to offer, before you left - Ezra’s lip still seems to bleeding.”

Luminara, beginning to kneel down beside one of the fallen soldiers, stiffened and squinted. Yes, there was a streak of red human blood on Jarrus’ shoulder.

“So? It’ll stop eventually.”

Syndulla rubbed at the base of a lek again at Jarrus’ curt reply.

“There’s no need to, though. This carrier has a fully equipped medbay.”

“Thank you, mister Katarn,” Syndulla said, stepping in before Jarrus could reply again. “If you could take us there, I would appreciate it.”

Katarn nodded briskly. “Right then,” he said, turning on his heel and beginning to pick through the soldiers, who were now, at least, all sitting up. “Follow me.”

Luminara did not watch them go. She instead watched Commander Sato as the small group followed Katarn. His face did not say much - but the fists shaking at his sides spoke volumes.

Sighing, she turned back to the man underneath her hands, focusing on making his trembling slow. She hoped that the Commander would not be as troublesome in the morning.

But these days, hope counted for very little.

Chapter Text

“What was that back there?”

“What was what?”

“Kanan, don’t try that with me. You know what I mean.”

“He was being an ass. I called him out on it.”

“He’s a commander of the Resistance; he was just doing his job. You do realize we’re going to have to work with him after this, right? He’s in charge of all activities in this sector.”

“And he was still being an ass.”

If Ezra was a kid that had grown up in a normal home, he might have shrunk back as Kanan and Hera argued in low tones. As a street kid, though, he knew better. Any movement attracted attention; to truly blend into the back ground, you had to keep from moving at all, but still keep the potential for movement in your limbs. Then, you waited for any chance to leave the situation with sharp eyes.

Still cradled in Kanan’s arms like a baby, his hand clapped over his bleeding mouth, Ezra did just that.

“Okay, maybe he didn’t say it in the nicest way, but he still had a point - what he asked for was nothing more than what protocol dictated.”

“That’s bantha fodder and you know it, Hera. That cell was for high security prisoners -”

“Not everyone has spent the same amount of time with Ezra as you have. For an Inquisitor, it only make sense to put them in a high security cell!”

Ahead, Katarn coughed, that small, fake noise used to get someone’s attention. “Pardon me.”

“What?” Kanan snapped.

Hera glared at him.

Ezra kept still, but cringed internally.

Katarn didn’t look offended though, thankfully. He just smiled winningly, his teeth a flash of white in his thick beard. With his remaining arm, he gestured across his body. “Just wanted to let you know we arrived at the medbay. I think Ezra might appreciate being allowed to walk in, since his feet still work.”

Honestly, Ezra hadn’t really been too upset about being carried - after that nightmare of closing doors and cold hands on his waist, he hadn’t really felt like his legs were capable of supporting him. But now that they were standing by the doorway, he could feel a low, powerful riptide of embarrassment pulling through him and Kanan.

“Uh, yeah.” He shifted in Kanan’s arms, pushing against his chest. “Yeah, that’s uh, a good point.”

Kanan coughed in his chest. “Yup, carried you long enough,” he said, placing him down a little too fast.

His legs still feeling a little shaky, Ezra still managed to get through the doorway without collapsing. He was aware of Kanan behind him, tense and ready to catch him if his legs failed; of Hera, watching him like a loth-hawk; but he made it through. The fact that he almost immediately had to sit down on the nearest bed didn’t mean anything, he told himself sternly. It certainly didn’t mean that the dull ache in the back of his head had sharpened as he walked in. It didn’t mean that he was to blame for the pain the people that were already in some of the beds, curtains drawn tight around them.

A soft growl caught his attention. Looking over his shoulder, he spotted a Wookie peering out of one set of curtains. As Ezra watched, a human head popped out underneath the Wookie’s chin, his floppy brown hair just a few shades darker than the Wookie’s fur.

“What is it Chewie -” he began. He stopped as his eyes fell on Ezra.

Ezra swallowed and stared back, very aware of the blood in his mouth.

The man just stared at him for several heartbeats. Then his mouth curled into a sneer.

Ezra looked away. Behind him, he heard the Wookie growl again.

“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” the man’s voice seemed too loud in quiet medbay. “I know we’re here to keep General Skywalker company, not start a fight. You don’t have to remind me.”

The Wookie made one last huff, and then there was the sound of the curtain’s metal rings dragging against the rod they were hanging on.

Sitting awkwardly on the crisp white sheets, the smell of disinfectant strong in his nose, Ezra focused on his breathing and ignored the sympathetic look Katarn shot at him before going to fetch the doctor on call for the night cycle. He hadn’t been in many medbays, or even medcenters, growing up. Under the Empire, he hadn’t been able to afford it. Tugging at edges of his frayed scarf, still wrapped around his neck, he looked around the large room through his eyelashes.

It was cleaner than the Lothal medcenter he had once seen, not that that was hard. The walls, while not pure white like the sheets on the beds, were certainly not the dirty grey and brown of mysteriously-stained durasteel. There was no stench of pus or burned flesh, no moans of injured people. Just the quiet beeping of instruments and the occasional snore from one of the people sleeping in a curtained-off bed further in.

The sheets made a soft, crackling sound as Kanan sat down beside him. Ezra could feel the warmth of the man’s arm through his scarf as he slung it around his shoulders.

“You okay, Ezra?” His voice was low, like he was in some holy space.

Picking at the dry skin around his cuticles, Ezra shrugged, keeping his mouth shut about the memories that being here was bringing up. He’d already caused enough trouble.
The last time he had been near a medcentre was after the burning of Capital City’s slums. He had only been nine at the time, before he had found his tower further out. Some high muckety-muck from the Empire had been coming to visit, and Governor Pryce had been concerned about the slum ‘giving their visitor the wrong message’. So she had sent out her hotheads, flamethrower-wielding soldiers, to literally burn the evidence of what it was really like under the Empire. Ezra had been lucky, only getting away with a few minor burns, easily treated by the medics that had appeared the next day.

Of course, the medics hadn’t been sent by the Empire; no, they were part of a non-profit group that folded soon after the fire. They had concentrated on helping the poor medically, and had apparently always been petitioning the Governor for more funds. After the fire, though, she had completely cut their funding. Ezra had heard one of the doctors had tried to confront her in front of the Imperial muckety-muck and been dragged off.

“I’m fine,” Ezra said quietly. “Just haven’t been in a medcentre for years.”

He heard Kanan sigh through his nose. The arm around his shoulders tightened slightly as his regret pattered down Ezra’s spine, pulling him against the man’s bare chest. “Nothing to be afraid of.” His voice rumbled through his chest. “Every doctor here sticks to their oaths to do no harm. Even the droids. Resistance wouldn’t let them in if they didn’t.”

“Kanan’s right.” Hera sat down beside them, putting her arm over Ezra’s shoulders as well. Gently, she placed her other hand over his, making him stop picking. “I can’t imagine that Commander Sato or Lady Amidala would put up with a doctor that would mistreat a patient, regardless of whose side they were on.”

“Well, I’m glad to hear that you have such a high opinion of me.”

Ezra looked up from his hands sharply, tensing. A white-clad yellow Twi’lek with purple eyes was standing in front of them, holding a datapad. Katarn stood a few paces back, his hand on his hip.

“Sorry, couldn’t resist.” The Twi’lek’s thin face softened as she smiled, showing very white teeth. “I’m Doctor Iaka Fevo. Katarn here’s filled me in on what happened. No hard feelings in this medbay. If you could follow me?”

Looking up at the doctor, Ezra squirmed at the reminder, his lower lip throbbing along with his heartbeat. He wondered if she knew about the two people he’d seen coming in. They certainly seemed to be having hard feelings.

He had though he would be okay in the cell. He hadn’t been having any nightmares while on the Ghost with everyone else.

But when those doors had closed and he had laid down on that cot to sleep…

As he followed her into a private room deeper inside the bay, he rubbed the back of his neck. “S’good to hear. Didn’t mean to do that.”

Doctor Fevo flashed a smile over her shoulder at him as they entered the room. She gestured for him to sit with one graceful hand. “That’s a relief to hear,” she said as she waited for him to clamber up on to the examination table. Ezra settled himself into a somewhat comfortable seat, tugging at his scarf nervously. Still smiling, she leaned over slightly and reached out towards him.

Ezra managed to keep himself from flinching; he wasn’t able to keep himself from curling his hands into white-knuckled fists.

Her hands were gentle, though, as she took his jaw and lifted his face up to the overhead lights. Placing her thumb on his lower lip, she pulled it down.

As gentle as she was, he couldn’t stop from hissing, his eyes pricking with tears. Blinking them away, he saw her frown and turn her head.

“Two-three-see,” she called softly, “can you come over here with thread and a needle. This young man is going to need stitches for his lip.”

Then she turned to Kanan and Hera, who were standing a step or two away. “If you wouldn’t mind standing back for a few minutes, I just need a little space to work.”

Hera nodded. “Of course.”

“We’ll be right here if you need us,” Kanan added, looking Ezra in the eye.

“Thank you,” Doctor Fevo said, flashing another smile at them. “If you’d like to wash some of that blood off as well, there’s a fresher at the other end of the bay.”

Kanan looked down, almost like he was surprised by the streaks of reddish-brown that decorated his shoulder and chest. “Uh, yeah, thanks. I’ll do that.”

Nodding, Doctor Fevo turned back to Ezra as the droid wheeled itself in, carrying a tray with string and a curved needle on it.


Kanan patted himself dry with a threadbare towel that at one point had probably been white, and stepped out of the tiny fresher. Hera was leaning against the wall, waiting for him and watching as Doctor Fevo prepped Ezra to get his stitches.

“She seems nice.” A neutral statement, if taken on the surface; but Kanan knew that Hera didn’t do neutral statements.

“She sure does.” Another neutral statement. He knew that she still wasn’t happy about how he had handled things back at the cell. And the honest part of Kanan knew that she wasn’t out of line. The way he had acted towards Commander Sato hadn’t been appropriate, and they did still need to work with the man. His actions had been no great departure from his usual tactics. The man was conscientious and careful, checking and rechecking things in a manner that made the survivor in Kanan’s soul nod in approval.

But the way he looked at Ezra - it made his blood boil. They treated him like a criminal when he was nothing but a victim! That cell had been entirely unnecessary. They hadn’t been having any problem with Ezra on the way here.

But he didn’t say any of that. He had no desire to start anything out here in public. Instead, scanning the little hallway they were standing in, his eyes alighted upon Katarn.

The man was a mystery. And not a good one, judging from the way he was fixedly staring at Ezra through one of the windows of the examination room, slowly rubbing the stump of his arm with his one remaining hand.

Casually throwing the towel over his shoulder, Kanan crossed his arms and nudged Hera with his elbow. “Is it just me, or has Katarn been staring at Ezra a lot?”

“Kanan…”

He looked at her with a raised eyebrow as she covered her face and shook her head. “You can’t tell me that you haven’t noticed.”

Sighing, she let her hand fall back to her side. “Yes, I have.”

Kanan hummed.

“Kanan.” She placed a warm hand on his arm. “Look at me.”

He did so.

“Kanan, you’re acting paranoid, and it’s worrying me.”

“No I’m not,” he said automatically. But. But. Looking back at his actions, the way he’d been reacting to things…there was a thread of paranoia. Of over-protectiveness. On their own, they weren’t precisely unusual; while he didn’t like admitting it out loud, he knew he was a bit of a mother hen when it came to the crew. But it was odd, now that it had been pointed out to him, how quickly he had been lashing out at their allies…

This was not a comfortable line of thought. It was far more comfortable to instead continue narrowing in on Katarn.

“I’m going to go talk to him,” Kanan decided.

Hera didn’t reply, but she did not look happy. Another thing they’d be talking about back at the ship.

Sidling up beside Katarn with the ease that only came from long years of avoiding trouble on Imperial planets, Kanan cleared his throat meaningfully. There was something about this guy…

Katarn jumped slightly, his hand falling back to his side, and turned to face him. “Sorry, can I help you?”

Kanan leaned back against the window, recrossing his arms. “Just a little curious. Noticed that you’ve been staring at Ezra for a while now.” He examined the man opposite of him closely. “Makes a man wonder.”

Katarn’s face was blank for a moment. Then it twisted in disgust. “Are you implying -” He broke off and shook his head. “I assure you, my interest in Ezra isn’t negative.”

“Oh?” Kanan cocked his head and ignored the way Hera, who had started to rub her temples as soon as he walked away, was glaring daggers at him.

Katarn sighed. His eyes fluttered shut for a moment as he hung his head, shaking it slightly. Kanan could tell that he was wiggling his jaw thoughtfully beneath his beard, and didn’t move.

After several moments where Kanan could practically hear the cogs turning in Katarn’s head, the older man turned away from the window to fully face Kanan, placing his hand on his hip and tilting his chin to look him in the eye. The smile on his face now was barely more than a sliver, reminding Kanan of the edge of a knife.

“All right then. You want the truth?” It wasn’t a question. “I’m interested in Ezra here because he’s probably the best chance I have of ever seeing my son again.”

For a heartbeat, the words didn’t make sense. Then Kanan took a subconscious step back, shame and confusion mixing in his chest like some mad bird.

Katarn wasn’t lying. The Force was pushing its way to the front of his mind, ringing with sincerity like the end of day bell in a factory.

“The Inquisitors -”

Katarn nodded, his smile fading into thin-lipped anger. “They took my son. Kyle. Only child. Went off to an Imperial academy, didn’t fancy being a farmer like his dad.” He shifted, turning back to the window. This time, though, Kanan could tell that he wasn’t looking at Ezra; he was staring past the kid, at some memory only he could see. “Couldn’t argue. Only way off of Sullust’s moons for a poor farmboy was through an Imperial academy.”

He drummed his fingers against his hip. “I - always knew he was special. Like me. Didn’t realize I was anything special ‘til I joined up to fight for Sullust at the start of the Clone Wars. A Jedi came, with her padawan. I’d gotten injured real bad, their medcentre was closest. The padawan -” he chuckled, a smile tugging at his mouth. “Tiny little thing she was. A Tholothian. Looked like my neighbour’s little girl. I remember it like it was yesterday. The padawan came over, started trying to heal me, then frowned. Took her hands away and looked at me like I was misbehavin’ tractor, then called her master over. Said the Force was resistin’ her.”

Kanan flexed his hands, uncomfortable. He knew that they had taken out young padawans into the field, even from the beginning. Stars, he had been one of those young padawans, almost too young to be out of the Temple. But one young enough that she wasn’t able to recognize someone that was strong in the Force and not a Jedi?

He had loved the Temple. Loved being brought up in it, learning there with his friends, all of them cradled in the embrace of the Force, surrounded by people just like them. But when he had left it, after its Fall, and gone out into the wider galaxy - it had started to occur to him that maybe it had been a little kriffed up that someone as young as him had been in the military, regardless of his training.

Katarn didn’t notice him thinking. He just kept staring ahead, lost in his own memories.

“Anyways, the Master came over, took one look at me, and then informed her in the most tired-sounding voice I’d ever heard that I was just a feral Force user that hadn’t been found by the Jedi in time, and that she’d stop having trouble if she helped guide me through some basic mental exercises to let her fiddle with my body.” He rubbed his bearded jaw, grinning ruefully. “Didn’t much appreciate the title at the time. Thought it was pretty stuck up, calling me feral like I was some mangy stray Tooka. But once my boy was born…” He shrugged. “It was nice to have an explanation as to why things kept moving. Or why it was impossible to surprise him.” He chuckled again and glanced at Kanan from the corner of his eye slyly. “Let me tell you, it really takes the wind out of your sails to when you try to throw a surprise party for a boy and he isn’t surprised.”

His laughter faded quickly, replaced by sober worry. “At first, it wasn’t too bad. I never really liked the Empire; in fact, by the time he was sending in his application, I was already passing on information to the Resistance. But I’m not one to make decisions for my children - he wanted off Sullust, and he had his heart set on the Imperial Academy. And Kyle was always good, called home or wrote whenever he could. Little things, like what they did in training that week, how the instructors were pushing him up another level in his schooling.” He smiled proudly. “They moved him up a level a lot.” Then his smiled faded, and he scuffed a toe against the tiled floor. “Then the messages stopped. Just stopped. And then a message from the academy, all signed and stamped properly. Saying that my boy had run away.” Katarn’s voice cracked a little and he swallowed. “And I knew, right away, that that was a load of bantha fodder, because Kyle had never run away from a thing in his life. And even if he did, he would have come back home.”

“So, like an idiot, I sent a message to them politely calling them on that poodoo and asking them for the real story.”

Kanan wrinkled his nose. Looking over, Katarn laughed weakly.

“I know, I know. A Resistance member, asking the Imperials for something nicely. I thought I was just covering my bases, as I also asked a few buddies I knew at the academy as well.” He sighed gustily. “I just figured that if one of my buddies got caught it wouldn’t look as bad if I had asked up front first.” Looking down at the floor, he sucked in a breath and chuckled again. “I was a stars-damned fool,” he said, his voice breaking.

Kanan grimaced and shifted. Katarn’s sorrow was swelling in the Force, pressing up against him. It made him want to apologize and back away, leave him to get himself back under control.

But he couldn’t.

“I’m sorry to hear that, but that doesn’t explain why you think that the Inquisitors are involved.” He tried to keep his voice gentle and sympathetic, but he needed to know.

Katarn grunted. “Of course.” He sounded exhausted. Turning his head, he looked at Ezra again, who Doctor Fevo seemed to be finishing up with. Hera had entered the room again at some point while they were talking, and was sitting beside the kid, holding his hand as he winced as the doctor tugged on the thread to tighten it.

“About three weeks after I sent off my official question, I woke up to find an Inquisitor at the foot of my bed, with his lightsaber raised to kill me.” He looked back to Kanan and smiled. It didn’t reach his eyes. “I was lucky. I don’t think he had expected me to wake up. Managed to dodge the first strike, and the second. The third got me,” and he wiggled his stump, making Kanan’s gorge rise, “but by that time I was out of the house. Managed to trick him into falling into the sewage treatment tank, turned it on. Then rode my speeder to my neighbour’s somehow without falling off. They managed to smuggle me out to the Resistance, and well -” he shrugged. “Knew the Commander from the Wars, so he took me on as an assistant. The rest is history.”

Kanan stayed silent. What could he say? The Force rang in Katarn’s voice, shouting that his story was the truth.

“Excuse me, Jarrus?”

Gratefully, Kanan quickly turned and entered the room, too aware of Katarn’s gaze boring into his bare back. “Yeah?”

Doctor Fevo peeled off her bloodied gloves and placed them on the tray the droid was holding, shooing him away. “I noticed something while stitching up Bridger’s lip,” she began.

Kanan knit his brows together. Finally, something he understood! “Was there a complication?”

“Not with the lip, no.” She twitched her lekku, something that Kanan knew thanks to Hera that signified nervousness. “However, I noticed his teeth -”

“Ezra was effectively homeless for the past seven years,” Hera interjected.

Doctor Fevo nodded. “It shows. However, I wanted to ask in case either of you know - when was Bridger’s last check-up?”

Kanan frowned. “Should have been when we brought him out of that cell -” he began. But then he stopped. Out of the corner of his eye, Ezra had looked down sharply as he had started to speak.

Hera had noticed his sudden movement as well, judging from the way her gaze sharpened. “Ezra,” she said, not quite a question and not quite unhappy, “is there something you need to say?”

Ezra didn’t quite meet her eyes, twiddling his thumbs. “Um, no?”

Kanan narrowed his eyes and thought back to the station. “Ezra…”

The kid kicked his legs and didn’t answer.

“Ezra, you said that the doctors let you go.” Even though Kanan hadn’t believed a word, he had figured that the kid had at least allowed himself to be looked over. With how he wasn’t looking at Kanan, though…

Kanan sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Ezra…”

Ezra kicked once more before stilling. Clenching his hands until his knuckles were white, he took a deep breath in and let it out.

“Okay,” he said, still not looking at any of them, “you got me. I was lying about seeing a doctor back on the station. I just waited until they were busy with some other patients and then walked out.”

“Ezra, that was dangerous.” Hera looked at him reproachfully. “Kanan told me about how you were barely conscious when he found you, you could have -”

“Ended up dead?” Ezra laughed humourlessly. “Believe me, wouldn’t be the first time. Besides,” he said, shrugging, “they were busy. It wasn’t hard to slip out.”

“Yes, well,” Doctor Fevo interrupted, stepping between Kanan and the kid, “regardless, if you are to be on this ship I’m afraid that you’re going to have to have a full physical.”

Bending over, she pulled out a drawer from the table. In it, Kanan could see several bandages, a folded bundle of clothes and several other bits of detritus that you could find in a medcentre.

Reaching in, Fevo pulled out the bundle of cloth and shook it out, revealing that it was a set of hospital pyjamas. She placed it on top of Ezra’s white-knuckled hands and crossed her arms, looking stern but not ungentle. “Get dressed in those,” she ordered. “They’ll make it easier to examine you. You can change in the fresher.”

Ezra tensed and finally looked up, his eyebrows pulling together suspiciously. “What about these clothes?” He tugged at the scarf that he had still been wearing in his bed, now stained with drying blood.

Fevo’s face softened. “We can have them laundered and returned to you, or thrown out, depending on -”

“Returned.” The words were instantaneous, his face stony. After a moment, he sheepishly added, “Please.”

“No problem.” Fevo actually looked like she wasn’t offended too, a small slice of white teeth showing amusement. “You can get changed in the fresher while I get things ready.”


Ezra tugged at the collar of the rough medcentre pyjamas, fretting it between his fingertips as he stared down at the neatly folded scarf lying on top of the rest of his clothing.
He knew that the others were waiting outside. He knew that they had to be wondering what was going on in the change room; that it didn’t take this long to change clothing. But with that dingy white, blood-stained fabric gone from his throat, he found himself reluctant to leave the tiny room’s shelter.

A knock at the door made him jump.

“Ezra?” Kanan’s concerned tones floated through the durasteel to his ears. “You okay in there?”

Swallowing spasmodically, Ezra nodded before remembering that they couldn’t see him. “Yeah,” he said, cringing at how shaky his voice was. “Yeah, I’ll be out in a second.”

Turning back to the scarf, he took a deep breath and nipped at his lower lip, the pain that sparked through him at the action helping to center him in a strange way. Gripping the hem of the deep red shirt, he nodded to himself. He could do this. He could deal with any of their questions.

He turned to the door, reached for the button to open it and stopped.

The button was just under his finger, but his finger wouldn’t move to push it. 

The back of his neck was burning.

“Karabast,” he hissed to himself.

Turning back to the bed, he grabbed the scarf and hurriedly wound it around his neck. He was just cold, he told himself. That was all.

The continuing tingling burning sensation on the back of his neck as he opened the door let him know that he was a liar.

Letting go of the hem, he walked as casually as he could from the tiny room, doing his best to ignore how Doctor Fevo’s eyes widened and Katarn, standing in the doorway, frowned. He was used to such looks, starting from when he was little. Vape, they had even been a good thing when he was really little; they usually meant that he was going to get a big payout while begging. Of course, back then the looks had been due to how thin his limbs were, or how big his eyes. Now, they were staring at the pink, fresh scars that littered his arms and hands.

But while Katarn and Doctor Fevo’s pitying look was easy to ignore, Kanan and Hera’s were harder. As he drew closer to the table where he had gotten his lip stitched up, he could tell from the look that they shared where they were standing against the wall that they were going to be asking him questions later.

He bit his lower lip again. This time, along with the pain, his eyes pricked with tears. He blinked them away and sat back down on the table, folding his hands in his lap.

He could do this.

Doctor Fevo cleared her throat. “Well,” she said. Then, apparently at a loss, she repeated herself. “Well.”

Ezra scratched at the puckered scars on his forearm where one of the guard’s massifs had bit him, and didn’t reply.

“Have you ever had a full physical before, Mr. Bridger?”

Her voice was soft, softer than when she had been chattering as she sewed up his lip. Ezra didn’t like it.

“No,” he said tonelessly, stomping down on the sudden surge of irritation that welled up his chest. “Last time I saw a doctor was when I was nine, and they were checking for other things.”

There was a pause, as Doctor Fevo apparently waited for him to elaborate. Ezra stared straight ahead through the room’s window. He didn’t owe her anything, and didn’t want to talk about it.

“Well then.” The droid she had been using earlier had come back over with another tray of tools. Picking up what looked to be a handheld scanner of some type, she hefted it in her hand and glanced over her shoulder to Kanan and Hera, looking helpless. “Well then. If you could just remove your scarf?”

Ezra had begun to tap his fingers together impatiently. At her words, he froze. Clumsily, he reached up and grabbed a fraying edge, fretting it between his fingers. “Why?”

Fevo blinked. “Well, I can’t very well examine you properly with that on, can I?”

“Why - ?” Ezra could hear the whine in his voice, like a spoiled brat denied candy. Coughing, he cleared his throat and asked again. “Why not?”

Fevo blinked again, her lekku twitching, and tapped the scanner she was holding against her palm. “Most likely, yes, but this would be much faster -”

“I don’t mind.” Ezra was now fretting at the fraying edge with both hands. “I mean, it’s not like you need to actually physically see my neck, do you?”

Fevo glanced over at Kanan, raising a brow. Her lekku were really twitching now, and Ezra thought that he could see some movement from Hera’s lekku as well. Katarn had come over from where he had been standing, still with his arms crossed, and Kanan -

“Ezra,” he said, his voice soft and yet somehow cutting through the hum of the ship that was surrounding them, “is there something on your neck that you’re scared of showing us?”

Ezra could feel his face draining of colour, and knew that that was as good as a yes. Dropping his chin against his chest, he stared at the tiled floor, noting the yellow stain by his foot. It looked like it had come from someone throwing up, much like he wanted to do right now.

Katarn shifted in the doorway. “Kid, if you’re worried about some embarrassing scar -”

Ezra chanced a look up and swallowed at the soft, understanding look in his eyes. The white-haired man thought that he knew what was scaring Ezra. What he was worried about. Kanan had the same sort of look on his face when Ezra looked at him. He was reaching out, just about to touch Ezra’s shoulder.

“No,” Ezra mumbled, the back of his neck burning like someone had pressed a brand against his skin there. “It’s not a scar.”

Katarn paused in the middle of his sentence, trailing off. Hera and Doctor Fevo stopped their silent, lekku-based conversation.

Ezra couldn’t even summon up the strength to flinch as Kanan’s large, warm hand landed on his shoulder and gently squeezed.

“It’s stupid,” Ezra said into the silence. “It’s nothing. It’s just…” he trailed off, breathing in deeply through his nose. Shame at his fear sat in his stomach like a rock.

He swallowed. He could remember how he was held down, even though he had stopped fighting at that point. They hadn’t laughed. They hadn’t spoken. They had acted more like factory droids than anything else, putting a maker’s mark on the back of his neck, where he would always know it was but never be able to see.

They hadn’t laughed. They hadn’t even cared. They had just done their jobs, complaining to each other about the food in the cafeteria that day. And suddenly, that made Ezra angry.

They hadn’t cared. But he did. And he wasn’t about to let them or that place keep a hold on him like this.

“Ezra…” Kanan said, his voice gentle.

Ezra screwed up his courage into a ball and tore the ragged scarf off of his neck. “It’s fine.” He could barely hear his own voice over the ringing in his ears. “It’s off.”

There was a pause, where Ezra went back to staring at his feet. And then he heard a short, quick burst of shuffling feet squeaking against the floor. Two unfamiliar-sounding sets went behind him; the Doctor and Katarn, Ezra supposed. Kanan’s bare feet, with their hairy toes, padded into view in front of him, shortly followed by Hera’s loosely-booted feet as both of them craned over his head to see what he had been so desperate to hide.

There was a long, deadly pause.

“A tattoo.” The low, furious tones of Kanan’s voice floated into Ezra’s still ringing ears. “They marked him up like a piece of property.”

Hera was silent, but Ezra could see her grab Kanan’s hand through his eyelashes and squeeze it until her knuckles were a pale yellow.

“What are those numbers underneath the Crest?” asked Katarn. His voice was weird, sounding almost like he was being strangled.

“Dunno,” Ezra mumbled, twisting the scarf in his hands. He flinched as someone touched the mark and looked up.

It was Kanan, his eyes narrowed and lips pressed together so tightly they were bloodless. “When did they do this to you?”

Ezra swallowed, his eyes skittering away as his stomach tied itself into a cold knot. “Just before they put me on the star destroyer.”

There was another lengthy pause. Then Dr. Fevo coughed.

“I see,” she said, her voice bright and fake. “Well, I’m afraid that it looks like it’s beginning to be infected, so I’m going to have put some disinfectant on it and that’s going to sting okay honey?”

Ezra latched on to the offered escape like a drowning man. “Yeah, no, that’s okay, I’ve been through worse than a little stinging.”

“Oh?” Dr. Fevo asked, her voice still stiffly perky. “How so?”

“Oh, uh…” Ezra trailed off, thinking furiously for a story that would not have everyone in the room freaking out even more. Not the drug smuggling, definitely, that had ended with a broken arm; his first burglary involved falling ten feet and dislocating his shoulder; and the burning of the slums was right out…

Thankfully, the doctor didn’t actually seem to be expecting an answer as she snapped on a glove and pulled something from her pocket, even with Kanan and Hera shooting him concerned looks. She bustled back over with a tube of some sharply-scented gel that she squeezed onto the fingers of one gloved hand and began to rub into the back of his neck. Ezra hissed as it began to sting, just as she had warned.

“Well, in any case, story time can wait for later,” she said, snapping off her glove and throwing it into a nearby waste receptacle. “Now, we should get properly started with you examination. If you would sit up straight and take a deep breath?”

What followed was a dizzying array of instructions involving touching his nose, being tapped with small hammers, having pictures being taken of his scars, and various breathing exercises, leading up to being told to get to his feet and stand on weight pad. Watching the numbers bounce up and down like they couldn’t decide where to stop, Ezra had to force himself to keep from swaying on his feet and fidgeting with his fingers.

Bending over his shoulder but not touching him, Dr. Fevo frowned and glanced up at him, quirking a brow. “How old are you?”

Ezra blinked and frowned. “Um, fourteen -” A horrible though occurred to him, making him stop mid-sentence. “Um, wait, what’s the date today?”

“Going by the Empire’s new calendar, just about two weeks away from fifteen years after victory.” Hera’s voice was smooth, but her expression showed an anxious concern as she looked at him.

“Oh.” Ezra suddenly really wanted to sit back down. “Oh.”

“Is something wrong?” Kanan asked.

Ezra was vaguely aware that his hands were drifting up to fidget with themselves again. “Um, no. No, I was right before, I’m fourteen.” Glancing around, he saw that all of the adults in the room were looking at him with concern. “It’s nothing. I-I just. Wasn’t sure.”

Dr. Fevo’s gaze was particularly penetrating. Her words won’t, though. “All right, then. Though you’re rather small for your age, if you’re fourteen.” Her lekku swayed as she turned to address Kanan and Hera. “You two are the ones taking care of Bridger, correct?”

Ezra heard the two of them answer affirmatively. He just kept staring at the double digits of his weight unseeingly.

Two weeks out from Empire day. Eleven and a half months from his capture, by galactic standard.  Two weeks on the star destroyer, and one month with Kanan and Hera. That meant -

A warm hand touched his shoulder gently. Feeling like he was floating outside of his body, Ezra turned and saw that it was Kanan, looking down at him with concern.

“Are you feeling okay, kid?” His voice sounded like it was coming from very far away.

Ezra had to work his throat for several seconds before any noise came out. “…Ten months.”

Kanan cocked his head and bent closer to him. “What?”

“I was there for ten months.”

For a moment, confusion. Then, understanding, and warm, muscular arms wrapping around Ezra’s shoulders and head, blocking out the world as he breathed shakily, his eyes and throat burning.

He could still hear Dr. Fevo talking.

“…so, overall, you should be trying to average out about half a cup every day. It doesn’t have to be all at once, you can sprinkle it into his meals, give it to him as a hot drink, etcetera, he just needs that half cup.”

“And this will bring his weight up to a healthy level?” Hera’s voice was calm and focused, except for a subtle undercurrent of worry.

“It should. It might also cause a growth spurt as well, he is on the low side of his size bracket.”

Ezra listened to Kanan’s heartbeat, matching his breaths to its thumps. Once he felt a little less like he was floating above himself, he risked a peek out of Kanan’s arms.

The lights felt too bright, and he had to squint. But he could still see the doctor handing a large jug of some sort of powder to Hera, making her grunt underneath its weight.
“Good to know,” she said, straightening up. “Anything else?”

Dr. Fevo’s lekku swayed as she shook her head. “I’ve got everything I need for now. I’ll be sure to send it on ahead to the heads of the Resistance.”

Hera nodded. “Thank you.” Then she leaned out slightly. “Kanan, is Ezra ready to go?”

“Sure, unless he needs to change back?” He glanced between Ezra and the doctor.

Dr. Fevo shrugged. “I’m fine if he wants to keep the scrubs. They’d just be thrown out on hygenic grounds.”

Kanan nodded. “Right.” He looked back down at Ezra.

Ezra knew that he probably should do something to reassure Kanan. After all, he’d been doing so much for him. But - ten months. That realization made it so that all he could do was blink slowly at him, unwilling to try and leave the warm arms encircling him.

Kanan’s lips thinned and he seemed to come to a decision. “Yeah,” he said, turning back to Hera. “We’re ready to go.”

Chapter Text

Luminara could feel sleep tugging at her eyes by the time she and Nema were done stabilizing the moods of the Resistance troops. As she patted the last one’s back as he staggered off, though, she spotted Master Windu heading towards them. Stifling a very un-Jedi-like groan, she knew that she was unlikely to get to bed anytime soon.

“Master Windu,” she greeted softly. “I assume Bridger’s nightmares woke you as well?”

“You assume correctly.” Windu’s voice was as calm and neutral as it ever was, but Luminara could see the pallor beneath his usual warm brown skin. “It looks like his improvement was not as good as you had hoped.”

Luminara bowed her head and tucked her hands behind her back. “Perhaps not. Shall we discuss this back in the Will of the Whills?”

Windu grunted. “No. There’s more room on board the Hidden Temple.” He looked her over with a critical eye, and his face softened slightly. “Halfway decent caf, too. I think we need to come up with a proper approach to Bridger and his power.”

Luminara had stopped listening after hearing the word ‘caf’. “Lead on, then,” she said, hiding a yawn behind a hand.

With a smirk tugging at the corners of his mouth, he did so. She and Nema followed silently, the both of them exhausted from their earlier efforts. Glancing out of the corner of her mouth, Luminara saw Nema hide her own yawn behind her hand and smiled slightly. She was glad that it was Nema that had been chosen to help with Bridger. She had known the Jedi Healer for years, starting from when she had first become aware of Barriss’ healing talents, and had found her to be good company.

Once on the Temple, they then had to squeeze themselves into a small storage room after getting caf, Windu being unwilling to discuss Bridger in public. Luminara did not blame him; while they were getting their drinks, she had peered past the galley head and seen a clone she didn’t know curled up in the back, half-hidden by boxes of supplies. His head had been ducked down and his shoulders shaking, even if no sound had reached her over the groaning of the caf machine. As she had watched, another clone with a large tattoo of the Order’s insignia on his head had come over and knelt down beside him, placing a sympathetic hand on his shoulder.

Taking a sip of her caf, she didn’t pull a face despite it being overly bitter. Letting Nema take charge of the conversation as was her due as mind healer, she focused on letting the caffeine enter her as quickly as possible so that she could pay proper attention to the healer’s words.

“I must admit, Master Unduli, at first I thought you to be exaggerating about the intensity of Bridger’s projections.” She was wringing her hands, dark circles underneath her eyes that had nothing to do with exhaustion. “You said that you did not believe him to be trained?”

“That is true. All that I managed to pick out in my examination pointed towards a dearth of actual instruction.” She gripped her cup a little tighter. “He seemed to be more of a plaything than a student, at times.”

A wrinkle formed in-between Windu’s eyebrows. “His emotional projection seems rather strong for that to be true, even if he does have a natural talent for connecting with others through the Force.”

Luminara kept her voice firm. “I know what I saw.”

Nema hummed to herself and took another sip, her eyes downcast as she thought. “I find myself agreeing with Master Windu on this, Master Unduli, but I do not mean to cause an argument between us. Though I will admit that it might just be wishful thinking. It will be much easier if he had even a modicum of training in the mental arts.”

Luminara pressed her lips into a thin line at this. Taking a sip, she thought. True, the boy’s power was unusually strong. But personally, she did not think it completely inexplicable when combined with his lack of training. “I stand by my comments on the boy’s strength. But I understand you reticence. I believe that there’s still an explanation though. If you will recall, I only said that he was not formally trained.”

“Oh?” Windu’s voice was neutral as he raised a grey-flecked eyebrow.

“While preparing to depart from the station, I overheard Captain Syndulla and Commander Brahlee discussing arrangements. Commander Brahlee inquired as to whether or not Syndulla was aware of any family that should be contacted and she said that Bridger claimed to have been an orphan since he was seven.”

Nema’s eyes widened in surprise along with Windu’s. Then she frowned thoughtfully. “I see what you are saying. You think that being homeless at such a young age pushed him to subconsciously deepen his connection to the Force for survival.”

Luminara nodded. “It would explain his apparent experience.” Seven was a very young age for a child to find themselves completely reliant upon themself for survival. If true, it explained a great many things without contradicting anything that she had previously seen. As well, Syndulla had been unaware of her presence at the time, making the chances of her lying to create more sympathy for the boy to be rather low. Besides, Syndulla had not struck her as the type to do so in any case.

Windu looked thoughtful as well. “I will acquiesce to your greater knowledge in this area, then, Knight Nema. I still believe it to be somewhat credulity-stretching, though.”

“Regardless of our beliefs on this topic, the fact remains. Bridger needs to learn how to shield. As well, it has to be decided what is going to happen after the Resistance is done with him.”

Luminara nodded her agreement, taking another sip of caf. “You will get no argument from me, Knight Nema. Those nightmares are most unpleasant. And we cannot just leave him on his own to be recaptured by the Inquisitorius.”

“I’m glad to hear that both of you have come to that conclusion.” Windu was rubbing his chin and looking them both over. “It would make the most sense for the Jedi to take custody of him after the Resistance is done. That raises the question, though, of who will be his teacher.”

Licking a trace of her drink off of her lower lip, Luminara nearly missed the look Windu and Nema shot at her. She didn’t, though. Neither did she miss its meaning, either.

She lowered the mug from her face, wrapping her fingers around it tightly and darting her eyes between the other two Jedi. “You wish for it to be me.”

“That is correct. Arguments are more likely to be listened to if a solution is presented with them.” Windu’s tone brooked no argument.

Luminara argued anyways. “I cannot.”

“You are one of our most talented masters.”

“I was the one to interrogate him; there is no basis for the trust that must exist between a Master and Padawan.”

“You have been very publicly defending him from those within the Resistance that would have him treated like a criminal.”

“Jarrus has been doing far more of that than I, and it still does not address the fundamental lack of trust between us.”

“Trust can be encouraged, if one allows themselves the chance.”

Luminara tensed. “And if the subject is willing to open themselves up to yet another figure. Bridger already has several trusted adults in his life, one of which is already Force-sensitive. And you cannot be unaware of how some in the Order would react to his presence.”

“Jarrus?” Nema’s eyes widened in incredulity and she shook her head. “He has barely more than an Initiate’s understanding of the Force. He cannot teach Bridger what he needs to know.”

“I was not suggesting that he teach -”

“You certainly sounded like you were, though.” Windu took a sip of his caf, keeping his eyes on her.

Luminara clenched her jaw. These accusations, that she wanted to leave the recovery and guidance of Bridger in the hands of a half-trained Force-sensitive -

And yet. And yet. Even as indignant shock welled up in her, the thought of the two standing beside each other…

She could see it so clearly in her mind’s eye. Jarrus, bent over with a hand on Bridger’s shoulder, smiling softly. Bridger, holding a lightsaber in front of him with that mixture of excitement and nervousness that all youngling’s wore the first time they held one of their very own.

Yes, the Force murmured. Yes.

Windu was shaking his head as Luminara refocused her eyes. What had that -

“Jarrus cannot teach,” he was saying, sounding grave. “He does not have the training that is needed to keep one who has been touched by the Dark Side in the Light. Bridger needs the attention of a Master, and he knows you best.”

“If you are still worried about trust, you can begin building it by teaching him the fundamentals of shielding.” Nema’s voice was soft and soothing, like she was speaking to a patient in a medcentre.

Luminara breathed in deeply through her nose and pressed her lips together. Before the fall of the Temple, she had been touted as one of the foremost strategic minds of the Jedi Order. And using it now, she could see that she would not win this argument. Windu had made up his mind, and Nema would support him no matter what.

“I am doing this under protest,” she said slowly, “and would like that noted.”

Windu nodded stoically, but Nema had to add something. “You are a wonderful teacher, Master Unduli. We know that Offee -”

Luminara froze, her ears ringing and blocking out the rest of the woman’s words. Her fingers clutched the mug so tight that it hurt.

How dare she? How dare she mention Barris, like she just a footnote in an archive? Like she knew what had happened at all -

“Now on a different matter -”

Luminara jerked herself out of her rage with a great wrench of effort, making herself focus on Master Windu’s words. “Caleb Dume,” she said with utter certainty.

Windu nodded. “You have spoken to him. What are our chances of having him return to the Order?”

Still feeling rattled and unsteady, Luminara was somewhat less diplomatic in her words than she might have otherwise been. “Roughly zero.”

Windu raised an eyebrow.

Grimacing internally, externally Luminara took a sip of caf to give herself time to think. “I have already asked him to return, shortly before Bridger was revealed. He was quite firm in his refusal.”

A frown spreading across his face, Windu objected. “Still, you are not of Dume’s line. Perhaps if I -”

Luminara shook her head in frustration. “It will not work, Master Windu. The first time we came face to face he fled at the first opportunity and avoided me afterwards. If he had not had to speak with me to defend Bridger, I doubt that I ever would have seen him again. As well -” She shut her mouth with a click of her teeth, not letting those last few words cross her lips.

“Yes?” Windu’s voice was dangerously pleasant.

Luminara tried to disguise her sigh as blowing to cool her cup. From the way Nema raised an eyebrow, her eyes darting between the two of them, Luminara doubted that she had succeeded.

“He calls himself Kanan Jarrus now. I have told you that, and you still insist on calling him Dume.”

“Depa’s padawan was Caleb Dume, not Kanan Jarrus. Regardless of what he chooses to call himself now, I will not dignify his rejection of the woman that sacrificed her life to save him.”

“And that is why you will not succeed.” Luminara was squeezing her cup again. “Calling himself Kanan Jarrus is not a rejection of Master Billaba and her teachings, it is an attempt to distance himself from the events that surrounded her death and the fall of the Temple -”

There was a sharp rap at the door. Luminara stopped mid-sentence, tensing and immediately looking over at the closed door that had sealed them inside. Clearing his throat, Windu squeezed between her and Nema and hit the pad to open it.

“Um, hello, Grandmaster.” The clone that interrupted them took a self-conscious step back. He looked younger than most of his brothers, marking him as one of the clones decanted after the Second Battle of Kamino. “Commander Sato is here, he said that he wanted to talk to you about how the Bridger situation is going to be handled as we get closer to the Resistance base.”

“Let him know that we will be there momentarily.” Turning back to them, Windu inclined his head. “Master Unduli, if you could come with me? Knight Nema can catch up on her rest.”

Nema was already out of the room before he finished his request. “Of course, Grandmaster.”

Luminara took another swallow of caf before answering, her hands trembling slightly. Closing her eyes, she gathered up her emotions and released them into the Force for second time in three hours.

“Of course,” she said, opening her eyes. “Grandmaster.”


Mace did not want to go to a meeting with Commander Sato. He wanted to finish his conversation with Master Unduli.

Unfortunately, the Jedi Order was not based on what its members wanted. It was based on what the galaxy at large needed. And Mace rather doubted that anyone would argue that the Inquisitors needed to be taken down.

That was why he was walking down a bland corridor towards a set of guarded doors for a meeting to discuss the preparations and safeguards needed to deal with Bridger, rather than sleeping, or as he mentioned previously, speaking further to Master Unduli.

As he drew closer to the doors, Nema and Unduli politely following a few steps back and their clone guards beside them, the two guards straightened from where they had been leaning against the wall and saluted. “Good to see you, sir,” the woman on the right said in a sleep-roughened voice. “We’re just waiting for a few more, then the meeting will begin.”

Mace nodded his thanks, ignoring the faint disapproval that was emanating from Commander Yule behind him. He knew that by clone standards, these guards would have been replaced the moment they so much as slouched while on guard, but this was not their ship or their soldiers. If Commander Sato wished to allow his people such slack, it was not their place to complain. Mace would just make sure that he always had his lightsaber at his side and that his men were properly armed.

The doors hissed open, revealing a dimly-lit room except for the bright light that shone over a round holoprojector. Sato was standing in front of it, leaning with his hands on round dais, staring up and ignoring them as they entered. Floating over it was what looked to be a short, looping video, showing something -

A flash of red caught Mace’s eye, and he grimaced slightly as he realized what it was.

The holo started normally enough, showing the graying head of Bail Organa bent over an opened crate of what looked to be weapons, a datapad in hand. The flickering blue figure frowned and jabbed a finger at the datapad he was holding, scowling at the Rodian across from him. They were standing in an empty cargo bay that had all the signs of a less-used drop-off point, surrounded by crates of supplies. No longer did the man wear the ostentatious robes of a Republic senator. Now, he wouldn’t have gotten a second look in any Outer Rim cantina, wearing a battered jacket and a blaster at his hip, his hair slightly mussed. His mouth opened and closed in a measured pace, the way he spoke coming from years upon years working within the rotting corpse of the Republic Senate. The Rodian dipped her head in seeming submission, but the twitches of her head-fronds showed her real irritation.

Then Organa paused, his head cocking slightly to one side. His brows furrowed together in confusion, rather than anger. The Rodian seemed to hear something as well, looking around nervously.

It was impossible to know what noise dragged both of their attention towards one point off-vid. But from how quickly both of them pulled out their blasters and began to fire, Mace figured that it was most likely the intruder announcing themselves.

The blasters didn’t help. Organa realized it first and took a step back, turning his head and frantically, yet silently, shouting for what were probably his guards. His head snapped back around at something, just as a lightsaber blade slipped into the holovid frame and took off the Rodian’s hands. The woman fell to her knees, clearly screaming as she stared at the stumps where her hands had used to be. Then the blade flashed again, and her head bounced along the duracrete ground and out of the frame.

Organa took another step back, his blaster dangling uselessly from his fingers. He swallowed, wide-eyed.

Finally, the Inquisitor stepped into view. Tall and thin, the hands gripping the hilt of his lightsaber gave his species away as a Terellian Jango Jumper.

Organa’s lips moved. An offer, perhaps? A hand extended to help the Inquisitor get away from it’s master? It didn’t matter. The Jumper’s helmet tipped to one side slightly, and its thin shoulders shook with silent laughter as it raised its lightsaber and lashed out, opening a smoking line along Organa’s chest.

Organa screamed silently and fell back, his blaster clattering to the ground with a noise that was felt rather than heard due to the recording being soundless. Again and again, the blade lashed out, opening more and more black lines along Organa’s body, making him fall to the ground as his legs gave out, smoking chunks of flesh surrounding him. He tried to drag himself away as the Inquisitor paused, only to be dragged back by seemingly nothing but a gesture.

The Inquisitor hooked a foot underneath Organa’s body and forced him onto his back. Standing over him, its helmet tilted down.

Organ looked back up without fear in his eyes. Again, his lips moved. Again, the Jumper’s shoulders shook.

Then the Jumper turned off his blade. And for one shining second, there was hope in Organa’s eyes. The Inquisitor knelt down with a knee on either side of the human male’s chest.

Then curved, triangular blades sprang out of the lightsaber’s round hilt and began to spin.

The hope in Organa’s eyes died. The Inquisitor’s shoulders jerked with silent laughter once more. And then he brought down the spinning blades.

As blood began to spray in the holo, Sato straightened and turned towards them, finally acknowledging their entrance. He looked more tired than anyone outside of the Order in Exile had any right to be.

“I see you understand my reticence towards having Bridger running around without supervision, now.”

Mace didn’t react, even as Sato’s mental whisper of This is what will happen if I weaken wound around his brain like a coil of smoke. “Save your arguments, please. I was never the one to disagree with your plans.”

Sato snorted and closed his eyes, rubbing his temple with a knuckle. “A pity that Jarrus is not so reasonable.”

The door opened behind Mace again, letting in a duo of footsteps, one light and mincing, as if used to labouring under heavy ceremonial clothes, the other padding like a predator in the middle of their own territory. The lighter footsteps abruptly stopped as their owner saw the holovid.

“Commander Sato,” came the strained tones of Amidala. “Could you please turn that off?”

“Of course.” Sato didn’t quite look apologetic; but he turned and tapped a button on the dais, making the holovid fizzle out.

Mace did not approve of such tactics. All the more when he caught the ragged grief and exhaustion hanging off of Amidala as he turned and nodded to her in acknowledgement.

If Sato had looked tired, Amidala looked utterly exhausted. Her skin, even in the low light, was clearly grey, and she was leaning on her hooded companion’s arm heavily, as if about to collapse. Mace didn’t draw attention to that, though. He doubted that she would have appreciated that. Instead, he acted as if nothing was wrong and, with Unduli, he chose a low set of seats to settle on and looked at the group that had just come through the door.

Internally though, he twitched. He had known that the first was Amidala the moment she opened her mouth, her voice unmistakable after hearing it so often in the Senate as the war dragged on. The hooded figure with her though - it would not be unfair to call her the person he least wanted to see this night.

Ahsoka Tano helped Amidala across the room and to a seat just a little ways away from where Mace and Unduli were sitting. She spoke to the Amidala in a low voice, too low for Mace to hear, before straightening and pulling her hood off of her head.

Then she headed towards the projector and Sato. Reaching him, she dipped her head slightly and murmured something. Sato cocked his head and bent forward as well, a wrinkle forming on his forehead as he listened.

Normally, Mace would not have minded seeing another Jedi. This one in particular, however, after tonight’s nightmares - he couldn’t quite summon up gratitude. Those dreams, of a younger Tano facing a firing squad with tears in her eyes…

Mace really didn’t want to be here now. He wanted to be back in his room on The Hidden Temple, meditating away the anger and anxiety roiling in his stomach. Or further discussing Caleb with Unduli. Or trying to find that Light he saw while meditating, that the Force told him to pay attention to. But being a Jedi was not about what one wanted, but what had to be done, and as a member of the High Council, he could not just refuse to do his duty because he wanted to be doing something else.

“Well then,” Tano said, standing up straight. “That’s all of us physically present. Shall we begin?”

Mace tucked his hands into his sleeves. “Let’s.”

“Yes,” said Sato, also crossing his arms. “Let’s.”

“Very well.” Tano didn’t look insulted. Mace supposed that as Skywalker’s padawan, she was used to military men acting less-than-formal. “I hope none of you mind my presence. I speak for Fulcrum in this matter. I was sent as soon as they heard of the youngling - they’ve long held an interest in where the Inquisitors are coming from, and wanted someone on the ground, so to speak.”

Internally, Mace raised an eyebrow. So that was how they were going to play this? Glancing over at the sour-faced man leaning against the projector, it did not take much to figure out that Sato must not know that Tano and Fulcrum were one and the same.

Leaning back in his seat slightly, Mace crossed his arms. “A reasonable desire. I too have long wished to know more about where they were coming from.”

Sato raised an eyebrow. “Ah, so you have not just been cruising around then?”

Mace was very proud that none of them bristled at the man’s words. “Hardly. The only thing Inquisitors love more than killing Resistance agents is attacking Jedi.”

“That is debatable.”

“It really isn’t.” Mace held up a hand as Sato bristled. Distantly, he knew that he was not helping things, needling the man, and that they would have to cooperate to deal with Bridger and his problems. But that did not mean that he was going to just let the man insult them without reacting. Even if that was the proper Jedi way. “In any case, I was told that this meeting was called to outline a plan on how to better deal with Bridger.”

Sato scowled and drummed his fingers. “He should be staying in that cell, regardless of what Jarrus declares.” His scowl deepened. “Especially because of Jarrus’ declaration.”

Tano cocked her head. “You’re accusing him of being compromised?”

“Yes.”

Mace openly raised an eyebrow this time. That was far blunter than he expected, even from a military man like the commander. Glancing over to Tano, he noticed that she was also looking at the man with mild surprise.

“That is a serious accusation, Commander,” Amidala said. She was frowning openly, her chin resting in her hand. “Do you have any proof of that?”

“He defends the prisoner beyond reason. He does not seem to care about anything but the boy’s comfort.” Sato raised a finger for each point, his words clipped like he was biting the end of each one off. “He hid the boy when as far as anyone knew he was a junior Inquisitor. All of this, after several years of working with Captain Syndulla for the Resistance without trouble.” Taking a step away, he spread his hands and raised his eyebrows. “I have worked with these people before - and this is not how Jarrus usually acts. What other conclusion am I supposed to draw?”

Amidala stood up and crossed her arms. Some colour had come back in her cheeks. “Yes, that does sound possible,” she began, taking steps towards the man until they were standing chest to chest. “However, you are leaving out other possibilities. I read Captain Syndulla’s reports as well. There are other explanations for Jarrus’ behaviour.”

Sato narrowed his eyes and mimicked her position, not giving her an inch. “Like what?”

“Like not wanting to terrify the child into non-compliance?” Her chin rounded out stubbornly. “You may have been distracted by Jarrus when they first arrived but that boy was terrified when you started shouting. As well, Jarrus’ points were not, as you implied, completely stupid - treating defectors like criminals will only discourage further defections, something that we are not in the position -”

Sato had been looking more and more thunderous as she went on. Finally, he interrupted, his voice icy cold. “Not in the position? I rather think that I have a better idea of the sort of position that the Resistance is in, Amidala.” Her lack of a title sounded like an insult in his voice. “I am not the one who spent years off the grid playing happy family with my boy-toy -”

Amidala’s eyes widened and then narrowed, and Mace began to wish that he had brought Kenobi along with him.

