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Taking Shelter

Chapter Text

Ezra quietly crawled along the tree branch he was perched on, his eyes fixed on the kaabore on the ground below him.  He carefully shifted his feet, not making a sound, as he prepared to jump from the tree.  He could snap the animal’s neck using the Force, but he needed to do it with his hands.  He needed to feel its death, and not just in his mind.

As his hand closed around the vibroblade he kept in his boot -- a lightsaber would be too fast, no time to really feel it -- something brushed lightly across the back of his neck.  Ezra gasped and clung to the branch as he lost his balance.  The kaabore ran off, scared away by the sound.  Out of the corner of his eye, Ezra saw a leaf from the tree he was in slide off his shoulder and fall to the ground.  His breathing slowed down as he realized that must have been what touched his neck.

He tightened his grip around the tree branch, taking comfort in the feeling of the bark digging into his skin.  He was safe here on Orsis.  He wasn’t on Altier. He was alone.  No one had touched him.  There was no one nearby to touch him.

As the momentary surge of fear faded, Ezra glanced up at the portion of the sky visible through the branches above him.  The sun would begin setting in a few hours.  He should be getting home.

Ezra dropped from the tree branch, wincing at the pain that shot through his legs as his feet hit the ground.  The wounds to the backs of his legs were mostly healed, but the area around the scars still ached at times.

As Ezra began the trek back home, quick twinges of pain accompanied every step.  He must have strained the injuries as he climbed the tree.  He shoved the pain to the back of his mind.  He’d certainly had worse than a small ache before.

Ezra kept his senses on high alert for anything approaching as he made his way through the trees, occasionally reaching out and brushing the tips of his fingers along their bark.  He knew when he got home, Maul would be watching him and scrutinizing him more closely than usual, trying to determine if any more damage had been done, and he wasn’t looking forward to it.  Maul didn’t worry, but he had put years into training Ezra, and had seen all of that effort nearly undone completely.  He kept a closer eye on Ezra now, and Ezra did everything he could to make up for nearly destroying his master’s plans for him.

Ezra supposed he should count himself lucky that his master allowed him to leave home at all at this point.  It had been two months since Maul had decided Ezra could leave by himself again, and Ezra took advantage of every time Maul gave him permission to.  After months of almost never being allowed to leave his master’s side, Ezra had been desperate for any chance to be alone with his own thoughts, even when those thoughts went to places he couldn’t stand to remember.

When he reached the edge of the forest, Ezra stopped in his tracks, giving himself a last chance to breathe the fresh air before he went inside.  He’d loved being outside ever since he’d first been allowed out of the building years ago, and opening the window in his room just wasn’t the same.

Ezra sighed and walked out of the cover of the trees.  His master would soon sense his presence, if he hadn’t already.  As he entered the building, the door closed behind him, cutting off the sunlight and leaving him in the lower light of the corridor.  It was comforting to him in a different way than being outside was.  It was dark, but it was familiar.  It was home.

Ezra reached out with his mind, locating Maul’s presence and brushing against his mind like a tap on his shoulder, letting Maul know he was there.  He felt a tug against his mind that he recognized as Maul calling to him.  Ezra flinched at the feeling, like a rope or a leash around his neck being yanked.  It had never stood out this much to him before, but now, even though the feeling was only in his head, he felt a phantom pressure on his throat, one that had never happened before Altier.

The pressure quickly disappeared, but even so, for a moment, he was back.  He could feel the Inquisitor’s knee pressing against his chest, pinning him to the ground, her hand around his throat, her yellow eyes staring down at him, seeming to grow brighter as if she was feeding off his fear.

Ezra shook his head, pressing the heels of his hands against his eyes.  He didn’t want his master to see him like this.  He already thought Ezra was physically and mentally fragile.  Weak.  An empty shell of his former self.  In the first few days, he’d been terrified that his master would give up on him completely, write him off as a lost cause, too weak to be worth training.  Maul was only just beginning to see him as being close to whole again, and Ezra didn’t want show anything that could jeopardize that.

When he reached the training room, he found his master waiting for him.  For a moment, Maul watched him silently.  Ezra couldn’t sense Maul reaching into his mind, but it seemed like he was searching for something.

“What happened?” Maul asked.

“Nothing happened,” Ezra said.

“Ezra,” Maul said, his voice stern.  “You know you can’t lie to me.  I sensed your fear.”

Ezra shifted nervously where he stood, one hand fiddling with his opposite sleeve.  He knew his bond with Maul was strong and hiding things from him was nearly impossible.  There was no point in trying.  Maul always saw right through it.

“It isn’t important,” Ezra said.  “I thought I felt something, but it wasn’t -- it was nothing.”

Ezra looked down at the floor, feeling like something was tightening around his throat.  Somehow, saying he'd been scared by nothing at all was easier than saying it was a leaf.  He hated admitting it at all, knowing it just made him look weak, but Maul was right.  Ezra couldn’t lie to him.  And with what his master had planned for him, what he’d been training Ezra to do, he needed to know everything that happened in Ezra’s head, to make sure he was ready to be trusted with the responsibility of striking back against the Empire.

Ezra took a breath, steeling himself for what he was about to say.  He’d been thinking it since the day he’d been rescued, but first he’d been recovering from injuries, and then Maul had made it perfectly clear he wouldn’t be leaving Orsis again for a long time.

“I want to find her, Master,” Ezra said, his voice quiet.  “I want to kill her.  It’s been months.  I can do this and I -- I need it.”

His voice broke and he clenched his jaw tightly.  He hadn’t cried then, and he wouldn’t cry at the memory of it.

“You are not ready to face an Inquisitor again,” Maul said, his voice harsh.  “Least of all her.”

“I --”

“Do you think I don’t sense your nightmares?” Maul asked.  “That I don’t hear you screaming when you wake up, calling for help?”

Ezra’s hands clenched into fists at his sides.  He knew his master had nightmares of his own, but he wasn’t about to point that out.  And he knew Maul was better at handling his nightmares and hiding them.  Ezra had only found out about them during a sleepless night years ago when he’d been trying to practice connecting to other creatures through the Force and had brushed up against Maul’s mind.  He didn’t wake up screaming like Ezra did, terrified of everything until he remembered he was safe.

“When we train together, you can barely hold your lightsaber without shaking with fear,” Maul said.  “If you can't face me, how can you face an Inquisitor?  You are not ready, Ezra.”

“Yes, I am!” Ezra said, the words coming out before he could stop them, his anger compromising his judgement.  “I’ll never be able to move past this until she’s dead.  You’ve always told me my anger and hatred make me stronger and there is no one I hate more than her.”

Ezra’s voice died in his throat as he looked up to see his master staring him down with fury in his eyes.  Something went tight in his chest and his posture went rigid as he froze, as if he were pinned in place by his master’s gaze.  He shouldn’t have argued.  His master knew better than he did what it took to face an Inquisitor.  He should have known better than to question Maul’s decision.  If Maul said he wasn’t ready, he wasn’t.

“F--forgive me, Master,” Ezra said, lowering his gaze back to the floor.

Expecting a blow, Ezra was caught off guard as the Force slammed against him and he was thrown back.  He hit the wall and fell to the floor.

“If you believe you’re ready to face an Inquisitor,” Maul said as he strode toward Ezra, “then prove it.”

In one quick, fluid motion, Maul ignited his lightsaber and lunged at Ezra, bringing the blade down in a swift arc that would have cut Ezra in two.  Ezra’s hand closed around his own lightsaber, activating it quickly and bringing it up to catch Maul’s blade on his.

Ezra shoved his free hand outward and the Force followed his direction.  Maul was thrown back, giving Ezra just enough time to get to his feet before Maul came at him again, his second blade bursting to life, both blades spinning through the air as he leapt at Ezra.

Ezra blocked the strike from one blade that would have hit his neck.  As Maul disengaged and launched into another attack, Ezra dropped back to the floor, rolling out of the way.  He got to his feet and swung around behind Maul, shoving his blade toward his master’s chest.  Maul pivoted, deflecting Ezra’s blade easily.  He reached out and Ezra felt the Force close around him, an unseen grip dragging him forward.  As he was drawn closer, he swung his lightsaber wildly at Maul, who deflected the blow, knocking Ezra’s lightsaber from his hand.  Ezra gasped for air as Maul wrenched him forward, driving a fist into his stomach before flinging him back once again.

Ezra hit the far wall and crumpled to the ground.  He reached out, calling his lightsaber to his hand.  As the smooth metal of the hilt settled into his palm, Ezra stumbled to his feet, igniting the blade again.  He had barely taken one step forward when Maul reached out a hand toward him and something pushed its way into Ezra’s mind.  Pain spread from Ezra’s head through his whole body, just as it had months ago in that run-down cabin in the woods.

Ezra took another shaking step forward, his hand tightening around his lightsaber as he tried to fight his way through the pain.  The presence in his mind dug deeper, like claws sinking into him.  Ezra barely noticed as he dropped his weapon, the pain driving him to his knees.  His fingers tangled in his hair as if he could physically tear the presence from his mind.  The pain coursed through him, sheer agony tearing him apart again.

Don’t pass out on me yet, little one.  I still want to hear you scream.

With a shriek of pain and rage, Ezra pushed his hand out, throwing Maul back against the wall.  With Maul’s focus broken, the pain subsided, and Ezra grabbed his lightsaber and lunged to his feet.  He raced toward Maul, his weapon raised, slashing at his side in a wild, furious attack that was easily deflected.  Ezra attacked again and again, throwing his rage behind every strike, burning it like fuel as he drove Maul back against the wall.  As Maul caught Ezra’s blade on his, blocking a blow to his chest, a burst of pain spread through Ezra’s leg as Maul kicked his knee.  Ezra gritted his teeth, refusing to acknowledge the pain.  He twisted his blade, wrenching his master’s lightsaber from his hand.  As he caught the falling weapon, he slammed the end of his own hilt into Maul’s chest, following through with a push through the Force to knock him to the ground.

Ezra stood there, breathing heavily, two blades crossed over Maul’s neck, staring down at his master as the anger that had carried him through the fight began to fade.  He stepped back, switching both weapons off and holding Maul’s lightsaber out toward him.  As Maul stood and took the weapon from his hand, Ezra bowed his head slightly, waiting for his master’s verdict.

“It appears I was wrong,” Maul said, his hand resting on Ezra’s shoulder.  “You may never be back to your old self, but you are ready.”

“Thank you, Master,” Ezra said, barely able to believe he’d really just heard Maul say that.  Had he been planning this?  Some last test when Ezra finally claimed he was ready?

“We leave in the morning,” Maul told him.

“Where?” Ezra asked.

“The last place either of us encountered an Inquisitor,” Maul said, his eyes boring into Ezra’s as if daring him to show any fear.

Ezra’s stomach dropped, his heart skipping a beat as he did everything he could to keep his emotions off of his face.  They were going back to Altier.


 

That night, Ezra lay awake in his bed, staring blankly up into the darkness that surrounded him.  He’d been trying, but sleep was stubbornly refusing to come.  He didn’t know if it was knowing that they were returning to Altier, or if it was just the usual fear that had been haunting him in the months since what had happened there.

For weeks after his master had rescued him, he’d used the Force to render Ezra unconscious every night, but Ezra would never dare to ask him to do it, especially not now.  Now, he just had to wait and see if sleep would come normally.  But that was nearly impossible when he couldn’t close his eyes without seeing her looming over him, feeling the knife sliding across his bare chest or the flat edge of it pushed up against his throat, hearing her whisper in his ear that his master would never find him.

Ezra pressed his hands over his ears, as if he could block out her voice, taunting him, whispering threats and twisted promises.  Soon enough, it wouldn’t matter.  She would be dead by his hand and his master would know that he was truly ready to return to the fight against the Empire.  Then, things would finally be better, wouldn’t they?


 

Ezra was thrown to the floor, pain bursting along his spine as he fell.  The Mirialan woman stood over him, a vicious smile on her face.  Ezra tried to drag himself back, away from her, but he couldn’t move, couldn’t even make his fingers twitch.

“Stay back,” he muttered, barely able to make his voice work.

“And how do you plan on making me?” she asked with a sinister laugh.

She reached out a hand toward him and the pain began, spreading through him as she reached into his mind, clawing at him through the Force like she was trying to tear him apart.  Ezra’s vision blurred and his eyes rolled back.

There was a weight on his chest and his face burned as a hand slapped him hard enough to make his head spin.  His eyes snapped open to see her face just inches from his as she straddled his chest, gripping his jaw tightly in one hand.

“Don’t pass out on me yet, little one,” she said.  “We’re only just getting started.”

Ezra couldn’t do anything to resist as she pulled his shirt up, yanking it off.  She drew a knife from her belt where it hung beside her lightsaber and ran the tip across his chest before she dug it into his skin.

“I still want to hear you scream.”


 

Ezra threw a hand over his mouth as his eyes opened.  His breathing was heavy and fast as his mind caught up with the fact that he was awake.

He slowly sat up, drawing his knees up to his chest.  Light was beginning to creep through the window.  As Ezra stared at the trails of golden sunlight that stretched across his bed, it settled into his mind that they were leaving today.  They were going back to Altier, where that Inquisitor had tortured him, enjoying every moment of it.

As he stood up, he felt a knot form in his chest and tried to rein in his fear.  It had been months since they’d been to that planet.  There was no reason for her to still be there.  It was just a place to pick up the trail.  There was almost no chance he would encounter her anytime soon.  And when he finally did, he would face her head-on and make her pay for everything she’d done.


 

Ezra froze in his tracks for a moment as he followed his master through the Altier forest.  They were so close to where it had happened.  Ezra could feel the echoes of his screams and pain through the Force, reaching across the months that had passed to dig their way into this mind again.  Or maybe it was the echoes that had followed him for all those months, only feeling stronger here because of his memories.

“Ezra,” Maul said, looking back impatiently.

Ezra hurried to keep up with him as he was jolted out of his thoughts.

“What do you think we’re going to find here, Master?” Ezra asked.  He was beginning to wonder if coming back to Altier hadn’t been about picking up a trail at all, but instead had been another test for Ezra to face.

“You may be able to sense where the Inquisitor went after she left this planet,” Maul said.

“Me?” Ezra asked.

“You have a gift for connection,” Maul reminded him.  “And you know her presence in the Force.”

Ezra felt a nervous flutter in his stomach.  Maul was right.  He knew the Inquisitor’s presence in the Force intimately.  She’d dug through every corner of his mind, not for information, but just to cause as much pain and terror as she could.

“You said you were ready, Ezra,” Maul said, a warning in his voice as he sensed Ezra’s feelings.

“I am,” Ezra said.

Maul stopped abruptly in his tracks, signaling for Ezra to do the same.  Ezra could feel his master reaching out through the Force, searching for something.

“Master?” Ezra asked hesitantly.

“I sense a presence,” he said, more to himself than to Ezra.  “It feels almost…familiar.”

Ezra’s breath caught in his throat and he instinctively reached for his lightsaber.

“Not her,” Maul said.  “She is long gone.”

Ezra reached out with his own mental net, trying to figure out what his master was sensing.  In the distance, he could feel them.  He and Maul weren’t the only Force sensitives here.  There were three others.  One a barely-present flicker of light, one a brilliant glow like a star, and the other a dark shadow.  He knew the shadow wasn’t the Inquisitor who’d tortured him, but it was unmistakably another Inquisitor.  And this one was close.

“If there’s an Inquisitor here, there’s a ship,” Ezra said, the first shreds of a plan beginning to form in his mind.  “One that could give us the coordinates of their base.  If we can find it --”

“That won't be happening,” a voice said from somewhere above him.

Ezra looked up to see a figure in black armor, a helmet covering his face, crouching on a tree branch high above where they stood, looking like an animal about to pounce on its prey.

In unison, Ezra and Maul drew their lightsabers and ignited them.  The Inquisitor laughed and leapt from the tree, igniting his own lightsaber, the blades spinning as he swung them at Maul’s head.  Maul deflected the blow and lunged forward, dragging one of his blades across the Inquisitor’s arm.

The Inquisitor let out a growl of anger and pushed a hand out, throwing Maul back against a tree.  Ezra raised his own weapon and struck at the Inquisitor’s arm, only for him to dodge the attack and slam his elbow against Ezra’s face.  As Ezra stumbled back, his head spinning, the Inquisitor reached out, seizing Maul through the Force and slamming his head back against the tree again before dropping his unconscious body to the ground.

With a shout of fury, Ezra leapt at the Inquisitor, wildly slashing his blade through the air, not even aiming for any part of his body in particular.  The Inquisitor caught Ezra’s blade on one of his own, his foot quickly coming up to kick Ezra in the stomach, knocking him to the ground.

“You’re not the child I came here for,” the Inquisitor said as he towered over Ezra.  “But you’ll do.”

He reached out a hand toward Ezra, who felt the air close around his throat as he was lifted off the ground.

“And Seventh Sister said you would be difficult,” the Inquisitor said.  Ezra could practically hear the mocking smile he was sure was on the man’s face.

Ezra kept his grip tight on his lightsaber, trying to focus only on it and not on the pressure around his neck.  Summoning all of his rapidly-fading strength, he slashed his blade forward, the very end of it just slicing across the Inquisitor’s wrist.

The Inquisitor’s grip on him vanished and Ezra was dropped to the ground again.  Knowing the pain wouldn’t distract the Inquisitor for long, Ezra turned away and began to run.  Seconds later, he heard the sound of someone crashing through the trees and bushes behind him, close on his trail.

Ezra reached out through the Force, feeling for his master’s presence, trying to push him back into consciousness.  He could just feel it beginning to work when his focus was broken as he tripped over a fallen log in his path.  As he got to his feet, his palms and face stinging where he’d hit the ground, he shook his head.  He had to keep his focus on running, on watching where he was going and keeping as much distance between himself and the Inquisitor as possible.  His master was stronger and more powerful than he would ever be.  He would be okay.

Chapter Text

Ahsoka no longer needed to sense the Inquisitor’s presence in the Force.  She could hear him, twigs snapping under his feet as he ran through the forest.  She’d tracked him to this planet after months of him trying to track her, and she still had no idea why he’d come here.  But soon enough, she would catch up to him and maybe she would finally get some answers and find out just what was so special about this place that would draw an Inquisitor to it.

She caught sight of him ahead of her, a now-familiar figure in black armor, leaping over obstacles in his path with ease.  She threw her hand out, reaching through the Force as he jumped over a fallen log and pulling him back toward her, throwing him to the ground at her feet.

She drew her lightsabers and ignited them just as the Inquisitor sprang back to his feet.  She blocked a wild slash at her neck, trapping one of the Inquisitor’s blades between the two of hers.  He switched off the blades and seconds later, metal spikes emerged from the outer ring of his lightsaber.  He lunged forward, one of the spikes digging into Ahsoka’s arm and slashing through her skin.

Ahsoka kicked the Inquisitor’s side, knocking him away from her before she leapt at him, bringing one of her blades down in an arc aimed at his lightsaber only for him to dodge the attack.  As he stepped behind her, she heard the snap-hiss of his lightsaber being activated again.

She quickly turned around to see the two blades slashing down through the air toward her head.  She ducked, swinging one of her lightsabers out in an arc that slashed across the Inquisitor’s abdomen as she dodged out of the way.  The Inquisitor froze, staring down at the fatal wound.  As he tried to lunge at Ahsoka one last time, she only had to step out of the way, kicking his lightsaber away from him as he fell to the ground and dropped it.

“Why did you come here?” Ahsoka asked.

“I’ll be dead in minutes,” the Inquisitor said.  “There’s nothing you can do to make me talk.”

Ahsoka switched her lightsabers off and hung them on her belt.  As she walked away, she reached out, pulling his lightsaber into her hand so he couldn’t use it in one last, desperate attack before he died.  She knew he wasn’t going to tell her anything.  He was right.  He would be dead shortly and so he had nothing to lose.

Her next best shot was to find his ship and see what information she could learn from it.  She took off running through the forest, in the direction of the village she knew was nearby.  It was as good a place to start as any, and it wasn’t like she ran the risk of the Inquisitor returning to his ship and leaving the planet.  She focused on the feeling of the Force around her, trying to pick up any kind of trail he might have left that could tell her where he’d been.  She was so focused on it that she didn’t see the dark blur in the trees ahead of her until a small human skidded to a halt right in front of her and drew a weapon, a familiar snap-hiss filling the air as he leapt at her.

Ahsoka dropped the Inquisitor’s lightsaber and drew her own, blocking her attacker’s blade just before it could slash through the armor on her chest.  So there were two Inquisitor’s on Altier.


 

As Ezra ran, he saw a figure take shape in the trees ahead of him.  Seconds later, he saw the lightsaber she held in her hand.  An Inquisitor’s lightsaber.  His hand flew to his own weapon, drawing and activating it without hesitation before he attacked.  Two glowing blades burst to life in her hands and she blocked his wild strike at her chest.  Ezra stared at the blades, which were white, not red.  His distraction only lasted a second before he disengaged and slashed at her legs.  She avoided the attack by leaping up into the air, catching a tree branch far above his head and dragging herself onto it.

As she leapt to another tree, and another, Ezra turned in a circle, tracking her movements.  He reached out, grabbing hold of her through the Force, and dragging her from the branches, slamming her heavily against the ground.  As he stabbed at her chest, she caught his blade between hers, trapping it and twisting, flinging his lightsaber from his hand.  One of her feet hooked around his ankle and yanked, sending him falling onto his back.  As she stood up, Ezra caught sight of his lightsaber and rolled onto his hands and knees, reaching for it.

Ezra’s hand was just inches from his lightsaber when it flew out of his reach.  As it shot away from him, a sharp, heavy pain burst across the back of his head and everything went dark.


 

Ahsoka stared down at the figure lying motionless on the ground at her feet.  In the heat of the moment as she’d been attacked, she’d simply acted to defend herself, more focused on the attacker’s blade than on him.  But now that she was able to get a better look at him, she realized that this was a child.

A knot formed in her stomach.  She was somehow both stunned and not at all surprised by the idea that the Inquisitors had children in their ranks.  She wondered if the one she’d killed just moments ago had been this boy’s master, if the Inquisitors operated in some twisted mockery of Jedi traditions.  If that was true, she’d find out soon enough.  The boy was unconscious, but alive, and this might be her only chance to get answers.

Ahsoka’s gaze shifted momentarily to the lightsaber in her hand.  It didn’t look like the lightsabers she’d seen other Inquisitors wield.  It was much simpler, with only a single blade.  It almost reminded her of her own lightsabers when she’d first rebuilt them, thrown together from bits of metal she’d been hoarding.  It wasn’t the lightsaber of someone who had Imperial resources at his disposal.

That troubled her.  A red blade, yellow eyes, and that ferocity with which he fought, like something wild and vicious was trying to escape from him.  If he wasn’t an Inquisitor, what else could he be?

Ahsoka stooped down and lifted the unconscious boy into her arms.  He was surprisingly light, at least according to Ahsoka’s admittedly rough understanding of how big human children were supposed to be at what age.

The boy showed no signs of regaining consciousness as Ahsoka carried him to the edge of the forest where she’d left her ship.  Once they were on board, she laid him down on the floor, not wanting to try to put him in a seat only for him to fall and hit his head again.  It took her a moment to find the shock cuffs she kept in the ship’s small storage compartment.  She rarely needed to use them, so they’d been shoved to the back, behind medical and survival supplies that she used much more frequently.

She locked the cuffs around the boy’s wrists, clipping the trigger to her belt beside her commlink, before grabbing the scanner she kept beside the pilot’s chair.  She ran it through the air just above the boy’s body, making sure she covered every inch of him in her search for trackers and transmitters.  All she found was the comm he wore on his wrist.  It had a tracker built into it, but it wasn’t transmitting at the moment.  Ahsoka quickly removed and disabled it before settling into the pilot’s seat and beginning the ship’s launch sequence.

