It was a dark day in the Jedi Temple for Caleb Dume. Caleb and his Master's arguing echoed loudly throughout the halls; passing Masters exchanged knowing looks and smiles as the pair walked along. Depa was leading Caleb down to what he saw as his own personal hell: the Crèche.
"Master," the boy said in disbelief. "You can't be serious about this."
"Oh, but can't I?" His Master, Depa Billaba, said, a twinkle in her eyes. "It's tradition, Padawan. I did it, my master did it before me, and his before him."
"But... But they're younglings!" Caleb all but whined. He knew he was being foolish, but that didn't mean he was going to give in without a fight.
"You were a youngling once." She reminded him. "Padawans had to put up with you. And from what little I experienced when you were an older initiate, you were most definitely not the easiest youngling to watch."
Caleb huffed and crossed his arms. "That's different."
Depa paused in front of a closed doorway and put a hand on her Padawan's shoulder. "Sometimes we have to do things we don't want to do. Think of this as a step in the direction of your Trials." His eyes lit up at the mention of his trials, and she smiled fondly up at him.
Footsteps echoed behind them, and both turned to see Obi-Wan Kenobi walking up behind Depa. "Master Billaba, Padawan Dume," he said, inclining his head forward. Depa looked at him knowingly but returned the action. "It's been a while, Depa, since I've been able to see you. You've been stationed off world for the past... How long?"
Depa looked amused. "We've been on Kaller for the past two years, quenching the resistance."
"The Council seems to have it out for you on Kaller," Obi-Wan said, a wicked grin on his face. Depa narrowed her eyes slightly at him, knowing exactly what he was playing at. Caleb looked between the two Masters, utterly confused.
Obi-Wan turned back to the Padawan. "Ah, Caleb. I see you're finally attending to your rightly Padawan duties. Good luck; crèche teaching was never quite my forte as a Padawan myself."
Caleb jerked his head back in surprise. "You mean, you had to do this too? I thought Master Billaba was just saying that to try and convince me. What was it like? What do I say? How am I supposed to act? What if one of them gets sick? What if-"
Obi-Wan raised an eyebrow. "I see the questions have never ended." Caleb flushed, and Depa hid a smile. "But yes, my Master had me work in the crèche, and I in turn made Anakin do it several times."
Caleb's eyes grew wide. "Master Skywalker worked with the younglings?"
"Yes, and he was actually quite good at it. However, Anakin is not necessarily... allowed back, to the crèche, if I might say." Obi-Wan said. "Trouble seems to follow him wherever he goes." He shook his head fondly. "But I digress, you will do a fine job." Caleb's face was very pale. "After all, it's tradition. If it no longer worked, the Council would have gotten rid of it."
"I told you so," Depa teased. "You should do more to listen to me, my Padawan." Caleb flushed and looked down at his feet.
Obi-Wan pulled out a holopad and checked the time. "I'm very sorry, Caleb, but I must go. We have a Council meeting at 0830." He held out an arm towards Depa and raised an eyebrow. "Care to accompany me?"
Depa quirked an eyebrow back and took his arm. "It would be my pleasure," she said. She turned back to Caleb. "I will see you later this afternoon. Be prepared to tell me all about it." And with that, both masters walked off. Caleb could hear laughter ringing out as soon as they turned the nearest corner.
Caleb growled in frustration and rubbed at his forehead. He put his hand on the doorknob. Okay, Caleb, if you can fight General Grievous and survive, then you can deal with fifteen younglings for a few hours. He took a deep breath. Yeah, I can totally do this. He pulled open the door and immediately froze.
The younglings were running all over the place, chasing and pulling at one another. None of them even seemed to notice he was standing there. A few of the younger ones sat in a corner reading and trying to float blocks, while the older ones were in the center of the ruckus, most noticeably a giggling blue-haired boy. Finally, the harried master in the center of the room seemed to notice he was there, and her face immediately smoothed out in relief.
Nope, I changed my mind, I can't do this. He tried to step back, but his feet were seemingly frozen to the floor.
"You must be Padawan Dume," she said. She walked over to him and brushed off a hand for him to shake. "Finally. We've been waiting for reinforcements all morning."
"Younglings! You have a visitor today." Immediately, the chaos ceased, and fifteen sets of eyes turned and blinked at him curiously. (Actually, scratch that, definitely more than fifteen pairs of eyes. Caleb had never seen that type of alien before). "This is Padawan Dume. He'll answer any questions you have about what it's like to be a Padawan, or the Clone Wars, or the Initiate Trials, or any others you may have."
The younglings blinked at him once more before lunging into action. In a heartbeat, fifteen initiates were wrapped around his legs and pulling at his robes, babbling questions in a rapid fire manner.
"Good luck," the crèche master said. She turned to walk out the door. "You're gonna need it."
"Wait, you're leaving me here? ALONE?!" Caleb yelped. He pushed one kid away from pulling at his Padawan braid.
"Yep. I need some Caf." The teacher said wearily. She was out the door in a second. The door slammed shut after her, and Caleb felt himself wilt a little on the inside.
Caleb turned back to the younglings he was most definitely not qualified to watch. "Uh, why don't we go sit down?"
Once everyone was situated, Caleb squirmed from his position on the floor. "So what do you guys want to know?"
"Have you fought in the Clone Wars?!"
"What was it like?"
"Who's your Master?"
"What color is your lightsaber?"
"How long have you been a Padawan?"
"How old are you? You look old."
"Do you think meditation is boring? 'Cuz I do, but Master Yoda makes us do it anyway."
"Have you ever met Master Yoda?"
"What does 'Do or not do, there is no try' mean?"
Caleb screamed internally. If he ever met his own poor Crèche Master again he was going to apologize profusely for what he was like. Better yet, he just needed to go ahead and apologize to every Master in the Temple. And that probably wouldn't even uncover this level of trauma from his Initiate days.
"One at a time?" He said, grinning weakly. In the corner of his vision he saw a glint of blue hair from the boy he noticed earlier, but when he looked over, the youngling was gone.
Another youngling in the front waved a hand frantically in his face. "Did you fight in the Clone Wars?!"
"I did, I mean I do," Caleb said, blinking and forcing himself to focus. "I've been fighting in it ever since I was 13, when I became a Padawan. So for about five years."
A little Rodian raised his hand in front. "Have you ever fought anybody cool?!"
"My master and I fought General Grievous once." Caleb said, shrugging as if it was no big deal, as if they hadn't almost died trying to do so. "What do you think about that?" Excited whispers filled the air and Caleb huffed a laugh. He remembered being the same way when he was an initiate.
Another glint of blue flashed by him again, and he whipped his head around. Still, there was nothing there. Caleb groaned. Who knew what this kid was getting up to?
"Did you win the fight?" A shy looking togruta girl asked.
"I'm sitting here in front of you, aren't I?" Caleb said, grinning cockily. "I would say so." The little girl beamed back, eyes starry and amazed.
All of a sudden, there was an affronted chorus of "heys!" and "watch outs!" as younglings toppled over and were shoved to the side. The little Rodian who asked him a question earlier started crying when he fell on his face, and his friend placed a hand on his arm and glared. The same little blue-haired boy from earlier had pushed through and wedged himself right in the middle of a blonde haired boy and brunette girl with braids sitting in front. The girl made a face to her brother over the blue haired boy's head.
Caleb opened his mouth to say something, but then he made eye contact with the youngling. Instantly, there was a connection in the force that rocked Caleb back a bit.
That was weird, he frowned to himself. He hadn't felt anything like that since the first time he ever saw his master. It was like he knew this youngling already... "Wha-?"
In fact, Caleb was a little (okay a LOT) distracted by all this, almost too much to notice when the boy got up in his face and blinked big blue eyes at him; the boy was all but sitting in his lap, nose to nose with the Padawan. Caleb sucked in a breath, and time seemed to stand still. Suddenly, the boy beamed and jerked back off of his lap. He ran back through the crowd of younglings who had parted for him down the middle. The boy gave a little wave as he disappeared and flashed him a devious grin.