“Boy toy?” Her voice was low and threatening, a hand drifting down to where a holster had been earlier and now Mace was considering getting up to stop the woman from doing something they would all regret. She jabbed a furious finger into the man’s chest, forcing him to take a step back. “We were running for our lives on a daily basis from Inquisitors with two infants -”

“That excuse only holds for a few years, Amidala, after that I was helping this Resistance grow while you -”

Unduli stood up and folded her hands behind her back. Looking at her, Mace raised an eyebrow. She only thinned her lips at him and looked at the still-arguing group in front of them.

“Commander Sato.” Her voice cut through their argument like a hot knife through blue butter.

The man turned and looked at her, his eyes tight with irritation. “Yes, Master Unduli?”

Stepping closer to the projector, she looked at him steadily. “I can feel your anger. Your grief.” Her eyes softened. “Organa was more than a superior to you. We understand that. But do not mistake Amidala’s arguments for callousness - he was her friend as well.”

“Friendship -” Sato sputtered and snapped his jaw shut, grinding his teeth. “This. Has nothing. To do. With friendship.”

Three raised eyebrows in less than half an hour. Mace just knew that this was going to be a long day.

Tano frowned slightly from where she had been standing back and watching the verbal battle. “Then explain. I know that the Resistance has had losses comparable to Organa before -”

“No it hasn’t!”

Mace barely kept from jumping at the way the man slammed his hand down on the projector. Amidala’s fingers flexed like they were expecting to wrap around the hilt of a blaster and Tano took a step forward, her hands drifting towards her lightsabers.

As Mace watched, ready to jump in himself if the man pushed any farther, he dragged a hand down his face, deflating. “No.” Sato peered at them with a raw exhaustion Mace usually only saw in the faces of his fellow Jedi. “No, the loss of Organa is not comparable to any of our previous losses.”

“Then explain.” Unduli’s voice was soft and soothing. “We do not mean to belittle your concerns, we just do not understand. Why was Organa’s death such a blow?”

Sato closed his eyes and breathed in deeply through his nose. “Organa was not just another military leader for the Resistance.” He opened his eyes, still looking tired. “He was a politician. A figurehead, for our people to point to when they needed legitimacy. Even during the Wars -” He shook his head. “Even then, Organa was a respected name.”

“That video was not just from our own cameras. It was broadcast across all of our subspace frequencies, to nearly all of our cells.” He rubbed his face again. “Losing him was like losing our heart, and we are already seeing the effects of it. Recruitment is down by nearly half, financing is taking losses, and it has completely shaken our sense of security.”

Unduli nodded in understanding. “Because if an Inquisitor could get to him, in the middle of a supposedly secure base -”

“Then they could strike anywhere, at any time.” Sato nodded back at her. “And now I have both a supposed defector and another highly-recognizable Resistance figurehead dropped into my lap -”

“And you cannot take another blow to morale like that.” Mace inclined his head and stood up, walking over to join Unduli. His lips twitched into a humourless smile at the flicker of the man’s surprise. “Don’t be so surprised. The Jedi know more about the importance of morale than you would think.”

Sato let his hand fall back down to his side. “Perhaps,” he said,and this time there was no sour sneer in his voice. “Perhaps. But now you know that that is why I am so inflexible on this point, gentlebeings. And I’m afraid that as the commander of this ship, with thousands of lives in my hands, I cannot allow myself to bend protocal.”

Amidala looked slightly less moved than Mace had expected. Letting her hand drift away from the missing blaster at her hip, she laid a comforting hand on Sato’s shoulder that was at odds with her expression. “Regardless, Commander, Bail wouldn’t want us to allow ourselves to be twisted by our own fear into something unrecognizable. Bridger is a defector, not a prisoner of war, and treating as such will only backfire in the long run.”

Sato was silent for a moment. “Then how many guards do you think it would take to stop him, if he turns out not to be a defector? If he turns out to be a sleeper agent?” Straightening, he looked them all in the eye with an anguished expression. “How many would die, because I was not stringent enough with security measures? Guards can only stop so much - and that holovid showed that that isn’t much when it comes to Inquisitors. And it definitely cannot stop dreams.”

Mace met Unduli’s glance at this dolorous pronouncement. Depressing, but realistic. Looking at the man now, with the knowledge of the Resistance’s situation, Mace couldn’t say that he wouldn’t react in exactly the same way, were this happening on the Fleet. Probably worse, even.

“If it would calm your fears somewhat,” Mace began, feeling oddly reluctant, “we have already decided on a plan of action regarding the dreams, at least.”

Sato rubbed at his eye tiredly. “I am all ears.”

“Nema - our mind healer - has informed me that the nightmares that woke us tonight certainly have all of the hallmarks of inadvertent projection. There were no signs of being guided through the nightmares, or any focusing around certain events or settings. Combined with just how many were affected, she feels comfortable in saying that Master Unduli’s diagnosis was correct; the boy has no shields.”

“I still want an official examination.”

Mace inclined his head towards Sato. “Of course. That was already planned. Nema will need some time for preparation, however. She tells me that the examination will involve dipping into his mind rather extensively, and that she’ll need to go through certain shielding exercises of her own to prevent harming his mind further.”

“She couldn’t do this on the way here?”

Mace glanced over at Tano. The Togruta woman shrugged, her face expressionless but eyes challenging.

“From what I understand,” he said slowly, keeping his eyes locked with her, “it’s a rather intense process. Intense enough that Nema preferred not to do it if it wasn’t necessary. In any case, along with Nema’s examination and healing to build back up his subconscious shields, Master Unduli volunteered to help teach him conscious shielding.” He did not look back to see if Unduli was reacting to his little edit of the truth. He knew that she wouldn’t.

“Will that work, though?”

Mace did not clench his jaw. “Pardon?”

Tano crossed her arms over her chest. “Will that work? Having Master Luminara teach the boy, I mean. Because from what I’ve heard from the clones, Bridger doesn’t seem all that fond of her.”

“Whether he likes her or not is not important. Master Unduli is one of the most accomplished and experienced Jedi Masters still - alive.” The word stuck in Mace’s craw. “If anyone is qualified and has the time to teach Bridger, it is her.”

Tano’s bright blue eyes narrowed slightly.

“In any case,” Mace said hastily, turning to face Sato, “that was what we were planning to do. I heard from Master Unduli and Nema that you agreed to a different way of keeping an eye on Bridger?”

Sato’s lips tightened for a moment before he spoke. “Yes. Syndulla suggested an - acceptable compromise. Bridger will stay on the Ghost, but be escorted by guards whenever he leaves the ship.” Tapping a button on the console, a list of names with pictures beside them popped into existence. “I have some soldiers on board that would be suited for such an assignment, normally. However, with you Jedi and your clones aboard, I would like to request that some of them join the guard rotation.”

“Why?” Unduli asked. “Traditionally, the Resistance has not precisely been fond of the clones.” Mace turned his head just in time to catch her raising an eyebrow. “Especially with all the ex-separatists in your ranks.”

Sato’s cheek twitched, and a small theory that Mace had held since the first time he had met the man was vindicated. The commander was another defector.

Perhaps that explained the sniping looks Amidala had shot the man every time he had opened his mouth about Bridger. And why the man had been so confrontational with them.

But Mace was a Jedi. And Jedi did not sink to petty acts of denial to people that did not treat them well.

“Of course.” Mace stood up and walked over to join Sato at the console, tucking his hands into his sleeves. “I will have to ask, but I am sure that at least a few of our men will be willing to lend some help.”

Chapter Text

Ezra couldn’t sleep after they returned to the Ghost.

He didn’t remember much of the walk back to the ship. He knew that people had stared; that people had pointed and whispered. He remembered Kanan’s arm slung over his shoulder pulling him closer to the man’s warm side. He remembered Hera’s lips thinning as she stared straight ahead, her lekku stiff and radiating unhappiness.

But the realization of how long he had been with the Inquisitors had consumed his mind like a brushfire, the sort that swept across Lothal’s great plains and left only black ash in its wake. It choked out any other thoughts that tried to make their way into his head and made him feel separate from his body, like he was watching a holovid. He couldn’t remember what he said to excuse himself to the cabin he had been sharing with Zeb on the way here, or what he had said to the Lasat man; he was pretty sure it involved as smile, judging by how his face hurt. But now, with the lights off and Zeb snoring in the bunk below, his smile was gone. In the darkness of the room, he could feel the fear and pain of the carrier’s crew slowly sliding into his head and coiling around his chest, an echo of what he had felt just a few hours ago. His body was aching with exhaustion; but his mind wouldn’t stop running around in circles, keeping him wide awake and staring at the ceiling.

Ten months. Almost a full year. He swallowed, his eyes burning.

Sitting up, he rubbed at his face, breathing shakily. Below him, he heard Zeb shifting in his sleep, letting out a little grunting snore. The chronometer glowed in the darkness, showing that it was only an hour and a half until the Phoenix Nest started its wake cycle.

Swinging his legs over the side of the bunk, Ezra let himself fall soundlessly to the floor. There was no point in trying to sleep anymore. The other people’s thoughts, what he’d realized - there was no way he’d be able to get back to sleep. Besides, he didn’t doubt that the Commander would be here bright and early with whatever bunch of thugs that were going to be his guards, and he wasn’t going to -

Well, Ezra wasn’t sure what he expected them to do, other than guard him. Mostly he just didn’t want to be caught in bed by them. Being caught sleeping was never a good thing in his experience. Even though he wasn’t sleeping right now.

Ugh, he was over-thinking this.

Stepping out into the silent corridor, the door hissed shut behind him. The Ghost was silent, with not even Chopper’s quiet grumbling breaking the silence like it had on the way here. There wasn’t even the background hum of the ship’s engines, due to them being in Phoenix Nest’s docking bay.

Ezra swallowed. This sort of silence, with the slimy itch of fear and pain scratching in the base of his skull, it reminded him of -

Turning on his heel, he padded down towards the hatch that led to the cargo bay. Even this early, there was bound to be some noise outside; some droid beeping to itself as it finished scanning something, or a Resistance soldier coming off of their shift. He could sit on the ramp and just watch things go by. See Commander Sato and his people coming.

The metal on the ramp was cold on his bare feet. Colder than he expected. It seeped through the thin material of the medbay pyjamas he was still wearing when he sat down as well, making him shiver and draw his knees up against his chest. But it did help. The low hum of the carrier’s engines, more felt that heard, chased away the memories that had risen up so suddenly in the hallway.

Wrapping his arms around his legs, he settled his chin into the small cup the gap between his knees made and tried to focus on something other than the choking emotions that swirled around him. The bay was dimly lit, with the occasional pool of light making big circles on the floor. Ezra didn’t know much about ships and that sort of thing, but he figured it was like how Hera had turned the heat and lights low while all of them were sleeping. She had said something about saving power, he remembered.

A door hissed open somewhere in the gloom. Ezra couldn’t help but stiffen at the sound. The chrono in the cabin had said he still had a while, but maybe Commander Sato was one of those guys that preferred to get up before everyone else, or he wanted to catch them unawares -

Someone yawned. And then, trudging out from behind a long, low fighter, came a thickly-muscled figure in battered red and white armor. He was holding two cups of something steaming, barely hiding a yawn in the crook of his elbow when he noticed Ezra and stopped.

“Kid?” he said.

Ezra swallowed and curled his toes. This guy was familiar; where had they met?

Then the man turned completely and Ezra saw the scar, making the memories come flooding back. “Grey!”

The old clone smiled, making the scar warp and the corners of his eyes crinkle. Walking over to him, his boots made a clomping sound that echoed in the silence of the landing bay. “Nice to see that you remember me. What are you doing up this late, anyways? I would have thought that you’d be sleeping again after -” He stopped mid-sentence, mortification flashing across his face.

Ezra pulled the corners of his lips up. “It’s okay,” he said, even though it wasn’t and talking about it made him feel sick. “You can say it.”

Grey cleared his throat and lifted a foot to rub the back of his calf. “I’d rather not.” He glanced up into the cargo bay of the Ghost, his ears a little red. “You just up here by yourself?”

Ezra rubbed at his scarred cheek with his palm, looking down at his toes. “Yeah.” He kept his voice low. “Didn’t seem right to wake everyone else up just ‘cause I was having some trouble sleeping.”

“That’s very kind of you.”

“Meh.” Ezra shrugged and wrapped his arms back around his knees. “Well, you know what I’m up about. What about you?”

There was a pause. After a moment, Ezra looked up.

Grey’s ears were even redder now, and he wasn’t looking at him. With a groan, Ezra flopped his head down and rested his forehead against his knees. “Sorry,” he mumbled, his stomach tightening. He hadn’t meant to hurt anyone.

But wasn’t that the story of his life ever since he had gotten out of that cell. ‘He hadn’t meant to hurt anyone’. But here he was, waking everyone up with nightmares so bad that they couldn’t get back to sleep.

Maybe this was what he was meant to do, just like he’d been told back with the Inquisitors. Hurt people. It wasn’t like he hadn’t shown an aptitude for it back there. Maybe that was the point of everything they’d done to him - make it so that no matter what, he’d hurt people. That was what the Empire had wanted from him, after all -

He was pulled out of his thoughts by Grey suddenly kneeling down in front of him with a loud grunt. “Hey, listen, kid -”

He stopped, his mouth open and half-shaped into the next word and just stared at Ezra, his eyebrows knitting together. Ezra was about to ask what he was looking at when abruptly he became aware of how his eyes were burning.

“Sorry,” he said hastily, roughly scrubbing at his eyes. He didn’t know what he was apologizing for.

“No, no,” Grey said. He put one of the cups down and reached out to place a hand on his shoulder.

Ezra couldn’t help but flinch back, remembering all of the times that the guards and Inquisitors had reached out to him like that. And what had followed.

The old clone stopped immediately at his flinch, letting his hand fall back down to his knee, where he let it drum. “Sorry,” he said, clearing his throat and looking away for a moment. “Should have realized - well, it’s a moot point. I just thought -” He hesitated again, looking up into the cargo bay. For a moment, Ezra wasn’t sure if he hoped to see someone there or feared that someone was there. Then he shook his head slightly, like he was banishing a thought, and looked back Ezra.

“Bridger.” He said Ezra’s name carefully, the two syllables pronounced like he was shaping a particularly expensive piece of pottery on a wheel. “Would you like to come back to the Kasmiri with me? Just for company, I mean.”

Ezra relaxed slightly at the hastily tacked-on sentence. He hadn’t thought that Grey would mean anything bad; after all, he had been plenty nice while he and his partner had been hiding him back on the station. But an old wariness died hard. Back on Lothal, down in the dark streets where he had worked and lived, it was never a good thing when an adult asked a kid to go somewhere alone with him.

But this was the Resistance, wasn’t it? The Empire hated them. That had to mean something, after all. And Ezra didn’t think that Hera or Kanan would deal with people who would put up with that sort of thing.

So he felt comfortable saying “Sure.” Standing up, he brushed himself off, his butt abruptly feeling warm in the bay’s air after the coolness of the metal ramp. “Where to?”

Grey smiled, the expression softening the harshness of his lined and scarred face. Picking up the cup of caf he had put down, he turned and began to walk away. “Not far,” he said as Ezra padded after him. “They wanted us all in one area, so that they wouldn’t have to chase us down for questioning.”

He wasn’t kidding. Less than five minutes of walking later, they were walking up the ramp of the bright red ship that had the name ‘Kasmiri II’ slathered along one side in Aurebesh.

“I’m back - the caf machine had a line-up in front of it -” Grey called as they entered the ship’s cargo bay.

“But you got the caf, right?”

Ezra started as the Kalleran that Grey worked seemed to pop out of nowhere, wiping his hands on a dirty rag.

“Yes, yes,” Grey said, handing the cup he was holding to the man, “here it is. With plenty of sweetener, just how you like it.”

“Damned straight.” The Kalleran took the cup eagerly. “Damned machine just had to break -”

He stopped, his cup halfway to his mouth. Ezra wasn’t an expert at reading alien expressions - Lothal’s population had been mainly made up of humans - but he thought that the man looked surprised as he noticed Ezra standing just a few steps behind Grey.

Turning to look at Grey, the man pointed a green finger from his free hand at Ezra. “What’s he doing here?”

Grey looked at him, fake-innocent. “The youngling?”

The Kalleran rolled his eyes. “No, the damned ghost that’s been haunting our fresher - of course him!”

Grey shrugged. Turning, he took the mug from Ezra and took a sip before answering. “Saw the kid sitting on his ship’s ramp. Turned out he was having trouble sleeping too, but didn’t want to wake anyone up. So I invited him back for some company.”

The Kalleran just stared at him. “Grey.”

“Janus.”

There was a moment of silence in which Ezra squirmed.

Then the Kalleran, Janus, squeezed his eyes shut and tugged the little frills on his jaw, sighing through his sharp triangular teeth. Opening them back up, he glanced quickly over at Ezra before winding an arm around Grey’s shoulders, dragging him a few steps away.

“Grey,” he hissed into the old clone’s ear, his voice low. Ezra was pretty sure that if his hearing had been any worse, he wouldn’t have been able to hear. “Grey, that’s the baby Inquisitor there.”

“Inquisitor’s victim,” Grey said at a normal volume. “And yes, that is him there. Good on you for noticing.” He took another sip of his caf.

Janus hissed at him, “Grey -” He bent over to whisper in the man’s ear, too low for Ezra to hear.

Ezra shifted from foot to foot as the man whispered, trying not to look hurt. But he kind of was. He knew that the Inquisitors did terrible things; they had done terrible things to him, and he had seen the way Commander Sato had looked at him. But that was just the thing; they had hurt him. Over and over, the Inquisitors had hurt him, told him that he was going to serve someone called Darth Sidious, that he was going to hurt people and rip their minds apart in his name. Ezra hadn’t wanted to do that - he hadn’t wanted to hurt anyone. He hadn’t even realized that he was projecting his own nightmares into other people’s heads until he got that vision of the Mirialan Jedi stabbing him.

But he had hidden with these two. So why was it that he was still getting those wary looks from Janus? Why was he still so scared of him? He hadn’t been able to tell people what had been done to him, no, but he knew he didn’t look like an Inquisitor, and the scar on his face -

A heavy hand clapped down on his shoulder, making him jump. Wrenching himself away, he spun around and saw Grey, holding his hands up. His mug was dangling from his fingertips.

“Hey, it’s okay kid. You were just looking a little zoned out there.”

“Oh, great, he’s twitchy too,” Janus grumbled. “That’s just making me feel so great about having him onboard.”

“Hush!” Grey scowled at him. Turning back to Ezra, his eyes softened. “Sorry about that. We’ve been together for so long that he sometimes forgets not everyone’s used to him being an asshole.”

Janus snorted.

“Anyways,” Grey continued, shooting another glare at the other man, “I was wondering, you ever have hot chocolate before?”

Hot chocolate? Ezra wrinkled his nose. What in Malachor was that?

The older man chuckled softly. “I’m going to take that expression as a no, then.” He smiled. “Our caf machine’s broken, but we still got a working stove. Want to try some?”

Ezra glanced over at the Kalleran, who was now leaning against the frame of the doorway leading into the rest of the ship with his arms crossed, looking sour.

“Um,” Ezra said. “I don’t know, I don’t want to cause any trouble -”

Grey grunted, still smiling. “Ignore Janus,” he said. Turning his head, he added in a louder voice, “He’s just a worrywart.”

Janus rolled his eyes and straightened. Turning around, he dismissed them both with a wave of his hand. “Fine, ignore my perfectly reasonable concerns. Don’t come crying to me when you’re down a limb, though.”

Ezra chewed worriedly on his lower lip and looked up at Grey. “Seriously, I don’t want to cause any trouble.”

Grey’s smile faded, even as his eyes softened. He placed his hand back on Ezra’s shoulder, and this time, Ezra didn’t flinch away.

“Don’t mind him,” he said. “Like I said, he’s a worrywart. He’ll forget all about this in a few days.” His hand shifted, letting him wrap an arm around his back. “Now come on; you’re going to love hot chocolate.”

A few minutes later, Ezra was sitting at a tiny table in one of the smallest galleys he had ever seen, watching as Grey poured a dark brown liquid into a chipped mug from a saucepan.

“Here,” he said, placing the mug in front of Ezra, “drink up before it gets cold.”

Ezra stared down at the liquid. It wasn’t as dark as caf, or even some teas he had seen, and it was opaque rather than translucent. Picking it up gingerly, he took a sniff. It smelled okay, if maybe sweet. Blowing on it, he took a sip.

“Woah!” Ezra pulled his head back, his eyes widening. “It’s good!”

Grey laughed, a surprisingly open expression of amusement on his face. “Janus had the same reaction first time he took a sip!”

“Really?” Ezra struggled to imagine the sour alien expressing approval of anything.

Still chuckling, Grey looked at him with a smile. “Really.”

Ezra shook his head. “I can’t imagine him liking anything.” He ran a hand through his short scruff of hair in amazement. “How do you stand him?”

“Ah, he’s not that bad.” Grey took a sip of his caf. “Honestly, he’s just pissy because we’ve missed a shipment that would have paid for repairs for the caf machine. Most of the time, he’s actually pretty good company.”

“Still.” Ezra shook his head again and took a gulp of the hot chocolate. It really was good - creamy and sweet and warm, it coated his tongue and throat and chased away a chill he hadn’t even realized had settled into his bones. “How did you even start traveling with him? He isn’t exactly the most welcoming guy around.”

Grey shrugged. Putting his mug down onto the table, he stared into its depths, rubbing a thumb along the handle. “Eh, it’s a long story.”

“Well, it’s not like there’s much else to talk about.”

Grey hummed, but the skin around his eyes tightened, deepening his laugh-lines. And not in a way that would make more of them. “True, true.”

For several moments, though, he didn’t speak. The silence drew out, making Ezra squirm in his seat. Had he offended the man? No, he couldn’t have - he would have just been kicked out if that was the case. Grey hadn’t done that. He was just staring at the table, stroking his beard thoughtfully.

Just as Ezra was taking another gulp of hot chocolate to keep from blurting something out randomly to stop the silence, Grey spoke again.

“Do you remember what I asked you, the last time we spoke?”

Ezra sputtered a little as some of the hot chocolate went down the wrong pipe. Putting his mouth down, he coughed and wiped his mouth. “The last time we spoke? Um…” He thought furiously.

That day had honestly been mostly a blur. After the visions, and the confrontation with Kanan, and the Mirialan Jedi rooting around in his head, all set to a thudding backdrop of terror that had filled the air of the station like the stench of a Hutt’s fresher, it was hard to pick out individual conversations. Grey had been a nice, temporary respite in that sea of madness, but what had they been talking about -

“…It was some sort of order, at the end of the war, right?” Ezra said, slow tendrils clawing out of his memories. “Order 86? 69?”

“Order 66.”

Ezra pressed his lips together. The way Grey had said that, like it was some sort of execution pronouncement. This was not going to be a happy story, he just knew it.

Grey leaned back in his seat and rubbed at the scar that went over his eye like it pained him. “It was called Order 66. One of one hundred and fifty contingency orders that were to be implemented without question by the Grand Army of the Republic in times of great need, ranging from throwing away our comlinks and going dark to removing the Chancellor of the Republic from office. Nobody thought anything of it - just one of those possibilities a bunch of eggheads are paid to think of in small dark rooms.” He took a shaky breath. “Order 66 was specifically made in the case of the Jedi betraying or trying to overthrow the Republic.”

Ezra frowned. “I think I heard something like that. On the ‘ganda channels, I mean. Some sort of attempt to take over, that lead to Coruscant falling -” He stopped at the look on Grey’s face.

His beard hid it well, but Ezra could see how his lips were pressed together so tightly that they had gone white.

“It’s a little more complicated than that,” the older man said finally, his voice so tense that you could probably use it to string a musical instrument. He put his cup down carefully, like he was afraid it would explode.

“Oh, I figured,” Ezra found himself babbling, “I mean, they’re called ‘ganda channels for a reason - propaganda, you know, all about how awesome the Empire is and how things’ll get better just as soon as the Resistance is finally crushed, and how everything the Committee decrees is just for out safety -”

Grey raised a hand wearily and Ezra snapped his mouth shut. “Don’t worry kid, I know what you’re talking about.” He sighed, and rubbed his scar again. Dropping his hand back down to the table and curling it around his mug again, he shot Ezra a speculative look. “How much do you know about the Republic, before the Empire?”

Ezra shrugged and doodled a little pattern on the tabletop. “Just what the ‘ganda channels say, and everyone knows they’re full of poodoo.”

“Hm, can’t argue with that.” His thumb was rubbing the handle of his mug again, back and forth. The way the colour had flaked off, Ezra was pretty sure that was not the first time he’d shown that particular nervous tic.

“Should start at the beginning, then.” He stared down at his coffee again. “Us clones. That’s where it started. We were ordered, you know. Not like, commands. Ordered like a pair of shoes, supposedly by Jedi Master Sifo Dyas.”

Ezra frowned, struggling to remember the few lessons he had got in school before he had been forced to live on the streets. “I think I heard about that. The teachers at school held it up as proof of the Order’s corruption, or something.”

Grey snorted. “Corruption. Hah. The Jedi Order wasn’t corrupt, kid. Didn’t always do the right thing, mind, but it wasn’t malicious. Just misguided. The Republic though.” His voice dropped to a growl. “The Republic was rotten to its core.”

Ezra didn’t know how to answer that, so he just took a sip of his drink.

“We were ordered and paid for, to fight in a stars-damned war that none of us had any stake in, just so that no ‘good Republic citizen’ would have to dirty their hands with any actual fighting.” Grey’s fingers curled around his cup so tight that his knuckles went white. “No, just send in the meat clankers to die for them, and never mind giving them any rights, or choices -” He cut himself off with a sharp, angry noise. Squeezing his eyes shut, he breathed in and out deeply several times. “Sorry,” he said, opening them again after several moments. Looking at Ezra, they softened, looking regretful. “Just - gets my blood up. Didn’t understand it during the war - only really realized how kriffed up all of it was afterwards.”

Ezra realized that he had shrunk back during the rant. Quietly clearing his throat, he leaned back forward, trying to look casual as a reflex. Never was good to show fear.

“Okay. What’s that got to do with Order 66, though?” His voice was steadier than he expected.

The tension in the corners of Grey’s mouth softened. He wasn’t smiling, but he didn’t look guilty for intimidating Ezra anymore either. “I’m getting to that,” he said. Leaning back, he took another mouthful of caf. “Alright, where was I?”

“The Jedi Master that ordered the clones,” Ezra prompted.

“Right. Sifo Dyas.” Grey looked down into his mug. “We clones were told that that was who had ordered us created. Created to serve the Jedi as their soldiers and right hands. The Kaminoans - they’re the cloners who made us - they had us trained how to fight, how the Jedi fought, how it was our duty and pleasure to die for the Jedi if it was needed -” He broke off and rubbed his scar yet again. “Sorry,” he said gruffly. “I’m not saying this right. Basically, we had it drilled into our heads from the tank that we were to serve the Jedi and the Republic. So when the war started, hell, most of us were overjoyed. We were finally going to meet our Jedi, fight for them, fulfill the purpose for which we had been made!”

He paused again, and Ezra noticed with a painful churning of his gut that his eyes were gleaming with tears.

“And it was great,” he said after a long pause. “For me - for all of us fighting under General Billaba. For all of us at our Jedi’s side. It was everything the simulations had promised. We all thought - the Jedi included - that we were making the galaxy safer. That we brought justice wherever we went.” He paused again. “The Jedi cared about us - they knew our names, fought by our sides and not back safe in headquarters like some Republic officers. When we died, they mourned even as the rest of the Republic went on drinking, or partying, or karking each other. The politicians on Coruscant only saw meat clankers, ones that they could just order more of but Master Billaba - the Jedi - they’d give their lives if it meant that more of us clones would survive.” He reached up and wiped at his eyes. “Master Billaba nearly did. General Grievous -” He glanced up at Ezra. Ezra nodded; he had heard that name before. “We got ambushed by him on Haruun Kal. General Billaba fought him to give what few of us survived the first strike a chance to get out of there. Nearly died in the process, spent six months in a bacta tank in a coma.”

He stopped for a moment, sucking in a deep breath. Ezra watched, rapt with fascination. He had never learned any of this before - the propaganda channels barely spoke of the Jedi, in fact, and the clones were only known as the Republic’s dogs or enforcers. Hearing this from someone who had worked with the Jedi before, fought in the Clone Wars - it was a whole new level of fascination that had Ezra hanging onto his every word.

“It was after she got out of her coma that she took a padawan. Caleb Dume. Short little thing, big blue-green eyes and a mouth that just wouldn’t stop asking questions about everything in the Galaxy.” Grey smiled, a small, trembling expression. “You might know him better as Kanan Jarrus.”

For a moment, what Grey had said didn’t sink in. Then Ezra leaned back as it smacked him in the face. “Kanan’s your Jedi?” he gasped, unable to believe it. “But -”

But on second thought, of course it was Kanan. Why else would the two of them seem to have a history? Why else would they both feel like that strange mix of grief and guilt when they had seen each other when Kanan had been trying to hide Ezra back at the space station?

“Yeah.” Grey nodded and took a sip.

“Damn.”

Grey put his mug back down gently. “Cutest kid you’d ever seen. Thought the war was some big game.” His eyes went distant again, seeing something that had happened long ago. “Felt like a game, with him there. We all loved him - he was the little brother we’d never had. Then we got called to the Kaller campaign. Had to free it from Separatist control.”

Ezra felt the way Grey’s gut dropped and knew that this was when he was going to get an explanation about Order 66.

“Campaign went well. Lots of fighting, but not as many casualties as had been projected. Caleb was good for Billaba. Good for the men. Made everyone fight that much harder, watch each other that much closer. No one wanted to be the one to let a clanker through that would hurt the kid. Took a lot of hard fighting, but eventually we succeeded. Celebrated that night as much as we could.”

He swallowed. “Everything was normal. We teased Caleb, joked with the General. Ate dinner. Then I got a transmission on my comm. And it was Darth Sidious. And he told me - told us all to enact Order 66.” His voice quavered, and he gripped his mug with both hands until his knuckles were white. “And that was it. It was like some, some spell had been cast on us. It didn’t matter that we’d fought with General Billaba for years - didn’t matter that we knew how much she loved us, how much she had sacrificed. Didn’t matter how much we all loved Caleb. We put our helmets on, and attacked.” He took a shaky breath. “Later, we found out that it was due to a chip that was put into our brains while we were still being grown. At the time though -” He shook his head. “General Billaba - she must have gotten some sort of warning through the Force. She had her lightsaber out before we squeezed off a single shot. Defended herself and Caleb. I remember, Caleb, he had frozen, like he didn’t believe what was going on around him. Took her screaming at him before he finally started fighting back. But it wasn’t enough; we were wearing them down.”

Something pressed up against Ezra’s mind, seeping into his skull. Between blinks, he was seeing it played out like a holo. A little boy with short, curling hair, smiling up at him, holding fruit and nervously running his hands through his hair.

“It’s nice to meet you, Commander Grey. I hope we can be friends.”

Ezra opened his eyes and saw how Grey’s were filled with tears. How he was fighting them back. But he couldn’t do anything. It was like he was frozen in his seat, the pictures that Grey’s story brought to life marching through his head.

Grey let go of his mug and pressed his hands against his face, breathing deeply. When he pulled them away, his eyes were wet but clear. “General Billaba shouted at Caleb to run. Said she’d be right behind him. He did. Then Captain Styles, my second, he took aim at Caleb. And as the general screamed at him to stop, I blasted her in the back. Kept blasting even as fell down and stopped moving. And then we went after the kid.”

“Don’t know how the kid managed to escape us. We searched for him for nearly a month, the Order pounding in our heads.” His voice broke. “We even joked about how we were going to kill him when we found him.”

Rain dripped down Ezra’s neck as he vomited, his helmet lying a few feet away from him. Stand down, stand down, the words echoed in his head, the little boy now filthy and afraid and running from him.

Ezra snapped back to himself, squeezing his mug until he was afraid that it was going to crack. Grey’s grief and self-loathing rose up like dark water, threatening to drown him. His own eyes began to burn with tears that mirrored the old clone’s. “That’s horrible.”

“You’re preaching to a convert, kid.” Grey rubbed his face and completely abandoned his drink, cradling his head in his hands. “It must have been three weeks until Amidala’s Command came through.”

“Amidala’s Command?”

Grey didn’t look at him, staring down at the table. “A counter-order. Made to stop Order 66. Turned the switch off, gave our minds back to us.” He let out an unamused huff and rubbed at his eye. “Twelve of my brothers kissed their blasters the first night. Six more the second. One clone in particular - Stance - he was very close with Caleb. One of the younger ones. He tried to cut the chip out of his head with a vibroblade when we were told about it on Coruscant.”

The hot chocolate roiled in Ezra’s stomach as he thought about what the vibroblade had probably done to the clone’s head. He had seen them be used on the enemies of drug lords. He wasn’t sure if the nausea that was rising in his stomach was from himself or Grey.

“But I’m getting ahead of myself,” Grey said, shaking his head slightly. “We got Amidala’s Command, and immediately switched from searching for Caleb to kill him to searching for him so we could bring him home. It took another week, but thanks to surveillance drones we eventually found him.”

“And me.”

Ezra jumped and twisted in his seat. Janus was standing in the doorway, his arms crossed and his mug dangling from his fingers. He looked as sour as ever, but underneath that Ezra could feel concern perking up.

Uncrossing his arms, the Kalleran casually strolled into the room, raising a brow at Grey. “Any reason you’re digging up old memories like this? Thought you weren’t fond of reminiscing.”

That was definitely concern Ezra felt. Like a loth-bat, fluttering around and around inside of his head. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “I only asked him about how he started traveling with you.” He cringed mentally at how weak that sounded.

Janus’ slitted eyes slid over to look at him. “Oh really?” He looked back over at Grey again before sighing. Reaching out, he gave the man a nudge. “Budge over then. Kid deserves better than that self-flagellating poodoo.”

Looking annoyed, Grey did so. Ezra pulled back slightly as well, letting Janus squeeze his knees underneath the table. The bigger alien looked slightly ridiculous, squashed in as he was, but Ezra couldn’t chuckle at the look on his face.

“So,” he said blandly, “I think I heard that you got to point where Grey and his buddies had found Kanan again, right?”

“When we saw him on the security cams,” Grey corrected in a rough voice.

“Right. Well, let me tell you what it was like on the other side of the cams,” he said, gesturing with his mug. “So there I am, just going about my business in Plateau City, when all of a sudden I nearly bowl over a little baby Jedi! The same baby Jedi that was talking poodoo the other day down at the Governor’s offices, and who’s also had his face plastered all over the city as a traitor to the Republic, or whatever.” He frowned for a moment, his jaw fins twitching. “Transmissions coming out of Coruscant were pretty confused at that time, if I remember correctly. Anyways, so there I am, the baby Jedi stinking to high heaven and looking like he hadn’t slept in days, and I feel my soft heart melting.”

Grey snorted.

“Shut up,” Janus said, not even looking at him. “So the kid’s looking all pathetic, and I take pity on him. I had a meiloorun fruit I was planning to have for dessert that night, but I give it to him instead. My good deed of the day done, I head off. Then the kid chases after me. Begging for a place to sleep, just for a night. And again,” he pressed his two-fingered metal hand to his chest dramatically, “my poor soft heart betrays me. I take him back to my ship, let him take a shower, wash his clothes, and bunk down for the night. And of course, about an hour later I have this guy,” he jerked a thumb at Grey, “pounding on the hatch.”

“So I hide the kid in one of my secret compartments and go outside, planning to cooperate and wait for them to go away.” Janus stretched his feet out in front of him, propping them up on the seat beside Ezra. “Except, I forgot about the kid’s clothes. I had hung them up to dry, so when his brothers searched my ship, they found them.”

“Uh-oh.” The words slipped out of Ezra before he could stop them. Janus paused in the middle of his story-telling and sniggered. Ezra could feel the tattoo on the back of his neck prickle as the skin it was on heated up.

“Yeah kid, uh-oh just about sums it up.” Janus grinned widely, showing off sharp, triangular teeth. “Let me tell you, Grey here and his buddy Styles were pretty pissed to see that. Captain Styles in particular; he slammed the butt of his rifle into my face and nearly choked me out, demanding to know where I got those clothes.”

“And then promptly pointed the barrel at your head when you mouthed off,” Grey added, a sharp flicker of fond irritation nipping at Ezra.

“E-yup.” Janus looked smug. Putting his cup down, he tucked his hands behind his head. “Ain’t I just amazing?”

The only reply he got was Grey shaking his head. “Wasn’t long after that that we finally found Caleb,” he said, taking back over the story. “But unfortunately, he hadn’t heard Amidala’s Command, because he had dropped his comm and we had smashed it while chasing him.”

“No one knew about Amidala’s Command except you clones,” Janus interrupted.

Grey rolled his eyes, and in that moment a flash of understanding reached Ezra. Janus was doing this on purpose! Ever since he had entered the room and started talking, the guilt that had been pouring off of Grey had lessened back into something less suffocating.

“Anyways…” Grey drawled. “Like I was saying, Caleb didn’t know that we weren’t hunting him down anymore. So when my men found him in Janus’ ship, he attacked us. I ended up having to stun him before he hurt anyone else.”

“Except I didn’t know that it was a stun blast,” Janus interrupted again. He twiddled his fingers behind his head, his own eyes taking on the distant look that Grey’s had had earlier. “I thought that they’d just blasted a little kid’s brains all over the inside of my ship.” A small, pale hand sticking out of a doorway, a lightsaber hilt rolling away from it. He paused and his frills twitched and stiffened, sticking out of the sides of his face. “Didn’t much care to see that.”

Ezra frowned at his words, his gut squirming from the image he had picked up. “What does that mean?”

Grey grunted. “Means he called us a bunch of meat clankers as we handcuffed him and brought him back to base.”

“Well, it’s not like you did much to disabuse me of that,” Janus noted, shrugging. “After that, it just got worse for everyone. Kid apparently screamed at Grey and the other clones when he woke up in the base’s med-bay, I nearly got beaten to death in a cell by Grey’s buddy Styles -”

“WHAT?” Ezra had been about to take another sip of his hot chocolate when Janus had spoken. He slammed his cup back down onto the table, splashing a little on it.

Grey grimaced. “Styles - he was the captain of our legion - you have to understand, no one realized just how badly Order 66 had affected him. General Billaba’s last words, her screaming at him to stop - he had mentioned how they were making it hard to sleep, but compared to the rest of my men, he seemed to be the paragon of stability.” He scratched at his beard uncomfortably. “I didn’t realize it until I went to check in on how Janus was being processed and found him half dead just how off Styles had gotten.” He paused, and his voice got rougher. Janus lying on the ground, his eyes nearly swollen shut, spitting out a bloody tooth. A clone, his hair buzzed short, standing over him with scraped-raw knuckles. The boy screaming, tears rolling down his cheeks. “Caleb saw this. Screamed at him to stop as well.”

“But why? Why would this guy be beating him up?” Ezra asked, clutching his mug. Had the other clone just been getting off on the power? “I mean, you said he was messed up because of his General’s last words, but why would he beat up a prisoner?”

Janus scratched at his chin casually, despite the tension still in his frill. “Eh,” he said, shrugging. “Apparently, they basically assumed the worse about me giving the kid some shelter. Thought I was going to sell him to a brothel, or something.”

“It was a legitimate concern,” Grey said, scowling. “The Order’d already had a case of Trandoshans kidnapping padawans for some fucked-up hunt and there were reports on some planets of brothels that specialized in Jedi fantasies -” He broke off and glanced over at Ezra guiltily. “Er, sorry kid. I know this is kind of gross.”

Ezra shrugged. “Nothing I haven’t heard before.” He could name three separate brothels that had an under the table kiddie special back on Lothal. Two of them had catered exclusively to Imperials.

The two men across from him glanced at each other as Ezra took a gulp of his drink.

“Anyways,” Grey said after Ezra had put his mug back down and licked his lips, “I made Styles stop and explained what was going on to Caleb. He wasn’t happy; he didn’t trust us, because we didn’t know about the chips at that point, and refused to fly back with us. So we had to patch Janus up; he agreed in return to fly Caleb back to Coruscant.”

Janus made a grumbling noise. Looking over at him, Ezra saw him roll his eyes and knew that there was more to the story than that.

“So we got back to Coruscant and it was - bad. Really bad.” Grey dragged a finger along. “The Jedi were being accused of a military coup -”

“- which was technically true -”

Grey glared at Janus before turning back to Ezra. “People were protesting in front of the Temple, Coruscant was on military lockdown - us clones weren’t even allowed into the Temple anymore.” He paused and grimaced. “Which made sense, but still hurt.”

“We didn’t have much time to mull it over, though. Because about three days later,” Grey stopped, his voice breaking, and cleared his throat. “About three days later the Second Battle of Coruscant happened.”

“Second Battle -” Ezra twisted his eyebrows together. “Ohh, you mean the Final Assault.”

“Is that what they call it?” Grey asked.

“Told you getting falling-down drunk every Empire Day was a bad idea.”

“Shut up, Janus.”

Ezra shook his head. “That doesn’t matter. What happened then?” He looked between the two of them. “You don’t exactly look happy.”

It was true. At the mention of the Battle, Ezra had felt a swell of grief and horror emanate from both of them.

The two of them looked at each other. “How much - do you know about the battle, then?” Grey asked. “Just because Janus and me have never really cared to stick around for celebrations, if you know what I mean.”

Ezra shrugged, keeping an eye on both of them. “Only what the ‘ganda channels said each Empire Day. You know, glorious victory, sacrifice needed to finally exterminate Republican corruption, yadda yadda yadda.”

The two of them looked at each other again; but this time, it was looks of disgust rather than sadness and guilt.

“Of course,” Janus grumbled.

Grey just shook his head. “It wouldn’t fit the narrative.”

Ezra frowned slightly. “What are you talking about? What wouldn’t fit the narra-whatever?”

“The narrative, kid,” Janus said. “The story the Empire is selling about how they won the war.” He made a disgusted noise. “I guess openly talking about the Temple Massacre would ruin their whole, righteous crusade against tyranny story that they have going.”

“…Massacre?”

Grey drummed his fingers restlessly against the table. “It happened during the Second Battle. All the Jedi who could fight were forced to leave the Temple to defend the planet.” He shook his head and stopped his drumming. “Even then, it was a useless gesture. There were barely any Jedi left from Order 66; even fewer that were able to fight. And the only clones that could be trusted with them were those that had gotten the surgery to take the chip out already.”

“Which was almost none of them,” Janus muttered into his cup.

“Hush!” Grey turned back to Ezra and dragged a hand down his face. “Anyways, we don’t know how, but somehow, a dropship of droids got past the orbital defenses.” He stopped and swallowed. “And they dropped right onto the Jedi Temple.”

Ezra listened raptly as Grey went on, his voice cracking.

“At first, no one noticed anything wrong. GAR headquarters were far away from the Temple, and most of us could barely stand to look at it without breaking down. Then someone -” His voice cracked, and he swiped at his eyes. “Someone saw the smoke.”

“There was no one left in the Temple who could fight. Everyone who could was forced up into the defense of the planet. The only people left in there were the old, the injured and - and the younglings.”

Ezra’s stomach dropped to the floor as Grey snapped his mouth shut, his lips trembling. The older man covered his face with both hands, his shoulders shuddering. Beside Ezra, Janus’ feet disappeared as the man sat up straight and wrapped an arm around his shoulders.

“I-I’m sorry,” Ezra said quietly, shrinking back in his seat. “I shouldn’t have asked. I’ll go now, if you want.” Hastily he got up, nearly tripping over his own feet in his hurry.

“No. Stay.”

Janus’ commanding tone made Ezra stop in his tracks, halfway through the doorway. He looked over his shoulder to see the Kalleran still had an arm over Grey’s shoulders, bending close to whisper something in the man’s ear. Grey shook his head, and Janus sighed, his face-fins drooping.

“You should hear the rest of this,” he said quietly, turning his head to look at Ezra.

Silently, Ezra sat back down.

“I was there too, during the Second Battle,” Janus continued, his voice still soft. “I was promised payment for bringing the kid back to his Temple, and it hadn’t come through yet, so I was just sitting around at the main GAR base.” He paused, and Ezra could see how he was chewing on the inside of his cheek. “I was one of the first to notice the smoke. Certainly the first to do anything about it.”

Ezra shifted uncomfortably. “What did you do?”

“Revved up my ship, grabbed as many clones as I could find, and took off towards the Temple.” Janus shrugged, his eyes downcast and hand rubbing Grey’s shoulder. “Place was lit up like there was a lightning storm going on inside. And if you listened carefully -” He paused and swallowed. “I swear if you listened carefully you could hear them screaming inside.”

“I didn’t go inside. That was the clones’ job. I just waited with the ship, ready to take off.” He looked back down. “’Course, that just meant I was there when they started jumping off the building.”

Ezra froze, looking down at his drink. Little bodies, falling through the air like petals from a jogan fruit flowers in spring. It no longer was hot enough to warm up his chilled hands. “They jumped?” He forced the question out through numb lips. “Like, jump-jumped?”

A pause. And then -

“Yes.”

Ezra took a shaky breath. “How - didn’t anyone notice? Didn’t anyone else try to help?”

Janus let out a low, bitter chuckle. “Like anyone on a Republic world would lift a finger to defend themselves.” He sneered. “No, they just watched as the kids flung themselves off the Temple trying to get away.” His sneer wobbled, and he covered his own face with his metal hand. “Kriff, they looked like falling leaves. Smacking red against the cars, the walkways, or they just kept falling -” His voice broke and he shook his head. “And everyone just watched,” he said quietly. “Just watched. None of them lifting a finger to help their so-called protectors.”

Ezra couldn’t move. He just staring at the two of them. Grey, his hands having fallen back to the table and staring blankly ahead, his eyes rimmed with red. Janus, still covering his face, his fins stiff and trembling.

“I - I’m sorry,” Ezra finally said. He hadn’t felt so helpless since he was still imprisoned by the Inquisitors.

“It’s not your fault,” Grey replied, his voice barely above a whisper. “You probably weren’t even born when it happened.”

Ezra almost corrected him, but stopped before the words left his head. The grief swirling around him, winding around his neck - nothing he could say could make it go away. So rather than saying anything, he just looked down at his now-cold drink.

Outside, people had begun to move around, the sound of heavy boots clomping on the metal decks echoing faintly inside of the galley. Ezra figured that that had to mean that the wake cycle on the carrier had started.

“Um,” he mumbled, still staring down at his drink, “I should probably go.”

Janus didn’t reply. He just grunted and got up, leaving the galley without saying goodbye. Ezra saw how Grey’s eyes followed him before the older man shook his head and sighed wetly. Bracing his hands on the table, he stood up with a groan.

“Sorry kid,” he said, reaching down to Ezra to help him up. His voice was very quiet. “Didn’t mean to bring things down like that.”

Ezra shook his head, staring down at his shoes. “It’s okay. I didn’t mean to bring up so many bad memories.”

Grey just sighed again. “It’s not your fault. I offered to tell you about it anyways.” He summoned a weak smile as they began to move through the ship, back towards the off-loading ramp. “Besides, it wasn’t so bad. I met Janus, after all.”

Ezra tried to smile back. “That’s true. Though you never did end up telling me how you two started working together after all of that.”

Grey winced and smiled again. This one looked a little more real. “You’re right. I’ll have to tell you next visit then, I guess.”

“Next visit.” Ezra felt his smile soften into something more real as well. “I like the sound of that.”

Grey ruffled his hair. “I’ll make sure I have some more hot chocolate ready then,” he joked.

Closer to the outside now, Ezra could hear the buzz of someone speaking over the comm system of the ship. “I’m looking forward to it,” Ezra replied.

With a smile and a wave, he stepped out of the ship and padded down the ramp. Tugging at his shirt, he turned in the direction that he thought the Ghost was in.

He barely had the time to notice how the bay was roiling with people running around before a heavy hand slammed down onto his shoulder and forced him to the ground.

“Wha-”

“STAY. DOWN.”

Ezra stiffened and raised his hands, trying to peek up to see who had grabbed him. It looked to be some wrinkly-faced alien with horns coming out of his jaw. He was speaking into a comm unit, almost too quickly to understand -

Then there was a very familiar sound; one that made Ezra freeze. The sound of a blaster being cocked and aimed.

“Don’t. Move,” came the warning tones of a woman. “Or I swear by the Goddess, your brains will be blasted out of your skull, Inquisitor.”

Chapter Text

Kneeling on the ground with a blaster pointed at the back of his head, Ezra’s throat closed with fear. What was happening? Why was someone pointing a blaster at his head? Had there been a mutiny - had someone decided that they’d rather have a dead Inquisitor over anything else?

The comm on the male alien’s wrist crackled. “Understood, Gammo. Return him to the Ghost immediately.”

There was a disappointed huff above him, and then the sound of a safety being clicked back on. “Alright then, Inquisitor,” said the woman. “Nice and slow, now. No more funny business.”

Still struggling to suck in air, Ezra was shaking as he did so, his mind still churning with possibilities. “Whatever it is, I swear I didn’t -”

“Shut up.” The male alien’s voice was deep and cold. “No talking until we arrive.”

Ezra bit his lip and did so, even as visions of his body being vented out an airlock danced in his head. The barrel of the woman’s blaster prodded him in the side, it’s sharp edge feeling like it could cut through the med-pyjamas and his skin. Fear and hatred pressed up against him, cloying and thick enough to suffocate on as it forced its way down his throat.

“Hey! What are you doing?” There was the loud clatter of heavy boots pounding down the Kasmiri’s ramp, and Ezra could have cried at the sound of Grey’s voice.

“Who are you?” the woman demanded. “What business -”

“You are pointing a charged blaster at my guest, missy, which makes all of this my business. Now kindly lower your weapon before I lower it for you.”

Ezra heard the woman behind him shift and huff, and risked a glance over his shoulder.

Grey was standing just a few steps away from the woman who had pulled the blaster on Ezra, scowling furiously and pointing his own weapon at her. “I won’t ask again, lady.”

There was the sound of another blaster cocking. Ezra forgot entirely about subtlety and looked over his other shoulder automatically. The wrinkle-faced alien had pulled out his blaster as well, and now it was two against one.

“Hey! What do you Rebels think you’re doing, pointing those at my partner?”

One more time, Ezra turned his head, and saw that Janus had popped out of the ship with his own blaster, baring sharp triangular teeth.

So now they were in a Rodian standoff; two against two.

“By the five moons…” the male alien muttered. “Look, this is Resistance business. It was found that the suspected Inquisitor Ezra Bridger was missing from the ship known as the Ghost -”

“Missing?” Grey barked out a harsh laugh. “I invited the kid in for a hot drink when I saw him sitting on the ramp of the Ghost, looking like a lost mooka pup.”

The male alien narrowed his eyes. “Regardless, we only have your word for this. The boy was not supposed to leave his ship without an escort - doing so could be seen as willingly attempting to subvert the Resistance’s authority.”

Kasmir snorted. “Uh huh? Now, how long ago was this decided, then?”

Still kneeling, Ezra could only just see the male alien’s face. However, he could very clearly feel the mixture of confusion and worry that was coming off of the woman behind him and mixing with her partner’s. The male’s jaw clenched, making the little spines shift.

“…Four hours ago,” he finally admitted, sounding like he was gritting his teeth.

Amusement rolled off of Kasmir in waves. “Really now? That’s pretty recent, isn’t it? I thought the kid was in the medbay then.”

“The plan was suggested in front of his cell before he left.” But the man’s voice sounded slightly uncertain.

Grey snorted. “His cell. Right. Just after he had his nightmare?” The two rebels squirmed, and his voice softened slightly. “Look, I was on the station where Ezra was first found. Hell, we’re here because we helped hide him while everyone was calming down. Back there, when he was with us, he was so freaked out that he was barely aware of what was going on around him. I’m willing to guess that it was the same here.”

Ezra winced. Not quite the truth about how things were back on the station; he had been more than aware of the fear and anger swirling around the Kasmiri II at the time, but he wasn’t about to contradict Grey with a blaster pointed at his head. Swiping his tongue over his lower lip, he banished that thought and tried to focus on telling whether or not he was going to get ganked by Resistance members anyways. He thought that Grey and Janus were making a good point, but in his experience, anyone with a little power over someone else and a blaster wasn’t fond of being contradicted.

He let his eyes flutter closed. He hadn’t ever really tried to just passively feel someone else’s emotions before; but here and now, Ezra was hoping that he’d succeed enough to at least roll out of the way before someone pulled a trigger.

To his complete and utter lack of surprise, neither of the Resistance fighters were happy about being questioned by Grey and Kasmir. Cold little points of light, gleaming in the starfield that was Phoenix Nest, they were prickly and proud, and didn’t like a pair of smugglers making them feel stupid. But underneath that was - Ezra wrinkled his brow, trying not to touch and hurt the two - underneath there was grudging acceptance. They knew that the other two were speaking rationally, and that there was the possibility that he hadn’t known about the new order of things…

“Fine.” The woman sounded irritated. Ezra’s eyes snapped open at the sound of a blaster being put back into a holster. Looking back up, he felt the knot of fear in his chest loosen as the male alien put away his blaster as well. He lowered his hands, suddenly aware that he was shaking slightly.

The shaking only increased as she turned back to him abruptly. “On your feet then,” she said sharply, leaning down and grabbing his upper arm roughly. Her grip was like durasteel. “We’ll take you and your friends here to the Commander, see what he thinks of the story.”

Ezra cringed. The Commander? The guy that seemed to hate his guts? This was not going to go well.


Ezra was right. It wasn’t pleasant.

As they got closer to the Ghost, Ezra saw that the Commander was already there with a squad of soldiers, their hands on their blasters in a way that made his heart jump into his throat. He’d seen soldiers standing like that before, usually with people kneeling in front of them with bags over their heads. And Commander Sato had his arms crossed, looking angry as a pale Hera gestured wildly. Standing behind her were the others, also looking less than pleased, Kanan especially looking like he wanted to hit someone. A little ways away, a small group of Jedi and clones were standing as well, also radiating distaste for the entire situation.

Ezra couldn’t keep the image of Hera and the others with bags over their heads from flashing across his mind. That was why Ezra cringed when Kanan’s head whipped around as they came closer.