Once they were out of the atmosphere and Ahsoka had launched the ship into hyperspace, she looked back at the boy, who was still out cold.  She knew she’d never met him before, but there was something about his presence in the Force that seemed almost familiar.  Dark and twisted into an unnatural shape, all rough surfaces and jagged edges.  That familiarity prodded at the back of her mind like the feeling she’d forgotten something and couldn’t think of what it was.

Ahsoka shook her head.  She’d never seen this boy before.  She knew that.  And she had more important things to focus on than some nonspecific nagging feeling in the back of her head.

She tapped into the secure frequency that incoming ships used to communicate with the Rebellion’s mobile base.

Nova to Phoenix Nest,” she said.  “I’m inbound with a prisoner.”

Acknowledged,” a voice said, the transmission distorted by distance.

“He’s out cold,” Ahsoka said.  “I’ll need a way to transport him down to the detention block.  Nova out.”

She ended the transmission and glanced over her shoulder at the boy again before turning her attention back to the transmitter and keying into another frequency, one used by a specific rebel cell that should still be on Phoenix Nest.

“Fulcrum to Spectre One,” she said.

Fulcrum?” Kanan asked, just the slightest hint of confusion in his voice.  “You sure you’re not looking for Spectre Two?”

“Not this time,” Ahsoka said.  “You’re the one I need.”

There was silence on the other end of the transmission, and Ahsoka knew what Kanan must be thinking.  If she was looking for him specifically, it was something to do with the Force, the Jedi, the Inquisitors, everything Kanan had been trying to outrun since Order 66, and even more so in the two years since his identity had been discovered.

“I’m bringing in a prisoner,” Ahsoka said.  “I think he’s an Inquisitor.”

“You think?” Kanan asked.

“We didn’t really have time to chat about it,” Ahsoka said.  “Look, I just thought you should know.  And I could use some help getting him to the detention block without any trouble.”

There was another brief moment of silence before she heard Kanan sigh.

“I’ll be there,” he said, the words coming out reluctantly.


 

As the ship landed inside the carrier’s hangar bay, Kanan glanced quickly at the four Rebellion soldiers who’d been assigned to escort the prisoner to the detention block.  The last thing they needed was anyone getting jumpy or trigger-happy, especially when an Inquisitor was involved.  Kanan would have hoped that command would have the good sense to choose people for this job who wouldn’t be a problem in that area, but he knew that sometimes people didn’t think until after something had already happened.

A moment later, Ahsoka emerged from the ship, carrying a small humanoid figure over her shoulder, and laid the unconscious prisoner on the hover stretcher that floated beside Kanan.  Kanan glanced down at him and something wrenched in his chest as he saw that he was young, maybe twelve at most.

“You really think he’s an Inquisitor?” Kanan asked.  He hadn’t thought to ask when Ahsoka had contacted him, but he’d been expecting an adult.  This wasn’t just a kid, this was a little kid.  If he were a Jedi, he wouldn’t even be old enough to become a padawan yet.

“I think he’s a Force sensitive, steeped in the dark side, with yellow eyes who attacked me with a red lightsaber right after I killed the Inquisitor who's been hunting me,” Ahsoka said, keeping her voice low.  “I can’t really think of anything else he could be.”

“We should get him to the detention block before he wakes up,” one of the soldiers, a blue-skinned Twi’lek woman whose name Kanan hadn’t learned, said.

Kanan and Ahsoka each took hold of one side of the stretcher, the guards following behind them as they made their way to the lift that would take them to the cells two levels below the hangar.

Inside the lift, Kanan glanced down at the boy again, still trying to wrap his head around the fact that the Inquisitor Ahsoka had brought in was a child.  There were bruises on the boy’s face that ranged from fresh and dark to the yellow of a nearly-healed injury, and a pale scar ran down the left side of his face, from his cheekbone to his chin.  Another, much newer, scar, less than a year old, ran above his left eyebrow.  His dark hair fell almost to his shoulders, uneven as if it had been roughly hacked off at some point.  Kanan didn’t know if he was really as small as he seemed, or if the fact that he was unconscious, lying on a stretcher just made him appear even smaller.

Kanan didn’t realize just how nervous he was until the lift stopped and they stepped into the corridor of the empty detention block.  If the boy was feigning unconsciousness and waiting for a chance to take them by surprise, he would have taken that chance by now rather than let himself be taken farther and farther away from any potential escape routes.

Once they reached the cell, Ahsoka lifted the boy from the stretcher and laid him down on the bunk bolted into the wall.

“One of us should stay here and watch him,” Ahsoka said as they left the cell and she activated the door field.  For safety’s sake, they’d put him in one of the most secure cells on the carrier.  The door was an energy field that would deliver a small shock to anyone who touched it from either side.

“I’ll do it,” Kanan said.  “You need to brief Sato and the other commanders.”

“Here,” Ahsoka said, pushing something into his hand.  It was a small device, no bigger than a commlink, with a single switch on it.  A trigger of some kind.  His eyes traveled quickly from it to the cuffs around the boy’s wrists.

“I don't like it either,” Ahsoka said.  “But it's just in case.  We don’t know what he’s capable of yet.  You’ll call me if anything happens?”

“He’s a little kid,” Kanan said.  “How much trouble could he be?”

“I have to wonder how many grown adults said that about us once,” Ahsoka said with a small laugh.

“Probably more you than me.”

“Just be careful,” Ahsoka said, her smile fading.

As Ahsoka and the other soldiers walked away, Kanan turned his gaze back to the boy in the cell.  Unconscious and unmoving, he almost seemed harmless.  But Kanan knew that Ahsoka was right about what she’d said.  Without even trying, he could feel the darkness that filled the boy, spilling out of him and wrapping around him like a shield.  Inquisitor or not, he was a wielder of the dark side, and that could make him dangerous, no matter how young or harmless he looked.

Chapter Text

When Ezra woke up, he immediately knew something was wrong.  He was somewhere strange and unfamiliar and he couldn’t sense his master’s presence anywhere.

Slowly, he sat up, hanging his legs over the edge of the bunk he’d been lying on.  His head ached and as he tried to press his hand to his forehead, he found that his wrists were cuffed together.

He looked up, examining his surroundings.  He was in a cell, sitting on a bunk that was bolted to the wall.  Across from him was a blue-white energy field over the cell door, and on the other side of it stood a human man who was clearly standing guard.  Ezra’s stomach dropped as his eyes were drawn to the lightsaber on the man’s belt.

He remembered running from the Inquisitor.  He remembered running across a second one and attacking.  And he remembered being struck on the head and blacking out.  Ezra reached out through the Force, ignoring the pounding in his head as he did so.  The man outside the cell didn’t feel like an Inquisitor, but who else could he be?

The man took something from his belt and Ezra braced himself before he realized it was a commlink.

“The kid’s awake,” the man said.  As he put the commlink back onto his belt, Ezra’s eyes were drawn to what was beside it.  A remote trigger, probably for the cuffs on Ezra’s wrists.

Ezra clenched his hands together as the man looked at him, trying not to shrink away from his gaze.  He wouldn’t let any of them see how afraid he was.  Not again.

“You got hit pretty hard when you were knocked out,” the man said with a practiced level of calm that was probably meant to put Ezra at ease, but only agitated him more.  “A medic’s going to come take a look at you and make sure you don’t have a concussion.  If you can manage that without trying anything, I can see about taking those cuffs off.”

Slowly, Ezra nodded.  An awkward silence fell and Ezra shifted uncomfortably under the man’s gaze.  Apparently seeing Ezra’s discomfort, the man looked away.

“Where am I?” Ezra asked.

“I can’t tell you that,” the man said.

Ezra stared down at his hands.  When he’d reached out through the Force, they hadn’t shocked him.  He could open them now, find a way to open the door and --

Ezra was wrenched out of his thoughts by a clenching in his stomach and a burning in his throat.  He lunged off the bunk and hit his knees in front of the toilet, hidden from view by a small metal wall for privacy, just before he threw up.

“Kid?” the man called to him.

Ezra couldn’t respond, still heaving even though the bile in his throat had stopped coming up.  He heard the man’s voice again, telling someone to hurry up and get the medic down here.  Ezra stumbled to his feet to the sink and scooped a handful of water into his mouth, not an easy task with his hands cuffed together.  Shaking slightly, he made his way back to the bunk and sat down on the edge of it, breathing heavily.

“You okay?” the man asked.

Ezra glared at him.  Why would he care?

“The medic’s on his way,” the man said.  “Shouldn’t be long now.”

As if queued by his words, Ezra heard the sound of a turbolift door opening and two sets of footsteps approaching.  A moment later, a human man and the Togruta woman who’d knocked him out in the first place appeared on the other side of the door.  The Togruta deactivated the door field to admit the medic, immediately activating it again as soon as he was inside the cell.

“How long was he unconscious?” the medic asked, glancing back at the two people outside the cell.

“Just under an hour,” the Togruta said.

The medic turned his attention back to Ezra, who stared up at him with a blank, expressionless face.

“You were hit on the head hard enough to knock you out,” the medic said.  “So we know you have a concussion.  I’m just here to see how bad it is.  Do you remember what happened?”

Ezra nodded.

“Can you tell me?” the medic asked.

“Her,” Ezra said, his gaze darting from the medic to the woman who stood outside the cell.  “She hit me on the back of the head.”

“Do you know what year it is?” the medic asked.  Seeing Ezra’s hesitation, he added, “on the standard calendar.”

“Thirteen Y.O.E.,” Ezra said.

The medic pulled a small light from his pocket and shined it into Ezra’s eyes.  Ezra flinched, looking down and closing his eyes to shield himself from it.

“This will only take a second,” the medic said.

When Ezra didn’t move, the medic reached out a hand, gently trying to tilt his chin up.  Ezra jerked back violently and kicked out blindly, his heel catching the medic’s shin.

“Kid.”  Ezra flinched at the sound of the other man’s voice.  “Remember what I told you.”

Ezra clenched his jaw and forced himself to look up.  If he cooperated, they might take the cuffs off.  Even if he couldn’t escape, at the very least he wouldn’t be restrained.

Ezra did everything he could to stay perfectly still as the medic shined the light into his eyes.  A moment later, the light was switched off and Ezra quickly looked down again.

“You have a headache?” the medic asked.

“Yes,” Ezra said.

“How bad is it?”

Ezra shrugged.  There was silence, as if the medic was waiting for him to give a different answer.

“I don’t know,” Ezra said.

“Compared to the worst pain you’ve ever felt in your life?” the medic suggested.

Ezra couldn’t hold back a small laugh.

“Nowhere near that,” he said.

The medic seemed to accept that that was the only answer he’d be getting to that question.

“Any dizziness?” he asked.

Ezra shook his head.

“Nausea?”

Another shake of his head.

“He threw up just before you got here,” the man waiting outside the cell told him.  The medic nodded to note his comment.

“Well, the good news is, you’ll live,” the medic said.

“Is there bad news?” the other man asked.

“The bad news is he has a concussion,” the medic said.  “But we already knew that.”

He turned his attention back to Ezra.

“If your headache gets worse or you get nauseous again, tell Kanan,” he said.

Ezra nodded, not sure whether he actually intended to follow the medic’s instructions.  As the medic straightened up and the man, who Ezra assumed was Kanan, deactivated the cell’s door field, Ezra considered making a run for it, but the risks outweighed any possibility of him getting away.  If he even managed to get out of the cell block, they’d lock down any means of escape before he could reach it, and then they’d probably find a much more effective way to contain him.

“I told him once the medic saw him, we might take the cuffs off,” Kanan said, keeping his voice low enough that he probably didn’t think Ezra could hear him.

The door field was turned off again and the Togruta woman entered the cell.

“I’m going to take those off,” she said.  “And then I need you to answer some questions for me.”

Ezra didn’t respond, but she removed the cuffs anyway.  Ezra quickly pulled his hands away, tucking them behind him in case she changed her mind.

The woman took a step back before speaking again.

“My name is Ahsoka,” she said, forcing a smile onto her face as if she were talking to a child.  “Can you tell me yours?”

“No,” Ezra said.

Ahsoka glanced back at Kanan, a silent conversation seeming to pass through the air between them.

“Is that because you won't tell me,” Ahsoka asked, “or because you don’t have one?”

Ezra just moved farther back on the bunk until he was leaning against the wall and pulled his knees up to his chest, hugging his arms around them.  He looked away from her and shrugged, not saying a word.

“What were you doing on Altier?” Ahsoka asked.

Ezra just shrugged again, keeping his eyes on the corner where the floor met the wall.  If she wanted information from him, she was going to have to try a lot harder than this.

“Kid, you need to tell us something,” Kanan said.

“No, I don’t,” Ezra said.  “She said she needed to ask questions.  I never said I’d answer them.”

“Do you have any questions?” Ahsoka asked, her voice so calm it infuriated Ezra.  “If you answer ours, we can answer yours.”

Where am I?  Who are you people?  What did you do to my master?  The questions battered against the inside of Ezra’s head, but he knew he wouldn’t be getting answers to any of them.

“Do you think I’m a child who’s going to fall for you trying to turn this into a game?” Ezra asked, glaring at her.

“Kid --”

“No!” Ezra shouted, putting his hands over his ears as he cut Kanan off.  “I don’t care what you do to me or how you try to trick me, I’m not telling you anything!”

Ahsoka turned away and left the cell, activating the door field as soon as she was outside.  She led Kanan away, just out of Ezra’s earshot.  Ezra hugged his knees closer to his chest.  They were probably talking about what to do next, which could likely only mean pain for Ezra.  He didn’t care.  He’d meant what he said.  No matter what they did to him, he wouldn’t talk.  They didn’t seem like Inquisitors, but he knew nothing about them except that they had locked him in a cell, so even if they weren't, they were no less of an enemy.  He would die before he revealed anything to them, just like his master had taught him.


 

“We’re not going to get anything out of him right now,” Ahsoka said.

Kanan nodded.  The kid had made it perfectly clear he wasn’t going to cooperate.

“Trying to question him right after he woke up with a concussion probably wasn’t a great idea,” he said.

“Sato agreed we need to keep it quiet that we think he’s an Inquisitor,” Ahsoka said.  “But on my way down here, I already overheard one conversation about this.  We should keep a guard on him just in case.  This won't stay quiet for long.”

Kanan nodded again.  Since they were holding a prisoner now, there would be guards at the entrance to the lift that led to the detention block, but having an extra person assigned specifically to the boy would be safer for everyone.  Jedi might be their primary targets, but they weren’t the only ones the Inquisitors hunted, and there were plenty of people on Phoenix Nest who would want to put a blaster bolt in the boy’s head, whether he was a child or not.

“I’ll do it for now,” Kanan said.  “You and I can trade off in shifts until we can make sure we find people we trust to bring in.”

Ahsoka nodded before she turned to leave.  As Kanan walked back toward the cell, he saw that the boy hadn’t moved from where he’d been before.  Kanan sat down, leaning against the wall across from the cell, thinking he might as well if he was going to be here for a while.

“Are you just going to stay here and watch me?” the boy asked.

“Yes,” Kanan said.  “For now.”

The boy’s arms tightened around his knees, as if he were trying to shield himself from Kanan.

“We don’t know what you’re capable of,” Kanan said.

He chose not to tell the boy the other reason he had to be guarded, not wanting to scare him more.  The kid was hiding it well, but Kanan could sense his fear, and not just fear of what Kanan and Ahsoka might do to him.  There was someone else on the boy’s mind, and Kanan couldn’t tell if he was afraid for that person or of them.

“Stay out of my head!” the boy snapped as something seemed to slam against Kanan’s mind through the Force.

The boy was sitting bolt upright now, his hands curled around the edge of the bunk, fury in his eyes, looking for all the galaxy like he was about to leap at Kanan, energy field between them be damned.

“I wasn’t trying to get into your head,” Kanan said, keeping his voice as calm as possible.  “I wouldn’t do that.”

“Why should I believe you?” the boy asked.

“We’re not like the Inquisitors,” Kanan said.

If that fear he’d sensed was fear of the mysterious entity who held the Inquisitorius’s leash, maybe if they worked hard enough and took it slowly, they could convince the boy they could protect him.  It was a long shot, but it was better than nothing.

The boy stared at him, that furious look never leaving his face, until he abruptly looked away.  Kanan could just barely hear him mutter a single word under his breath.

“Jedi.”

Kanan narrowed his eyes slightly as he watched the boy.  It had almost sounded like the boy had only just realized what he and Ahsoka were.  An Inquisitor who’d attacked Ahsoka would have known she was a Jedi, or something close to it, wouldn’t he?  Maybe it was the concussion, keeping him from remembering all the details of what had happened in the forest on Altier.  Or maybe Kanan was just misunderstanding his tone.  He’d barely heard the boy say the word after all.

Something about this didn’t feel right, and Kanan couldn’t put his finger on what it was.  Ahsoka hadn’t seemed completely convinced either when she’d brought the boy to Phoenix Nest.  But she was right.  What else could the kid be?

Chapter Text

The days passed slowly as Kanan and Ahsoka traded off shifts guarding the boy in the cell.  Kanan tried to talk to him, and he knew Ahsoka did too, trying to get him to answer questions or open up something even as basic as his name, but he refused to tell them anything.  Some days, he didn’t speak at all.  He wouldn’t even react to anything Kanan said to him, simply staring down at the floor with a blank expression on his face.

Even when the boy didn’t speak, Kanan could sense his fear and anxious anticipation each time he was spoken to, like he was waiting for something else to happen.  It didn’t take long for Kanan to figure out that the boy was expecting to be hurt, and nothing Kanan said seemed to convince him he wouldn’t be.

The sleep cycles were the worst part of it.  When the boy slept, Kanan could see his arms and legs twitch as if he was trying to fight something off or outrun it.  His fear coiled through the air around him as his nightmares seemed to grow worse with every passing minute.  He would cry out, whimper, and sometimes even scream as he woke up.  Sometimes he spoke in his sleep, with Kanan catching the words that were loud enough to understand, with many of them seeming to be directed at the boy's master.

The boy might not be willing to talk, but his nightmares, the bruises and scars on his face, and his certainty that he was going to be hurt painted a grim picture of his life.  The master that haunted his nightmares had clearly been brutal, and the boy was terrified of him, even if he wouldn’t say so out loud.

During one of those sleep cycles, five days after Ahsoka had brought the boy to Phoenix Nest, as he sat against the wall across from the cell, that Kanan was jolted out of his thoughts by the sound of the boy’s voice and a spike of fear that turned the air to ice.

“No,” the boy said, his voice a strange mixture of fearful and defiant.  “No!”

The boy’s jaw was clenched tightly, his face screwed up as if he was in pain.  His legs were twitching like he was trying to get away from something.  A quiet whimper rose in his throat as one hand clutched the edge of the bunk and the other bunched up in the blanket that covered him.  The rest of his body went still as if he was immobilized by something.

“Master,” he said, his voice desperate and shaking, “no.  Help me.  Please.”

The boy let out another quiet whimper, and Kanan felt something tug sharply in his chest at the pitiful sound and the sight of the boy frozen in terror, as if held down by invisible restraints.

“Kid,” Kanan said softly, not wanting to scare him.

The boy let out a sharp gasp and a strangled cry of pain, his fingers curling tighter around the edge of the bunk.

“Don’t,” he gasped, his breath ragged as though he’d just been running for hours.

“Kid, it’s okay,” Kanan said, moving closer to the cell door.

But the boy clearly couldn’t hear him.  He was too deep in his nightmares for Kanan’s words to reach him.

Slowly, carefully, Kanan reached out through the Force, through the clouds of fear that surrounded the boy.  He brushed up against the boy’s mind, the twisted, rough, jagged mess of fear and pain and burning hatred.  Kanan set aside his thoughts about the tangles of darkness he faced, and held out all the calm and warmth he could summon, not pushing it into the boy’s head, but letting him know it was there.

“It’s okay,” Kanan said.  “You’re safe.  No one is going to hurt you here.”

Kanan gasped as something slammed against him and he was thrown back against the wall.  The air tightened around his throat as he was lifted off the ground, pinned in place by the Force.  Kanan’s eyes snapped open and he saw the boy on his knees with the blanket tangled around his legs, clearly having fallen or jumped from the bunk, one hand outstretched toward Kanan.  He was breathing rapidly, staring up at Kanan with fury and terror in his eyes.

“Kid,” Kanan said, his voice strained under the crushing pressure around his throat.  “Don’t.”

There was a shift in the boy’s eyes, a spark of recognition, as if he realized what he was seeing and doing.  He released Kanan, letting him fall to the floor.  For a moment, he just stared, his yellow eyes wide, before he dove into a corner of the cell that Kanan couldn’t see from the angle he was watching from.  Kanan could hear the boy’s ragged, shaking breath as he hid in the corner.

“Kid,” Kanan said again, wishing now more than ever that he knew the boy’s name, “are you okay?”

The boy let out a harsh, strangled laugh.  The sound hit Kanan like a punch to the gut.  Of course the kid wasn’t okay.

“Do you want to talk about it?” he asked.

When the boy didn’t respond, Kanan pushed on.

“You were talking in your sleep,” he said.  “I know you were dreaming about your master.”

Still no response.  Kanan hesitated for a moment.  He didn’t want this to turn into an interrogation about the Inquisitors and who this boy and his master were.  The kid had just woken up from a nightmare where it seemed like he was being tortured.  He didn’t need to be questioned right now.  He just needed to know he was safe.

“Kid,” Kanan said, “I know you’ve been hurt, badly.  Was it your master who did it?”

The boy still remained silent, not even acknowledging Kanan’s question.

“Kid, please talk to me,” Kanan said.

“No!” the boy said.  “I’m not giving him up!”

“I’m not asking you to,” Kanan said.  “I just want to help you.”

The boy was quiet again, refusing to say anything.

“While you were dreaming, you were crying out for help,” Kanan said, keeping his voice as gentle as possible.  “I can help you, if you’ll let me.”

“Stop,” the boy said, his voice breaking.  He now sounded more tired than anything else.  “You don’t know anything.”

“I would if you’d tell me,” Kanan said.

His words were once again met with silence.  Kanan sighed and sat back against the wall.

“If you change your mind, I’m here,” he said.


 

Ezra was huddled in the corner that he knew the Jedi couldn’t see, his knees pulled up to his chest and his forehead resting on top of them.  The Jedi thought he knew what Ezra had been dreaming about, thought he was crying out to be saved from his master, but he didn’t know anything, and Ezra would never tell him.  It was bad enough having to live with it himself and having his master know what had happened and how it had torn Ezra’s mind apart, and Ezra would rather die than tell his enemy about his nightmares about the Seventh Sister.

Just thinking her name or title or whatever it was sent a chill down Ezra’s spine.  Having something unique to call her made her seem somehow more real than she had been before, and she had already been painfully real.

Thinking about her for even just a moment dragged him back into the tangled mess of dreams and memories.  Her knife digging into his skin.  The smile on her face as she injected him with dose after dose of the drug that kept him immobile and barely able to reach for the Force.  Her hands around his throat, squeezing until the edges of his vision began to go dark.  Her fingers tangled in his hair as she slammed his head back against the floor.  Her lightsaber slashing across the backs of his legs, her laughter and his screams filling the air.

Ezra dug his nails into his arms as he felt the ghost of her presence in the Force slithering through his mind, rummaging through his thoughts and feelings and fears, not caring what she dug up as long as it made him hurt.  Her voice still echoed in his head, taunting him as she made him beg and plead with her to stop.  That had seemed to be the part she loved most, denying him even a shred of mercy after forcing him to beg for it.

More than ever, Ezra just wanted to be back at home with his master.  He knew he wouldn’t get any comfort from Maul -- he had, in the first couple of weeks after his rescue, but not since then -- but he would be back in a place where things made sense.  His master would tell him to control his fear, would give him the beating he deserved when he failed to, would remind Ezra of his role in their plans for the galaxy and why Ezra had to be better than this.  Ezra would take it all, every reprimand and punishment he was given, no matter how harsh or painful, and be grateful that his master cared enough to do it and knew he was strong enough to take it.

