Smoke filled the air, thick and cloying as the Ghost wailed alarms and warnings around Kanan, its dying cries of life as sparks wept from gaping wounds inside, and from the destructive battering it had received outside earlier.
The searing hole in Kanan’s gut burned with every breath, leeching life from his body and leaving it numb. His hair had fallen out of its tail and now hung about his shoulders and tickled his cheek, matted with sweat and blood from the fight he’d just fatally won.
Bullying himself, Kanan struggled to sit up a little higher against the Ghost’s bay walls. As he used what little strength he had left, his palm slipped in the growing puddle of blood next to him, and he groaned at the agony shooting throughout his body. No. No, maybe it was alright if he stayed exactly like he was, wilted and broken like a fallen tree.
In his lap, Ezra lay limp, breath shallow as he also waited for death. Their fight had stretched longer than Kanan would’ve ever imagined, but then, perhaps he shouldn’t have been surprised. It was Ezra, after all, the most tenacious, willful, driven person he knew. That wouldn’t have changed, even with dark side energies flowing through him. In fact, it had only grown those qualities.
But power could only take you so far. When pitted against experience, experience usually won out. Like it had between them.
Right now, however, it felt like an ugly draw. After all, Kanan sat with a mortal wound gaping in his torso, spilling his life onto the floor of the Ghost with every pulse of his heart, even as Ezra lay in two distinct pieces beside him.
Kanan’s blade had done that. He could still feel the residual memory of slicing through his Padawan’s body, smell his searing flesh, experience Ezra’s agony as if it were his own.
“Kanan,” Ezra wheezed. “I know you … you have a lullaby pill. You should take it.” The boy’s chest heaved, and Kanan felt his Padawan’s lifeforce flicker dangerously. He didn’t have long. “I’m going to die. You’ve made sure of that. No point in watching it happen.”
The lullaby. In the commotion, Kanan had completely forgotten about it, but Ezra was right. It was tucked in his pocket, like a weight waiting to drag him down. If he took the pill, death would sweep him away, nice and quiet.
Kanan closed his blind eyes and focused past the urge to take it and end the pain where it was. To fade in a last cowardly opportunity to run away from his problems. He wasn’t ready yet. He wasn’t done.
“No, Ezra,” Kanan breathed, his chest heaving. “I’m your Master. I won’t let you go alone.”
“Even though you’re the one who did this to me?” Ezra hissed viciously, the dark side in him rising like a viper, even this close to death. Seeing how far his Padawan had fallen brought Kanan nothing but sadness.
“Yes, Ezra. Even though I’m the one who’s killed you.”
Ezra coughed, the action involuntarily breaking through his anger to leave the boy breathless. More wet warmth pooled out beneath them in eerie waves with each jolt of Ezra’s body. In a distant way, Kanan was amazed. There was … so much of it despite how long they’d both been lying together bleeding out. An ocean of blood that never seemed to end.
But there was no denying the floods were growing weaker and weaker with each wave.
Ezra drew in a ragged breath, steadying himself despite death’s steady creep.
“Bet … bet you wish you’d never seen me … that day on Lothal.” The bitterness in Ezra’s voice was like a stab to Kanan, one he struggled to endure. “No-none of this would … would’ve happened.”
A small spring of rage welled up in Ezra again. Compared to the typhoon it had been when the boy had arrived earlier, it was almost nothing. Hardly a thought. But Kanan still felt it acutely, and wondered if Ezra was right. That if he hadn’t taken an interest in Ezra, if he hadn’t taken him on as his Padawan and thought him the ways of the Force, none of this would’ve happened. That … that everything and everyone would still be ….
A pained breath slipped from Kanan’s chest as he forced himself to let those thoughts drift away. More warmth filled the puddle in response, and he was under no illusion as to who contributed this time.
“It doesn’t matter anymore, Ezra. We made our choices, and we’re here now.”
“Dead and dying,” Ezra spat out. “Because of you.” Another wet cough interrupted the boy, and Ezra groaned at the end of it. His skin was starting to cool under Kanan’s fingers. Wouldn’t be long now. “You showed me the Force. Taught me how to use it. If I’d never known, I’d never have become this. A monster.”
Kanan didn’t say anything in response because what could he say? He’d thought the same thing ever since Ezra had vanished and plunged himself into darkness, extinguishing the light that had burned so brightly in him since the moment they’d first met. Ezra was right. If Kanan hadn’t brought Ezra into this mess … they wouldn’t both be dying in the graveyard the Ghost had become, surrounded by the bodies of their loved ones.
But would that have been better, given that the work they’d done together had caused the rebellion to grow and flourish into what it was now? Thriving, and strengthening enough to challenge the Empire?
Was it worth the lives of every member of this crew? Was it worth Ezra’s suffering, or the pain he’d inflicted on them in retaliation? Was it enough?
Kanan didn’t know, and he didn’t want to spend his or Ezra’s last moments of life in rumination and guilt.
“We’ve all made mistakes, Ezra. They’re over now.”