“Ezra!” Kanan jumped down from the ramp and strode towards them, frowning thunderously. “Where were you?” he hissed as he drew closer. “Commander Sato’s been ripping Hera a new one -”

“Hey, hey, cool it, kid,” Janus interrupted, stepping between them and laying a hand on Kanan’s bare chest. “There was a little miscommunication here, that’s all.”

“Really.” Ezra swallowed convulsively as the Commander strode up behind them, still frowning. “What sort of miscommunication, then? Because I must admit, I am not liking the looks of an Inquisitorial agent apparently deciding to wander through a Resistance base.”

“He didn’t go wandering, I invited him to have a hot drink with me on me and Janus’ ship, Commander,” Grey said gruffly, coming up and standing behind Ezra. “Kid was sitting on the Ghost’s ramp looking like a lost mooka pup when I invited him too. Said he didn’t want to wake anyone up but couldn’t get back to sleep. He was too rattled from earlier to remember that you said he needed an escort to go anywhere.”

Looking up, Ezra saw that he was was looking at Kanan as he spoke. The other man just glared back at the old clone for moment, crossing his arms, before letting out an explosive sigh.

“Ezra,” he said. Ezra couldn’t help but flinch at his harsh tone. Sighing again, Kanan ran a hand through his loose hair and softened into something that looked like concern. “Ezra, I know that you didn’t mean to cause all of this, but you can’t run off like that. The Inquisitors are feared out here, and everyone -” His eyes slid towards the Commander meaningfully “- was afraid that you had disappeared in bad faith. Do you understand?”

Ezra looked down at his bare feet, feeling the press of too many people against his mind. Anger wrapped around fear like clearwrap, only just obscuring it. Fear that he would do something terrible, leading the Inquisitors to their bases and homes, torturing and murdering their families. Anger that he could make them feel that way, so weak and afraid.

His eyes burned as his lower lip gave a sharp throb. He’d done it again. He’d put the crew of the Ghost in danger. The vision of the crew kneeling with soldiers behind them flashed across his vision again. Even if he hadn’t meant to hurt anyone, his nightmares had shaken the whole carrier. “Sorry,” he mumbled. “I just - didn’t want to bother anyone, after my nightmare.” He looked up to see the Commander looking down at him, stone-faced. Hastily, he looked back down. “Sorry.”

A large warm hand clapping down on his shoulder made him jump. Looking up, Ezra saw that it was Kanan, his eyes soft. “It’s alright, Ezra,” he said quietly. “Your heart was in the right place. But in the future, you can wake one of us up, okay? Your safety is worth more than our sleep.”

Ezra swallowed past the lump in his throat and nodded. It had been a long time since anyone had - well, had cared enough to say something like that. Years.

A quiet sigh made him look back at the Commander. He had crossed his arms again. “Very well, then,” he said. Turning, he gestured towards the squad that had been with him. They walked over to them, their blasters unholstered and backs ramrod straight.

“This,” the Commander said, “is Gold Squad. Lieutenant Dicer,” he gestured to a female human, standing in a parade rest, “Sergeant Aarrrwan,” a brown and black Wookie, holding a strange blaster that was nearly as big as Ezra, “Jonbar Daan,” a male human, staring at Ezra with a curled lip, “and Amij Tigu,” a bright pink, male Twi’lek with a blank expression and a missing eye.

“As I was reminding Captain Syndulla, Bridger,” the Commander commented, turning back to him, “you are not to go about on your own, now. You will be escorted everywhere by Gold Squad, with cuffs, whenever you leave the Ghost. If you are seen without them, you will be brought down. If you try to harm anyone, you will be brought down. Conversely, if anyone is to try to harm you, Gold Squad will stop them. You are not to do anything outside of the Ghost by yourself. Am I clear?” He shot Ezra a sharp look.

Ezra swallowed, his eyes drifting over to the soldiers. Anger, fear and distrust rolled off of them in waves, threatening to drown him.

“Yes sir,” Ezra said, looking back down and feeling sick. “Crystal.”

The Commander simply nodded. “Very well then. The Jedi have also put together a plan to stop these nightmares, apparently. Master Windu -”

“Thank you, Commander Sato.”

Ezra jumped slightly. He hadn’t felt the old dark-skinned man coming closer.

The Jedi Master cut the Commander off both verbally and physically, inserting himself between Ezra and the older man. Folding his arms inside of his wide sleeves, he looked down at Ezra with cool eyes.

Ezra had to force himself not to shuffle in place and hold the man’s gaze. Too many people were looking at him, their gazes crawling against his skin. They were all so afraid - of him.

The Inquisitors were right. He was just meant to hurt.

“Considering the events of last night, I believe that it would be best that we begin as soon as possible in treating your mental injuries. Unfortunately, Knight Nema still requires more time before she will be able to fully enter your mind without causing more damage. In the meantime, it has been decided that Master Unduli will begin to teach you the basics of shielding your mind. Hopefully, by the end of today, you will at least have enough control to work with Knight Nema when she treats you.”

Ezra looked over to the Jedi that Master Windu had gestured to and stopped breathing.

It was her. The Jedi from the station. Her green skin and tattooed chin - it reminded him of -

No. They weren’t the same person. But the blank look she was showing him, the utter lack of pity or compassion coming from her when she looked at him. It was almost the same as -

He knew that she had been here on the carrier but -

“Is there a problem, youngling?” Master Windu asked. Ezra could feel more than see him raising an eyebrow.

The silence stretched out for just a few seconds too long before Ezra managed to force his numb lips to move. “No,” he said, squeezing one hand in another to keep them from shaking. “That sounds fair.”

Master Windu inclined his head. “Very well. Eat breakfast, then report to The Hidden Temple. Your lessons will begin then.”

That seemed to be some sort of signal. The small crowd that had gathered around them as they spoke began to break off. Ezra kept staring down at his shoes as they left.

Behind him, he heard Grey shift. Concern flowed off of him, gently lapping at his heels.

“Ezra,” he said softly, “are you -”

Kanan’s arm quickly wrapped around Ezra’s shoulders. “Come on, Ezra,” he said, his voice just a little too loud. “Let’s get a good breakfast into you. I finally found some space waffles.”

Ezra’s stitched lip twinged at the sharp shock of hurt, like from a spark-prod, crackled up his back. Glancing back, he saw Grey lowering his arm, looking like someone had punched him in the gut. Behind him, Janus was shaking his head. The Kalleran looped his own arm around the old clone’s shoulders and began to pull him away as well. But not before shooting Ezra a sympathetic look.

Ezra wished that he knew why Kanan still seemed to hate the old clone. At first he had thought that maybe Grey had hurt him in some way; and while that had turned out to be somewhat accurate, it didn’t entirely explain why Kanan still looked like he wanted to either punch the man or throw up on him whenever he saw him. Order 66 hadn’t been Grey or any of the clones’ fault; so why couldn’t Kanan seem to see it?

Hera was rubbing the base of her lekku through her cap as they drew closer. Ezra looked down at the sight, shame curdling in his stomach. “I’m sorry, Hera,” he said quietly. “I really didn’t mean to cause all of this. I didn’t know that I wasn’t allowed to leave the ship at all -”

“Really? That’s your excuse?”

Ezra jumped. For a moment, he didn’t recognize who was speaking. She hadn’t said a word to him in all the time it had taken to get to Teth.

“Sabine!” Hera dropped her hands to her sides and shot her a sharp look.

The helmeted girl’s body language was unapologetic. “Come on, Hera! It’s not like it’s that far a stretch for him to realize that maybe, just maybe the Resistance wouldn’t be thrilled at the idea of him wandering around!”

“Maybe so, Sabine, but your comments here are not helping!” Hera’s voice cracked like a whip. She spun on her heel and stormed up to where Sabine was standing, the tips of her lekku stabbing at her back. Sabine stiffened and took a step back, but it was too late. Hera loomed over her like a mother rancor, jabbing a finger into her chest and forcing her back into the ship.

Hurriedly, Ezra trotted after them, shooting the guards a wary look. They only watched him as he went, making his skin crawl. The way they looked at him - it reminded him too much of when he was with the Inquisitors.

“You have already made yourself clear Sabine, several times over! I know you don’t trust him, I know you do not like this.” Her voice softened, and she placed a hand on Sabine’s shoulder. “But even if you can’t trust him, trust us. Trust me. Trust Kanan. Fighting among ourselves is only going to hurt our standing in the larger Resistance, and that could bring about the very thing that’s scaring you so much.”

“But -” Indignation sparked off of Sabine like a firecracker. She seemed to swell up slightly, frustration building in her like a balloon until she was about to pop. “FINE. I’ll be in my room!” Turning on her heel, she began to climb the ladder up to the crew quarters with sharp, jerky movements.

Hera sighed, irritation and exhaustion dripping off of her like thick, boiled freighter fuel. “Doing what?”

“Finishing decrypting the transmission!”

Ezra was sure that if she could, she would be slamming her door. As it was, there was only a soft hiss that was barely audible over the hum of the carrier. The sound still made him flinch and look back down at his feet.

“Sorry.”

“It’s not your fault, Ezra,” Hera said, but Ezra knew that she was lying.

Kanan sighed behind and rubbed Ezra’s shoulder with his thumb. “She’s just worried that -” he paused, and Ezra could feel nervousness and guilt churning in his stomach.

“She’s worried that I’m going to hurt you guys.” Ezra looked between the two of them, the way they fidgeted and couldn’t meet his eyes. He began to bite his lower lip, stopping when it twinged, and looked down at his own hands. “Why?”

“It’s a long story.” Ezra didn’t look up as he heard Hera pad over to him. Her hand was surprisingly warm on his shoulder; Ezra would have thought that it would be cold, the way she was always wearing gloves. “And not really ours to tell. But to put it simply -” She hesitated.

“The Inquisitors hurt her and her planet deeply,” Kanan continued when the silence drew out. His voice was a low rumble, one the Ezra could feel in his chest, and all of a sudden he missed his Dad so much that it physically hurt.

“Well, I”m not an Inquisitor!” Ezra tugged away from their comforting hands and crossed his arms, hugging himself. “Can’t she see that?” He could hear the whine in his voice, and cringed as they traded looks with each other.

Kanan’s voice was soft. “Like Hera said, that’s Sabine’s story to tell.” He held out his hand and gave Ezra a smile that Ezra knew he didn’t feel. “Now come on. Let’s get you some breakfast before you have to show up at the Jedi’s ship.”


Kanan was probably right about having something in his stomach before going to his Jedi lessons. But right now, the space waffles and vitamin dust-coated ronto bacon he had choked down just felt like they were going to come right back up as he stood in the shuttle that was taking them across the short distance to the Jedi cruiser that was flying alongside Phoenix Nest.

It hadn’t taken long to eat breakfast. Not long enough for Ezra’s taste, at least. Once they were done, they had come back out of the ship to meet with the guards that Commander Sato had assigned to him, and they had looked just about as happy about seeing him as he was seeing them. Standing at the bottom of the Ghost’s ramp, they hadn’t said anything. The female human had just stepped forward, holding out a pair of thick durasteel cuffs. The feeling of them clamping closed around his arms had reminded him -

No. He wasn’t going to think about that. It was bad enough that he had to be taught by the Mirialan Jedi. If he let himself slip back to when he was with the Inquisitors, he wasn’t going to be able to go through with this. And he had to go through with this. He didn’t want to keep hurting people and proving the Inquisitors right. He didn’t want to get Kanan and Hera and Zeb and Chopper in trouble for protecting him.

It didn’t help that Kanan himself was wound tight as a compressor coil. The only way Ezra could describe the feeling coming off of him was ‘I-don’t-want-to-be-here’, and Ezra was pretty sure that he knew why. It had to do with the clones up in the cockpit, guiding them into The Hidden Temple’s landing bay. Probably the same way Gold Squad behind them made him feel like he was about to snap in half. Risking a glance up beside him, Ezra’s stomach twisted at the tic in Kanan’s jaw. The hand that the older man had on his upper arm was squeezing tight as well, just on the verge of bruising.

“Kanan,” Ezra whispered, wincing at how his voice seemed too loud for the quiet shuttle.

There was a moment before Kanan responded. For just a little too long, he continued staring into the space in front of them before abruptly blinking and shaking his head.

“Sorry. What is it?”

“You’re hurting my arm.”

Kanan looked down at him for a moment, his eyebrows furrowing together in confusion. Ezra almost bit his lower lip but remembered at the last moment about the stitch. Instead, he touched it with the tip of his tongue.

He could see the moment Kanan understood. His eyes widened, and he dropped the hand that had been curled around Ezra’s upper arm back down to his side like it had been burned.

“Sorry,” he muttered. The skin on his jaw had stopped twitching.

“S’okay,” Ezra quietly replied.

“We’ll be arriving at The Hidden Temple in two minutes, people.” The voice of the clone was buzzing with static over the comms, rendering it almost unrecognizable. Kanan still tensed, the tic in his jaw coming back in full force.

Lt. Dicer reached over Ezra’s shoulder and pressed the comm button. Despite himself, Ezra flinched back, taking a half-step closer to Kanan until he was snuggling into his side. Silently, Kanan placed an arm around his shoulders as the lieutenant answered the pilots.

“Acknowledged, pilot,” she said. Her voice was low and emotionless.

Ezra shuddered. The way she talked - he knew that it wasn’t on purpose. That he actually was kind of a danger to everyone. But she didn’t even look at him as she replied to the pilot, the same way the Inquisitors -

No. No. He couldn’t think about that.

The shuttle fell back into its previous uncomfortable silence as the Jedi ship filled up the viewports, blocking out the stars. The floor shuddered under Ezra’s feet, filling the air with a grinding noise. Then they were still.

“Alright, everyone, we’re attached. Gold Squadron, take your charge to the starboard side exit. Masters Windu and Unduli are waiting for you.”

“You heard the man,” Daan growled from behind them. He placed a heavy hand on Ezra’s shoulder, dragging him out from underneath Kanan’s arm and making him stumble.

“Hey!” Kanan’s voice cracked like a whip as he grabbed Daan’s wrist, pulling the other man’s hand away from Ezra.

Immediately, every blaster in the room was trained at them both. Ezra stiffened, sharp needles of panic filling his throat. “Kanan…”

Kanan didn’t pay attention. He just kept glaring at Daan. “We heard the pilot too.”

Someone cocked their weapon.

Still not breaking eye contact, he threw the other man’s hand down. Putting his arm back over Ezra’s shoulder, he headed out of the room, half-dragging Ezra with him. Ezra, for his part, found that he couldn’t stop shaking.

Gold Squadron wasn’t far behind them. By the time they had reached the exit, they group of soldiers had caught up to them. No one was saying anything, but Ezra could feel discomfort radiating from Daan. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the man shift slightly and rub at his wrist.

After what felt like an eternity, the hatch hissed open, revealing a low, grey corridor and Master Windu and the Mirialan Jedi.

“Good morning,” the Mirialan woman said, bowing shallowly at them. “Shall we begin?”

Ezra swallowed, his throat suddenly dry. Kanan squeezed his shoulder.

“About as ready as we’ll ever be,” he said for Ezra.

“Very good.” The Mirialan stepped closer, and Ezra felt his muscles lock. He was no longer in the low but well-lit corridor but back in a cold and black cell with the doors closing and his wrists bruised and aching from the manacles closed too-tight around them -

“Take off Bridger’s cuffs, please.” The woman’s crisp Coruscanti accent broke through the memory; his tormentor hadn’t spoken like that, her accent hadn’t belonged to the Core. She had had an Outer Rim accent, with a harsh mechanical buzz underneath it.

“What?” Lt. Dicer’s voice curled with disbelief. “You can’t be serious.”

“I am.” The Mirialan’s voice was steady, each syllable crisply enunciated.

Ezra took a deep breath and focused on those clear, bitten-off words, so different from before. He was free. He wasn’t in a cell anymore - he’d been saved, and he’d never go back there again.

“Commander Sato said that those cuffs were not to come off -”

“While on Phoenix Nest.” The Mirialan was unruffled. “Bridger is no longer on Phoenix Nest, therefore the cuffs are not necessary.” She tucked her hands behind her back. “Unless you believe that a Jedi Master cannot handle a single youngling.”

“An Inquisitor -”

“Bridger is not an Inquisitor.” She cut the lieutenant off with a sharp gesture that made Ezra flinch, his gorge rising along with a memory. Swallowing, he shoved it back down and focused on her voice again. “He is here to learn, and being cuffed will not help that. Now, if you have no more arguments, please remove them.”

Resentment, sticky and bitter, poured over Ezra’s shoulders as Lt. Dicer moved in front of him and removed the durasteel cuffs. Ezra kept his eyes down, not daring to look at her.

The air of the ship was cold on his wrists after the warmth of the cuffs, making him shiver. Lt. Dicer clipped the cuffs to her belt and stood back into the formation.

The Mirialan nodded, as graceful as any holovid queen. “My thanks. Now,” she said turning to him. “Time is wasting. Shielding is simple but you will need much practice. Follow me.”

Ezra dug his his nails into his hands so hard that he felt them bite through his skin. Not trusting his voice, he only nodded obediently.

“Wait.”

Windu’s voice almost seemed to echo in the hallway. Ezra felt Kanan stiffen behind him and turned to see that the Jedi Master had put his hand on Kanan’s shoulder.

Ezra’s stomach dropped. Kanan’s face was stiff and pale; Master Windu’s stonelike.

“I would like to have a conversation with Jarrus here, if you will excuse us both.” His voice gave no hint as to what he was thinking.

What?

Kanan’s face only got even more stiff and mask-like at the Jedi Master’s words. “A conversation?” He smiled stiffly, the Outer-rim drawl in his words exaggerated. “Why would you want to talk to me, then? I mean, I’m pretty interesting and all but -”

“I know who you are,” Windu interrupted.

Kanan went white, and Ezra’s heart leapt into his throat.

Keeping his hand firmly on Kanan’s shoulder, Windu turned his head slightly and nodded at the Mirialan. Darting his eyes between him and Kanan, Ezra didn’t realize that Windu was nodding at the Mirialan until a green hand reached into the corner of his vision and gently gripped his shoulder.

“Come along now,” the woman murmured, pulling him along. Away from Kanan.

“What? Wait -”

But Gold Squad was following after them, quickly blocking Ezra’s view of the two men, their blasters cradled in their arms.

Ezra nearly tried to break free anyways and run back to Kanan. Coming over here, he had kept himself calm with the thought that at least have Kanan with him. Leaving the Ghost only to find Gold Squad waiting at the bottom, their suspicion and dislike oozing off of them and choking him, he had nearly run right back into the ship. If it wasn’t for Kanan standing right there beside him, he would have. On the ride over, just having him there had kept him from puking.

But another hand on his shoulder forced him to keep moving. The Mirialan dragged him forward until he was walking beside her, her face serene. “I was planning on beginning our lessons within the ship’s meditation room,” she said, walking unhurriedly. They passed through a doorway that hissed shut behind them, making Ezra’s stomach drop.

“Unfortunately,” she continued, glancing behind them and keeping both hands on his shoulders as if worried he would try to run, “it is not large enough to contain both us and your guards.”

Behind them, the Wookie rumbled. The Mirialan glanced back at him coolly. “My apologies, Sergeant, but space is at a premium on our ships and usually there aren’t more than one or two people at a time trying to meditate. You and your group will simply have to wait outside for us to finish.”

Ezra looked back as well and saw Lt. Dicer shaking her head. “That’s not acceptable. The cuffs were one thing, Master Unduli, but for everyone’s safety Bridger is to be under constant guard whenever he is not on the Ghost.”

“And as I said before, Lieutenant, I believe that one Jedi Master is more than a match for any youngling.” She came to stop in front of a set of doors and pressed the pad beside it one hand, no longer looking at the other woman. Her other hand was keeping a tight grip on Ezra’s shoulder, though, belying her calm tone. The door whooshed open, revealing a small, dimly-lit room. “We will hopefully see you in only a few hours.”

Ezra’s ears were ringing as he numbly stepped into the room. It was almost exactly like his cell.

Bare walls. Bare floor. No windows. Just himself and a dim light overhead and a Mirialan standing across from him.

“Bridger.”

Yep, just like his cell. Just himself and a Mirialan woman.

“Bridger.”

The inside of his head ached. Ten months.

“Bridger!”

Ezra swallowed and raised his head. He hadn’t realized that his chin had sunk to his chest.

The Jedi was standing very close to him. Too close. But Ezra couldn’t bring himself to move away. He’d never been able to get away before.

“Sorry,” he muttered, keeping his arms at his sides. Squeezing his eyes shut, he tried to focus on the here and now.

The soldiers outside the door were oozing unhappiness and worry. Resentment as well, bitter and sticking to the back of his tongue like the cheap caf that had been served in giant vats at the marketplace on the High Days back when he was little. So nothing new from them. None of the glee that the guards had radiated back there with the Inquisitors.

He was free.

The Jedi in front of him, though. She was a blank. Not quite a black hole, it was more like she was just part of the scenery. It was still different from the Mirialan Inquisitor, he reminded himself. No pulsing, rotting joy at his fear.

He opened his eyes once more.

“Sorry,” he said again, his voice a little stronger. “It’s - I didn’t really sleep.” He was aware of just how weak that excuse was and cringed.

The Mirialan nodded, folding her hands behind her back. The Inquisitor had done that too, the first time she had come into the cell. He didn’t know how long he had been left alone in there at first. Too long, without any light or food. Long enough that he only felt grateful when the doors first opened.

Then the Inquisitor had entered, one of her little droids on her shoulder. And she had smiled at him.

“That is understandable.” The Jedi took a small, almost mincing step towards him. “You gave everyone quite a fright.”

“Sorry.” Ezra couldn’t stop his eyes from skittering away from her. If he didn’t look, he could focus on her words, focus on how they were shaped. How she didn’t sound like the Inquisitor.

His eyes skipped back over to her for just a second. Just long enough to see that her lips had thinned slightly from her pressing them together.

That wasn’t good. He had started hugging himself. He let his hands fall to his sides. Back there -

No. He was free.

The Mirialan - she didn’t rock on her heels nervously. She just gave the impression that she really wanted to. “I am sorry about this. As well.”

Ezra immediately tensed. “What do you mean?” He couldn’t keep from shifting slightly so that he would be able to bolt out the door if she got near him. If this had just been some plan to get him away from any of his defenders…

Her eyes flicked over him. He had the feeling that she had noticed his shift. “For this fuss. Normally, we would not have had you begin training with as little sleep as you have had, but Commander Sato was most insistent. If you would prefer a short nap before we begin, though, I would be willing to shield the room to prevent anything from slipping out.”

…Oh. Ezra shifted again, this time in discomfort, and looked down. That was very - nice, of her. He knew that, intellectually. But emotionally, he knew it would be a cold day in hell before he fell asleep with her in the same room.

Even with as little rest as he had had, though, he knew better than to say that. “Thank you,” he said quietly, looking up at her through his eyelashes. “But we shouldn’t waste time.”

The Jedi pressed her lips together again, but nodded. “Very well.” She knelt down where she was standing, tucking her feet underneath her. “Please, sit down in a comfortable position.”

Ezra did so, crossing his legs and hunching over, twiddling his thumbs.

The Jedi closed her eyes and placed her hands on her thighs. “What we will be doing today is covering the very basic building blocks of mental shielding. By the end of this, you should be able to create and hold a strong enough mental shield to at least keep from broadcasting your emotions while conscious quite as strongly as you have been doing previously.”

There was a pause. Then Ezra realized that he was expected to answer. “Sounds good.”

The Jedi opened her eyes slightly and smiled. “That is good to hear.” Her smile faded, and she closed her eyes again.

“Visualization is key when one is building a shield. Close your eyes and focus. What do you associate with safety?”

Safety? Ezra hadn’t felt safe for years. Safety had disappeared the night his parents were taken away. Back in the Lothali slums, if you thought you were safe, you were just being stupid. Even in his Tower, he’d known that it would be all too easy for someone to break in and completely wipe out what savings he’d managed to build up.

“Bridger?”

Ezra looked up to see that the Jedi had opened her eyes again and was looking at him. He started to bite his lower lip before remembering the stitch. “Um,” he muttered. “I haven’t exactly been in a lot of safe places lately.”

“I see.” She frowned and raised a hand to her tattooed chin thoughtfully. “Perhaps some object? Some symbol from your homeworld that represents safety?”

Ezra thought hard again. He could remember the pictures that had hung on his family home’s walls; traditional weaving, showing the stylized figures of the Lothali wolf-riders. They had always saved the day in the stories his dad had told him before bed. Except…

Out on the plains one summer, when he had been digging for roots in a riverbank. Before a factory started throwing their waste into it. He had seen a loth-wolf accidentally get too close to a loth-wasp nest. The insects had swarmed out, the buzz of their wings making Ezra’s chest vibrate. The wolf hadn’t stood a chance, helplessly darting around and snapping at the wasps as they stung and tore at it. The way that it had slowed down and stopped, with more and more wasps landing on it until it was just a mass of insects on the ground - it had known that it was going to die.

Definitely not safe.

“Sorry.” He didn’t look up at the Jedi. “Empire banned Lothali symbols as anti-Empire. Said rebels were using them to communicate.”

“I am sorry to hear that.”

Ezra looked up. She actually sounded sorry this time.

“It is a terrible thing to have your culture suppressed.”

He looked back down, picking at his nails. “It’s what the Empire does.”

The Jedi sighed. Her eyebrows furrowed together. “We still need something that you associate with safety and protection, though, if this has any hope of working. Are you sure that you can’t think of anything?”

Ezra was pretty sure that the statement was not meant as a threat. Still, he couldn’t keep from clenching his fists tight enough that he could feel the skin on his palms breaking. He slowly licked the inside of his lower lip, thinking furiously.

What was safe? What was protection?

Unbidden, a memory rose up in his head.

Exhaustion and pain throbbing through his limbs. A chill that never went away sluggishly coiled in his chest as he floated between wakefulness and unconsciousness. He didn’t like it when he was conscious. All he ever saw was darkness.

But there was light this time. Light and warmth, from someone’s arms cradling him. No one had done that in years.

Something warm gently tapped the side of his face. Ezra opened his eyes, and saw a kind face looking down at him.

“Hey kid,” the kind man said, his eyes soft as he cupped the back of Ezra’s head. “Don’t worry. Everything’s going to be okay now.”

Ezra stared up at him, not daring to believe his eyes. This man - he wasn’t an Inquisitor. Ezra tried to tell him that, but couldn’t get the words to leave his mouth.

The man chuckled. "Don't strain yourself now. I don't know how long you've been down here."

Ezra still wasn’t able to get the words out. Exhaustion filled him, and he wasn’t able to keep his eyes from closing in relief. This wasn’t an Inquisitor.

He was finally safe.

“I -” he began, hesitating. “I think I have something.”

“Oh?”

Ezra hunched his shoulders. “When Kanan found me,” he said quietly. “I felt safe then.”

“I see.” The Jedi’s voice sounded sympathetic, but Ezra didn’t look up. His cheeks were burning already. “We can build off of that. Focus on the feeling of safety you felt when he rescued you. That will be your foundation for your shields.”

Closing his eyes, Ezra did so. He’d felt warmth, from Kanan’s arms. Kindness from his voice. His hand had cupped the back of his head. Ezra focused on these feelings until they almost seemed real, like it was happening again.

“Take that memory, and visualize it becoming a steady, strong base for a house. Smooth and strong and unassailable, regardless of what happens around it.”

Ezra breathed in and out steadily. Focusing, he gathered up the memory and feelings surrounding it, pressing them together until they felt solid and shining. Then he put it underneath him as the Jedi had instructed.

Immediately, he felt something. A steadiness that he hadn’t had before. The anger and disgust he had felt walking through Phoenix Nest, from Gold Squad - it all receded, falling away under the warm certainty of Kanan’s care.

“You feel it, then?”

Ezra could hear the smile in the Jedi’s voice and nearly lost his focus. The Inquisitor that had visited him the most - the one who’s very name terrified him. She had sounded like that whenever she spoke. His eyes flew open against his desires and for a second, he was back there, his back burning along with his wrists. Then he focused on the dark tattoos that covered the Jedi’s chin, forcing his breathing to slow.

He wasn’t there. He wasn’t there!

The Jedi didn’t seem to notice anything. Her eyes were still closed. “Now, keeping that base there, find memories and emotions that are connected to the base memory. They will form the rest of your shield, wrapping around you. Think of them as like ray shields - they do not prevent you from being aware of what is going around you, but they will keep it from affecting you.”

Hurriedly, Ezra closed his eyes again, still feeling rattled. The base underneath his mental feet no longer felt quite as stable as before. But he did as the Jedi ordered, pulling up more memories. Being on the Ghost - talking to Hera in the cockpit - playing around with Zeb - riding Chopper - he took all of the memories and focused them down, wrapping them around himself like soft, warm blankets. Same as when he was a little boy afraid of the shadows on his bedroom wall, the monsters couldn’t touch him so long as he was underneath the blankets.

But even as he did that, the monsters were already crawling in with him. All of the memories around him couldn’t keep out the dark, crawling fear. He wasn’t on the Ghost right now. He wasn’t play-fighting with Zeb and Chopper, he wasn’t talking with Hera in the cockpit, and he wasn’t just hanging out with Kanan in the galley as he cooked.

He was in a bare little room with barely any light, sitting across from a Mirialan who had torn through his mind.

His gut twisted, and he squeezed his hands back into fists. He was free. He was free! The Jedi wouldn’t hurt him - no one would - Kanan had promised -

Someone pressed up against his mind and Ezra’s gorge rose. Snapping his eyes open, he tried to get up as what little protection he had found fell to pieces around him. He was back in the cell, that lightless cell. His legs tangled together, making him fall back down onto his butt.

“What - what -” he stammered, pulling up his arms to ward off the blow that he knew was coming. His eyes spun around - the Mirialan across from him was standing, and he couldn’t keep her face straight - was she -

“Bridger” said one Mirialan.

“Brat,” said the other.

They moved together, reaching out towards him. Ezra flailed wildly, struggling to stand up and get away. But she was too close, he couldn’t get away in time -

A hand closed down around his shoulder, the touch gentle. Nails dug into his hips, pulling him closer. “Bridger,” said one Mirialan, bending over and looking concerned.

“Sweetling,” the other cooed, the parrot droid on her shoulder clicking its claws.

His throat burned. He wasn’t Ezra Bridger. He was Nothing.

The door behind him that was digging into his back whooshed open just as Ezra threw up on the Mirialan, the ronto bacon tasting rancid on his tongue. He heard someone shout as the hands were ripped away. Rage and confusion tore around him like a tornado as people shouted. The Mirialan was stumbling back like she never had before, vomit dripping down her front. Her thin/wide face was twisted into a snarl/covered in confusion and shock.

No no no this was bad she was angry! He had to get away before she sent her droids after him to pin him down while she -

Ezra gagged and turned just far enough to spit out some more vomit onto one of the guard’s shoes. Grabbing at the fabric of his pants, he was able to drag himself up as the person jumped back, shouting. Shoving past them, he tore out of another guard’s grasp as they tried to catch him and took off running.

Chapter Text

Kanan’s teeth sunk into the meat of his cheek until he could taste blood as he was led away from Ezra, Master Windu’s hand clamped onto his shoulder. How. How could Master Windu know -

Unduli. The memory of the space station corridor, outside of the slicing room. Trying not to look at the clones, but seeing red out of the corner of his eye. The Mirialan Master’s clipped and carefully shaped words, so warm yet leaving him feeling so cold. The maelstrom of panic and nausea that had engulfed him.

Master Unduli had told him.

Kanan could hear his own heartbeat, the blood rushing through his ears and making his hands tremble. It was just like before, after Order 66 once he’d been brought back to the Temple. The feel of Master Windu’s hand on his arm, hurrying him along the hallway, speaking -

A chipped cup, the liquid inside steaming, was put down on a table in front of him. He jumped slightly and looked around. They weren’t in the hallway anymore; at some point when he was stuck in his head, they had entered a small cabin and sat down.

The room was very plain, lacking any ornamentation. From where he was kneeling, Kanan could see that the only decorations seemed to be a few scratches along the border of the bunk sunk into the wall on his right. Even the bunk’s sheets were a plain, dingy grey from too many washes. If it weren’t for the low wooden table he was kneeling in front of and the lack of dust, Kanan would have thought that it wasn’t in use.

“- I believe Depa once told me that you preferred this type of tea. Forgive me if I got it wrong; it’s been a long time,” Master Windu was saying. He knelt down opposite of Kanan, sweeping his long robes out to settle around him. There was a mug in front of him as well, a small teapot beside it.

Looking back down at the scratched surface of the table, Kanan picked up his drink. The scent hit him like a blow.

It was hot chala. A sweet mix of tea, milk and various Mid-Rim spices, it was a traditional drink for children on Master Billaba’s planet of birth.

She had made a cup for him the first night he had spent in her quarters as her padawan.

Cradling the mug in his hands, he lifted it to his lips and let his eyes close as he took his first sip.

It was exactly as he remembered it. Sweet, with just enough of the spice mix to keep it from becoming nauseating. He swallowed, the warmth trailing down his throat to his toes as the memories rose up, unstoppable as the tides on a triple-moon planet.

He had been nervous that night. Away from his friends and creche-mates for the first time, he had stood in the middle of her room with his bare toes wriggling in the thick Chalactan carpets, fretting the hem of his sleep-robe’s sleeves. His braid had felt so new behind his ear, the bead for bravery weighing it down unfamiliarly.

Master Billaba had stepped out from the fresher, tying off the long thick braid of hair that she had pulled over her shoulder. Once that had been finished, she had looked up at him and frowned when he had looked away.

Her hand had felt like butter-soft leather, strong and certain from years of saber-work as she tilted his head up and asked him what was wrong. Shyly, he had looked back down and confessed to his nervousness, the back of his neck burning as he waited for a rebuke. Jedi were not supposed to be so attached to their creche-mates, after all.

But she had just been smiling as he peeked up at her through his eyelashes. Gently, she had placed a hand on his shoulder, guiding him towards the small kitchen that her rooms had as a concession to her rank as Master.

They had sat on the carpet as they drank the chala, talking about what he had studied as an Initiate until his eyelids were drooping. The last thing he could remember from that night was curling up on that rug, his cheek pressed against her thigh as sleep began to tug down his eyelids for the final time.

Kanan licked a drop from the corner of his mouth as he set the cup back down, his eyes burning. Across from him, he could feel more than see Master Windu’s smile.

“I always liked the drink too,” he said, his voice casual but his gaze intent. “She always refused to tell me her spice mix while she was my padawan, though. Only told me after she was Knighted.” His dark eyes bored into Kanan. “In one of her last transmissions she mentioned how much you seemed to like it; she had to ask for more spices to be shipped out to her.”

He hadn’t known that Master Billaba had spoken to Master Windu before Order 66. Kanan couldn’t help but wonder after the story - would she have waited so long to tell him the secret spice mixture? He wasn’t sure.

The silence between him and Master Windu drew out uncomfortably until Master Windu finished the last dregs of his chala and set the cup back down on the table with a clink.
“I take it from your silence you still miss her,” he said. His voice was neutral.

Kanan bit his tongue to keep from replying sarcastically. Of course he missed her. She had been everything to fourteen-year-old him; a combination of teacher, mother and friend. When she had been murdered -

He took another long, slow sip of his drink, masochistically savouring the mixture of pleasure and pain it dredged up in his heart.

Windu sighed and folded his hands in front of him. “I see that you don’t seem to be in the mood for talking. I’ll get to the point then - I want to offer you help.”

Kanan’s hands clenched around his mug spasmodically. Help him? After -

Windu was still speaking. “Master Unduli mentioned in her secondary report to us your reactions to her men. And I could feel your distress just now in drinking the chala. That’s not normal.”

No shit, Kanan thought.

“And considering that it’s been nearly fifteen years, I think that you could perhaps use some help in letting go of your pain.”

Kanan clenched his jaw so hard he was surprised that his teeth didn’t break.

Letting go. Master Windu said that he needed help in letting go. How in the Sith hells was he supposed to let go of seeing his Master gunned down in front of him by the people he trusted as friends? People that he’d been eating with, laughing with. People that he’d trusted with his life on the battlefield, only for all of it to come crashing down in under ten minutes!? It wasn’t him that was refusing to let go, it was the memories!

Kanan could still remember the day that he had gotten back to the Temple on Coruscant. Standing in the hangar and feeling the emptiness of the Temple. Knowing that this was all the Jedi that would return. Janus had been fussing behind him, wondering where everyone was until a harried-looking Senate bureaucrat had come into the hangar, allowing the Kalleran to launch into a loud list of complaints.

No one had come to welcome him back as he had trudged down the wide-open halls, empty where before they would have been filled with people. Not any of his teachers. Not any of his creche-mates. For a lack of anything else to do, Kanan had headed back to his Master’s quarters when they were on-planet.

Curling up on her bed, he had tried to pretend that everything was normal. That his Master would come through the door at any moment, smiling and telling him that Jedi did not laze about when there was saber practice.

It hadn’t worked. Even with his training to ignore discomfort, after the second day he had eaten through all of the snacks that had been left in her cupboards. He’d been forced to leave, to re-enter the commissary. To feel the way everyone had simply stared at him from a distance.

Sammo and Tai’s stares had hurt the most. He had seen them sitting at one of the tables and almost headed over to them. But they had hurriedly looked away when he tried to make eye contact with them, whispering to each other.

About how he was alive when his Master was dead, he had assumed at the time. He hadn’t had much of an appetite after that thought had crossed his mind and he had left empty-handed. Only later, when the Temple was dark, did he dare try to get some food again.

For the next few days, that had been his routine. Staying in his master’s room by day, curled up in a miserable ball and trying to pretend that she wasn’t dead. Sneaking food by night, when the rest of the Temple was asleep. When the pain in his chest became too much, wandering on the fringes of Temple life.

But then Master Windu had come charging into Master Billaba’s rooms; Kanan had been hearing people arguing outside of the room the last few days but had ignored it, wrapped up in his own misery as he was. Most of the other residents of the Temple had seemed to be fine with allowing him to grieve, but Master Windu hadn’t.

He had dragged Kanan from his Master’s bed, making him get dressed and follow him up to the Council chamber. Kanan hadn’t had the chance to ever go in before, not even to be confirmed as Master Billaba’s padawan. Staring at the chairs that had circled the room, many without even a hologram to fill them, he had been informed that according to Republic Intelligence a Separatist fleet had been heading to Coruscant, and that as a padawan he would be expected to participate in the defense of the planet with his new Master.

Fourteen years on, Kanan couldn’t remember the new Master’s name, or what species they had been. He couldn’t remember how he’d replied, either. All he remembered was crawling into a ventilation duct, down to his favourite hiding place when the other’s teasing at his questions had gotten to be too much, and crying until he had the hiccups.

By the time he had been able to even think about meeting his new Master, the dropships had already fallen onto the Temple, vomiting out the droids that would slaughter everyone.

“- and of course, with your attachment to Bridger, this would allow you to see him often -”

Kanan’s head snapped up. “Wait, what? What about Ezra?”

Windu frowned at him, clearly displeased that he hadn’t been listening. “As I was saying,” he enunciated, “accepting treatment from Nema would allow you to see Bridger more often before we leave.”

Kanan didn’t frown back. The panic coiling around his throat wouldn’t let him do anything but twist his fingers into the hem of his shirt. “What do you mean, before you leave? When did anyone say that Ezra would be leaving with you?”

Windu’s frown deepened. “Bridger,” he said, narrowing his eyes, “cannot be trusted on his own. His treatment will not be a simply thing, and may take many years. Can you truly say that your crew would be willing to put their activities for Fulcrum on hold for all of that time?”

“No,” Kanan replied slowly, his gut feeling like it was collapsing to form a black hole, “I don’t. But I was under the impression that Ezra would only need a little while to repair his ability to form shields. Not that he was full-on being adopted into the Order. Isn’t he too old?”

“Age does not matter when a Force-sensitive as powerful as him has been so steeped in Darkness. He needs a Master or he risks fully Falling and possibly becoming a threat to those around him.”

Kanan scoffed weakly even as his mind raced. “A Master? And where exactly are you going to find a Master for him out here?”

Windu was unmoved. “We already have. Master Unduli has agreed to take responsibility for him.”

It was like Kanan had slid into some alternate universe where nothing quite made sense. “Ezra’s scared of Master Unduli.”

“You agreed to have Unduli teach him.” Windu raised an eyebrow at him.

It was that eyebrow. That judgmental look in his eye, like Kanan was just being childish, arguing with a Master. It pushed Kanan back in time, to when he was Caleb; standing in front of the Council and being told that he should not mourn Master Billaba, since she had become one with the Force. That look ignited a volcano of hurt and anger that bubbled up his throat and spewed out of his mouth.

“I agreed to have her teach him how to shield, not become her Padawan! The way you were talking this was only going to be a few short lessons, not a life-long bond! And who said that he was even going to go with you in the first place?!”

Windu was infuriatingly calm as he answered. “Calm yourself. Bridger is a very powerful and very traumatized Force-sensitive youngling with very little control over his abilities. It is not forcing a bond, either. It was merely thought that she would be the best possible Master since she would not be entirely unfamiliar to him.”

“Spend time -” Kanan growled and grabbed his face in frustration. “The most time she’s ever spent with him was when she was trying to tell if he was going to kill everyone! That’s no basis for a training bond!”

Finally, there was a little crack in Windu’s serenity. “Who else is there, then, Dume?” he demanded, leaning forward. “Who would live up to your standards? You are the only other Force-sensitive in this fleet that has spent any amount of time with him and you never completed your training -”

Kanan slammed the cup down on the table. The anger jumped underneath his skin, biting at what little composure he could cling to. “I wasn’t suggesting that I train him as a Jedi,” he said, even as the small part of him that could be called Caleb Dume protested weakly, “I was asking why he has to be a Jedi at all? I left the Order; I’ve been through some poodoo and I haven’t Fallen.” Tiredness suddenly swept through him, and he looked down at the table. “Ezra needs understanding. He’s projecting because he doesn’t have any shields, not because he needs training.” His eyes skittered away from the Master’s impatient glare. “That’s not how the Force works.”

Windu was silent. Kanan could feel the frustration dripping off of him in oily waves, with something else underneath it. A greedy desperation that didn’t belong on a Jedi Master.

And yet, Kanan wasn’t surprised to feel it. Exhausted, he stared down at his drink. From the moment Windu had guided him away from Ezra, he’d felt hints of it. Locked in his own panicking brain, he hadn’t been able to consciously notice it, but looking back -

Windu wanted him back. Bad. And he was willing to throw whatever emotional blackmail that was needed to have him leave Hera and the rest of the crew for the Order.
“Bridger would be surrounded by other Force-sensitives if he came with us, Dume,” Windu said, his words clipped.

“My name’s Kanan Jarrus,” Kanan muttered. His chest hurt.

Jedi Masters weren’t supposed to be like this.

Windu continued like he hadn’t even spoken. “What more understanding would he need?”

Kanan couldn’t stop the bitter laugh that erupted from his lips. He still didn’t look up. “You’re kidding, right? The Jedi don’t do emotion, you’d just make things worse with telling him to ‘let go of his fear’.”

He could feel Windu’s glare boring holes into the top of his head. “We teach our children to control their emotions, not ignore them like you’re implying.”

“Implying, nothing. I’m flat-out stating.” Kanan took a large swallow of his now luke-warm cup of chala. He really did like this recipe, even if it was being ruined by the bitter bile clinging to the back of his throat. “That’s exactly what you told me after Order 66.”

“We did not.”

That simple statement triggered another eruption of anger ripping through him. This one was quieter, not the shouting fit from earlier but still hot and deadly. “Are you forgetting what you told me when you first bothered to speak with me after I got back to the Temple after Order 66? You told me to rejoice in my Master’s death because she was now one with the Force.”

Windu’s anger and sadness from that one statement filled the room, even as his face settled into a stony glare. It bounced around, wrapping strings around Kanan’s own anger and resentment, and suddenly he found years-old words rushing up his throat and filling the air.

“You and the Council told me not to mourn the most important person in my life, someone I loved, before informing me that you were chucking me onto another Master and right back onto the battlefield. And you know what?” Kanan tipped his cup back to drain the dregs of the chala. “I don’t think a single one of you even thought twice about that.”

“You had a duty to the Republic,” Windu said. “You were supposed to fight in its defense -”

“I was a child!” Kanan slammed the mug down on the table, ignoring how it cracked and bit into his hand. His free hand was digging into his thigh until his nails were white. His blood was boiling.

He hadn’t realized that he felt this way.

Then fear slammed into his head, hard enough to make it jerk slightly to one side. Grunting, he lifted his bloodied hand and grabbed the side of his head. “Ezra -”

“What about him?”

Kanan looked up, squinting through the waves of terror that smashed against him. “Can’t you feel it?” He asked incredulously. “Ezra - he’s terrified -”

There was another wave, this one even stronger. Kanan abruptly stood up, ignoring the strange look he got from Master windu. “I have to go,” he said, not bothering to keep the harshness from his voice. “Where was Ezra supposed to be being taught?”

“In the ship’s meditation room -” Windu began to rise from his own seat.

“Got it,” Kanan said. He bolted from the room, ignoring the shout for him to stop. Ezra was afraid; he had to get to him.


He had never escaped.

Ducking past the guards, their shouts echoing in his ears, Nothing tucked his head down and ran down the bleak grey corridors, even as the lump of knowing that he couldn’t escape settled deeper into his stomach. Even if he couldn’t get out, he could at least put off his lessons for a little while longer.

Corridors twisted and turned crazily around him, doors opening to vomit out more guards. Nothing ducked and weaved through their grasping hands, slipping away even as their fingertips brushed his back and shoulders. Ahead, he spotted a ventilation shaft, already open with a small cleaning droid poking their head out. Using one of the lessons that had already been beaten into his head, he tore it away from the opening and flung it against the wall. He ignored its shriek as its crumpled chassis threw out sparks, already halfway into the shaft.

The walls were tight enough to remind him of a noose, slowly choking the life from him. Still he dragged himself down them, screws and raised edges digging into the fleshy parts of his body. From the grates he passed by, he could hear the guards talking to each other. Laughing. They knew he couldn’t escape, even if he had managed to squeeze away from them. Only his Inquisitor’s droids were small enough to fit down here with him.

He tasted salt on his lips. Pausing above a grate, he scrubbed at his face mechanically. Crying didn’t solve anything. No one here cared. He was nothing to these people; he was Nothing to himself.

Below him, the familiar smell of reheated ration packs wafted up to his nostrils as he sniffed and tried to clear his nose. If he had been back on Lothal, the smell would have no doubt made his mouth water. In here, he just felt vaguely nauseous.

Lothal. His home -

No. He was Nothing, he always had to remember that he was Nothing. People had homes; Nothing was not a person. Therefore, Nothing didn’t have a home.

Nothing was nothing.

His face sufficiently clean, he sniffed one more time and put his hand down to push his body back up, ready to start moving again.

The grate promptly let out beneath his hand. Tumbling out, he only had time to note two blurry figures standing by a counter before his head met the floor and exploded with pain.

Nothing wasn’t sure how long he blacked out for. Most likely only a few heartbeats, since the two men that had been standing at the counter were still just staring at him when his vision came back to him. He stared right back from where he was lying on the floor, his head and wrist aching.

Nothing was pretty sure that they were cooks. Both were heavily scarred, with one that had a large tattoo covering his head missing an eye and the other’s arms coated with shiny scar tissue, and stood with ramrod-straight postures. But both were wearing aprons rather than uniforms. Considering that along with the the stench of rations and the knives they were holding, he thought that that was probably a safe bet.

So, cooks. Not guards. They would probably still raise the alarm if he let them, though. Struggling to push himself up from the floor, he swallowed a whimper as his wrist throbbed, black spots dancing in his vision. Hastily, he lay back down, the metal floor cold on his cheek, and closed his eyes in an attempt to gather his focus.

He needed them to keep quiet. Stay away for just a little longer.

The sound of one of the knives being gently set down was as loud as a blaster shot in the silence. Nothing’s head whipped up.

One of the men, the one who had put the knife down and was missing an eye, a knot of thick scar tissue where it should be, lifted his hands up. “Easy there, now.” His voice was weird and soft. “It’s okay. No one’s going to hurt you.”

The words made no sense. In the distant back of his head, Nothing thought that maybe the boy he had been before had heard the words once, but Nothing had never felt such gentleness.

“Do you remember what your name is?” the man asked, kneeling down.

Nothing stiffened. Of course, of course - it was a test. He hadn’t escaped, this was just another test -

He tried to sit up again, this time ignoring the way his vision swam. If this was a test, there was only one thing that they’d want him to do. Struggling to focus, he tried to shape his thoughts into the sharp-tipped drills that he had figured out how to make.

If he wanted to get through this, he’d have to hijack these cooks minds, make sure that they couldn’t raise the alarm. Stealth training, she’d called it, with the penalty for being caught to be beaten until he was pissing blood.

But the hit to his head - he couldn’t focus. Nothing knew that he was screwing up his face and making it obvious what he was trying to do, but his head kept swimming. He couldn’t focus his anger and hate - it kept spreading out like a drop of blood in an ocean of water -

“Kid.” A hand gently touched his shoulder.

Shit -

Nothing flung himself back, clapping a hand on his shoulder. That touch - touch meant hurt -

“Sorry.” The man left his hand held out towards nothing. He had a strange soft look in his eyes. It made Nothing nervous; he couldn’t tell what it meant. “Didn’t mean to scare ya.”

“I’m not scared.” The words tumbled from Nothing’s mouth before he could stop himself.

The man smiled and Nothing cringed. Squeezing his eyes shut, he breathed in deeply and clenched his jaw. He had to do this - before the man -

“Do you remember your name?”

The question scattered the little bit of thought that Nothing had been able to gather. His eyes snapped open.

This test. They gave it to him a lot. He knew the answer -

“Nothing,” he said. “I am nothing.”

The man frowned and looked over shoulder at the other man who was still standing. Nothing squirmed.

“I heard that your name was Ezra Bridger,” the man said, turning back towards him.

Nothing felt so tense that he thought his muscles would shatter if he was touched again. His stomach flopped over itself and he looked down, shaking his head. “No, no,” he mumbled, drawing his knees up to his chest, “I know my name, I know it, I know that I’m nothing. I’m Nothing, and I live to serve the Empire.”

“Do you know where you are?”

Another test. All these tests. Nothing wondered if he was going to be shipped off soon; they’d said that after Dev -

A sob burst through his lips and his eyes began to burn. Hurriedly, Nothing covered his face. He knew it was useless, though. Crying wasn’t good. They were going to punish him now.

“Ezra,” the man said, his voice a deep rumble. “Ezra Bridger. You are currently on The Hidden Temple, a ship of the Jedi Order. We are currently traveling alongside the Resistance carrier-class ship Phoenix Nest. Do you remember this?”

What the man was saying made no sense. The only thing that Nothing could think was that this was a new test.

“N-no, no, I’m not there. I know I’m not there. I know I can’t escape. I don’t need to be reminded.” Ezra - no, Nothing swallowed convulsively as he stomped down that name.

“You did escape, though, Ezra.” The man’s voice was terribly gentle. It reminded Nothing of his father after he woke up from a nightmare -

No. This was another trap.

“No,” Nothing/Ezra whimpered. “No no no I’ve learned my lesson, I don’t need to be reminded -”

His stomach flopped once. Twice. And then he was heaving, emptying what was left in his stomach after before onto the floor.

A broad, warm hand lightly touched his back. “Ezra,” the man said. “You escaped.”

“No,” Nothing/Ezra moaned, not daring to look up. He couldn’t have, he was just in a room with her and she was digging into his head again - “No, I didn’t. I know I didn’t. Please, I know I’m nothing. Please, please, just don’t -” He swallowed, his vision blurring from tears that began to drip down his face. “Please don’t give me back - I learned my lesson -”

Another hand was placed on his back. “Ezra,” said the same voice, but gruffer, “Ezra Bridger. You ain’t there. You’re free.”

Ezra shook his head. No, Nothing shook his head. But the hand on his back was big and warm and gentle, things he had never felt back there.

“You were found in the star destroyer Conqueror over a month ago.” The first voice was back. “You joined the crew of the Ghost under Captain Hera Syndulla, and you’re on you way to the Resistance.”

It couldn’t be true.

“You’re safe,” the voice continued, one of the hands rubbing his back gently now. “No one here has hurt you, or will hurt you.”

It couldn’t be true. He was - he was -

It was like everything snapped into focus. His name was Ezra Bridger. He was in The Hidden Temple. He had been rescued from that cell over a month before. And he was kneeling in a puddle of puke.

Humiliation crawled up his spine with fiery hands. His ears felt hot. The hand on his back was still rubbing, even as the other hand shifted up to grip his shoulder.

“You back with us, Bridger?” asked the gruff voice.

Swallowing the sour taste of his vomit back, Ezra nodded. He was trembling, staring down at hands and feeling like he was going to fly apart at any second. But he was not Nothing. He was not nothing.

Breathing in deeply, he dared to look up. His neck protested, sending a sharp throb through his head that centered around his right temple and the bridge of his nose.

Looking around the kitchen while not in the middle of a flashback, Ezra wondered how he could have missed that he wasn’t in an Imperial space.

The kitchen, while not large, was well-lit and organized. While the counters were littered with unidentifiable ration packs, they also had actual vegetables and pots filled with something steaming that smelled like real soup broth. And just past the pots -

An open doorway. With his guards peering in at him, their faces inscrutable. Especially the Wookie’s.

His face heated up as hand on his back slowed and stilled. Sitting beside him, the man leaned forward slightly, a small smile on his face that Ezra could see out of the corner of his eye.

“Hey,” he said warmly. “The name’s Stance. The other guy is Scratch. How you doin’?”

Ezra swallowed a few times and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand before he was able to answer. “Pretty crappy, to be honest.”

Stance chuckled and sat back up. “Sorry to hear that,” he said. “I got a cup of tea that’ll at least help with the headache from that fall, if you’d like some.” Scratch squeezed Ezra’s shoulder again and grunted, nodding.

Ezra studied the two men for several moments, judging them. Both were clearly those clones that followed Jedi around, their faces the same except for some slight differences in age and several tattoos.