Kanan said he wanted to help, but Ezra knew better than to believe him.  Why would he want to help?  Ezra was nothing to him.  Nothing but a prisoner and an enemy.

Even if he believed the Jedi, Ezra would never turn to him for help or accept the comfort he was trying to offer, as if Ezra was a child who couldn’t handle a nightmare.  Kanan was the enemy, and Ezra would never again let himself be put in the position of begging an enemy for anything.  Not help, not comfort, not being allowed to return home.  He would never let it happen again, no matter how much Kanan tried to trick him into thinking he could be trusted.

“If you change your mind, I’m here.”

Ezra shook his head, even though he knew the Jedi couldn’t see him.  For a moment, he stayed there, bracing himself and wondering if Kanan’s words had been a trick; if he was about to come into the cell and try to force Ezra to talk.  As the minutes passed by with Ezra unable to hear any sign of movement from Kanan, he slowly began to relax.  As much as he could, anyway.

As Ezra’s fear settled to the constant level it had been at since he’d been brought here, he quickly realized just how tired he still was.  But going back to the bunk, where Kanan could easily see him, felt too exposed.

Ezra lay down on the cold metal floor, curling up into a tight ball.  He could handle sleeping in this corner of the cell where he was out of Kanan’s line of vision.  He’d certainly slept in worse places before.

Chapter Text

Ezra sat cross-legged on the floor of the cell, pointedly ignoring Kanan, who was outside the door, watching him yet again.

It had been just over a week since Ezra had been locked in the cell, and still he refused to give his captors any information.  They hadn’t laid a hand on him yet, but it was only a matter of time.  But so far, all they’d done was what Kanan was doing now, sitting or standing outside the cell, watching Ezra and occasionally asking questions or making comments meant to trick him into giving up information.

“Still not talking, then?” Kanan asked.

Ezra shook his head emphatically, wondering if Kanan really thought that he could get Ezra to talk by simply asking him to, or if he was trying to lure Ezra into a false sense of security so the inevitable torture would be that much more painful.  But it didn’t matter.  He wouldn’t say anything.  He’d been taught better than that.

“Taught better by who?” Kanan asked.

Something seemed to freeze solid in Ezra’s chest as he realized he may have spoken out loud.  Not just spoken out loud, he’d very nearly revealed information about his master, and he hadn’t even realized he’d done it.

Ezra pulled his knees up to his chest and covered his ears as if it could block out the feeling of Kanan’s eyes on him, waiting for him to say more.

“No,” he muttered.  “No, I’m not saying anything.  Stay out of my head!”

“I didn’t do anything, kid,” Kanan said.

“Stop calling me that,” Ezra snapped, pulling his hands away from his ears and slamming them against his knees.  “I’m not a kid.”

“Well, I have to call you something and you won't tell me your name, or if you even have one,” Kanan said.  “Not to mention you look twelve.”

Ezra clenched his jaw as he glared down at the floor.  Maybe if he told Kanan something, he’d lay off, stop asking him questions and trying to trick him, just for a while.  And it would at least stop him from using that word that grated on Ezra, stinging like too-hot water running over a scraped patch of skin.

“Ezra,” he muttered.

No, he thought.  You can’t -- why did you --

“What was that?” Kanan asked.

“My name is Ezra,” he said, his voice clearer this time.

No! he practically shouted at himself.  He tasted something bitter in the back of his throat.  He’d done exactly what he’d sworn not to do.  He’d answered one of Kanan’s questions.  He’d cracked.  It didn’t matter that it was just his name.  Giving them his name was one step closer to letting them get inside his head.  They could find a way to use it against him.  If his master ever found out he’d said anything, he didn’t even want to think about what his punishment would be.

“That’s all you’re getting out of me,” Ezra said, glaring defiantly at Kanan.  “I don’t care what else you do to me.”

“I’m not going to do anything to you, Ezra,” Kanan said.  “We’re not going to torture you.  I know you don’t believe me, but we don’t do that to prisoners here.”

Ezra shook his head.  How could Kanan think he’d believe such an obvious lie?  What sense would it make for them not to torture prisoners?  It was what people did.  His master had warned him over and over that it would happen to him if he was ever caught, and so far he’d only ever been proven right.  That bounty hunter had beaten him and cut him open to remove his tracker.  The Inquisitor had held him for five days, torturing him just for fun, assuring him the real interrogation would happen when he was taken to the others.  Soon enough, Kanan and Ahsoka would do the same.

“What are you afraid will happen if you tell us anything?” Kanan asked.

Ezra shook his head again.

“Ezra --”

Ezra rested his head on his knees, turning around so he wouldn’t have to look at Kanan, and put his hands over his ears.

“Okay,” Kanan said.

Ezra could hear him shifting slightly and braced himself, wondering if this was it, if Kanan was about to enter the cell and try to force Ezra to answer his questions.  He didn’t care.  He wouldn’t say anything else.  He wouldn’t --

Slowly, Ezra looked back over his shoulder.  Kanan hadn’t moved.  He’d just shifted the way he was sitting against the wall.  Ezra’s heart, which he hadn’t realized was pounding, began to slow down toward a more even pace.

“I’m not going to hurt you, Ezra,” Kanan said.

Ezra flinched and turned away again, knowing the Jedi had sensed his fear.  He could still feel Kanan’s eyes on him, could feel him thinking even if he didn’t know what about.  It made Ezra want to claw his skin off.

Ezra abruptly stood up and ran to the corner where he knew Kanan couldn’t see him, a wave of relief crashing over him once he no longer felt those eyes staring at him.  He could still sense the Jedi’s feelings of concern and other things he couldn’t name, but it was less painful when they couldn’t actually see each other.

Ezra backed himself into the corner as he stared blankly into the space in front of him.  He’d come too close to telling Kanan something truly important.  His master had tried to prepare him for this, and Ezra had still nearly failed him.

He had to find a way out, and soon, before he gave them any more information.  He had to find his master and tell him what happened, beg for his forgiveness, take whatever punishment he was given, and let things go back to normal.  But escape from this cell was nearly impossible.  He’d tried, but the door field was tamper-proof and clearly whoever had designed it had kept Force sensitives in mind.  And it had been made perfectly clear that he wasn’t being let out of the cell.

He was trapped, and he’d already given his captors his name after barely more than a week.  A week where they hadn’t even touched him.  He’d failed his master and one way or another, he knew he would end up paying for it.


 

When Kanan reached the Ghost after Ahsoka had come to take over watching the kid, he took a moment to sit down on the lowered ramp and be alone with his thoughts.  Being down in the detention block always took its toll on him.  The darkness that clung to Ezra filled the place like it was spilling out of him, and as much as he did to hide it, his fear crackled through the air like electricity.  Today it had been worse than usual, particularly after Ezra told Kanan his name.  Then, it had been sheer, paralyzing terror.

Kanan was jolted out of his thoughts by the familiar sound of Hera’s footsteps.  She was returning to the ship, too, but rather than going on board, she sat down beside him.

“Something happen?” she asked.

“It’s nothing,” Kanan said, almost automatically.

“It’s that kid, isn’t it?” she asked.

Kanan was silent for a moment as he thought through what he could possibly say.

“Something about this doesn’t feel right,” he said.  “Not just locking a kid in a cell.  There’s something that doesn’t add up and I don’t know what it is, but I’m not entirely convinced he’s an Inquisitor.”

“You and Ahsoka both said it yourselves,” Hera told him.  “What else could he be?”

“I don’t know,” Kanan said.  “But every time they’re mentioned, or the Empire is, I just sense this…rage.  He hates them, and it wouldn’t make sense if he was one of them.  Unless…”

“Unless he wasn’t there willingly,” Hera said, finishing his thought for him.

“It would explain why he’s so afraid,” Kanan said.  “It’s not just me and Ahsoka.  In his sleep, when he’s dreaming, he talks to his master, and I know whoever that is, the kid’s terrified of him.  He flinches whenever someone gets too close, he keeps bracing himself like he thinks someone’s going to hit him.  He told me his name today and the minute he did it was…”

He trailed off, not knowing how he could explain it to anyone, much less someone who wasn’t Force sensitive.  The terror that had radiated from Ezra, seizing Kanan’s heart, shooting through him like ice in his veins.  He still felt it now, even as he tried to focus on talking to Hera.

“He’s been taught to hide it well,” Kanan said, “but I don’t think I’ve ever met a kid as scared as he is.  And I don’t know how to help when he sees me as an enemy.”

“Keeping him in a cell probably isn’t helping with that,” Hera said.

“I know,” Kanan said with a frustrated sigh, running a hand through his hair.  “But if he’s an Inquisitor, letting him out could put everyone here at risk.  But Inquisitor or not, he’s still a kid who’s been hurt.”

"We can't just keep him there forever," Hera told him.

"I know," Kanan said again.

Hera took his hand, threading her fingers between his and squeezing lightly, not saying anything.  It wasn’t one of those moments Kanan knew so well where she didn’t need to say what was on her mind, knowing Kanan would just understand.  She didn’t know what else to say, and that unnerved Kanan almost as much as the fear and anger that sunk under his skin every time he guarded Ezra.

"He needs someone to help him, Hera," Kanan said.  "He needs someone to care about him."

Hera's hand grew tighter around his for a moment before she spoke.

"Then it's a good thing he has you." 


 

When Kanan returned to the detention block for his next shift guarding Ezra, he couldn’t help but shiver.  The air in the corridor was freezing, and Kanan realized a moment later that it wasn’t cold, it was fear.  Ezra’s fear.  It filled the detention block, pressing in around Kanan like an icy fog.  Ahsoka stood waiting for him, just far enough from the cell that Ezra probably wouldn’t overhear anything she said.

“He hasn’t left the corner he was in when I got here,” she said, keeping her voice low.  “It’s been like this for a while now and he hasn’t said a word.”

Kanan nodded, staring past her at the blue-white door field, even knowing he couldn’t see the kid through it.  He knew Ezra had been withdrawn and unwilling to talk since the moment they’d brought him here, but he couldn’t help but blame himself for it this time.

Ahsoka’s hand rested on his shoulder for a moment as she walked past him toward the lift, as if she knew what he was thinking and was trying to reassure him.  Or maybe that was just wishful thinking on his part.

“Ezra?” Kanan called as he drew closer to the cell.

Predictably, there was no answer, but Kanan could hear Ezra’s ragged, sharp breathing.  He quickly switched off the door field and peered into the cell.  Ezra was huddled in the corner, shaking, and he flinched violently when Kanan looked at him, but nothing appeared to be physically wrong with him.

Satisfied that Ezra wasn’t having actual trouble breathing, Kanan activated the door field and sat down on the floor across from it.  If the kid didn’t want to talk to him, Kanan wasn’t going to try and get him to.  Not this time.

Almost an hour passed with no sound but Ezra’s panicked breath before Kanan heard something else coming from the cell.  A quiet muttering and whispering that floated to him through the door field.

Slowly, trying not to make a sound and startle the boy, Kanan moved closer to the door.  Ezra was speaking so quietly and quickly that Kanan could only make out a few words.  Master -- failed -- weak -- betrayed you.

“Ezra,” he said, trying to keep his voice soft and unthreatening.

Kanan heard a sharp gasp and Ezra’s voice quickly cut off.  A few seconds of total silence passed between them before he heard Ezra’s voice again.

“No,” Ezra said.  “Not again.  I won't tell.  I’m sorry, Master, I was weak you were right I’m not ready I’m weak I’m nothing without you, nothing!”

Kanan heard a dull thud that he recognized as the sound of someone’s head striking against a metal wall.

“Ezra,” he said, “listen to me.  Your master isn’t here.”

His words only seemed to set off another flurry of angry, terrified whispers, and Kanan once again found himself only able to understand some of it.  The words nothing and weak and useless child jumped out at Kanan like needles stabbing into him.  He heard a muffled scream and felt a surge of pain, physical pain, through the Force.

Without even thinking about it, Kanan deactivated the door field and rushed into the cell.  Ezra was sitting on the floor in the corner, his knees drawn up to his chest.  His left hand was tangled in his hair, yanking at it viciously.  His sleeves were pushed back and Kanan could see scratch marks and blood on his skin.  His right hand was clawing at his left forearm, digging deeply into his skin as blood welled up from the wound.

“Ezra,” Kanan said, crouching down in front of the kid, “just focus on my voice, okay?  Your master isn’t here.”

As his hand touched Ezra’s shoulder, one of Ezra’s feet lashed out quickly, kicking Kanan hard in the stomach and knocking him back.

“You think I don’t know that?” Ezra snapped, his voice harsh and furious.

Anger and fear the twisted hatred that Kanan knew all too well as self-loathing leapt from the boy like sparks flying from a broken electrical wire.

“Not again,” Ezra whispered.  “I won't -- not again.  I failed, I was weak, not again.”

“Ezra --”

The boy flinched at the sound of Kanan’s voice, throwing his hands over his ears and squeezing his eyes shut.

No,” he muttered.  “Not again.  I won't, I promise.  Master, I’m sorry, I promise I --”

His voice faded into rapid whispering too quiet for Kanan to understand.  Kanan just knelt there in front of the boy, not wanting to just leave him like this, but not knowing what to do.  Using the Force to try to calm Ezra down might just make him think Kanan was attacking his mind.  And he wasn’t about to let the kid be restrained or sedated unless he was actually trying to escape.  Maybe not even then.  As for just trying to comfort him, Kanan knew Ezra wouldn’t accept it.  But he had to try.  It was all he could do.

“Ezra,” he said, “I know it’s hard for you to believe me, but no one is going to hurt you here.  Your master isn’t here.  It’s okay.”

Ezra said nothing, just curling in on himself, holding himself like a tightly-coiled spring.

“I’ll be right outside the door,” Kanan said, keeping his voice as calm as he could manage, even as he felt like he was being punched in the gut at the sight of Ezra cowering in the corner.  “If you need me, I’ll be right there.  But I won't bother you or talk to you unless you want me to, alright?”

It didn’t feel like nearly enough, but he was at a loss for what else to do.  Everything else he could do would only hurt or scare the kid even more.

“Ezra?” Kanan said softly, wanting to know the kid had heard and understood him so he didn’t just walk away and leave the boy feeling abandoned.

Slowly, Ezra nodded, flinching back against the wall and letting out a nervous hum as he did so.

Kanan stood up and left the cell.  A pang of guilt flashed through him as he activated the door field again.  It had been a habit, but there was really no need for it.  Ezra wasn’t going to hurt him.

He knew Ezra wanted to.  He’d sensed it every day, Ezra’s need to hurt the people he saw as his captors, almost like it was something he was compelled to do.  But now, he didn’t sense it.  Ezra was just scared, and he wasn’t in any state to plan to hurt anyone.

Kanan sat down against the wall slightly down the corridor, closer to the turbolift.  If Ezra moved out of the corner, he wouldn’t be able to see Kanan there, which might help even if he could sense Kanan’s presence.  The knot of guilt in Kanan’s chest pulled tighter and he sighed quietly, wishing he’d done more to get Ezra to trust him.  Maybe if he had, he’d be able to calm the kid down, to convince him he was safe.  Maybe if he had, things wouldn’t have gotten to this point in the first place.

Slowly, over the course of hours, Ezra’s fear began to fade until it was no longer the icy storm that had overtaken Kanan, but the same low, constant level it had been since Ezra had first woken up in the cell more than a week ago.  When Ezra’s mental state had gone unchanged for a while, Kanan carefully stood up and walked to the cell as quietly as he could.

Ezra had moved to the bunk, where he was curled up in a ball with the blanket pulled over him.  Through a small gap left for air, Kanan could see one bright yellow eye peering out at him.  The blanket was quickly pulled up, covering the boy’s face completely.

“Sorry,” Kanan said softly.  “I was just checking on you.”

He walked away from the cell and sat down again.  If Ezra was trying to sleep, that was a good sign, wasn’t it?  No one slept when they felt completely unsafe.  At the very least, it was enough that Kanan knew Ezra would be okay, at least for now.

Chapter Text

When Kanan reached the cell the next morning, he found Ezra on his knees on the floor in front of the bunk, staring blankly down at the floor in front of him.  He and Ahsoka had agreed they could leave him alone for a couple of hours, as long as someone watched the lift that led to the cells.  It seemed like the time alone had done Ezra some good, though Kanan couldn’t tell if he was simply lost in thought or absent from his own head, but he looked up once he finally seemed to realize Kanan was there.

Kanan held up the ration bars he’d brought from the Ghost.

“Thought you might be hungry,” he said, as if he was talking to Sabine when she got lost in a project and didn’t realize time had passed.

Ezra’s head tilted to the side slightly and Kanan felt the boy’s suspicion and confusion twisting around him like a vine tangling around his ankle.  Kanan wasn’t sure why.  It wasn’t like they hadn’t been feeding him while they’d kept him here.  He deactivated the door field and tossed the ration bars to Ezra, who caught them in the air and set them aside.  He appeared to say something, his lips moving and a small sound coming out, too quiet for Kanan to understand it.

“You’re not going on a hunger strike, are you?” Kanan asked, only half-joking.

Ezra didn’t respond, just staring blankly into nothing.  Kanan sighed and sat down outside the door, leaving the field turned off.  If Ezra attacked, Kanan would handle it, but the image of Ezra muttering to himself and clawing at his skin was still fresh in his mind, and he needed to talk to the kid about it without a literal barrier between them.

“Ezra --”

“What’s going to happen to me?” Ezra asked before Kanan could get another word out.

There was no trace in his voice of the previous hostility and sarcasm and defiance.  For the first time since he’d been brought to Phoenix Nest, Ezra sounded every bit like the child he was.  He sounded…vulnerable, and it caught Kanan so off guard that for a moment, he could only stare at the kid who sat across from him, shoulders raised defensively as if he was expecting a blow for daring to ask.

“I don’t know, Ezra,” Kanan said.

The words hung in the air, and Kanan could practically see them weighing on the kid’s shoulders.

“Are you going to kill me?” Ezra sked, his tone as neutral as if he hadn’t just asked whether he’d be allowed to keep breathing.

“No,” Kanan said immediately.

Silence fell between them again as Ezra seemed to consider Kanan’s answer.  The kid lowered his gaze from Kanan -- or rather, the space above Kanan’s shoulder -- and looked down at the floor.  With one finger, he absently traced what would have been a pattern if there had been any dust on the floor to show it.  After a minute, he stopped abruptly and looked back up at Kanan.

“Why not?” he asked.

“What?”

“Why aren’t you going to kill me?”

As Ezra said it, Kanan felt as if something inside his chest was being yanked.  The kid couldn’t be much older than twelve, if he was even that old, and he was expecting to be killed and was confused by the fact that they wouldn’t do it.

“Because -- because you’re just a kid, Ezra,” Kanan said.  “And we don’t -- we wouldn’t do that.”

“So you’re just going to keep me here and keep me alive?” Ezra asked.  Kanan could hear the disbelief in his voice.  “Doesn’t make sense if you ask me.  You’ve got limited resources.  Why not use them for your own people?  And we’re on a ship, aren’t we?  An extra person breathing the air is more strain on life support systems.  And --”

“Ezra, stop,” Kanan said.  “You’re not going to die here.”

Ezra’s gaze dropped back to the floor and Kanan could see his shoulders stiffening.  The kid’s jaw was clenched, his hands locked together, and each breath he took was shaking just slightly.  Kanan hadn’t shouted, but he was only just realizing how intense his voice had sounded.

“I’m sorry,” Kanan said.  “I didn’t mean to scare you.”

“I’m not scared of you,” Ezra said, his voice harsh, even as he kept his defensive posture.

“Ezra --”

“I’m not,” Ezra said, too insistent for Kanan to believe him.

“But you’re scared of someone,” Kanan said.  “Do you remember any of what happened yesterday?”

Ezra’s jaw clenched tighter for a moment before he nodded, as if he’d been arguing with himself over whether or not to answer.

“You kept talking about your master,” Kanan said, “or to him.”

Ezra’s hands twitched, but he gave no verbal response.

“I felt how scared you were,” Kanan said.

“I’m not scared,” Ezra muttered, seeming to talk more to himself than to Kanan.

“Ezra, was your master with you on Altier?” Kanan asked.

His thoughts strayed back to the Inquisitor Ahsoka had killed.  If he was Ezra’s master, then telling the kid of his death could make things easier.  If Ezra knew he was dead, he’d know he wasn’t in danger from him anymore.  Or it could make things much, much worse.

Ezra said nothing, still refusing to reveal any information.

“On Altier,” Kanan said, choosing his words carefully so he could break the news to Ezra as gently as possible, “there was an Inquisitor.”

Ezra’s hands clenched together even tighter.  His face was expressionless, but Kanan could sense the fear and the bitter hatred behind the mask of calm.

“He’s dead,” Kanan said.  “If he was your --”

“My master is not an Inquisitor,” Ezra growled, as if he were offended by the very thought.

That burning hatred Kanan sensed only grew stronger as Ezra spoke, fueled by the mere mention of the Inquisitors.

“Then you’re not one, either,” Kanan said.

“No,” Ezra hissed, his yellow eyes seeming to glow with anger.

“If you’re not an Inquisitor, then what are you?” Kanan asked.

Ezra shook his head, indicating he wasn’t going to answer Kanan’s question.  Kanan sighed quietly before pushing on.  Ezra had seemed so close to opening up just moments ago, before Kanan had scared him and he’d shut down again.  If he could just get Ezra to feel safe enough to talk again, he might get more answers out of him.

“Ezra,” he said, “you don’t have to tell me anything about your master yet, but I want you to tell me the truth.  Are you afraid of him?”

“Why do you keep asking me that?” Ezra asked, frustration crackling through his voice and the air around him like electricity.  “Of course I’m afraid of him.  Who isn’t afraid of their master?”

“I wasn’t,” Kanan said.  “Ahsoka wasn’t afraid of hers.  No one I knew in the Jedi temple was afraid of their master.”

Ezra may have already figured out he was a Jedi, but it was the first time Kanan had actually spoken about it to the kid, and he knew that Ezra probably didn’t believe a word he'd said.

“Does he hurt you?” Kanan asked.

The dark bruises that he’d seen on Ezra’s face the day Ahsoka had brought him to Phoenix Nest were now a greenish color, but they were still fresh in Kanan’s mind.  The scar on his cheek was thin and long since healed, but impossible for Kanan to ignore.

“Ezra?” he said, prompting the kid when he didn’t answer.

“It’s not like he hurts me for fun,” Ezra said.  “He does what he has to do to make me stronger.  And he only punishes me when I deserve it.”

Kanan took in the bruises and scars on Ezra’s face, not that he needed to at this point.

“You don’t deserve that,” he said.

“Stop!” Ezra shouted, slamming the heels of his hands into his thighs.  “You don’t know anything!”

“Ezra, we can protect you from him,” Kanan said.

“I don’t need protecting,” Ezra said.  “If he’s looking, he’ll find me.  If he’s not, I’ll -- I’ll escape and I’ll find him.”

“You’d go back to him?” Kanan asked.

Ezra looked up at him as if the question made no sense.

“Of course I will,” Ezra said, that now-familiar defiance returning to his voice.  “He’s my master.  I’d never just walk away from him.”

“Even if you think he’d hurt you,” Kanan said.  It wasn’t a question.  He didn’t need to ask.

“I’ve earned it,” Ezra muttered, ducking his head and tangling his fingers in his hair.  “I told you my name, I answered your questions.  I deserve whatever punishment I get.”

“You don’t --”

“Don’t you dare say I don’t deserve it,” Ezra said.  “You don’t know me.  You know nothing about my master or my life.”

“I would if you would explain it to me,” Kanan said.

Ezra let out a short, bitter laugh.