Caleb shook his head. "Who... Who was that?" He could still feel the barest threads of a connection lingering around him in the Force.
An older twi'lek boy shook his head, exasperated, and rolled his eyes. "Oh, that's just Ezra."
The younglings didn't even give Caleb a moment to ponder all of this before shoving more questions down his throat.
Later, his master swung back around to pick him up (the younglings all crowded around her; apparently being a master is much cooler than being a padawn. Caleb was only a little jealous). He stumbled out of the crèche, feeling that sort of giddy exuberance you only get when playing with kids for so long. Depa smiled at him knowingly and hummed an "I told you so" underneath her breath.
He rolled his eyes and grinned. She was right, but there was no need to let her know that.
"Perhaps you should be a crèche master in the future." She said. Caleb whipped around to protest, mouth hanging wide open, and then he saw her laughing.
By then they were walking away, the Temple dark and hazy and shining with a golden light. It was barely evening, and yet Caleb had never been so tired in his life. He stifled a yawn, and Depa looked over at him fondly. Caleb looked over at her, and her fond gaze turned into a mischievous one.
Caleb frowned suspiciously. "...What?"
"Well, one, I hope you know that a Jedi should know where his lightsaber is at all times, and two, when are you going to introduce me to your future Padawan?" She asked both of these a little too casually, and it took Caleb a moment to process. He patted at the spot where his lightsaber should be and felt his heart skip a beat when he doesn't feel it.
He let slip a word that he just knew Depa would have his tail for later and ran off back towards the crèche.
He burst back in and found the little blonde boy with blue eyes who wouldn't stop asking him questions about Anakin Skywalker. He and his twin sister were whispering into each other's ears by the door.
"Where's Ezra?" He asked, eyes wide and panicked. The boy giggled at him under his breath. "He stole something from me, and I need it back."
The girl rolled her eyes. "He's always stealing."
"He's probably in his room, I think." The boy said. "That's where he goes to look at what he took."
Caleb patted the youngling on the head and ran off.
By the time he got the number of Ezra's quarters and tracked him down, the Temple halls were mostly empty, and it was dark outside. The door was already cracked a bit open, and Caleb took a deep breath before pushing in.
Ezra was sitting cross-legged on his sleep mat, examining the hilt of Caleb's lightsaber with bright eyes. The extended blue blade was almost taller than he was. Caleb leaned against the doorway and cleared his throat; Ezra looked up at him guiltily.
"I believe you have something of mine," Caleb said. Ezra smiled sheepishly. Caleb crouched down in front of him with one hand extended, and with a sigh, Ezra sheathed the blade and handed it back to him.
"I just wanted to see what color it was," the boy said, looking up at Caleb with puppy dog eyes.
"You could've just asked," Caleb reminded him.
Ezra grinned. "What's the fun in that?"
Caleb just groaned. This boy was gonna be the death of him one day, he just knew it.
"Oh, believe me, I know."
"How's Ezra?" Depa asked when Caleb arrived back to their quarters. He slumped down wearily on their couch and threw an arm over his eyes.
"He's the nosiest, rowdiest, and craziest kid I've ever met. And for some reason I don't understand, we still have a connection. But..."
"But he's also inquisitive, bright, and cute." Depa finished for him.
Caleb groaned. "Yup."
She hmmed. "When do I get to meet this future Padawan of yours?"
"I don't know, I'm thinking about going back to the crèche tomorrow-- wait you KNEW?!" Caleb immediately shot up.
As it turned out, Depa had been the one to meet Ezra first, and she was also the one who realized what a match the two would be, hence the slight encouragement of forcing Caleb to help out in the crèche more.
Unfortunately, stealing the lightsaber was all Ezra. And little did Caleb know that was only the beginning.
"Keep your elbow higher, Ezra. It's better for defense." Caleb said, gently tapping on the youngling's elbow. Ezra complied, but huffed while doing so. They were standing cramped together in his room, with Caleb trying to teach him an advanced kata. As younglings, they weren't really supposed to be learning these just yet, but Ezra had begged Caleb to teach him some moves for so long that he had finally acquiesced.
"Who's ever going to attack the Jedi Temple? Or a bunch of younglings?" he asked. "Besides, I could totally take him!" Ezra pretended to kick out at an invisible foe, and Caleb snatched the training saber they definitely weren't supposed to have outside of the dojo out of his hands.
Caleb gave him a wearied look. "The war's not over yet. Besides, haven't you learned about the Temple bombing in history yet?"
Ezra's eyes grew wide. "There was a bombing at the Temple?" He asked. "When??"
Caleb sighed. Once Ezra got a story into his head, there was no getting him out of it. He deactivated the training saber and dropped it to the ground. He sat down next to Ezra's sleepmat. The boy bounded down in front of him and put his chin in his hands, an expectant look on his face.
Caleb's face grew very somber. "Once upon a time, there was a bombing at the Jedi Temple. The end."
"Caleb!" Ezra whined. The Padawan laughed.
"Fine. Many years ago, before you were even born, someone bombed the Temple. I was talking to my future Master at the time when the bomb went off..."
"Ezra, sit still!" Caleb snapped. He could feel the youngling's incessant squirming halt from beside him, and he cracked open an eye to peer down at him.
Ezra looked up at him guiltily, blue eyes wide and pleading. He was in the same cross legged position that Caleb was, but had definitely not reached any sort of constant meditational awareness.
"Why do we have to meditate?" Ezra whined. "Master Yoda makes us do it all the time, and it's BORING!"
Caleb let out a deep breath and released some of his frustration into the Force. He had been trying to teach Ezra how to meditate for almost two hours now, but he just wasn't getting it.
"Come here," Caleb said. Ezra looked at him suspiciously. "Just do it." He held out a hand.
Ezra scooted over closer to Caleb's side and grabbed it. He giggled.
"Now, close your eyes again." Caleb said. "And copy my breathing. Can you sense what I'm doing in the Force?"
Caleb let himself drift away for a few minutes in order to let Ezra catch up, but was jerked back by a soft snore. He looked over, and Ezra was slumped against him, snoring softly.
Sometimes Caleb really wished he had a camera.
It was just a normal afternoon in the Temple. The Council was meeting, Padawans were training, and the initiates were driving their crèche master crazy. Per usual. Ezra was fiddling with some sort of toy on the floor while Caleb was reading off of his holopad. All was fine, until...
"Caleb, do you remember your parents?"
Caleb started and almost dropped his holopad. He thought it was a joke and a laugh tumbled from his lips. He turned to look at the youngling. Ezra was staring up at him, completely earnest, waiting for an answer. The laughter died away instantly.
"My parents?" Caleb repeated, half confused, half uneasy. Ezra nodded, face expectant. "Um, no, I don't. I was taken to the Temple when I was a lot younger than you. I don't remember them at all."
Ezra screwed up his mouth in thought and looked back down at the thing he was messing with.
"Why?" Caleb said, suspicious. "Ezra." The youngling avoided his gaze, so Caleb put his holopad down beside him. "Do you remember yours?"
Ezra nodded his head yes and sniffled. He looked up with teary eyes. "I miss them." He said in a small voice.
Caleb was at a loss. None of his age-mates had ever remembered their parents. In fact, the only one he knew of that did was Master Skywalker, and everyone knew he was a special case.
"Why don't you tell me about them?" Caleb said slowly.
Ezra sniffled again and rubbed the back of his hand over his eyes. "My dad is way tall, even taller than you! And my mom always makes the best cookies. And..."
Ezra went on about his parents for a while, until he ended up falling asleep on the floor. After putting the youngling back in his bed, Caleb snuck out to the library. His master was still in a council meeting (which was just code for hanging out with Obi-Wan. The horror).
The librarian smiled at him as he sat down on a computer at the back of the hall. He glanced to both sides of him to make sure that nobody was paying attention to him, then he pulled up the Temple databank and typed in two words: Ezra Bridger.
INITIATE EZRA BRIDGER -
Parents: Ephraim and Mira Bridger
Age: 5 years old.
It wasn't not a lot, but it was enough for a start.