The one that had introduced himself as Stance had a large one, plastered on the side of his head with parts overlapping onto his forehead and cheek. It looked like a pair of wings outstretched, with what Ezra guessed was a lightsaber picked out in a white that faded to green that stood out against the man’s tanned scalp. At the base of the blade, there was a small burst, in which there was a small round circle of non-tattooed skin. And in there was a small faded white scar.

The one called Scratch also had tattoos, but his were far from the elaborate swoops and details of Stance’s. They were stark in their simplicity, merely being thin black lines that littered his face. They cut through his features seemingly without care, one particularly thick one stretching from underneath the corner of his left eye until it was cutting through his upper lip. He wasn’t smiling, but his eyes were soft as he looked at Ezra.

Yeah. They would probably be safe. “Um, sure,” Ezra said, shrugging off their hands and standing up, not bothering to hide his wooziness. They already knew that he hit his head. “Yeah, I’d like some tea.”

“Is that offer open to others?”

Ezra looked towards where the clipped Core-accented voice was coming from and stiffened. It was the Jedi.

Ezra's throat dried up. The Jedi had changed her top, he noticed, feeling a little hysterical. Rather than the fitted grey she had been wearing when he’d come aboard, her shirt was now a cream colour, wrapped over itself and held in place with a belt. It made sense, he supposed. After all, he had puked on her.

He could see the way Stance was looking between them out of the corner of his eye, the clone’s face twisted in concern. But Ezra couldn’t get his lips to move.

Behind him, Scratch cleared his throat. “I’m okay with you coming in - not sure about Bridger here, though.”

That seemed to dislodge the tight ball that had been blocking Ezra’s throat. “Yeah,” he said. “S-sorry. Yeah, it’s okay if you come in.” He could hear the strain in his own voice as he forced out a weak chuckle. “It’s your ship, after all. It’s not like I could stop you.”

The Jedi frowned, and Ezra couldn’t hide a flinch. She must have seen the flinch as well, because she then sighed, her chin dipping down to her chest.

“Regardless of whether or not this ship belongs to me or the Jedi Order, I will not force myself into a room with someone so terrified of me that they vomit when I come near.” Her voice was firm but quiet. “If Bridger cannot stand for me to be in the same room as him, I will respect his wishes and inform Master Windu that he will have to find another teacher for him.”

Ezra swallowed. Part of him, the small animalistic part that couldn’t tell the difference between the Jedi in front of him and the woman that had tortured him, screamed for her to leave. But the Ezra part of him; the part that could think - it was shriveling up in shame at the sadness and self-loathing in her voice.

“N-no, it’s okay. Really.” He shuffled in place, looking anywhere but at her. “It wasn’t anything about you,” he lied, “I just sorta - went back, in my head.” He tried to shrug casually.

For a heartbeat, the Jedi looked at him. Then she smiled sadly. “You are lying. I appreciate the intention behind it, but you are lying.” Deep, grey depression rolled off of her like sheets of rain, making Ezra’s stomach clench. “I am sorry that I could not be a better teacher. Please, enjoy your tea. I will inform Jarrus and Master Windu of what has happened.”

No. No, this wasn’t right. Ezra knew to his core that no one feeling like her should be the one apologizing and leaving. He had crossed the room and grabbed a handful of her shirt to make her stop before he realized that he was moving.

The sheets of grey rain stuttered, and the Jedi looked over her shoulder, her eyebrows raised. Ezra could feel his face burning again. “You don’t have to go,” he said, carefully shaping each word so that he wouldn’t stutter. “It was my fault, anyways, for freaking out.”

“Youngling -”

“I mean it,” Ezra continued, unable to look her in the face. He stared down at his shoes instead. “Really.”

There was a long silence. Ezra could feel the Jedi’s uncertainty mixing with the clones’ confusion. Pressing his lips together tightly, he let go of the Jedi’s shirt and turned away. Taking a slow breath, he tried to saunter casually over to a stack of crates in the corner of the room, labeled ‘Rations’. Jumping up onto the lowest one, he settled onto it with crossed legs and patted the space beside him.

“Come on,” he said, trying to smile. “I wanna wash the puke out of my mouth.”

The Jedi exchanged an inscrutable look with the clones. An entire conversation took place, spoken only with facial expressions that almost blurred past with the speed that they were changed. Then her face stilled. Straightening, she tucked her hands behind her back. “Very well then,” she said, her voice serene despite the worry that was still rolling off of her in waves. “If only so that you can ‘wash the puke’ out of your mouth.”

As she strolled over, Ezra focused on not letting the fear rise up in him again. She didn’t walk like the Inquisitor had, he scolded himself. She didn’t talk like the Inquisitor had. She sure as hell didn’t act like the Inquisitor had. Even if she had hurt his head while checking that he wasn’t evil back at the station, she’d been defending him afterward from everybody. He had no reason to fear her.

His traitorous heart still sped up when she reached him and gingerly sat down. Perched stiffly on the edge of the crate beside him, she folded her hands in her lap. Ezra swallowed at her closeness and focused on breathing as his headache began to throb.

He could feel the heat coming off of her body where their knees were almost touching.

Stance, who had started to boil some water on the stove, shot them a concerned look as the silence between them drew out. Scratch had gone back to chopping up the mess of greenery that he’d been working on before Ezra fell out of the vents, but Ezra didn’t even need to feel the anxiety flowing off of him through the Force to tell that he was worried as well. It was clear in the tension in his back and shoulders, and the jerkiness of his chopping.

“So.” Ezra broke the silence abruptly, before Stance could say anything. “I - uh, I’m sorry about throwing up on you. Back there. And stuff. I didn’t mean to.”

“It’s quite alright,” the Jedi replied, examining her hands in her lap. “I’ve cared for younglings before. It is not an unfamiliar sensation.”

“Right. Okay.” Ezra knew his head was bobbing like some toy but he didn’t know what else to do.

There was another lengthy pause. The water on the stove began to bubble from the heat. Stance, still sneaking peeks at them whenever he thought they weren’t looking, got out two cups from a cupboard and a bag of leaves, which he measured out with a spoon into the mugs.

“I made sure that your guards knew that there was no malice behind you running,” the Jedi said abruptly as Stance took the water off of the heat.

Ezra stiffened. He hadn’t even thought of that. Shame mixed with the low embers of anxiety in his stomach, making it churn as flashes of kneeling figures on a stage stuttered on the inside of his eyelids.

What kind of person was he, to not even think about what his actions would look like? He tasted blood on the tip of his tongue and hastily stopped biting his lip.

Stupid. Stupid. His eyes were burning again. He had to keep it together! He couldn’t keep falling apart if he wanted to keep Kanan and the others safe!

Beside him, the Jedi was still; but Ezra could feel the desire to shift in her frame through the waves of his self-loathing. Her next words, however, wiped all of that away with a massive wave of shock.

“They would not have harmed your crew, even if I hadn’t,” she said after a short pause. “I don’t think that anyone told you, but - the Ghost and its crew are a part of Fulcrum’s network, not the Resistance. Even if you are eventually judged to be a threat, they won’t be hurt. The Resistance does not have that authority, and Fulcrum would not hurt them either.”

“Wait, what?” Stance asked mid-pour. “He thought that -”

Ezra could barely hear him over the sudden ringing in his ears. “What?”

The Jedi examined him carefully, her expression inscrutable. “The Resistance has no authority over the Ghost crew. Fulcrum and their network are not officially a part of the Resistance.”

“…Why?” Ezra’s mind was racing; he had never heard anything like this. The Empire, whenever it spoke about the Resistance any more than about how they would eventually be crushed, always made it seem like some monolithic virus that needed to be burned out.

The Jedi pressed her lips together, seemingly thinking. “How much do you know about the Clone Wars?”

“Only what the ‘ganda channels told us.” Ezra couldn’t stop staring at the Jedi, dizzy with shock. “That it was between the noble Confederacy and the corrupt Republic and Jedi.”

Scratch barked a bitter-sounding laugh, not turning from his station. The Jedi’s lips thinned further, but she made no move to hit him. Just in case though, he subtly inched away.

But all she did was sigh and momentarily close her eyes, like an extra-long blink. “Well, I can’t exactly argue with that description of the Republic,” she muttered under her breath. Opening her eyes again, she pinned him in place with a look. “The Clone Wars began due to Darth Sidious inflaming long-standing grudges and dissatisfaction without and within the Republic Senate. And while many have now realized that the Empire is not the glorious solution that they were promised, many of the planets that originally joined the Confederacy are still - reluctant to cooperate with former Republic officers and senators.” She tapped one black nail against the back of her other hand, bitter frustration leaking through the dull drizzle of her depression. “However, many of those who hold a grudge against the Republic are the most dissatisfied with the Empire. Fulcrum being separate but cooperative with the Resistance allows them to retain their pride while not working at cross-purposes with us.”

Ezra still couldn’t believe it. “So, everyone’s safe because a bunch of people are still holding a grudge over a war over a decade old?” People couldn’t be that stupid, could they?

“Pretty much, kid,” Scratch drawled, not looking at them. He was almost done chopping up the greenery.

The ringing wouldn’t stop. Ezra hunched over and pressed his face into his hands, shaking his head. He could feel himself trembling. He felt like he was going to fall to pieces. Kanan and Hera and Zeb and Chopper - they were all - they had always been -

“I can’t -” he stammered, “I can’t believe it. I’ve been so scared -”

As soon as the words slipped out he regretted it. Sitting up sharply, he caught the pitying looks that the clones shot him.

He scrubbed at his face roughly. “Okay.” He tried to inject some breeziness into his voice and failed, his voice instead cracking. Clearing his throat, he tried again. “Okay. That explains a few things.” Like why neither Kanan nor Hera seemed all that afraid when Kanan kept back-talking Commander Sato.

There was yet another long, drawn out pause. Stance looked at the cups and nodded to himself. Picking them up, he brought them over. “I have to get back to helping Scratch,” he said, looking awkward. “You don’t have to leave, though, if you don’t want to.”

“Thank you,” said the Jedi, sounding more gracious than any Imperial official Ezra had ever heard. She brought the cup up to her lips as the clone walked away and hesitated. Ezra caught how her eyes skittered towards him out of the corner of his own.

He wished he knew what that meant.

Well, there was nothing he could do until she decided to talk to him. Bringing his own cup up to his face with shaky hands, the smell wafted into his nose.

It was sweet and a little spicy. Strong, too. It reminded Ezra of the sort of tea his parents had made in the mornings in their little compressor pots.

Damn. His parents. He could feel his eyes welling up. Hastily, he lowered his cup again without taking a sip and focused on taking slow, deep breaths.

“Before we finish out tea -” The Jedi began, pausing as he reached up to scrub at his eyes again. She began again after he let his free hand fall back to his lap.

“Before we finish our tea, I would like to apologize for triggering such a reaction from you.” She shifted. Ezra didn’t look at her, instead staring down at the dark liquid. He could see out of the corner of his eye that her knuckles were pale. “I did not - I apologize. It foolishly did not occur to me after everything I learned about you that you would react poorly to someone checking your shields.”

Ezra kept staring down into his mug. “Is that what that was?” he asked dully. He still felt jumpy and unstable from everything, but shock was quickly draining away into exhaustion.

“Yes.” There was a pause as she took a sip. “It was not meant to shock you.” And the drizzling rain of shame and self-blame that was surrounding her increased. “I will be sure to warn your next teacher to tell you when they are going to test you.”

Ezra shook his head. “No, it’s okay,” he said quietly. “It wasn’t just you, it was -” He hesitated. He didn’t want to think about it, but she didn’t deserve to feel like a raincloud beside him.

“A woman - it was a Mirialan woman that tortured me,” he said carefully, focusing on keeping his voice from wobbling as his chest tightened. He could feel the Jedi beside him tense, but forged onward before he could break down. “And I know that you’re not her. You don’t look like her, besides being the same species. You don’t - talk like her. You don’t even move like her. It’s just -”

A sob coiled in him and threatened to burst out of his throat. He stopped and swallowed a gulp of air. His hands were shaking, making the tea come perilously close to sloshing over the rim.

“That room, that we were in,” he said quickly, before she could do more than shift in her seat. “When she was - hurting me, we were in a room a lot like that. Blank walls, no windows. And just her. In front of me.” His lower lip was throbbing as his chin tried to wobble. “And she liked - she liked to do a lot of stuff to me, like making me feel - making sure that I could feel everyone. Hurting. Making sure that I could feel how, how rotten that place was -” He had to stop and swallow again. “I mean, before they gave me to her, it was horrible as well, but it was a horrible I knew, you know?”

Ezra didn’t dare look up as he heard her put her cup down. He especially didn’t dare look up as she put a warm, comforting hand on his back. He just squeezed his eyes shut and gripped his mug tight, breathing in the tea’s scent. He wasn’t there, he wasn’t there -

“I’m afraid that I don’t know what you mean,” the Jedi said. Every word was carefully shaped.

Ezra breathed in sharply, his throat feeling like he had tried to swallow a knife. “They called her the Seventh Sister. I don’t know what her real name is; no one called her anything but that. But before her -” he forced himself to breathe, “before her -”

He was biting his lower lip again. Snapping his eyes open, he forced his jaw to relax.

He could feel a phantom hand, cold as ice, lazily brushing down his chest. Stance and Scratch had stopped preparing food altogether, looking back at him over their shoulders.
“Karabast,” Ezra mumbled. He didn’t want to think about it. He didn’t want to remember it. But the way everyone was staring at him now…

He was going to have to tell them about Dromund Kaas.

 

Chapter Text

Ezra’s face was still throbbing from the cut the Grand Inquisitor had given him, the little bacta they’d put on the slice long since absorbed. It gave a particularly sharp stab as he stumbled through the opening of the red forcefield, nearly falling to his knees. Behind him, the field hissed back into place, muffling the guard’s guffaws.

Ezra grit his teeth and straightened up, forcing himself to not look back. He wouldn’t give the men that had dragged him here the satisfaction of seeing him scared.

The other kids in the pen he’d been shoved into weren’t so smart. In front of him, several kids near his own age stared at him, their eyes wide and frightened like little jakrabs. They had all huddled off in separate groups with three or four other people, with the occasional loner standing with their arms wrapped around themselves.

Great. Seemed like there would be no worming his way into a group to figure out what was going on here. He’d have to eavesdrop.

Crossing his arms, he scowled at the starers, not letting up until after they shivered and turned away from him. As much as he would need to blend into the background for this, the other kids were mostly wearing Imperial cadet uniforms, and Ezra had tasted their physical and verbal kicks and punches way too many times to ever let himself back down first.

Once they had turned away though, he let his shoulders drop slightly and properly look around him for the first time since they’d touch down.

Ezra didn’t know the name of this planet, but he already hated it. It’s oppressive humid heat had started sticking his jumpsuit to his back within five minutes of stepping foot on its swampy ground. Thunder rumbled every few seconds, making his head ache. And being in this pen like livestock waiting to be slaughtered just made it all feel so much worse.

If he had been in a better mood, Ezra probably would have been impressed by the construction of it. In the middle of the pen was a massive tall tower with a little stage in front of it, massive screens bolted to its round sides and covered with little cages. On the stage stood three thickly-armoured soldiers, cradling massive pulse rifles in their elbows and with their faces only partially covered with tinted plasteel. And at the very top, if Ezra squinted, he thought that he could see a small platform with what looked like a shuttle parked on it, sleek and predatory like all Imperial vessels. Twelve tall duracrete pillars surrounded them, studded with shield generators up and down their sides like ripe zits. Red shields sprung from them, humming as their red glow spilled across the ground like blood. Beyond them -

A jungle. The stench of rotten plants and muck couldn’t be kept out by the shields, nor could the trees that speared up into the sky above the pillars. Ezra had never seen anything like them. They just kept going up, their bark dark and branches angular. They reminded Ezra of nothing more than charred hands sticking out of the ground, reaching up towards the sky like their buried owners were begging for mercy. The sky itself didn’t look too inclined to answer those silent pleas, though. Covered with thick dark clouds that were broken only by spidery white lines of lightning, something about them made Ezra want to look away from it.

Doing so, Ezra found himself looking back at his fellow prisoners. Shuffling further in, the hum of the shields was quickly replaced with the hum of conversation.

“- this doesn’t look like any school -”

“- they just dumped us here and took off, didn’t tell us when the instructors would arrive -”

“- who are the other kids; they don’t belong here, they aren’t cadets -”

“- My father is the High Lord of Bpfassh, and I demand that you answer me, sir!”

Ezra stopped and looked towards the speaker of the last snippet he’d heard. It was a blue-skinned humanoid, his eyes a single colour of pale yellow. He was dressed richly, with a tunic of gold shimmersilk falling down to his knees and enough fine gold piercings embedded in his tattooed face to to probably feed Ezra for a month back on Lothal. He was speaking to one of the guards on the stage like he was stupid, jabbing a finger into his armoured chest. All marks of a rich Core Worlder.

As he watched, the humanoid’s cheeks darkened and he jabbed a finger again into the roundhead’s chest. “Didn’t you hear me, boy?” he demanded. “I gave you an order! There has been a mistake! I demand that you contact your superiors immediately!”

Ezra couldn’t see it this far back, but he could feel the guard’s eyeroll in the tilt of his head. “Back, brat,” he drawled, “this is your only warning.”

Frustration rolled off the Core Worlder. He stamped his foot like a toddler, his hands curled into fists. “You cannot speak to me like that!”

“I just did.”

Ezra shook his head and kept walking past the stage as the kid continued to argue and throw a tantrum. Stupid. Being the son of some High Lord didn’t matter in the Empire. They would take you down all the same if you started annoying them. That was something he had learned quickly; how to not be worth raising a fuss about. That was why he had always stuck to petty street thefts; fewer people felt threatened by having their wallet stolen, as opposed to having their home burglarized.

Over on this side of the pen, there seemed to be fewer cadets. The familiar uniform wasn’t in evidence; instead, like the whining Core Worlder back at the stage, the other kids were dressed in a variety of clothing. Flicking his eyes over them, Ezra was surprised by how many looked to be rich - their clothing made of shimmersilk and studded with gold or pearls. His eyes were drawn towards one little gold and purple Togruta girl standing near the stage that couldn’t have been older than ten, wearing a fancy lace-trimmed tunic that fell to her knees and a little headdress made of pearls, held in place with tiny flowers that looked to be made of platinum and gold mesh. She was clutching the hem of her tunic so tightly it was wrinkling as her shoulders heaved with quiet sobs.

“I - I want my mommy,” she sobbed, hiccuping every couple of seconds. Tears rolled down her cheeks, marked up with white blobs. “Mommy -”

Ezra tightened his lips as he stomped down the urge to go and comfort her. Closer, he mentally knocked down her age to something nearer to six or seven. The same age that he had been when his parents had been taken.

He had survived that. She would too. She just had to learn that no one would care if she cried. Once she learned how to suck it up, he was sure that she would be fine.

Ezra repeated the reassurance to himself over and over again, trying to focus on something else that would make his stomach churn less.

The Grand Inquisitor. The creepy Pau’an, what had he said about him? That he was strong in something - the Force.

What was the Force? Ezra thought that he had heard of it before; something to do with the Jedi of the Old Republic? The ‘ganda channels didn’t go into more detail other than ‘tell an authority if you see one’ whenever they spoke of the Jedi, so he wasn’t sure.

Did the Grand Inquisitor think that he was a Jedi? Ezra chewed on his lower lip. The Inquisitor, creepy and scary as he was, hadn’t struck Ezra as stupid. And that’s what the idea of Ezra being a Jedi was, right? The Jedi were a bunch of old mystics, they wouldn’t bring in kids into their Order, right? They probably only accepted really old, boring monks that reminded them of themselves.

A crack, like a bone breaking except a thousand times louder, slammed into his ears. Ezra jumped into the air, whirling around to see where the sound had come from, his heart pounding in his mouth.

There, on the weird little stage in front of the central tower, was a human man, holding a smoking blaster pointed above his head. Two more men stood beside him, their heads completely covered in the roundhead helmet.

“Do I have your attention?” he asked, his voice pleasant but with an undercurrent of malice. Above him, the screens flickered on, showing his face and making his voice boom across the pen. “Good. Then let me be the first to welcome you to Dromund Kaas.”

You could hear a pin drop. The crowd around Ezra was silent, staring at the man and his guards, all of them in black uniforms cut unlike anything Ezra had seen Imperials wearing before. It still had the same stiff straight lines of most Imperials, but the rank markers and tiny decorations that usually told Ezra whether or not to risk messing with them was entirely absent, replaced with Imperial crests. The two guards, bulging with muscle as they were, looked like overstuffed sausages, their hats perched ridiculously on top of their heads.

The man they were guarding, though, looked far less humorous. Slowly lowering his still-smoking blaster that he had had pointed in the air, he holstered it and tucked his hands behind his back, letting them all get a good look at him. The first thing that Ezra noticed was the gleam of gold on his collar rather than the usual white, matching the hair that was slicked back from his forehead. His eyes were so pale that from where Ezra was standing, he wondered for a wild moment if he was blind.

The smile on his face, though - that put all questions to rest. Like a knife’s blade, it slashed across his face, revealing bone-white teeth and blood-red gums that made Ezra think of a loth-wolf taking a bloody mouthful from some unlucky lothalope. His stomach flopped at the thought, and Ezra wondered if he and the other kids were going to be the lothalopes to his wolf.

“I am the Headmaster,” he introduced himself, placing a gloved hand his chest. “The highest authority on Dromund Kaas, in charge of the Committee of Public Safety’s Inquisitorius Program. While you are here, you will obey me and the guards as you would whatever heathen gods you worship.”

Ezra could see several people in the crowd bristle, including the Core Worlder that had been yelling at the guards earlier. Privately, he wondered why they seemed so surprised. It wasn’t like the Empire encouraged such things anyways; they preferred to have people focusing more on working rather than religious debates and made it clear by closing down nearly every religious organization that they encountered.

Then again, most of the people bristling were dressed like the Core Worlder. Things were different for you in the Empire when you were rich.

“Many of you are no doubt confused as to why you are here,” the man continued, taking a step towards them. Several of the kids closer to him shuffled back, their eyes wide as they looked up at him. “I am aware that those of you who were among the ranks of our Empire’s cadets were told that they were being placed within a special training program for the gifted. Those of you outside of the Empire’s ranks were not.” He paused, his pale eyes scanning them all, huddled together for comfort. “That is why I will now be explaining the sort of role that you will fill in the Empire upon graduating from this program.”

The man then did something that surprised Ezra. Rather than staying up on the stage, he stepped down onto the ground, striding into their midst. Above, his head continued to float on the screens, and Ezra risked a moment to try and see where the holocams were.

“You have all been identified, whether through regular classroom surveillance or other methods, as particularly valuable individuals for the Empire.”

Identified? Ezra’s head snapped back towards the man, his mind immediately skipping back to the Grand Inquisitor’s words in that Lothali alleyway. The ones he had been mulling over before the Headmaster had introduced himself. At Sumar’s farm - hadn’t he said that Ezra was going to be put into some program supported by the Committee of Public Safety when Minister Tua had asked?

“It was at the birth of the Empire, on our day of glorious victory against the corruption of the Republic, that the concept of this program was born. The Inquisitorius, a group of individuals meant to safeguard our borders against internal dissent and the terrorist actions of the Republican Rebellion. You have all been chosen to be the next generation of this organization.” The man puffed his chest out, a look of hot pride on his face at the mention of the Empire’s victory. It was wiped off of his face almost as soon as it arrived though, replaced with solemnity as he spoke his next words.

“But this organization has roots far deeper than just the Confederate Revolution.”

He tucked his hands behind his back again. “This planet, Dromund Kaas, was once the glittering capital of a thriving empire, free from the corruption of the Old Republic and rivaling it in strength and glory. In both battle and politics, it stymied the Old Republics attempts to subdue it.” His solemnity then turned into mournfulness, with a smoothness that made Ezra want to applaud his acting. “However, the Republic refused to allow any competition to their hegemony, and with the help of their pets the Jedi Order, they slowly crippled and destroyed it.” He shook his head sadly. “Even their own Order of Force Users, based here in their capital, were unable to save their people’s independence in the face of Republican tyranny. This Order, meant to combat the Jedi on a level that normal people cannot reach, was known as the Sith.”

There was a stir among the people surrounding Ezra. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a dark-skinned girl with tightly-coiled hair turn her head and speak to the short auburn-haired boy beside her. Both of them looked confused and anxious.

Ezra only felt one of those emotions.

His parents, back before the Empire had taken them away, had told him occasionally about the Jedi. Tucked into his bed, they had barely spoken above whispers about the religious order based on Coruscant, radiating worry even as each word had floated into Ezra’s ears and dreams.

Laser swords, shooting off to faraway planets - it had all made for exciting dreams, snuggled up in his warm bed. Ezra hadn’t thought about those stories in years, his dreams filled more with worries about what he was going to have to do to find food the next day. But in all the stories he had heard, he had never heard of some opposite order of ‘Sith’.

“It was decreed by the Committee, when evidence of this ancient order was rediscovered, that the Inquisitorius would be based upon their values in opposition of the Jedi.” He stopped in his pacing, his pale face large in the screens above their heads . “Passion, over peace, pushing them towards greatness through the remnants of Republic stagnation. Strength, to gain the power to combat the Empire’s enemies. And with these values finding final victory over the Rebellion and their Jedi dogs, forever freeing us all of the chains of their corrupting influence!”

His pale eyes were glittering, a tiny bit of colour in his cheeks as he abruptly turned on his heel. “You will all be remade in the image of the Sith, and bring our Empire to its final victory!” His hand snapped out like a snake, grabbing someone from the crowd. Ezra swallowed as he saw the little Togruta girl he had seen crying earlier dragged forward to the stage by one skinny arm. “But for victory to be achieved, certain things must be sacrificed. Mercy. Compassion.” He climbed back on to the stage, the little Togruta struggling and screaming all the way until he threw her down in front of him, stalking around her like some great predatory cat. “Weakness.”

“All of these must be purged from you if you are to truly lead us to our final victory,” he said as the girl struggled up from where he had thrown him, bloody scrapes clear on her hands and knees even from where Ezra was standing. He found his hands curling into fists, the nails digging into his palms as the girl’s whimpers were broadcasted over the speakers. As he watched, the Headmaster’s hand snapped out again like a striking snake, and suddenly his fingers were digging into a white and purple-striped lek.

The man yanked her to her feet, making her scream as more tears marched down her marked cheeks.

“You cannot allow any of these viruses, these corruptions meant to excuse failure, take root in your hearts,” he boomed, pulling on the girl’s lek until she was forced onto her toes, her sobs echoing through the silent pen. “In any of your fellow Inquisitor’s hearts! There are no friends in the Inquisitorius, no softness in a war! If you see any weakness of the sort that this creature is showing, you are to destroy it immediately -” he threw the sobbing girl off of the stage, where she let out another cry. The man drew his blaster and took aim. “Like so.”

Ezra could feel his nails break the skin on his palms.

“HEY!”

The word ripped itself from his throat. Distantly, he was aware that the people closest around him had jumped at his shout and were now backing away, like little fish from a shark.

The Headmaster paused and looked at him, his nearly-invisible eyebrows lowered. “Yes?” he said, his voice mockingly pleasant.

Stupid, stupid, part of Ezra chanted. Now he knows your face. But the rest of him - the part that had been curling his hands into fists - just kept talking. “I’m just a little confused, you know,” he taunted, “you were going on and on about all this stuff like it was something new, but all I’m hearing is that you want us to be a bunch of Jedi rip-offs for your buddies on the Committee.”

Rage flashed across the man’s face and for a single, terrifying second, Ezra thought that his eyes held a strange, golden sheen.

Ezra didn’t have long to notice that, though, as the man leapt from the stage he had just returned to, shoving people out of the way. Ezra found himself backing up, his eyes darting around for escape routes through the crush of people around him, but it was too late. The man’s long gloved fingers twisted in the front of Ezra’s jumpsuit, holding him in place as the man curled his free hand into a fist and slammed it into the sliced-up side of his face.

Pain, so searing and intense that it drove all thought from his head, exploded across his face. His hands scrabbled uselessly at the Headmaster’s arm as something hot dripped down his face. Then the pain exploded again as the Headmaster brought his fist down again and again and again -

Ezra was gagging at the taste of his own blood in his mouth, tears squeezing out of the corners of his eyes when finally the Headmaster let him drop to the ground contemptuously.

Ezra could barely hear him as he began to talk again.

“The Jedi,” he growled, sounding inhuman, “would kill you as soon as look at you, brat! They fear what you will become here, like whimpering children!” His boot smashed into Ezra’s ribs, forcing the air out of his lungs. “You ungrateful -”

For several, heart-stopping seconds, Ezra was sure that this was it. That he was going to die here, beaten to death in the defense of some random kid that would probably die anyways. But then he heard a sharp hiss, of the Headmaster dragging in a breath through his teeth. He didn’t dare look up, his limbs shaking, until he heard the gritty noise of the man turning on his heel and walking away.

Peeking out of his arms where he had tucked his head in as soon as he fell to the ground, he saw the Headmaster walking away stiffly, smoothing his hair back from his face again. The crowd parted around him and didn’t come back together after he had passed, like he was some sort of weapon leaving devastation in his wake. By the time the Headmaster had reached the stage again, he looked the same as he had at the start of his speech.

“As I was saying,” he said, his voice even and calm, “you will be remade in the image of the Sith, serving your Empire and defending it against the Rebels and Republic remnant. To do so, however, you must purge yourself of any compassion or mercy, and replace it with passion and strength. Anyone who is incapable of doing so,” and Ezra could see a bit of that sinister hate in the Headmaster’s eyes on the screen, “will not be leaving this location. And you will be tested on your devotion to these principles, repeatedly and thoroughly.”

Ezra’s face was throbbing. His ribs were aching, and he had to keep swallowing down mouthfuls of blood to keep from throwing up. But a shiver of pure dread made its way past all of the pain and nausea to crawl down his spine with needle-like claws at the man’s words. And from the muttering around him, he wasn’t the only one.

Blinking away some tears, he took in the sight of the Headmaster standing on the stage again, looking over them with a gloating, greedy eye. Like they were just valuable objects and not people.

“Such testing will of course start early and often.” He looked unbearably smug, his guards echoing his expression. “And your very first one will be starting now.”

A murmur rose, a frantic buzz that made Ezra’s head vibrate with fear. One of his eyes was swelling shut already, but craning his head, he could still see the expressions of horror on the two cadets he had seen earlier.

Theatrically, the man pulled something out of his pocket. The holocam, wherever it was, focused in on it and showed on the screens that it was a small remote. The Headmaster pressed down on one of the buttons, and the image then switched.

Seven tall towers, echoing the structure of the pen, were shown, with thin lines of walkways webbing them together. They were much taller then the pillars of the pen though; Ezra could tell by the way their antennae scraped through the black clouds that covered the sky.

“This,” the Headmaster gloated, “is the Academy. It is where you will learn how to serve the Empire while keeping with Sith values. And it is precisely five kilometers from your current position.”

The image on the screen shifted, showing a red trail through the jungle surrounding them. At one end was a gold pulsating circle, clearly representing the pen. At the other end was a larger circle, this one red like the trail.

“You will have five hours to reach the Academy,” the Headmaster continued. “Everyone who does not reach it within that time will be left out in the jungle, a fate that I assure you, you would not wish for.”

And with that, the lecture seemed to have abruptly ended. The Headmaster turned and began to tuck his remote back into his pocket, heading towards the lift. Then he paused, as if remembering something.

“Oh, and if you were counting on staying here and mapping out a plan in safety before venturing out - I’m afraid that I’m not going to be allowing that.” He pressed another button on his remote, and with a dull, short whumph, the forcefields disappeared.

“I would advise you to start trying to find higher ground,” he noted idly as he stuffed the remote into his pocket. “The animals of Dromund Kaas are most unfriendly.”

And with that, he turned and strolled into the lift, followed by his guards.

Silence reigned over the pen. The only noise was the rustling of the wind through the leaves. Then thunder rumbled, and the screaming started.

Ezra stared at the door on the screens until they turned off, feeling numb. People were running all around him, shouting in disbelief, but Ezra couldn’t bring himself to feel anything like that.

Five hours to walk five kilometers. He could walk that in less than two, and he knew that he wasn’t exactly the picture of health. Damn near everyone here should be capable of covering that distance without trouble. So why were they being given so much time? What could possibly -

“Are you okay?”

Ezra blinked and shook his head. Immediately regretting the action, he pushed down the pain it sent shooting through his face and head and forced himself to sit up to see who the high, piping voice belonged to.

It was the little Togruta girl. Sniffing, she rubbed at her still-teary eyes and knelt down beside him. “Sorry,” she mumbled.

Ezra’s confusion must have shown on his face, because she cringed slightly and gestured at his face. “You got hurt because of me,” she said in explanation. “I thought -” Her voice cracked, and her big blue eyes began to well up with tears again.

Ezra was suddenly very aware of the feeling of dried blood smeared across his lips and chin from where the Headmaster had punched him in the face. On her, he could see the rapidly darkening smudges on her lek where she had been grabbed.

Hastily, he spat in his hand and began to scrub at the dried stuff on his chin. That at least, he could do something about.

“I’m fine,” he muttered back, not quite able to meet her eyes. He didn’t have a lot of experience in dealing with crying kids; most learned pretty quickly that tears just marked you as a victim on the streets.

The girl just kept whimpering low in her throat. “I thought he was going to kill you.”

“You and me both.”

Ezra immediately regretted the words as the girl graduated back into quiet sobs. Sucking on his lower lip, his eyes darted around.

The forest surrounding them was quiet, for now, but his gut said that that would probably be changing very soon. Even as he noticed that, he saw a few small groups break off from the still milling and crying crowd that surrounded them and head off into the jungle with pale but determined faces.

Ezra licked his lips. Even from where he was still sitting, he could see the jutting towers of the so-called ‘Academy’ in the distance. Now that he knew what he was looking for, they were easy to pick out from the tangle of branches of the surrounding jungle. It looked like it was a fairly straight line, though he knew that that would probably change once he had entered the forest.

But even if it did change. Even if there was something in there to trip them up…

Carefully, Ezra studied the little Togruta out of the corner of his eye.

Short and thin, up close he could nevertheless see some real muscle in her arms and legs. Pale little scars on her hands showed that she was used to doing some sort of work with them.

And he was injured.

“Listen,” he said slowly, “I got an offer for you. I don’t know what’s in that jungle, but I’m betting that it’s got a few nasty tricks up its sleeve. Since we’re both injured -” and Ezra was guessing from the way the girl kept rubbing her lek and the bruises that were already evident that having it yanked on probably wasn’t the most pleasant thing in the world “- how about we go through it together? My brains, your relative health?”

The Togruta hiccuped and swallowed. A little snot was dripping from her nose, and she wiped it with the back of her hand. “Really?”

Ezra shot her a grin and forced himself onto his feet. “Really really.”

She bit her lower lip, her eyes searching his face. A small part of him approved at her wariness; just because someone seemed to defend you didn’t mean that they had your best interests at heart.

“Okay,” she finally said, hiccuping again. “Okay.” Sticking out a hand, she grabbed his with a furrowed brow and pumped up and down firmly. “I agree to your terms.”

She said the last little part so carefully that Ezra knew that she was quoting someone else in her life.

“Good to hear,” he said. He let go of her hand and grabbed the other, shifting so that he was beside her. “My name’s Ezra. Ezra Bridger. What’s yours?”

She chewed on her lower lip as they started to move, her brow still furrowed. “My name’s Fleti Ba,” she said finally as they stepped past the massive stone pillars that surrounded the pen. “It’s very nice to meet you, Ezra Bridger.”

Ezra tried to smile at her as they passed into the dim of the jungle. “Same to you.”

Almost immediately, the crying and yelling behind them was muffled. The branches of the trees and bushes almost seemed to wrap around them like the arms of a terminal patient, welcoming them as the wind sounded a death rattle through their black leaves.

Tiny pinpricks of awareness marched up Ezra’s back, so much like a spider that he found himself automatically reaching around to swat at his empty back. Flicking his eyes around, he couldn’t see anything though. The thick, fleshy leaves around his thighs didn’t rustle except for where they pushed their way through them, a soft hiss that sounded like someone’s dying words.

As they walked further into the darkness, Ezra’s senses humming with tension, he found himself holding his breath. The trees that soared up all around them blocked out even the little flickers of lightning in the sky, their roots tearing up the earth and threatening to trip him. A bit of sweat rolled down his forehead and into his swelling eye, making it sting.

Slowly, slowly, as they stumbled through the darkness, Ezra became aware of a - feeling. It was the only way he could describe it. A feeling of being watched. Of a large predator, just beyond his awareness and yet somehow blowing its wet, stinking breath on the back of his neck. Every roll of thunder was a heartbeat; every drop of water falling on him saliva from drooling jaws.

Whenever he tried to subtly glance behind himself, though, there was no one there. He couldn’t even see the pen now, the jungle having surrounded them.

His side where the Headmaster had kicked him ached. They were completely in the jungle now, like it was a beast itself that had swallowed them up. His ears echoed with the sounds of his own heartbeats, Fleti’s small, sharp nails digging into the meat of his palm.

Deeper and deeper, they traveled in silence. Wide, flat leaves brushed against their thighs and heads, their undersides revealing swollen veins that glowed a deep dark red. The glow stained his skin and made the shadows that were just beyond the weak light they threw out seem just that much deeper. No birds sang in the bare branches that hung above their heads, and there was no rustling in the bushes along with them.

Normally, Ezra would have started talking in such a silence, or whistling, or singing. Silence meant bad things on Lothal; it meant people were hunkering down and waiting for a storm to pass - for the roundheads to decide to arrest some other family that night. Ezra had hated that, hated the fear that had choked the air, and had tried to break it whenever it seemed safe.

But that was the problem here. It was like passing through some ancient temple, or being underwater. Like waiting for the first lightning strike in one of Lothal’s dry storms, where no rain fell from yellow clouds and the skies just seemed to growl and spit white-hot bolts down onto the plains. It just didn’t feel safe to speak, to share stories or whistle in an attempt to keep the shadows away.

Ezra found himself wound so tight, looking for trouble, that he nearly kept going when Fleti suddenly stopped. Only her nails digging strips into his arms through his jumpsuit kept him from walking right off of the edge of the cliff they were suddenly on top off.

“Kriff -”

“There’s a cliff,” Fleti said belatedly.

Ezra took a step back, his stomach flip-flopping from the way that his foot had suddenly sunk into air rather that solid ground. “Yeah, no kidding.” Looking behind himself, he realized that the trees went right up to the edge, their wide trunks and the thick bushes that grew around them disguising the edge of the canyon they had suddenly found themselves at until it was almost too late for him.

Looking back forward, Ezra squinted up into the sky. The branches of the trees seemed to be as long as their trunks were tall, stretching out into the sky and nearly blocking out his view of the Academy’s towers.

But he could still see them, and they did seem to be closer than when he looked at them in the pen. He scratched at his sweaty forehead with his free hand, ignoring the way his hair clung to his fingers wetly.

“I don’t think we can climb down,” Fleti said quietly, gesturing at the cliff with squinted, suspiciously wet eyes.

Ezra respectfully ignored the tears and leaned forward as far as he dared to look down the cliff.

Smooth bone-white stone greeted his eyes, only broken up by the occasional root sticking through it like rotten splinters. It swept on and on, straight down until it finally met thick banks of mist that only hinted at there being actual land beneath them rather than sky. Straightening up and sweeping his gaze left and right, Ezra frowned slightly as he realized that they seemed to be standing in a small clearing; compared to the way the other trees surrounding them seemed to be squashed forward, half-falling off the cliff like hands reaching out for help. The place they were standing at had relatively few trees, all of them pushed back just enough to give them someplace to stand. They also faded into the mist, only shadows giving hint to the possibility of continuing land to their right. If Ezra squinted, he thought he could make out a particularly large trunk, half-fallen in the mist and resting on what looked like a part of the other side of the canyon that jutted out particularly far.

“Looks like you’re right,” Ezra replied. Looking around, he swallowed at just how high the trees soared above them. “If we want to go anywhere, we’ll have to follow the cliff-face.”

“The trees are in the way, though.” Fleti’s voice was shaky. She had seen their problem too.

Ezra swallowed again. “Yeah.” Reaching out, he brushed a finger against the nearest trunk. It was so thick and wide across, it probably would have taken three of him to encircle it,and their fingers would have only just been touching.

Underneath his fingers, the bark was thick and craggy, letting him curl his fingers into a crack like it was a handhold. He gave it a tug. Sturdy, too.

“You ever climbed a tree before?” He didn’t look down at Fleti. He hadn’t climbed a tree before; Lothal didn’t have many, and they tended to be short, scraggly things from all the tornadoes.

“Yes.” Fleti’s voice had a note of confidence that made him look back from where he was checking the bark for handholds.

Her cheeks darkened a little as lightning arced soundlessly across the sky. Thunder rumbled, sounding very far away.

“There was a tree back home,” she said, managing to keep eye contact with him. “I would play in it when my mommy’s man friends would come over.”

“Oh.” Mommy’s man friends -

Ezra’s eyes widened and he hurriedly looked back at the tree as he realized what that meant. “Oh. Good.” He swallowed. “We should start climbing then.”

Peeking back over his shoulder, he saw Fleti nod. She brushed past him and confidently began to clamber up the side of the massive trunk, her little fingers digging into bark. In no time, she was perched on top of the lowest branch, squinting further along through the tangle of tree branches.

Ezra wished that he could be so confident as she was up there. Beginning to climb, his ribs were already protesting after only a few seconds and making him gasp.

Fleti’s golden face peered over the edge of the branch, her blue eyes wide and worried. “Are you okay?”

Ezra grit his teeth. Halfway up the trunk to the lowest branch, the bark was digging into the palms of his hands like knives and his ribs felt like they were on fire, so in all honesty he wasn’t doing so hot.

But rather than telling her this, he just smiled up at her. Or, well, bared his teeth. “Yeah,” he choked out, hauling himself up a little further. “Just fine.”

Fleti’s brow wrinkled, but she didn’t call him out as he continued to climb. Shuffling aside, she let him haul himself onto the branch as well, watching him carefully with her lower lip caught between her teeth.

Ezra wiped at his forehead and ran his hands through his hair as he caught his breath. Up here, it wasn’t much clearer. However much the mist had thinned, the branches and leaves around them blocked out an equal amount. Craning his head, though, he could still see the massive fallen one, still bridging the gap to the other side.

“Okay,” Ezra said, trying to keep from breathing too deeply and making his ribs hurt more. “Okay.” His eyes trailed over the branches surrounding them. Thick and strong, they were so dark it was like someone had just cut out part of the universe, leaving only a hole in the shape of tree branches. Pressing his hand against the rough black bark of the trunk, he marveled at how his skin stood out so vibrantly against it as he stood up.

“Okay,” he repeated.

“What are we going to do?” Fleti asked behind him. Turning his head, Ezra saw that she was standing as well, now, tugging at the hem of her tunic again.

Ezra swallowed and steeled himself. They’d made it this far, they could make it to the end as well. “We’re going to head towards that big tree down there,” he said, pointing. “We should be able to climb across it.”

Fleti pressed up against him and twisted her fingers in his jumpsuit as she craned her neck. “Oh,” she said squinting. “That’s really far though.”

Ezra licked his lips and tried to smile down at her. “And these branches are pretty thick,” he said, trying to sound positive. “They can probably support our weight pretty well.”

Understanding flashed across her face. “We can just walk to there, then,” she said.

This time, the smile wasn’t forced. “Exactly.” Ezra turned back to the tangle of branches that spread out before them. “We can just walk.”

And so they did. The branches creaked underneath every step, the rough bark crunching, but the branches were so tightly tangled together that it was almost like walking on a wooden floor. Aside from the occasional branch that stuck out and forced them to climb over it, it was actually pretty easy.

Too easy. Ezra would be kicking himself later for letting down his guard.

They were only a little ways away from the tree bridge when Ezra first heard it. He stopped mid-step and cocked his head, clinging to the trunk of the tree who’s branch he was standing on.

The noise came again, making him narrow his eyes. Fleti turned back to face him from where she was a few steps away.

“Ezra?” she asked.

Ezra raised a hand to shush her, focusing.

The sound came again. A choked, wet whimper, coming from just a little ways away from them.

Slowly, so as to keep from making any noise, Ezra crept forward. The branches underneath his feet were obligingly quiet and sturdy, not making any noise with his movements. The noise that had originally caught his attention seemed to be coming from a part of the trees where the branches were particularly thick. So thick, in fact, that he quickly found himself forced to climb over and through the tangle.

Finally, though, he could crawl no further. The branches were too thick to press on through. Ezra didn’t think that that was a problem, though; the wet little whimper that had originally caught his attention was much louder now, more like a gurgle coming through a mouthful of spit. He had to be close -

Pale blue-smeared fingers grabbed the thin branch in front of Ezra’s face.

Ezra jerked back, an explosive gasp bursting from his lips. The fingers had a white-knuckled grip on the branch, the blue liquid (the blood, his brain hissed) dripping off of it and onto the thicker branches below. Gold glittered on them, even in the low light.

A gurgle, louder than all of the others, drew his attention away from the hand. Ezra could hear his breaths coming out in short, shallow pants as he forced himself to move his head just a little to see the owner of the hand.

A pale, tear-streaked blue face, heavily tattooed and pierced with gold ornaments greeted him. Light purple hair flopped over its sweaty forehead, getting in the alien’s pure-yellow eyes that even as Ezra watched let loose a few more tears. It was the Core-Worlder that had been arguing with the guard on the stage back at the pen.

“Please,” the alien whispered, blue blood trickling down its chin, “please help me -”

Whatever else that he was going to say was cut off as a wet ripping noise cut through the air. The alien’s eyes widened and then suddenly a gush of dark blue blood was spewing from his mouth and dripping down his chin in a curtain.

Ezra watched, paralyzed, as the other boy was dragged away from him, a few drops of his blue blood sliding down Ezra’s cheeks.

Through the gap in the branches, Ezra couldn’t see all of the beast that had dragged the twitching alien away. Most of what he could see was just a large, leathery-skinned foot with a massive curving claw sliced through the kid’s chest. And then, a massive set of jaws with glowing blue teeth that almost delicately took a hold of the kid’s head, leaving his terrified face visible, and began to twist.

The awful wet cracking, ripping sound jolted energy into Ezra’s paralyzed limbs and he found himself scrambling back through the branches, not caring how the rough bark was scraping up his hands.

Outside of the tangle, he didn’t stop even with his legs shaking. Turning, he grabbed the waiting Fleti’s arm in an iron grip and began to head as far away from whatever that animal was as he could get.

Fleti, however, dragged her feet and clawed at his hand. “Wait, what did you -”

“Not now we need to keep moving,” Ezra said in a single breath. “Come on come on come on come on-”

Something above them cracked, making him look up.

He didn’t see eyes. The beast was perched on the branch above them, its glowing teeth bared and surrounded with thick black fur that were the same hole-in-the-universe black as the branches surrounding it. And it was drooling.

Ezra knew that Fleti had seen it too, because she didn’t scream at the way his fingers were digging into her wrist.

The beast rumbled, its jaws opening slightly to let a dark purple tongue slither out and taste the air.

Carefully, Ezra loosened his grip on Fleti’s wrist, letting it go in favour of pushing against her back, not letting his eyes off of the beast.

“Run.”

The beast moved like lightning. Wood shattered as he slammed down through the branches where they had been standing just a second before. Splinters flew through the air, scratching at Ezra’s cheek as he bolted through the branches. Behind him, he felt the thump in his chest as the beast hit the jungle floor. It howled -

And then out in the trees, there was a replying howl. And another. And another. And another.

They were near the fallen tree bridge. Grabbing Fleti’s shoulder, he hauled her in front of him and pushed her up ahead of him. There was a branch up ahead, thick and strong and sticking out further than any other. It led straight to a massive set of roots. The fallen tree.

Ahead of him, Fleti jumped. He could hear her grunt as her chest hit a root and knocked the air out of her.

Ezra could hear the beasts crashing through the trees behind him. His heart was pounding in his chest, every beat sounding like it was being echoed by the thunder up above.
Strength coiled in his legs and he jumped.

Something whistled through the air behind him. A bone rattling howl, followed by a thud and more growling and roaring, followed him as he reached out towards the roots. They seemed so far away compared to the howling of more beasts than he could count that seemed to be just behind him. He could see Fleti, her face paled to acid yellow and eyes wide.

His hands grasped dirty roots, clawing at it as his weight came crashing down on it. The root was slippery underneath the dirt, almost wriggling out of his grasp. Ezra clawed at it frantically. He heard loud crashes like thunder behind him, mixing with the howls that rattled his bones. Fleti was reaching out towards him. She was crying again. The root was thinning. His nails were digging in, one bending away from its bed -

He stopped. Hanging in the air, the howls of the beasts so loud that he could feel them rattling his chest, his nails broken and bleeding. But he had stopped.

“Ezra!”

Ezra glanced down at where Fleti was pointing and barely avoided the jumping beast’s claws.

“KRIFFING -”

There was a roiling mass of beasts below them. Snapping their glowing blue jaws, their roars mixed with the rolls of thunder above them. They were shoving and pushing at each other, slamming into the base of the tree and digging their claws in as they tried to climb up after them, only to be dragged down by the others below them.

“Hey!” A new voice called down to them.

Ezra almost didn’t dare take his eyes off of the beasts to look up. But as he struggled to haul himself up onto his root, swearing and bleeding, he couldn’t help but do so.

A boy around his age, with neatly-trimmed dark brown hair and tanned skin a few shades darker than Ezra’s was looking down at them. He had an arm clad in a cadet uniform dangling over the edge of the trunk, and from it -

“Grab my belt!” the boy shouted, waving it frantically and making the belt sway.

Another beast slammed into the base of the trunk, making it shudder. Ezra made a snap decision.

“Fleti, grab it,” he shouted. “I’ll be right behind you!”

The little Togruta girl didn’t need much encouragement. With one last terrified look at the beasts below, she grabbed the end nearest to her and let herself be half-dragged up to the trunk, kicking at the roots on the way to help the other boy.

Ezra, now firmly on the root, followed after her with his own two hands. Ignoring the pain radiating from where his nails had been torn out of his fingertips, he scrambled up to the lip far easier than when he had been climbing up the trunks earlier. It helped that with all of the roots around him, there were far more easy handholds than just bark. It was almost like Lothal’s Capital City, actually -

The boy from before grabbed Ezra’s collar as soon as he was within range and hauled him over the edge. Ezra realized that he was panting, his ribs giving a sharp stab of pain with every inhale.

The trunk gave another shudder.

“Come on, we gotta go before they knock the trunk free,” the other boy urged.

Ezra coughed and stood up, keeping a hand on his side. “No argument here,” he wheezed.

Half-limping, feeling like his legs were about to give out beneath him, they barely made it to the other side before the fallen tree gave a mighty groan and began to roll. Its long-dead branches cracked, sounding like explosions as the root side was pushed off of the opposite cliff side, sending the whole thing and several beasts plunging down through the mists, the beasts shrieking all the way.

Ezra watched all of this on his side, having collapsed in exhaustion as soon as they were on solid ground. “Kriff…”

“Yeah,” the other boy mumbled. He was still on his feet but shaking.

Fleti knelt down beside Ezra and stroked his head, her little nails scraping against his scalp soothingly. “Thank you for helping us, Mister…” She trailed off, sounding like she was expecting a blow.

“Dev. Dev Morgan,” the other kid said. He scrubbed roughly at his face, staring at the other side of the cliff where the beasts were still growling and shoving at each other. Every few seconds, another fell off into the mists, howling.

Blinking slowly after several seconds, he turned to them and held out a hand. “Come on,” he said, his voice kind if dazed. “We still have a ways to go.”

Chapter Text

Ezra stared down at his tea, aimlessly kicking his legs. “So, after that, it wasn’t too hard getting to the ‘Academy’. Pretty quiet, actually - I guess all the screeching from those beasts scared the other animals away or something.” He started to bite his lower lip and stopped at the twinge of pain. “The Headmaster wasn’t kidding about the time limit, though. There was another group behind us just a little ways back, and he had the doors shut in their face.”

Ezra could remember the sounds of that little group pounding on the doors as they were lead away. It had echoed in the massive round room they had been left in, bouncing off of the vaulted black ceiling that glittered with flecks of red. But none of the guards or the Headmaster had reacted.

Later that night, shoved into a windowless cell barely big enough to lie down in, Ezra had heard the crack of laser rifles and screams.

The room was silent for a handful of heartbeats. Then -

“Holy kriff, how in the Seven Hells was any of that normal?”

Ezra started out of his thoughts and looked up to see Stance staring at him in horror.

“Um, well, the stuff was bigger, and usually I didn’t have to run through a forest, but it wasn’t really that different from Lothal. I mean, people beating up anyone that looks weak, being chased by vicious animals,” Ezra shrugged, feeling awkward. “It’s not that different from tangling with some drug lord. Or the roundheads - they always liked making examples.”

“…I do not remember Lothal being that bad the last time I visited it.”

Ezra blinked and looked up at the Mirialan Jedi beside him. “When did you ever visit Lothal?” he asked, quirking an eyebrow.

Her look of horror quickly shifted into mild offense and Ezra abruptly realized how rude he had probably just sounded.

“I mean,” he stammered, “it’s just, things are pretty locked down there, and I’d think that a Jedi wouldn’t be willing to risk it -”

The Jedi raised a hand quickly, making him stop babbling. “It’s alright.” Her voice was very gentle. She made an aborted gesture, like she was about to put her hand on top of his and then thought better of it. “It’s alright. It was a very long time ago. Before the war.”

Ezra hastily looked back down at his feet and shrugged. “I was still kind of rude.” Awkwardness prickled the back of his neck.

“I have heard far worse than that, Ezra Bridger.” She brought her hands together. Out of the corner of his eye, Ezra could see her press a thumbnail into the meat of her hand. “And you certainly did not mean it -”

“Hey you can’t -”

Ezra turned towards the door just in time to see Kanan hipcheck the human male of his guards hard enough to send him flying on his way through the doorway.

“Ezra!”

“Kanan!” Ezra jumped to his feet, sloshing tea from his cup onto the ground.