“So you can use it against me?” he asked.  “Get me to trust you so you can get inside my head easier?”

“I don’t want to use anything against you,” Kanan said.  “I know you can sense my feelings.  You tell me if I’m lying.”

Ezra looked up, his bright yellow eyes fixed on Kanan.  For a moment, Kanan felt nothing, as if Ezra was hesitating.  There was brief contact as something brushed against his mind, then pulled away quickly like a hand touching a hot stove.  Ezra looked down again, hugging his arms around himself.

“You know I’m telling the truth, don’t you?” Kanan said.  “I only want to help.”

Ezra said nothing, but Kanan knew the kid had sensed his intentions.  He just wasn’t going to admit it.

Kanan stood up and hit the switch for the door field, only to see Ezra flinch at the sound of it activating.  The sight of it sent a pang of guilt and sympathy through Kanan’s chest.  The sound wasn’t even loud, but Ezra was so on edge that it had scared him, and Kanan was the one who’d brought him to that point.

“Don’t forget to eat at least one of those,” Kanan said, gesturing to the ration bars that lay forgotten beside Ezra.

As he turned to leave, he stopped in his tracks at the sound of Ezra’s voice.

“Wait,” Ezra called.

When Kanan turned back to face him, he saw that Ezra hadn’t moved, and was still staring at the floor as he spoke.

“I’m not an Inquisitor,” he said.  “I’m not an Imperial.  How long are you going to keep me here?”

“It’s not up to just me,” Kanan said.  “But I’m going to do everything I can to make sure you’re released soon.”


 

“So he’s not an Inquisitor,” Ahsoka said.

She and Kanan were sitting at the table in the Ghost’s galley, and Kanan had just finished telling her everything Ezra had said.  Kanan watched as Ahsoka slowly lowered her gaze to the table, where she was quietly drumming her fingers as she thought over the new information.

“We need to figure out what happens to him now,” Kanan said.  “We can't just keep him in that cell.”

Ahsoka nodded, still clearly deep in thought.

“And sending him back to his master is --”

“A bad idea,” Kanan said, finishing her thought.  “Ezra wants to go back to him, but it’s not safe.  At the very least, we know his master hits him.  It could be even worse than that.”

“Maybe we should just leave him somewhere,” Ahsoka said.  “He can clearly take care of himself.  If we just bring him to an inhabited planet and turn him loose, he’ll be fine.”

“If we just turn him loose, he’ll run back to his master,” Kanan said.  “He won't be fine then.”

“You think we should just keep him prisoner here?” Ahsoka asked.

“That’s not what I’m saying.”

“Then what are you saying?”

“I don’t know,” Kanan said with a frustrated sigh.  “I don’t want to keep him locked up any more than you do, but the idea of him going back to his master…I don’t want to let that happen.”

“We don’t know that’s what he’ll do,” Ahsoka pointed out.

Even as she said it, Kanan could sense her true feelings.  She knew just as well as he did that Ezra was so completely under his master’s control that if they released him, he’d go right back to the person who’d hurt him.

“What if we did keep him here?” Kanan said, barely even realizing he was thinking it before he said it.  “But not as a prisoner.”

“Trying to recruit him while he’s locked up in a cell probably won't go over that well,” Ahsoka said.  “And it seems…”

She trailed off as if she didn’t know the right words to express how it felt to her.  Kanan shook his head.

“I mean we let him out of the cell,” Kanan said, “and he stays here.  He isn’t safe with his master.  Here, he won't get hurt.”

“You’re assuming he’ll cooperate and agree to stay,” Ahsoka pointed out.

“I think I can get him to,” Kanan said, hoping the words sounded more confident than he felt.  “I think he’s starting to trust me a little.  And I told him we would protect him.”

“You also said he thinks he doesn’t need protection,” Ahsoka said.

She sighed quietly before slowly nodding.

“But it’s better than leaving him in a cell,” she said.  “Or sending him back to his master.”

There was something about the way she said the word that felt strange, like something gently nudging against Kanan’s side.

“What?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” Ahsoka said.  “This whole time, there’s been something about Ezra that feels almost familiar.  Like I’ve met him before, or someone who feels like him.”

“His master?” Kanan suggested.

Ahsoka nodded slowly.  She closed her eyes and rested her elbows on the table, leaning her head against her hands as she tried to remember.  After a moment, her eyes snapped open, growing slightly wide.

“I think I know who his master is,” she said.

She abruptly stood up and Kanan followed as she made her way off of the ship.

“What are you thinking?” Kanan asked once they were inside the lift where no one could overhear them.

“I don’t want to say until I know for sure,” Ahsoka said, sounding almost distracted.

When they reached Ezra’s cell, they found him sitting on the edge of the bunk, his feet dangling above the floor.  He looked up when he heard them coming and stared up at them with the usual blank expression he kept on his face when he was questioned.

“Ezra,” Ahsoka said, “I need you to tell me who your master is.”

“No,” Ezra said, his hands curling around the edge of the bunk.

“Ezra,” she repeated, “is Darth Maul your master?”

Ezra’s expression didn’t change, but Kanan could sense his fear and desperation and something Kanan could only describe as homesickness.  He could see Ezra’s shoulder’s rise up just slightly and his hands clench tighter around the edge of the bunk until his knuckles were almost white.  It was more than enough of an answer for Kanan.

Kanan and Ahsoka glanced at each other briefly, each trying to gauge the other’s reaction.  As far as Kanan was concerned, it didn’t matter.  He’d told Ezra they could protect him, and he wasn’t going back on his word now.

Chapter Text

Kanan glanced around the table at the other members of the crew who were assembled there.  Hera already knew what this “family meeting” was about.  The others didn’t.  His eyes met Hera’s for a moment, and she shifted her gaze from him to the others as if telling him “go ahead.”

“Hera and I have been talking,” Kanan said.  “About bringing in another crew member.”

Sabine and Zeb just looked at him expectantly, waiting for him to say more.  They knew perfectly well there was more to it than just that.

“I haven’t told you much about the prisoner Ahsoka brought in --”

“Isn’t he an Inquisitor?” Sabine asked before Kanan could finish speaking.

“He’s not,” Hera said quickly.  “We thought he was, but we were wrong.”

“He’s not an Imperial,” Kanan said.  “At all.  He’s…”

Kanan stopped, looking away from Sabine and Zeb as he tried to collect his thoughts.  He’d gone through this over and over in his head already, trying to find a way to explain that Ezra was a Sith, or something close to it, without scaring them or giving them a reason to judge Ezra before they met him.  But nothing he’d come up with felt right.

“He was in a bad situation before,” Kanan said, speaking slowly as he chose his words carefully.  “I’m going to offer him a place on the crew to help him get away from it.”

“Kanan,” Zeb said, “you wouldn’t have called us all together to say there’s an abused kid that needs our help.  You’d just do it.”

“I don’t talk much about the Jedi,” Kanan said, “but years ago, there was a Sith Lord, Darth Maul.  He just vanished when the Clone Wars ended, but apparently he survived.  And the kid, Ezra, is his apprentice.”

Sabine didn’t noticeably move, but something about her seemed to twitch at the mention of Maul’s name.  It didn’t surprise Kanan that she knew who he was.  She would have been too young to remember the brief period of time when Maul had ruled Mandalore, but she easily could have learned about it.

“Are you telling us because you think the kid is dangerous?” Zeb asked, his voice not giving away what he thought.

“I think him being here could put us in danger from Maul if he ever found out,” Kanan said.  “The kid…the important thing is he’s hurt, and he’s afraid.  I think he’s starting to trust me, and if he does, I don’t think he’ll be dangerous to us.”

Sabine and Zeb glanced at each other as if having a brief, silent conversation.  When they faced him again, it was Zeb who spoke first.

“I trust your judgement, Kanan,” he said.  “Always have.”

“Sabine?” Kanan asked, prompting their youngest crew member for an answer.  “I know what Maul did on Mandalore --”

“This kid didn’t have anything to do with it,” Sabine said.  “Did he?”

“I doubt he was even born when it happened,” Kanan said.

“Then I’m fine with it,” Sabine said.

It was all Kanan could do not to breathe a sigh of relief.  Sabine had been the one he was most worried about.  She was slow to trust and warm up to people.  Maul had caused direct damage to her home and her people, and Sabine wasn’t always choosy about who she held a grudge against.  If she’d said no, Kanan wouldn’t have left it at that, but it would have taken time to change Sabine’s mind once she’d settled on her opinion.

“Thank you,” Kanan said, hoping Sabine would get the underlying point, but not wanting to single her out by saying it out loud.  Thank you for not holding Maul’s actions against Ezra.

Chopper let out a series of harsh, flat sounds, waving one of his manipulators to get their attention.

“You’re not fine with any new crew member,” Hera said, rolling her eyes.

“But you’re still going to be nice to this one,” Kanan said.

Chopper made a noise that sounded uncannily like a groan, conceding defeat.  Kanan wasn’t too worried.  Chopper was…Chopper, but he wasn’t cruel.  Just protective, mostly of Hera, and not at all shy about voicing his thoughts.  And right now, Kanan was almost glad he’d said something to diffuse the awkward tension in the room.

“We done?” Sabine asked.  “I was kind of in the middle of something.”

“We’re done,” Hera said.

Sabine jumped to her feet and headed back toward her room.  Kanan could faintly smell wet paint, and had a feeling he knew what she’d been in the middle of.  As Zeb left the room, Hera put a hand on Kanan’s arm.

“What are you going to say to him?” she asked.

“I’ll tell you when I figure it out,” Kanan said.


 

Ezra sat huddled in the corner of his cell, his knees pulled up to his chest and his shoulders hunched as if he was waiting for a blow, even though he was alone.  It had been one day since he’d given up his master’s identity.  He might not have said anything, but he knew both of the Jedi had sensed his reaction.  He hadn’t been able to help it.  He wanted to go home and return to his master so badly that he couldn’t hide his feelings from them.

He’d sensed their feelings, too.  Renewed suspicion, fear, denial, anger, pity.  Their pity had been subtle, nearly drowned out by everything else, but it was there, and it dug under his skin, sticking into him like needles stabbing at him.

They had left the detention block with barely another word to him, leaving Ezra alone with his thoughts and his fears.  Kanan had said he would do what he could to get him released, but now Ezra was sure that would change.  Kanan was a Jedi.  The Jedi were their enemies.  They wouldn’t let him go.  They would keep him in this cell and try to force him to tell them where to find his master.  He knew he’d be tortured now, no matter what false promises Kanan made.

Ezra tangled his fingers in his hair, digging his nails into his scalp until he felt blood welling up around them.  He wanted to believe Kanan.  He knew he could withstand whatever pain was inflicted on him, but he didn’t want to be tortured.  The Jedi were weak.  It wasn’t hard to believe they would show an enemy mercy.  But if they wanted to find his master, to hunt down and kill a powerful wielder of the dark side, they would have to do much more than just ask Ezra to tell them.

Ezra reached out across his bond with Maul, clinging to the faint, distant feeling of his master’s presence.  He wished he had his master’s strength and resolve right now.  Ezra wouldn’t say a word, no matter what they did to him, but he knew that in his place, his master wouldn’t be as terrified as he was.  He wouldn’t be hiding in the corner, cowering in fear.

Ezra jumped as he heard the sound of footsteps approaching.  He stood up, straightening his back and crossing his arms.  He would not show any more fear in front of the Jedi.  They’d already seen him flinch too many times.  If they were going to hurt him, he would face his fate head on.  It was what his master would do.

When Kanan appeared in the doorway, Ezra met him with a hard, defiant stare.  As Kanan deactivated the door field, Ezra steeled himself.

“We’re letting you out,” Kanan said.

The angry, defiant look faded from Ezra’s face as he stared at Kanan.  It had to be a trick of some kind.  They wouldn’t just release him after what Ahsoka had figured out, would they?

“It’s okay,” Kanan said.  “Just come with me.”

Ezra hesitated for a moment before stepping through the door, keeping his muscles tight so he wouldn’t flinch as he did so.  As Kanan led the way down the hall, Ezra fell into step just behind him.

“What’s happening?” Ezra asked, making his voice as flat as he could make it so Kanan wouldn’t hear a trace of his fear.

“I’ll explain everything once we get to the ship,” Kanan said.  “But you’re not a prisoner anymore, Ezra.”

Ezra stayed quiet as they stepped onto the lift, not knowing how Kanan would react if he kept asking questions now.  When the lift stopped, he followed Kanan into a large hangar filled with ships and fighters and more people than Ezra had ever seen in one place before.  Instinctively, he shrank closer to Kanan.  The sounds and smells and feelings of so many people pressed in on him, crushing and suffocating him.

“Are you okay?” Kanan asked, putting a hand on his shoulder.

Ezra immediately pulled away as if the Jedi’s touch had burned him.

“I’m fine,” he said, but as they kept walking, his shoulders crept slowly up toward his ears.

Finally, it seemed they’d arrived at their destination.  It was an old freighter that had clearly been modified for combat.  Whoever had modified it knew what they were doing.  It looked seamless, as if the ship had always been meant to see battle.

As they walked up the lowered ramp into a cargo bay, Ezra slowed down until he was trailing behind Kanan, an empty, hollow feeling forming in his stomach.  He stopped completely, his right thumbnail digging into the back of his left wrist.  Kanan seemed to want Ezra to follow him, but Ezra didn’t want to take one more step into this ship until he knew what was going on.

“You said you’d explain,” Ezra said.

Kanan nodded as he turned back to face him.

“You can take a seat if you want,” he said, gesturing to the crates that littered the cargo bay.

Ezra hesitantly sat down on a nearby crate, perched on the very edge of it with his hands clenched together in his lap.  Kanan sat down on another crate nearby.

“We know you’re not an Inquisitor,” Kanan said.  “I could sense you weren’t lying when you said it.  So we’re not keeping you prisoner anymore.  You can stay here, with me and my crew.  I told you we could protect you, and that’s what I plan on doing.

“Protect me from what?” Ezra asked.

“From your master,” Kanan said.

“I don’t need protecting from him,” Ezra said, shaking his head.

“Ezra,” Kanan said, “you do need protecting from him.  You’re not safe with him.”

“Yes, I am!” Ezra said, an edge of panic creeping into his voice in spite of his efforts to keep it at bay.  “He’s kept me hidden from the Empire my whole life.  He’s the only reason I was safe.”

He quickly shut his mouth, clenching his jaw as he realized he was saying too much.  All of this could easily be a trick meant to get him to give up information.

“Ezra,” Kanan said, his voice so gentle it was all Ezra could do not to flinch at the sound of it.  “You told me he hits you.”

“I also told you he only punishes me when I deserve it,” Ezra said, cutting Kanan off before he could say another word.

“You don’t deserve that,” Kanan said.

Ezra slammed his hands over his ears and shook his head, but he could still hear Kanan’s voice.

“You’re just a kid and your master is hurting you,” Kanan said.  “I can’t just hand you over to him.”

Ezra jumped to his feet, his hands curled into fists at his sides.

“You can’t just keep me here,” Ezra said.  “You said I wasn’t a prisoner anymore.”

“Ezra,” Kanan said, standing up slowly, “you’re not a prisoner, but I can’t send you back into a situation where someone is going to hurt you.”

Ezra clenched his hands tighter, his nails digging into his palms, fury and panic growing stronger with every second.  He’d trusted Kanan.  He hadn’t realized it until this moment but he’d trusted Kanan when he’d said he would get him released.  And now Kanan was just locking him up again, lying to his face and saying he wasn’t a prisoner.

Ezra’s eyes darted to the ramp, weighing the risks of trying to run.  Kanan might be able to get the escape pods locked down before Ezra could reach them.  Kanan was also bigger than him, stronger, and armed.

“I’ll escape,” Ezra said.  “You can try to keep me here, but one day I will get away from you.”

“Ezra --”

“Don’t lie to me,” Ezra said.  “Don’t tell me I’m not a prisoner and you’re just trying to keep me safe.  You locked me in a cell and now you’re keeping me from going home.  Don’t try to convince me you care.”

He sat back down on the crate, silently conceding defeat, at least for now.

Chapter Text

Ezra sat on the edge of the bunk, swinging his legs over the edge.  He’d been told he’d be staying in this cabin, shared with a Lasat called Zeb.  Zeb had tried talking to him when they’d both woken up, asking him how he was holding up and if he was okay, but Ezra hadn’t said a word to him.  Now, Ezra was alone, stuck in a room he couldn’t leave.  The door wasn’t locked, but Ezra hadn’t been given permission to leave.

Ezra jumped at the sound of a soft knock on the door.  He stared at the door, eyes wide as he waited, not knowing what to expect.

“Ezra?”  That was Kanan’s voice calling to him through the door.

“Y--yes?” Ezra called back.

“Can I come in?”

The question took Ezra by surprise.  Why would Kanan ask to come in?

“Yes,” Ezra said.

As the door opened, Ezra dropped from the top bunk, locking his arms at his sides so his hands wouldn’t shake or lock together and show his fear.

Kanan entered the room, a bundle of what appeared to be clothing in his arms.  Ezra had been allowed to shower the night before, but he’d had to put on the same clothes he’d been wearing for over a week now.

“Hera and I asked around to see what people could spare,” he said.  “There aren’t many people your age around here, and no one has much in the first place, so this was all we could get for now.”

He held out the bundle of clothes to Ezra, who took it without a word, keeping his gaze on the floor at Kanan’s feet.  He silently made note of the fact that Kanan said and did nothing in reaction to Ezra not thanking him.  He had to learn the limits of what he could get away with if he ever wanted to escape.  He might as well start with the small things.

“Can I -- can I use the refresher?” he asked, still not looking at Kanan.

“Of course,” Kanan said.  “You don’t need to ask.”

“No one told me I could leave the room,” Ezra said.

“Oh,” Kanan said.  “Ezra, I’m sorry.  I guess we just didn’t think.  You don’t need permission to leave your room.”

Ezra nodded to acknowledge the statement.  That was one thing he’d be able to use to his advantage.

“But it’s probably best if you don’t leave the ship alone,” Kanan said.

Ezra said nothing, simply storing that away in his mind, too.

“When you’re ready, why don’t you come eat with us?” Kanan asked.  “It’s not just ration bars this time, I promise.”

Ezra’s hands tightened into fists, hidden by the bundle of clothes he held.  Why was Kanan acting like this was normal, like he’d agreed to be here?  But he kept his thoughts to himself, at least for now.

“Yes, sir,” he muttered.

“You can use my name,” Kanan said.  “It’s okay.”

Ezra didn’t respond.  He wouldn’t do that.  He wouldn’t address Kanan as if they knew each other, as if he was a member of this crew.

When Kanan left the room, Ezra waited a moment until his footsteps faded before he slipped out the door and headed in the opposite direction toward the refresher.  As he walked, he scanned the walls on either side of him, making note of each air vent he saw.  The ducts could be a good place to hide and to move around undetected.

Before heading to the galley, Ezra ducked back into the cabin he’d slept in and dug through the small pile of clothes Kanan had given him.  Relief spread through his chest as he found a blue shirt with long sleeves that would cover the scars the Inquisitor had left snaking across his arms.  He changed quickly, bundling up the clothes he’d been wearing and tossing them onto the bunk, not knowing what else to do with them.

He flattened his palms against his thighs as he made his way to the galley, trying to calm his nerves.  He didn’t know what was going to happen when he got there, or what was going to happen tomorrow or for the next week or for as long as he was stuck here.  When he reached the galley, Ezra looked down, but he could feel multiple pairs of eyes staring at him.  He could sense a flurry of emotions from them.  Curiosity, uncertainty, nervousness, pity.

“Sit down,” the captain -- Hera, that was her name, he remembered from the night before -- said.

Ezra slid into the empty spot at the end of the seat that wrapped around the table, keeping his eyes on the surface of the table.  A moment later, Kanan began setting plates in front of each of them.  Ezra picked up a fork and unenthusiastically poked at the food on his plate as a hollow pit seemed to open in his stomach.  He didn’t feel much like eating.

“Sleep well?” Hera asked.

Ezra looked up, both surprised and suspicious of the question.  What reason could she possibly have to ask him something like that?

Ezra shrugged as he looked down again, mentally bracing himself for a harsh word, an order to answer the question, or even a blow, but none came.  Hera’s attention shifted to the girl sitting beside Ezra as she spoke.

“Are there any jobs for us yet?” the girl asked.

“There was one,” Kanan said, “but we passed it up.”

“Why?” the girl asked.  There was a momentary silence before she said “Oh.  Right.”

“Kid just got here, Sabine,” Zeb said.  “Give him a chance to settle before he goes running into danger with us.”

Sabine sighed.

“I miss Lothal,” she said.

“I know,” Kanan said.

“We were on a planet called Lothal before,” Hera said, her statement clearly directed at Ezra.  “In the Outer Rim.  It was before we joined up with the larger Rebellion, so we didn’t have to answer to many people.  That’s the part Sabine misses.”

“The loth-cats were nice, too,” Sabine said.

Ezra stared blankly down at the table as everyone’s words filled the space around him.  He knew Hera had been speaking to him, and he’d understood her words, but they felt like she was speaking to him through a glass wall.  They were talking about jobs and missions like they expected Ezra to work for them.  Like he was one of them.  He didn’t understand what game they were playing.  What he did understand was that it was somehow feeling even more real than it had the night before.  They really weren't going to let him go home.

Ezra shoved his plate away, still not having eaten anything.

“I’m not hungry,” he mumbled before he stood up and left the room.  As soon as the door slid shut behind him, he bolted for the cabin he’d spent the night in.  Once he was safely inside, he sank to the floor with his back to the door and his knees pulled up to his chest.  His arms drew tighter around his knees a moment later as he heard a knock at the door.

“Ezra?” Kanan called.

Ezra stood up and opened the door and stepped back to allow Kanan into the room, keeping his eyes on the floor as he did so.  He didn’t want to look at Kanan.  Just the thought of meeting his eyes made something clench in Ezra’s stomach.

“We weren’t going to bring up you coming on jobs with us yet,” Kanan said.  “We wanted to give you a chance to get used to this first.”

“What if I don’t want to work for you?” Ezra asked, his hands clenching into fists at his sides.

"Then we'll figure something else out," Kanan said.  "We won't make you do anything you don't want to do."

“You’re making me stay here,” Ezra said.

“Ezra --”

“You keep acting like this is normal,” Ezra said.  “You tell me I’m not a prisoner but you’re keeping me here and won't let me go home.”

“Ezra, you can't go back there,” Kanan said.  “It isn’t safe for you there.”

“Yes, it is,” Ezra said.  Why did Kanan keep insisting he wasn’t safe, as if he really cared and wasn’t just trying to trick Ezra into trusting him again?  “Not that you care.  I know you’re just using that as an excuse to keep me here.”

“If we just wanted to keep you here, we wouldn’t have let you out of that cell,” Kanan said.

He sighed slightly and leaned back against the door.

“You told me your master hurts you,” Kanan said.  “He beats you, doesn’t he?”

Ezra crossed his arms, not saying anything.  Kanan didn’t know anything about his life, about what his master had to do to keep him safe and alive.

“Ezra, I know he does,” Kanan says.  “There are signs of it all over your face.”

“You don’t know that was him,” Ezra said before he could stop himself.

“Was it?”

“Some of it,” Ezra said.  “Some of it was the Inquisitor.”

“Either way,” Kanan said.  “You’re just a kid.  I can't just send you back to someone who beats you.  Do you understand that?”

“No, I don’t understand,” Ezra snapped, finally looking up at Kanan with a furious glare.  “I don’t understand any of this.  I don’t understand why I’m here or why you won't let me go!”

“I’m trying to explain --”

“No,” Ezra muttered, taking a step back.  “I don’t care what you say or what you do to me.  I’m not falling for anything you tell me.”

“Ezra --” Kanan paused and seemed to reconsider whatever he’d been about to say.  “I’m sorry.  I can't imagine how this must feel for you.  I’m going to do everything I can to make this easier for you, but you can't go back to your master.  It’s only going to get you hurt.”

