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Not How Your Story Ends

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It had been two hours since they had sent Ezra to bed and Zeb decided it was high time to join him. He had been doing his best to avoid the kid all day (at Hera's request), but refused to give up his room for the night just cause the brat got sick.

He was just about to call it a day before Hera caught him by the arm and thrust the medkit and a tray of food towards his chest, the items almost tumbling out of his grasp before he could even understand what was happening.

Looking down at the items suddenly imposed upon him, Zeb's ears flattened against his head, growling slightly. "Wass'is for?" he grumbled, already displeased with the answer.

"Ezra," she answered simply. "I've got some things I need to take care of around the ship, so I need *you* to make sure he eats something and to check his fever again."

Zeb groaned, less than eager about the idea of playing nurse for a sniffling kid. "Why do I hafta do this?!"

Hera started walking toward the cockpit, responding without even looking back at him, "I just explained why! Now go do it before I chuck all your space waffles down the garbage compacter!"

Murmuring some less than kind words under his breath, Zeb begrudgingly accepted his position and headed back towards his shared room.

Arms full, Zeb stretched to press the release button with his foot, desperately trying to maintain his balance with all the crap he was holding. After a moment, the cabin door flew open, but before Zeb could even get back to equilibrium, he was assaulted by the sound of his bunkmate hacking out his lungs into his sheets. It was a pitiful sight, seeing the usually spirited boy looking so vulnerable and small - well, smaller that is.

As the fit continued, Zeb walked over and set the items at the foot of the bed before giving the teen a few awkward pats on the shoulder. Despite an initial flinch, Ezra surprisingly didn’t fight the touch and instead just continued to focus on his breathing.

Once he finally began to catch his breath, Zeb pushed a glass of water towards him. An offer Ezra promptly refused.

“Kid, come on," Zeb grumbled, legitimate concern lacing his voice. "‘Yer sick, ya gotta have fluids or whateve' if ya wanna get better."

But Ezra just continued to gasp and resist. “I feel sick…” he sputtered, “Feel like… gonna… throw up….” he trailed, grasping at his sheets desperately.

Zeb began to panic, having no idea what to do in this sort of situation. Looking around for an answer, he quickly retrieved a small waste bin that lay upside down on the other side of the room and thrust it into the teen’s arms.

“Here, if ya have to hurl, do it in that!” he panted, his mind still reeling. Ezra almost immediately began to retch into the bucket, bringing up very little. Zeb couldn't help but wince at the noise, his ears flattening against his head as he patiently waited for the fit to subside before offering up the water again. This time, Ezra reluctantly accepted, but only managed a few sips before collapsing back down onto his mattress in an exhausted heap.

“Hold up, kid," Zeb shook him slightly, trying to prevent him from falling back asleep so soon. "Before ya’ conk out again, Hera wanted me to check ‘yer fever an’ get ya to eat a bit. I know ‘yer prolly not in the mood fer eatin’, but ya’ know Hera'll have my hide if I don't get ya to take at least a few bites,” he stabbed, hoping the little attempt at humor landed.

The teen just whimpered affirmatively, allowing his hulking roommate to press the cold sensor of the thermometer against his burning skin without a fight.

Zeb waited in awkward silence for the tool to present its readings and then stepped back to observe the results.

“Uhhh, kid? Do you know how high yer’ fever was before?” he asked, straining to read the tiny numbers in the dim confines of their shared cabin.

Ezra coughed, squinting at his roommate with confusion. “103 something? I think?”

Zeb hummed in acknowledgement. “Yeah, it’s about the same now. Guess you just gotta keep that cold pack goin’ like Hera said." Zeb quietly set aside the medkit, grabbing the dinner tray instead. "Think you can sit up and have a few bites a’ this stew? Hera told me it was some kind a vegetable stew ‘er somethin’. I don’t know, but it’s supposed to be easy on yer’ stomach,” he explained, inching it closer to the boy's reach.

Ezra shrugged weakly and hoisted himself up against the wall of his bunk, reaching forward pathetically to receive his meal. The teen ate slowly, only managing a few bites before scrunching up his face and returning the dish to his roommate then flopping back down on his bed, exhausted from just the small amount of activity.

If Zeb wasn’t worried before, he definitely was now. The kid could usually eat almost as much as himself on an average day. Even when he wasn’t feeling one-hundred percent, he would usually at least choke down whatever meals Hera gave him. A habit, he mused, he probably picked up from all the years of near-starvation he faced on the streets. Zeb knew how it was - when you got food, you ate as much of it as you could before it disappeared. Long story short, if the kid wasn’t eating, then things must be worse than they seemed.