The older man crossed the room in three short steps and grabbed Ezra by the shoulders, pulling him into a hug and making him drop his mug.

“Kanan, what are you -?” Ezra began, confused.

But Kanan let him go before he could finish his sentence, holding him at arms length and looking him over with a critical eye.

“I felt your fear on the other side of the ship. Are you okay?” His voice was rough.

Oh right. The whole running away in terror thing.

“Ummmm…” Ezra glanced over at the Mirialan Jedi and the clones and thought furiously. How to explain this, exactly? Without Kanan flipping out?

Kanan’s arms suddenly tightened around him. Looking up, Ezra realized that Kanan had followed his gaze to the Mirialan Jedi and was now frowning.

“What did you do?” His voice was low and threatening, his fingers digging into Ezra’s arms.

Ezra grabbed his arms. “It’s okay!” he said before the Jedi was able to do anything other than frown. “It’s okay, I’m fine. I just - I just got reminded of a few things, from the Inquisitors. It was an accident, she didn’t mean to do anything.”

Kanan tore his eyes away from the woman and frowned down at him. “Ezra, you were terrified. That’s not nothing.” His eyes were boring through Ezra, shining with concern.
Ezra looked away. “I’m fine. I was doing fine.”

He could feel Kanan’s disbelief like a rough blanket being wrapped around his head. But he didn’t say anything more to contradict him.

“Fine then. Master Unduli, how did he do with learning about shielding?”

The Jedi - no. The woman had been nothing but kind since she had read his mind. She’d defended him against the more paranoid members of the Resistance, and even apologized for everything that he’d been going through.

She wasn’t the Seventh Sister. And Ezra was going to make sure that he remembered that.

Master Unduli got up from her seat, not quite frowning at Kanan. “He seems to have grasped its fundamentals,” she said slowly.

“Great.” Kanan cut her off before she could say anything else and began to drag Ezra out of the room. “That’s good enough for the first day, I think. We’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Jarrus, wait -” Master Unduli began. Ezra could see her reaching after them through a gap in Kanan’s arms. But then he was around the corner, being dragged back towards the shuttle they had come over with.

The Wookie was helping up the human male that Kanan had shoved as they hurried by, the pink Twi’lek man and the human woman kneeling down beside him with a hand on his shoulder. All three looked up at them as they passed.

The Wookie warbled something as they passed.

“Fine, whatever,” Kanan snapped, “we can put the cuffs on in the shuttle.”

The Wookie growled again.

“Take it or leave it,” Kanan called, continuing down the hallway, half-carrying Ezra in his arms again.

Still staring back the way they came, Ezra saw Stance and Scratch poke their heads out through the doorway. Stance waved.

“Come back and visit any time then, Ezra!”

The flash of pain that ripped through Ezra was enough to make him look up at Kanan sharply. His face was stony, his eyes pointing straight ahead, but the way his pain was jumping around - one moment almost strangling Ezra and the next feeling like it had been shoved outside of the ship altogether - was so weird Ezra couldn’t help but stare.

Ezra kept staring all the way back to the Ghost, picking at his nails. Kanan didn’t seem to notice, the look on his face - it was like before, when he had hit Ezra. Looking at something a thousand parsecs away.

So Ezra didn’t say anything on the shuttle back to the carrier. He didn’t say anything as they re-entered the Ghost. He didn’t say anything as Kanan disappeared, and he was left standing outside of the bunk he was sharing with Zeb. All he did was numbly start heading towards the galley, his stomach twisting.

Walking down the hallway, though, he began to hear the low murmur of voices. Focusing slightly, he could pick out Hera and Sabine’s voices. But there was third one in there with them, one that he didn’t recognize.

Slowing his steps, Ezra narrowed his eyes slightly as he tried to figure out what the people were saying. The voices were mostly a low mutter, but every once in a while Ezra could almost make out a word -

“They want to make him into the next HIGH INTERROGATOR! You’ve heard the stories, YOU’VE SEEN THE VID! WHY CAN’T YOU SEE HE’S A THREAT!”

Ezra, just a few feet away from the door, jumped as it whooshed open and disgorged an angry Sabine clutching something tightly in her hand. Pausing just long enough to shoot him a glare, she stormed past him and disappeared down the ladder to the cargo bay.

Ezra stared after her for several seconds, frozen in shock. What had that all been about?

A low, gusty sigh emanated from the room. Peeking around the doorway, he saw Hera and a Togruta woman sitting at the galley’s table. Hera had her head in her hands and was shaking her head slowly, and the Togruta woman was staring after Sabine with a speculative look on her face. Her eyes were a brilliant blue, reminding Ezra of Lothal’s sky when he was little boy, before all the factories came.

Those eyes slowly blinked, their owner bringing an orange hand up to her chin and gently holding it. Ezra could see her thumb slowly moving, stroking the skin underneath her chin. And then slowly, like she could feel him looking at her, those blue eyes drifted over to him.

Too late, Ezra tried to shuffle back out of sight, only to cause the Togruta’s lips to curl up in a small smile.

“Hello, young one,” she greeted. “It’s nice to finally meet you.”

Ezra hesitated, only half-hidden. Hera, who had been rubbing at her temples, looked up sharply only for her expression to soften as she saw him.

“Hi Ezra,” she said, her voice as soft as her eyes. “Are you done with your lesson already?”

Ezra bounced his gaze between the two women and chewed on the inside of his cheek before he answered. “I uh,” he mumbled, stepping more fully into view in the doorway. “Kanan kind of just decided that the lesson was, um, over.” He rocked and drummed his fingers against the doorway. “I think he’s in his room.”

A frown wrinkled Hera’s forehead. “That’s - not good,” she said slowly, standing up and glancing at the Togrutan woman. “Would you mind if I just check on him for a moment?”

“Go ahead,” the woman said. “I’ll be here when you return.”

“Thank you.” Hera inclined her head in a half-bow towards the woman, a gesture of respect that surprised Ezra. Usually she saluted. But then she was already moving past him in the doorway, giving his shoulder a distracted pat as she moved past him.

And then Ezra was alone in the galley with the strange Togruta.

The woman’s eyes were very very blue. Ezra looked down at his feet and shuffled slightly in place, feeling caught. He still had no idea who the woman was, but it didn’t quite feel right to just leave. And honestly, after everything that had just happened -

He didn’t really want to be alone.

Pressing his tongue against the stitches in his lower lip, he tried to subtly look around for something to explain why he wasn’t leaving. His eyes quickly settled on a cupboard left slightly ajar.

The vitamin shake - the one he was supposed to drink that the doctor had given Hera. That he had thrown up. Trying to look confident, Ezra stepped into the galley.

He couldn’t keep himself from tensing up as he took the few steps towards the counter, though. The woman stayed silent as he reached up and flipped the cupboard open. Scanning the shelves, the back of his neck prickled as he looked for the jug that he remembered Hera carrying.

The shelves were crammed full with a mess of packaged rations and dishes. Little jars of preserved foods, shriveled packages of protein bars and neatly-labeled boxes full of vitamins were mixed in with plates and chipped bowls, in a system that Ezra was pretty sure only Kanan could follow. But even as he scanned them, Ezra couldn’t make out anything that looked like the vitamin powder jug.

Nervously, he pressed his tongue against his lower lip again. The woman’s eyes were still boring into him.

He moved onto the next cupboard, opening it up as well. No jug there either.

Third time was the charm. Ezra couldn’t keep his lips from quirking up in a relieved smile at the sight of the jug on the top shelf above him. His smile quickly faded though, as he realized that the jug was on the top shelf above him.

So far above him. Ezra knew that he was not the tallest person around, but with the woman in the room, still silent and staring, the jug seemed impossibly out of reach.

But he’d come this far - it would just look weird if he left empty-handed.

So first, Ezra tried just reaching for it. Maybe he was just still feeling off -

Nope.

Okay. Ezra paused, then shifted onto his toes, stretching as far as he could.

The jug’s handle seemed to be mocking him. His fingers weren’t even close to it.

Rolling back down onto the soles of his feet, Ezra paused and drummed his fingers on the counter as he thought. The counter itself was a little too high to easily climb on to, but there were some drawers right beside him that he could pull out to use as steps -

An orange hand glided over him and gracefully picked up the jug.

Ezra jumped back in surprise, bumping into a muscular frame. He whipped his head around only to see that it was the woman - when had she -

Her free hand gently touched his shoulder, keeping him from stumbling further away.

“Careful now,” she warned. “It wouldn’t do for you to hurt yourself after all the trouble Captain Syndulla’s gone through to keep you safe.”

Ezra bit the inside of his cheek. What sort of threat -

Then the woman’s eyes widened and she put the jug down, placing her other hand on his other shoulder. “I’m sorry, that sounded rather threatening, didn’t it.” Gently, she pulled him away from the counter and handed him the jug. It was heavy enough to make him stumble. “I didn’t mean it that way.”

“S’okay,” Ezra said, but he couldn’t bring himself to look at her while he said it. Grunting, he managed to cross the room and lift the jug onto the counter by the stove. “I just - the doctor said I needed to take, um, half a cup every day, and I already had some on my food but I kind of threw up and anyways there was no way that was half a cup -” He scratched the back of his head.

The woman chuckled. “It’s fine.”

There was a mug, chipped a little around the rim but big and within reach on one of the cupboard’s shelves. Grabbing it, Ezra set it down beside the jug.

“So, um,” he said, peeking at the woman out of the corner of his eye, “I didn’t catch your name.”

The woman, who had rested a hand on the counter and was now leaning on it casually, just smiled some more. “Ahsoka Tano.”

“Ahsoka Tano. Okay.” Ezra busied himself with kneeling down and pulling a saucepan out of the lower cupboards. Straightening up, he moved over to the sink to fill it with water. “So are you a friend of Hera’s?”

“Mmmm, more like a coworker.”

Ezra turned his head just enough to look over his shoulder at her. His gut flopped over itself. “What do you mean?”

The woman - Ahsoka - was looking at him with lazily hooded eyes. “It means that I also work for Fulcrum. They’d heard of you and wanted another point of view.”

Ezra swallowed hard. “Oh.”

The pan in his hands began to overflow. Hastily breaking eye contact, he turned the faucet off and tipped out some of the excess water. He could feel her staring again.

He steeled himself and took a deep breath before turning around. “What do you want?”

Ahsoka didn’t miss a beat. “Just to ask you a few questions. About before you ended up in the Inquisitorius.”

Ezra squeezed the handle of the pan until his knuckles were white. “Would’ve thought that you’d be more interested in what they did to me.”

“Oh, I am.” She straightened and placed her hands on hips, looking him over carefully. “But you’re going to be telling that to them anyways at Resistance headquarters. No, what Fulcrum wants is your background. In your own words.”

Ezra chewed on the inside of his cheek. He really wished that Hera was here. But it wasn’t like she’d leave him alone with the other woman if she didn’t think that he could handle this.

“Okay, but - can I make my drink first?”

Ahsoka smiled at him again. “Of course.”


Kanan had felt the tremors coming on while they were flying back to the carrier.

They had started in his fingertips and traveled up to his chest and throat, winding tight until his chest burned and he was only able to take small, sharp breaths. Ezra had been beside him all of the way, the cuffs shining in the corner of Kanan’s eyes and reminding him of polished blaster rifles in flickering firelight.

He didn’t last long enough to get to his room.

Ducking into the Phantom, the shuttle’s doors swooshed shut behind him and he clamped a hand over his mouth to muffle the little sounds he was making. The room seemed to sway around him. His ears were ringing. Groping blindly, he managed to pull down a folding seat and sit on it before he collapsed.

He was okay. He was okay. He was on the Phantom, which was part of the Ghost. He hadn’t been in the Temple for years, or around any clones. The clones in the room hadn’t recognized him as a Jedi. He was okay -

There was a beep and the doors whooshed open behind him.

It felt like every muscle in his body locked up. Fingers digging into his jaw, his eyes open so wide the corners hurt, he struggled to suck in a breath.

“Kanan? I heard you’d come back, I have something -”

It was Sabine. He could hear her voice like it was from far away, the way she stuttered to a stop, the sound of her footsteps. But he couldn’t make himself turn and face her.

He’d hidden in the Temple. Curled up in a ball, his hands over his mouth as he cried so that the sound wouldn’t give him away -

A hand intruded into his field of vision. His jaw was aching from how hard he was clenching it.

“Follow my hand with your eyes,” Sabine ordered.

Obediently, Kanan did so. Sabine’s hand drifted slowly back and forth in front of his face, making small circles and designs that flowed almost hypnotically. Slowly, he could feel his muscles relaxing and his eyes drying. He could feel Sabine beside him, standing close and with her hand hovering over his arm. He could hear the low whine of the ship’s electronics, and Chopper’s grumbling outside.

“You feeling better?” Sabine’s voice was careful, probing.

Kanan sucked in a deep, watery breath. “Yeah.” Now that he wasn’t floating, embarrassment began to churn in his gut. He was a full-grown man, and here he had a teenager having to help him through his little breakdown. A breakdown he’d had just from talking to an old man.

“Yeah,” he repeated, abruptly turning and sitting down on his bed, his head in his hands. “Thanks. I’m fine. You can go back to,” he pinched the bridge of his nose, “to doing whatever it was you were doing.” He flashed her a smile to make sure that she didn’t think he was dismissing her.

He just barely caught the tail-end of the irritation that flashed across her face. Without asking for permission, she abruptly sat down beside him, frowning.

“What happened?” Her tone was demanding. “You said that you were just going to take the kid to the Jedi. Then you were gone for hours and now you’re like this!”

Kanan pressed his hands against his face and groaned. Already, this? “Sabine…”

“Kanan, I’m worried about you!” Her voice was loud enough to make him automatically try to shush her. She ignored him and stood up again, beginning to pace along the Phantom’s cramped confines. “I know what it takes out of you to go near Jedi stuff - we all do! You do!”

Kanan stood up and forced himself to unclench his fists. Opening his mouth to reply, he turned to face her and found the words dying in his throat.

In the dimness of the shuttle, it was hard to make out Sabine’s features. But the tears in her eyes caught the light coming in through the viewport, glittering like synth-diamonds.

“Why are you doing all of this for some kid we only met a month ago?” she begged.

Kanan shut his mouth and chewed on the inside of his cheek. He had never wanted to -

Sighing, he sat back down. “It’s got nothing to do with Ezra,” he said quietly.

“Bantha fodder!”

“Sabine…” Kanan sighed again. The girl was staring down at her hands, clenched into fists in front of her tears streaked down her cheeks.

“Come here,” he said quietly, opening his arms. It was a testament to how emotional Sabine was feeling that she sank into his arms without protest, burying her face into the crook of his neck. She always prided herself on her professionalism. Too often, it let him forget that she was still only sixteen.

He brushed the back of her neck with his thumb as dampness slowly began to seep through his shirt.

“Sabine,” he said, keeping his voice low and soft. “I know you’re scared. I know you think that Ezra’s going to get us all hurt. And I can’t promise that he won’t.”

“But I can promise you that all this? My fits? They have nothing to do with him.” He could tell that she was listening by the stillness of her shoulders underneath his hands. “Master Windu dragged me aside as soon as I came aboard. It was talking to him -” He paused and swallowed as more memories of that short time between Order 66 and the fall of the Temple rose up. “It was talking to him that caused this. If anything, Ezra saved me. He had his own little fit and it gave me an excuse to leave.”

He could feel her pull a face against his shoulder. “What could Master Windu say that could mess you up that much?”

Kanan sucked on his lower lip. “Wasn’t exactly - what he said,” he said slowly. “It was more -”

He stopped again, struggling to gather his thoughts.

“He gave me a drink,” Kanan finally said. “Hot chala. And it was made exactly the way my master made it for me.”

Sabine stiffened underneath his hands, but he continued, the words feeling like they were just flowing out, like they were floating on a river.

“My master - it reminded me of what it was like, back at the Temple, before it fell but after I came back without her.” His hands clenched. “It was bad. Everyone knew someone that hadn’t come back; multiple someones. And outside -”

He broke off. He could remember the jeers, the insults; the rage of the crowds that gathered outside the Temple’s gates and screamed abuse at any Jedi they saw.

“People were angry, then. They didn’t realize why the Jedi Had done what they did. They thought of it as a military coup.” A bleak sense of humour rose up in his chest, forcing a chuckle from his lips. “They weren’t wrong - it was technically a coup - but they didn’t want to hear the evidence of Palpatine’s crimes.”

“And I was a wreck, after my master was killed.” He swallowed, his eyes burning even at the memory. “And there were people screaming for our blood, outside the Temple, I could hear them.” His fingers were digging into her back, and he forced himself to relax despite her lack of reaction. “I ended up going near them at one point and someone threw a chunk of duracrete at my head. I needed stitches.”

Blood had been pouring down his face, hot and mixing with his tears. There had been blood on his hands and knees, too, where he had scraped them as he had fallen. The Temple guards that had been standing there hadn’t helped him up, being too busy keeping the crowd back as they screamed to see more of his blood. He’d been forced to crawl up the steps, his vision doubling, and stagger back through the Temple’s main doors, crying all the way.

“It wasn’t a good time to be a Jedi.” He began to stroke Sabine’s back, more to soothe himself than anything else. “And Master Windu just brought all of those memories back.”

“You still wouldn’t have been near Master Windu if it wasn’t for the kid,” Sabine muttered mutinously after a long silence.

“Sabine,” Kanan sighed.

She pulled away from his arms and stood up, dodging his attempt to grab her arm. She wouldn’t look him in the eye. “I’m going to get Hera,” she said, her words clipped.

The doors closed behind her before Kanan could say any more.


Aarrrwan was thoughtful on the way to their first debriefing with the Commander.

Their shift guarding the child Inquisitor had been one of the longest of his centuries-long life. While he was far from an old man, he certainly wasn’t a young one anymore either, and after all of the excitement of the day he was feeling every decade. But it wasn’t the physical exertion that was most affecting him; it was everything that he had seen.

“- bloody freak, shoving me like that,” Daan was muttering as they came up to the main communications room, rubbing his shoulder. “I’ll flip his ass the next time I see him, just you - ouch!”

Aarrrwan let out a little chuff of laughter as Lt. Dicer smacked Daan upside the head. Young as the human male was, his huffing could get very irritating to listen to.

Amij snickered silently at the smack as well and looked up at Aarrrwan slyly. His long, nimble fingers made several gestures as Daan continued to whine.

You know, he signed, I’m pretty sure the kid complained less than him.

Aarrrwan groaned an agreement. The kid certainly hadn’t tried to use what he had told Master Unduli as a play for sympathy, certainly. And the whining was far less, even with all of the vomiting and fleeing in a flashback-induced panic.

Commander Sato’s and the hologram of General Kleeve were waiting for them as they entered the room. The Commander’s assistant, Katarn, was standing at the wall opposite of the door, and nodded as they came in. Aarrrwan nodded back at him. The human was one of the few on the carrier that was fluent in Shyriiwook, and Aarrrwan had had many a pleasant conversation with him since joining the Resistance.

Reaching the comm display, Aarrrwan straightened and saluted the other two men. He was quickly followed by the other three in his squad before they settled into what the humans called ‘parade rest’.

“Lieutenant Dicer. Seargent Aarrrwan. Doctor Tigu. Private Daan.” The General nodded at all of them in turn. “Commander Sato was just briefing me on why he chose you, and the events of today.”

Daan squirmed. Aarrrwan mentally sighed. The cub was far too fidgety in front of authority.

The hologram of the Devaronian General tucked his hands behind his back and squared his shoulders. “Let’s not drag this out, then. Report.”

Lt. Dicer glanced over them before stepping forward and saluting him. “Sir,” she said, her voice stoic. “As planned, Gold Squad was assigned to Bridger as a guard. We accompanied Jarrus and Bridger through Phoenix Nest and onto the shuttle to Hidden Temple without incident. While disembarking upon arrival, though, Jarrus took issue with Daan when he attempted to drag Bridger along with him.”

The General frowned. “What do you mean by that?”

Daan, to his credit, didn’t force Dicer to do all the talking. As soon as the question left General Kleeve’s lips, he was stepping forward to tell his side of the story. Aarrrwan nodded to himself approvingly.

“Kid had been sticking to Jarrus’ side like a sea-burr the entire ride over, while Jarrus kept zoning out. When they didn’t move once we had attached, I took Bridger’s arm to guide him towards the door. I guess he hadn’t been expecting that, because he made a noise and then Jarrus was tearing my hand away from him. In the interests of safety, we drew our blasters,” he nodded towards them all, even as Aarrrwan squirmed slightly in embarrassment. “He then informed me that my actions were not necessary and guided Bridger himself into the larger ship.”

The General didn’t look happy at that description of what had happened. Trading a glance with the Commander, he crossed him arms over his chest. “And afterwards?”

Lt. Dicer took over again. “Afterwards mostly proceeded as was expected. Master Unduli and Master Windu were awaiting us, with Master Unduli taking possession of Bridger without comment, though she did insist on having his cuffs removed for the duration of her lesson with him. Master Windu, however, insisted on speaking with Jarrus separately.”

Again, the Commander and the General traded looks. Behind them, Katarn rubbed his beard with his knuckles, still holding onto his datapad. Aarrrwan wasn’t the best judge of human expressions, but he was fairly certain that the man was looking worried.

“Do you know what Master Windu wished to speak with Jarrus about?” Commander Sato asked.

Dicer shook her head. “Unfortunately not. I decided that it was more important to follow Bridger to his lesson with Master Unduli than attempt to follow Windu and Jarrus.”

“Understandable and appreciated. Bridger is the focus of this investigation.” The General sounded approving.

Dicer bowed her head, still looking solemn. “We then followed Master Unduli deeper into the ship until she stopped outside of a small room that she intended to teach Bridger in. Waiting outside, we aren’t quite sure as to what caused the next events -”

“You waited outside?” General Kleeve raised a brow, his pointed ears twitching slightly as he cocked his head.

“Unduli said that the room wasn’t big enough - she was telling the truth, too,” Daan interjected. He faltered slightly as both of the older men turned their gazes to him, but rallied admirably. “It was basically the size of a closet.”

Aarrrwan rumbled an agreement as beside him Amij nodded and gave a solemn thumbs up of support for Daan’s description. Daan was exaggerating slightly; certainly, it was more like a very small bedroom, in his estimation. But Master Unduli had been correct in saying that they would not all be able to fit. Certainly, Aarrrwan would have been forced to crouch slightly to keep from hitting his head on the ceiling.

“With that established then…” General Kleeve’s gaze swept back to Dicer. “The way you are speaking is leading me to believe that there was another incident.”

Aarrrwan had asked Dicer about why she had joined the Resistance, when they had abruptly been formed into Gold Squad the night before. He had known everyone else’s story by that point, being very good at getting people talking. Daan’s family had lost their farm to government-backed loan sharks, and Amij had escaped from slavery. He had joined after the Breaking of Kashyyyk, mourning the loss of his family and friends. She had only shrugged when he had asked his question, looking slightly pinker than usual, and replied that her entire family had been a part of Republic Armed Forces, and that even with the Republic fallen she had always intended to continue that profession. As such, she was the most militarily professional of their squad.

It was a testament to how disturbing the sight that they had seen was that she swayed in her spot before speaking.

“At first, things seemed to be normal,” she said, her words slow and clearly carefully chosen. Her eyes had darted down to the floor, staring at the Commander’s boots rather than the General. “We heard a conversation behind the door, too quiet to clearly make out, but no one sounded like they were frightened. It seemed to be shaping up to be a normal guard job when suddenly we could hear Master Unduli speaking loudly.” Dicer furrowed her brow at the memory. “She sounded - concerned.”

Both the Commander and the General were leaning forward. Behind them, Aarrrwan noticed Katarn doing the same.

He remembered feeling the same sort of interest as they stood in front of the door of the room on the Jedi ship. It had been so quiet, and then Master Unduli had been speaking, her words still not clear but dripping worry. And then -

“Then there was a weird thumping noise against the door, like someone falling against it. At that point, we were worried -”

Worried was an understatement, Aarrrwan thought with a quiet huff that had Amij digging a sharp elbow into his side. They had had their weapons drawn and ready before Dicer hit the door’s release button.

“- and so decided to check in on the two.” Dicer didn’t miss a beat. “We opened the door just in time to catch Bridger projectile vomiting down Master Unduli’s front.”

Commander Sato’s eyebrows shot up into his hairline. Dicer shrugged uncomfortably. “Master Unduli seemed pretty shocked by it as well. Bridger was pretty much the only one who wasn’t frozen. He threw up a little more on Amij’s boots and then bolted.”

“Bolted? He tried to escape?” Commander Sato didn’t look happy.

Dicer was swaying again. She turned and looked at Aarrrwan before answering.

“Not exactly?” She bit her lower lip. “He didn’t seem to be trying to get off of the ship, precisely. It seemed more like he was just trying to get away from everyone.”

“So, trying to escape.” General Kleeve’s ears were twitching again.

Dicer let out a huff of air through her nose. “No, not like -” She stopped herself and dropped out of parade rest altogether to rub the bridge of her nose. “Sergeant Aarrrwan can explain this much better than me.”

Kleeve turned his head, his cybernetic eye gleaming despite being a hologram. “Ah, yes. The former child psychiatrist, correct? If he would oblige us, then, with his reading of the situation?”

There was a small fuss as Aarrrwan came forward; being a Wookie, he was incapable of speaking Galactic Basic, which presented several problems. Luckily, Katarn was there for just that problem. It turned out that he had set up a Shyriiwook to Basic translator on his datapad for just this situation. After a quick tutorial, Aarrrwan rumbled a thanks and straightened, ready to speak of what he had seen.

“Master Unduli was quick to regain her equilibrium,” he said, not the happiest with how much the translator’s voice sounded like a protocol droids but dealing with it. “She informed us that she had been checking the strength of his shields and he had reacted badly, and warned us that she did not think that he was fully aware of his surroundings.”

“Did she say how she had come to that conclusion?”

Aarrrwan shook his head at the General’s question. “There was no time. I decided that if he was not in his right mind as she claimed, it was more important to contain him before he harmed someone by accident. Following his trail, we quickly found out that he had entered the ship’s ventilation system. In this, Master Unduli proved to be quite helpful. She figured out where the particular entrance point that he had used would lead and had us heading there just in time to see him fall out into the ship’s galley.”

Pausing for a breath, he smoothed back his fur. It had been hours, and yet…

“Upon reaching the galley, we found that Bridger had fallen from the ventilation duct that ran through the ceiling. He was - upon seeing him I was inclined to believe Master Unduli’s statements, despite not speaking to him at any length. Which I really should, at some point.”

“Why?”

Aarrrwan couldn’t keep back a small, mournful growl as remembered the cub’s tearful, huddled figure. “Bridger appeared to be in the middle of a trauma-based flashback when we arrived. He did not appear to be aware of where he was, or when it was.” He smoothed his fur back again, trying to ignore how it was standing up. “He was begging the two clones present that were trying to calm him down to not ‘send him back’, saying that he had ‘learned his lesson’. He seemed afraid to recognize his name -”

Kleeve frowned. “What do you mean by that?”

Aaarrrwan paused uncomfortably. Daan once again jumped in. “It was really creepy,” he said. “He kept saying that he knew his name, that he was nothing, that he lived to serve the Empire -”

“Thank you, Daan, but we were asking the Sergeant,” Sato said, his voice stern but not unkind. Turning back to Aarrrwan, he nodded. “Please, continue.”

Aarrrwan nodded back, collecting his thoughts. “What Daan recalls is correct,” he continued after a moment. “Eventually, the clones did manage to calm him down, after which Master Unduli was able to speak to him again. During their talk, while we were outside of the room, the cub confessed that while imprisoned by the Inquisitorius, a female Mirialan Inquisitor called the Seventh Sister was charged with his care and teaching at one, and that he could not emotionally tell the difference between that woman and Master Unduli, and that that was why he had vomited and fled.”

“That’s not good,” Katarn commented from where he had gone back to leaning against the wall. He was frowning. “Master Unduli was supposed to be his teacher. If he keeps reacting like this…”

Aarrrwan shrugged. Bridger had seemed aware of his reaction, but Master Unduli had seemed hurt; his specialty was children but he rather thought that she might beg off on being his teacher now.

Commander Sato tapped something on the console and frowned. “The Seventh Sister. Are you sure that that was the name he gave?”

“Yes.”

His frown only deepened. “I’ll have to ask for a description, but there is a known Mirialan Inquisitor going by that name. She is apparently renowned for her cruelty.”

“Never mind that,” Kleeve said, stroking his chin. “Sergeant, do you believe that Bridger’s reactions were real?”

Crossing his arms, the Wookie thought carefully, rolling everything he had seen over in his mind. Then he nodded.

Commander Sato grimaced and crossed his own arms. “That does add to the evidence that Katarn brought me earlier from Bridger’s medical examination.” He looked them over carefully. “While talking, did he say anything else?”

Amij snapped his fingers to gain everyone’s attention. Looking back at the Twi’lek, Aarrrwan watched him sign impatiently and realized with a guilty jolt that he must have been trying to gain their attention for a while now, judging from the jerkiness of his handsigns.

The hologram of General Kleeve squinted. “I’m sorry,” he apologized, “I don’t know Galactic sign language. You are the psychiatrist specializing in war trauma, correct? Do you have something to add to Sergeant Aarrwan’s report?”

Amij shook his head, sighing silently, and sent Aarrrwan a pleading look. Hurriedly, Aarrwan raised the datapad to his mouth again.

“Amij says that during their talk, Bridger ended up revealing where he was apparently kept during his imprisonment. A planet called Dromund Kaas.”


Luminara felt like her mind was an over-filled boiling pot of water left alone for too long, spilling over the sides and splashing everywhere.

Dromund Kaas. Bridger had said that this ‘Headmaster’ had said that they had been on Dromund Kaas. But that was impossible, wasn’t it? Dromund Kaas was a creche-tale, told to scare younglings. A set-piece for tales during the Thousand Years of Darkness, before the Republic.

And yet - Luminara had felt the raw sincerity that had come off of Bridger as he had revealed his arrival at the Inquisitorius training facility. He had truly believed that the name of the planet he had been imprisoned on was Dromund Kaas. And his description of the planet…

She folded her hands into her sleeves and dug her nails into the meat of her forearms.

A thick hot jungle that nevertheless left you feeling cold. Impossibly aggressive animals. And a never-ending lightning storm. Those descriptions were far too similar to what had been described to her as a child trembling in her bed with the rest of her creche clan.

This was not something that she would be able to deal with on her own. She needed to talk with another Master. And the only other Master on the ship was -

“Master Windu, we need to talk,” she said without preamble as the doors to his rooms whooshed open.

Master Windu did not answer.

Kneeling at the room’s small table with his eyes closed, the older man was radiating emotional discomfort.

As Luminara stepped into the room, he opened his eyes but did not turn his head to look at her. “About what?” he asked.

Luminara stopped a single step in, the doors closing quietly behind her. “Several things. But to start with - I cannot teach Ezra Bridger.”

That had him turning his head. He raised a greying eyebrow at her. “Was he a poor student?”

Luminara shook her head. “No, actually. He was an excellent one; he grasped the fundamentals of shielding quite quickly. He lost focus almost instantly once I tried to test them, though.”

“That isn’t all, is it?” Windu’s face was grim.

Sitting down across from him, Luminara noted the empty mug that smelled of chala in front of her. It had a twin in front of Windu, and she had a feeling that she could guess how his talk with Jarrus had gone.

But he was looking at her for an answer. Luminara sighed.

“No,” she admitted. “That is not all.” She pressed her thumbnail into her skin especially hard. “I’m afraid that Bridger - had an episode.”

Windu immediately tensed. “Do we need to -”

Luminara stopped him with a shake of her head. “No, no. He didn’t hurt anyone. But while I was teaching him -” She stopped as the child’s terrified face lashed across her memories. “While I was teaching him, he ended up confusing me with one of his main tormentors in the Inquisitorius and fleeing.”

Windu went still. “How?”

Luminara couldn’t keep looking him in the eye. Her gaze skittered down to the table. She knew that the shame she was feeling was unwarranted; after all, how was she to know that Bridger had been tortured by a Mirialan woman? The only images of his tormentors that she had picked up had been shadows, smeared together into one figure with cold, grasping, hurtful hands.

The words felt spiky, like they were tearing at her throat as she forced herself to speak.

“It seems,” she said, her words dropping into the silence of the room, “that one of the main figures involved in his - lessons, was a Mirialan woman.” The skin underneath her nails broke, and she could feel blood welling up in the little half-circles. “According to him, she did things that he had no way of coping with. Which, considering that he spoke of watching someone being eaten alive and personally nearly being beaten to death as something that he could handle, says nothing good.”

Windu blinked once, slowly. “Ah.”

Luminara looked back down at the table. There was a particularly large scratch perfectly diagonal to the mug in front of her. “Quite.”

Silence stretched out between the two of them. After several minutes, Luminara risked a glance up.

Master Windu was staring down at his mug, a troubled look on his face.

After several seconds more of silence, Luminara cleared her throat uncomfortably. “My apologies; would I be correct in assuming that you have found yourself disquieted as well from your conversation with Jarrus?”

Windu glanced up, surprise quickly flashing across his face, only to be replaced with self-recrimination. “Is it that obvious, then?” he asked.

Luminara smiled weakly. “It seems to be becoming a habit of the two - making us question ourselves.”

Windu’s gaze drifted back down to his mug. “Indeed.” He lapsed back into silence.

Luminara could feel her nails breaking the skin on her arms. She should not be seeing her Grand Master like this.

She took a deep breath. “In any case, this is something that can wait until Bridger and Jarrus return for their next lessons. There was something else, though, that I originally wished to speak with you about.”

Windu looked like a lump on a log where he was sitting. He didn’t look up from his mug.

“After Bridger was calmed down from his panic, he ended up telling me quite a bit more about his experiences within the Inquisitorius,” Luminara said, pushing onwards despite the other Jedi’s silence. “He did not like speaking of the woman that tormented him, but he did tell me of other things in the Inquisitorius. Like where he was taught.” And now that she was at the moment, she found her tongue stilling, feeling thick and clumsy in her mouth. “He claimed that the Inquisitorius took him to Dromund Kaas.”

Windu looked up sharply. “Dromund Kaas is a myth; a creche-tale, like Tython.” The words fell quickly from his lips, like an automatic food dispenser.

Luminara inclined her head in acknowledgement of his words. “Those were my thoughts as well, at first. But his descriptions -”

“What about them.”

Luminara took a deep breath and shook her head, trying to gather her fraying thoughts. She could remember the boy’s words as if he was standing in the room with her, shouting them into her ears.

She did not want to believe that what Bridger had described was real. She had to be honest with herself and admit that, now. Dromund Kaas, while a frightening creche-tale, had also been comforting in how over-the-top it was. Nowhere like that could possibly be real.

But.

“His descriptions of the planet where he was kept could have been taken out of a storybook. A jungle planet, its skies constantly covered in thunderstorms, hot enough to make you sweat but chilling you to the bone. Massive animals that act unnaturally aggressively towards other living beings. All he would have to add to make it a creche-tale would be Darth Nox shooting lightning at him.”

Windu grimaced. Reaching up, he rubbed his lower lip. “This is disturbing. My thanks for bringing it to my attention.”

Luminara watched him worriedly. “If Bridger is telling the truth…”

Windu pressed his lips together into a line and raised a hand. “If he is telling the truth. If he was even told the truth. We have enough worries already.” Letting out a sigh, he tucked his hand back into his lap with its partner. “We must stay mindful of the present.”

It was not quite the answer Luminara had been looking for. The idea of a place like Dromund Kaas actually existing had unsettled her, and she had rather childishly been hoping that the Order’s Grand Master would be able to soothe those worries.

But Windu almost seemed like he wasn’t paying attention to her words at all. His dark eyes were clouded as he stared down at the table, not moving to even offer her some tea as was his way.

“Master Windu,” she said hesitantly, “are you alright?”

The human man didn’t answer right away. His hand slowly rose from where it had been resting and rubbed at his chin again in an unusually distracted movement for him. “I’m not sure.”

Luminara dug her fingers into her arms again, making the cuts already there sting. Patiently, though, she waited for him to gather his thoughts.

Finally, after the seconds had stretched out to the point of snapping, he spoke once more.

“Master Unduli,” he asked, his slow and uncertain like she had never heard from him before. “Would you say that we are - cruel?”

Luminara kept herself still, and didn’t show just how confused she felt at his question on her face. “I don’t understand. What do you mean?”

“I meant -” He paused, his eyes narrowing. “The Order, as a whole.”

Luminara just stared at the man. What -

How could he say that? Compassion was central to a Jedi’s life; cruelty did not come naturally to them.

“What do you mean?” she asked. “Who said that to you?”

Windu grimaced. “Just some things Jarrus said.”

She shook her head. “How could he -”

A knock at the door cut off what she was about to say. Luminara turned her head just in time for the doors to open, revealing who had knocked.

“Master Windu. Master Unduli.” Nema bowed her head, looking much better than the previous night. “I just wanted to inform you - I am ready to begin Bridger’s treatment.”

Chapter Text

Kanan could feel Ezra’s worried glances as they sat in the galley the next morning, finishing up their breakfast. Or rather, as Ezra and the others finished their breakfast. Kanan’s own stomach was churning too much for him to do much more than nurse a cup of caf and stare down at the surface of the table. He knew that he looked like poodoo, having only barely being able to roll out of bed after the sleepless night he had spent staring up at the ceiling above him. He certainly felt like poodoo. His hair hung loose and greasy around his face, making his scalp itch, and he hadn’t been able to work up the energy to shave. Beside him, Ezra fiddled with the frayed edge of his scarf and radiated worry.

Zeb belched and pushed his plate away from him, making it scrape loudly against the table surface. “So, Hera,” he said, his voice overly casual, “what’s the plan for today?”

Hera put her cup of caf down on the table with a soft clink. “Well, I need to talk to Ahsoka a little more today, and then Commander Sato was saying that he needed some help with a few pilots as well. Master Windu -”

Kanan flinched. He could hear the old Korun master’s cool, emotionless tones from all those years ago in the Temple’s council chamber, blending together with yesterday. His free hand, lying in his lap, curled into a fist.

Hera’s voice stuttered, and Kanan knew that she had noticed his reaction. “Master Windu also commed yesterday evening; he said that Knight Nema was finally prepared to begin Ezra’s sessions with her.”

Zeb rumbled. “Right, that mind-healing. Sounds pretty involved.”

It would be, Kanan thought numbly to himself. He wasn’t an expert in that area of healing, but back at the Temple (before the war) he had devoured a bunch of texts on the subject out of sheer fascination. All of them had talked about how a mind-healing session was rarely anything less than two hours, and more often more.

Stars help him, he didn’t think that he could take even half an hour in the Hidden Temple. He could feel Master Windu’s hand, digging into his shoulder and leading him away from everyone.

He bowed his head lower, letting his hair fall in front of his face. Ezra’s concerned gaze was boring a hole into the side of his head.

Hera cleared her throat as Kanan didn’t say anything. “Master Windu certainly made the process sound like it would take a long day. He said that we should keep it empty if we want to stay with Ezra while it’s being done.”

Kanan could feel everyone’s eyes on him now.

Zeb cleared his throat. “Guess it’s my turn to take the kid then.” His voice was cheerful, but Kanan could feel the concern underneath it. “Always wanted to know how Jedi did this stuff. Priestesses back home didn’t like people looking in.”

Kanan looked up sharply. Had Zeb - ?

The Lasat stood up and patted Ezra on the shoulder, very carefully avoiding looking at Kanan. “C’mon, kit,” he said, “we should probably get going if we want to be back for dinner.”

Ezra jumped slightly as the massive hand swallowed his shoulder. “Um, okay,” he said, looking up at Zeb. “If that’s okay with Kanan.”

Those big blue eyes turned to him with that last sentence. If Kanan hadn’t been so exhausted, he would have squirmed at the worry in them.

Taking in a deep breath through his nose, he pasted a fake smile onto his face. “Sure,” he said, far more cheerfully than he actually felt. “I had a few things I wanted to get done around the ship.” Like sleeping. Or resisting the urge to go find the nearest ship’s still and drinking himself unconscious.

He kept the smile as he turned to look at Zeb. “Thanks buddy,” he chirped.

Zeb’s sympathy burned and forced him to look away hurriedly.

He kept the cheery air up until the two of them left the room. Then and only then did he let himself slump back over his caf and cradle his head in his hands.

“Love.”

Hera’s small, calloused hand pried one of his hands away from his forehead, winding her fingers in his. Kanan looked at the slim green fingers, rubbing a knuckle with his thumb and trying to ignore the concern that was flowing off of her in waves.

“Do you need me to stay today?”

That soft, loving question. Kanan closed his eyes. If he said yes, Hera would stay with him. She had done it before, when it was just the two of them and Chopper, in those four years before they had rescued Zeb and started growing their little family.

She had first asked it a year and two months into their partnership. It had been Empire Day, and they hadn’t had a mission, being forced to lie low after an attack on an Imperial convoy that had had twice the number of escorts than had been reported. Because of that, they hadn’t been working as they did the past Empire Day. And with idle hands, Kanan had turned back to his old friend that was always eager for his company, alcohol.

He didn’t remember what, precisely, he did to get kicked out of the bar he had chosen to drink at that night or how the bar owner had gotten Hera’s comm number. He did know that he had been sitting in a gutter with his pants soaked, his nose bloody and one of his teeth digging into the palm of his hand when she had found him.

Back at the Ghost, she hadn’t said anything, just radiated anger as she pushed him into the fresher fully clothed and stood as she waited for him to clean himself up. He remembered mumbling apologies as the water streamed down his suddenly-bare chest, feeling like a youngling being scolded for running in the halls again.

But the main memory of that night; the one that all the other little snapshots orbited around, took place in his cabin, with just a towel around his waist. Hera had been there as well, holding one of his shirts. And he had been crying like a little boy again, back on Janus’ ship in those first few months after -

Well. He remembered crying.

He also remembered those strong green hands taking his own as she sat down beside him. He remembered those calloused fingers running through his hair as he lay down, exhausted from the outpouring of emotion, of telling her why he was crying, why he was drinking, why he was fighting and running…

He remembered the next morning, hearing her refuse a mission from Fulcrum. And he remembered how she had come back into his cabin and laid down behind him, fitting her body against his back and wrapping an arm around him.

If he said yes, she would stay. They would talk, like they did that day, about how they were going to deal with this - how they were going to face this newest problem together.

That night had been the catalyst that had turned their relationship from professional into something more personal.

But he couldn’t do that. Not when she had so much on her plate already, with Sato and Tano. So he just placed his hand over hers and squeezed it encouragingly, not looking her in the eye.

“I’ll be fine,” he said, unable to raise his voice much louder than a whisper. “You promised to help the Commander and Tano already, and this isn’t anything new.”

Hera squeezed back, her green gaze pressing up against him like a warm quilt. “My comm will be on - if you have any trouble -”

Kanan summoned the strength to raised his head and look her in the eye. “I know,” he said. He tried to smile again. “I’ll call if it -” He hesitated, the smile fading despite his best efforts. “If it gets to be too much.”

Hera pressed her lips together. “I’m going to ask Sabine to help keep an eye on you while I’m gone.”

He nodded. “That couldn’t hurt.”

She hesitated in the doorway. “Seriously, if anything happens -”

Kanan raised and hand and let it flop back down onto the table. “I’ll call. Now get going, you don’t want to keep them waiting.”

She lingered for a few seconds more before disappearing. A few seconds later, he heard the sound of Sabine’s door opening, and two female voices talking.

Leaning back, he pressed trembling hands to his face.

He felt smothered. Tied up. Suffocated. It brought him back to the Kasmiri, when as far as he knew he had still been being hunted down like an animal by the men he had called his friends just a month before. When nothing had felt right, when the galaxy was shifting wildly underneath his feet. He had been hiding in a smuggler’s compartment, one of the many that had littered the ship, listening to the clones searching for him and coming ever closer. Counting the seconds until he would have to ignite his lightsaber and strike.

Now, though, it wasn’t anyone physical that he was hiding from. It was his own thoughts.

Abruptly, he slipped out from his seat at the table and stood up.

He needed to do something. Be somewhere else. Running a hand through his loose hair, he grimaced at the greasy feel of it.

He probably should bathe first, then. The doors out of the galley whooshed open as he headed down the hallway to the fresher.

Inside the shower, he stood still underneath the spray of water with his eyes closed. The light shone through his eyelids, letting him see a sheet of pink and red. He didn’t remember stripping and getting in.

He did remember another place, where light had shone through his eyelids and painted the world red. Lying on the floor of Janus’ ship, unable to move from the stun bolt that had slammed into his back. Listening to the clinking as his lightsaber rolled down the ramp into the hangar. He hadn’t even been able to tremble as one of the clones he hadn’t been able to get loomed over him, his hand on the handle of his blaster. He hadn’t been able to protest as the clone picked him up, the Kasmiri’s lights spinning dizzily over him.

There was a loud crash, making his eyes fly open. Something knocked against his foot, and Kanan realized that he had punched the shower wall hard enough to make a shampoo bottle fall down. He was breathing heavily, and could hear his heartbeat hammering in his ears.

This wasn’t good. Placing the shampoo back on the little shelf it usually sat on, he then turned off the water and stepped out. Grabbing a towel, he pressed his damp face into it and breathed.

This was definitely a Bad Day. Peeking up, he caught a glance of his face in the mirror over the sink. The haggard visage, dark-circled eyes and shadowed with stubble, made him wince.

Someone knocked at the door. Kanan didn’t answer. Instead, he let the towel dangle from his fingers and turned to fully face the mirror.

“Kanan?” Sabine’s voice was soft; hesitant in a way that was unfamiliar and wrong for her.

The circles under his eyes were nearly purple, reminding him of the bruises that had littered his body after he woke up in the medbay after being stunned all those years ago. Grey had been standing over him, his helmet tucked underneath his arm.

Kanan closed his eyes again, trying to block out the memory of those bright lights above him and the feel of cuffs tight around his wrists and ankles. The thunder of Lady Amidala’s voice, saying that he could come home.

A home that was no longer home.

“Kanan, Hera told me that you weren’t feeling too good today. And I understand that. But there’s something I was trying to tell you last night, before we got interrupted.”

Grey’s face had been soft, sympathetic as Caleb had listened to the recording, disbelieving and frozen in a way he had never been back at the Temple.

“…I found something, in the transmission. The one you gave me back at the station? From the star destroyer? And -”

He could hear her hesitate. From far away, he could hear her. He’d been left alone in the medbay after he’d screamed at Grey, screamed out all the fear and pain and grief and still felt like he was bursting at the seams. He had been able to hear people outside of the bay, far far away like Sabine’s voice.

“- And there’s something that you really need to see.” Her voice cracked halfway through the sentence. “It’s the kid -”

Kanan felt himself come back to the fresher with an almost physical yank. He tightened his grip on the sink’s edges and ground his teeth together until it hurt.

Ezra. The kid that he should be with right now, but couldn’t because of his stupid brain. Because it felt like some rodent was running in circles in his skull until it’s body gave out beneath it. Shame wound its way around his throat and sank sharp claws into his chest.

“I just - I just feel like I’m pounding on transparisteel and yelling and for some reason no one’s listening -”

Kanan took a deep breath and let it out, even as his master’s rotting face slithered across his mind’s eye. They hadn’t had a proper coffin to transport her body in; they’d just stuffed her into a cold-crate. It hadn’t helped much, considering how Amidala’s Command had come three weeks after Order 66.

Wrapping the towel still dangling from his fingers around his waist, he hit the button to open the door. It hissed open sharply, making Sabine look up at him with surprise.

She looked so young. Had he ever looked that young?

“Sabine,” he said, bending over and catching her hands, which were frozen mid-gesture. “I can’t do this right now.”

She scanned his face. He kept his gaze steady on her, even as the chill of the corridor made his flesh pimple, and squeezed her hands between his.

She broke their staring contest first, looking down at the floor as her chin rounded outwards. “Okay,” she muttered. She sounded mutinous, but Kanan would take it as a win.
Standing up straight, he let the door to the fresher close again in front of him and scrubbed at his face, grimacing at how his stubble rasped over his palm.

Sabine wouldn’t be happy when he came out again. She hated being cut off or ignored.

It felt like the tension that was a noose around his neck had tightened even more.

He needed to get out of here. Turning back to the sink, he flicked the mirror to one side to reveal the small cupboard built into the wall behind it. Taking out the razor sitting on the shelf at eye-height, he began to wet it down. He needed to get out of here. Get away from reproachful and pitying looks. He needed to breathe.

But first, he needed to clean himself up.


The medbay that they’d been left in by their clone guide was much smaller than the one on Phoenix Nest. Ezra sat on the edge of one of the beds, the sheets a little yellow with age but crisp from detergent, picking at a frayed thread on the bed’s pillowcase. The eyes of the members of Gold Squad bored into his back like drills.

Briefly, he almost wished that Knight Nema hadn’t insisted on having his cuffs removed like Master Unduli had. It would have made things a lot less awkward after she had disappeared to grab some medicine that apparently would help with things.

“So.” Zeb was sitting in the only chair by the bed, looking way too big for the room. His massive arms were crossed over his chest, his bo-staff tucked into the crook of one. “What do you think goes into Jedi mind healing?” His eyes were penetrating, but not uncomfortably like with everyone else in the room.

Shrugging and horribly aware of the eyes at his back, Ezra stopped picking at the pillowcase and switched to chewing on his thumbnail. “Dunno.” He looked down to where he feet were swinging, the toes just barely dragging against the ground. “Maybe talking? It involves lying down on a couch, doesn’t it?”

He’d watched a lot of holos with his mom, before she was taken away with his dad. The memories were distant, faded things, shoved away into the corners of his mind to collect dust, but he could still remember snatches of those vids with clarity. He and his mom had always laughed when the actor or actress had ended up lying back on a couch, pouring out their feelings to a head-doctor.

Or at least, his mom had laughed. He couldn’t remember understanding any of the jokes in those scenes, but he had always laughed along with her.

“Well, you’re half-right.”

Ezra stiffened, hearing the guards behind him jump slightly and turn, their boots squeaking against the floor.

The tired-looking Doctor Nema had appeared again from wherever she had disappeared to, holding a steaming cup in her hands. The brief smile she flashed at all of them didn’t reach her eyes.

“My apologies for making you wait.” She walked towards them, Gold Squad parting around her without a word. “I had a cup prepared for your arrival, but I hadn’t realized how thin you were. I had to recalculate the dosage -”

“Dosage?” Ezra stiffened, memories of lying on a bed, unable to move as the doctors loomed over him running through his head.

Nema set the cup down on the small table beside the bed he was sitting on. “Again, my apologies. I will start from the beginning.”

Straightening back up, she folded her hands in front of herself formally. “I am Jedi Knight Rig Nema, healer of the Jedi Order. And I will be the doctor in charge of your treatment in this area.”

“To begin with, repairing the damage that the Inquisitors inflicted upon you will require you to be awake and aware.”

Ezra fidgeted. “Yeah, I figured. This sort of thing would probably involve talking, huh?”

Nema paused slightly, making his gaze snap back to her. She was frowning.

“Not…quite.” She frowned slightly. “I believe that I know what you are referring to; and while that works for non-Force users, the damage that I will be addressing is very different from the sort that they do.”

“What do you mean?” Zeb’s voice was a deep rumble, just this side of threatening.

Nema didn’t even look at him. She kept her gaze focused in on Ezra like a laser. “Master Unduli described your reactions to her touching your mind. Hysterics, seeming seizures - those are all calling cards for Force damage. The person who hurt you like this took the memories of the traumas they inflicted and have forcibly tied them to much of your normal mental processes, making it difficult for you to cope in day to day life without fear and anxiety. This also sensitized you to having your mind touched. What needs to be done is to remove those connections, which will hopefully also desensitize you at the same time.” She smiled gently at his confusion. “Not the sort of thing that lying back on a couch and talking can help with.”

Ezra felt a twinge of irritation flow off of the Wookie and Twi’lek guard behind him; but not from the two humans. He didn’t have time to mull this over though, because Nema was speaking again.

“In fact, if what I suspect is true…” She trailed off, falling silent for a moment before shaking her head. “Regardless, knowing that what was done to you with the Force means that I cannot be the one directly healing your mind.”

Ezra, who had just started to relax thanks to Nema’s soothing tone, stiffened. “What? You’re not going to -”

“No, no.” Nema waved her hands sharply. “I will still be the one guiding you. I will be able to see what the damage is through the Force. But with your reactions to having your mind touched by others - that points towards a great deal of damage. The sort that will not be helped by having yet another person poking at it.” Her fingers knotted in her skirt. “I’m afraid that this sort of damage can only be healed by you.”

Ezra exchanged glances with Zeb, who frowned and leaned forward in his chair. “And what, exactly, do you mean by that?” he rumbled.

Nema kept her eyes on Ezra, but picked up the cup she had set down on the table. “It means that while I will be guiding you through what to do, you will be the one to be doing the actual work.”

Ezra knit his eyebrows together. “So, like, it would be you teaching me how to stitch up a cut with a gash on my leg?”

She winced slightly. “Essentially, yes.”

Zeb narrowed his bright green eyes. “How can that work? Kid’s a mess - no offense -”

Ezra shrugged and picked at a hangnail. “None taken.”

“You said that you’ve talked with Master Unduli. You’ve got to know how Ezra freaks out just being reminded about what happens.”

Nema nodded, but her lips had thinned. “I did, Master Orrelios. Which is why I have this.”

She held out the cup of steaming liquid to Ezra. For a lack of anything better to do, he took it.

The thin material of the cup let the heat bleed into his hands until it was almost painful. Looking down at the clear green liquid, he didn’t see anything particularly special about it.

“This,” Nema said, her voice softening into something almost reverent, “is Orenda tea.”

There was a silence. Then -

“Sorry, what-what tea?” asked Daan.

The soft, reverent look on Nema’s face fled, swiftly replaced with subtle irritation. She closed her eyes and took a breath.

“Orenda tea,” she said after re-opening her eyes. Her gaze was cool as she looked over Ezra’s shoulder at the male human. “It’s a very old, very useful tea used for millennia by the Jedi Order. It separates us from our bodies, allowing us to strengthen our connection with the Force.” Her gaze never wavered. “Our seers used it the most, to help them see the future more clearly.” Her gaze softened slightly as she looked back at Ezra. “It will help give you the distance from the damage that was done so that you can properly repair it.”