Ezra clenched his jaw, refusing to let himself say another word.  He’d already pushed it by arguing, and he didn’t want to find out how far he had to go to make decide he'd crossed the line.  He would have to find out one day, but he didn’t want it to be today.

“I’ll leave you alone,” Kanan said.  “And we’ll save you some food.”

Without another word, he left the room.  Ezra gave a small sigh of relief and climbed onto the top bunk, huddling in the corner.  He didn’t know if Kanan was just trying to trick him or if he really didn’t understand.  His master kept him safe, protected him from the Empire, taught him and took care of him when he had no one else in a galaxy where children like him were hunted down like animals.  His master had saved him from torture and maybe even death at the hands of the Inquisitors.  So his master hit him sometimes.  He wouldn’t do it if he didn’t have to.  Kanan didn’t understand.  He didn’t know anything.

Chapter Text

Go, Ezra thought.  Just run now.  They won't know until it’s too late.

It was nearing the end of Phoenix Nest’s sleep cycle, and Ezra was curled up on a chair in the Ghost’s common space.  He’d needed to escape the cabin he’d been staying in, which had felt like the walls were closing in around him.  It had been easy to slip out of the room undetected, and it would probably be just as easy to slip away from the ship, to steal a small fighter or shuttle that he could pilot by himself, and get home.  All of this would be over.  He’d be punished for allowing himself to be captured, and for any information he’d given the rebels, but then things would go back to normal.

Ezra was jolted out of his thoughts by the sound of approaching footsteps, cursing the time he’d spent thinking about an escape rather than just doing it.

The door slid open and Hera entered the room, jumping slightly when she caught sight of Ezra.

“You’re up early,” she said.

“Couldn’t sleep,” Ezra muttered quietly.

Ezra felt the soft pull in his chest -- or rather, in Hera’s -- that he was beginning to recognize as someone else’s sympathy for him.  His shoulders jumped up, toward his ears as if he could physically shield himself from it.

“Come with me,” Hera said.  “I think I have something that can help.”

Ezra stood up and silently followed Hera as she led him into the galley and gestured for him to sit down.  As he did, Hera turned away and began working on something at the counter that Ezra couldn’t see.  A moment later, she sat down across from him and pushed a mug toward him.  It was warm between Ezra’s hands and when he looked down, he saw it was full of a brown liquid.

“Hot chocolate probably won’t help you sleep,” Hera said, “but it usually helps people feel better.”

Ezra stared down at it for a moment.  He couldn’t sense any ill intent from Hera, but that didn’t necessarily mean the drink wasn’t drugged.

“It’s perfectly safe,” Hera said, taking a sip of her own.

Ezra cautiously took the smallest sip he could manage.  It was warm, which was no surprise, but it did nothing to help with that dull ache in his chest.

“Well, it helped Sabine on her first night here,” Hera said.  “If you talked to her, she might..." she trailed off for a moment as if she wasn't exactly sure of what to say.  "She had some trouble adjusting, too.”

“I don’t want to adjust,” Ezra said, not caring how childish it sounded.  “I just want to go home.”

“I know,” Hera said.  “And I’m sorry that you can’t."

“Why does everyone keep saying that?” Ezra asked.

“Because it’s true,” Hera said.  “Believe me, if we could bring you home, we would.”

Ezra said nothing.  He wasn’t up for arguing the point right now.  She would probably just say the same things Kanan had said, that it wasn’t safe and they couldn’t give him back to someone who hurt him.  None of them understood.

“I know you probably don’t want to talk to Kanan, or to me,” Hera said, “but it might help to talk to someone closer to your own age.”

Ezra took another sip of his drink, forgetting about the potential danger, just to avoid having to say anything.  As he did, something seemed to shift, as if Hera had just realized something.

“How old are you, anyway?” she asked.

Ezra shrugged.

“You don’t know how old you are?” Hera asked.

Ezra couldn’t help but flinch slightly.  Hera didn’t sound angry, but there was something in the way she asked the question, like she couldn’t quite believe it, that made him feel like he’d done something wrong.

“No,” he said.  As he said it, a memory floated to the surface of his mind of his master telling him he’d been under his care for ten years.  That hadn’t been that long ago.

“I think I might be ten,” he said.  “My master said it’s been ten years.”

“And he’s had you since you were a baby?” Hera asked.

“I guess so,” Ezra said.

Ezra suddenly pulled his hands into his lap, clenching them together.  Why was he telling her this?  Maybe she really had drugged him, or was taking advantage of the fact that he hadn’t slept to get him to talk.

But why would she ask him about this?  What did it matter how old he was or how long he’d been with his master?  What could she possibly have to gain by knowing that?

“Why does it matter how old I am?” he asked.

“It…doesn’t, exactly,” Hera said.  “We know you’re a kid, but if you ever need to see a medic or something, they don’t need to know your age exactly.  It’s just…most people know how old they are.”

Ezra shrugged.  It had never been important.  What had mattered was that he was a child and Maul was his master, and so he had to follow Maul’s lead, respect him, and do as he said.

“It’s okay that you don’t,” Hera said.  “It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you.”

Ezra shifted uncomfortably.  Hera had certainly made it sound wrong when she asked him.

At Ezra’s lack of response, Hera seemed okay letting the subject drop.  They sat in silence for a few moments, Ezra staring down into the warm mug between his hands.  He couldn’t sense Hera’s eyes on him, and for a moment, the first time since he’d set foot on this ship, Ezra almost felt comfortable.

“Can I ask you something?” Ezra asked, his nervousness making it hard to get the words out.

“Sure,” Hera said.

Ezra’s hands twisted around each other in his lap as he tried to work up the nerve to actually ask.

“Why do you have two names?” he asked.

Hera seemed taken aback by the question, but she quickly moved past it.

“Syndulla’s my last name,” she said.

“What does that…I don’t really know what that means,” Ezra said.

“It’s a name that’s usually connected to your family,” Hera said.  There was something in her voice that Ezra couldn’t place, but that made him squirm uncomfortably.  “It’s usually a name your parent had and they pass down to you.”

“Oh,” Ezra said.  It was all he could think of to say in response to something that didn’t mean much to him.

“I take it you don’t have one,” Hera said.

Ezra shook his head.

“Your master didn’t give you his?” she asked.

“I don’t think he has one, either,” Ezra said.  “If he does, he never told me.”

Hera’s concern and sympathy stuck at him like thorns or needles against his skin.

“What?” he asked.

“It’s nothing,” Hera said.

Ezra knew she was lying.  Something he’d said had bothered her and made her feel sorry for him.  But he wasn’t about to press the issue.  He’d already pushed his luck by asking questions in the first place.

The silence that fell between them wasn’t comfortable like the last one had been.  Ezra could feel nervousness building in his chest until he was shooting quick glances toward the door, wondering if he should find a reason to leave.  Before he could think of an excuse that might be acceptable to her, Hera spoke again.

“There a reason you couldn’t sleep?” she asked.

Ezra shook his head.  He didn’t know if Kanan had told her anything about the nightmares he’d had in the cell, but if she didn’t know, he wasn’t about to say anything.

“Probably not easy to sleep somewhere you’re not familiar with,” Hera said with a small sigh.

The awkward silence returned for a moment before she kept talking.

“Ezra, I’m sorry this had to happen,” she said.  “I mean it; if we could take you home, we would.”

Ezra stared down at his hands as something tightened in his throat.  Hera actually sounded sincere, but he’d already make he mistake of starting to trust Kanan.  He wouldn’t make the same mistake again.  And even if Hera did mean what she’d said, that she was sorry and they would take him home if they could, it didn’t matter.  They still weren’t going to do it.  He was still trapped here and he had no idea how far these people would go to keep him from returning home.


 

Ezra was sitting on the bunk in the cabin he was staying in, staring blankly ahead of him.  He’d tried to meditate, but he kept getting distracted by thoughts of how much he wanted to go home.  It was like a hole had been ripped open in his chest, leaving nothing but a hollow, tearing pain behind.  He had to find a way to escape, but learning the limits of what he could get away with would take time.  His master would warn him not to do anything reckless out of desperation.

Just thinking about his master made the hollow feeling in Ezra’s chest worse.  Even more than he missed his home, he missed his master.

Ezra was jolted out of his thoughts by a knock on the door.  He froze up, staring wide-eyed at the door until he remembered.

“C--come in,” he called.

He slid off the bunk to land on his feet as Kanan entered the room, holding a datapad in his hands.  Ezra looked down at the floor, his right hand clutching around his left wrist, his nails digging into his skin.

“How are you feeling?” Kanan asked.

Ezra said nothing.  He wouldn’t answer that question even if he knew how to.  After a moment of painful silence, Kanan seemed to accept that Ezra wasn't going to answer, and kept talking.

“Hera told me about the talk you had this morning,” he said.

Ezra felt his heart skip a beat as he ran through the conversation in his head, trying to think of what he could have said that might have angered them.

“She told me you seemed confused about her having a last name,” he said.  “We realized there might be a lot of things --” he stopped as if he was reconsidering his words.

“The way you grew up, you probably didn’t have a chance for a normal education,” he said.  “Hera and I put as much educational material as we could find on this.  We thought it might help.”

As he held the datapad toward Ezra, he hesitated, realizing something.

“Can you read?” he asked.

“Yes,” Ezra said, a little defensively, bristling at the concern in Kanan’s voice.  He knew Kanan had a low opinion of his master, but did he really think that Ezra wouldn’t have been taught something so basic?

Ezra’s hand twitched slightly as he realized that was exactly what Kanan thought.  Hera, too.  They probably thought he was just some mindless weapon, not taught anything but how to hurt people.

“I didn’t always learn things like…” he trailed off, not knowing how he was planning to finish the sentence or why he felt the need to defend himself to the Jedi.  Kanan had already made up his mind about Ezra and Maul.  He clearly thought Maul was some kind of monster and Ezra was a child who needed to be rescued.  What was the point in trying to convince him otherwise?

“My master taught me everything he could,” Ezra said.  “But what mattered was whether I could survive and if I could do damage to the Empire, not how much I knew about things that weren't important anyway.”

He cut himself off abruptly, realizing that in Kanan’s eyes, he was probably just confirming what he already thought.

“What does it matter?” Ezra muttered as he sat down on the edge of the lower bunk.  “You’ve already made up your mind about both of us.”

“What do you mean?” Kanan asked.

“I mean you think he’s a bad person, don’t you?” Ezra asked.  “And you think I’m too weak to be able to handle it.”

Kanan looked away as Ezra’s words sunk in.  He took a hesitant step forward and sat down on the bunk beside Ezra, setting the datapad aside.

“Ezra, it has nothing to do with thinking you’re weak,” he said.  “No matter how strong you are, it’s not safe for you to be with your master.”

“He never put me in danger,” Ezra said.  “Not on purpose.”

“He beats you,” Kanan said, as if that somehow proved Ezra wrong.

“So?”

“So, he was putting you in danger,” Kanan said.  “He hurt you.  He could have hurt you badly enough to kill you.  Even if he didn't, he could have done something serious like breaking your bones or giving you a concussion.”

It was so long ago that the memory was hazy, but Ezra could still remember when he’d broken his arm, how his master had put it in a splint.  It was Ezra’s first broken bone, but not his last, and it wasn’t what Kanan seemed to think.  It was a training accident, not a deliberate injury.  Some of his worse injuries had happened while he was being punished for something, but he knew Maul never actually meant to do it.

“He did, didn’t he?” Kanan asked.

“He didn’t mean to,” Ezra said, knowing that Kanan didn’t believe him.

“Whether he meant to or not, he gave you a major injury,” Kanan said.

“A broken arm isn’t a major injury,” Ezra said.

“Yes, it is,” Kanan told him, his voice so gentle it made Ezra want to cringe.

“He didn’t do it on purpose,” Ezra said.  “It was an accident.  And it was my fault.”

“It wasn’t your fault,” Kanan said.

“You weren’t there!” Ezra snapped.  “You don’t know what happened.”

“Do you want to tell me what happened?” Kanan asked.

Ezra hesitated.  It sounded like a real question, not an order disguised as one, but Ezra couldn’t always tell the difference, and he didn’t know Kanan that well.

“It was during training,” he said.  “It was an accident.”

“Were those bruises on your face an accident?” Kanan asked.

“No,” Ezra said.

“What about those scars on your wrist?”

Ezra looked down and froze as he saw that his right sleeve had been pushed back just far enough to reveal some of the marks on his arm.  He was able to breathe a little easier when he realized they were just the ones on his wrist, not the ones he’d gotten from the Inquisitor.

“Those are from restraints, aren’t they?” Kanan asked.

“Yes,” Ezra said defiantly, his anger flickering stronger in his chest.  Kanan didn’t know what his life was like.  He didn’t know what his master had to do to keep him safe and alive and prepare him for what they planned to do.

“Ezra, he shouldn’t be doing this to you,” Kanan said.

“How else was I supposed to learn?” Ezra asked, his frustration bleeding into his voice.

“Ezra, that isn’t teaching,” Kanan said.  “It’s cruelty.  It’s abuse.  Do you know what that means?”

Ezra shook his head.

“It’s…” Kanan gave a small, frustrated sigh, and Ezra didn’t know if that frustration was directed at him or at Kanan himself.  “It’s when someone with power over you uses it to hurt you.  Like when an adult hurts a kid.  Like when your master hurts you.”

“And?”

“And it’s not okay, Ezra,” Kanan said.  “He shouldn’t have done that to you.  No one should ever do that to anyone, but especially not an adult to a kid they’re responsible for.”

“It isn’t what you think,” Ezra said.  “He doesn’t like hurting me.  He only does it during training or when I’m being punished for something.”

“There’s nothing you could have done that would justify him doing this to you,” Kanan said.  “Nothing.”

“You don’t know that,” Ezra said.  “You don’t know me, or him.”

“I know you’re just a kid,” Kanan said.  “And I know he’s hurt you so much that you’re afraid of him.”

“Why does that matter?” Ezra asked, ducking his head and tangling his fingers in his hair, tugging at it in frustration.  Kanan was so fixated on the fact that he was afraid of Maul, as if fear of his master, of someone more powerful than he could ever hope to be, wasn’t perfectly normal.  As if his fear wasn’t something useful that he could channel into anger and strength and power of his own.

“Because that’s not okay,” Kanan said.  “He’s your master.  You told Hera you’ve been with him since you were a baby.  He should have cared more about you and protected you.  Instead he made you fear him.”

“He does protect me,” Ezra said, releasing his hold on his hair and looking up at Kanan.  “He does care.  Why else would he have taken me in in the first place?”

“The fact that he took you in doesn’t make anything he’s done to you okay,” Kanan said.

“You don’t understand,” Ezra said, his hands curling into fists in his lap.  “You don’t even know him.  He’s --”

Ezra’s voice broke off.  He knew he shouldn’t be doing this, shouldn’t be talking to Kanan about this, but maybe if Kanan knew the whole truth, he would understand.  Maybe he would release Ezra and let him go home.

“I know what you are,” Ezra said.  “You’re a rebel.  You want to destroy the Empire.  That’s what my master wants, too.  It’s why he’s training me.  He does what he has to do to make me stronger and make sure I survive this.”

“Do you really think that is making you stronger?” Kanan asked, gesturing toward Ezra’s exposed wrist and the marks that covered it.

Ezra didn’t answer.  Kanan didn’t understand.  He couldn’t.  He was a Jedi.  They were weak.  They didn’t understand what it took to gain real power.  It was why their Order had grown weaker with each generation, until they were so easily destroyed by just one man.

“Kanan,” Ezra said, his voice breaking as he finally used the Jedi’s name.  “Please.  Just let me go.  I want to go home.  I -- I want to be with my master.

“I know,” Kanan said.

The Jedi rested a hand on Ezra’s shoulder, then quickly pulled back as Ezra flinched away from him, disgusted with himself for being weak enough to beg, and refusing to accept comfort from the man who’d put him in this position.

“I’m sorry that can't happen, Ezra,” he said.

“Don’t lie to me,” Ezra muttered.  “You’re not sorry for any of this.”

“I am,” Kanan said.  “I know you can't see it right now, but I’m sorry, and I wish I could take you home, but I can’t.  You’re just a kid, and I can’t just take you back to someone who’s abusing you.  It would mean I’d be letting him keep doing that to you, and I can’t do that.  He might be willing to put you in danger, but I’m not.”

“Why?” Ezra asked, knowing it wasn’t worth it to try and convince Kanan he wasn’t in any real danger from his master.  “You don’t know me.  Why should you care if I’m in danger or not?”

“Because someone has to,” Kanan said.

Ezra’s hands clenched tighter in his lap as fury rose up like bile in his throat, practically choking him.  Kanan didn’t know his master.  He didn’t know the lengths Maul went to to protect Ezra.  He didn’t know how Maul had cared for him when he was sick or injured as a child.  He didn’t know how Maul had rescued him from the Inquisitor and comforted him through weeks of recovery from injuries so painful Ezra hadn’t even been able to stand up on his own.  He just kept insisting that Maul was dangerous and that Ezra needed to be protected from him.  He had no idea how much Maul cared about him and wanted to keep him safe.

“I don’t need your help,” Ezra said, staring down at his hands, his eyes wide with rage.  “I don’t want it.  Just let me go!”

He locked his hands together to stop them from shaking.  He wanted nothing more than to unleash his rage on Kanan, to throw him against the wall and snap his neck, or run him through with his own lightsaber.  But he knew he couldn’t just attack.  He didn’t know what Kanan was capable of doing to stop him, and there were too many other people between him and any escape route.

“Ezra,” Kanan said.  “Please try to understand --”

Ezra shook his head.

“He cares about me,” Ezra said.  “More than a group of strangers does.  You’re the one who doesn’t understand.”

“I didn’t mean -- I’m not trying to say he doesn’t care about you at all,” Kanan said, his voice strained as if he didn’t believe what he was saying.  “But he didn’t care about whether or not he hurt you.  Not enough to stop himself from doing it.”

“He didn’t want to do it,” Ezra said.  “He had to.”

“Ezra,” Kanan said, “do you really think he didn’t want to do this?”

His fingers hovered just beside Ezra’s wrist, not touching him, but clearly pointing to the scars left when he’d struggled against his restraints.  Ezra stared down at them.  His instinct was to say no, but he knew Kanan wouldn’t accept that answer.  He’d already made up his mind, and Ezra was beginning to think there was nothing he could do or say to make the Jedi understand.

Ezra knew his master didn’t like hurting him.  Maul had told him so over and over, every time Ezra acted out or disobeyed or failed at something and Maul was forced to punish him.  Maul wouldn’t lie to him.  He never had.

Ezra knew his master cared.  He knew that was why Maul had to hurt him sometimes, even though he didn’t want to.  He knew all of that, but as he sat there, feeling Kanan’s eyes on him, knowing even without looking at him that his gaze was soft and concerned, the way Maul's had been when Ezra had first been fully conscious enough to notice it after he’d been rescued from the Inquisitor, a memory floated to the surface of his mind.

He was young.  Very young.  He was locked up in the dark, empty room, his hands bound behind him by cuffs so tight they bruised his wrists, chained to the wall.  His face, his neck, and his bare chest and back ached from the bruises that covered them.  And he was screaming.  He was begging his master to let him out, screaming that he was sorry.  The door opened and his master entered the room, his anger pressing around Ezra as if it were trying to suffocate him.  He crossed the room and struck Ezra’s face.  As Ezra cowered away from him, Maul grabbed his chin, forcing him to look up as he shoved something, some kind of cloth, into Ezra’s mouth, muffling the sound of his screams before he turned on his heel and left the room again, leaving Ezra alone.

Ezra knew his master hadn’t wanted to do any of it, but some quiet but insistent part of him reminded him that he’d still done it.  The memory had been so thoroughly buried by time that Ezra couldn’t remember what he’d done to deserve it, but he remembered how much it had hurt, how scared he’d been.  He’d been so young that he was still learning to control his fear and tolerate pain.  And his master had shown no mercy.

Ezra shook his head, his arms folding around his chest, his nails digging into his arms.  It shouldn’t matter.  It had never mattered before.  No matter how much pain and fear Maul inflicted on him, he knew there was always a reason for it.  He couldn’t let Kanan trick him into thinking otherwise.  He was smarter than that, better than that.  He wouldn’t let Kanan turn him against his master.


 

Kanan felt something tug sharply in his chest as he gazed down at Ezra.  The kid had hugged his arms around himself, not even seeming to realize he was doing it.  His yellow eyes were unfocused, staring blankly into the space right in front of him.  Kanan knew that look all too well.  He’d seen it in others and no matter how much he tried to avoid thinking about it, he knew others had seen it on his face.  It was the look of someone who was lost in fragments of their past that they couldn’t not remember.

Guilt tightened around Kanan’s throat like a hand trying to choke him.  He couldn’t help but feel like he’d caused this.  He’d pushed Ezra, reminding him that his master had hurt him until the kid had been dragged into a memory of it.

“Ezra,” Kanan said quietly, his hand brushing the boy’s shoulder.

“It doesn’t matter,” Ezra muttered.  Kanan didn’t know if the kid was talking to him or to himself.

“It does,” Kanan said.  “Whatever you’re thinking about, you can tell me.”

“No,” Ezra snapped, flinching away from Kanan.  “It doesn’t matter.”

The kid took a long, shuddering breath, one of his hands coming up to cover his mouth, his other hand forming a claw-like shape, his nails digging into his arm.

Kanan froze up, unsure of what to do.  He felt like his presence was only making things worse, but Ezra was clearly in pain, even if he wouldn’t admit it, and Kanan didn’t want to leave him alone like this.

“Ezra,” he said, making sure he kept his voice as soft and nonthreatening as he could, “it’s okay.  You’re not back there.  He’s not here.”

“I know where I am,” Ezra said.  His voice was calmer, not shaking, as he lowered his hands back onto his lap.

There was a moment of painful silence as Kanan stayed quiet, not wanting to push or scare the kid.  Ezra was still staring blankly into space, his hands locked together as though he was trying to prevent them from shaking.

“Can I please be alone?” Ezra asked.

“Okay,” Kanan said.  “I -- I’m sorry, Ezra.  I didn’t mean to cause that.”

Kanan felt a knot form in his gut as he caught himself wondering how often Ezra’s master had said that to him, trying to justify what he’d done to hurt the kid.

“Please think about what I said,” he told Ezra as he stood up.

Ezra didn’t respond, but Kanan was willing to take that as a good sign.  At least it wasn’t a refusal.

Chapter Text

Ezra wasn’t actively trying to avoid Kanan.  On a ship this small, that would be nearly impossible.  But he spent a lot of time shut away in the cabin he’d been staying in, and when he saw Kanan, he would keep his head down and do his best to fade into the background.  Kanan always made it a point to try and bring Ezra into conversations, always noticing him no matter how invisible he tried to make himself.  To Kanan’s credit, he didn’t bring up the last conversation they'd had alone.

Kanan had asked him to think about what he’d told him, but Ezra had been doing everything he could to think about anything else.  But no matter he tried to distract himself, he’d catch himself dwelling on it, remembering what Kanan had said.  It’s cruelty.  It’s abuse.

He kept shoving the words out of his mind, telling himself Kanan didn’t understand, and nothing he said was worth listening to.  But those words kept coming back, like Kanan had burned them into his mind.  And maybe he had.  Maybe he had done something to Ezra to compel him to think about what he’d said.

Even knowing that it could all be a trick, Ezra’s mind still kept circling back to what Kanan had told him, how Kanan had kept insisting that Ezra wasn’t safe with his master.  It didn’t make any sense.  The whole point of his master teaching him had been to keep him safe.  He’d hidden Ezra from the Empire and trained him to fight back against them.  His master had raised him and taken care of him when there was no one else to do it.  Ezra had never known or cared where he came from, but he did know that he owed his life to his master.  In exchange for that, what were a few scrapes and bruises and broken bones?