"Lothal?" Caleb said to himself. He'd never heard of it before. He pulled up another link on a description about the planet and settled back to read.
Later, when Caleb asked the youngling about Lothal, Ezra's eyes lit up. He told Caleb highly exaggerated stories of grass that touched the sky and of chasing loth-cats.
One day, Caleb thought that he'd like to visit Lothal.
Time passed. If you were ever trying to find Caleb, chances were he was down in the crèche with Ezra. (This definitely was to some of his friends' chagrin. None of them wanted to brave the crèche, either).
He and the boy had gotten fairly close over the last few months. Caleb would tell Ezra stories of the War and of his friends, and even the occasional tip for training, and in turn, Ezra would tell Caleb all about his days and even what he remembered about his home.
Depa thought they were the cutest thing ever... as long as Caleb was always back in time for training. But her master, the Esteemed Jedi Master Mace Windu, not so much. And one day, Mace finally took it upon himself to give Caleb the talk about all of this.
"So," Mace said. He and Caleb were sitting in Depa's and Caleb's shared quarters, drinking tea at the kitchen table. The Force around them was full of tension, and Caleb inwardly squirmed.
"So," Caleb responded. He took a big drink of his tea and met Mace's stare evenly. Yeah, Master Windu was his master's master, and he'd hung around them more than most of the other padawans, but that didn't mean Caleb was any less intimated by him than any of his peers.
"There's been talk around the Temple of how much time you've been spending in the crèche lately." Mace said. He looked at Caleb knowingly, eyebrows raised, but it felt like all he was doing was judging him. Caleb inwardly bristled a little.
Caleb shrugged. "I didn't know passing on my skills as a Jedi Padawan to the next generation was a crime," he said, taking another drink to cover up the grin that threatened to spread.
Mace sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "You've been spending too much time with Kenobi recently." Caleb's lips twitched up in a half smirk. If only Mace knew...
"Master Kenobi has taught me a lot about the art of negotiating recently."
"I can tell." Mace said, rubbing a hand over his eyes. "Listen to me, Caleb. I know you and this youngling-"
Mace sighed, obviously not appreciating the interruption. "Fine. I know you and Ezra have a connection, which, you're right, could potentially deepen into a training bond if you choose to take him as your Padawan one day. However, that is years away. You're still a Padawan yourself. The youngling is nowhere even close to taking the Initiate Trials. It's of the Council's decision that you are growing too... attached to this youngling."
"Attached?" Caleb repeated, a little taken aback. "No way. Not me. Not to Ezra." He shook his head.
Mace huffed a little laugh. "Caleb, I can sense it in you. We've all been there. In fact, I was the same way when I first took on your master as my apprentice." He paused a moment, giving Caleb time to let it sink in. His tone changed to a more gentle one. "Do you want some advice? Take a break from the youngling. Focus more on your studies. On your Trials. On the War. Anything."
Caleb frowned, and his mouth hung open in offense. "So... You're going to force me to stay away from Ezra?" He said slowly, eyes narrowed.
Mace blinked. "Unfortunately, The Council can't do that. Kenobi and your Master took your case on that one. We cannot keep the two of you apart, since technically you are considered a future Master-Padawan pair and bonding is acceptable for that. No, I'm coming to you as your Grand-Master. I want the best for your training. And for you to become the best Jedi you can be, you need to let this attachment go."
Caleb shook his head. "No," he said, his voice firm. "I'm not suffering from attachment."
Mace raised an eyebrow skeptically. "Fine. Say you're devoid of those feelings, but is the youngling? If this attachment is sowed at such a young age, it will only be harder for the him to grow out of it when the time comes. Take Skywalker for example. He still struggles with attachment to his mother and to his old master today."
Caleb chewed the inside of his cheek and twisted his mouth to the side, deep in thought. He didn't reply, fixing his gaze on his now cold cup of tea.
Mace sighed. "I'm sorry, Caleb. But this is for the best. At least consider all of this; if not for you, then for your youngling." And with that, he stood up, drained his cup, and walked out of the quarters.
Later, when Depa arrived back home from sparring with Obi-Wan with messy hair and faraway eyes, she found Caleb still sitting at the table, deep in thought.
"How was your visit with Mace?" She asked, busying around the cupboards to make herself a drink. She clunked a mug down on the counter and poured in the Caf. "Did he teach you anything?"
The furrow between Caleb's eyes deepened, and Depa turned around and crossed her arms, waiting for an answer.
"Master, do you suffer from any attachments?"
Depa's eyebrow raised. "Attachments?" She said. Caleb nodded, and she hesitated while thinking of her response. "Of course," she said slowly.
Caleb cocked his head to the side. He wasn't surprised that she had them, but more so to the fact that she willingly admitted it. "To Obi-Wan?"
The Caf machine dinged, and Depa picked up her cup. "To you." She put a hand on his shoulder briefly and swept out, leaving Caleb with a whole new set of thoughts.
And so things were good for a while. However, all good things must come to an end.
When Order 66 hit this time, Depa and Caleb were still stationed at the Temple.
It was a normal evening; they were walking back to their quarters from the mess hall, occasionally stopping to talk with a passing Master or so, laughing and just generally enjoying being away from the War. Nobody was talking about the strange undercurrent to the Force, the one that was making their hair stand up on the back of their necks, a warning that something bad was about to happen.
When Anakin Skywalker stormed the Temple followed by several battalions of clone troopers, all chaos broke loose. The laughter in the hallways turned to screams and confusion. Immediately, Depa drew out her lightsaber.
(Later, when asked about it, Kanan won't remember much. Just the ringing of blaster shots, the faceless masks of the Clones approaching, the flashes of blue of a lightsaber as it was cutting down his friends).
"Stay behind me," Depa said, all traces of humor gone from her eyes. Caleb held his lightsaber up in a defensive position and braced himself for whatever was coming.
When the clones came around the corner, Caleb's eyes grew wide; they were supposed to be on their side! There was no way they could fight off all of them! He could feel his heart sink low in his chest. Why were they attacking? Is this what the Separatists felt like?
The chanting of "Good clones follow orders" and "Execute Order 66" would ring in his nightmares for years to come.
When the blasts started flying, Caleb froze. His master barked an order at him to either fight back or run, and Caleb stuttered to obey. Everything was in slo-mo; he saw clones he knew - his friends - begin to fall at his hand.
More and more clones came around the corner, and Caleb saw his master's shoulders droop.
"There are too many of them!" Caleb exclaimed, jumping back and barely missing a shot that would have caught his left shoulder. "What are we going to do?!"
His master was only silent for a moment, and when she looked back over at him, her gaze was determined.
"Caleb, we cannot win this battle. Listen to me, you must run." Depa hissed. She drew her lightsaber up closer to her face and deflected another shot. It hit a clone who fell with a yelp.
"What?!" Caleb said. "I can't leave you!" He swung his lightsaber around to ricochet another shot, mimicking the move his master had just used.
"That was an order, Caleb! Go! Run! I'll be right behind you." Depa stepped in front of him and whirled her blade, sending bolts flying in all directions.
Caleb hesitated for only a moment. He could sense her fear in the Force, that she was lying.
He ran anyway.
Caleb heard some of the clones barking orders about going after him and ducked around the next corner. He peered around, and in horror, watched as his master threw out a hand to fling a clone backwards. The bullet tore threw her shoulder, blood spraying the wall behind her. She seemed to fall in slow motion, her braids bouncing and eyes still open.
"Master!" Caleb screamed. He threw out a hand in her direction, even though he knew it was too late. He could feel their bond break and clutched at his chest, gasping in pain. A clone put a foot on her shoulder and pushed her over onto her back, checking her pulse to make sure she was dead. The leader of the troops motioned for the rest of the clones to follow him and to go after the Padawan.
Run! Depa's voice screamed at him in his mind. Caleb stumbled and took off, taking all of the shortcuts and hidden passages he knew of to get deeper and deeper into the Temple. After a while, the clones' footsteps faded behind him, but Caleb didn't slow.
He knew they were still coming for him.