“See the future, eh?” Daan sounded thoughtful. “So why didn’t you guys see the fall of Coruscant coming then?”

The temperature in the room plummeted. Ezra leaned back so that he wasn’t within striking distance of the woman.

Nema’s eyes burned like the fires that had ravaged the slums when he was nine. Her voice, however, reminded him more of the winter winds that had howled through the alleyways, freezing solid anyone stupid enough to be outside.

“I am not privy to every decision that the Council makes,” she said, “but I would imagine that the reason would be a mix between the rarity of the plant that is used to make it and the fact that everyone was busy defending a Republic that no citizen seemed to be willing to get out of their chairs to fight for.”

There was a long, uncomfortable silence. Out of the corner of his eye, Ezra could see Zeb perched on the edge of his chair, ready to intervene if things got physical, his ears twitching and bright green eyes bouncing between Nema and the others.

Then -

A groan, and the sound of someone getting smacked in the head. Daan yelped.

“Sorry about that, Doctor Nema,” said Lt. Dicer. “Don’t pay him any mind. He’s and idiot that doesn’t think before he speaks.”

Nema’s eyes were still cold, but she leaned back and folded her hands in her lap again. “Understood. As I was saying…”

Her attention felt like a icy shower pricking against Ezra’s skin. He tried not to grimace.

“The Orenda tea will put some distance between you and the damage that was done to your mind. You will remain aware of what is going on around you,” she said, “which is how I will be instructing you. Considering your reaction to people trying to connect with your mind, I rather thought that you would prefer simple verbal instruction.” She paused and shot him a look; Ezra just nodded. He had actually been dreading the idea of having to let yet another person into his head.

“The tea will also bring the damage to the surface, making it more obvious.” She looked over Ezra’s shoulder at the guards. “That means he will be projecting his emotions like before; I will be shielding you from the effects as best I can, but it might be easier if you are not in the room with us.”

“Yeah, no,” Lt. Dicer drawled. “Rather not have a repeat of last time, thanks. If he starts panicking, I want us in here already.”

Ezra flinched and pressed his lips together, tasting blood.

Nema’s eyes flicked over to him, but she didn’t say anything. She nodded to the guards. “Very well. Let me know if any of you change your mind.”

Then she turned back to Ezra.

“Now, the tea will hit fast,” she warned. “You will find it difficult to speak or move, although you should still be able to make noises. As well, I will be keeping an eye on the emotions that you are projecting, so if things become too painful we will stop. On the whole, though, I am hopeful that we will be able to make some progress. Hopefully enough that we can lower the dosage of the tea as time goes on. Are there any further questions?”

Ezra chewed on the inside of his cheek and shook his head. Looking down at the tea, it still didn’t look like much; but then again, what drug ever did?

“No,” he said. “I’m okay.” And then, before he could lose his nerve, he gulped down the liquid in a single swallow.

He had just enough time to bring the cup away from his lips before his mouth went numb and he found himself falling backwards, completely helpless.

“Karabast -”

A warm, furry arm caught him before he fell of the bed, the curse sounding like it was coming from very far away.

Ezra - at least, he thought his name was Ezra - was falling in an ocean. An ocean of light, that pulsed along with a great heartbeat that he could feel with his entire body.

But no. It wasn’t quite an ocean, though it ebbed and flowed like one. Breathing along with that great heartbeat, he found himself picking out individual stars, their light reaching out to each other, pulsing individually but all following the greater flow that wound around his limbs and heart.

He wanted to reach out. To feel, to share that light with everything around him.

There were two stars closer to him than any others. One was warm, reminding him of the nightlight in his room when he had still had a home; the one that had kept the monsters away and protected him all night until the sun rose. The other was so bright it was almost painful to be near, trying to burn away the dark chains that wound around and through it. It felt as if it was just holding back from reaching out towards Ezra, and suddenly he felt unutterably sad at the fear and despair and anger that wound around it like spidery black fingers, trying to drag it into a darkness that was now flickering at the edges of his vision, that wound between the spaces between the stars and tried to make them seem so much further apart than they really were -

“Bridger.”

Ezra opened his eyes. When had he closed them?

The Bright Star was close, hovering over him with a worried look in her golden eyes. The Nightlight was there too, his ears twitching and nostrils flaring.

He smiled at both of them. They were so warm and light, so much better than the dark places he had been chained in before.

“Bridger,” Bright Star said, the dark chains winding tighter and cutting into her light. “Are you ready to begin?”

Begin. Oh right, begin healing himself. Ezra nodded. He wanted to be healed. He wanted to give out the light that everyone else was, the light that made him feel so warm.

“Alright,” Bright Star said. “We’ll begin then. Bridger, you should be feeling or seeing light all around you.”

Ezra nodded as enthusiastically as he could manage, feeling heavy and dull. Nightlight chuckled, sounding strained.

Bright Star ignored Nightlight. “What I need you to do, Bridger,” she was saying, “is for you to try and turn that around. Ignore the light around you and look for your own.”

Ezra didn’t want to. The other lights were so beautiful. But there was something - he had to obey her, for something. For other lights, further away.

So reluctantly, he turned away. He turned inward. And finally, he saw himself.

He wasn’t pretty. He wasn’t the bright, pure light of the others. He looked at himself, above and away from himself, and wanted to cry.

His was not the light of the stars, of the sun, of the twin moons of Lothal. His was the light of a dying star, blood red and minutes away from collapsing in on itself.

In the distance, he could hear soft choked cries and feel something hot and wet trailing down his temples and into his hair.

Someone squeezed his hand. Nightlight. And Bright Star was speaking again.

“Now, Bridger,” and her voice was so gentle, “you need to take that light and let it fall into itself. Let it become a mirror, and see yourself.”

Ezra didn’t want to. He didn’t want to keep looking at himself like this, he didn’t want to look even closer and see something recognizable as an actual person.

But against his back. Behind him. There was Nightlight. Still shining steadily and chasing the dark away.

Ezra opened his eyes. When had he closed them? Nightlight was there, just behind Bright Star. But he had taken Ezra’s hand, his great paw nearly swallowing up his own small one. His eyes were the soft green of new growth after a brushfire.

Swallowing, Ezra forced himself to keep looking. To obey. He could do this, with Nightlight at his back.

Slowly slowly slowly his red light collapsed in on itself. Ezra watched as limbs began to take shape, fine details slowly beginning to poke out. Fingers and toes and a nose, his own face attached to a thin, pathetic body floating in a starfield, unconscious.

He wanted to cry even more.

The damage that previously he had only felt was now impossible to ignore. Clearly picked out in loving detailed rips, ragged hunks of skin and fat peeled away from muscle and bone, no part of the body was untouched. The face and chest, right over the heart, were especially clawed at. Even with the distance between them, Ezra could see the twitch and shudder of his heart beating in his ribcage; pick out the white little teeth that were beginning to float away into the dark with his lips and cheeks so utterly shredded and unable to protect them. And his eyes -

The eyes were always the first to go, in the bodies that were dumped at the outskirts of Capital City. Easy, tasty meat for innumerable scavengers.

Someone squeezed his hand. Ezra opened his eyes again (when did he close them?) and saw Nightlight’s purple, clawed hand wrapped around his, his green eyes filled with worry.

“Bridger.” Bright Star’s voice pulled his eyes away, and her fingertips stroked against his wet forehead. “You see the damage?”

Ezra’s eyes burned as he jerkily nodded.

Bright Star looked sad. “I need you to look closer, then,” she said. “I need you to pick out the largest injury.”

Ezra didn’t want to look at that horrible, pathetic thing floating in the starfield. He wanted to look at the other lights.

“Ezra.” Nightlight’s furry thumb brushed over his knuckles.

Nightlight. Yes, he wasn’t alone. Nightlight was there. He could do that, so long as Nightlight kept the rest of the darkness away.

The body was just as disgusting as when he had first laid eyes on it, now with little strings of blood twisting at the edges of the wounds. But it did not take long to pick out the largest injury.

From his crotch to his throat, he’d been gutted, the edges of the injury ragged like someone had gnawed on them. He could see his guts in there, squirming with rotworms, his innermost being exposed to whoever cared to look at him like this.

“Have you found it, Bridger?” Bright Star asked.

It was hard to move his lips, but Ezra managed to force out a yes.

Bright Star’s fingers were gentle, like a mother’s, on his forehead. “Good. Now, you need to start at one end of the injury. You can probably see the marks of the Dark Side used to make it, possibly as strings, or smears, or something else that does not belong. Take them, and remove them from the injury.” Her voice was soft, almost whispered. “You might feel or see things; memories of traumas that went into creating the injury. Just remember; they cannot hurt you.”

Ezra reached towards the bottom of the gash with arms that didn’t exist, near the crotch; he wasn’t quite ready to go near his own gored face. Just as his imaginary fingers brushed the pulsing body of the first squirming bundle of rotworms though -

Soft lips dragged against his jaw towards his ear, placing wet open-mouthed kisses all along it as a calloused hand cupped the back of his freshly-shaven head.

“Such a good boy,” she murmured between kisses. “You made me so proud today.” Teeth caught on his earlobe, lightly biting down and tugging. “You deserve this.”

The hand on the back of his head drifted down, brushing against the still-sore mark on the back of his neck. Another hand tugged at the snaps holding his shirt together, making them separate with a pop pop pop that seemed very loud in the quiet of the room.

Nothing stared ahead, and said nothing. Did nothing. She was right. He did deserve this.

Her hands were cold against the bones pressing up against the skin of his chest. Her nails scraped against the skin on his shoulders as she brushed the shirt off of him and let it fall to the floor. The backs of his knees hit the bed and he was forced to sit down, and she was smiling at him as she knelt down and reached for his waistband -

“- I said, you’re going to get something to flush this crap out of his system and then we’re leaving!”

Nightlight’s arms were wrapped tight around him. Ezra realized muzzily that he wasn’t lying on the bed anymore.

“We have only just begun, Orrelios! He can go further than this, the Orenda tea will allow him to pull back far enough if you would just put him back down -”

“He’s not pulling back, he’s -”

Ezra had to go through with this, even if Nightlight was worried. He had to do it for the other lights further away. For himself. Taking a deep breath, he reached for strength, and something reached back. One of the lights far away reached back, giving him light and strength enough to open his eyes.

Nightlight’s face swam above him. Reaching up, Ezra clumsily patted his cheek and nearly poked him in the eye.

“Put me down,” he slurred. Nightlight looked down at him, clearly worried, and Ezra could feel Bright Star’s eyes on him too, struggling not to reach out with her own light. He tried to smile up at Nightlight. “Gotta do this.”

He could feel Nightlight hesitate. Ezra tried to gently pet his face and succeeded in smacking him again. “Not gonna, not gonna get better w’out this,” he reminded him.

“Put him down, Orrelios,” Bright Star warned. “He wants to go through with this.”

Nightlight was reluctant, but he did so. The sheets were soft underneath Ezra.

“Sorry.” It seemed important to apologize. “D’nt wanna be tr’ble.”

Bright Star’s hand was back on his forehead, wiping the sweat away. “It’s alright, Bridger.” Her voice reminded him of his mom again. “Now, remember, nothing you see or feel can hurt you. It all happened in the past, and you are far from those that hurt you…”

Ezra floated in a timeless void as he followed Bright Star’s instructions. It was easier now that he had felt it once before. He knew what was coming now, and could remember that it wasn’t happening right now.

It still hurt though. He supposed that Bright Star didn’t know everything, then.

Finally, she called the end to the session. Ezra floated back up from the starfield, aware that he was soaked in sweat and still feeling far away from the world surrounding him.
Nightlight didn’t say anything as he picked Ezra up through. “C’mon, kid,” he said, tucking Ezra’s head into the crook of his neck, “time to go home.”

Ezra made an agreeable noise and clumsily wrapped his arms around the alien’s neck. He ached, not physically but in every other way. Every bit of the injury that he had closed had fought him, showing him every moment that had caused it in more detail than he had ever wanted to remember. He was more than ready to go home, even if its name was escaping him at the moment.

But someone else was suddenly close. Ezra made an alarmed sound - who -

“Sorry, Orrelios,” said a sympathetic voice, “but you know orders.”

A deep rumble made Ezra’s chest vibrate. “Seriously? He’s barely conscious.”

“Rules are rules.”

Nightlight sighed. “Sorry kid,” he muttered, “but you heard the lady. Stretch out your arms.”

Ezra was a little confused at the conversation, but did so. Nightlight wouldn’t let anything hurt him.

Cold metal snapped around his wrists, and Ezra had just long enough to feel a jolt of panic before warm fingertips trailed across his palms, pushing in feelings of regret/sympathy/duty -

Lifting his head slightly, Ezra struggled to focus his eyes and remember the name of the woman in front of him. She was one of his guards…

He’d thought that they hated him. He’d felt them hating him. But this one.

She didn’t hate him now.

Why?

Chapter Text

By the time they were back on Phoenix Home and heading to the Ghost, Ezra’s head had cleared enough to remember people’s names.

He was being carried by Zeb. The woman that had put the cuffs back on him was Lt. Dicer.

But even with the tea being flushed from his system, he couldn’t figure out that strange feeling that he’d gotten when Dicer had touched him. Why was it so different from before?

Grumbling to himself, Ezra buried his face back into Zeb’s neck fur. It stank, but at this point it was a familiar enough smell to be comforting rather than repulsive.

He was way too tired for all of this.

Unfortunately, no one else seemed very tired at all. As Zeb walked into the Ghost, the sounds of low, angry voices forced Ezra’s eyes open.

“- and how would I even stop him? Hera, he’s a grown man -”

“Yes, he is a grown man Sabine but he was not in his right mind! I asked you to keep an eye on him!”

Zeb’s chest rumbled and he sped up, easily shifting to carrying Ezra with one arm as he climbed up the ladder that would lead deeper into the ship. Rubbing at his eyes, his cuffs having been taken off at the loading ramp, Ezra twisted around in Zeb’s arms to see what was going on just as they entered the ship’s briefing room.

Hera and Sabine were standing across from each other, mirroring each other’s stiff, angry postures in a way that made Ezra automatically freeze. Both were scowling at each other, Hera’s lekku stiff and arched and Sabine’s lips a tight line. The air was tight enough to snap in half.

Even Chopper was still and silent, not making any mocking sounds as the two women glared at each other.

“What happened?” Zeb leaned down, setting Ezra onto the ground.

Ezra swayed slightly and reached up to rub at his eyes again. Things were still weird in his head; everything seemed fuzzy and far away, not quite touching him.

The words that came out of Hera’s mouth reached him loud and clear though.

“Kanan’s gone.”

His stomach dropped down to the floor. Ezra froze, his hands still covering his eyes and his heart hammering in his throat.

“What?” Zeb said the words that couldn’t leave Ezra’s throat. “When did he -”

“I don’t know!” Sabine’s voice was frustrated. Ezra could hear her shift her weight. “He seemed okay, just cleaning himself up after you guys left, so I went back to my room -”

“Seemed okay - he was a mess when we left, people don’t bounce back that fast -”

“Enough!” Hera’s voice cracked like a whip and made Ezra flinch. Automatically, he let his hands fall to his sides, his throat closing up -

No.

It was hard, through the fuzz that was still clinging to his mind, but Ezra grimly marshalled himself. He wasn’t there. He had just come back from being treated for what they had done to him! Nipping at his bottom lip, the pain from the stitch gave him something to grab a hold of.

Hera sighed. Looking up, Ezra saw that she was rubbing her forehead, one hand on her hip. “This isn’t getting us anywhere,” she said grimly. “Zeb, Chopper - you both have your communicators with you?”

“Course.” Zeb patted his belt.

Chopper grunted and wiggled.

Hera nodded sharply. “Good. Zeb, I know that you’ve made some friends with the other Rebels; I want you to check in with them, see if they’ve seen Kanan anywhere. Chopper, you’re with me; I’m going to be checking the ship’s security recordings, see if any of them picked him up.”

“What about me?” Sabine asked.

Hera’s lips thinned, and Ezra barely hid a flinch at the storm of worry, fear and anger coming off of her.

“You are staying here in case Kanan comes back,” she said. “Consider it making up for earlier.”

Sullen anger flared up, like fuel being dumped on a dying fire. But Sabine didn’t argue. “Fine.”

Hera nodded briskly. Then she looked at Ezra and her expression softened slightly. “Ezra,” she said, reaching towards him, “I’m sorry, but we have to find him right now. Just stay in here for now, okay? I don’t want you hurting yourself and no one finding you for hours.”

His throat tight, Ezra nodded. The emotions rolling off of everyone were dizzying, even with the lingering distance the Orenda tea gave him. His legs felt shaky, and frankly, he agreed with her. He shouldn’t be left alone in his room right now.

Hera sighed and straightened. “I don’t know how long this will take. If you need dinner, there are some leftovers in the galley that should be enough for both of you.” Her eyes were haunted as she turned away. “I’m not sure that Kanan’s going to be up for cooking tonight.”

And with that, they were gone, leaving Ezra standing in the middle of the room with Sabine.

Silence stretched out, dripping down the walls of the room. Ezra could feel himself swaying, like he was trying to walk on a stormy sea. But all around him, the Force was calm. Placid. It was a weird sensation, for his body to be telling him one thing and what he now recognized as the Force telling him the opposite.

Wait. Everything was calm? Ezra furrowed his brow. Hadn’t Sabine just been arguing with Hera?

For a few moments, Ezra struggled to figure out what the chilly pillar of calm beside him meant. Peeking out of the corner of his eye didn’t explain anything; Sabine’s head was turned away from him slightly, her dyed hair flopping over her forehead and hiding her eyes.

Eventually, though, exhaustion won out over curiosity. His legs were trembling again, and his eyes felt gritty. Clearing his throat, he mumbled, “Um, guess I’ll just be heading to my room then. To get a blanket. And stuff.”

He didn’t even get one step before her hand was clamped around his bicep. He looked back at her in confusion. She’d never seemed all that thrilled at the idea of spending time with him before, so why -

The feeling of a blaster pistol pressed against his back, just over his kidney, blew away the exhaustion that had been coating his mind.

“I want to talk to you.”

“Can’t I get my blanket first?” Even as the words left his lips, Ezra was wincing. Stupid tendency to babble -

She scoffed in his ear and stepped closer, pressing the sharp barrel harder against his back. “No.” Her voice dripped with disdain. “We’re talking now.” She was tugging him over to the table, her fingers digging into his arm hard enough to bruise.

“You have some explaining to do.”


Kanan had thought that outside would clear his head.

It didn’t.

His gut twisting itself into new and interesting knots with every step, Kanan dragged a hand along the cold durasteel of the cargo bay’s wall and tried to breathe. Memories boiled beneath his skin, making it simultaneously feel too tight and too loose, like he was pressure cooker that steam kept escaping from.

Master Windu. That feeling he had gotten, sitting in that room across from him - his skin was crawling.

A Jedi Master should never feel like that.

Like Coruscant after Order 66.

Kanan’s gorge rose. There had been Senators in the Temple when he had returned with Grey and Janus. They had felt like that; like dark sticky hands, sneaking through the cracks underneath the doors and grasping and digging into his skin. Caring only about themselves, not seeing the blood that they had forced the Jedi to coat themselves in, the darkness that nipped at the hems of their fancy Senatorial clothing. He had always been glad when they had finally left the Temple for the day.

And the protesters outside, lining the streets outside of the Temple. Their desperation, their fear, their anger biting at him as he lay in his master’s bed and grieved -

Kanan scrubbed at his face roughly. He was breathing too quickly.

Why was this bothering him so much? It wasn’t anything different from what he had felt after the Fall of Coruscant. On the ships in hyperspace, the Force ringing from the screams of the fallen, there had been that same desperate, greedy, frightened grasping that squeezed too hard and wouldn’t let go.

He should be able to deal with this. But for some reason, he wasn’t.

Why. Why couldn’t he? Why wouldn’t the memories stop bubbling up? Leaning back against the wall, he covered his face and tried to breathe. His legs wouldn’t stop shaking and he abruptly found himself sitting on the ground.

He couldn’t go back like this. Kanan knew that with a certainty he hadn’t felt since he was a child. He could not go back to the Ghost when he was a trembling, teary mess like this. He was a grown man, not a child. If he went back now, Hera would know. And then she would drop everything and try to help him -

But she already had so much to do. Swallowing, he remembered seeing her the previous night before bed. He had been able to see the lines of tension and exhaustion in her lekku as she hunched over the dashboard, checking the work she had done back at the station to see if it was holding.

Force. Kanan let out a whistle of air through his nose. She didn’t deserve to look so tired. She’d been running interference with the Resistance, dealing with his own little breakdowns, the Ghost still needing several repairs, as well as her continuing duties as part of Fulcrum’s network, which in combination with Ezra meant that she was being ridden like a blurrg…

No. Tilting his head back, he took a deep breath as the tears began to trail down his temples. He would get himself back under control, and then, and only then, would he head back to the Ghost.

“Cho matta -”

Kanan froze.

So did the man with the bloody nose standing between the crates that made up the little hiding spot he’d hidden in.

They both stared at each other for several seconds. The man, with half his face covered with hands that had drops of blood squeezing out from between his fingers. And Kanan, with his reddened eyes and flushed cheeks.

Silently, the bloody-nosed man lowered a hand.

Kanan swallowed.

“Uh, hey,” the man said, taking a step towards him. “Didn’t think anyone was using this hallway.”

Shame abruptly flooded through Kanan. Clumsily, he began to get up, muttering apologies.

“No, no no no,” the man said, letting his other hand fall to his side. “No, it’s okay - Jarrus, they called you, right? Jarrus, it’s fine. I won’t tell if you don’t.”

Recognition flowed through him as abruptly as shame had just a few seconds before as Kanan got a good look at the man’s face.

“Master Skywalker!” he gasped, shame and memories and fear all flushed out of his system like an opened air lock. Suddenly he was aware of so much more than his gritty eyes. Like how he had missed a few spots on his jaw while shaving. How messy his nerf-tail was, several strands escaping to frame his face. How his shirt was wrinkled from a night spent on his cabin floor.

Uselessly, he smoothed a hand down his front, even as Master Skywalker took several steps towards him.

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” he kept repeating. “It’s fine. No need to make a fuss.”

Kanan couldn’t keep his eyes from skittering away, though. Bloodied like he’d just gone several rounds in a shirtless cage fight and hunched over in a useless attempt to keep his still-bleeding nose from dripping down his front, Skywalker still cut an impressive figure. One that demanded respect, not stares like he was some sort of animal on display.
“I didn’t realize that you needed this spot.” The words darted out of Kanan’s mouth like biting gooja fish, completely out of his control. “I’ll leave, I’m just being weak -”

A hand clamped down on his shoulder, making him jump. Kanan turned his head only to meet Skywalker’s concerned gaze.

“Hey,” he said softly, “it’s okay.”

Kanan pressed his lips together and swallowed. His eyes followed the bloody trail down from Skywalker’s nose and tangling in his beard.

The hand on his shoulder was gentle as it guided him back against the wall. A small bit of pressure, and Kanan’s legs were folding underneath him again. Now he stared at the ground, squeezing his hands into fists.

The shame was back, along with embarrassment. Master Skywalker had been famous, back at the Temple. The Hero with No Fear. The best of the best, the example of what a Jedi could do for the Republic.

And here Kanan was. A wash-out. A runaway who couldn’t cut it, who couldn’t deal with the demands that a Jedi Knight was supposed to bear up.

Skywalker sat down beside him with an explosive sigh, stuffing a wad of yellowed fabric to his face and elbowing Kanan in the ribs gently.

“So,” he said. His voice was a little muffled from the cloth pressed over his lower face but his words were still clear. “What’s eating you?”

“Nothing,” Kanan replied automatically. “Just having a bit of a bad day -”

“Yeah, no,” Skywalker interrupted, raising an eyebrow at him. “You’re curled up in a ball in the cargo bay and leaking enough distress that you can probably feel it on the other side of the ship.” He half-crossed his arms, still keeping the cloth to his face. “What’s wrong?”

The words caught in his throat, reluctant to crawl out onto his tongue. “It’s nothing,” he finally said. “I was just - on the Hidden Temple, yesterday. I had to talk to my line Master. And I haven’t done that in a while.”

Skywalker was silent.

Kanan tried to force his hands to relax. “I - felt something, from him. And I guess - I -” He stopped and closed his eyes, reminding himself to breath. “He felt wrong. Greedy. He wanted me to come back to the Jedi, but the way he felt -” He opened his eyes and stared down at his clenched hands. “It reminded of the Temple. After Order 66.” His eyes began to burn and his voice cracked. “A Jedi Master shouldn’t feel like that.”

Skywalker was silent as the first few tears escaped Kanan’s eyes. Kanan heard him shift, rearranging his legs until they were sticking out in front of him, one over the other.

“I don’t blame you for not feeling right,” he finally said. “I know that it wasn’t very good there, after everything. Before the Massacre.”

Kanan breathed in shakily. He could feel the words in his stomach, floating just out of his reach. “It was home, though. It was home; and then it wasn’t.”

“…Yeah.”

Kanan’s eyes were burning and he felt like he couldn’t breathe, but he still couldn’t miss the dull distance in Skywalker’s voice.

“We couldn’t really help it though.” Kanan wiped at his eyes and looked at Skywalker. The older man had lowered the cloth slightly, and was staring into the distance with an unfocused gaze. “We’d just performed a military coup, Order 66 had just happened, my wife was pregnant and everyone was dealing with that…” He trailed off and gave a short, humourless laugh. “And of course, the Senate.”

Kanan sniffed and wiped his nose with the back of his hand, feeling small. “What about them?”

Skywalker gave him a funny look that quickly softened into understanding. “Right,” he murmured. “You would have just been a padawan, wouldn’t you.” He sighed and crossed his arms.

“Things were - tense, after Palpatine was revealed to be Sidious. Turns out most people outside of the Order had never heard of the Sith. Even Padme -”

He stopped and cleared his throat. “Even Padme; you could tell that she just didn’t get it. And the public -”

“I know about the public.” The words jumped from Kanan’s mouth. The memories bubbled up without his permission; not just the protesters outside of the Temple, but all the other people outside. A memory of a pair of fences that he and Janus had worked with a fair amount early on pushed their way to the forefront.

A male and female Devaronian. He’d spent his first Empire Day with them, while Janus was busy. They’d let him drink with them as they watched the parades, them cheering whenever the destruction of the Jedi was mentioned, him swallowing more and more alcohol until his head was spinning and cheeks were flushed.

He could still remember the whine of the ceiling fan as the celebrations were coming to an end. Watching the light from the holodisplay play across the empty bottles piled in front of them. He’d been curled up by then, barely moving and struggling to stay awake. They’d been talking to him, running their fingers through his hair and trailing hands along his chest. He’d been feeling low, having spent the whole evening listening to them laugh and cheer as pieces from the Temple were publicly sold off at prices high enough to buy luxury ships.

So low that he hadn’t refused their offer to continue the party in the bedroom.

The next morning, Janus hadn’t been happy. Dragging Kanan out of the couple’s bed at blasterpoint, they’d left as soon as the Kasmiri’s engine had finished warming up. And the next time they’d had to fence something, they’d gone to someone else.

Skywalker grimaced and shook his head. “Seemed like the Senate was on the same page as them. Or at least a good chunk of it. Some of the things Padme told me…but that’s not the point. The point is, after the attack, the Senate wasn’t very happy with us. There was a lot of talk about the necessity of the Order, people shouting about how we had ‘deprived the Republic of its leader in its darkest hour’ - heck, at one point there was a motion to convict us all of treason!”

“Treason?” Kanan asked softly. No, they couldn’t have - could they?

“Idiots, all of them,” Skywalker grumbled. “Said that they didn’t care about a ‘doctrinal dispute between sects’ - kriff!”

He abruptly stopped speaking a a fresh gush of blood spattered down his front. Kanan watched as he brought the bundle of cloth in his hand back up to his face, red blood blooming across the fabric again.

“What - happened?” he asked as Skywalker’s swearing and the bleeding didn’t slow down. “If it’s not too painful to talk about,” he added on hurriedly as Skywalker looked at him. “I understand if -”

“No, no,” Skywalker said, waving his words away, “it’s fine. It’s just something that’s been happening for a while now.” He paused and looked at Kanan carefully. “If you wouldn’t mind keeping it quiet…”

“Oh, uh, sure?” Kanan said.

Skywalker sighed in satisfaction. “Thanks. Doctors won’t let me back on active duty as long as these keep happening. Hadn’t had any in a while, but after your kid Bridger had his nightmare…” He grimaced. “Apparently, I had a seizure. Scared Padme like you wouldn’t believe.”

Kanan blinked as his mind, gummed up with anxiety, struggled to make sense of that statement. Ezra’s nightmares were terrible, sure, especially when his fear was being broadcasted right into your head, but why would it give someone a seizure?
“Dunno. Doctors think it was a side effect from my run-in the High Interrogator.”

Kanan stiffened. “I said that out loud?”

The lines around Skywalker’s eyes deepened into a grin. “Yeah.” He shifted in his seat and crossed his legs so that he could lean forward more comfortably. “Don’t worry, I don’t blame him. Doubt anyone could have realized the effect and besides, it sounds like the nightmares are pretty terrible for him as well.” He winked. “Might want to keep him away from my crew, though. The aren’t quite as forgiving.”

“Your crew?” Kanan’s brow wrinkled. “You aren’t with the Order then?”

Skywalker shook his head. “Remember how I said Padme was pregnant? Well, we found out pretty fast after the Fall of Coruscant that Sidious hadn’t given up on having a Skywalker as an apprentice.”

He smirked at the look of shock that spread across Kanan’s face. “Sorry, did I forget to say? Sidious tried to make me his apprentice before the whole mess started.” The smile didn’t reach his eyes.

“Sorry,” Kanan muttered. He suddenly couldn’t look Skywalker in the eye. Having a Sith Lord chasing after you for years, trying to take your child? And he’d been running from mere memories.

Skywalker shrugged and delicately blotted at his nose. “Not your fault. Sidious had years to memorize my Force signature.” He snorted out something black into the cloth; old blood. “For everyone’s safety, we couldn’t stay with them. We had to run from planet to planet, never staying anywhere too long.” He pulled the cloth away and inspected it. “My master, and our most trusted clones came with us, but it still wasn’t too good for a long time. And as they got older, it got harder to hide.” He twisted the cloth in his hands. “Had to separate. Send ‘em away for training, to hide.” He shrugged. “After that - decided that now we could afford to actually work with the Resistance. Padme slipped right in with her old Senate friends, while I -” He paused and chuckled. “I found a street rat and a Wookie to hang around with.”

“And you’ve been working with them since.”

Skywalker shrugged again. “Well, not for the last year. Been too busy recovering.”

Kanan nodded. “Right, from that High Interrogator-” He stopped as a thought occurred to him. “Wait.”

“Hm?” Skywalker was inspecting the cloth again.

Kanan couldn’t stop the frown from crossing his face. “I thought that the Inquisitorius only had the Grand Inquisitor.”

Skywalker grimaced and stared down at the bloody cloth. “So did we all.”


Anakin walked quickly but quietly down the hallway, his finger on the trigger of his blaster. Tucked into the small of his back, he had his lightsaber with him, though he prayed that he wouldn’t have to use it. It would bring down a lot of heat on him and his crew.

But this was one of their Sector Leaders, not just some random grunt soldier. So if his lightsaber was needed, then it was needed.

Not that he’d needed it so far. Pulling his commlink from his belt, Anakin flicked it on and brought it up to his mouth.

“You sure this is the right place, Falcon?” he asked. “It’s like a ghost town in here.”

“This is where all the transmissions were pointing to.” Han’s lazy yet reassuring tones came through crystal clear. “If he ain’t here, then it’s because he’s already dead. Now quit talkin’ and get working, or I’m sending Fluffy to drag your ass back to the ship.”

Anakin smirked. “Well, can’t have that happen,” he noted dryly. “Starkiller out.”

“Roger that.”

The commlink fell silent and Anakin tucked it back onto his belt with a soft sigh. Han was right; everything was pointing to this facility being where the man was being kept. But that knowledge refused to quell the little twist in his stomach. Not quite a Force premonition, it nevertheless had Anakin moving a little more carefully than he usually did.

“- Gods, it creeps me out.”

Anakin froze just before he was about to turn the corner and flattened himself against the wall. Peering around it carefully, he spotted the speaker.

Two roundheads, blasters cradled in their arms. Standing right in front of the cell that he was supposed to be entering.

Narrowing his eyes, Anakin tightened his lips. The guards weren’t unexpected, but the fact that the cell was right in the middle of the corridor with no cover nearby made him uncomfortable. There was no way he’d be able to sneak up on them like that, which meant that he’d have to try for a mind trick. And he had never liked using that particular Jedi technique. Obi-wan had never understood, and Anakin had never been able to put that awful tightening of his stomach into words.

But too many people were depending on him getting the man out of the cell and back to the Resistance. And even springing out from the corridor and sprinting towards them had too high a chance of them noticing and raising the alarm.

“What?” the other guard asked, turning his head towards the first.

Hastily, Anakin scooted back so that he was not longer visible around the corner.

“The noises, man!” Anakin heard him shift, the click of his rifle being moved against the man’s armour as he gestured. “I’m used to screams; that’s normal down here. Means the ISB is doing their jobs with these traitors. But ever since this High Interrogator showed up -”

“Oh stars, I know what you’re talking about!” The other man’s boots scuffed against the floor. “The gurgling.” The words dripped with an odd, horrified relish.

“The gurgling,” the first guard agreed.

Anakin wrinkled his nose momentarily, confused at what the men were talking about. But then he dismissed it; he’d come here for a mission, not to listen to roundheads complaining about their jobs.

Time for a little mind trick.

His stomach already starting to tighten, he let his eyelids lower slightly, not quite closed, and focused in on the minds of the two men. One human, one non-human; their lights were fairly bright, something unusual amongst the roundheads. But they were not so bright that he couldn’t manipulate them.

Ugh, this place gives me the creeps.

Why am I staying here?

Wait, why am I staying here?

This part of the prisoner cells hasn’t been in use for months.

The prisoner that I’m supposed to be guarding is in the other cell block.

I should go there before someone notices that we’re not at our posts. I don’t want to get in trouble.

“We need to get back to our posts,” the first guard said to his friend. “I don’t want to get in trouble.”

“Yes,” said the other guard. “The prisoner is in the other cell block.”

Peeking around the corner, Anakin watched as the men abruptly turned and marched away from the door, the pulse and flutter of their minds stilled into one purpose.

As soon as they turned the corner opposite of him, he quickly darted down to the door of his cell. It took him no more than a few seconds to slice its lock with an old astromech interface wand, and then the door was sliding open silently.

With one hand on the handle of his blaster, Anakin took a step into the cell.

It was barely lit. A little metal box, with only a few low red lights, sunk into the room’s recessed corners, to illuminate the slumped figure cuffed in the metal chair that was bolted to the center of the room.

The hairs on the back of Anakin’s neck began to stand up.

He forded onwards, though. People were depending on him.

“Hey,” he said to the slumped-over man, keeping his voice low. “My name’s Anakin. I’m here to rescue you.”

The man didn’t answer.

Anakin paused on the very last step into the room. The hairs on his arms were standing up now as well, joining their brothers on the back of his neck.

The Force was muttering at the edges of his awareness, its warnings not quite clear. Shifting his hand from the blaster on his hip to the lightsaber in the small of his back, he carefully stepped closer.

“Hey,” he called out, still keeping his voice low. “I said, I’m here to rescue you.”

Still not even a twitch.

The Force was getting louder. Warily, he stepped closer to the prisoner and reached out. If the man was dead after all of this…

But no. He could feel that the man was warm through his gloves. He cupped the man’s jaw and tilted his head up to look at his face -

“Gah!”

Anakin jumped back. The man’s head flopped back down, chin to chest like it was on an elastic string, but it was too late. The image of the man’s face, with blood streaking down his face from his eyes and nose, only the whites visible underneath hooded eyelids, was burned into Anakin’s memories.

He fumbled for his commlink. “This is Starkiller,” he said urgently. “Have found the package, but it’s unresponsive. Will need a fast exit.”

“Roger that.” Han’s voice was pure business. All this time together, he knew how to read Anakin’s voice. “Will have Fluffy making sure you have a clear path. Now get your butt back here.”

“Agreed. Starkiller out.”

It was the work of only a few minutes to pop the shackles keeping the man tied to the chair open. Slinging the man over his shoulder, Anakin repressed a shiver at how limply the man hung. He may not have been a healer, but he knew that that wasn’t a good sign.

Not that the blood was a good sign in the first place.

The man stable on his shoulder, Anakin quickly left the cell. The place gave him the chills, and he was glad to leave it.

Just as he was reaching the juncture where he’d start retracing his steps to the Millenium Falcon, there was a loud beep. Weighed down with the man, he barely got out of the way before the blast doors snapped shut.

“Woah,” he muttered to himself, his heart pounding. “That’s faster than usual.”

“Of course.”

Anakin whirled and fired.

There was the snap-hiss of a lightsaber igniting, and then he was stumbling out of the way of the blast he had just shot. Catching himself, Anakin glared at the man who had spoken.

It was a tall, thin figure, standing at the other end of the hallway. Dressed in a strange, unarmoured version of the Inquisitorius uniform and helmeted, with no visor seemingly present, it held its ‘saber in a relaxed position with its free hand dangling at its side.

“The doors were meant to keep prisoners from escaping,” it said in a strange, metallic voice. “If they closed slowly, that would give too much of a chance for them to get through anyways.”

A drop of sweat slid down Anakin’s spine. There weren’t that many smart Imperials, and he’d thought he’d known of all of them. But he didn’t recognize this one.

Cocking his head to one side, he pasted a smirk onto his face. “Seems a bit of overkill for this guy, though.”

“My apologies.” The figure’s voice was placid. “I was not clear. It is also for potential rescuers.”

Anakin kept his smirk up. “You’ve thought of everything, haven’t you.”

“No.”

Anakin raised an eyebrow. “No?”

Slowly, like a predator preparing to pounce, the figure straightened, pulling its lightsaber into an attack position. “I am not a god. I do not know everything. I am merely the Empire’s High Interrogator.”

The hair on Anakin’s neck stood up.

“And I serve as best as I can.”

Anakin didn’t have time to put his rescuee down gently. Dumping him on the floor, he was barely able to get his own saber out in time to block the High Interrogator’s blow.
The two blades met with a sharp hiss. Grunting, Anakin was forced to take a step back to brace himself. For such a skinny being, the High Interrogator sure was strong.

“Ah. A Jedi.” The High Interrogator’s voice was still placid. “That changes things.”

“Really? Like wha-”

Anakin stumbled forward slightly as the High Interrogator abruptly jumped backwards several feet.

“I’ll need to press harder.” It settled into a guard position.

Anakin didn’t bother to listen any further. He darted forward before the being could say any more, slashing and stabbing in an attempt to find a weakness in the Interrogator’s guard.

Every blow though was blocked or turned away. Narrowing his eyes and disengaging for a moment, Anakin recognized the form that the Interrogator was using.

“Form III, huh?” he taunted. “Inquisition can’t be bothered to actually create anything new, can it. Has to make do with stealing from the best.”

The Interrogator cocked it’s head to one side. “The best?” It’s voice was still that damnably placid tone, making Anakin grit his teeth as his head itched. “I hardly think that the Jedi Order could be termed ‘the best’, at this juncture. Aren’t they rather busy, currently, scuttling around like freighter roaches to avoid the Imperial boot?”

Anakin let out a hiss of air and surged forward, locking blades once again. He had his problems with the Jedi, but he wasn’t about to let this Inquisitor talk like it knew anything!
The Interrogator refused to stay in place, though. Shifting slightly, it slid out of the blade lock and ran along the wall, away from him again.

Snorting in frustration, Anakin followed. Good as the Interrogator was, they were no Obi-Wan. He’d get through eventually -

Something wet dribbled down his mouth and chin. Focusing on the way their blades were clashing together, he licked his lips absentmindedly only to taste blood.

What?

Disengaging, he pulled back from the Interrogator, who didn’t follow. Quickly wiping his mouth with the back of a gloved hand, he glanced down at the bloody smear in confusion. When had he hit his face -

Then the little itch in the back of his head turned into a spiked drill, grinding its way into his brain.

Choking out a gasp, Anakin swayed as his vision blurred. His head -

His lightsaber clattered onto the ground, but he could barely hear it. He fell to his knees, now aware of more wetness on his face. He clutched at it clumsily, curling into a ball as the pain just kept going on and on and on.

Shiny black boots came into his vision.

“Well,” said the High Interrogator, “I must compliment you. I haven’t had to stretch myself in a very long time.”

There was a hiss, and a shout. His comm was on. Anakin could hear Han, saying something, and realized that his own screams were drowning his partner out.

“Is that your partner?” The High Inquisitor knelt down beside him, laying a cold hand onto the back of his neck.

The pain got even worse. He couldn’t even scream, his throat muscles spasming as more wetness trickled down his face. All he could hear now was an awful gurgle echoing in his ears.

“Ahhh.” Now there was some emotion in the Interrogator’s voice. A nauseating pleasure that reminded him of a Hutt, looking over a slave girl as she gyrated for him. “Han Solo and Chewbacca. Those are your friends, then? And your name is -”

There was an awful, wet scraping sensation in his skull and Anakin knew he was drooling.

The High Interrogator laughed. “Anakin Skywalker? Truly?” Its hand caressed the back of his neck. “Today is just my lucky day, isn’t it? Lord Sidious will be so pleased to know that you have fallen into my hands.” The hand slipped down to cup his jaw, forcing him to look up to the featureless helmet. “He’s so wanted to speak with you about your family.”

Fear shot through Anakin. His family - no, he couldn’t allow this -

But he couldn’t do anything. He couldn’t even move as the High Interrogator patted his cheek one last time and stood up.

The people he loved most in the galaxy were in danger, and he couldn’t do anything.

A door hissed open. The Interrogator turned.

“Wait, you -”

Then came the most beautiful sound that Anakin had ever heard.

Chewie’s roar echoed in the corridor, mingling with the sound of his bowcaster going off. There was a wet, meaty sound and a choked-off metallic gurgle. And then the pain was gone, warm furry paws were lifting him up, and a warbled question of whether or not he was okay filling his ears.

Anakin struggled to get his mouth to work. “H-home,” he forced out, tasting blood. “Ch-Chewie, home.”

The Wookie rumbled and tucked his head into the crook of his furry neck, supporting his weight with only one arm.

“Home,” Anakin mumbled, slipping into the black. “Home.”


 

Skywalker scratched his bearded chin, still staring into the distance. “It took nearly a year to recover from that. Doctors only just gave me permission to start going on missions again.”

“So that’s why you came here to hide,” Kanan murmured. He dropped his head and rubbed the back of his neck.

The High Interrogator. After that story, something was tickling in the back of his head. Hadn’t Hera mentioned that the Resistance was celebrating taking out a high-ranked Inquisitor about a year back? It hadn’t really affected them, being a part of Fulcrum’s network, but they had taken the chance to celebrate anyways with dining out away from the kid’s for the night.

Kanan let his head droop even lower. “Damn,” he sighed. “I think I remember that, now.”

“Yeah, we figured from Imperial chatter afterwards that the guy was pretty important to a whole lot of spy work.” He frowned and scratched his chin again. “At least, that’s what I was told.”

Kanan nodded glumly. “We celebrated too. Went out for dinner.”

Skywalker grinned. “Oh right,” he said, nudging him with twinkling eyes, “that lovely captain of yours.”

The back of his neck heated up, but Kanan smiled. “Yeah,” he mumbled.

“I’ve seen her around with Padme a little bit, the last few days,” Skywalker noted, tucking his hands behind his head. “What’s she like? Where’d you meet?”

This time, Kanan couldn’t hide his smile. “Wonderful,” he said. “I met her on Gorse, during that Count Vidian mess…”

Chapter Text

Grey was - unsettled, as he slowly walked up the ramp into the Kasmiri. Stance’s words picked at him, nibbling away at the corners of his thoughts.

I would have thought that you’d have managed to talk to him by now.

No amount of telling himself that Stance knew nothing was managing to take the sting out of the comment. Stars knew he found himself thinking the same a lot of the time.

“So, do I have to beat Stance up?”

Grey smiled as he stepped further into the ship’s galley, the smell from the pot that Janus was stirring intoxicatingly good. Literally intoxicating, if the bottle of Corellian whiskey on the counter was any indication.

“No,” he said quietly, sitting down at the galley table. “He didn’t say anything I haven’t thought myself over the years.”

Janus grunted and squinted down at the pot before picking up the whiskey and adding a generous glug. “I dunno, that sounds like he said something punch-worthy.”

Grey chuckled and shook his head. “Don’t punch Stance. He’ll never come back here if you do.”

Janus just grunted and kept stirring. Grey leaned back in his seat and sighed, letting his eyes close.

He was tired. After everything that had been going on today, he was very, very tired. Visits from his brothers were always somewhat fraught, being that he wasn’t with them. Even with the ones that knew why he wasn’t with them.

“Do you miss being with them?”

Grey grunted and opened his eyes, looking at Janus. He was still staring down at the pot, slowly mixing their dinner together.

“What do you mean?”

Janus’ frills expanded slightly. “Meant what I said. Do you miss being with your brothers.”

Grey raised an eyebrow. What had brought this line of questioning about?

“Sometimes,” he said carefully. “It was all I knew for a long time. Strictly regimented. Predictable.” He drummed his fingers against the scuffed table top. “I don’t regret being with you, if that’s what you’re really asking.”

For the first time since Grey had entered the room, Janus looked at him. “You’re not saying no about wanting to be with them now.”

Ah. Grey knew what he was worried about now. Getting up from his seat and ignoring the little twinge in his knees, he walked over to Janus and wrapped his arms around the other man’s waist.

“I want Caleb, or Kanan, or whatever he’s calling himself back with the Jedi,” he said, pressing his cheek against the broad, muscular back of his lover. “I don’t think the way he’s cut off every bit of who he once was is healthy. But even if he does end up with them, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m going back to the Jedi Fleet as well.”

“If going back to them is even a good thing for Kanan,” Janus muttered. His muscles were like rocks underneath Grey’s cheek.

Grey sighed. “If going back with them’s even a good thing for him,” he agreed quietly, his stomach churning.

Janus paused mid-stir and placed his broad flesh hand over Grey’s, right underneath his rib cage. “Stance saying disturbing things again?”

Grey grimaced. “Not in so many words.” It felt traitorous to even being thinking these words, let alone saying them aloud. But -

“Little things he mentions. The lack of direction. That weird little clique that won’t let clones into certain areas of the ships where they stay.” The treasonous words felt like frozen pebbles in his mouth. “It sounds so messed up, like they’re going to schism the moment someone actually tries to do something -”

He stopped himself and let out a breath. Turning and burying his face into Janus back, he laid a gentle kiss on his spine.

“I’m glad I’m with you,” he said, letting his lips drag against the thin fabric of his lover’s shirt.

Janus’ hand squeezed his own. “I’m glad too,” he said. There was no sarcasm in his voice.

Pulling his face from Janus’ shirt, Grey looked up. Janus had turned his head as far as it could go to look down at him, his frills relaxed and flushed a deep, healthy green.

Standing on his toes, Grey pressed a kiss at the very edge of his jaw, right where it met neck and the fins began to spread out. The skin was incredibly soft and sensitive there, making Janus’ hand spasmodically squeeze his own as he let the tip of his tongue draw a simple pattern.

Loud pounding knocks abruptly echoed through the ship, making the two of them reluctantly part. Grumbling, Janus tapped the spoon against the edge of the saucepan and put it down. “Stars, it already took Stance three tries to leave.”

Grey frowned and cocked his head to one side, carefully listening. Those knocks were too light for a clone’s heavy, scarred fist.

“That’s not Stance,” he said quietly. He exchanged a look with Janus.

The Kalleran reached underneath the counter and pulled out a small blaster, handing it to him. Grey nodded his thanks. Even on a Resistance carrier, it never hurt to have a holdout blaster. You never knew how long they’d tolerate smugglers.

The knocker did not wait long in between their bursts of noise. In the time it took Grey to get down to the cargo hold that lead to the ship’s ramp, they got through three bursts of increasingly frantic pounding.

From the loudness of the sound, Grey had somewhat expected some large, muscular being. The slim little Twi’lek that greeted him with a strained smile was the complete opposite of that.

“Hi,” Kanan’s pilot greeted, her smile not reaching her eyes. “I was wondering, have you seen Kanan Jarrus?”

…Huh.

“No, sorry,” he replied.

A muscle in her cheek jumped. “Alright, thank you. Sorry for bothering you then.” She turned and began to walk away.

Grey had grabbed her shoulder before he even realized he was moving. “Wait.”

The shoulder underneath his hand was as hard as a rock with tension. Kanan’s pilot turned her head towards him just enough to flash him a stiff smile. “I’m sorry,” she said, “I can’t stay and talk. I need to find Kanan before -”

She snapped her mouth shut with a click and grimaced.

Grey’s stomach knotted. “What’s wrong with him?”

“I’m sorry,” she repeated, removing his hand from her shoulder, “that’s not for me to tell -”

“Bantha fodder.”

Grey turned and realized that Janus was standing right behind him, his frills paling with worry. When had he left the kitchen?

The taller man stalked forward and pointed a metal finger at Kanan’s pilot, scowling. “What. Happened.”

The woman pressed her lips together tightly, her lekku arching with the tips twitching. Then she let out an explosive sigh.

“Last night he came back from the Jedi ship - disturbed. Not curled up in a ball, but not in good shape.” She stared at his chest; Grey could tell that she wasn’t seeing the green muscle, but rather, something else. “He hadn’t improved by this morning. I wanted to stay, but,” she shrugged helplessly. “I had already put several things off. I couldn’t stay with him, and when I asked he said that he was fine. When I came back, though -”

“He was gone.” Janus looked thunderous. His hands squeezed into fists, making the gears in his metal limb creak. “How long have you been traveling with him?”

She squeezed her lips back together until they disappeared. Tilting her chin up, she stared him in the eye squarely. “Seven years.”

“And you thought that leaving him alone was a good idea?” Janus jabbed a finger into her chest, making her eyes narrow. “He can’t handle Jedi poodoo, he kriffing falls apart every time he has to go near it! He could -”

Grey grabbed Janus’ wrist as he reared back to prod the pilot’s chest again. “Janus, stop,” he commanded. “Blaming her isn’t helping. Kanan’s a big boy now, and she was treating him like one.”

Turning to the woman, he let go of Janus’ wrist and folded his hands in front of him, smiling sheepishly in an attempt to lessen the anger he could see on her face. “I’m sorry, Captain…?”

“Syndulla. Hera Syndulla.”

“Captain Syndulla.” Grey mentally filed the name away as vaguely familiar. “You said that you’ve been looking for him for a while now. Where have you checked already?”

Syndulla seemed reluctant to stop glaring at Janus, but his words apparently confused her enough to stop the staring contest. She raised an eyebrow. “What does that mean?”

Janus snorted and abruptly turned on his heel, marching back up into the Kasmiri. “It means that we’re going to be helping you find the kid. Now answer the man while I turn off the stove.”

Her gaze flicked over after him as he stomped away. Turning back to Grey, she raised an eyebrow again.

Grey just smiled sheepishly and shrugged. He got sad when he had to talk about Kanan; Janus got testy. It had been like that for years.

Janus was back within the minute, his long coat swirling around his ankles as he marched off the ramp and into the hangar. “Right, let’s go,” he barked over his shoulder. “Grey, what she say?”

“She,” Syndulla stressed, keeping up with the Kalleran easily, “can speak for herself. And I’ve checked the commissary, the training rooms, the hangar bay -”

Janus made a loud, scornful sound that drew the attention of the few workers on deck despite the later hour. “You don’t know much about Kanan, do you?”

Had Grey been the one subjected to the glare Syndulla threw at Janus, he would have burst into flame.

“And what,” she demanded icily, “do you know about Kanan, Mister I-haven’t-talked-to-the-man-in-nearly-a-decade?”

Janus’ voice was equally cold. “Actually, I talked to him back on the station a few times, Captain Syndulla. You were there for one of them, if I remember correctly. And I helped him escape from Order 66 and the Temple Massacre, so I think that I’m actually pretty well qualified to talk about him. Or did he not share that with you?”

“Hardly.”

They were gathering stares now with their argument, making Grey squirm. He awkwardly waved at a few of the workers, trying to communicate that everything was fine and no one was about to get shot so they could go back to work.

It was a very complicated wave. He figured that that was why he was getting blank stares in return.

“He doesn’t exactly like talking about those things.” Syndulla was still speaking, ignoring the stares like some grand queen would ignore peasants. “For the longest time, actually, I thought that you two were just a particularly persistent pair of bounty hunters.” Her lekku were stiff and trembling with anger again. “He only let me know that you used to be friends after a year of traveling together.”

“Used to be -” Janus sounded like he was choking. Snapping his mouth shut with a click, he abruptly lengthened his strides, surging forward and leaving Grey alone with Syndulla.

Coming up behind her as she stared after Janus, Grey placed a careful hand on her shoulder. “Sorry about him,” he said quietly. “He just - really cares.”

Syndulla shook her head. “He has a funny way of showing it.”

Well, he couldn’t argue with that. “You get used to it.” He scratched at his jaw awkwardly, searching for a new topic.

Then it occurred to him. “So, I’m curious. How exactly did you and Kanan meet, anyways? You kind of just popped up out of nowhere, letting him live with you.”

Syndulla looked at him carefully out of the corner of her eye before answering. “We met on Gorse, trying to stop an Imperial plot to blow up the moon.”

Grey chuckled for a moment, then realized she was serious. “Wait, blow up a moon?”

A smile twitched at the corners of her mouth. “There was an evil cyborg involved.”

“What?” Grey couldn’t keep from chuckling again, this time in disbelief. “I have to hear the rest of this.”

Her smile widened, making her glow. But it quickly faded as she looked ahead of them. “That might have to wait for another time,” she said.

Grey followed her gaze and saw what had made her smile fade so quickly. Janus was leaning against a wall by an access terminal for the ship, drumming the fingers of his flesh hand against his bicep.