This cycle of fixating on Kanan’s words and pushing them away only for them to come back continued for days before Kanan tried to speak to Ezra alone again.

Ezra was in the cabin he’d been staying in.  Not hiding, he insisted to himself.  He wasn’t hiding from Kanan or anyone else.

Just thinking about it dragged up those insistent thoughts about what Kanan had said.  He was putting you in danger.

Ezra was wrenched out of his thoughts by a soft knock on the door.  Kanan’s presence in the Force was becoming familiar, and Ezra recognized it almost immediately.  For a moment, he wondered what would happen if he just ignored the Jedi.  He quickly thought better of it and reached out through the Force, opening the door as he dropped from the bunk.

Kanan seemed to hesitate as he entered the room.  Ezra’s hands twitched nervously as he sensed Kanan’s uncertainty.  On the rare occasion he felt the same thing from Maul, it was always before a particularly brutal training session or harsh punishment.

“I wanted to apologize,” Kanan said.  “I know none of what I said was easy for you to hear, and I’m sorry for that, and for whatever it was I dragged up.”

Ezra looked away and shrugged.  The last thing he wanted to think about was what Kanan had said to him, but now that Kanan had confronted him about it, he supposed he didn’t have much of a choice.

“Whatever it was, if you need to talk about it, you can talk to me,” Kanan said.

Ezra shook his head.

“It doesn’t matter,” he said.

“If it scared you that much, I think it does,” Kanan said.  His voice was so gentle, as if he thought his words might break Ezra in two.  It made Ezra furious at the same time that he flinched at the sound of the words.

“I wasn’t scared,” Ezra said.  It wasn’t true, but Ezra didn’t particularly care if Kanan believed him or not.

“It was just something that happened when I was a little kid,” Ezra muttered, crossing his arms and glaring down at the floor.  “It doesn’t matter anymore.  I learned my lesson.”

He didn’t know why he’d said it.  It didn’t matter, and the last thing he wanted was to say anything that might make Kanan think he was right about Maul.  But he words had just come out, as if they’d been pulled from him.  Like something had made him want to tell Kanan.  Maul had taught him the signs of mental manipulation using the Force, of subtle and overt attempts to get past his mental shields.  He’d prepared Ezra for torture and imprisonment and pain beyond that which most humans could endure.  But whatever Kanan was doing, Maul had never prepared Ezra for it.  Ezra had no idea what Kanan was attempting and he had no way of defending himself against it.

“What did you really come in here to say?” Ezra asked before Kanan could say anything else.  He knew it couldn’t have been to apologize to him.  Why apologize to a prisoner in the first place?

“I wanted to talk to you about…have you ever thought about what your life would have been like without your master?” Kanan asked.

Ezra turned his gaze up toward Kanan, staring at him in confusion.

“What are you talking about?” he asked.

There was no life without his master.  Maul had taken care of him and taught him everything he knew.  Without his master, Ezra was nothing.

“I mean have you ever thought about the idea that you could be something other than his apprentice?” Kanan asked.

“No,” Ezra said.  What was Kanan talking about?  Ezra had been with his master his whole life.  There was no other choice, and he wouldn’t have wanted one, anyway.

“Years ago, before the Empire came to power, you might have been a Jedi,” Kanan said, that uncertainty Ezra had sensed before creeping into his voice.  “None of this would have ever happened to you.  You don’t have to decide anything right now, but it’s not too late for that to be possible.  You can be something more than what he made you into.”

Ezra’s eyes widened slightly as he realized what Kanan was saying.

“Never,” Ezra growled before Kanan could say another word, his voice shaking with anger.  “Do you really think I would turn my back on the man who raised me for you?  He’s the closest thing I have to a father.  I would rather die than betray him like that.”

“Ezra, I didn’t know --”

“Of course you didn’t know,” Ezra snapped.  “You just think I’m some helpless child and that he’s done nothing but hurt me!”

Ezra clenched his jaw, cutting off his words as his fear caught up with him as he realized what he was doing.  He couldn’t talk to Kanan like this.  He didn’t know what would happen.

His panic took over and Ezra shoved past Kanan and ran from the room.  He needed to get away from the Jedi, find somewhere to hide, somewhere no one would follow him.  But he couldn’t leave the ship on his own without risking getting hurt by someone who still thought he was an Inquisitor, or being locked in a cell again.

The storage hatch in the cargo bay.  It was small, quiet, and no one opened it unless they needed something.  Ezra ran to the cargo bay, narrowly avoiding running into Sabine as he turned the corner, and shut himself inside, sinking to the floor and putting his arms around himself.

He squeezed his eyes shut and reached out across his bond with his master.  His presence was faint, muted by distance, but it was still there.

I’m sorry, Master, he thought, feeling like something was closing around his chest, crushing him.  He knew Maul couldn’t hear his thoughts across the bond, but he didn’t care.  Thinking it still helped.  I’ll find a way home, I promise.


 

By the time Kanan followed Ezra into the hall, the kid had already turned the corner ahead of him.  Sabine was standing against the wall, as if she’d moved to get out of Ezra’s way.  Slowly, she turned her gaze from the corner Ezra had disappeared around to Kanan, who was staring after Ezra.

“What happened?” Sabine asked.

“I screwed up,” Kanan said, more to himself than to Sabine.  “I didn’t think -- I pushed him too soon.”

He snapped himself out of his thoughts and quickly scanned his eyes over Sabine.

“Did he hurt you?” he asked.

“No,” Sabine said, shaking her head.  “Just ran past me.  What did you say to him?”

“I offered…” he shook his head.  “I said something I shouldn’t have said yet.  I thought it would help, but I think I just made things worse.”

“Is he okay?” Sabine asked, her eyes darting in the direction Ezra had disappeared in.

“I don’t know,” Kanan said.

He rested a hand on Sabine’s shoulder for a moment as he brushed past her.  He leaned against the railing over the cargo bay.  He didn’t need to search to know where Ezra was hiding.  The kid’s pain and fear seemed to leak from the storage hatch, hammering against Kanan’s mind.

On some level, Kanan had known it was too soon.  Talking to Ezra about his abuse had been painful enough, and now he’d just made it worse.  But he’d wanted to give the kid something else, some shred of hope, something else he could be other than a weapon or an object to be used by his master.  He hadn’t understood that that wasn’t what Ezra was, or at least that Ezra didn't feel like that.

Most of what Kanan knew about Maul was what he’d been told by Ahsoka.  As a kid in the temple, he’d heard the legend of the Sith warrior who’d appeared after centuries of the Sith being believed gone, killing a Jedi Master before supposedly being killed, but Ahsoka had actually met him and fought him and seen in person what he’d done to Master Kenobi.  From what Ahsoka had told him and what he’d seen in Ezra’s actions, he’d never considered the possibility that Maul could have been a father-figure to his apprentice rather than just a master and a source of fear.

He should have known better.  Ezra had told Hera he’d been Maul’s apprentice for ten years.  Ezra thought he was ten years old, and he was maybe twelve at most.  He’d been with Maul most of his life, if not since he was born.  It made perfect sense that Ezra would see Maul as something like a father when he likely had nothing else to compare it to.  Kanan had never known his own parents, but the other Jedi had been his family.  Ezra hadn’t had that.  No matter how much Maul might have acted like a parent, Ezra had still known pain and fear at his hands.  He might not know that wasn’t how fathers were supposed to treat their children.  Or if he did, Maul might have convinced Ezra that he was different, that he deserved it.

Slowly, as Kanan waited, the pain and anger and fear began to fade away.  Kanan couldn’t tell if Ezra was feeling any better or if he was just hiding his feelings away in some corner of his mind where no one could sense them.

Kanan took a breath before descending the ladder into the cargo bay and crossing to the storage hatch.  As he knocked on the door, he heard a quiet, startled sound from the other side.  He hesitated for a second before opening the door to find Ezra huddled in the corner, his knees hugged up against his chest, biting down on the back of his hand.

“Ezra?” Kanan asked.  “Can we talk?”

When Ezra didn’t respond, Kanan tried again.

“If you want me to go away, I will,” he said.

Ezra just shrugged, but Kanan felt nothing to indicate Ezra wanted him gone.  He sat down on the floor in the doorway, bringing himself down to Ezra’s eye level, trying not to tower over him, and making sure there was space so Ezra could leave if he wanted to.

“I’m sorry,” Kanan said.  “I didn’t realize you and your master were that…close.  If I had, I wouldn’t have brought that up yet, or I would have done it differently.  I thought it might help, if you knew that was an option for you, but I was wrong, and I’m sorry.”

Ezra was silent for a moment, and Kanan wondered if he should just leave the kid alone now, let him take his time to decide if he would take the apology or leave it.  Before he could, Ezra finally spoke up, his voice holding just the smallest tremor.

“If he even knew you said that to me, he’d --”

His voice broke off and shook his head, drawing his knees even closer to his chest.

“What would he do?” Kanan asked.

Ezra just rested his forehead on top of his knees, ignoring the question.

“Would he hurt you?”

“I don’t know,” Ezra said.  “If he -- if he thought I’d considered saying yes, then…”

“I’m sorry, Ezra,” Kanan said.  “I didn’t think about that.  But he never has to find out I said that.  And if you ever thought about it --”

“No,” Ezra said, looking up again and shaking his head.  “I can’t.  I won't betray him like that.”

“Thinking about a life without him isn’t betraying him,” Kanan said.  “Especially not after the way he’s treated you.”

“You don’t understand,” Ezra said.  The tremor in his voice had grown stronger until it was actually shaking.  Kanan could sense the kid’s desperation, his need to make Kanan understand.

“I understand that he raised you,” Kanan said, “and that he’s hurt you enough to make you afraid of him.  But just because you think of him as a father doesn’t mean it’s okay for him to do this to you.”

“He doesn’t like hurting me,” Ezra said.  “But sometimes he has to.”

“He never has to hurt you,” Kanan said.

“Yes, he does!” Ezra said.  “I know better than to question him, but sometimes I do it anyway.  Sometimes I’m disobedient and he has to punish me because if I don’t listen to him, I can get hurt.”

Ezra hung his head, tangling his fingers in his hair and letting out a frustrated noise that sounded almost like a growl.  Anger and frustration flowed off of him, tangled together in knots.  In his view, this was so simple, and Kanan couldn’t or wouldn’t understand it.

“He wants me to destroy the Empire,” Ezra said.  “That means taking risks and he’s the one who understands them better.  I have to listen to him and follow his lead if I don’t want to get myself killed.”

“Is that what you want?” Kanan asked.  “To destroy the Empire?”

“Yes,” Ezra said, letting go of his hair so he could look up at Kanan.  “Sidious abandoned my master and left him to die because he didn’t need him anymore.  He destroyed the most important person in the galaxy to me, and I want him to pay.  And Maul…he’s my master.  I exist because of him and I owe him everything, so what he wants, I want.”

“If that’s true, why don’t you always obey him?” Kanan asked.

“Because I’m a child,” Ezra said, his shoulders slumping.  The way he said it sounded almost like the words weren’t his, like he was repeating them from someone else.  “Because I’m difficult and I need to learn discipline and focus.  Because sometimes he goes easy on me and then I don’t learn.”

A knot formed in Kanan’s stomach, drawing tighter with each word Ezra spoke.  He clearly believed every word he was saying.  Every word that had likely been drilled into his head by Maul to justify whatever cruelties Ezra had suffered at his hands.  Every word that had likely been repeated so often that Ezra really thought he deserved punishment and pain and fear from someone he looked up to.

“Ezra,” Kanan said gently, “that sounds a lot like him talking.”

“Well, he’s right,” Ezra said, glaring down at the floor.  “I’m difficult and undisciplined and disobedient and he tries to teach me anyway because he wants me to survive.  Because he cares about me.”

Kanan felt a spark of anger in his heart and quickly shoved it back down.  He could deal with his anger about this later, when he wasn’t so close to Ezra.  When the kid wouldn’t sense it and get scared.

But it was too late.  Ezra had gone perfectly still, his eyes wide as he stared at Kanan, his breath catching in his throat.

“I’m not angry at you, Ezra,” Kanan said, keeping his voice calm.  “I’m angry at him.”

Ezra just kept staring at Kanan as he processed the words, Kanan staying silent to give him time to do it.

“W--why?” Ezra asked, his voice shaking even worse than it had been before.

“Because you don’t show people you care by hurting them,” Kanan said.  “It’s cruel and it’s wrong, and I’m angry that he did that to you.  That isn’t caring, Ezra.  It’s abuse.”

“He does care,” Ezra said, his voice weak, like he didn’t fully believe what he was saying, or more likely, didn’t think it was worth trying to convince Kanan of it.

“That doesn’t make anything he did any less cruel,” Kanan said.  “This is something abusers do all the time.  They make you think that they’re hurting you because they care or want to protect you, or that there’s something special about you that makes it okay to hurt you.  Like being difficult or disobedient.”

“What if I don’t care?” Ezra asked, his voice barely above a whisper now.

“What do you mean?”

“What if I don’t care?” Ezra repeated.  “He’s my master.  He’s been raising me since before I can remember.  He took me in and took care of me when I didn’t have anyone else.”

“Keeping you alive doesn’t mean he gets to hurt you,” Kanan said.  “You don’t owe him that, no matter what he did for you.”

“You don’t understand,” Ezra muttered.  “You don’t know him.”

“You’re right,” Kanan said.  “I don’t know him.  But you do, and you’re afraid of him.  I think that means a lot more than you’re letting yourself believe.”

Kanan hesitantly reached out and put a hand on Ezra’s shoulder.  To his surprise, Ezra didn’t flinch or pull away.

“I really am sorry, Ezra,” Kanan said.  “I didn’t know.  That’s all I wanted to say.  And I meant it, you don’t have to decide anything right now.  You don’t even have to think about it.”

“I can’t,” Ezra said.

“I know,” Kanan said.

He tightened his hand around Ezra’s shoulder just slightly, and he could have sworn he saw a small smile twitch across the boy’s face for just a moment.  He stood up and headed back out of the cargo bay, letting Ezra hide out in the storage hatch as long as he needed to.


 

Ezra rested his head down on his knees again as Kanan walked away.  The Jedi’s words echoed in his head, you don’t owe him that, no matter what he did for you.  Kanan couldn’t possibly understand Ezra’s life.  He was a Jedi who’d grown up with other Jedi.  He didn’t know what it was to have no one else but his master.

Ezra didn’t know how he’d come to be in Maul’s care.  It had never mattered to him, so he’d never asked.  But he knew that without his master, he was nothing.  He never would have survived if it wasn’t for Maul.

You don’t owe him.

It didn’t make any sense.  Of course he owed Maul for everything he’d done.  Why wouldn’t he?

What if Kanan’s right?

Ezra clenched his jaw and shook his head, as if he could fling that thought away.  He didn’t have any reason to believe Kanan or to trust him.  And he knew exactly what his master would say if he knew Ezra had even considered that.  He would say Ezra was weak, that he was letting himself be too easily influenced.  At best, he would lock Ezra in isolation for days; at worst, he would beat Ezra until he couldn’t stand.  Ezra wished he was home so it could happen.  He’d accept his punishment and let it be a reminder to him never to let his guard down and allow someone to try and turn him against his master.

Ezra sighed heavily and leaned back against the wall, staring up at the ceiling above him.  What was wrong with him?  Even if he deserved it, he didn’t like being hurt any more than Maul liked hurting him -- and he refused to believe Maul liked it, no matter how much Kanan seemed to think otherwise -- so why did he spend every day he’d been here wishing he could go home and be hurt?  Just to get the inevitable pain over with?

He knew Kanan was the reason he was even thinking about this now.  Before, Ezra never would have wondered why he was okay with whatever punishments Maul inflicted.  He’d always known he deserved them, even if he hated them.  But Kanan had put these thoughts into his head and now they wouldn’t leave him alone.

Slowly, Ezra got to his feet and opened the door.  He peered around the corner and, seeing no sign of Kanan or any of the others, he slipped out of the storage hatch.  As quickly and quietly as he could, he climbed the ladder and rushed back to the cabin he’d been staying in.  If Kanan came looking for him again, this was the first place he’d think to look, but at least he wouldn’t find Ezra still hiding in the cargo bay.  And Ezra didn’t know the ship well enough to find another hiding place, anyway.

As he pulled himself up onto the top bunk, Ezra noticed the datapad Kanan had lent him wasn’t in the same place he’d left it.  He picked it up, suddenly curious, like he knew there was something he was supposed to see.

As he scrolled through the datapad’s contents, looking for anything he didn’t recognize, he saw them.  A few small files that hadn’t been there before, most of them with the word “abuse” in the title.

Ezra quickly switched the datapad off and set it aside, wondering if Kanan thought he was being subtle.

Chapter Text

Kanan couldn’t help but think that the Ghost felt somehow both painfully empty and far too crowded with just himself and Ezra on board.

The others had all been called out on a mission as backup for another crew.  Knowing it was much too soon to ask Ezra to go with them, Kanan had volunteered to stay behind with the kid.  The whole time it had been just the two of them on the ship, Ezra had been quiet and withdrawn.  That wasn’t unusual for him, but it somehow seemed pointed, enough that Kanan wondered if he was just reading too much into it.  Ezra hadn’t spoken much since he’d first arrived on the Ghost, except during conversations with Kanan that quickly turned into confrontations.  Beyond that, he seemed to do everything he could to fade into the background, trying to make himself unnoticed.

He hadn’t expected Ezra to be enthusiastic about staying with them.  He’d known from the moment he’d first brought the idea up to Ahsoka that Ezra wouldn’t want to stay.  He’d also known that he couldn’t just send Ezra back to his master or turn him loose to fend for himself.  He was just a kid.  A kid who was scared and abused, even if he wouldn’t acknowledge it.  Kanan knew it would take a long time and a lot of patience to get Ezra to accept that he couldn’t go back, if he ever accepted it at all.

Kanan was more than willing to let Ezra take as long as he needed to understand the reality of what had been done to him, but it hurt to see him so confused and scared and angry.  And as if that wasn’t enough, Kanan couldn’t shake the guilt that came with the thought that he was partially responsible for the kid’s pain.

It came as no surprise to Kanan when Ezra had vanished shortly after the others left.  The carrier’s sleep cycle had begun a few hours before, and Ezra had said he was going to sleep early.  Maybe he was just tired -- Kanan knew he hadn’t been sleeping much -- but Kanan was sure it was also a convenient excuse to avoid being alone with him.  Not that he could blame the kid for that.  Even before Ezra had said anything about it, Kanan had sensed his fear when he’d brought up the Jedi.  It was buried under anger so powerful that it had hit Kanan like a runaway speeder, but it was there.  The kid had been so afraid that he could be hurt just for Kanan saying that to him.

More than that, he’d been furious at the suggestion that he would even want that.  Kanan had thought the kid could use some hope, but he'd been wrong.  Ezra had plenty of hope, and Maul was the one who’d given it to him, holding the promise of power over his head, instilling in him a hatred for the Empire and a dream that they would one day destroy it.  To Ezra, the thought of being anything other than Maul’s apprentice wasn’t hopeful.  It was a betrayal of his master and himself.

Kanan was wrenched out of his thoughts of Ezra by a sound.  Not quite a scream, but a cry just loud enough to get Kanan’s attention.  Stronger than the sound itself was what Kanan felt in the Force; a feeling that was somehow both twisted around and shattered, tied up in knots even as it was being pulled apart.

Kanan stood up as if he’d been pulled to his feet.  As he rushed down the corridor toward Ezra and Zeb’s cabin, sheer terror pulsed through the air around him.  If he hadn’t already known where Ezra was, his fear would have been like a beacon, broadcasting his location to anyone who could sense it.  Hopelessness and despair and a defiant anger twisted together like a tangle of thorns.

As Kanan reached the door, he heard a small, terrified sound, a whimper or a muffled cry.  He quickly knocked on the door, but there was no answer.

“Ezra?” he called.

Still, there was no answer, but Kanan could hear more quiet, terrified sounds, like Ezra was trying not to scream.

As Kanan opened the door, a wave of fear and hatred and desperation crashed over him, like it was trying to drag him down and drown him.  The air in the small room felt so much colder than the rest of the ship.  Ezra was lying flat on his back, his face screwed up as if he was in pain.  His right hand was clawing at the mat he was lying on, his legs twitching and thrashing as if he was trying to kick something away from him.

“No,” Ezra muttered.  “No!”

“Ezra,” Kanan said, carefully approaching the bunk.  “Ezra, it’s okay.”

As he drew closer, he could hear Ezra muttering words so quiet and incoherent that Kanan couldn’t understand most of them.

“No,” he muttered.  “No, I won't.”

Kanan put a hand on Ezra’s shoulder, trying to shake him awake as gently as he could.  As he did, he reached out with his mind, holding out feelings of safety and security, the feeling of clinging to something steady that would keep you upright.

Ezra’s eyes snapped open, staring at Kanan in terror as he screamed.


 

It was pitch dark and Ezra couldn’t move.  All he could see was the Inquisitor standing over him, her eyes piercing through the darkness, through him, her lightsaber casting a blood red glow through the air.

“You want this to stop, don’t you?” she asked, lowering her blade until it was hovering over Ezra’s chest, so close that he could feel the heat of it on his skin.

“Just say so and it might,” she said.

She lowered the blade just a fraction of an inch more, until it was just touching Ezra’s skin.  Slowly, she dragged it down his chest, drawing a scream from him.

“No,” he muttered as she pulled the blade away.  He wouldn’t beg for mercy, not from her, not from an enemy.

The Inquisitor laughed, her eyes seeming to glow brighter as she did.

“Do you like this, little one?” she asked.  “Do you want to keep being hurt?”

She punctuated the question by dragging her blade across Ezra’s chest again.  Ezra felt bile rising in his throat at the smell of burning flesh, but managed to swallow it back down.

“Just ask me to make it stop,” the Inquisitor said.

“No,” Ezra said, his voice breaking as he spoke.  “I won't.”

“You will,” she said, the smile never leaving her face.  “Sooner or later.”

Ezra tried to reach out across his bond with his master, but there was nothing there.  The Force was just barely out of his reach, like it was taunting him with how close it was and how he couldn’t get to it.

Master, help, he thought.  Please help me.

But there was no response, no sign that his master had felt him crying out.  There couldn’t be.  Ezra was on his own.

And then he was there, gathering Ezra’s barely-conscious body into his arms.  The shadows behind him shifted as the Inquisitor appeared, as if she’d materialized from the darkness itself.  Ezra tried to speak, tried to warn Maul, but his voice wouldn’t work.  He couldn’t even scream as the Inquisitor ignited her lightsaber and brought one of the blades slashing through Maul’s neck.


 

Something was gripping Ezra’s shoulder.

Something was shaking him.

Something was brushing against his mind.  Something steady and strong and real and there and he clung to it like it was keeping him from falling.

Ezra screamed, lashing out blindly, his hand closing around something.  A moment later, he realized that he’d grabbed Kanan’s wrist.  For a moment, he just stared blankly at the Jedi, his breath coming in sharp gasps as his mind tried to catch up to what he was seeing.  As soon as it did, he released Kanan, pulling away from him and sitting up, pressing his back against the wall.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

“It’s okay,” Kanan said.  “You don’t have to be sorry.  Are you alright?”

Ezra didn’t answer, averting his gaze from Kanan.  The way Kanan was looking at him, Ezra felt like something was twisting around inside his chest, like a snake furiously trying to escape from a trap.

“Ezra, are you okay?” Kanan asked.

“I’m fine,” Ezra said.  His voice broke as he said it, destroying whatever effect the words might have had.

“Are you sure?” Kanan asked.