“I was supposed to be good,” Ezra whispered suddenly, his voice shaking as his anger abruptly broke. The boy clenched the fabric of Kanan’s pant leg. “I was supposed to be a Jedi. How … how did this happen?”
The sharp anguish in Ezra’s voice undid Kanan, spearing him through the heart. His face twisted and he took a jagged breath.
“I don’t know, Ezra.”
And he didn’t. How many nights of sleep had he lost searching for the answer to that question? Had it been Maul? Had it been the Sith holocron? Malachor? Did it go back as far as the inquisitors? The death of Ezra’s parents?
Had he been the one to accidentally push Ezra to the dark side?
Even on the brink of death, Kanan didn’t know. Whatever the catalyst, it had taken Ezra with an unstoppable swiftness and darkened him. Pitted the boy against everything he’d once stood for and everyone he’d once loved.
Until Kanan had been forced to strike him down.
“You were always telling me how strong I was,” Ezra whispered, sadness clinging to him now that his anger was fading away with the last trickle of his blood and life. “I guess you were wrong.”
“You were always strong, Ezra,” Kanan breathed as he placed his hand on Ezra’s dark hair, his thumb stroking the boy’s brow. “It was my failure as your Master that allowed this to happen. If there was anyone who wasn’t strong enough, it was me.”
“That’s not true and you know it.” Tears slipped out of Ezra’s eyes. “You were always telling me to be careful. To be aware of the dark side. I didn’t listen, and now … now everyone’s — I killed—!”
A choked sob cut Ezra’s words off this time, and tears rolled down Kanan’s cheeks as he felt the sorrow and the pain radiate off his Padawan. This never should have happened. It had been Kanan’s job to keep Ezra safe. To train him to avoid the dark side so nothing like this would’ve happen.
Mistakes. Kanan’s life was filled with nothing but mistakes and guilt and shame, and the lullaby pill in his pocket was starting to put on weight.
He ignored the urge to pull it out and take it. He’d promised Ezra he wouldn’t go while the boy was still here and as the final act of his life, he wouldn’t. Dark side or not, Kanan was still Ezra’s Master, and he would take his task seriously.
He’d do this right.
The blaring of alarms in the Ghost grew silent in his ears as he continued to stroke Ezra’s hair, focusing instead on the boy’s slowing breath and lagging heartbeat. Ezra’s tears left tracks that Kanan’s fingers brushed with every stroke. How many tears had Kanan wiped away tonight, as he’d born witness to the deaths of his family? Chop’s oil, Zeb’s guilt. Sabine’s pain, and Hera’s—
Kanan’s chest squeezed at the thought of her. The thought of all of them. His hands were stained with the tears and blood of the people who’d depended on him, and who he’d let down.
“Do you think they’ll ever forgive me?” Ezra whispered as his tears started to slow, his lifeforce fading. “Do you think ….”
“You know they’ll forgive you,” Kanan told his Padawan, his voice smooth though his heart clenched and ached. “I forgive you.”
Ezra’s breath was faint, but Kanan felt it. The final pulse of his life. Ezra reached for his hand, and gave it a soft squeeze with the last of the energy he had. “Kanan ….”
“I know,” Kanan choked, tears raining from his blind eyes. “I know. I’m right here.”
No words answered his, but through their connection in the Force there was no need. Dark as Ezra had become, the bond they shared still flowed deep, and everything unsaid – everything meaningful that needed to be said – was conveyed in sparks of sorrow, faint swaths of understanding, and lukewarm blooms of love and forgiveness. Through it all, Kanan brushed Ezra’s hair with his fingers, listening to his Padawan’s heartbeat as it slowed and slowed.
Kanan’s strokes stuttered to a stop when the bond between them fell slack, evaporating into a fathomless void with the last shallow breath that had slipped from between Ezra’s lips.
Kanan had endured a great deal of death in his life. As a survivor of the Clone Wars and Jedi purge, he’d thought he’d endured it all. And to avoid the possibility of a repeat, he’d taken to a roaming, solitary life until Hera had found him and swept him up into her orbit.
But he’d let people in again, even knowing the potential consequences. With Hera, he’d built a family. Found people he cared about, and who’d cared about him. Shared himself. Had dreams. Had hopes.
And once again, he found himself standing alone over the ruins of what might have been. Over the ruins of every good thing he’d ever had.
More blood seeped from his wounds into the cooling puddle of his and Ezra’s blood, and now that Ezra was gone he wished it would go faster. He’d seen enough. He’d endured enough. His family was dead. His job ensuring Ezra was stopped was complete. There was nothing left now but to die, and he just … just wanted that to finally happen. To be over, and to end the tragedy of his life and let his aching heart stop.
He was done.
With numb fingers, Kanan dug into the pouch at his waist until he found the lullaby pill and pulled it out. It was so small in his palm. Tiny. All he’d have to do was find the strength to make the distance between where his hand rested on his hip, up to his mouth. Work past the dry lump in his throat and swallow it down. Wait, and let the pill do its job so he could follow Ezra and the others and be done.
That’s all it would take.