“Finally,” he snarked, pushing himself off of the wall and putting his hands on his hips. “Have a nice conversation?”

“Well, it was pretty nice until we got to you,” Syndulla snarked back. Stopping in front of him, she mimicked his pose. “What are we doing here?”

Janus’ lips twisted sourly at her words. He jerked his head at the terminal. “Need your codes to get in here and check where the engine rooms and cargo bays are on this kriffing carrier.”

“Why?”

Grey pinched the bridge of his nose as another sneer crossed Janus’ face.

“Because,” the Kalleran said, over-enunciating every word like she was stupid, “Kanan drinks. It’s what he does whenever he’s feeling off-balance; says it pushes the hurt away. And the engine rooms and the cargo bays are the most likely places he’ll be able to find some on this ship.”

Syndulla’s tattooed-on eyebrows pinched together. “Kanan’s strong. He hasn’t had a drink in years.”

Grey switched to rubbing his scar as Janus scoffed. “Yeah, I used to think that he had his drinking under control as well. Of course, that was before I found him hiding empty bottles in some of our shipments.” He turned and jabbed a finger at the terminal. “He’s good at hiding things.”

Syndulla didn’t move an inch. “Before I do anything,” she said in a low, dangerous voice, “I want you to stop acting as if Kanan’s the same scared child you met all those years ago. And I want an apology from you for implying that he’s still a drunk.”

Janus scoffed yet again. “The truth hurts, Captain -”

He was abruptly dragged down as a green hand tangled in the front of his shirt. Grey twitched and aborted an automatic movement to free him by breaking Syndulla’s fingers.

“You,” Syndulla said, her voice as even and steady and furious as a river of lava, “haven’t spoken to Kanan in any great length in nearly ten years, as far as I know. You haven’t worked with him in even longer.” She pulled Janus’ green head closer. “If you want to be a part of this search, you will stop talking about him as if he is the same person from all those years ago. And you will stop implying that I don’t know my own lover.”

Grey held his breath. The look of shock, confusion, and slowly-rising anger on Janus’ face promised nothing good for Syndulla.

But his worry for Kanan outweighed his own injured pride. Grey could see how he swallowed his pride, closing his eyes and letting out a long breath as his stiff fins relaxed.

“Fine,” he said quietly. He opened his eyes. “I’m sorry. I’m just worried about the kid. I’ve been following him around the Outer Rim for years, watching him drink and kriff like he didn’t care what happened to him. So it’s a little hard to believe that he’s just turned over a new leaf.”

Syndulla nodded, accepting his apology as graciously as any queen. “Well, it’s not like it was instantaneous. It took a year of traveling together before he’d even talk about it, and then another before he stopped drinking, so I can see why you’d think he was still doing it.” She let go of his shirt and turned towards the terminal. “Now, you said you wanted to check the cargo bays and the engine rooms?”


The engine room was a bust. While there was a still there, the people surrounding it, both sober and drunk, did not recall anyone matching Kanan’s description coming by.

The sweet feeling of validation only just cut Hera’s worry.

Now, surrounded by the boxes and crates of Phoenix Home’s cargo bay, Hera could feel her worry welling back up in her chest. It wound around her throat as they peered around corners and down dark little aisles, their multi-tool lights barely piercing the gloom.

Kanan was not okay. Every time she closed her eyes, she saw the look on his face from that morning, that lost little boy look that she hadn’t seen since the Empire Day she had had to pick him up from a gutter in front of a bar. Stretched thin, surrounded by reminders of when his first life came crashing down around his ears. She’d gone to that bar that night with her heart in her throat, convinced that she was going to find his corpse surrounded by roundheads.

That incident had ended relatively well; it had been the catalyst for them opening up to each other about what had happened. But there was no assurance that this incident would end the same.

A vision of Kanan, kneeling in front of his bunk and rocking himself back and forth, clawing at his scalp, slithered into her mind.

She bit her lower lip.

“I gotta admit,” Janus said, making her jump, “I’m surprised that he wasn’t at the still.”

And just like that, most of her worry was wiped away by a riptide of anger. “What did we discuss,” Hera hissed, just barely biting back a rude epithet. She wasn’t able to keep her lekku from signing something rather rude, though. Small blessing that most sentients didn’t bother to learn what those movements meant.

Janus glared right back at her, straightening up to his rather considerable height. “I’m not insulting him,” he said, sounding irritatingly injured, “I’m just expressing my surprise at him not falling back into old habits.”

Hera hated the tone he was using. That tone that said she was being silly and overly-sensitive. She’d heard it over and over through her life, starting when she was growing up in her father’s camps, then when she was starting out in Fulcrum’s group, and then in the larger Resistance.

“He’s a lot stronger than you seem to think,” she snapped.

Janus groaned and rubbed his forehead, making Hera arch her lekku into a curse at him. “It’s got nothing to do with strength. I’m just going off of years of observed behaviour.”

“Really.” The words were spilling out before she could stop them. “And how, exactly, did he learn that behaviour?” She shook her head, trying to clear her mind of the buzzing rage that was trying to settle there. She couldn’t afford this. “Kanan’s a good man, he just needed a little support to kick the worst of his habits.”

The worst of his habits. That night, with him staring blankly into space as he sat soaking on his bunk, his cheeks still flushed from the alcohol. The self-loathing in his words as he quietly sobbed into her shoulder, telling her about all the things he hated himself for doing all those years.

“Sorry, but not all of us have degrees in psychology. Some of us can only do what we think is best.”

Hera looked up. Janus’ frill was flexed outwards, his jaw fins stiff and trembling. She frowned. “What do you mean?”

Janus groaned and rubbed his forehead, not quite able to meet her eyes. His jaw fins drooped. “Means I’m the one that introduced him to his good friend alcohol.”

…Huh. Hera raised her eyebrows and crossed her arms. “I have to admit, I’m a little surprised, what with how much you seem to disapprove of it.”

Janus glared at her through the gap in his fingers, and Grey, who had stayed silent throughout all of this, abruptly inserted himself between them.

“He didn’t mean it like that, Captain Syndulla,” he said, raising a placating hand. His eyes bounced between the two of them. “Did you, Janus?”

Janus let his hand drop down and crossed his arms as well, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. “No,” he muttered. He rubbed his face again. “It’s just -”

He stopped, his eyes skittering away from her. Hera frowned but waited patiently. She could recognize when someone was struggling to put an experience into words.

“I heard him one night. Crying. Not too long into our partnership, after everything that had happened.” He glared down at the floor like it had personally offended him. “A couple of nights, actually. And it didn’t seem like he was sleeping much, either. So, one night, I had us go out to a cantina for dinner.” He rubbed the back of his crest. “Shoved a couple of drinks into him; he seemed fine. Slept like baby that night, wasn’t even hungover in the morning.”

That was a familiar story. Hera could remember days like that, before their talk. He’d drink enough to lay out a Gamorrean and yet seem completely fresh-faced the next morning. “He had a knack for that.”

“Yeah, well, that made it pretty hard to figure out when exactly things started to go out of control.”

Hera didn’t know what to say in reply to that. She looked away, drumming her fingers on her hips.

Then Janus sighed. Looking back at him, Hera saw that he was roughly scrubbing at his face.

“Whatever,” he muttered. He let his hand fall back to his side, still not looking at her. “Let’s just get moving again.”

For a moment, Hera thought about pressing further. There were still so many things she didn’t know about Kanan, things that he shied away from speaking about.

But no. Kanan hadn’t wanted to talk about them for a reason, and she would respect that. He knew that if he wanted to talk, her door was always open, and that was enough. She wouldn’t go behind his back.

“We should,” she said instead.

For several minutes, then, they continued to search. The winding corridors of the bay, with their walls made of haphazardly stacked crates, made any noise that they made carry strangely. Sometimes, she could have sworn that either Janus or Grey were right behind her, only for her to turn around and see them nearly a hundred feet away. Other times, she’d hear a distant scuff and then get tapped on the shoulder by one of them.

Not helping was the way her mind kept gnawing on the look that had been on Janus’ face. That helpless, guilty, and knowing look. She’d seen it on her own, often enough, after ops that had gone bad. When she hadn’t been able to save someone.

So when they came back together after splitting up again to try and find Kanan, she felt that she had to speak up. Say what she had always wanted to hear, in those times.

“He never blamed you, you know,” she said before Janus could open her mouth. “For the drinking. Or anything else.”

“What?”

Now it was her turn to struggle with looking him in the eye. The crate to her left had a large gash over the sign declaring its contents. Hera wondered what had caused it.

“We’ve talked a lot over the years,” she continued, trying not to make it too obvious that she was hugging herself when she crossed her arms. “About him. About me. And he’s never said anything about him blaming you for the messes he made before we met.”

“Oh. And Grey?”

Hera risked a glance up and saw that he was shifting his weight from one foot to the other again.

“Janus.” The old clone’s voice was filled with fondness. Hera couldn’t keep herself from smiling.

“No, he didn’t blame Grey either.”

And then Grey’s head snapped around so quickly to stare at her that her neck gave a sympathetic twinge. The desperate hope and surprise made her stomach clench and mentally, she found herself making a note to get on Kanan more to at least be polite to these two.

Before anyone could say anything more, though, a familiar voice reached Hera’s earcone. Holding up a hand to keep either of them from speaking, she cocked her head.

Yes, there! A low laugh, one she’d heard many times over on the Ghost over dinner.

“It’s coming from over there.”

Hera looked back to Janus and Grey, realizing that they too had heard it. Janus was pointing off in a specific direction, his eyes gleaming.

But Hera only saw that over her shoulder. She was already moving towards it, her heart in her throat. If he was laughing -

She turned the corner and squeezed into a wide clearing with only a few crates. And there was Kanan, sitting on top of one beside another man. Laughing, his eyes crinkling in a joy she hadn’t seen since the station.

“Kanan!”

She flung herself into his arms, her eyes burning with relieved tears. She didn’t smell any blood on him, no sour stench of fear and guilt. He returned her hug without even a shiver of pain. And that was when the tears began to fall.

He was fine. He was fine. She was trembling with relief in his arms, with him curling around her as best he could, and he was fine.

“Hera,” he breathed, her name like a benediction on his tongue. “Hera.”

Her face rapidly dampening, she pulled back and punched his armoured shoulder. “How could you!” she snapped, her voice breaking with relief. “How could you, I thought -”

Kanan stepped forward and caught her fist, pulling it close to his chest. “I’m sorry,” he said, “I know, I just didn’t want you to have to deal with - you already had so much -”

Hera grabbed the front of his shirt and pulled his head down for a fierce kiss. She put all of her worry and concern into it, all the fear she had felt searching for him and the relief at seeing him smiling and laughing while sitting there on the crate.

He looked dazed as she slowly pulled back, giving his lower lip a gentle nip. His hands were now on her waist, keeping her close, and she wasn’t complaining.

Reaching up, she wound her arms around his neck and pressed her forehead to his. “You’re never a burden Kanan,” she said, willing him to understand. “Never. I want to be with you, I want to face these things with you when they come around.” She searched his face for understanding. “I want us to face them together.”

His eyes were shiny and damp-looking as he looked back at her.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I didn’t mean to worry you.”

“Please, don’t shut me out.” Their bodies were now flush against each other. She was running her fingers through the loose hair in his nerf-tail, something that she knew he loved. “I’m here for you. We’re all here for you.”

“All - ?” Kanan pulled back slightly and turned his head, even as she stopped playing with his hair to cup his jaw.

Someone cleared their throat behind them loudly.

Hera turned her head and glared.

Janus looked utterly unrepentant, waving at them mock cheerfully. Grey and the man that Kanan had been talking with were on either side of him.

“Hey,” he said, grinning widely at them in a way that made the tips of her lekku heat up. “So sorry, should we be giving you two some privacy?”

Hera’s lekku curled. Her face was hot now as well. Grey was covering his face. And when she glanced up at Kanan.

Well. He was as red as a Corellian sunrise.


Ezra smashed his knees into the seat as she shoved him down into it. He only just kept from smashing his chin against the holoprojector by throwing a hand out and catching himself.

“Slow and steady, Inquisitor. Once you’re up, I don’t want a single movement from you.”

Turning his head, Ezra swallowed. Despite being removed from his back, Sabine hadn’t holstered her blaster back at her side. The grey metal of it’s barrel was now instead pointed directly at his head, without even a tremble to suggest that she would hesitate in pulling the trigger.

Carefully, never taking her eyes off of him, she sat down in the seat across from him.

Ezra dug his nails into the worn-out material of the seat below him. “Hera won’t be happy,” he tried. He couldn’t keep the tremble out of his voice as he stared down the barrel. It was like when he got caught up in that riot back home and couldn’t escape before the roundheads started cracking skulls. He’d been eleven, his scalp busted open and with a roundhead stomping on his chest so that he couldn’t escape…

Sabine shook her head sharply, keeping him from sinking into his memories. Her pretty face was twisted into an angry frown. “Hera isn’t here.”

Ezra licked his lips. The last few shreds of fog from the Orenda tea were disappearing from his head as quickly as the mist during a Lothali sunrise. Now that his head was a little clearer, he could see the tension around her eyes. The distrust in the way she was gripping her blaster tight enough that the leather of her gloves was squeaking.

“What did I do to you?”

He barely recognized the pleading tone in his voice.

Sabine grunted. “It isn’t what you have done,” she said, her voice low and threatening. “It’s what you can do. Hera and everyone else might be willing to forget what Inquisitors do, but I won’t.” Her voice lowered even more. “I never will.”

“I would never -”

The click of the blaster’s safety being turned off was as loud as a shot. Ezra froze. He hadn’t even realized he’d leaned forward.

Sabine’s eyes were narrowed into slits. “I said,” she said, her voice soft and sharp like a knife wrapped in shimmersilk, “no moving. Not breaking eye-contact, she reached into one of her pockets and pulled out a small disc. With a soft click, she slipped it into the projector.

“You keep claiming that you’re no threat,” she said, and the sneer in her voice told a story of just how little she believed that. “If that’s the case, why don’t you explain this.”

A short vid popped up over the projector. Only a few seconds long, it quickly began to loop.

It didn’t even need that long to make Ezra’s stomach drop.

The Headmaster was kneeling in front of Ezra, his face covered by a curtain of blood that had trickled down from his eyes and ears and nose, mixing with snot and tears. A pool of blood was in front of him, pale fingers lying in it like drowned maggots. His shoulders were shaking with sobs as he searched Ezra’s face for any sign of pity or softness -

The Ezra in the holo, his face mouth and chin covered in blood as well, lazily blinked, his smile like the blade of a knife held to someone’s throat. He shook a finger mockingly at the man, his mouth shaping words that hadn’t been caught by the recorder.

Tears continued to fall thick and fast as the Headmaster raised a blaster to his temple, his eyes wide. Ezra’s smile only grew and he cocked his head to one side, his eyes glowing colourlessly. The hand holding the blaster shook, the Headmaster’s face screwing up in pain -

The shot was sudden, and accurate.

The Headmaster’s eyes crossed slightly, a sad, confused look on his face. Something lumpy poked out from the opposite side of his head from the blaster, sliding out and plopping down on the ground as the man slowly teetered and fell onto his side, his eyes still open.

Ezra in the video cocked his head to one side, utterly stonefaced. Then he seemed to notice something and turned, beginning to walk away.

He didn’t look back even once.

The vid began to loop.

“You recognize this, then.”

Ezra tore his eyes away from the vid to see an almost triumphant look in Sabine’s eyes.

Taking a deep breath through his nose, he looked away further and dug his nails into his thighs.

“Yes.”

“Care to explain it, then?”

Ezra couldn’t raise his eyes. “No.”

“Too bad. You don’t have a choice.”

He couldn’t even stare at the table-top. The flickering light of the projection spilled across the tabletop, its varying shades telling him every movement the little figures made.

“Didn’t you show this to Hera already?” he muttered through numb lips. “I thought that she said -”

“Hera might be willing to play fast and loose with her own life, but I’m not.” Sabine’s gloves squeaked as she squeezed the handle of her blaster tighter. “Her, and Kanan, and Zeb and even Chopper - they’re all I have, and I’m not going to let another Inquisitor take away my family!”

Grief and anger lanced through him like a stinging lothwasp. “I’m not an Inquisitor!” he snapped. Now he could look at her, the single lothwasp quickly multiplying into a hive.

Sabine just narrowed her eyes. “Really?” Her voice dripped with sarcasm. She made a small gesture with her blaster, still keeping it within range for shooting him if he tried anything. “Because the person in that vid sure does look a lot like one to me.”

Unwillingly, Ezra looked at the video, clenching his teeth so tightly that they hurt. It was so short, but just looking at it brought him back to that moment, with the taste of blood in his mouth and that awful fake strength coursing through his limbs.

But he couldn’t argue with her. He really did look like an Inquisitor there. All he needed was a red lightsaber.

“So, keeping all of this in mind,” Sabine drawled, “why shouldn’t I just plug you between the eyes, right here, right now?”

Ezra couldn’t answer. His tongue lay like a stone in his mouth, the phantom taste of blood making him want to throw up. His chest was buzzing with anger.

How dare she? How dare Sabine shove his face into this moment, shove him back into the moment where everything went wrong, when everything began to end, where the path to that cell -

“…He deserved it.” The sentence could barely even be called a whisper, it was so quiet. More a mouthing of the words.

Sabine raised an eyebrow. “What?”

The lothwasps were roaring in his chest, a swarm coming out to rip someone apart. “I said,” he bit out, “that he deserved it.” His hands were shaking. The smell of blood was almost overwhelming. He could hear the rumbles of thunder, so loud that it was like being in the belly of a beast.

“You wanna know how we ended up like that?” he asked. “Why I made him do that?”

Sabine shifted in her seat. “Obviously,” she scoffed.

But Ezra could taste her unease in the air. She hadn’t expected him to turn this around like this, he guessed.

Well. It wasn’t like he really cared.

He watched the loop one more time, watching the dark glee that filled his face as the Headmaster brought his blaster up to his head.

“It started when we tried to escape.”

Chapter Text

“Morning, 100314.”

A sticky hand slapped the side of Ezra’s face in a mocking pat. Slowly, Ezra opened his eyes, his eyelids fighting him all the way, and glared at the guard that was standing in front of him.

The guard just chuckled and moved his hand so that he was caressing Ezra’s jaw. “Now, now,” he said, dragging his thumb against Ezra’s lower lip, a sludge-covered snake of pleasure sliding against Ezra’s mind, “you keep that up and I might just report to the Headmaster that you haven’t learned your lesson.” His thumb dipped into Ezra’s mouth and pressed against his clenched teeth. “And that wouldn’t be very fun for you, would it?”

Ezra wanted to spit in his face. He wanted to talk tough, say that he didn’t care what the Headmaster did to him.

He also knew that he wouldn’t survive much longer in one piece, tied naked to a pole on a platform at the top of one of the Academy’s lesser towers. His wrists bound behind him and a noose around his neck that forced him to stand on his toes to avoid strangulation, he’d survived two days already just drinking what little water the occasional drizzles let trickle down his cheeks. His head was pounding and he was having trouble focusing his eyes.

It only took three days for a human to die of dehydration. He didn’t want to become an experiment in how long that could be drawn out.

So he just closed his eyes and unclenched his jaw, flicking his tongue against the guard’s thumb. The guard guffawed, making Ezra want to puke up what little bile was left in his stomach.

“So you can learn!” Ezra heard him straighten up and opened his eyes just in time to see him gesture to the other guards that were waiting a little further away. “Cut this one down!”

Ezra chewed on his tongue as one of the men came forward and sliced through the rope with a lasercutter, not letting himself flinch as it burned his throat. Another undid the ropes around his wrists.

As soon as the ropes were gone, his legs gave out underneath him. Thighs and calves, slicked with what little waste his body had been capable of producing, couldn’t support him after two days stuck in a single position. His chin stung from where he had scraped it against the metal of the platform.

The men above made disgusted noises as he lay there, the oppressive moist head of Dromund Kaas having coated his body in a layer of grease. Sullenly, Ezra wondered at their disgust. Did they whine this much when they cut down the bodies of those that couldn’t keep standing? Or the ones that couldn’t keep the carrion eaters that circled above away?

Someone dug their fingers into his hair and dragged him to his feat. He didn’t have the energy to hiss in pain.

The head guard chuckled again at the sight of him. “I don’t think we need cuffs here, boys,” he said, sounding jolly as a drop of sweat dripped down his cheek.

There was a ripple of laughter at this comment. Ezra didn’t see what was so funny.

No, all Ezra felt was a sleepy movement of the angry hive in his chest. He’d be furious later, with more liquid and a little food in his stomach. Right now, though, all he could feel was a dull, helpless hatred that dragged his limbs down until all he could do was follow the guards across the bridge to the main tower of the Academy.

Once in, he quickly found himself shoved into the familiar washing room where he and the rest of the ‘troublemakers’ found themselves after a punishment. Tiled in stained grey duracrete, the long room reminded Ezra more of a speeder-wash than a fresher.

Increasing that feeling was a set of viewports all along one wall. Made with shatterproof transparisteel, they let the guards and occasional Inquisitor watch them get hosed down whenever they wanted.

Speaking of which…

Ezra looked through the viewports while trying to look like he wasn’t. There seemed to be more Inquisitors present than usual, which meant -

There.

The tall figure of the Grand Inquisitor, pale and frightening, seemed to be looking straight at Ezra.

Ezra didn’t let himself show anything of what he was feeling at the sight of the alien. He could feel the chill now, of his presence; cold dark water rising up to his neck. But drawing his attention was not an option.

Not now. Not with the threat that his presence represented.

So instead, Ezra just shifted away to face the other kids, making himself wonder which it was to be today: water so cold that it threatened hypothermia and left his lips blue, or so hot that it left reddened skin and stinging tenderness wherever it hit?

“Hey.”

Turning his head, Ezra saw the dark brown eyes of Dev and felt a smile tug painfully at his cracked lips.

“Hey,” he whispered in reply. His voice wouldn’t go any louder. If they weren’t being watched, Ezra would have hugged him.

Then the water hit them. Hot today.

Grunting in unison, both Ezra and Dev quickly maneuvered themselves so that they were shielding some of the younger kids, with their thinner skin, from the scalding spray. They had tender skin as well in some places, but so long as they kept their backs to the bulk of the water they’d be fine. Out of the corner of his eye, Ezra saw several of the older kids doing the same. With their broader backs, they took the water without complaint, staring down at the duracrete floor silently.

One in particular, that had managed to mutter the name ‘Kyle’ to Ezra one time before getting a rifle butt slammed into his jaw, was shielding several underneath his bulk. Being older and more muscular than most of them, he didn’t even dignify the guards with a stony glare at the wall. He acted as if he was in a normal shower, ducking his head slightly and murmuring to Mara and Vander, a red-headed human and a blank-faced Mirialan.

No one tried to hide their nudity from each other at this point. The first few times they had, being ashamed and humiliated. At this point though, there was no shame. There was only Us and Them. No one in Us would humiliate each other, everyone being in the same situation. All of their anger was saved up for Them, made up of the Headmaster and the Inquisitors and all of the Academy’s guards.

Speaking of which…

Ezra didn’t flinch as he turned his head and got some water splashed on the burn on his neck. The Headmaster was standing amongst the guards, speaking to a displeased-looking Grand Inquisitor. His face was stony, but the jerkiness of his gestures showed just how nervous he was.

Good. He deserved to feel a little nervous, even if Ezra didn’t know what he was nervous about explaining to the Grand Inquisitor…

But Ezra didn’t have the energy to chew on that puzzle. Turning back towards the wall, his eyes flicked over to Dev as he began to scrub himself down as best he could with just his hands.

“Plan still on?” he muttered out of the side of his mouth.

Dev was wiping at himself as well. He was letting himself wince a little. “No,” he muttered back, keeping his eyes straight ahead at the wall. “A bunch of us are still in solitary. I heard the guards talking.” He turned his head slightly and grinned weakly. “I guess our little riot was a bit more than they could handle. Apparently they ran out of stakes to tie us to.”

Ezra didn’t answer right away.

Solitary. So that was what they’d done to the other kids. Ezra had wondered, remembering when the carrion eaters had swooped down on the kid on the next platform over. No one had come to clean it up after the body was picked clean. It made sense though; if they already had the others ‘taken care of’, why would they stir themselves to clean up some corpse?

But that corpse. No, that kid. When the carrion eaters had come down, it had only been three or four hours. And the kid had already been dead for at least one - Ezra had been able to hear them choking on the noose -

“I don’t think,” he said carefully, “that we can afford to wait any longer.”

Dev paused and stared at him.

“What are you talking about?”

Ezra elbowed him sharply. “Keep scrubbing!” he hissed. “Do you want them to notice that we’re talking?”

Hastily, Dev obeyed, making Ezra sigh. “I know,” he said, his exhaustion leaking into his voice, “that not all of us are here. But I don’t think that we can afford to wait any longer.”

“What do you mean, we’ve survived this long -”

“Exactly,” Ezra snapped quietly. “Survived. But that’s all we’re doing.”

A movement out of the corner of his eye caught his attention. “Look at Mara,” he muttered. “To your left. She’s favouring her arm.” His eyes skipped around. “Vander’s not putting weight on one of his legs. Jai’s being supported by Dara, his eyes aren’t even open.” Biting his lower lip, he watched the crud that was falling off of his skin swirl in the water before speaking again.

“I don’t think,” he said slowly, “that we’re all going to keep surviving if we wait any longer.” He kept his tone gentle, because he really did like Dev, but firm. “We have to go now, or we won’t be able to escape at all.”

Dev was scowling, his cheeks pink with something other than the heat. “We can’t leave people behind!”

“We have to.” Ezra felt very old. Much older than the boy beside him. “We’ll go to the Rebellion and tell them everything. But we can’t save everyone right now.”

Dev pressed his lips together and stared furiously at the wall in front of him. “I don’t like it.”

Ezra sighed. It had nearly been five minutes, which meant that their ‘bathtime’ was nearly done. “I’ll cut the power to my cell after the third guard pass,” he said quietly. “I’ll sneak to the floor control room and turn off the power there, but I need you if we’re going to unlock the turbolift to the ship platform. Are you in?”

Dev was silent.

The water falling from above began to lessen. Ezra made the snap decision to shift so that he could grab Dev’s wrist without being spotted. “Dev, are you in?”

The water completely shut off with a loud thunk that echoed through the room.

“Fine,” Dev muttered as the echo was fading. “I’ll help. But we’re running to the Rebellion first thing.”


Ezra counted the footsteps of the guard’s third pass through the ‘dormitories’. His muscles still ached from the last two days, and the food he had gotten once he was back in his cell had been nothing more than a ration bar and a cup of lukewarm water.

But he was used to working on that little in his stomach. So as he counted the fifty-seventh step and heard the whoosh of the doors to the control room opening, he sat up from where he had been lying on the cell’s durasteel floor. Barely big enough to lie down in, it nevertheless had one small point of interest in it.

Right where the wall met the floor by the door, underneath the control pad that told him when someone was about to enter, there was a small panel with three missing screws. And underneath that panel was a small compartment, just big enough to hide some small object, and then the thick wire that fed power to the cell’s door.

Now, what small object did Ezra manage to hide in there? He grinned as he reached in and pulled it out. He could barely see it in the dim light of the cell, but he knew its weight in his hand.

A droid multi-tool.

He’d ripped it from an astromech-turned-assassin-droid during one of the Academy’s ‘training sessions’ and managed to smuggle it to his cell with the vague idea of using it to maybe blind one of the guards the next time he got a chance. But then Dev had come up with his plan, and Ezra had known what the multi-tool would be used for.

So he had taken it all; the beatings, the insults, the creepy looks that left him wanting to claw his skin off. All of it was manageable with the possibility of freedom ahead of him.

And now the time was here. Flicking out the shearer extension, he cut the wire.

The door opened silently. Peeking out, Ezra double-checked that the coast was clear before stepping out and tugging the door shut behind him. Across from him was a vent, screwed into the wall. The multi-tool took care of that as well, and soon his was squirming through the duct towards the floor’s control room.

Each tower’s floor had a central control hub, with the building’s overriding hub at the very top of the tower. The one on this floor was the one Ezra had to reach right now, though. From there, he’d be able to shut off the locks on the other kids’ doors and let them out.

As he got closer to the hub, he slowed down. Being careful to make as little noise as possible, he peered through a vent cover.

Yep, there was the guard. His feet up on the console, fingers laced over his stomach and his hat pulled low over his face. Ezra could hear him snoring from the vent.

Small blessings, then. Looked like a visit from the Grand Inquisitor didn’t mean as much as Ezra had worried. Sliding his fingers through the slats of the cover, he pulled it out of place and gently put it to one side.

His feet made a sharp sound as he jumped down, making him wince and quickly press himself to the other side of the console, out of sight from the guard. His heart loud in his ears, he waited to hear the guard wake up, the multi-tool digging into his hand.

But there was nothing. Not even the smallest jump in the rhythm of the snores. Ezra raised an eyebrow to himself, but then shrugged. Whatever. It worked for him.

Just in case the guard was a really good actor, he peeked around the corner of the console.

The guard was in the exact same position as before. Perpendicular to the console, his feet were facing Ezra, giving him a good look at the man’s face. It was slack with sleep, a little drool trickling out of one corner. His eyes twitched underneath their lids, watching some dream.

For a moment, Ezra sourly wondered what the guards here dreamed about. New humiliations for their ‘students’?

But he didn’t let himself dwell on it for long. Slowly, carefully placing each foot down on the ground with his ears hurting from listening so carefully for any noises, he crept closer to the main controls. The guard snorted and smacked his lips, shifting a little in his chair, but didn’t wake.

Finally, Ezra stood in front of the main controls, only to find a problem.

The way the guard was sleeping, his body was right in front of the main screen display and its controls, which Ezra would have to use to undo the door locks for all the cells.

Ezra bit his lower lip, chewing on it nervously. It wasn’t like the guard’s legs, which he could just reach over. It was the man’s full torso, his chin to his chest. Glancing down, it was clear that the chair had wheels, but could he risk moving the man and possibly waking him up?

A movement on the display caught Ezra’s eye. Split into multiple smaller screens, one for each cell, one in particular had someone moving in it.

Fleti. Curled up into a little ball on her bare cot, her shoulders were shaking as she silently sobbed. Her pillow, the thin, ratty thing that they all got, was pressed up beneath her legs and butt.

Resolve filled Ezra’s chest. Fleti may be the only one who still had energy to cry, but he knew from the hopeless gazes of the other kids still awake on the screens that it was up to him to get them out of there.

Slowly, slowly, a drop of sweat dripping down his temple, Ezra shifted the guard. Ezra didn’t need a lot of space to work, but he didn’t want to brush up against the man and wake him up after all this hard work.

The wheels were slow to move. Stiff, Ezra would have bet his last credit that they hadn’t been oiled in years, letting out tiny, muffled squeaks that made his heart jump into his throat. The man himself wasn’t a twig either, making Ezra struggle to keep from grunting with effort.

But slowly, the man moved, his snoring staying steady, and Ezra was able to reach the controls.

Connecting to the system, the first thing Ezra did was turn off all sounds. It wouldn’t do any good if the doors opened and let out an alarm. The controls themselves let out a soft beep as they asked if he was sure, making him shoot a nervous look over his shoulder, but the guard only grumbled to himself and smacked his lips.

Turning back with a soft sigh, Ezra hit ‘okay’. All sounds were off. Checking the time in the lower corner of the display, he saw that they only had half an hour until the next sweep.

He bit his lip again. Not a lot of time to get everyone out. Quickly calling up the command to open all cell doors on a the floor, he hit it.

On all the displays, he saw the other kids move and look at the doors off-screen in wonder. He grinned as several got up and headed towards them. Fleti was one of those kids, except she paused and looked up at the camera, her face still clearly wet in the gloom of the cell.

Hesitantly, she raised a hand and waved. And despite the fact that she couldn’t see it, Ezra waved back.

The guard made a particularly loud grunt behind him, reminding Ezra of where he was. Closing down the window that showed the commands he had entered, he quickly changed the password into the subsystem to lock the guard out in case he woke up. That way, he wouldn’t even be able to call for help from the hub. He’d have to go down to the next floor; something that wasn’t possible since the lifts were shut off at night.

Of course, Ezra thought, that was only a problem if you weren’t small enough to fit into the ventilation shafts. Jumping back up into the one he had exited from originally, he felt very smug as he replaced the vent cover and crawled back towards the cells.

Back at the cells, Dev and the rest were already waiting for him.

“Ezra!” he whispered, clasping Ezra’s hand and pulling him to his feet. “You did it!”

Ezra grinned at him. “Was there ever any doubt?”

“Never,” said Dev, grinning back.

A heavy hand clapped down on Dev’s shoulder. “You two gotta get going,” Kyle said, his stubbled face looking anxious. “I’ll make sure the rest of us are by the lifts.”

Ezra nodded. “Thanks Kyle. The guard’s asleep and I locked him out, so he’ll have to get past you if he wants to raise the alarm.”

Fleti poked her head out from behind Kyle’s legs and shot them a weak smile. “Good luck.”

Ezra smiled at her. “Don’t need luck. We’ve got talent.”

“And lots of it,” Dev added. He gestured back to the vent that Ezra had just come from. “You first, then?”

“Yeah, I know the way. Just follow me.” Ezra slipped back in, leaving the low buzz of chatter behind.

From the outside, he and Dev probably looked like an odd choice to trust with so many crucial parts of the plan, Ezra mused to himself. Other kids could slice better than either of them. Some fought better, were smarter. But crawling through the vents, though, quickly revealed why it was Ezra and Dev, and not one of those other kids.

Sucking in his stomach, Ezra had to wriggle slightly to get through a particularly narrow part of the ducts. After he was through, he could hear Dev doing the same.

He and Dev were the two tiniest kids who still had the slightest clue on how to slice into a computer system. Everyone who could do better than them were either too large to get around through the vents, or didn’t know the first thing about slicing. Meaning that in the end, everything was up to them.

Ezra’s arms were aching by the time they made it to the top of the tower. Forcing himself up inch by excruciating inch, forced to rely on the pressure he could exert on the sides of the duct to keep him from falling, he was trembling by the time they reached the last vent openings in the building. A little round divot that made a small crawlspace, just big enough for the two of them.

And then, of course, was when they hit a problem.

Behind him, Dev tugged on his foot anxiously. “What’s the problem?” he whispered, his voice barely reaching Ezra’s ears.

Then again, his voice probably would have had trouble reaching him even if they had been talking normally. Staring through the vent cover at the wide-awake guard fiddling with a handheld game, a cup of steaming caf in front of him, Ezra could barely see through the red haze that had descended over his eyes.

He knew this guard. He knew the profile that he had seen a snatch of as he turned his head to take a sip from his cup. He knew that weak chin and lothrat eyes. Those eyes that followed Fleti wherever she went.

“It’s Ratman,” he hissed.

Behind him, Dev paused for a moment before squirming up beside him.

“Damn,” he muttered. “It is him. And he’s looking really awake.”

“Yeah, well, I can fix that,” Ezra spat, tasting bile at the back of his throat. Horrible or not, he’d learned a couple of tricks here.

Holding up his hand, he reached out with it mentally through the air, imagining reaching Ratman’s throat, his fingers slowly beginning to dig into the man’s throat, squeezing it shut a surely as a noose -

Dev grabbed his hand, breaking his concentration. Ezra snapped his head to the side to glare at him. Why had he stopped him from giving the sleemo what he deserved -

“Don’t stoop to their level,” Dev whispered fiercely, replying to his unspoken question. “They want us to be killers, to be angry and bitter.” His eyes were big and pleading. “Don’t let them win.”

“He hurt Fleti,” Ezra whispered back. How could he not be angry about that?

“It’s what they want,” Dev repeated. “We don’t have to kill, Ezra. Watch.”

Grumbling silently to himself, Ezra obeyed.

Beside him, Dev closed his eyes and reached out, his hand horizontal and fingers splayed. The hairs on the back of Ezra’s neck stood up, letting him know that Dev was using the Force. But on what -

Something on the console moved, catching Ezra’s eye. It was the cup. Absorbed in his game, Ratman didn’t notice it edging closer and closer to the edge -

The man yowled as the still-steaming drink was dumped into his lap. Jumping to his feet, he dropped his game and pulled furiously at his pants to keep the now-hot cloth away from his skin. Ezra felt a little smug when he saw the brown stains seemed to be mainly located around the man’s crotch.

Swearing, the man turned away and began to gingerly waddle towards one of the several lifts that lined the walls of the room. Fumbling a small card from his pocket, he tapped it against the pad and, still cursing, let the door his shut behind him.

They barely waited long enough to hear the hum of the active lift before the two of them swung down from the vent. Ezra couldn’t stop snickering.

“Did you see him yowl?”

Dev flashed him a grin from the console he had made a beeline towards. “Well, I’m willing to stoop a little,” he said. “I’m only mortal. Now bring that multi-tool over here.”

Still snickering, Ezra did so and Dev had the system open to him.

“Right,” Dev muttered to himself, “there’s the lift that he used locked…” He fell into quiet half-words whispered underneath his breath. Ezra peered over his shoulder as he worked, finding himself quietly impressed with how quickly the different pages and commands whizzed by. Dev really did know his stuff when it came to slicing.

Whoosh.

Ezra looked up in alarm at the sound of a door opening behind them. Half-turned, he didn’t even have time to shout a warning as the crack of a blaster shot broke the quiet of the room.

Dev clutched his gut and screamed, falling to the ground like a puppet with its strings cut.

A cold hand tangled in Ezra’s hair, its nails scratching at his scalp and pulling him back to his feet from where he had been falling to his knees beside Dev. Reaching up to tear it away, Ezra found his face being violently introduced to the console instead.

He heard his nose crunch as it hit the durasteel, hot wetness abruptly sheeting down his face and filling his mouth with the taste of blood.

Coughing, he wasn’t given a chance to catch his breath. The hand in his hair was pulling him back, away from Dev as he lay on the ground. The hand was replaced with a hard arm wound around his throat, forcing him onto his toes and cutting off his breath -

“I have to admit, 100314, your little plan got quite a bit further than I expected.”

Ezra froze mid-struggle. He knew that voice.

Turning his head, he could only see a small slice of the face of the person holding him. But that slice, of a too-pale eye and a lothwolf smile, was all he needed.

It was the Headmaster.

“I’ll give you points for cleverness, though. Waiting that long with your little tool, figuring out when the Academy was resupplied; that takes patience.” The Headmaster chuckled. “Such a pity you underestimated the level of surveillance you were under.”

“If you’re going to kill me, then just do it,” Ezra forced out from between his teeth. “Stop gloating like some holovid villain.”

The Headmaster flat out laughed at that. “Really?” he asked. “You really think, after the interest that the Grand Inquisitor showed in you, that I’m going to kill you?”

Even with darkness creeping in at the edges of his vision, Ezra had enough energy to be confused by the man’s words.

“No,” the man said, forcing Ezra’s chin up with the barrel of his blaster and staring at him with pitiless silver eyes, “I’m afraid that I’ve been given strict orders only to observe you. Any attempt to permanently maim or kill you is not allowed.”

Dev moaned from where he was lying on the ground. The Headmaster’s eyes flicked over to him, a note of amusement entering his eyes. “Your friends, on the other hand…”
Taking the blaster away from Ezra’s chin, he pointed it directly at Dev. “You know,” he said, as if they were just having a conversation on the street, “gut shots can take days for someone to die from. Tell me, what would you do to convince me to spare your friend here that agony?”

Ezra’s ears were beginning to ring. “What?”

The Headmaster sighed, rolling his eyes. Then he aimed.

The blaster cracked and Dev screamed. His hand flew up to cover the charred furrow that had just been carved into his upper arm.

Ezra felt frozen as the Headmaster pointed his blaster towards the ceiling, radiating satisfaction. “Painful,” he said conversationally, “but very satisfying for me.” He pulled Ezra closer to him until their bodies were flush together, and whispered in his ear.

“I would love nothing more than to chain you in a cell with this brat and make you watch every agonizing moment of his death.” His lips brushed against the shell of his ear. “And believe me, it would be agonizing. That shot cauterized the injury, meaning that he won’t be bleeding to death.”

Ezra could feel the Headmaster’s lips curling into a smile against the curve of his ear.

“No, he will die slowly, by inches, as his guts rot into a stinking soup. So I’ll ask you again; what will you do, to make me kill him faster?”

The Headmaster’s arm had loosened, but Ezra couldn’t run. Understanding of what the man was asking had chained him to the floor as surely as any rope.

“You want me to beg you to kill him.”

The Headmaster laughed. “Glad to see that you have some brains after all,” he taunted. “Yes. I want you to beg. Unless you value your pride more highly than him.”

Ezra stared down at his friend numbly. The other boy was curled up on the floor, not saying anything as tears and sweat poured down his face, his pain jumping like a shockprod dragged against Ezra’s spine.

“Ezra -” he managed to squeak, before he let out a strangled sob and squeezed his eyes shut.

The smell of burnt flesh was nauseating.

“Well, 100314?” the Headmaster asked. His amusement slithered up Ezra’s spine. “Is your pride more important than your friend?”

Dev sobbed.

Squeezing his eyes shut, Ezra knew that this wasn’t a choice at all.

Clenching his fists, he stared down at his feet. “Please -” he mumbled.

The end of the Headmaster’s blaster barrel dug into his cheek. “Ah ah ah,” he said. “On your knees. Otherwise, it’s not really begging, now is it?”

Dev whimpered, and Ezra dug his nails into his palms. Slowly, grinding his teeth all the way and feeling like a lothwasp nest had taken up residence in his chest, he got down on his knees so that he was facing the Headmaster.

“Please, Headmaster,” he said haltingly, his eyes burning with humiliation and anger. “Please don’t let my friend suffer.”

The Headmaster chuckled and ran his fingers through Ezra’s hair. “Oh, but of course,” he cooed. “What do you want me to do to him, then?”

Ezra almost choked on his anger and disgust. What he was feeling from the Headmaster - he didn’t dare look straight in front of him.

He could feel blood trickling from between his fingers.

“Please sh-shoot him,” he bit out. “Make it quick.”

The Headmaster’s amusement wound around his neck. Ezra’s jaw was aching from how hard he was grinding his teeth when he heard the click of a blaster’s safety being turned off. The lothwasp nest in his chest buzzed even louder.

At least he wouldn’t have to watch.

The sound of the blaster going off made Ezra’s ears ring, a few tears slipping from his eyes. And then -

Dev’s scream pierced his skull like a drill.

Whipping his head around, Ezra stared. Dev was - Dev was -

“A kneecapping,” the Headmaster said above him. Ezra turned to him and saw that he was smirking down at him. He raised a pale eyebrow. “You never said where to shoot him.”

“But I begged,” Ezra whispered in disbelief.

The Headmaster cocked his head and caressed Ezra’s cheek. “Not well enough.”

Those words echoed through Ezra’s head.

Not well enough.

Dev was still screaming behind him, mixed with sobs. Outside, thunder rumbled, the deep growl you only heard inside the belly of some beast, occasionally lit up with lightning that painted the room stark black and white.

Not well enough.

The Headmaster was stroking his head again, his pleasure like worms wriggling inside of Ezra’s head. Cupping Ezra’s jaw, he pressed the ball of his thumb against Ezra’s lower lip and raised an eyebrow. “Come on now. I’m sure you can beg better than that.”

Not well enough.

Ezra looked up at the Headmaster with his lothwolf smile and pale pale eyes and hated him. Truly, deeply, utterly, hated him.

The wasps in his chest, still buzzing so loudly, began to crawl up his throat. The tips of their stingers dragged along the soft flesh of his throat and their wings buzz buzz buzzed so loud that Ezra couldn’t hear anything but them, feel anything but their rage and the new strength filling up his body until he felt like his skin would split open.

The Headmaster had hurt him. Had made Ezra feel small and pathetic and scared. And now Ezra was going to pay that back ten times over.

Getting up from the ground, he ignored the Headmaster’s sharp words, the sound of electronics and screens suddenly cracking and spitting out sparks and the lights flickering. All he could hear was the roar of the hive, the beating of the lothwasps’ wings. One was wriggling on his tongue behind his teeth, just waiting for him to speak.

Ezra was not tall. He was nearly two heads shorter than the Headmaster. But the man still gasped and took a step back when Ezra looked at him.

He tried to raise his blaster again from where it had drifted down to his side.

Ezra reached out and stopped him. Brushing past the cruelty, the nauseating arousal he got from seeing all of them on their knees and afraid, the mixture of fear and anger for him not obeying anymore -

Ezra stopped him, and it was easy. Like trapping a bird in your hands, feeling its wings beating against your palms. Knowing that all it would take to kill it was a little pressure.

A blood vessel burst in the Headmaster’s eye, a red droplet sliding from one nostril.

Ezra traced its path with his eyes, watching it slide along the outside of the Headmaster’s grimacing mouth until it finally nestled in a corner.

Ezra held the man’s mind in his hands, and he squeezed, digging his fingers in.

The man let out a choked gurgle, his teeth and red gums still bared as more blood followed that first drop, welling up from his nose and eyes and ears and dripping down to stain the front of his uniform.

Ezra could see the man in front of him so clearly now. The dingy streets, the screaming mother. The father with his bloody knuckles who taught him that true strength was beating down the scared and poor aliens that wandered into their neighbourhood and never left, their bodies rotting in dumpsters and sewers. The shootout with the planetary guard that left the father choking on his own blood. The schools, the awards - the promotions that let him act out his darkest memories against those who couldn’t fight back. Pale men in dark uniforms, the way their mouths shaped the name ‘Dromund Kaas’.

The wings were beating so fast and hard against his palms, Ezra could feel the bones breaking.

“P-please,” the Headmaster forced out, drool dripping down his chin.

Ezra smiled. Cocked his head to the side. “Come on now. I’m sure you can beg better than that.”

Oh, now there were tears mixing in with the blood!

Ezra liked that. He liked it a lot.

The Headmaster was still holding his blaster in his hand. A thought, the lothwasps underneath Ezra’s skin twitching and buzzing, and he was kneeling in front of Ezra, the muzzle pressed tight against the knuckle of his index finger.

“Hey, Headmaster,” Ezra noted casually, “do you remember when we first met?”

The Headmaster moaned, tears dripping down the sides of his nose.

Ezra cocked his head to his side. “No answer? Well, I remember.” He smiled as the man trembled. “You beat the poodoo out of me and then made me march to the Academy.”

Leaning down, he wiped some of the blood from the still-sobbing man’s face. “I really thought that I was going to die, then,” he said conversationally. “You really scared me. And I’ve been thinking -” His smile widened as a particularly strong wave of fear rolled through him. “I’ve been thinking about how I want to pay you back for that. Pay you back for everything you’ve done for everyone, you know.”

Standing back up, he placed his hands on his hips. “I’ve decided,” he said calmly, the hive buzzing in his head. “For every time that you’ve hurt one of us, I’m going to make you shoot something off. Starting with you punching me in the face when we first met.”

“Y-you can’t -” the man gasped.

He couldn’t? Ezra cocked his head to the side again.

BLAM

The Headmaster screamed. His finger twitched, separate from his hand.

Ezra grinned down at him. “That was for me,” he said happily. “And now this is for Dev -”

BLAM

Another pale finger, curled up like a rotworm on the ground, and the Headmaster sobbing. Ezra mock-frowned and rubbed his chin. “Actually, it should probably be two, since you shot him twice here.”

BLAM

Only one finger and a thumb left.

“Oh yeah, and Fleti too; you really hurt her lekku that time -”

BLAM

“In fact, two for Fleti as well, I know you know about that sleemo visiting her at night -”

BLAM

The Headmaster howled, tears pouring down his face. Ezra could feel him struggling, trying to get away.

“Man,” he said, “I’ve barely even started and you’re already down a hand - though I guess that I could just keep blasting away chunks…” He rubbed his chin in thought. “But that wouldn’t be fair, would it?”

“P-please…” the Headmaster begged.

Begged.

Ezra snapped his fingers. “Ah,” he said happily, “I got it.” Crouching down in front of the man, he patted his cheek again. “Tell you what, I’ll give you the same offer that you just gave me. If you beg me to, I’ll let you go.”

The Headmaster sobbed.

Ezra frowned. A thought -

BLAM

“I told you to beg.”

“Please -”

BLAM

Ezra stood back up, pouting. “Come on. I told you before. You can beg better than that.”

“Please, please,” the Headmaster sobbed, his face streaked with blood and snot. “I’m sorry, I’m so so sorry -”

Ezra grinned again. “That’s better!” He crossed his arms. “Now, what do you want?” He pointed a stern finger at the man. “Use your words.”

“I’ll let you go,” the man babbled, “I’ll give you and all your little friends a ship -”

“Ah ah ah.” Ezra waggled the finger at him, his smile fading. The lothwasps under his skin were dragging against the soft flesh of his insides.

The man still thought he was in charge?

This wasn’t fun anymore. If even what Ezra’d made him do to his hand hadn’t penetrated his thick skull…

“That isn’t begging,” Ezra said. He dug his fingers in again -

No more screaming or babbling. Just those little choking noises, and the blaster in the man’s hand rising to be pressed against the temple of its owner.

Ezra smiled one last time, tasting blood. “Goodbye, Headmaster.”

BLAM

The man’s face twisted in confusion. A quivering blob of jelly, pinkish white, wobbled at his opposite temple before sliding down his cheek.

And then slowly, the Headmaster crumpled to the ground.

For a long moment, Ezra looked at the body. He could still feel the man’s fear, beating against him like a trapped bird and filling him with strength.

But then, at the edges of his hearing, over the buzzing of the wasps, he heard crying.

Turning around, Ezra remembered his friend, still lying there on the floor.

Darting over, he hit the floor hard enough to make his knees hurt.

“Hey, Dev,” he said, frowning at how he had covered his face. Reaching out, he pulled the other boy’s hand away from his face. “Dev.”

The face that greeted him was streaked with tears. “You killed him, Ezra,” Dev croaked, a few fresh drops squeezing out of the corners of his eyes.

Ezra frowned. “Well, yeah,” he said. Why was Dev so upset. “He deserved it.”

Shaking his head, Dev wrenched his hand away and covered his face again. “Your eyes are yellow, Ezra,” he whispered.

“What?” Ezra turned to look at his reflection in one of the screens when the door hissed open again.

He didn’t even have time to turn before some great invisible hand picked him up and threw him across the room. His head struck the wall with a crack and he slid to the floor. And as the darkness rushed up to claim him, he managed to focus his eyes just enough to see a tall, white-skinned figure in black armour standing in the doorway.

The Grand Inquisitor. When had he…

And Ezra knew no more.

 

Chapter Text

Hera studiously avoided Kasmir’s gaze as they rode the lift in silence. Even his knowing leer, though, couldn’t drag down the lightness in her chest.

Kanan was fine. Better than fine. Glancing up at his face through her eyelashes, she could still see the hints of the smile he’d had earlier lingering at the corners of his mouth.

It was amazing the difference that a few hours could make. Leaving him alone that morning had left a bitter taste in Hera’s mouth. Seeing him sitting there at the table, lost and unraveling at the seams, she had wanted to blow off Ahsoka and Commander Sato. Only his words had let her leave, still with guilt dragging down her heart. So coming back to find him gone, knowing what he usually did when he got this low -

Well. It hadn’t happened. No reason to go through what-ifs.

The doors to the lift dinged as they opened. Taking Kanan’s hand in her own, she stepped out into the docking bay of Phoenix Home.

“Hey!”

Turning, Hera grinned. Zeb was dashing towards them, waving a hand above his head to get their attention as if he wasn’t the only Lasat on the carrier.

“Zeb,” she said warmly as he came closer.

Zeb just grinned down at her and clapped Kanan on the shoulder. “See you managed to find the lump, then, eh?”

“Hey, who are you calling a lump?” Kanan asked, smiling slightly.

Zeb just chuckled and shook his head. “You. You worried us, you know,” he said, turning on his heel and beginning to lope back to the Ghost. “You’ve earned some name-calling, I think. Meet you back at the ship.”

Kanan rolled his shoulders into a shrug. “Well, how can I argue with that?” he asked dryly, walking after him.

Hera snickered and prodded him in the shoulder, not letting go of his hand as they both walked. “You can’t, lumpy,” she said.

There was a quiet chuckle from behind them. And just like that, the good humour fled Kanan’s face. Squeezing her hand, he hunched his shoulders slightly.

“Lumpy,” Kasmir said, coming up to stroll alongside them with Grey. “I like that.”

“Janus,” Grey murmured. But his eyes were sparkling with mirth as well.

Kanan didn’t say anything, only thinning his lips.

Hera sighed internally. She had hoped that - well, it didn’t really matter. She had just hoped that seeing Kasmir and Grey and their concern for them would maybe mellow Kanan towards them. But as it was looking now…

“Kanan,” she said softly as they drew up to the Ghost. Ignoring the guards standing nearby, she squeezed his hand, making him look at her. “They were honestly a great help in finding you.”

His lips only thinned more until his mouth was just a thin line on his face. “I know,” he said, his eyes darting away from her, “it’s just -”

He stopped and sighed at the bottom of the ramp. His free hand floated up to smooth his hair back from his face. Taking a deep breath, he squared his shoulders and turned to face them.

“Thank you,” he said stiffly. “For helping Hera.” He didn’t look either of them in the eye.

Hera sighed and shot the two men an apologetic look.

Kasmir didn’t look impressed. He crossed his arms. “Think you could look us in the eye when you say that?” he asked.

“Janus!” Grey admonished.

Kanan didn’t reply, just crossing his arms and looking down.

Hera rubbed her forehead. “We really are thankful,” she said, the lightness in her chest disappearing. “And I’m sorry that we took you away from your dinner -”

“Sabine!”

Hera’s head whipped around at the sound of Zeb shouting in the ship. Kanan was already halfway up the ramp.

Hera followed him, her heart in her throat. A thousand scenarios flashed past in her mind - visions of the young woman bleeding, crying, injured -

She burst through the door into the sitting room with Kanan, looking around wildly for what had caused Zeb to shout. Then she saw, and her stomach dropped.

Sabine was sitting at the holo-display table, the small loop of vid that she’d pulled from the transmission playing. Sitting across from her was Ezra, his fingers digging into the table and head bowed, not even looking at the blaster she had leveled at him.