Ezra flinched.  Kanan’s voice was so gentle, like he thought if he spoke too loudly or too harshly, it would hurt Ezra.  He forced himself not to flinch again as he realized that in doing so the first time, he’d probably just answered Kanan’s question.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

Ezra shrugged.  The action was involuntary, and he knew he should have just said no, but he didn’t, for reasons he couldn’t wrap his head around.

“Was it your master?” Kanan asked.

Ezra shook his head.

“No,” he said, barely sounding like he was saying an actual word.  “I--Inquisitor.”

“An Inquisitor?” Kanan asked.

Ezra nodded.

“You can tell me what happened if you want to,” Kanan said.

Hearing the words, Ezra felt like something was ripping into his chest.  He had never needed to tell before.  His master had clearly seen the cuts and bruises and burns and known how they got there.  Too emotionally shattered and exhausted to shield his mind properly, Ezra’s nightmares and flashbacks and memories had been projected strongly enough that Maul had a clear enough picture of everything that had happened.  All he needed from Ezra was a nod, a shake of his head, or brief answers, just one or two words.  Ezra had never needed to talk about it.

“What’s there to tell?” Ezra asked, the words sounding much more bitter than he’d expected them to.  “She hurt me.”

“You don’t have to say anything if you don’t want to,” Kanan said.

“There’s no point,” Ezra said.

“It could help,” Kanan said, “but only if you actually want to talk.”

“I can't,” Ezra said, shaking his head.  “I can’t.”

“Then you don’t have to,” Kanan said.  “It’s okay.”

Kanan reached out, putting his hand on Ezra’s arm.

“I know how hard nightmares can be,” he said, “but it already happened.  She’s not here and she can’t hurt you again.”

“Yes, she can,” Ezra said, the words coming out involuntarily.  “Maybe not now, but she still can.”

Ezra shook his head vigorously, trying to push the thought out of his mind.

“No,” he muttered quickly.  “No, you’re right, it doesn’t matter.”

“It does matter,” Kanan said, “but you’re safe right now.  I promise.”

As he pulled his hand away, Ezra reached out and grabbed it.  His eyes widened and his breath caught in his throat as he realized what he’d done.

“I’m sorry,” he said, letting go of Kanan’s hand as if he’d been burned.  What was he doing?

“It’s alright,” Kanan said.

Ezra shook his head.  His master would have at the very least hit him for showing such an obvious sign of weakness.

“Do you want me to stay until you fall asleep?” Kanan asked.

“No,” Ezra said quickly, terrified by the thought of it.  He’d gotten away with asking his master to stay with him exactly once.  He couldn’t ask Kanan, who was still nearly a stranger, to do that.  “No, I’m okay.”

“You sure?” Kanan asked.

“Yes,” Ezra said.

“Okay,” Kanan said.  “If you need me, you know where to find me.”

Ezra nodded, though he had absolutely no intention of seeking Kanan out if he had another nightmare.  As Kanan left the room, Ezra’s shoulders dropped.  He didn’t even realize he’d raised them up to shield himself.  He stayed where he was, staring blankly into the darkness around him as something coiled tightly in his chest slowly began to unravel.

Finally, he was able to lie down, but he couldn’t bring himself to close his eyes again.  It wasn’t even thoughts of the Inquisitor, or at least not just her.  He didn’t understand why he’d said anything to Kanan.  He didn’t understand why he’d trusted Kanan with any of that.  There was no reason to tell Kanan anything, but he’d been scared and confused and Kanan was there and he was kind and understanding and had comforted him.  And Ezra had been weak enough to want that.

He wondered if it had been some kind of trick, meant to make him trust Kanan more.  And he wondered why he didn’t care as much anymore.

Ezra forced himself to close his eyes, to help himself focus.  He reached for his bond with Maul, clinging to it, even though it was muted by distance.  He wanted this all to be over.  He wanted to be back home where things made sense.  Back home with his master, he knew his place, he knew the rules, he knew how things worked.  Here, everything was different and it scared him.

“Master, please help me,” Ezra whispered, repeating the words he’d thought and whispered and screamed over and over during the days the Inquisitor had held him hostage.

But he wouldn’t help.  He couldn’t, not until he found where Ezra was being held.  Just like before, Ezra was on his own.  And a coil of fear tightened in his chest as he realized he almost didn’t mind.

Chapter Text

Ezra had been quiet for the past few days, but Kanan knew something was different than it had been before.  Kanan could sense the kid was still afraid, but he seemed just a little more at ease.  Kanan was tempted to ask what had changed, but he didn’t want to disrupt a balance that had only just begun and was still just barely there.  More than that, he had a feeling he already knew the answer, and he didn’t want to drag up those memories if Ezra didn’t want to deal with them.

The rest of the crew had returned to Phoenix Nest during the wake cycle after Ezra had woken up screaming, and Ezra had greeted them with a smile and actual words, earning him a double-take from Sabine as she’d walked past him.  To her credit, she didn’t comment on it, simply smiling back before retreating to her cabin.

Later that day, Ezra had only hesitated for a brief moment before he sat down with the rest of the crew for dinner.  It was so quick, Kanan almost hadn’t noticed, and wasn’t sure any of the others had.  He didn’t speak much and barely looked up from where he stared down at the table, but he somehow managed to seem so much more present than he had before.

Kanan couldn’t help but wonder if Ezra was forcing himself to act less angry and afraid around the others as a way of somehow “making up” for the fear he’d shown when he’d had that nightmare about the Inquisitor, or overcompensating for that brief moment he’d sought out comfort.  Kanan knew the kid would see that as weakness and it would make perfect sense that he would try to prove he’d moved past it.  He thought constantly about just asking Ezra, wanting to tell him he didn’t need to make up for it or be ashamed of it, but they had both wordlessly agreed not to mention what had happened.  Ezra had clearly not wanted to talk to Kanan about it, and Kanan wasn’t about to force him to.  And so Kanan resigned himself to wondering about the slight shift in Ezra’s demeanor unless the kid ever decided to open up about it on his own.

But even as Ezra acted outwardly more at ease and even, Kanan dared to hope, happier, Kanan could still sense the darkness clinging to him.  Not the twisted, all-consuming darkness that wove itself through the Force signature of any wielder of the dark side.  It was the darkness of low-hanging storm clouds and bitterly cold winter nights where the sun set far too early.  It was a fog following Ezra around, a weight on his shoulders, a deep, heavy sadness that the boy was struggling to carry.  Kanan didn’t need the Force to be able to sense it.  It was there when Ezra’s face fell when he thought no one was looking, in the way his shoulders slumped or he gazed blankly into the space directly in front of him.  Even if the rare moments where Kanan could sense he was genuinely content, that cloud was still there, hovering over him and not willing to leave him alone.


 

Two full cycles after that night that -- don’t think about it don’t acknowledge it -- Kanan had woken him from his nightmare, Ezra found himself quietly wandering the Ghost after everyone else had gone to sleep.  Since the rest of the crew had come back, Ezra hadn’t had another night as bad as that one had been, but he knew it was only a matter of time.  He’d briefly considered finding another place to sleep, but no matter where he hid on the ship, he knew the others would hear him if he started screaming.

Kanan hadn’t said a word to him about that night, which Ezra was more than grateful for.  He’d shown a moment of weakness so obvious he’d never have been able to pass it off as anything else.  He’d acted like a child, reaching out to Kanan because he couldn’t handle a bad dream.  Kanan hadn’t said anything about it.  He’d seemed sympathetic, almost like he actually understood, like he was okay with it, but still Ezra felt like he’d done something wrong.  He knew he had, even if Kanan didn’t see it that way.

He’d done his best to make sure he seemed like he’d recovered from that night, to make Kanan think there was no reason to believe it would happen again.  It wasn’t even an act all of the time.  Ezra really was starting to get used to everyone.  He was still afraid of what would happen when he crossed a line, whether he meant to or not, and what would happen when he finally saw an opening to escape, but even as that fear lingered, he was learning to live with it until he could get away.

Ezra had felt Kanan watching him more closely.  Even when Kanan’s eyes weren’t on him directly, he knew Kanan was listening when he spoke, picking up on shifts in his emotions, or at least the ones on the surface of his mind.  It almost seemed like Kanan was searching for something, though not in the intrusive way Maul did when he thought Ezra was trying to hide something.  It was more like he was watching and waiting to see if something was going to happen.

Ezra hated himself for even thinking of it like that.  How could he think of Maul’s searches of his mind as intrusive?  Maul was his master, practically his father, and he had every right to know what happened inside Ezra’s mind, didn’t he?  It wasn’t like he had to search Ezra’s mind that often.  It only happened when he thought Ezra was hiding something truly important, and it didn’t hurt Ezra, unless Maul wanted to make it hurt.

As Ezra paced around the Ghost’s common area, his footsteps making almost no sound, just like he’d been taught, a thought snaked its way into his head.  Kanan doesn’t understand.  It didn’t make any sense for him to be thinking that.  Not about this.  Kanan didn’t know about Maul searching Ezra’s mind.  For all Ezra knew, that was something Kanan might say was normal, though Ezra doubted that was the case.  Kanan seemed to think everything his master did was wrong.

You could ask.

Ezra shook his head, trying to clear that thought out of his mind.  There was no point.

As Ezra stopped pacing, he saw it, lying forgotten on the small side table bolted into the wall.  A commlink.  One of the others must have left it behind.  The datapad Kanan had lent him had no communication features, and everyone on the Ghost was in close enough quarters to each other that Ezra knew he would be caught if he snuck into the cockpit to send a transmission.  But a commlink was small and easy to hide.  If it was missing for too long, someone might suspect he’d stolen it, but right now, they were all asleep.  No one would know.

Ezra stood perfectly still for a moment, listening intently for footsteps or the distinctive sound of Chopper wheeling his way across the metal floor.  Hearing nothing out of the ordinary, Ezra quickly made his way across the room.  He hesitated for a moment, briefly wondering if leaving the commlink behind had been intentional, a way to test how resigned to his continued imprisonment Ezra was.  Shaking his head as he reminded himself that he had almost nothing to lose, Ezra quickly reached out and grabbed the commlink.  He would put it back right where he’d found it and no one would know.  If this was a test, they would think that he hadn’t touched it, that he wasn’t going to take an obvious chance to call for help.  He would finally have the upper hand.

Ezra crept quietly through the ship.  He couldn’t be too close to the crew’s quarters and risk his voice carrying and waking any of them.  In fact, he realized, it was probably better if he wasn’t on the Ghost at all.

The plan solidifying in his mind, he made his way to the airlock.  It would make much less noise than the loading ramp would.  As he reached it, he closed his eyes, feeling through the space just beyond the door.  He could sense no one present nearby.  No one would notice him leaving the ship.

Ezra’s hand shook just slightly as he opened the airlock.  He glanced around quickly, confirming with his eyes what he’d felt in the Force, before he stepped into the hangar.  The Ghost was at the very end of the hangar and Ezra quickly found an isolated corner, hidden behind a few storage crates with a heavy coating of dust on them, indicating this area wasn’t one people spent much time in.

Before he could lose his nerve -- why would I lose it? he thought -- Ezra quickly switched the commlink to the frequency he needed, hoping he was close enough within range that it would work, and that his master would answer.

Within moments, a small light on the commlink flashed, indicating that it had been answered.

“Master?” Ezra said, his voice shaking.  “It’s me.”

“Ezra.”

Ezra’s heart skipped a beat as he heard his master’s voice.  That deep, agonizing feeling of homesickness that he’d been fighting so hard to control took hold of him again, ripping through his chest and tearing him open.  He wanted to go home so badly it was like the feeling was crushing him.  Part of him wanted to break down and beg his master to come and save him, to admit that he hadn’t been ready, that he couldn’t get out of this on his own.

But he couldn’t say that.  He couldn’t say any of it.  He wouldn’t let his master see just how weak being imprisoned here had made him.  Not yet.

“Where are you?” Maul asked.

He almost sounded worried, and that just made the twisting, tearing feeling in Ezra’s chest worse.  His master didn’t worry.  At the very least, he didn’t let it show.

“I don’t know,” Ezra said.  “It’s a ship or a space station, but I don’t know where.  These comms are encrypted, so I don’t know if you can track them.  But I -- I’m safe.”

He wasn’t sure why he’d said it.  He knew any safety he had here had to be conditional at best.  If any of the others found out he’d left the ship, Ezra was sure he wouldn’t be safe then.  He’d probably be dragged back into a cell and locked up again, maybe beaten or tortured for what would be seen as an escape attempt.  And unlike his master, these people had no real reason to care if Ezra survived it.

But he wanted his master to know that he was okay, that he hadn’t been tortured or threatened with execution yet.  He didn’t know why, but he needed Maul to know.

“Ezra, who took you?” Maul asked.

“The rebellion,” Ezra said, keeping his voice low and straining his ears to listen for approaching footsteps.  “They thought I was an Inquisitor.  They know I’m not, but they won't let me go.  I got away, but --”

“Are you alone now?”

“Yes,” Ezra said.

“Find an escape pod or a fighter and leave now,” Maul said.

Ezra froze.  He could do it.  They’d trusted him enough that he’d been able to leave the Ghost with a stolen commlink.  He could escape now before anyone realized he was gone.  And now that he was faced with not just the possibility, but a direct order from his master to do it, he was afraid, and he didn’t know what of.

Ezra was snapped out of his spiraling thoughts by the sound of footsteps nearby.

“Someone’s coming,” he whispered.

“Ezra --”

Ezra switched off the commlink, clutching it tightly in his hand.  He didn’t know what to do, not about his escape and not about whoever it was that was quickly approaching his hiding spot.  Why had he thought this was a good idea?  He couldn’t be the only person who’d noticed this was a good place to hide.

Ezra pressed himself back against the wall, mentally preparing himself to attack or defend if he had to, as a familiar figure stepped around the crates.

“Ezra?” Ahsoka asked.

She sounded genuinely surprised to see him.  So no one on the Ghost had noticed him missing yet.  They weren’t searching for him.  Ezra stared at Ahsoka, weighing the idea of trying to pull the memory of finding him from her mind, knowing that she was probably the only person who knew he’d left the Ghost.  But Ezra could sense her power.  She’d know what he was trying to do immediately, and she would stop him.  He would go back in a cell for that, he was sure of it, and he doubted they’d make it so easy for him to escape this time.

“I thought I heard someone back here,” Ahsoka said, oblivious to what had just gone through Ezra’s mind.  Her expression shifted as she looked him up and down.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

“I’m fine,” Ezra said, the response automatic.

“Are you sure?” she asked, her gaze moving away from his face.

He followed her eyes to see that his hands were shaking.  If she noticed the commlink clutched in his right hand, she made no mention of it.

“Y--yes,” Ezra said, wincing as he stuttered, diminishing whatever effect his answer might have had.

How could he have been so stupid?  Why had he left the Ghost?  He knew he wasn’t allowed to leave on his own.  Kanan and Hera had barely set any rules for him to follow and now he’d been caught breaking one and they’d been kind to him and hadn’t hurt him but now they were going to now they had to because --

“Ezra?” Ahsoka said.

Ezra jumped as he felt a hand on his shoulder, his face burning with embarrassment as he realized his whole body was shaking now.  Ahsoka’s concern was now so strong he could sense it without needing to see it on her face or even try to feel it in the Force.

“You still with me?” she asked.

Ezra nodded.

“Come on,” Ahsoka said, keeping her hand on his shoulder as she gently guided him out of the corner.  “I’ll walk you back to the Ghost.”

Ezra fell into step beside her, keeping his gaze focused on the floor just in front of his feet.  He should just run now.  He wasn’t at home, he wasn’t dealing with his master.  He could fight whatever punishment he was about to get.  These people weren’t his masters who he was supposed to obey, they were his captors who were holding him against his will.  He should be running.  He should be kicking and screaming, breaking out of any containment methods they used on him, finding a weapon and killing anyone who stood between him and his escape.

“What’s going to happen?” he asked, barely even realizing that he had spoken out loud.

“What do you mean?” Ahsoka asked.

“I-- I left the ship alone,” Ezra said.  “Without permission.  Do you know what’s going to happen to me for that?”

Ahsoka stopped in her tracks and Ezra stopped, too, his heart skipping a beat as he wondered if asking the question had been a mistake.

“Ezra, nothing’s going to happen to you,” Ahsoka said.  “We didn’t want you leaving the ship because --”

She sighed, almost seeming like she regretted what she was about to say.

“Because we thought if you did, you might try to run away and go back to your master,” she said.  “And because there might still be people who think you’re an Inquisitor.  We tried to keep it quiet that we thought you were one, but it got out.  None of us wanted you getting hurt, so we thought if enough time passed, people would realize you weren't dangerous.”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Ezra muttered, barely realizing he was speaking out loud.  Ahsoka had to be lying, trying to lure him into a false sense of security before she delivered him back to Kanan and Hera, or just dragged him back down to the detention block herself.

“The worst thing that will probably happen is Hera lecturing you about being more careful,” Ahsoka said, her hand tightening around Ezra’s shoulder as if she was trying to reassure him.  “But Kanan and Hera won't hurt you for it, even if they found out.  They’re not like that.”

Even if they found out.  The words stuck in Ezra’s head as he looked up at Ahsoka in surprise.

“Aren’t you going to tell them?” he asked.

There was a beat of silence, as Ahsoka seemed to be reconsidering what she’d said.

“Who did you contact?” she asked.

Ezra looked away.  She probably knew the answer already, but she wanted him to say it.

“My master,” he said quietly.

“And did you tell Maul where to find us?” Ahsoka asked.

“I don’t know where we are,” Ezra said, his voice bitter.

“Then I don’t have any reason to tell anyone,” Ahsoka said.  “You didn’t put the Nest in danger.”

She began walking again and Ezra followed, breathing a little easier even if he didn’t understand why Ahsoka wouldn’t tell anybody what he’d done.

“You shouldn’t have contacted him,” Ahsoka said as they continued their trek to the Ghost.

“I don’t know anything I could have told him,” Ezra said.

“I know,” Ahsoka said.  “I’m not talking about that.  I just meant --”

She shook her head.

“Never mind,” she said.  “You’ve probably gotten this lecture from Kanan and Hera a hundred times already.”

Ezra was glad she’d decided to stop.  He didn’t think he’d be able to take hearing that his master was a bad person who’d hurt him from the woman who’d actually taken him away and brought him here in the first place.  Ahsoka might have thought he was an Inquisitor at first, but she clearly held a position of some authority and probably could have let Ezra leave once she’d known the truth.  She was just as responsible for his current situation as Kanan was, if not more so.

An awkward silence fell between them until they reached the Ghost and Ahsoka spoke again.

“I meant it,” she said.  “I don’t plan on telling anyone you snuck out.”

“Thanks,” Ezra muttered, though he couldn’t bring himself to feel particularly grateful toward her at the moment.

“Ezra,” she said, stopping him in his tracks just as he started to walk away.  “I’m sorry.”

Ezra turned away without a word and held out his hand, pushing the airlock open.  He was getting really tired of people telling him they were sorry.

The ship was still silent with no one awake yet.  As Ezra passed into the common space, he stopped and looked around.  If he just left the commlink where he’d found it and went back to bed, no one would ever have to know what he’d done unless Ahsoka told.  It was the obvious thing to do to avoid any trouble, so why was Ezra having doubts about doing it?  Why was he feeling guilty?

After a moment of hesitation, Ezra made his decision.  Clutching the commlink tightly in his hand, he sank into a chair and began to wait.


 

Ezra tensed up as he heard footsteps approaching.  A moment later, Kanan entered the room, jumping slightly when he saw Ezra sitting there, staring at the door he'd just walked through.

“What are you doing up?” Kanan asked.

“Waiting for you,” Ezra said.

He was glad Kanan was the first one to wake up.  Kanan’s anger was still a terrifying unknown to Ezra, but out of the whole crew, Kanan was the one he was the most familiar with.  And he didn’t want to have this conversation when anyone else was awake to hear it.  If Kanan was going to beat him for what he’d done, he didn’t want it to happen in front of the others.

“Can I -- can I talk to you about something?” he asked.

“Caf first,” Kanan said.  “Come with me.”

Ezra stood and followed Kanan to the galley.  He sat down at the table while Kanan went about the routine of making caf for himself and whoever wandered into the room next.

“Want any?” he asked, glancing over his shoulder at Ezra, who quickly shook his head.

“Alright,” Kanan said, sliding into a seat across from Ezra with a cup in his hand.  “What did you want to talk about?”

“I did something,” Ezra said, staring down at the table so he didn’t have to look at Kanan.  Slowly, he placed the commlink on the table between them, then pulled his hand back into his lap.

“Last night, someone left it lying around,” he said.  “And I -- I took it and --”

Ezra closed his eyes, clenching his hands into fists and forcing the words out in a rush.

“I left the Ghost and I contacted my master,” he said.

His words were met with silence that felt far too heavy.  His mind took advantage of it to begin imagining what would happen next.  Kanan lunging across the table to hit him.  Kanan dragging him from where he sat and throwing him to the ground.  Kanan beating him as he harshly reminded Ezra that he’d been warned not to leave, that he was never going back to his master and he needed to accept that.

“Ezra.”

Kanan’s voice was gentle and once again, Ezra felt that faint sense of comfort and safety being held out to him through the Force.  This time, he shrank away from it.

“Nothing bad is going to happen to you right now,” Kanan said, as if he knew exactly what was going through Ezra’s mind.  “No one is going to hurt you.”

Slowly, Ezra opened his eyes again.  Kanan hadn’t moved, and there was no sign of anger on his face or in the Force.  Then again, sometimes Maul seemed perfectly calm before he’d struck.

“Ezra, you’re not going to get in trouble,” Kanan said, “but can you tell me what you told him?”

“I said I didn’t know where I am,” Ezra said.  “And that the rebellion took me and -- and that I’m safe.”

“Can I ask why you did it?” Kanan asked.

“I -- I just wanted to talk to him,” Ezra said.  “I wanted him to know I’m okay.  The last time --”

He cut himself off, mentally ordering himself not to say another word.

“You can tell me if you want to,” Kanan said.

Against all of his better judgement, and wondering if Kanan had subtly influenced his mind, Ezra found himself continuing to speak.

“The last time I was captured, I -- I was -- it was an Inquisitor who had me and --”

The words broke off in his throat.  He didn’t want to say it.  Even thinking about it caused white hot shame to boil over in his chest.  He was supposed to be better than that.  He never should have been caught in the first place.

“She tortured you, didn’t she?” Kanan asked.

Ezra nodded as he pulled his knees up to his chest, wrapping his arms around them.

“I wanted him to know it wasn’t happening again,” he said.

As he said it, he realized and seized his chance.  Maybe now, now that Kanan knew about the Inquisitor, Ezra could finally make him understand.

“He’d worry that it was happening,” Ezra said.  It wasn’t really accurate, but he was more than willing to bend the truth if it would get Kanan to understand that Maul wasn’t the monster everyone seemed to think he was.

“After the Inquisitor…did that --” he still couldn’t bring himself to say it -- “he was -- it hurt him, too, seeing me like that.  He’s my master and he cares about me and I just wanted him to know I’m not being hurt.”

“Ezra, it’s okay,” Kanan said.  “You’re not in any trouble.  I -- I understand, and I know that you must miss him.”

Ezra nodded quickly, hoping that meant what he thought it did, that Kanan really was starting to understand.

“I just wanted to talk to him again,” Ezra said.  “I told you, he’s -- he’s like my father.  I miss him and I miss being home and I just want to go back.”

“Where’s home?” Kanan asked.

“I’m not telling you that,” Ezra said, shaking his head.  “I’m not telling you where he is.”

“Okay,” Kanan said quickly.  “I wasn’t trying to -- you don’t have to tell me anything.”

“I’m sorry,” Ezra said.  “I can’t -- if I told where we were based --”

“I know,” Kanan said.  “You don’t have to tell us anything that would get you hurt.  You don’t have to tell us anything at all.”