Either way, Zeb told himself that the job he was given was complete, and that he should just put up his gear and hit the hay himself. But something stopped him from doing so. Perhaps it was intuition, or perhaps it was just pity, but Zeb felt the need to double-check with the ill teenager before he went off to take care of himself.

“Oi, kid. You, ah… you need anything else before I go?” he asked tentatively, wondering if the kid was even still awake at this point. He received no immediate response, just the sound of labored breathing echoing throughout the tiny bunk room, followed by an almost pathetically hoarse coughing fit. Catching his breath, Ezra looked him in the eye.

“Can you get Hera?” His voice broke, causing a pang of sympathy to ripple its way through Zeb's chest. Ezra may have been nearing adulthood at this point, but his voice in that moment carried the fear and desperation of a child. Zeb felt utterly overwhelmed by the his vulnerability in that moment. Ezra was always so tough, so guarded. It felt wrong seeing him like this.

“Yeah, kid, just hold on,” he answered, eager to leave the pitiful scene behind as quickly as possible. “She’ll be right back.”

---

Zeb entered the kitchenette area to find Hera in a fit of what the crew called “stress repairs”. It made sense given their circumstances. When your career consists primarily of messing with an all-powerful dictatorship, little things like minor appliance fixes weren’t usually high on the priority list. But on the rare occasions like these in which they weren’t in any immediate mortal danger, Hera was forced to take out the nervous energy built up from their “active” lifestyle in less arduous activities, such as her current target: the mess hall faucet that had been persistently dripping for as long as any one member of the crew could remember.

Zeb almost hated to interrupt her, as he figured the task was probably helping her take her mind off this crap-shoot of a day, but remembering the desperation in Ezra’s voice, he knew he had to fulfill his promise to the kid.

Zeb cleared his throat a bit in attempt to capture his captain’s attention. The twi’lek's head quickly shot up from the sink in response before she turned to face him with wide eyes.

“I Hate ta' bother ya, but Ezra said he wants ta see ya’,” he explained cautiously, moving to place the small food tray into the dish area and return the med kit to it’s designated place.

Hera’s posture immediately stiffened. “Is there something wrong?” she questioned, gently placing down her work, her muscles taught as if she were preparing to strike.

Zeb emptied the remaining contents of the bowl into the garbage chute as he responded. “Not that I can tell. Just went to check on the kid. His fever ain’t any higher, but it ain’t any lower either. He’s not eatin’ though. I tried, but the kid’s still pretty nauseous. ‘Prolly doesn’t have much of an appetite. I’m not sure exactly why, but he asked for ya’, an’ I promised I’d send ya’ his way,” he explained, attempting to shield his captain from how worried he truly was. She had enough on her mind as it was.

The Twi’lek let out a soft sigh, muscles relaxing and shoulders dropping slightly. “Okay then. Just leave the medkit out, we’re going to need it again later,” she instructed as she put down her wrench and moved from her position at the sink and started towards the living area.

---

Hera moved quietly, opening the door to the room that her two crew mates shared and peering in, hoping not to disturb Ezra if he was resting.

"Ezra?" She kept her voice low, holding her breath for a moment as silence ensued. But before she could back out of the room under the assumption that the boy had fallen back asleep, a pair of glassy, blue eyes rose to meet her own before shutting tightly once more in pain, making her heart twist in sympathy. She quietly made her way to his bedside, mindful of any noise that could aggravate the boy’s headache, keeping her voice as low and soft as possible before speaking. “Ezra, how are you feeling?”

Ezra, who seemed to be more blanket than boy at that point, squinted up at the woman, his fever-addled mind obviously just barely hanging onto his last dredges of consciousness.

“C-cold…” he sputtered, “I c-can’t-t sleep. K-keep having…. N-night-tmares-s”. He was obviously exhausted and barely lucid.

“Do you want me to get Kanan?” she turned, unsure of what he wanted her to do and ready to fetch the older Jedi, but Ezra quickly shook his head, looking almost hurt.

“N-no. It’s nothing with t-the Force," he assured, "Plus, he’d-d probably make me m-meditate or s-something,” he quipped, letting out a soft chuckle that turned into a barking cough.