“Sabine…” Hera breathed, betrayal making a hard lump in her throat. Hera had trusted her.

Sabine stared back at them, her face like stone even if her eyes were suspiciously shiny. “Hey,” she said simply. “I was just talking with Ezra -”

“Cut the poodoo, Sabine!” Zeb snapped. “You don’t have a conversation with someone while pointing a blaster at them!”

Sabine glared. “You do with an Inquisitor -”

“Sabine.” Kanan’s voice was like a crack of thunder. Looking over at him, Hera saw that his expression was similarly stormy. “Put the blaster down now.”

For a moment, she looked ready to argue. Then she got a good look at Kanan’s face and seemed to think better of it.

The blaster made a clank as it was laid down that seemed to echo in the now-silent room. Hera found her arms crossed along with Zeb’s, while out of the corner of her eye she could see Kanan’s empty hands flexing like they wanted to grab something.

After a minute of silent glaring, Hera rubbed her forehead. “Sabine,” she began evenly.

Ezra abruptly stood up. Sabine’s hand darted towards her blaster only to just miss it as Zeb snatched it away.

“Ezra -” Kanan reached towards him.

But the human boy didn’t reply. Jerkily, he turned and walked stiffly out of the room, shouldering past Grey and Janus, who Hera was only belatedly realized had followed them onboard.

Ignoring them for now, she traded worried looks with Kanan. Glancing past him, he silently asked for permission to follow with a raised eyebrow.

Hera looked at Sabine.

The young woman was not looking at any of them. Her eyes were fixed on the door that Ezra had just disappeared through, and her fingers were digging into the table like Ezra’s had been when they first entered.

She chewed on the inside of her cheek for a moment, conscious that this was not going to be a pleasant talk. But it had also been a long time coming. And Kanan was just coming off of a bad day…

No, she’d handle this herself. Giving Kanan a quick nod, she moved to sit down beside Sabine as he headed towards the door. Zeb copied her on Sabine’s other side, pinning her in between the two of them.

Similar to Ezra, he shouldered past Kasmir and Grey without a word. Neither of them said anything as he did so, however. Kasmir just looked back at her awkwardly, tapping a finger on his hip.

“Guess that’s, uh, our cue to leave then,” he muttered, turning away. Grey gave her a sympathetic look as he turned to follow.

Hera didn’t bother to acknowledge them, instead keeping her gaze pinned on Sabine. Sitting down beside the young woman, she kept her hands on the table and waited. On Sabine’s other side, Zeb sat down as well, keeping his arms crossed.

Sabine didn’t react to either of them. She’d lowered her head now, staring down at her hands.

“So,” Hera asked. “Care to explain what that was all about?”

Sabine rounded her chin out into a mutinous pout.

“Sabine…” Zeb rumbled, his bright green eyes narrowed. “You pointed a blaster at a crew member. You don’t get to keep quiet.”

“He is not a crew member!” she snapped before Hera could say anything. She looked up sharply, her eyes glinting. “I will never call an Inquisitor a crew -”

So that was what this was about. Abruptly, frustration welled up in Hera’s chest.

“Sabine!” she snapped, her voice like the crack of a slavemaster’s whip. “We have talked about this -”

Sabine slammed her hands down on the table, where they curled into fists. “No, we haven’t!” she cried. “You’ve lectured me, we haven’t talked at all!”

“Sabine!”

“No!” She tried to stand up, only to be dragged back down by one of Zeb’s giant hands. “No!” she repeated fiercely. “Every time I try to say anything about him, anytime I try to point something out, you completely shut it down!” She ran a hand through her multi-coloured hair and tugged on the ends, hard enough to make Hera wince. “It’s like I’m pounding on ice and screaming but no-one can hear me!”

Something twinged in Hera’s chest. Quickly going through her actions in the preceding weeks, she tried to see it from Sabine’s point of view. “Alright then,” she said, laying a hand on top of Sabine’s, “let’s try again, then. What’s eating at you?”

“Everything!” Sabine angrily pulled her hand away from Hera. “This!” She jabbed dramatically at the holo that was still looping in front of them. “I just -”

Hera placed a hand on Sabine’s back as a few tears escaped the girl’s eyes. She angrily scrubbed them away.

“Sabine,” she said quietly. “I know -”

“No you don’t,” she interrupted savagely. “The Inquisitors took everything from me. From Mandalore. My home, my clan. Our art, our culture. Everything that made us more than a bunch of attack dogs.” More tears were falling down her cheeks, faster than she could wipe them away. “When Kanan found me -”

Her voice broke along with Hera’s heart.

Hera remembered that night. Fulcrum had sent them to Mandalore after the planet had suddenly gone dark, cutting them off from their contacts there. They’d been able to sneak past the blockade, but what they had found…

It had been a slaughterhouse. Worse than anything Hera had ever seen before, and she’d been on Ryloth during the Clone Wars.

The whole planet had been under curfew, its citizens penned up in their homes after sundown. Anyone found outside after then was assumed to be a rebel or a rebel sympathizer and disappeared. Imperial cadets had been organized into squads and sent out into the city to hunt for ‘sympathizers’, cracking open homes to find ‘seditious’ art and writings. They would publicly burn the items and then have their owners lined up against the walls of their homes and shot, all underneath their commander’s watchful eyes.

And above Mandalore’s capital city, the Grand Inquisitor’s star destroyer had been always hovering, blocking out the sun.

It had been there, in the shadow of that ship, that they’d ended up just outside of the city’s main square and peering in. Hera had seen pictures of it before; it had been beautiful, sharp geometric patterns everywhere with the Duchess’ palace overlooking it.

The Grand Inquisitor had turned it into a factory of death.

Prisoners, whether for actually speaking out against the Empire or just being in the wrong place at the wrong time, were brought into the square in large groups, corralled by roundheads. Chained like slaves at an auction, they had been forced to watch as they were brought forward in lines of ten, executed by blasterfire and then have their bodies dragged away to be piled up and burned.

Needless to say, Hera hadn’t been able to find any of Fulcrum’s contacts.

Nor had they been able to leave.

So they had stayed, holed up in an abandoned home near the square and waiting for things to calm down. Keeping silent and still so that the still-roaming death-squads had had no reason to investigate their hiding spot. Listening helplessly to the cries of those being driven to their deaths in modified troop carriers.

(Zeb had drunk himself unconscious for a week afterwards.)

And then one night, just before they managed to get back to their ship and leave, Hera had woken up to find the space beside her cold and Kanan gone. Her heart in her throat, she had waited for hours, only for him to walk in just fifteen minutes before sunrise with a thirteen year old Imperial cadet at his side.

He’d found her in the main square, standing over the pile of bodies stacked like firewood, her blaster tucked under her chin and her finger on the trigger.

Looking over Sabine’s bowed head, Hera made eye contact with Zeb and knew that the same memories where flying through his head as well.

“Sabine…” Hera hesitated for a moment and then went for it. Pulling the girl close, she tucked her multi-coloured head underneath her chin and held her as her shirt became damp. Zeb’s hand almost covered Sabine’s entire back, but he managed to rub it comfortingly.

“Why can’t you see?” Sabine pleaded, her voice breaking. “I can’t do that again, I can’t let them hurt my family again, I can’t let them make me do it again -”

“Sabine.” Hera kept her voice gentle and ran her fingers through Sabine’s hair. “Sabine, I’m sorry. I never meant to make you feel that we weren’t taking your fears seriously.”

Sabine’s shoulders shook as a new gush of wetness dampened Hera’s front.

“Do you want to know why we didn’t think that Ezra was a threat?” She continued stroking Sabine’s hair. “We didn’t think that he was like that because he reminded us of you.”

Sabine sucked in a shaky breath and raised her head to look at Hera in confusion. “What?” she asked in a watery whisper.

Hera hugged her again before answering. “He was shy, eager to please,” she listed off, “desperate not to be sent away. And after we found out about how he’d been being trained - he cried, Sabine. He was scared, and didn’t want to hurt anyone.” She tucked the girl’s head back underneath her chin. “He was sorry, for hurting so many people, and wanted to make up for it.”

There was a watery hiccup.

“I know you’re scared, Sabine,” Hera continued, “and it’s okay. I don’t need you two to be best friends. And I was wrong too. I let myself get distracted by outside concerns rather than addressing yours properly.”

“We all did,” Zeb said loyally, shifting closer to the both of them. “I wasn’t busy. I could have talked to you, too.”

Sabine laughed weakly. “Yeah, ‘cause I always listen to you.”

“Hey!”

Hera smiled. “Once Kanan comes back with Ezra, we can talk about it more,” she said soothingly. “We’ll figure this all out so that you and Ezra both feel safe.”

In her arms, Sabine stiffened. “Um, about that…”

Hera frowned and pulled Sabine back to look at her still-damp face. “What is it?”

Sabine continued pulling away and shifted so that she wasn’t looking Hera in the eye. Reaching out, she tapped at the holodisplay a few times before it finally shut off, spitting out the data disc.

“I don’t - I don’t think that he’s going to want to talk to me. For a while,” she said quietly, fidgeting with the disc.

Hera waited patiently for her to finish fidgeting and gather her thoughts.

“I asked him about the vid,” she said finally. “And…he was pretty upset about it.” She hunched her shoulders like she was anticipating a blow. “Like, Kanan-reminded-about-the-Jedi upset.”

Hera frowned and turned her head slightly to look at the door. Kanan had gone after Ezra not that long ago, and he would understand if Ezra wasn’t in good shape, but he had just had his own trouble -

“They were torturing his friend.”

Hera snapped her head back around. Sabine was looking down into her lap, fiddling again with the disc.

“He told me that he’d been trying to escape with a friend, and they were caught. And then they made him beg for his friend’s life.” She didn’t look up.

“Oh, Sabine…” Hera knew why that was bothering her.

“So, like I said, he probably won’t want to talk.”


Ezra’s hands wouldn’t stop shaking.

Sitting in one of the Phantom’s seats, Ezra stared into his lap and tried to breathe. He wasn’t there, he told himself fiercely. He wasn’t there, he’d escaped, he was with Kanan and Hera and Zeb and -

But it wasn’t enough. Up here, with the awful crack of the Headmaster’s blaster echoing in his ears, Ezra couldn’t stop the memories from coming. Waking up in that cell with a collar around his neck, manacles on his wrists and the Seventh Sister walking in with a smile, droid on her shoulder clicking its pincers -

No. No, he wasn’t -

- strong hands wrapped tight around his neck and squeezing until hot blood was running down his face as he tried and tried to reach into the man’s head and make him let go -

N-no, Kanan had found him -

- he’d been found, again, in the vents. The other guards were jeering, laughing, as the Seventh Sister and her hulking (friend?) the Fifth Brother watched, their gazes bored and pitiless as the guards began to punch and kick and -

“Ezra.”

Ezra latched on to the voice like a drowning man and opened his eyes. Kanan was kneeling in front of him, a hand raised and hesitantly reaching out towards him.

Ezra remembered the last time that someone had reached toward him. Trusted him not to hurt them. His eyes filled with tears.

“I can’t stop remembering,” he croaked out as the tears began to trail down his face.

Kanan’s eyes were soft. “Can’t stop remembering what?” he asked.

The lump in Ezra’s throat silenced him. All he could do was whimper and look back down, unable to bear the affection in Kanan’s eyes.

Warm arms encircled him, picked him up as they resettled down on the floor with Kanan’s back to the wall and Ezra in his lap. “Can’t stop remembering what?” Kanan repeated, his voice soft as a secret in Ezra’s ear.

“Everything,” Ezra forced out wetly from his throat. “Everything after I, after I -”

Shame and fear and disgust dug their nails into the tender skin of throat and he buried his face in Kanan’s neck.

Kanan just made soft comforting noises, one of his hands rubbing up and down Ezra’s back. “What the Inquisitors did to you isn’t your fault,” he said softly. “I don’t doubt that that guy deserved what you did to him. Maybe you didn’t do it in a good way, but you had a good reason.”

Ezra shook his head, gasping for air. “No, not for - for -” he moaned, clawing at his mind for the words. “They hurt me but I, I -” He sobbed, brown hair and eyes and a gentle smile floating to the top of the bubbling stew that was his memories. “Dev…”

“Shhh, shh,” Kanan whispered, rocking them back and forth. “Shh, come on, talk to me. Focus on my voice. Who’s Dev?”

That startled a wet laugh out of Ezra. “You don’t - of course.” New loathing coursed through him. “I’ve been telling everyone but you. About the Grand Inquisitor, the Academy, the S-seventh Sister -”

Ezra couldn’t breathe again. Her breath was on his neck, her teeth in his ear, her hands playing up and down his chest like spiders -

A warm hand covered the side of his head gently pressed it to a broad, warm chest that smelled of safety. The long fingers covered Ezra’s eyes, blocking out the metal that surrounded him.

“Breathe with me, Ezra,” came Kanan’s gentle, inexorable voice. “Just breathe. I’m here.”

Ezra realized that he was digging his fingers into Kanan’s ribs hard enough that it had to hurt. But he could hear Kanan’s heartbeat, the way the air whooshed in and out of his lungs.

In and out, in and out, in and out until the noose around his neck and the bars around his chest had loosened and he could breathe again. The Seventh Sister’s touch, the cold wriggling amusement and pleasure that surrounded her receded back into memory.

Kanan’s thumb was rubbing back and forth over his scalp, reminding Ezra of when he was a little boy being carried home after a High Day by his father. Warm and safe, even if the chill in the air was beginning to bite.

“Okay,” Kanan said as Ezra’s eyelids began to droop. “Let’s try this again. Who’s Dev?”

His eyes burned with fresh tears, but Ezra kept his breaths matching with Kanan’s.

“He was my friend.”


Nothing felt his hands trembling at his sides. He didn’t understand this. Any of this.

First a bunch of guards had taken him out of his cell, without speaking to him or taunting him like when they were let in to beat them. They’d taken him to a bright white fresher, where he’d been stripped down and cleaned roughly with water so hot it verged on scalding. Then they’d dried him off and forced him to kneel as his hair was shaved off right down to the scalp. After all of that was done, then they dragged him off to another too-bright room and ordered him to dress in a weird, unarmoured version of the Inquisitors’ uniform and then left.

It had been three hours since then. There was a small chair where his clothes had been piled, and Nothing’s legs were aching from the Seventh Sister’s last punishment. But he didn’t dare sit down. Not before he was given permission.

The door hissed open, and Nothing’s head jerked up as the Seventh Sister entered the room. Belatedly, he straightened up and prayed that she hadn’t noticed the slight slouch he had fallen into while waiting.

The feeling of her hand cracking across his face hard enough to make him see stars killed that hope.

His hands only shook worse as he staggered to one side before returning to standing at attention. He understood this part, at least, but -

“Who are you?”

“Um,” he stuttered, his ears still ringing. This was the first thing she always asked when she entered his cell, what was the answer -

She hit him again. This time, Nothing felt his lip split.

“Who are you?” the Seventh Sister asked again, her voice terribly gentle.

“Nothing,” he said, remembering the answer she had taught him during his punishments. A drop of blood welled up on his lip. “I am nothing.”

Seventh Sister made a pleased noise. “And who do you serve?”

Yes, this at least was familiar territory. “I live to serve the Empire.”

She smiled. Her pleasure wriggled against him like rotworms in a piece of a roadkill.

Reaching out, she smoothed the shoulder of Ezra’s uniform before trailing her fingers down his chest. “Such a handsome figure you cut,” she mused out loud. Her eyes walked a leisurely path up and down his body.

This was familiar too. Nothing wondered if she was going to take him for a walk by the other Inquisitors again. But the previous times, she hadn’t bothered with a uniform, or any clothing at all. And the stuff he was wearing now seemed to almost be tailored to his body, so it wouldn’t make any sense for him to train in them either.

Keeping her hand on his front, Seventh Sister began to slowly step around him, her gaze burning with the familiar, sick mix of desire and pleasure and cruelty he always felt coming from her. Nothing stayed still, staring straight ahead even as little flashes of her memories of him lapped at his thoughts.

Her hand ended up on his hip as she stopped behind him, her breath hot and wet against the back of his newly-bare neck.

“Yes,” she purred. “You cut a fine figure indeed.”

Nothing swallowed. Her nails were pricking at his skin through the thin cloth of his pants.

“Your graduation will be just perfect,” she whispered, her lips dragging against the shell of his ear.

Ezra’s head whipped around before he could stop. Immediately he cringed, expecting a blow.

But Seventh Sister just laughed. Reaching up, she ran her thumb against his split lip and then licked the blood off of it with a satisfied smack of her lips. “I knew that would get your attention.”

Giving his hip one last squeeze, she stepped away to face him directly. Her eyes bored into his.

“What you are getting here is a chance,” she said, placing her hand on her hip. “One final test, to see if you truly have the ability to become an Inquisitor.” She stepped closer to him, so that their chests were nearly flush. “People will be watching. I trust that I don’t have to explain the consequences of embarrassing me?”

Ezra’s head was echoing with the word ‘graduation’ so loudly that he could barely hear himself answer “Yes.”

Graduation. A chance to be leaving the Academy - and with it, a chance to escape. He could barely keep from jumping at the chances he would have to get away from the Inquisitorius.

And away from the Seventh Sister. Keeping his gaze steady, he pressed down on his hope, ruthlessly covering it in the deep dark hole where he kept his name and his memories of his parents. He was Nothing. The feeling of squirming rotworms in his head was still there, and if she knew that he was already thinking of escaping -

The first time the doors to his cell had opened, he’d been defiant. Insulting. He had thought that the Seventh Sister, even though he hadn’t known her name at the time, would be like all the other guards at the Academy; slow, stupid, and pointlessly cruel.

He’d been wrong. The Seventh Sister had been nothing like the guards with their petty blows and insults. She worked on a whole other level, pushing him past limits he hadn’t even realized existed. Her ‘lessons’ had been brutal, with every failure threatening death. And her punishments…

The scars on his back from the first time he had insulted her had been healed until they were nothing more than faint, silvery lines, but they prickled with pain as he remembered them being inflicted.

Smiling again, Seventh Sister stepped away and turned, beginning to head out the door. “Come along then,” she called, not bothering to turn her head back to see if he was coming.

Automatically falling into the proper three-steps-behind, Nothing followed. He kept his face still and submissive as they walked along the halls; he had no illusions that if he showed the slightest bit of excitement or let a single thought of escape slip that he’d be dragged back to his cell for more ‘lessons’.

But it was so hard. He’d been going on for so long with nothing but the promise of more pain. The hallways seemed to go on forever, their grey monotony a reminder that he wasn’t quite done yet, that if he messed up -

They stopped outside of a door that Nothing had never seen before.

“Remember,” the Seventh Sister said as she reached for the door switch. “Don’t. Embarrass me.”

The door whooshed open before Nothing could say anything. Then he stayed silent for an entirely different reason.

“Ah,” said a flickering hologram of the Grand Inquisitor. “So you’ve finally arrived, Seventh Sister.”

Getting down on one knee and bowing her head, Nothing nevertheless could feel a sharp spike of anger lancing through his head from her. “My apologies, Grand Inquisitor,” she said smoothly as Nothing knelt as well. “I was merely making sure that 100314 was presentable.”

“Quite.” Even with his head bowed, Nothing could hear the way he was raising a brow in his tone. “I do hope that you didn’t neglect his education in pursuit of aesthetics, though.”

“Never, my lord,” she said. “He is one of the strongest students this Academy has ever produced. And my teachings -”

“Save your bragging,” the Grand Inquisitor interrupted coldly. “I have no doubts of his strength. He more than proved it when he dealt with the Headmaster. What I am worried about is obedience.”

“There is no doubt of that either,” the Seventh Sister said. “I have more than -”

“I told you to save your bragging.”

Nothing heard the click as her mouth shut, rage rolling over him from the dismissal.

“100314, stand.” The Grand Inquisitor’s tone brooked no disobedience.

On his feet and staring into the Inquisitor’s flickering holographic eyes, Nothing felt his hope disappearing underneath the icy chill of fear. At his sides, he could feel his hands trembling as he remembered his betrayal and capture, and the way the Pau’an’s mind had curled around him like some great snake.

The Pau’an’s eyes burned even from however far away he was transmitting. He meticulously examined Nothing’s features and body as he stood to attention, well aware of the heavy feeling of danger that was emanating from the Seventh Sister. Images flicked across his mind again, more silent threats of what would happen if he was found wanting.

“100314, what are you?”

Nothing swallowed. “Nothing, sir,” he said, keeping his voice steady and unemotional. “I am only a tool for the Empire.”

The Grand Inquisitor studied him for a few seconds more. Nothing focused on keeping his face still.

Finally, his face not showing any emotion, the Grand Inquisitor turned his attention away from Nothing. “He certainly looks the part, Seven. But as I was saying, I do not care for looks. I am looking for obedience.”

Seventh Sister kept her head bowed. “Yes, my lord.”

“100314’s final test is therefore centered around that. Fifth Brother.”

Ezra barely kept himself from jumping as the giant alien materialized from the shadows, dragging a lumpy object behind him.

“Grand Inquisitor,” he said, bowing his head as well but staying on his feet.

“You have brought it, then?”

“The others were reluctant to part with their toy, my lord,” the grey-skinned alien said in the strange, rounded accent he spoke with. “But they acquiesced when they learned that it was by your order.”

“Good.” The Grand Inquisitor’s tone was clipped and he turned back to Nothing. “100314, your final test is to kill on our command. Are you capable of that?”

“Yes, sir,” Nothing said, even as his mind spun. That was it? Just kill someone? He’d done that dozens of times during the Seventh Sister’s lessons - how was this going to be a test?

“We’ll see.” The Grand Inquisitor turned and nodded at the Fifth Brother.

Half-bowing in acknowledgment, the Fifth Brother stepped forward, still dragging the strange lump he had with him. Tugging at the rope he had wrapped around it, he stopped just in front of them and dragged it out from behind him, sending it sprawling in front of Nothing.

For a moment, Nothing didn’t recognize what was in front of him. Brown skin, with green and yellow and purple and blue smears -

Then it moved

Against his will, Ezra took a step back as he recognized what it was that was lying in front of him. Who it was.

Dev looked up at him through a curtain of lank, matted hair, slowly moving the stumps of where his arms and legs should be. A collar, wide and flat and spattered with what looked like rust but that Ezra knew was old blood, was digging into the bruised skin of his neck. A chain dangled from its front.

The Grand Inquisitor rolled his eyes. “I see that you didn’t stint yourself, Fifth Brother,” he drawled.

Fifth Brother shifted and crossed his arms. “I was not the only one,” he muttered mutinously. “The others -”

“Don’t make excuses.”

Fifth Brother’s already-thin lips just thinned even more.

Ezra didn’t pay attention to any of this. He just stared down at Dev, who looked back with mooka-pup eyes. His lips were moving, but no noise beside soft, unformed whispers were crossing them.

His friend. His best friend, and Ezra hadn’t even wondered what the Academy had done with him until now.

Struggling up onto his arm stumps, Dev looked at him pleadingly. The collar slid down slightly, exposing a ragged red line across the front of his throat.

Ezra’s gorge rose.

“Well, 100314,” the Grand Inquisitor said, “I doubt that you need to be told what is expected of you. Just in case, though -” His eyes were burning.

“Kill him.”

Ezra could feel his hands trembling as he looked down at the other boy. How could he have not even thought of his friend? How could he have - while the Inquisitor’s had been -

“100314.” The Grand Inquisitor’s voice was cold.

“I - I don’t have a weapon -” Ezra stuttered, finding his voice.

The Grand Inquisitor made a low sound of irritation. “You have the Force, don’t you? Unless the Seventh Sister was lying on her reports, that should be enough, I think.”

Like a red-hot needle, the Seventh Sister’s anger lanced through his mind. Ezra found his knees automatically folding -

No. No, Seventh Sister hadn’t particularly cared to punish him like that in front of other Inquisitors. Still, though, the anger prick-prick-pricked at him, reminding him of her earlier threats and making his chest feel tight with fear.

Ezra swallowed and looked at Dev. For a wild moment, Ezra thought of trying to run. Of trying to protect Dev, trying to fight -

“Well, 100314?” The Seventh Sister’s voice was tight with menace. A promise of punishment that made his back prickle again with memories.

And that was it. That was the moment when Ezra realized that his wild thoughts were just that. Thoughts.

He wasn’t getting out of here without killing Dev. Not because he couldn’t try; if he did, Ezra was sure he could at least make it so that he was sent back to the cell with the Seventh Sister. Dev would live for just little while longer, miserable as his life was.

But Ezra wasn’t going to do that. Kneeling beside Dev and looking into his pleading, frightened eyes, Ezra knew that he wasn’t going to try and fight his way out.

No, Ezra was going to as he was ordered. Ezra was going to kill his friend, because he was afraid. Because he was afraid of what the Seventh Sister would do to him if he didn’t.
Because he was a coward.

“Yes, sir.”

His eye were burning as he reached out and gently cradled Dev’s face. The other boy’s face was sticky from sweat and filth, but Ezra didn’t mind. His skin had felt like that plenty of times before, he couldn’t point fingers.

Dev looked up at him pleadingly. Hopefully. Ezra could feel his certainty that Ezra would save him - would make everything better.

Ezra could feel his curiosity as Ezra entered his mind. His quiet happiness, despite everything that had been done to him, at the sight of Ezra.

His confusion as Ezra went deeper. To parts of him no one else had gone to.

His worry as Ezra found those parts of him that controlled his breathing and heartbeat.

His fear as he felt Ezra slowly still them.

Ezra stared into Dev’s eyes, seeing the terror in them. Saw the way his lips formed silent questions, then cries. Saw them slow. Saw the light begin to fade from his eyes as water welled up in them and trailed down his face.

Ezra felt water trailing down his face as well. Dev’s mind fluttered like a dying bird, still trying to break free from his grip.

The Inquisitors were silent, their gazes boring into him. The Grand Inquisitor, present only through holodisplay, was too far away for Ezra to feel anything from him, but the others…

The Seventh Sister was smug. A bloated animal’s corpse at the side of the road that twitched and pulsated from the rotworms feasting on it.

The Fifth Brother was sullen, but slightly interested. He could feel Dev’s fear as well, and was lapping it up the way a lothwolf lapped up blood from its kill.

The bird was still twitching. It still wanted to live.

But so did Ezra.

With the Inquisitors looming over him, he felt the last puff of air from Dev’s lung brush past his fingers. The bird went still, no longer fighting against him. And Dev’s body went limp.

The quiet, sick triumph of a pack of predators at a kill filled the room. Ezra couldn’t bring himself to care, staring down at Dev.

Those eyes had been so full of life. So warm.

“Well,” the Grand Inquisitor said, his voice filled with gloating. “I take back my criticism, Seventh Sister.”

“Thank you, Grand Inquisitor,” she simpered.

The Fifth Brother just snorted.

“Jealous, Brother?” Seventh Sister asked, sickly sweet.

“Hardly.” The sourness in his voice belied his words. “He still hesitated.”

“But in the end, he obeyed within an acceptable amount of time.” The Grand Inquisitor’s voice held a note of warning. “Seven, have him prepared for transportation. I don’t want him suddenly finding his spine when he arrives at Geonosis.”

“As you wish.”

There was a quiet squeal as the holocall was abruptly terminated. Silence filled the room. Ezra continued to stare down at his former friend’s face, now slack with death.

The Seventh Sister’s hand was cold as it clamped down on Ezra’s shoulder. “Come along now, 100314,” she said, her voice smug and pleasant.

Ezra didn’t resist as she dragged him away. Dev’s final, pleading gaze was roiling in his mind.

He’d been so scared. He’d been so kind, and so scared.

He’d trusted Ezra to make things better.

The door whooshed, and they were in the hallway again, heading back to his cell. The Seventh Sister was walking beside him, rubbing her thumb along the back of his neck in an intimate gesture. Her mind was wriggling against his, picking at him like she was picking at a scab.

Ezra ignored it. He felt slow. Distant.

Dev had trusted him.

The Grand Inquisitor had asked him what he was, before the test had started. Ezra had just been parroting what he’d been taught to say at the time, but now…

He was nothing. A tool for the Empire. And he couldn’t help but think that being Nothing was better than being Ezra Bridger.

Chapter Text

Kanan felt like he was frozen in place. Ezra’s head was tucked underneath his chin, trembling so hard it felt like he would fall apart without Kanan’s arms around him. His fingers were digging into Kanan’s ribs so hard that Kanan knew he would be seeing purple marks tonight in the fresher.

They had - the Inquisitors had -

Abruptly, a deep, black anger welled up in his chest. Like the time he had thought Stance was dead on the Third Battle of Mygeeto, the Dark Side began to rise up, a deep black pool that threatened to drown him.

This kid in his arms. Ezra. Kanan had only known him for a little over a month, and the idea, the image of what the Inquisitors had done to him, carving away at his sense of self and his self-esteem until he was this fragile creature in Kanan’s arms, nearly see-through from the damage -

Kanan had seen glimpses of the child Ezra must have been before. Sweet, caring, a little mischievous; someone who laughed easily, who liked to talk to people and learn about them, who wanted to love and be loved - there were precious few traces of that kid now in the boy slowly dampening the front of Kanan’s shirt with his tears.

The Grand Inquisitor. The Fifth Brother. The Seventh Sister. Kanan memorized each of their names, swearing to himself that if he ever met them -

Revenge was not the Jedi way. But Kanan was no Jedi.

Swallowing back his anger, Kanan spoke. “Ezra -”

In his arms, Ezra stiffened and began to pull away.

“Ezra -”

The kid, his face red and damp-looking, was out of his lap now, kneeling across from him and radiating shame and self-hatred. He flinched at the sound of his name like was a blow. He deserved a real, physical blow, not just a verbal one, and soon Kanan would give him on like he deserved like the stinking piece of slime that he was -

Kanan stopped. He closed his eyes. And he pulled back from those sticky tendrils of thought that Ezra was radiating.

The tendrils stilled their writhing as soon as he reached out to them. Frozen, like little baby animals confronted with a predator, keeping still and praying that they weren’t noticed. It made Kanan sick.

Minds weren’t supposed to act like that. They were supposed to move, to dance like they had back at the Temple, before the war and everything went wrong. They weren’t supposed to be still and silent, like a child wedged into a corner as their guardian raged, just waiting for those fists to be turned to their own tender flesh.

The Grand Inquisitor. The Fifth Brother. The Seventh Sister.

Kanan would never forgive them for this. But his anger wasn’t what was important now. Ezra was.

“Ezra -” he said softly again.

Ezra let out a wet gasp, his fingers fretting the ends of his scarf. “Please don’t call me that,” he pleaded, his voice broken. “Please, please don’t call me that name.” He was trembling, his hands squeezing into white-knuckled fists.

Kanan pressed his lips together, a wave of helplessness rising up in him. His arms felt cold where Ezra had just been curled up in them. “That’s your name, though,” he said softly, trying to cut through the clawing grief that was filling the Phantom. He wanted to gather Ezra back up in his arms, wipe away the tears cutting paths down his cheeks -

“S-stop,” Ezra whimpered. His hands, still in trembling, white-knuckled fists, drifted up towards his face. “Stop, I don’t deserve it. Ezra killed Dev, Dev should have lived -”

“No.” Kanan leaned forward, suddenly on his knees and his fingertips brushing Ezra’s shoulders. “No, Ezra -”

But Ezra was cradling his head in his hands, turning away. “I should have died instead -”

“No!” Kanan knew he had spoken too loudly when Ezra’s head jerked up and he shrank away, trying to turn and scuttle. But Kanan wouldn’t let him. Grabbing his shoulders firmly, he pulled Ezra back into his lap, his back to Kanan’s chest and arms scrabbling clumsily at his hands.

“No,” Kanan whispered into Ezra’s ear. “No, Ezra, never say that. Never believe that. You don’t deserve to die, it wasn’t your fault -”

Ezra was shaking like he was going to fly apart again. “No, no,” he said wetly, still clawing at Kanan’s hands. “I could have stopped it, I could have fought back -”

“No you couldn’t have!” The words left Kanan’s mouth and he knew that it was the truth, down in his bones. Memories were rising up in his head, pressing against the back of his eyes and writhing, but all of his focus was on the boy in his arms.

He could still feel those trembling tendrils, too frightened to pull back. Like little baby loth-kittens, found in their den without their mother. Pulling Ezra closer, he tucked the boy`s head back under his chin and closed his eyes.

Slowly, slowly; like the tide of an ocean coming in, Kanan cradled the tendrils in the Force. The cold black self-loathing that coated them was strong, staining everything that they touched; but focusing, Kanan knew that the affection he felt for Ezra was stronger. He remembered an old Jedi saying that he`d heard in the Temple, before everything had gone wrong.

A single candle can hold back the darkness.

And what he felt for Ezra was far brighter than a single candle.

“You couldn’t have done anything,” he said softly, wrapping the Dark-stained tendrils in his own Light. “The Inquisitors spent months breaking you down, making you feel powerless. They did that so that you wouldn’t be able to even think about fighting back -”

“But I did think about it, I was just too much of a coward - I just watched -”

Kanan squeezed Ezra closer, cutting off his words. “His name was Styles!”

The words burst from his lips like a shrapnel grenade, their sharp tearing detritus hanging in the air of the now-silent Phantom. They tasted of the blood that had spattered Caleb’s face that day.

Kanan breathed in a shaky breath and let it back out before continuing. Ezra was motionless in his arms when he opened his eyes, looking over his shoulder with wide, tear-filled eyes.

“His name was Styles,” Kanan said, taking a hand off of the kid’s waist to gently press his head back underneath his chin. “And he was my friend.”

Ezra sniffled. “I’ve heard that name before,” he said quietly, his voice still wobbly. But the Dark was receding from his thoughts, now that Kanan had given him something else to chew on. “I think Grey mentioned him when we were talking once - he was a captain, or something?”

Kanan ruthlessly pushed down the stab of pain at the mention of Grey. “Yeah,” he said. “He was a captain in my Master’s command. And we - we -” He stopped and swallowed down the lump in his throat, the memory of Styles on his back with a bloody halo around his head flashing in front of his eyes. “We were friends. And after everything that happened, after the Massacre and the Order having having to leave Coruscant…”

He had to stop and take another deep, ragged breath. He’d never told anyone else about this besides Hera.

“Once we’d escaped from Coruscant, he tracked me down to where I was hiding in the cargo hold and shot himself in the head in front of me.”

The words hung still in the air. Ezra was still in his arms. He was still. The whole shuttle was still, like the universe was between breaths.

“Styles was the one who distracted my master while she was trying to defend herself.” Kanan continued, focusing on keeping his voice steady. This wasn’t about him, it was about Ezra and making him understand. “She was shot down while yelling for him to stop. Apparently, that stuck with him.” Restlessly, he stroked a thumb along the soft fuzz of Ezra’s buzzed hair. “He felt - that he had to make up for that. He tried - protecting me, and he nearly beat Janus to death. He tried to visit me at the Temple, he cleared the path for us to escape to the landing bay during the Massacre, but it wasn’t enough to make the guilt go away. And in the end -”

Kanan closed his eyes as the vision of Styles kneeling in front of him, his blaster under his chin and his free hand caressing Caleb’s cheek as tears spilled down his cheeks and he smiled down at the boy…

Kanan opened his eyes again, his own tears pricking at the corners of his eyes. “In the end, he decided that the only way he could make up for things was in death.”

Ezra was still and silent in his arms.

“I couldn’t do anything,” Kanan continued. He stared at the wall, knowing that if he looked down at Ezra, he wouldn’t be able to finish the story. “Everything that had happened, that I’d seen - it was like I was paralyzed. I knew what he was about to do but -”

He stopped as his voice cracked, clearing his throat. “What I’m trying to say is that I get it,” he continued, focusing on keeping his voice steady. “The Inquisitors - that was what they were trying to do to you. Paralyze that part of you that connects your thoughts to your actions. I’ve been there, I get it.”

Ezra’s shoulders began to tremble.

“You couldn’t have done anything,” Kanan mumbled, pressing his face against Ezra’s scalp. “It’s not your fault.”

Small, broken whimpers began to emanate from Ezra. His arms wound back around Kanan, his fingers digging into his ribs again. Kanan didn’t mind; he’d wear the marks left behind proudly.

“It’s not your fault,” Kanan whispered, beginning to rock them back and forth as Ezra began to keen, a fresh wave of tears soaking his front. “And I’ll tell you that as many times as you need for you to believe it.”


Kanan didn’t know how long they sat there like that. Keeping Ezra wrapped in Light and chasing away the sticky Darkness from his thoughts took up all of his focus. It was only once Ezra’s sobs had quieted down to hiccups, the self-blame and self-hatred slowly dissolving into the Force, that Kanan let himself look up.

The lights outside of the cockpit in Phoenix Home’s landing bay looked to be at half. They were in the sleep cycle, then.

Kanan wasn’t surprised. The exhaustion that was settling into his bones would have been hint enough if they weren’t in the shuttle.

Looking back down at Ezra, Kanan saw the way his reddened eyes were half-hooded. He was radiating exhaustion as well, echoing how Kanan felt. It had been a very long day for the both of them.

“Hey.” Kanan kept his voice low and soft. “Feeling better?”

There was a long pause before Ezra answered. “No.”

Kanan closed his eyes and nuzzled the top of Ezra’s head again, squeezing him just a little bit closer. “I’m sorry.”

“S’not your fault,” Ezra mumbled. His fingers were playing up and down the seam of Kanan’s sweater absentmindedly. He didn’t look up. “I’m just -”

“Hurt.” Kanan cut him off before he could call himself names. Reaching out, he tried to send a little more of the affection he felt towards the kid pulsing through the Light surrounding them. “And healing isn’t easy.”

Ezra scoffed weakly. “I’ll say,” he muttered, showing a little of the spirit that Kanan was sure had been far more prominent with the old Ezra.

“I say too,” Kanan joked gently, trying to encourage a little more of that spark. He preferred it to the fragile little boy he’d been cradling earlier. “Anyways, it’s late. Feel like bed, or do you need a little bit longer?”

From the way Ezra was collapsed against him, Kanan wasn’t surprised to hear him answer, “Bed.”

Stepping out from the Phantom, Kanan noticed that Hera and the rest of the crew seemed to have decided to mimic the landing bay outside. The lights lining the corridor had been dimmed, and Kanan could hear Zeb snoring through the door to his cabin.

Squeezing Ezra’s shoulder gently, he guided the kid away from the snores and towards his own cabin. Ezra’s head was bobbing with exhaustion, his eyes fluttering. Once the doors slid shut, he rubbed at an eye with the heel of his hand and looked around, frowning.

“This isn’t my room.” His voice wasn’t cross, just confused. Looking up at Kanan, he blinked his big, blue, bloodshot eyes. “Isn’t this your room?”

Kanan rubbed his thumb along Ezra’s shoulder soothingly. “Yeah, it is,” he said softly. “Didn’t think we should disturb Zeb, that’s all.”

Ezra blinked a few more times. “Oh. That makes sense.”

A tired smile tugged at Kanan’s lips. Coming to stop in the middle of the room, he gently nudged Ezra to stay where he was and then knelt down in front of his bed. Tugging open the drawers underneath the bunk, he pulled out an old, soft shirt and set of worn lounging pants before standing back up and facing Ezra again.

“Here,” he said, pressing the clothes into Ezra’s hands.

Ezra took them and stared down at them blankly.

Silence stretched out between them. Kanan cleared his throat and gently laid his hands back over the clothes. “To wear to bed?” he prompted.

More silence. Then Ezra sucked in a breath and shook his head. “Bed. Right.” He stared down at his front.

“…Do you need some help?” Kanan asked after several heartbeats passed without more movement.

“No.” Ezra sounded a little defensive. “My hands are just - full.”

Ah. Kanan recognized this now. He’d seen it back when he was - well, it didn’t matter. He’d been running with a rough crowd, keeping his distance, and the Imps had suddenly come crashing down on them and anyone they’d known. After days spent awake, people got like this sometimes. All of their cleverness fleeing before exhaustion until they couldn’t even tie their own laces.

Reaching out, he gently guided Ezra over to the bed and got him to sit down. Kneeling in front of him, Kanan picked up one of his feet and began to tug off the boot covering it. He could feel Ezra`s distant befuddlement, tickling up against him, and sent a soothing wave of calmness back towards the kid.

Once both boots were off and set to one side, Kanan unwound the scarf that seemed a permanent part of Ezra’s outfit and tugged down the zipper on the front of his flightsuit to just above his belly button. Gently, he pulled the now-loose suit down Ezra`s shoulders until they were forced to stop at his elbows.

Kanan cocked an eyebrow. Ezra was still holding the clothes, looking at him distantly with half-shut eyes. “You can put down the clothes on the bed while you change,” he prompted.

When Ezra made no move to put the clothes down, Kanan delicately took them from his limp hands and placed them on the bed beside him. Reaching into the flightsuit, he began to tug up Ezra’s undershirt.

Kanan’d done this a couple of times before. On one planet, where he’d been working as a cook, his neighbour had been what was called in polite circles a ‘lady of the night.’ In return for her getting him a job at the local diner, he’d helped take care of her kids some nights, including helping them get changed for bed. The way Ezra was acting right now reminded Kanan of the youngest - quiet and obedient, raising his arms to help.

The kid in his memories, though, had looked nothing like what was revealed to him now.

Kanan had been too angry about the tattoo on the back of Ezra`s neck to pay attention to the examination the doctor had put him through a few nights before. But now. Now, in front of him, he saw what the Inquisitors had done to Ezra in stark, unsympathetic light.

The little kids Kanan had taken care of had been chubby little things, with even the sport-nut eldest having a healthy layer of fat.

Ezra wasn't.

His ribs pressed up against his skin like they were trying to escape, Kanan would have sworn that he could see the kid`s heart beating through the stretched skin of his chest. His collarbones looked like they were going to slice through his skin at any moment. And the scars.

Force, the scars.

Kanan swallowed and let go of his anger like he`d been taught so many years before. This wasn’t about him. It was about Ezra, and what he needed. And right now, he needed to sleep.

The shirt off, Kanan tossed it on the top bunk and handed the sleep shirt back to Ezra. “Can you handle the rest?” he asked, looking carefully at the kid.

Ezra, running his fingers along the soft, worn fabric of the shirt, made slightly unfocused eye contact before nodding. “I can change my pants, yeah.”

“Good.” Gently, he patted Ezra’s shoulder. The one that had looked like an animal had gnawed on it. “I’ll be back in just a second. I’m just going to get you an extra blanket.”

Outside of the cabin, Kanan stopped for a moment just to breathe. His eyes fluttering closed, he let out a long, low sigh. His anger was bubbling below his skin, echoing against the despair and unsteadiness that he’d been feeling all day. But he couldn’t let it out. Not now, not in front of Ezra. It would be too easy for him to think that it was directed towards him.

Pulling a clean quilt from storage took a few minutes; Kanan had dithered between two, not wanting to get one that wouldn’t keep Ezra warm but at the same time knowing that the thickest they had was technically Sabine’s. Finally, he firmly told himself that after what she had pulled, Sabine could deal with having a quilt she barely used given to the person she’d hurt for a night.

“Okay, Ezra,” he said quietly as he re-entered the cabin, “I got you a quilt -”

He stopped at the sight in front of him.

Ezra apparently hadn’t been able to keep his eyes opened for much longer after Kanan had left. He was lying down on the bunk, curled up into a small ball so tightly that it hurt to look at him. Kanan could see the small quivers of his skin as he shivered in his sleep from where he was standing.

Kanan sighed softly and crossed the room, unfolding the quilt as he went. Kneeling down, he tucked the blanket in around Ezra.

Underneath his hands, just how small the kid was abruptly hit him again. The thinness of the arms tucked in against his chest, how sharp his cheekbones were - it made Kanan want to wrap him up and protect him from the galaxy forever. He wanted to see Ezra smile, see his cheeks fill out and that empty look in his eye that had existed as he told Kanan about Dev disappear. He wanted to teach him how to fly the Phantom, how to shoot a blaster…

On an impulse, Kanan leaned down and pressed his forehead against Ezra’s temple. The warmth that was filling his chest as he looked at the kid felt like a sun on a resort planet, bright and soothing and relaxing, and Kanan knew that he was radiating this feeling into the Force but he couldn’t bring himself to care.

Behind him, the door hissed open. Kanan couldn’t bring himself to move.

“How’s he doing?” Hera asked, coming to kneel down beside him. Kanan could see out of the corner of his eye that she was in her sleep clothes, but her eyes were still bright with alertness.

“They forced him to kill his friend as a graduation test.” The words slipped out from Kanan’s mouth before he could stop them, and with them came another surge of anger that he had to push down. “As a test of - of obedience.”

Hera was silent beside him. He could feel the tension in her, though.

Sighing, he pulled his head away from Ezra’s and looked at her. “How’s Sabine, then? She explain what was going on there?”

Hera sighed as well. Placing a green hand beside his on Ezra’s side, she ran it up and down for a few seconds before answering. “She didn’t explain. Just reminded us. Of Mandalore.”

“Mandalore -”

All the pieces fit together at once with a click that felt more like a crash. Kanan swore beneath his breath. “Of course.” A memory was quick to swim up and make his stomach clench. “Damn it, she tried to talk to me -”

“And to me.” Hera covered his hand with hers. “She tried to talk to both of us, and we didn’t listen. It’s on both of us, what happened.”

“Still -”

Ezra stirred underneath his hand, his brows furrowing. A low whimper came from his throat.

Breathing deeply, Kanan released his anger into the Force again. This wasn’t about him.

“It’s over, Kanan,” Hera reminded him, giving his hand a squeeze. “It’s in the past. All we can do now is keep looking to the future.”

“Right.” Kanan’s stomach refused to unwind, though. “Right. It’s done. Now how do we fix this, then?”


He and Hera had ended up talking long into the night. Trying to figure out how to heal the rifts that Sabine’s actions had shown were forming in their family before they got any wider. It had been hard, but eventually they had come to a decision that they thought would work.

Now, all they had to do was put it into action.

Turning away from the stove, Kanan slid the last flatcake onto one of the waiting plates. The galley was unusually quiet this morning; not that Kanan blamed anyone. It had been a very long day, yesterday.

But, he thought as he looked at the awkward bunch sitting at the little table they had, he knew that the silence hanging over the room had nothing to do with exhaustion. It had far more to do with the two teenagers carefully avoiding each other’s eyes as they sat across the table from each other.

Hera picked up three of the plates he had deposited the flatcakes onto and caught his eye. Flicking her eyes over to the two teens, she raised an eyebrow at him, silently asking when they were going to start their talk with the kids.

Rather than answering, Kanan picked up the other plates and headed towards the table. Setting down a plate in front of both of them, he then sat down beside Ezra, folding his hands in front of him. After giving Zeb, who was awkwardly lurking by the doorway, he own plate Hera mimicked Kanan and sat down beside Sabine.

No one picked up their forks.

Kanan sighed. He’d kind of hoped that they’d be able to have something in their stomachs before having this conversation. Looked like that wasn’t going to happen, though.
“Alright,” he muttered. “Guess we’ll do this now, then.”

Sabine shifted in her seat.

Hera took a deep breath before starting. “Sabine, what you did last night was not right,” she began, just as they had discussed last night.

Sabine’s chin rounded out mutinously.

“But, it wasn’t entirely your fault,” Kanan interjected. He didn’t want her shutting down; they wanted to resolve this, not just hand out punishments. “You did try to talk to us multiple times about your worries. And for a variety of reasons, we didn’t listen.”

“And that’s on us,” Hera said. Reaching over, she placed a hand over Sabine’s. “It was wrong. No matter how busy we were, we should have listened to your concerns.”

“However, like we were saying,” Kanan said, keeping his voice stern, “how you ended up trying to resolve this was not appropriate.”

Sabine let out a loud huff of air through her nose. Turning her head, she looked Kanan square in the eyes. “Well, how was I supposed to resolve it, then?” she asked. “You even admitted that you weren’t listening -”

“And like we just said, that was wrong of us.” Kanan kept his face calm and still. No need to escalate this. “But frustrated and scared or not, pulling a blaster on someone isn’t the appropriate reaction. Did you even think of what could have happened if you were right? If Ezra was an Inquisitor?”

Sabine’s jaw worked for a second, and Kanan knew that she hadn’t.

Hera sighed. “Sabine,” she said. “We’re worried for you. It’s not like you to take such risks without first thinking them through. And we think that we know why that it is.” She paused for a moment before continuing. “We’re taking you off decrypting the transmission.”

Sabine stiffened sharply, her eyes flashing. “What? I’m nearly finished -”

“I’ve already talked to Tano and Commander Sato,” Hera said, her voice steely. “They’ve agreed to finish up the work. Sabine…” She sighed. “That transmission has only been winding you up tighter and tighter, and making you isolate yourself in your room. That has to stop. Now.”

Sabine looked over to Kanan beseechingly. But Kanan agreed with Hera on this. Crossing his arms, he raised an eyebrow at her and tilted his head over to Hera.

Sabine deflated. Pressing her palms together, she looked away from them all, staring at the table with furrowed brows and thinned lips. “What am I going to be doing instead, then?”

Kanan took a deep breath. He did not expect this to go over well. “You,” he said sternly, “are going to be escorting Ezra to and from his mindhealing sessions along with Zeb.”

Predictably, she exploded. “What!?”

Kanan raised a hand. “Neither of you know each other at all,” he said sternly. “Sabine, you’ve been spending so much time with that transmission that we’ve barely seen you, let alone Ezra.”

“Remember what I told you last night?” Hera chimed in. “Our words alone might not be enough to convince you, but if you spent some time with him -”

“Look, I’m sorry about what I did but there’s no way -” Sabine interrupted heatedly, starting to get up.

“No buts.” Kanan cut off the rising argument with a sharp gesture. “Your actions have consequences, Sabine.”

Silence fell over the room. Sabine sat back down abruptly, staring at the table and the flatcakes in front of her. Ezra was still beside Kanan, also staring down at the flatcakes.

Kanan sighed, and picked up his fork. “Come on,” he said, feeling very tired. “Let’s eat before these get cold.” He speared part of the fluffy cakes on his fork and popped it into his mouth.

Slowly, the others followed him. Hera ate hers calmly, like they hadn’t just been arguing, while Zeb scarfed his own with his eyes bouncing between them and Sabine. And Sabine - she stabbed at the innocent food like it was a roundhead’s face.

“What if I don’t want her to come, though?”

The question was so soft Kanan didn’t catch it the first time. Cocking his head to look at Ezra, he paused mid-chew. “What?”

Ezra squirmed slightly in his seat before squaring his shoulders. “What if I don’t want her to come with me, though?” he said a little louder.

Hera put her fork down. “Ezra, this isn’t meant to be a punishment for you, but Sabine needs to spend time with you so that she can stop seeing you as a threat.”

“Yeah, well, forgive me if I’m not comfortable having someone who thinks I’m a monster standing over me when I’m only half-conscious.” He wouldn’t look any of them in the eye.

“Ezra,” Kanan said, stilling Ezra’s hands by laying his own on top of them. “Look at me.”

Slowly, like he was being forced to, Ezra’s head rose. Kanan was startled to see tears gleaming in the corners of his bright blue eyes. Reaching out through the Force automatically, he flinched internally at the sticky feeling of Darkness that was crawling all over Ezra’s thoughts. It coiled around him, whispering suggestions of how Sabine was right, how Kanan and Hera and Zeb all felt the same and were just taking pity on him -

“Ezra,” Kanan said, putting a hand on Ezra’s shoulder and pulling him close. “You won’t be alone with her. Zeb’s going to be going with you as well. And he knows you’re not a monster. I know you’re not a monster. Hera knows you’re not a monster. And if you do this, Sabine won’t think you’re a monster for much longer either.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Kanan saw Sabine look away sharply at that, her lips twisting. He didn’t say anything, preferring to focus on wrapping his Light around Ezra.

“I’m sorry that we sprung this on you too, but it was the best solution that we could come up with on short notice that actually has a chance of solving this in the long-term. And like I said, we’re not leaving you alone with her again; I promise you, there’s always going to be another person with you two.”

The Dark in his thoughts was beginning to lessen. Kanan watched as Ezra bit his lower lip, winced, and then ran his tongue along it. Silently, he sent a little more of affection towards the kid.

“I guess I can live with that,” he mumbled after a few seconds. Slowly, he picked up his fork and began to to dig into his breakfast.

Kanan nodded. He’d take that. It had been a lot, these past few days. He looked over at Sabine, to check how she was taking his words.

Sabine was just staring down at her plate, shredding her flatcakes with her fork. But the stubborn round of her chin had faded, and as he watched she scooped up some of the flatcake flakes she’d made onto her fork and popped them into her mouth.

…Kanan would take that, too.

This would work out, he told himself as he turned back to his own breakfast. It wouldn’t be okay overnight, not after everything that had happened. But eventually, it would be okay.

Chapter Text

“No, not the brown one.”

Ezra fidgeted in place, scratching at the scars around his wrists as Kanan pulled the large brown sweater he’d been holding up in front of Ezra away from his bare chest and replaced it with an off-white one. Across the room, Hera held her chin in her hand and squinted speculatively.

But now Zeb was frowning and shaking his head. “Looks dirty,” he pointed out. “That’s the whole reason he can’t wear his jumpsuit, remember?”

Hera’s mouth twisted. “You have a point…” She trailed off and glanced over to Sabine, who was sitting hunched over at the holoprojector table with her arms crossed, not looking at any of them. “Anything you want to add, Sabine?”

Sabine shrugged and continued to avoid all of their eyes.

Hera raised an eyebrow. “Really? Nothing on the colours, even?”

Sabine’s lips tightened. “He’s not going to look the best regardless of colour,” she muttered. “They’re all Kanan’s clothes anyways.”

Above Ezra, Kanan sighed. “Sabine…”

She shifted in her seat at his reproachful tone, uncrossing her arms to drum her fingers on the projector. “Fine,” she said after a moment of silence. “Maybe that blue one there?” She jerked her chin in the direction of the pile of shirts that were waiting for criticism on Zeb’s chair.

Ezra fidgeted a little more at her tone. Looking down at his hands, he picked at his nails despite knowing that they had been scrubbed clean.

Waking up this morning with the news that they were only a few hours away from arriving at Yavin hadn’t been a pleasant experience. No one had burst into his and Z