It was only when he ran past the crèche did he stop. He could hear some of the younglings crying inside.
Caleb hesitated. He had to get out of the Temple, he had to hide, he had to run. The boy would only slow him down.
But it's Ezra, a voice inside his head scorned him. You can't just leave him.
Caleb was really going to run, honest, but there was no way in HELL he was going to leave Ezra.
Caleb burst into the crèche, and immediately the younglings were all over him, crying and panicking and asking what was happening.
"Get behind those chairs," he ordered. "Stack them up so you can hide behind them. If a clone comes into this room, don't come out. Do you hear me? Don't."
(It's too bad. He never warned them about hiding from the other Jedi).
"Where's Ezra?" He growled urgently to the nearest youngling, a bold faced pau'an.
"He's in his quarters. Our Master sent him to his room early because he got in trouble." The boy frowned. "She said you weren't allowed to see him today."
"Yeah? Well tell your teacher sorry for me." He turned to go, but the youngling stopped him with a hand on his arm.
"I can't. She left a several minutes ago and never came back." The youngling cocked his head to the side, eyes wide and innocent. "Do you know where she went? Is she coming back?"
Caleb knew exactly what that meant and bit back another wave of anger and grief.
"I'm not sure where she is, but if I see her, I'll tell her to find you," he promised. Pushing off the rest of the younglings, he ordered them to hide one more time before bolting out. He could hear the impending sounds of even footsteps on the floor above them and pushed himself to run faster.
"Ezra!" Caleb burst into the initiate's room. The boy looked up, and immediately the Force around him calmed when he saw his future Master.
"Caleb! What's happening? I heard yelling."
"We have to go!"
"There's no time to get anything, just go!"
Caleb grabbed the sleeve of the youngling's robe and yanked him out of his room. Ezra ran beside Caleb down deeper into the Temple for a while, but eventually he started stumbling, and with one swift motion, Caleb swung him into his back.
Somehow they got out. And thanks to Ezra, no less.
"Master Skywalker showed us all these secret passages throughout the Temple! Isn't he so cool?" Ezra chirped right as Caleb pushed open a sewage cover so they could crawl out onto the lower levels of Coruscant.
Caleb didn't really have the heart to tell him that Master Skywalker is the one who got them into this mess in the first place.
"Put your hood on, and keep close to me." Caleb whispered. He pulled Ezra out of the sewers and pushed the cover back on the hole. Ezra grabbed the edge of his robe and looked up in nervousness. With a deep breath, Caleb pushed his way onto the busy streets of Coruscant. They fit right in.
"Where are we going?" Ezra asked. Ezra clutched onto Caleb's sleeve even tighter when someone accidentally bodychecks him, stumbling back.
"I don't know," Caleb said. All that was going through his head now was runrunrunrunrunrun. His Master.... She was.. Caleb jerked himself. He couldn't afford to think of her right now. He had to focus on Ezra.
Caleb and Ezra went down, down, down, all the way to what Caleb believed to be the lowest level of the Underworld; there were hardly any lights, and the streets were bare except for the odd thug who stared Caleb down when they passed. Caleb did have to admit to himself that they definitely stuck out in these areas of town.
For the most part, Ezra had been quiet. Caleb could sense the fear and confusion radiating off of him, but he hadn't said anything. Caleb looked down as Ezra stumbled for the umpteenth time in the row. The youngling was blinking blearily and yawning with every other breath.
He's tired, Caleb realized with a start. We need shelter. In fact, he hadn't even noticed his own exhaustion until now, and he bit back a yawn on his own. His legs felt like they were on fire.
He glanced around. Caleb hadn't seen any clone troopers on the last seven levels, and he allowed some of the tension to evaporate into the Force.
They're safe. For now.
Caleb tugged Ezra into the nearest alleyway and headed to the back next to some reeking dumpsters. Caleb wrinkled up his nose, but the smell would do to cover them from any passerby. He dragged it out to block the corner in and collapsed down. Ezra plopped down next to him and looked up.
"I don't understand," he said, blue eyes frustrated. His angry look was broken by another yawn, and Caleb sighed.
"Can we talk about it later?" Caleb said. His words came out snappier than he meant, and Ezra shrank back a little. More guilt rose up in Caleb's throat, and he sighed. "Just.. We'll talk about it tomorrow. Go to sleep." Caleb needed some time to think about what the kriff just happened and what they had to do next. How was he supposed to explain that the Temple had just been massacred to a youngling?
Ezra turned over and faced the dumpster away from him. Caleb leaned back and allowed himself to close his eyes. His emotions were rampant, and he only hoped that his shields were still standing strong enough that Ezra can't sense through them.
Several minutes passed of Caleb trying to calm himself down with old breathing exercises he learned back when he was an initiate. Ezra hadn't moved in the time since then, and Caleb deemed that the youngling had finally fallen asleep.
"I turned six today," Ezra whispered. His voice was heavy with exhaustion and sadness.
Caleb turned his head to Ezra's direction. "Your birthday was today?" Ezra just sniffled in response, and Caleb felt even worse for snapping at him.
He smacked a hand on his forehead, even though he knew Ezra couldn't see it in the dark. "You know," he said, adopting a light-hearted tone that was a complete LIE of what he felt right then. "I left your gift back in the Temple. Silly me."
He could feel Ezra shoot up beside him, all traces of sleep forgotten. "What is it? Can we go back and get it?!" He said hopefully.
Caleb thought he was joking until he felt his sincerity ring through the Force. "What? No! Ezra, it's not safe anymore." As if running out of there and hiding in this disgusting alley wasn't enough for Ezra to tell. He felt the boy slump a little.
"Will we ever be able to go back home?" Ezra asked, his voice softer than before.
Caleb was silent. "No," he whispered, and it's then when he felt the reality of what happened finally crash down on him. It felt like a dream before... "Sleep," he said, and if his voice is a little more choked now, Ezra didn't comment. Caleb laced every word with as much persuasion as he could muster, and Ezra's head lolled and fell against his arm. He let out a soft snore.
And with Ezra finally asleep, Caleb allowed himself to break down and cry. His Master... She sacrificed herself for him. The clones turned on them. His friends... His teachers... His home... All of it, gone. Massacred. And he didn't even know why. Caleb swallowed. And he didn't even want to think about what happened to the rest of those younglings.
His shoulders shook; he buried his face into his hands and tried to be as quiet as he could be.
He wasn't very successful.
If Ezra snuggled into Caleb a little deeper after this, he never said anything. They're tucked up in some sketchy alleyway in the Underworld, and they're all alone against the rest of the Galaxy. But at least they have each other now.
Eventually, his tears dried up, and his eyes grew all puffy. He was even more exhausted than he was before, but now he had to stay awake all night to watch their backs. He put his hand on his lightsaber and sat, listening to Ezra's steady breathing. Eventually, it lullled him off to sleep...
Caleb stirred sometime the next morning to the sound of something scraping the wall. He immediately lunged up, lightsaber at the ready, eyes wild. He glanced down at Ezra to check to make sure he was still there and saw him staring up at him, utterly confused.
"What?" Ezra asked. Caleb's gaze bounced from his face to the stick in his hands. Ezra was drawing on the side of the dumpster with it, and Caleb groaned and sank back down. He ran a hand over his eyes as the wave of yesterday's events flashed before his eyes him. He needed a plan.
"We need to go back to the surface," Caleb said.
Ezra tilted his head to the side. "I thought you said it was dangerous?"
"It could be," Caleb said. He stood back up and stretched, wincing as his back felt crooked from sleeping in a seated position. "Which is why you're staying here."
As soon as he said that, a wizened old man in a faded grey cloak hobbled into the alleyway. Caleb ducked back down immediately as the man wandered over to the dumpsters. Caleb held his breath as the man began digging through them, singing some children's song out loud in a creepy way.
Ezra looked absolutely fascinated by this guy, Caleb noted with horror. He grabbed his arm and pulled him back up with him.
"On second thought, you're coming with me. Of course, I can't leave a five year old alone down here. What was I thinking?"