Hera grimaced, placing her palm against his forehead and cringing at the heat she felt. “I know how you feel. I must have gotten Cavern Fever at least a dozen times as a kid. It always gave me the worst dreams. My mother would always end up sitting with me all night, just talking to me and trying to keep my mind off of the nightmares.”

Ezra hummed and burrowed deeper into his blankets with a shiver. “My parents used t-to do that t-too, w-whenever I-I got sick o-or hurt.”

Hera hummed slightly, wondering if this was his way of asking for comfort. But comfort was difficult for her. Of course she loved Ezra, and wanted to offer whatever she could to him, but Emotions and comfort were Kanan’s thing. He was the Jedi. He was the one who knew Ezra better than all of them. The one who had been there during Ahsoka, and his parents, and Maul. He was the shoulder Ezra cried into.

So why in the galaxy did he want her?

Suddenly, another sharp coughing fit tore her from her deep thoughts. She looked down to see Ezra’s face contorted in pain as each convulsion tore through him, leaving him grappling for air in short gasps. Easing out of her initial panic, she gently reached out to rub the teen’s back soothingly, but while doing so, noticed something somewhat odd. Despite the continuous and harsh coughing wracking Ezra’s small frame, he was hardly arching his back at all. In fact, despite his intense shaking, his spine and neck seemed to be staying primarily straight throughout the entire fit. Even the small range of motion he was able to achieve seemed to be causing intense discomfort judging from his pained expressions.

Once the fit had subsided, Hera helped Ezra resituate himself before questioning her observation.

“Ezra, is your back bothering you?” she asked, keeping her tone quiet as she guided him to his side to further examine the issue.

Ezra moaned slightly, muscles protesting strongly from the movement. “It feels s-stiff, l-like it’s swollen-n or someth-thing. Hurts,” he admitted, in too much pain to bother with lies.

Hera’s features contorted is concerned confusion, carefully lifting up her charge’s shirt to scan for any external damage. Gently feeling over the spinal area with the tips of her fingers, she pulled away, unable to find any obvious irregularities.

“Hmmm…” she tutted to herself, unable to think of a reasonable relationship between the teen’s previous symptoms and his current complaint. “Maybe you just slept a bit wrong?”

The offer wasn’t greeted with much enthusiasm, however, as Ezra only gave a weak and doubting hum in response.

Unsure of what else to do, Hera moved to leave the bunk area and gather additional supplies, but was stopped abruptly by an almost pitiful moan emitted by the boy next to her. Looking back with shock, she saw his glassy eyes contorted with a sense of sadness and betrayal, silently begging her to stay there with him.

Shocked, she shot him back a pitying look before gracefully pushing herself from the bunk and turning back to explain. “I’ll be right back, Ezra. I’m just going to grab some muscle oils if I can find them. Hopefully they’ll help a bit with your neck and back. Just try to rest in the meantime,” she cooed, wanting to offer some sort of physical reassurance but unsure of how to go about it all. Instead, she just offered a slight grimace and exited the room without another word.

---

As Hera searched through their limited supplies for what she needed, she couldn’t prevent her mind from racing. Ezra’s symptoms were getting worse by the minute and becoming less and less understandable. What kind of flu causes stiffness, or the slight stutter that she couldn’t help but notice was beginning to permeate his speech? None of it was adding up, and she was beginning to regret her initial optimism.

But perhaps most personally confusing part of all of this, she pondered, was Ezra’s almost clingy behavior towards herself. Of course, it wasn’t unusual for the sick and injured to seek out interpersonal comfort, but Ezra in those moments was never this extreme and almost always turned to Kanan.

Didn’t he?

Sure, his first year or so when the teen was almost constantly ill, she was more often than not the one he reached out to. She was the first one he came out too when he, much to his surprise, started his first period, and she was the one who helped him learn how to read in secrecy when he was too embarrassed to approach the others, but all of this was before his parents. Before Malachor. Before he finally started to truly trust his Master and seek him out in times of need. A change, she thought proudly, that she had quietly pushed him towards from the beginning.

So, the question still remained: why did he want her?

She shook her head and pushed the piling thoughts from her mind as she stumbled upon her targets. Gathering the small, nearly empty jar of muscle relaxer in her hand, she looked around and decisively grabbed the medkit to bring back with her. They would need it soon enough anyways.

Quietly making her way back over to the beds, Hera smiled slightly to see that Ezra had dozed off in the short time of her absence. Making a quick judgement call, she left the items near the foot of the bunk and left her charge to finally get some much-needed rest.