Kanan held the suicide pill in his palm, weighing it and his decision about it for a long, agonizing moment … before letting it slip from his fingers and leaning his head back against the wall. Truth was, he wasn’t sure why he’d taken it with him at all. He’d already known he wasn’t likely to survive the confrontation. Been prepared for it.
But even with the option of ending it early now that everyone was gone, he just … couldn’t bring himself to do it. It didn’t matter that there was no one left and he was alone. Ezra’s rage had killed … everyone. Chopper. Zeb. Sabine. Even Hera and the Ghost. Kanan had been unable to protect them, and they’d been unable to stop Ezra. Now there was nothing left for him, except to wait for death to finally come and meet him.
And he found he’d rather ride all the way to the end of the line, rather than jump off early.
As if reacting to his decision, his thoughts shifted. Alone now, Kanan had intended to review all the pain and suffering he’d felt and caused throughout his life as penance for what had ultimately occurred at the end, but instead it wasn’t punishment he inflicted on himself.
It was happiness.
Thoughts and memories of the crew filled his mind, all the good times. Wild adventures. Narrow escapes. Unbelievable successes. Being harassed by Chopper in the middle of a battle. Evenings spent together over meals as they all poked fun at each other, or watched a holovid and made stupid commentary throughout the entire show. Nights spent putting a tired Sabine or Ezra or drunk Zeb to bed, or being led to bed himself by Hera’s careful touch.
Like a cooling balm, Kanan’s thoughts narrowed on Hera, beautiful Hera, and everything that had been between them, realized and not. There had been so much potential, he’d felt it from the first moment he’d met her. He knew she’d felt the same.
That was gone now. She was gone. Their family was gone.
But at least this time, he wouldn’t have to salvage a broken life with broken pieces that wouldn’t fit together again. This time, he’d be going too, into death and into the Force where everyone he’d ever cared about and ever loved were already waiting.
Kanan couldn’t help the broken smile which flitted at the edge of his lips as he thought about that. Really … it didn’t seem so bad. He’d always warred between the selfless nature of the Jedi, and the selfish nature that had served him well in surviving. Over the last few years, he’d been so selfless in an effort to be the Jedi he wanted to be. The Jedi everyone needed him to be.
It couldn’t be so bad if, this one last time, he decided to be just a little selfish. To stop struggling to live, and just … let go.
As his fingers chilled and his blood finished oozing out of him, Kanan relaxed. He couldn’t hear the alarms anymore. He couldn’t smell the smoke, or taste copper in his mouth. But he could see things again. Things he hadn’t been able to see since Maul blinded him. Objects. Color. People long dead. Recently dead. They crowded around him, waiting with smiles filled with love and patience.
“I love you,” Kanan whispered to the apparitions. “I love every single one of you.”
“We know,” Hera said in his ear as she knelt beside him. Ezra was on the other side now, whole and himself again, no trace of the dark side clinging to him. Sabine and Zeb stood behind them, their eyes soft as they waited. Even Chopper, impossible as that seemed, was there. Hera caught his attention again with her beautiful green eyes. There was so much kindness there, and understanding. There was so much love. “We’ve always known, Kanan.”
He wanted to tell them he was sorry, so sorry for everything that had happened to them. They’d all died trying to stop Ezra, when it had been his responsibility to keep the boy on the path of the light side.
“But we’re a family, Kanan,” Sabine pointed out, having read his mind. “He may have been your Padawan, but he was also our family too. We were just as responsible.”
“We wanted to be,” Zeb agreed. “It was never all on you, mate. We did what we did because we loved him too.” The Lasat turned his gaze to where Ezra knelt. “We still do, no matter what you’ve done.”
Ezra looked down, his blue eyes sad but he still gave them all a painful smile. “I know. I never meant to hurt any of you.”
“We know,” Hera said again as she put her hand on Ezra’s shoulder. Then she pulled away and all her focus sat on Kanan, and it felt as if it was just the two of them now, alone and intimate. A wave of cold weakness swept through Kanan, and he knew he was close.
“Close your eyes, luv,” Hera told him gently. “I’ll sing you a lullaby, until you fall asleep.”
The last tears of his life rolled from Kanan’s eyes as his breath hitched. “Did I ever tell you how much I loved the sound of your voice?”
Hera stroked his cheek. “You never had to.”
Kanan choked on a sob, but nodded and did as she told him. He closed his eyes and shut everything out but the sound of her voice.
It was easy to do. His body was shutting down. Kanan couldn’t even feel it anymore. He … he wasn’t even sure he could sense anything in the Force either. But he could hear her. He heard her as if she was right next to him, gently singing a song he knew, but somehow couldn’t understand, soothing and soft. He heard her as if her voice was the only thing in existence. The only thing that mattered, here at the end.
Kanan remembered so long ago, when he’d first met Hera. He’d heard her first, before anything else, and he remembered how beautiful it had been then. It was just as beautiful now.
Just as beautiful.
Darkness closed in, and the sound of her voice grew softer and softer and softer, her lullaby pulling him along, leading him away until finally … Kanan breathed no more, and the lullaby faded away.