When they got back to the surface level, Caleb was absolutely horrified by all the overnight changes.
There were troopers on watch everywhere, and bulletins were plastered all over every available surface with pictures of various Jedi. They all said REWARD in fat black print, the ink so fresh on some of them it drips, pooling on the cement beneath. On the big holovid screens on the faces of buildings, images of the faces of his friends and teachers flashed by. Mugshots. Most of them had red slashes running diagonally across their faces. The people on the streets had their heads down and avoided looking at the screens; there was no laughter bubbling in the air today.
Ezra was standing in Caleb's shadow, looking up at the board with the same solemn air Caleb had. When the younglings' faces begin showing up, every single one has the red slash. When Ezra's own face comes up, devoid of the slash, the boy looked down at his feet and inched closer to Caleb. Caleb felt the guilt over leaving the younglings threatening to bubble over again.
Only two other younglings were clear of the red line; a human boy and girl named Luke and Leia. Caleb recognized them as the twins that Ezra liked to hang around. He wondered what happened to them.
When Depa's face flashed on screen, Caleb could feel his sorrow over her grow again. The spot in his mind where their bond used to be ached. His own face popped up next, and he stepped back into the shadows.
"Come on," he muttered to Ezra. Tugging his hood further down over his face, they walked away and blended into the crowd.
Several weeks passed. Caleb had practically memorized the dirty streets of Coruscant's underworld like the back of his hand. He knew which alleys were clear to crash in, which streets you needed to avoid for fear of running into a gang, and which restaurants would throw their scraps out to the poor.
Most nights he had to go to bed hungry, as he gave Ezra the majority of what he collected. He stopped caring about people seeing him dig through the trash to find leftovers in their third week on the streets.
On their fifth or sixth week on the streets, Caleb became aware of a rundown bar with several job openings. He picked up some skeevy job as a bouncer in the very same nightclub that night. The job didn't pay much, but it allowed him to buy enough food for Ezra. Good food, not scraps.
When Caleb went into the bar that night and asked for a job, the bartender laughed openly in his face. Caleb was young, only eighteen. So while he'd definitely hit his growth spurt and towered over the owner, he looked too thin to do any damage.
The bartender stopped laughing when Caleb punched a buff Zabrak who had snuck up behind him, leering, and knocked him out cold.
Needless to say, Caleb got the job after that.
The bartender was gruff, but a decent enough guy. He told Caleb he was just there for the free alcohol. When Caleb pointed out that he was only eighteen, the bartender shrugged.
"I won't tell the police if you won't." He laughed.
Caleb hesitated. "I have another thing you need to know about."
The bartender raised an eyebrow. "Oh? Like what?"
Caleb held up a finger and ran out of the bar. The bartender peered after him and rolled his eyes. "Crazy kids," he muttered. He went back to wiping down the counter.
Caleb shouldered the door open again, carrying a big brown lump in his arms. The lump shifted slightly, and the bartender curled his lip back.
"Kid, we don't allow pets in here."
Caleb pushed his way back up to the bar and shook his head. He pulled a corner of the brown fabric down and revealed the face of a sleeping child. "His name is Ezra. He's five, no wait, six, actually, and he can be quiet and-" The bartender groaned.
"Might as well be a pet." He said. Caleb frowned and shuffled the boy away from him, giving him the side-eye. "You got a place to stay?" Caleb hesitated and shook his head. "I have a room above here you can use. It's not furnished. But it'll give you a place to keep him-" he nodded towards the sleeping boy- "while you work. Got a deal?" Caleb nodded and shuffled the kid over onto his shoulder so he could stick out his hand.
One of his first nights on the job, after the bar had closed in the early hours of the morning, Caleb propped himself up on a barstool, absolutely exhausted. He pressed an icepack to his eye where it was already swelling; he'd accidentally been hit while breaking up a fight. The bartender was cleaning glasses with a rag and eyeballed his worker, wincing sympathetically as Caleb gently prodded at the bruise. There had been a question on his mind since day one...
"Is Ezra your kid?" He asked gruffly, watching Caleb for his reaction. "Or a little brother or something?"
Caleb lifted his chin up off of his hand and frowned in thought. He hadn't come up with a backstory to explain Ezra yet. "He's mine," he said, and left it at that.
The bartender widened his eyes and roared back a laugh. "Got some young, did ya, kid?" Caleb's cheeks flushed and he scowled. He threw the icepack at the bartender and muttered a thanks, slinking off to go upstairs.
Privately, the bartender pitied them. On their own, at the ages of 18 and 6. Whether Caleb's parents had died or kicked them out after having the illegitimate kid, Caleb was still having to provide for the kid all on his own. He sighed and blew a speck of dust off of the glass. What a shame.
Soon enough, their days and nights became a routine.
For Ezra: Ezra slept up in his and Caleb's shared room during the nights. At first, he couldn't sleep over the sounds of yelling and thumping and shattered glass, but it eventually became soothing, and now he couldn't sleep without it. He'd tried to go downstairs that first night to find Caleb, but the older boy put a stop to that real quick. During the day, the bartender was nice enough to let Ezra watch cartoons on the holovid and keep an eye on him while Caleb slept.
For Caleb: When the bar was open at night, Caleb would sit stoically in a corner, letting the shadows covering his face. He watched the crowds, searching out any customers who needed to be cut off and keeping an eye out for any troublemakers. With the Force as a warning before any possible fights broke out, Caleb was able to not have to constantly sit and scan the crowds and could focus on planning out what he and Ezra were going to do next. This job was only temporary, a way to make just enough money to get his feet off the ground. The bartender would yell snide comments at him over the customers' heads sometimes, but he pretty much kept to himself.
Sometimes Clones would walk in on their days off. Caleb would duck his head and keep his eyes down as they passed. If the bartender ever noticed how his attitude changed when they walked in, he was smart enough not to say anything.
So Caleb would sit and wait. And soon enough, he had a plan.
One night some stupid repeat smuggler got drunk off of his butt, and Caleb pounced into action. The smuggler was a repeat customer, and whenever he had enough to drink, he'd pass out for the night. Caleb had stopped many others from beating up on this guy and had also slipped him quite a few "free" drinks to make friends. Then one night, Caleb cornered the guy, told him exactly what he needed and what he was willing to pay. The guy, still ever the businessman even while drunk, didn't buy it. That is, until Caleb whipped out his handy dandy Jedi mind tricks.
So that night Caleb took Ezra and their few measly belongings and ran, and from there they got a ship and passage to Kaller.
"Kaller?!" Caleb snarled. "I needed passage to Lothal!"
"We have a few... shipments to drop off on Kaller. And tell me again, why exactly did I let you on here without paying?"
Caleb shut up and sat down with Ezra in the corner, eyeing the crew with distrust.
Once they arrived on Kaller, the smuggler started to getting antsy, and when clone troopers suddenly appeared from an anonymous tip off, Caleb had to take Ezra and run AGAIN.
"You know, I'm really getting tired of this." Caleb said to Ezra, as they ran through the forest. A branch reared back and slapped Caleb's cheek, leaving a bright red welt. Ezra made a face.
On Kaller it was not as easy to dig out of the trash to find food, but when people saw Ezra sitting on the sidewalk with his puppy dog eyes, they were pretty sympathetic and generous in their giving.
Ezra didn't seem to mind begging; it gave him the ability to show off some of the fancy tricks he learned in the Temple. Caleb only ever had to stop him when he tried to do a mind trick on an amused passerby.
That night Caleb had to give Ezra the talk about how it was no longer safe to use the Force, or to talk about the Jedi.
"But we are Jedi," Ezra said, confused.
"Were," Caleb corrected.
Most of the time, while Ezra was on the streets, Caleb stayed close enough that he could grab him and hide if the clones came by. When he wasn't close, however, he was off scouting out the new surroundings and its inhabitants, especially this alien named Janus Kasmir. And so Caleb slowly plotted out his next plan of action.
Kasmir had a sleek ship that he left alone most of the time in a holding garage while he was off doing business. There were a few guards posted, but it was easy to sneak around them. However, it wasn't quite as easy to sneak around Kasmir. And Kasmir really did not appreciate him eyeballing his ship or him following him around, which is why Caleb had to wait and do his observations while he was away talking business.
They were on Kaller long enough that the locals had started to get used to Ezra, and soon money started dwindling.
"I'm sorry, Caleb," Ezra said that night, bottom lip puffed out and eyes big and sad. He held out a handful of coins and put them in Caleb's hand. "This is all we got tonight."
Caleb totaled up the amount in his head. Guess he wasn't eating tonight.
"It's okay, Ezra. We'll figure something else out." He forced a smile. "Now, do you want fruit or bread for dinner?"
But it was definitely when the clones arrived, looking for Caleb, that he knew it was definitely time to leave.
So one day while Kasmir had his back turned while loading cargo onto the ship, Caleb pulled Ezra into the holding bay and sprinted on board.
Kasmir turned around while they were halfway there, the easy smile on his face disappearing in a flash. "HEY!" He yelled. "Get off of my ship!"
"I'll return it!" Caleb yelled, flying up the ramp. Ezra was right behind him.
Caleb ran to the controls and closed the ramp. He could hear Kasmir yelling and cursing outside and prayed that Ezra wasn't listening. Ezra ran to the window, stood on his tippy-toes, and peeked out. Caleb sat down in the pilot's chair and punched some buttons, quickly firing up the engine, lifting the ship in the air, and zipping out of the garage.
"Strap in," he said to Ezra.
Ezra waved goodbye to Kasmir as they disappeared into the sky.
"We're going to Lothal?" Ezra asked, confused. He was sitting down in the copilot seat across from Caleb. He tilted his head to the side, confused. "Why?"
"For fun," Caleb said lightly. He turned his head to the side to avoid Ezra's confused look. "I guess this is your new birthday present." Caleb prayed to anyone listening that Ezra can't feel his inner turmoil in the Force.
"But... My birthday was months ago?" Ezra said, still confused.
Caleb shrugged. "Better late than never."
The excited look on Ezra's face almost made Caleb regret what he was about to do.
Way back in the Temple, Caleb had looked up Ezra's file, and by extension, knew the basics of information about Ezra's parents. Sometime on Kaller, long after Ezra had fallen asleep against him in the back of some crusty alleyway, it hit Caleb that this was no life. Begging? Living on the streets? Stealing for a living? This was no life for a six year old. Ezra deserved better. And by the Force, Caleb was going to give it to him.
They touched down on Lothal in a field in the middle of nowhere. It was night on the planet when they landed, and Ezra was slumped over to the side of the chair he was strapped into, drool pooling on his shoulder. Caleb powered the ship down and lowered the ramp. He walked out and sat down, folding himself up into a meditative position and closing his eyes.
This was it. This was the last time he was going to use the Force willingly. He was giving up his birthright to it. He'd even hidden his lightsaber in two parts in the very bottom of the bag the bartender had given him on Coruscant and sworn never to use that again, either, in any circumstances.
He'd heard the talk of the locals on Kaller; the newly risen Empire was still tracking down the Jedi who'd escaped the Purge. He was never going to be safe.
But Ezra might be, if Caleb went through with his plan.
Ezra. Everything he'd done up until this point was for the youngling. And this might be the end of it. He might never see him again after this.
Caleb clenched his eyes tighter shut and took a deep breath. He didn't want to think about that anymore. He focused on deepening his connection to the Force, and eventually, he let himself fade off to sleep.
He woke the next morning to Ezra squealing with delight. He blinked and yawned, sitting up from where he'd fallen over on the ramp. Ezra had run past him into the long, flowing grass. He was laughing from somewhere far away; Caleb could only see the trademark blue-black of his hair when he bounced up and down with glee.
These past few month had been hard on him, too. It was time for him to have a chance to be a kid.
Ezra met Caleb's gaze through the grass and waved, blue eyes wide with excitement. Caleb grinned lazily back and flopped back.
They could always go into town later.
"Look, Caleb, it's a loth-cat!" Ezra shrieked and pointed into the grass. Caleb followed Ezra's gaze and saw two flashing eyes gleaming at him in the dark.
"I see it," Caleb said. The grass twitched in response.
"I'm gonna go catch it!" Ezra said. He jumped up and slowly stalked in the direction of the eyes.
"I don't know if that's a smart idea-"
"Shh! You'll scare it!" Ezra pouted.
Caleb rolled his eyes and held up his hands in surrender.
Ezra stepped closer and closer, and the loth-cat bared its teeth and hissed.
"Careful," Caleb warned. Ezra ignored him and stretched out his hands greedily.
In a flash, the animal lunged out and scraped its teeth along Ezra's hand. It hissed, tail puffed out all the way, and scampered off. Ezra stumbled back with a cry and fell on his butt. He clutched at his hand.
"It bit me!" Ezra said, absolutely startled.
"I told you so," Caleb said. Ezra turned back towards him, eyes welling up with tears.
Oh, no, Caleb groaned to himself. Not the tears.
"Come here," Caleb said, pushing himself up. "We'll go get a bacta strip."
When all was wrapped up and bandaged, Ezra shoved his hand in Caleb's face. "Kiss it," he ordered.
Caleb made a face. "... Kiss it?"
Ezra nodded. "The Crèche Master used to... You know, before...." He trailed off at the end and looked lost.
Caleb pressed his lips to the bandage briefly. "There," he said. "Happy?"
Ezra just smirked at him.
By the time early afternoon came, Caleb and Ezra had arrived at the nearest city. The streets were full of vendors selling fruit that Caleb had never even heard of, and Ezra was practically drooling.
He walked up to the closest stand and pulled out the remaining handful of coins he had from Kaller. "How much for the... Meiloorun fruit?" He said.
The owner rattled off a number and Caleb cringed. That was almost all they had left. He poured the coins over reluctantly and picked up the biggest fruit he could. He handed it to Ezra, who had been eyeing it with gleaming eyes.
"I could've just stolen it," Ezra said. The shopkeeper looked a mix between horrified and angry, and Caleb huffed a laughed and pushed Ezra behind him.
"He's kidding," Caleb said, forcing a smile. The shopkeeper looked at them suspiciously.
"Is there something else I can help you boys with?" She said, eyes slightly narrowed.
"Actually, yes," Caleb said. He shooed Ezra to go sit on a crate a little ways away and eat his fruit, and the boy happily obeyed. He sunk his teeth into it, spraying Caleb with sticky purple juice.
He waited until the youngling had left before turning back to the owner, who had an eyebrow raised.
"Do you know where I can find the Bridgers? Ephraim and Mira?" He asked, voice hushed. He turned back to keep an eye on Ezra, who was still happily munching on the fruit, completely oblivious.
The shopkeeper's eyes lit up and her entire expression warmed at the mention of Ezra's parents. "The Bridgers! Of course. Are you one of their special visitors?"
Caleb frowned a little bit. Special visitor? "Well, I guess we will be?" He said with a grin. "We're... Family."
The shopkeeper pulled out a piece of paper and scrawled an address down. She handed it over and pointed to the right.
"Go down in that direction three blocks until you start to reach the houses, and then it's to the right on the corner." She said.
Caleb thanked her and turned to go.
"Wait!" She said. He turned back around, eyebrows raised. She studied him for a moment and held out another Meiloorun for him to take. "Eat this," she said. "You're so skinny."
He smiled and took it. "Come on, Ezra," he said. The boy hopped down and followed Caleb as he started walking.
"This house looks familiar," Ezra said, eyes screwed up in concentration as Caleb tugged him down the Bridgers' sidewalk. The youngling's hands were still sticky from the fruit and his mouth was stained purple. He gasped out of nowhere, and Caleb startled. "This was my home!"
Ezra ran up before Caleb and knocked frantically on the door. Caleb stood further back, face hesitant.
The door swung open, and the pleasant face of Mira Bridger smiled at them.
"Can I help you?" She said, face open and expectant.
"Mom!" Ezra cried out. He threw his arms around her waist and buried his face in his stomach. Mira looked startled.
"Ezra?" She whispered. She looked down at the boy then back up to Caleb. "But the Jedi..."
Caleb stepped up closer. "Can we come in?"
Of course, the last thing the Bridgers expected to see when they opened their front door was their son and an ex-Jedi on the run. But of course, they let them in, and they were more than happy to see Ezra after all these years.
"We never thought we'd see him again," Mira said, stroking Ezra's hair softly. "When you give up a child to the Jedi, they told us we'd never receive contact again. And after the... incident at the Temple, we feared the worst."
Caleb was sitting in their living room on a chair across from Ephraim. Mira was sitting on a couch diagonal to him, Ezra sprawled across her lap.
"Mmm," Caleb said. He never remembered his parents. And he never planned on meeting them. He supposed that if things hadn't happened the way they did, Ezra would've been the same.
Mira said something else, and Caleb tried to listen, really, he did, but he kept feeling himself nod off.
He didn't realize he'd fallen asleep until he felt a hand on his head and sprung up, hand on the spot where his lightsaber should have been.
Mira stumbled back, and Ephraim raised a hand in caution. She had a frozen look on his face, and Caleb's cheeks flushed when he realized what he did.
"I'm sorry," he said, running a hand through his hair. "It's habit."
"It's quite all right, dear." Mira said, looking far too sad and understanding.
"Why don't you sleep tonight, and we can talk about everything in the morning?" Ephraim suggested. Caleb nodded his assent, and he was led upstairs to a guest room. Mira carried Ezra up behind them, the boy already asleep.
Caleb collapsed down onto the bed immediately, too tired to go shower. He rolled onto his back and was out as soon as his head hit the pillow.
It was the first time Caleb had slept in a real bed in months. For once, he didn't dream of Order 66. He dreamt of his Master, laughing and showing him Katas when he was young.
It's a good memory, one of his best.
The next morning was the first time he'd showered in months, too. The dirt caked all over him washed down the drain, and his skin became about two shades lighter. He fingered the place where his Padawan braid had been; he cut it off months ago on Coruscant.
Force, that felt like years ago.
He walked downstairs, in borrowed, too big clothing Ephraim let him borrow. The Bridgers were sitting at their kitchen table, a pot of Caf brewing in the back. They were talking in hushed voices, but when they saw him, they smiled and stopped, exchanging a look that said 'we'll finish this later.'
"How did you sleep?" Mira asked.
"Good. I forgot what it felt like to sleep in a real bed," he confessed. Mira smiled, a little sadly, and beckoned for him to join them at the table.
Caleb doesn't mention that he woke up absolutely frantic in the middle of the night because Ezra wasn't there beside him.
It's as if Mira read his mind. "Ezra's still asleep," she said. She pushed a warm plate of eggs and toast in front of him. "Eat."
He couldn't believe his eyes. Real, hot food? This had to be a dream. Why didn't they go to the Bridgers before?
He scarfed it down, burning his mouth but not caring in the slightest. When he's done, Mira pushed another plate in front of him, and he began again, this time much slower.
"So, Caleb," Ephraim said. He hesitated a moment, and Caleb quirked an eyebrow at him.
"You want to know what happened," he finished. He put down his fork, and Ephraim nodded.
"The Empire said the Jedi turned, that they're the ones who betrayed us." Mira said. "On the holovid there are articles about what Jedi have been caught and killed each week. The 'traitors to the Empire', they call you."
"The Empire also has posted these 'stormtroopers' everywhere, even in peaceful towns. They're supposed to control uprisings." Ephraim said. "And they've begun censoring all outgoing broadcasts."
"So what happened back there?" Mira said.
Caleb felt like something was lodged in his throat, and his pushed away his half eaten plate, all appetite gone. He should've known this is what they wanted to know.
So with Ezra still asleep, Caleb told the Bridgers what happened. How the Clones had been the ones who stormed the Temple, how his Master had sacrificed herself for him, how he had used that time to go get Ezra, how they had lived on the streets of both Coruscant and Kaller, begging and scavenging, before stealing a ship to come to Lothal.
The Bridgers are absolutely horrified. (As they should be).
"You've been through so much," Mira said. She put a hand on top of Caleb's. Ephraim looked troubled.
"We have to do something," he said, frowning.
Caleb chewed on the inside of his cheek and ran a hand through his hair. "Actually, we came to Lothal for a reason."
The whole reason for coming to Lothal was so Caleb could give Ezra back to his parents.
Caleb doesn't beat around the bush when he tells them this, that he wants them to take back Ezra. So he could have a stable home, food, a bed. A semblance of a normal life. Everything he should have gotten in the Temple.
"But what about you?" Mira asked, eyes sad. "Don't you need those things too?"
"I had my chance," Caleb said. "And I'm a much bigger target of the Empire than Ezra is. It isn't safe for me to stay."
Mira wasn't convinced. To her, this boy needed a home, too. A family.
However, in the end, the Bridgers agreed with him. They were thrilled to have their son back, to gain back all lost time. Ephraim gave Caleb a stack of credits that should last him a year, extra clothes, food, and a even gun.
Ephraim slid the gun into Caleb's hand and patted it. The look in his eyes was serious. "Be careful out there, son." A lump formed in Caleb's throat, and he nodded.
He almost left just then, without telling Ezra goodbye.
Almost. (They'd been through too much together, and after all, if things had been happier, he would've been his Padawan. They would've been happy together).
Mira begged him to wait until Ezra woke up, and Caleb acquiesced.
So the Bridgers asked him about life in the Temple, about his childhood, about fighting in the Clone War. Mira is horrified to learn that he was sent out into the War at as a commander when he was thirteen.
"You were a child soldier!" She protested.
Caleb shrugged. "The Clones were only 10 years old. I wasn't the greenest one out there."
She didn't looked convinced, and he sighed.
"We didn't have a choice."
In return, Caleb asked them about the rise of the Empire, about the stationing of Stormtroopers on every planet, about the Jedi who had been killed since Order 66.
Ephraim told him that the Emperor was feared, but not as much so as his right hand, a mysterious and dangerous machine named Darth Vader. Vader was the one who was tracking down the remaining Jedi.
Caleb had lost all hope in the Galaxy by the time Ezra stumbled downstairs, yawning and rubbing his eyes blearily. His eyes lit up when he saw Caleb standing at the table, talking to his parents, and he ran over and sat down next to him.
Mira gave Ezra a plate of food too and smoothed the hair back off of his forehead. She asked him what he learned at the Temple, and he babbled on happily about what he'd learned and about how cool Caleb was.
"He's going to be my Master one day!" Ezra chirped around a mouthful of bread. "He's going to train me!" Mira looked at Caleb in surprise, and the Padawan felt his guilt grow more and more.
When Ezra pushed his plate way and beamed up contentedly, Caleb knelt down beside him, a strange look on his face. "Ezra, do you think we can talk?"
Ezra gave him a cocky grin. "We're talking right now, Caleb." He waited for Caleb to grin back, to laugh, to do anything, but all he did was look even sadder. Ezra felt his smile fade. "What's wrong?"
Ephraim put a hand on Mira's arm and led her out of the kitchen. Ezra watched them go, a confused look on his face. "Caleb?" It was just then when he noticed the bag of clothing Caleb had slung on his back. "Are we leaving already?"
Caleb took a deep breath. "I'm leaving. You're not."
It took Ezra a moment to process.
"What?!" He cried out. Caleb flinched back. "You're leaving me? Why?!"
"I want you to live a better life with your parents. You won't have to beg anymore, or sleep behind dumpsters, or have to eat whatever moldy scraps we can find." Caleb said. "Don't you see? I'm doing this for you."
Ezra's eyes welled up. "You just don't want to take care of me anymore!" He turned and crossed his arms. "I'm sorry I'm such a burden. You don't have to let me have all of your food anymore. I can eat whatever's left, I promise!"
"Listen to me, you were never a burden. You deserve better. You shouldn't have to leave in fear of being hunted down and captured anymore. This is better."
"But I want to stay with you," Ezra whispered, tears threatening to well over. "Why can't you stay here?"
"The Empire wants me. They're looking for me. It's not safe for you anymore if we stay together."
"You were supposed to train me! I thought you were going to be my Master!"
"Ezra, listen to me, you can never use the Force again, do you hear me? The Empire will find you. You can't use it anymore, okay?" Caleb's voice rose in volume towards the end of his sentence, and Ezra shrank back a little.
"I don't want you to go," Ezra whispered. He let the tears fall freely and lunged into Caleb, burying his face into the crook of his neck.
"I don't want to leave, either. I'm... attached to you, Ezra." Caleb could feel the tears threatening to flow over in his eyes, and he squeezed them tightly shut. "I don't want to go..."
Right before he leaves, Caleb promised that he'd return to visit often and that if Ezra still wasn't happy in a few years, that he'd pick him up if he wanted to. He said that it was better this way.
Ezra cried for days.
Caleb ended up going back to Kaller, where he was met with a spitting mad Kasmir. He gave him the ship back, and somehow was able to smooth-talked his way into being on his crew. (Caleb had no explanation for that one). The two of them formed a casual camaraderie over time that made Caleb somewhat... content with life.
He still missed Ezra.
As time passed, Caleb - actually, he was Kanan now; he kept forgetting - made many excuses not to return. That Ezra had probably forgotten about him already, that he'd be safer without him, especially with the Stormtrooper presence growing. That Ezra wouldn't care if he returned, that he moved on.
The thing is, Kanan didn't know that the Bridgers had been taken by the Empire when Ezra turned 8 for their broadcasts protesting the kidnapping and execution of Jedi, and that Ezra was living on the streets... again. (At least this time he had more of a basic knowledge of how to survive on the streets. Caleb had taught him a few tricks).
When Kanan left Kasmir, it was on better terms. And while Kasmir was still a little disappointed, he wasn't that broken up about it; Kanan's a grown man who could make his own decisions. And if he ever decided he wanted to do business again one day, well, he'd have a willing partner.
So Kanan was on his own for a while, and it was when he was alone where the temptation to visit Ezra was the strongest. He wondered how he'd grown, if he was happy.
(Ezra was 10 years old. He was cold, damp, and starving. He waited for the day when Caleb would come back for him).
Eventually, Kanan found work on Gorse and met Hera. When he joined her crew, it was nothing like he'd ever felt before. The attachment he felt for her was... different.
(He most definitely lacked any attachment to Chopper).
A few more years pass, and he and Hera pick up a Lasat ex-honor guard named Zeb and a Mandalorian explosives expert named Sabine.
Funny, Sabine was just about the age Ezra would be if he were there... She was around 14, headstrong, clever, and definitely too smart for her own good.
(Ezra was 12, and he'd resorted to the life of a con-artist and petty thief. He had no hope left that Caleb would ever return).
For Kanan, life was good, and his crew grew from a plain old ragtag team to, well, a family. But there was something missing, and Kanan still refused to confront it. Everyone on the Ghost had their secrets; it was an unspoken, respected fact.
(Only Hera knew about Ezra. One time, on a mission gone wrong, Kanan came out high as a kite and burning with fever. And during the worst of it, he started babbling about someone named Ezra. Hera figured it must've been his son, or a brother, or a fallen comrade in arms, and didn't mention it again for weeks. When she finally brought him up, Kanan looked like he'd been slapped. That wasn't a good conversation).
It was another year and a half or so later when Sabine rounded up a mission for them on Lothal.
"Have you ever been to Lothal?" Sabine asked the crew. "I did some research, and it looks very similar to Dantooine."
Zeb groaned. "Dantooine made my noise itch." Hera shook her head, and Sabine turned to Kanan.
He had a strange look on his face, and his eyes seemed to be somewhere far away. "No, Kanan Jarrus has never been to Lothal."
Sabine and Zeb shared a weirded look before dropping it and coming up with a plan of action. This time, they were stealing crates from the Empire. It was supposed to be an easy milk run.
The Force buzzed around Kanan in a way that he hadn't felt in years. It made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up and his skin crawl.
Hera also noticed Kanan's apprehension about the mission, so when she touched the Ghost down for the first time on Lothal, she sent Zeb and Sabine off first to go scout around the town. She held Kanan back for a moment.
"Just to talk," she reassured Sabine. "Don't worry about it." Sabine and Zeb rolled their eyes and shared a knowing (and slightly disgusted) look, but they leave anyway.
Hera waits before they disappear from sight before turning to her partner with crossed arms. "Kanan Jarrus, if you do not visit that little boy, I swear I will kick your butt all the way back to Gorse. I mean it."
"But the mission-"
"I am your Captain, and I ORDER you to go see him!"
(Okay, so maybe that had been a little harsher than Hera wanted, but Kanan slunk off the ship with his tail between his legs, so she took it to mean that he was actually going to do what she said for once).
When Kanan walked off the Ghost, Hera stood on the edge of the ramp, arms crossed and watching.
The grasses bent in the wind as he walked by, and it twitched as a loth-cat jumped out. Kanan stumbled back, startled, and Hera laughed.
"What is that thing?" She asked, coming down the ramp to get a closer look.
"It's a loth-cat," Kanan said, fond memories swirling through his mind. He huffed a half smile. "Ezra used to chase them." At the mention of the boy's name, Kanan's smile slipped away, and Hera put a hand on his shoulder.
"He'll be glad to see you," she promised him.
"What if he isn't?" Kanan asked, turning his head to the side to look at her. It had been years. This is what he was worried about the most.
Hera was silent for a moment, watching the loth-cat twitch its tail before them. She turned back to face him. "Then you have closure."
So Kanan took some time before the mission to go visit the Bridger house. It was weird, being back. The vendors hadn't changed, and neither had the busy streets. He still remembered the way to the Bridger house, and the butterflies in his stomach became more restless with every step.
When he saw the house destroyed, he immediately feared the worst.
Unfortunately, Kanan didn't have time to grieve, as the crew had to start the mission. He sent Hera a quick rundown of what he saw and hung up, cutting off any sympathies he may have received.
He arrived back in the village square, ready to start the mission, when something within urged him to turn around. The Force sang in a way he hadn't felt in almost eight years.
Funny, that almost felt like... No... no, it couldn't be.
Ezra watched the crew commence their plan from the buildings above. The same tingle ran down the back of his spine, and he shivered.
"Trust in the Force," Caleb used to warn him. "If it's telling you something, then you need to listen. And then probably run."
Well, Ezra was definitely listening now. He hadn't felt a connection like that since he met Caleb for the first time, and now his curiosity was piqued. It was a pity he couldn't see the man's face from his position; all he could see was the top of his head and brown hair pulled back into a tight ponytail.
Ezra watched the man pat his leg as a signal, then followed the crew across the rooftops to a back alley. His blue eyes were wide as the familiar human and big purple alien claimed the Empire's supplies from the Stormtroopers.
While the man had his back turned, Ezra hopped down the fire escape onto one of the bikes. He plastered a cocky grin on his face, prepared to give a mocking salute and to leave them in the dust.
He was not prepared to be recognized.
"Ezra?!" The man gasped. The Force sang its approval around him, and Ezra immediately froze and whipped around. All of a sudden, he felt like he was five years old again watching his friend protect him. It couldn't be...
"Caleb?" Ezra said, his voice very small. He slid off the bike and took a shaky step towards him. He took a closer look at his face, beneath the bead. He would recognize those eyes anywhere.
Caleb was just as pale as Ezra imagined himself to be. He shook himself out of it and barked out an order. "Zeb, take those crates and go! Now!" The alien cast a funny look at the kid but nodded and disappeared; a Mandalorian hopped on the other bike down the alleyway, staring curiously at them before driving off. "Ezra," he breathed.
Ezra couldn't help it. He burst into tears and ran towards him. Caleb immediately hugged him, and he sank down.
And if Caleb cried too, well, there was nobody to judge.
Without Ezra to steal the bike, Zeb and Sabine got all the crates back to the Ghost with no issue.
Never let it be said that there was no such things as happy endings.