Ezra said nothing, just staring down at the table, running one finger along the edge of it.  It didn’t make any sense that Kanan was being so calm about this.  Ezra had just admitted to breaking one of the rules Kanan had set, to stealing from the crew, to contacting his master, to still wanting to leave.  Kanan should be angry, should be telling him to never do something like this again and threatening to hurt him or put him back in a cell if he did.

“Why aren’t you angry?” Ezra asked.

Kanan sighed and took a sip of his caf, as if giving himself more time to think about his answer.

“Because I’m worried about you,” Kanan said hesitantly.  “I know how you feel about your master, and I’m worried that you’d be willing to let him hurt you if it means getting to see him again.”

“I’m not letting him do anything,” Ezra said.  “I don’t have a choice.”

“I know,” Kanan said.  “And that’s why you need someone protecting you.  You’re just a kid, and it’s normal to want to go back to someone you think of as a parent, but you’re not safe with him, and it seems like he’s taught you not to care.”

“I am safe with him, Kanan,” Ezra said.  “I don’t know how to get you to understand.  He hid me from the Empire for as long as he could.  He took care of me.  He trained me so I would be able to protect myself.”

“I do understand that,” Kanan said.  “But you weren’t safe from him.”

“Yes, I was,” Ezra said.  “He’s done things that hurt me, but he’d never go as far as you think he would.”

Kanan sighed, and Ezra could sense a feeling of resignation, like he knew he wasn’t going to convince Ezra, which Ezra could only hope meant he would stop trying.

“I’m sorry for what I did,” Ezra said.

He wasn’t that sorry, but he wanted to steer the subject away from Kanan’s insistence that he wasn’t safe.

“It’s okay, Ezra,” Kanan said.  “I understand why you did it.  And I promise you won’t get in any trouble for it.”

Ezra tightened his arms around his knees.  It still didn’t make any sense, but he was glad he got to avoid punishment this time.

“You get any sleep last night?” Kanan asked.

Ezra shook his head.

“You should get to bed,” Kanan said.  “I know you’re not sleeping much and it’s not good for you.”

“I don’t need to sleep that much,” Ezra said with a small shrug.

“You were trained to do without it,” Kanan said.  “That doesn’t mean you don’t need it.”

Ezra hesitated for a moment, mentally debating whether he should do what Kanan told him.  He was tired, but he didn’t want to admit it, and the idea of sleeping while the rest of the crew was awake made him uneasy for reasons he couldn’t explain.  But he couldn’t tell if Kanan was just suggesting he sleep or ordering him to.

Finally, Ezra nodded.  As he stood up, he kept his eyes on the floor, not wanting to look at Kanan.

“Thank you,” he said.  “For not getting angry.”

“Thanks for telling me,” Kanan said.

Ezra left the room quickly, hurrying back to the cabin he was staying in.  When he pulled himself up onto the bunk, he found himself staring blankly at the wall beside him.  He knew Kanan was right, and he wasn’t sleeping enough, and he was tired, but now his mind was racing too much for him to sleep, a jumble of thoughts moving too quickly for him to even keep track of them all.  A few repeated themselves, coming to the surface of his mind over and over.  Why wasn’t Kanan angry?  Was everything Kanan had just said a trick, getting Ezra to let his guard down so he wasn’t expecting it when he was finally punished for what he’d done?  Why did Kanan seem to hate Ezra’s master so much when as far as Ezra knew they hadn’t even met?  Why did Kanan keep insisting Ezra wasn’t safe?

Ezra put his hands over his ears, as if that could drown out his own thoughts.  Of course it didn’t work.  Ezra let out a frustrated sigh as he turned onto his back and stared at the ceiling.  If he could just fall asleep, he wouldn’t have to think about any of this, but he was thinking so loudly he couldn’t fall asleep.

Before Ezra even realized what he was doing, the datapad Kanan had lent him was in his hands, and he was staring at the list of files most recently added to it.  He opened one at random, staring blankly at it for a moment before he actually began to read it, phrases sticking into his mind like thorns into his skin.

Any act of physical violence toward a child is abusive.

But Maul had never liked doing it.  He never wanted to and only hurt Ezra when he had to.  He’d told Ezra that so many times and Ezra knew it was the truth.  His master wouldn’t lie to him.

Abusive parents might threaten children with injury, death, or abandonment.

But Maul wasn’t his parent.  He might fill a role in Ezra’s life that Ezra imagined was what a father was like, but he wasn’t really Ezra’s father, even if he had called Ezra his son a few times.  He might see Ezra as a son, but he would always be Ezra’s master before anything else.  It was different.

…injury, death, or abandonment.

But Maul had never actually threatened to kill him.  He’d warned Ezra that the Empire would kill him, or worse, if given the chance, but that wasn’t the same thing, was it?  He’d threatened to hurt Ezra, but only when Ezra was misbehaving.  And he’d never threatened to abandon Ezra.  As far back as Ezra could remember, Maul had only ever been there for him.

Abusive parents and caregivers often use fear as a means of controlling children in their care.

But Maul had always told him he could harness his fear, use it to fuel his anger and make himself stronger.  He wouldn’t say that if he’d been trying to use Ezra’s fear to control him, would he?

Ezra didn’t understand why he kept reading, but he did until his eyes were crossing.  When he could no longer focus, he wrapped the blanket around himself and lay down on his side, staring at the wall with eyes heavy with weariness.  He’d wanted answers, maybe even something to prove Kanan wrong, but all he’d ended up with was more questions.

Chapter Text

There was a quick knock on the door, and then Hera entered before Kanan said anything.

“We need to talk,” she said.

“Something happen?” Kanan asked.

Years ago, when he’d first joined up with Hera, he might have made some joking comment about her not even saying hello.  By now, his conversations with Hera had moved past the need to ease into them.

“There’s an op,” Hera said, perching next to Kanan on the edge of his bunk.  “And we could really use you on this one.”

“Oh,” Kanan said.  He knew what that meant.  It meant they needed to decide what to do about Ezra.

If Kanan was needed on this mission, he would go.  When it came to protecting his crew, there was no question.  But they couldn’t just leave Ezra alone.  Not right now.  He was in a delicate place and leaving him unsupervised might just result in him running away, back to Maul.

“I’ll talk to Ezra,” Kanan said.

Hera nodded.

“You’ve spent more time with him than anyone else on the ship,” she said.  “Do you think he’s ready for this?”

“I think…I think he’s ready to be asked,” Kanan said.  “He’ll take it better now that he would have before.  And if he says yes, I trust him.”

“And if he says no?” Hera asked, circling back to the real question.

“I don’t want him put back in a cell, Hera,” Kanan said.

“Neither do I,” Hera said, “but you know that’s where command will probably want him.”

“Ahsoka --”

“Is on a mission of her own,” Hera said.  "She can't watch him."

She sighed, tapping her fingers on her knee as she thought.

“We don’t need to do anything unless he actually says no,” Kanan said.  “I’ll talk to him.  If he says yes, then we don’t have to worry.”

“Do you have any idea what he’ll say?” Hera asked.

“No,” Kanan said, shaking his head.  “I have no idea.  But we knew we’d get to this point eventually.”


 

Ezra sat on the edge of the bunk that he still couldn’t think of as his, the datapad resting on his knees.  He wasn’t really reading, just staring blankly at the page, not absorbing a word.  He didn’t want to keep reading about child abuse and dysfunctional families and things he knew didn’t really apply to him, but every word he read left him more confused and with more questions, and he kept telling himself maybe he’d find answers in the next sentence, the next page, the next file.

He jumped when he heard a knock at the door.  He’d been so distracted that he hadn’t sensed or heard anyone approaching, though now that he was focused on it, he could tell it was Kanan.

Ezra jumped down off the bunk and opened the door, stepping to the side to let Kanan in.  He understood by now that Kanan wouldn’t just walk in unless it was an emergency, but he still wasn’t used to the level of privacy he was allowed here.

“Finding that helpful?” Kanan asked as he entered the room.

Ezra glanced down and realized he was still holding the datapad in one hand.  He shrugged.

“I -- I guess so,” he said, not sure how he could explain just how much more confused everything he read made him, or if he even wanted to explain it in the first place.

“Are you okay?” Kanan asked.

Ezra didn’t physically move, but he internally flinched at the question.  He mentally pressed against his own shields, double-checking them to make sure Kanan couldn’t sense the questions buzzing around inside his head.  He knew that his master couldn’t actually read his thoughts, though sometimes his sense of them was exact enough to make Ezra wonder.  But he didn’t know the full extent of Kanan’s abilities.

“We need to talk,” Kanan said, “but it can wait if there’s something wrong.”

Ezra shook his head.

“There’s nothing wrong,” Ezra said.  “I just --”

He sighed, his shoulders drooping slightly as he realized he actually did want to say it, if only because maybe it would get Kanan to back off the subject a little bit.

“The files you put on here a week ago,” he said, holding up the datapad, “the day you asked me about -- about training with you.  I started reading them and none of it makes any sense.”

“What are you talking about?” Kanan asked.

“The files you put on here about --” he still couldn’t say it.  He’d read the word over and over.  Kanan had said it more than once.  It was just a kriffing word and he couldn’t say it.

Ezra gave a small, frustrated sigh and switched on the datapad, holding it out wordlessly so Kanan could see what he’d been reading.  Kanan skimmed through it quickly, a puzzled look on his face.

“This wasn’t me,” he said.  “Someone else must have done it while we were talking.”

The way he said it gave Ezra the sense that Kanan knew, or at least suspected, who it was, but he wasn’t about to ask.

“If there are things that are confusing you, you can ask me,” Kanan said.  “Or Hera.  I know she’d want to help, too.”

Ezra shook his head as he set the datapad down.  He didn’t want Kanan and Hera tearing apart every reason he could think of why none of this applied to him or to Maul.  Besides, how could he ask them to explain anything when he couldn’t even say any of the words without feeling like his throat was about to close up?

“What did you need to talk about?” Ezra asked.

“There’s a job for the crew,” Kanan said, seeming to keep a deliberately neutral tone.  “Hera says I’m needed, so I can’t stay behind like I did last time.”

Ezra looked down, shifting nervously where he stood.  He had a feeling he knew where Kanan was going with this.

“You have a choice,” Kanan said.  “We’re not going to make you help us, but you need to decide whether you want to come with us as a member of the crew, or stay behind.  If you choose to stay, Hera and I will figure something out for you, but…”

Kanan sighed slightly and Ezra knew what he was going to say wasn’t good.

“But if you stay, command will probably want you in a cell until we come back,” he said.

Ezra had had a feeling that was what Kanan was getting at, and it made perfect sense that that was the obvious solution, but that didn’t make it any easier to hear.  His choices were to aid his enemies -- or whatever the crew of the Ghost were at this point -- or to let himself be locked up again.  On some level, he wasn’t sure what the difference was.  He wasn’t any less a prisoner on the Ghost, was he?

“Okay,” Ezra said, barely realizing he’d made a decision until the word was already out of his mouth.

“Okay what?” Kanan asked.

“Okay, I’ll go with you,” Ezra said.

“I was hoping you’d say that,” Kanan said.

He smiled as he said it and Ezra felt a small, warm feeling in his chest, like he always felt when he did something his master approved of.  He tried not to think too hard about that and what it might mean.  Kanan was not his master and would never replace him, no matter how long Ezra was forced to stay here.  Ezra wouldn’t for one second let himself think about Kanan like he played any sort of similar role in his life.

“Come with me,” Kanan said.

As he turned and left the room, Ezra followed, his curiosity drowning out his confusion and his anger at himself.  They stopped at the cabin next to the one he was staying in, which Ezra knew was Kanan’s.  As Kanan opened the door and led Ezra through it, Ezra glanced around.  The room was mostly empty, the walls bare.  The only signs that it was actually lived in were a blanket and some clothes crumpled up on the lower bunk.

Kanan opened a drawer under the bunk and removed something, which he held out to Ezra.  For a second, Ezra just stared.  It was his lightsaber.  This whole time, it had been within his reach and he hadn’t known.  He’d thought he’d lost it on Altier or Ahsoka had taken it.

Slowly, Ezra reached out and took the weapon from Kanan’s hand, its weight settling into his palm with a comforting familiarity.  He looked up at Kanan, wondering if this was some kind of trick and if it was, what its purpose could be.

“Ezra,” Kanan said.  “I’m trusting you with this.  Please don’t prove me wrong.”

“I won't,” Ezra said.  “I promise.”

Chapter Text

“Easy,” Kanan said, his hand coming down on Ezra’s shoulder to steady him.

“I’m alright,” Ezra said, even as the act of speaking caused a fresh spike of pain to shoot through his chest.

He clenched his hands into fists, forcing himself not to instinctively touch the injury.  The ship jolted slightly as it took off and Ezra gasped as he stumbled into Kanan.

“Here,” Kanan said, guiding Ezra to sit down on a nearby crate.

Ezra’s heart hammered nervously in his chest as he sat down.  He’d had one job, sensing if anyone was approaching his and Sabine’s position and stopping them before they spotted the rest of the crew.  He’d done that job, but he’d been just slow enough that he’d managed to get himself thrown to the ground and kicked heavily in the ribs before he was actually able to do anything.  It was the kind of carelessness his master would have been furious with him for.

“Do you mind if I look?” Kanan asked.  “Just to see how bad it is?”

Ezra had already shaken his head when he realized that Kanan had actually asked him, rather than just doing it.

Kanan was being strangely gentle as he lifted the edge of Ezra’s shirt, exposing the lower half of his chest and the dark purple, almost-black bruises that covered his right side.  And then he remembered.

“Wait, don’t!” he cried.

But it was too late.  Kanan’s eyes widened just slightly as he saw the scars.  Ezra tried to pull away and gasped in pain as he moved too fast.

“Wait here,” Kanan said as he released Ezra.

He quickly crossed the cargo bay and retrieved the medkit from the storage hatch.  He returned with a cold pack and a bottle of something that rattled slightly with each step he took.

“Here,” Kanan said, cracking the cold pack to activate it and gently pressing it against Ezra’s side.

Ezra twitched slightly at the icy cold feeling against his skin.  Carefully, he placed his own hands over it, holding it in place before tugging his shirt down until his scars were better covered.

“These should help with the pain until we get back to the base,” Kanan said as he began to open the bottle.

“No,” Ezra said.  “No painkillers.”

He’d never been able to take pain relief before, and he wasn’t about to start now.  Just using the cold pack was already bad enough.  He knew his master would never need to find out, but he couldn’t bring himself to do yet another thing that would be seen as a sign of weakness.  He’d already let that happen far too often.

“They’re safe,” Kanan said.  “These aren’t all that strong.”

Ezra just shook his head.

“Okay,” Kanan said.  “But I’m taking you to the medbay as soon as we get back to Phoenix Nest.”

“I’m fine,” Ezra said.

“Your ribs could be broken,” Kanan said.  “You don’t need to take painkillers if you don’t want to, but you do need to be seen by a medic.”

His tone made it clear that he wasn’t going to take no for an answer, so Ezra just nodded.

“If you change your mind, you can take these,” Kanan said, holding up the bottle of painkillers.  “You’re pretty small, so just one, though.”

Ezra shook his head.

"I can't --"

His words were cut off by a gasp of pain.  He doubled over, pressing the cold pack even tighter against his side, which only made it hurt more.  The next thing he knew, Kanan was beside him, a hand on his shoulder as he slowly guided Ezra to sit up again.

"It's okay," Kanan said.  "It won't be long."

The rest of the journey back to Phoenix Nest passed in awkward, painful silence.  Ezra kept his gaze on the floor, not looking at Kanan, and only responding with a quick nod when Kanan asked if he was alright as the Ghost dropped out of hyperspace and jolted again.

Kanan should be furious with him for getting himself hurt like this, but Ezra didn’t want to say anything about it, not wanting to provoke him.  Maybe Kanan was waiting for Ezra to say something, to apologize or make an excuse, before he took his anger out on him.

Ezra braced himself with one hand on the crate as the Ghost settled into its designated landing zone on the carrier.  As the ramp lowered, Ezra heard footsteps approaching and quickly set the cold pack aside, almost embarrassed to be seen using it.  Moments later, Hera, Sabine, and Zeb descended into the cargo bay.

“How is he?” Hera asked, glancing at Ezra.

“I’m taking him to the medbay,” Kanan said.

As Hera nodded in agreement, Kanan put a hand on Ezra’s shoulder as if to help him stand up.  Ezra pulled away, gritting his teeth.  He just had a few bruised, maybe broken, ribs.  He didn’t need help to walk.

Ezra stayed quiet as he walked beside Kanan and stepped off the ship.  It was the first time he’d left the Ghost since the night he’d snuck out.  It had been in the middle of the sleep cycle then, so there had been almost no one around to see him.  Now, the hangar was filled with people.

“You okay?” Kanan asked as Ezra shrank closer to his side.

“I’m not used to so many people,” Ezra said before he could stop himself.

“Don’t worry,” Kanan said.  “It’s not far.”

He put a hand on Ezra’s shoulder again and Ezra instinctively leaned into it, accepting the comfort Kanan was offering without even thinking about it.  A second later, it hit him just what he was doing and he pulled away, his face burning with embarrassment.  He let himself slow down so he was walking just a step behind Kanan.  He wasn’t about to let that happen again.

It wasn’t long before they reached the medbay, a large white room divided into smaller sections by curtains for privacy, with a few doors in the other walls.  A young human man who didn’t look that much older than Sabine saw them enter.  He took one look at how stiffly Ezra was moving and gestured to an empty cot.

“A medic will be with you soon,” he said.  “Lucky we’re not busy today.”

Ezra wordlessly sat down where he man had indicated, his feet swinging above the floor once he’d pulled himself up onto the cot.  He still kept his eyes on the ground, not wanting to look at Kanan, his face still burning with embarrassment after what had happened in the hangar.  He could feel Kanan thinking intently about something, but he didn’t know what.  The hangar, the injury, the scars.  It could have been something that had nothing to do with Ezra, but Ezra was certain that wasn’t the case.  Not with the concern he felt prickling at him like thorns against his skin.

“Ezra --”

Ezra was saved from whatever Kanan had been about to say as a pink-skinned Mikkian woman approached them and Kanan immediately stopped talking.  She pulled the curtain next to the cot around them for privacy before powering up the datapad she held in her hand.

“You’re new?” she asked Ezra after glancing at him briefly.

Ezra nodded.

“What’s your name?” she asked.

“Ezra.”

“And your last name?” the medic asked as she typed his answer into the datapad.

“I don’t have one,” Ezra said.

The medic didn’t comment on it and simply entered the answer he’d given.

“Ezra,” she said, “I’m Nileeta Ceryss.  I’m going to be looking after you.  Since you’re new here, I need to get a little more data from you, alright?”

Ezra nodded, averting his gaze so he didn’t have to look at her face.  The way she was smiling at him was so similar to how Ahsoka had looked at him after he’d first woken up in the cell, like she was talking to a child.  She was probably trying to put him at ease, but he wasn’t the child she seemed to think he was.

“How old are you?” she asked.

Ezra looked up abruptly, glancing over at Kanan, as if he would know the answer.  Hera had said they wouldn’t need to know.

“Somewhere between ten and twelve standard years,” Kanan said.  “We think.”

“I see,” Nileeta said, as if that were an answer she got all the time.  “Any allergies?”

“I don’t know,” Ezra said.

“Any known medical conditions?”

“I don’t know.”

Nileeta tapped a finger on the side of the datapad, staring down at it thoughtfully.  Ezra felt his shoulders tense up as he wondered if he’d given the wrong answer.

“Do you know anything about your family medical history?” she asked, her voice even more gentle than before.

Ezra shook his head.

“That’s okay,” she said.  "Do you know the last time you saw a medic?"

"Never," Ezra said.  "Or, I don't think I ever have."

The medic's eyes narrowed slightly as she entered his answer into the datapad.

“Can you tell me what happened?” she asked.

“I got kicked in the side a few times,” Ezra said.

“By who?”

Ezra shrugged.  He hadn't exactly stopped to ask for the man’s name.

“A guard at a warehouse we were getting supplies from,” Kanan said.

Ezra nodded to confirm what Kanan had said.

“The bruises look bad enough I thought he might have broken some ribs,” Kanan said.

Nileeta nodded, quickly tapping out their answers into the datapad.

“Well, luckily we can check that easily,” she said with a smile.  “Just follow me.”

Ezra slid down off of the cot and followed the medic.  Kanan followed behind him as she led them to one of the doors on the back wall.  It didn’t look much different from the room they’d just left, though it was smaller, with only one cot and a metal table with some kind of machine Ezra didn’t know the name for, but that looked almost like a probe droid, taking up most of the space.

“Have you ever had medical imaging done before, Ezra?” Nileeta asked.

Ezra shook his head.

“Well, it’ll scan the inside of your chest so I can see if your ribs are broken,” she said.  “It’s perfectly safe, it takes less than a minute, and it won't hurt you.  Okay?”

Ezra nodded.

“I can wait outside if you want me to,” Kanan said.

Ezra froze up.  He didn’t know what he wanted.  He knew he had to answer, but he couldn’t think of what the answer should be.

“I’ll be right outside the door,” Kanan said, apparently erring on the side of caution.

As he moved toward the door, Ezra finally managed to get his voice to work.

“Wait, I --”

Kanan waited for Ezra to finish his sentence, but Ezra couldn’t do it.  He couldn’t say it, not out loud.  He was afraid.  This woman was a stranger and he didn’t want to be left alone with her while he was injured.  She seemed nice, but that didn’t mean she wouldn’t hurt him.

“You can stay,” he said, hoping Kanan would get the underlying message of please stay.

“Alright,” Kanan said.

“I’m going to need you to take your shirt off,” the medic said.

Ezra hesitated.  Maybe he should have asked Kanan to leave.  He didn’t know what was worse, the idea of being left alone with a stranger or of Kanan seeing his scars again, and seeing the full extent of them this time.

Slowly, Ezra lifted his shirt and pulled it up over his head.  He turned away from Kanan and Nileeta so he didn’t have to look at them, which he quickly realized was a mistake when he heard a soft, sharp gasp.  He flinched at the sound.  Something was tightening around the inside of his chest, and all he wanted to do was run from the room, or leap into the nearest air vent and crawl away.

“Just step right over here,” the medic said, her voice now so soft it was like she thought Ezra would break in half if her words were any stronger.

As she put a hand on his shoulder to guide him, Ezra jumped and let out a startled cry that sounded more like a whimper of pain.  Something clenched inside his throat as his face burned again.

Ezra kept his head down as the medic had him stand in front of the cot.

“Just stay still and this will only take a second," she said.

She tapped a command into her datapad and seconds later, the machine lifted off the table and hovered on Ezra's right side.  Ezra stayed perfectly still just like he'd been told, not wanting to get in any trouble for flinching even as his heart hammered nervously.  After a moment, the droid -- or was it really technically a droid? Ezra couldn't be sure -- settled back onto the table and seemed to power itself down.

“Okay,” Nileeta said, “you can put your shirt back on.”

Ezra did so, moving as quickly as he could and ignoring the burst of pain in his side as he rushed to cover his scars up again.

“You can take him back to where you were waiting before,” Nileeta said.  “I’ll be there in a minute.”

Ezra stayed silent as he followed Kanan out of the room, back to the cot where they’d been waiting.  He felt like something was clawing away at the inside of his stomach as he wondered if he’d somehow done something wrong.

As he sat down on the cot again, he could feel Kanan’s eyes on him, his concern and his pity sticking at Ezra’s skin.

“Are you okay?” Kanan asked.

Ezra nodded slowly, but he wasn’t sure if he really was okay or not.

“I’m sorry,” he said, his voice so quiet he could barely hear it himself.

“For what?” Kanan asked.

Before Ezra could answer, Nileeta returned.  She pulled the curtain around them and turned the datapad around so Kanan and Ezra could see it.

“You have three broken ribs,” she said, pointing to the image on the screen, where even Ezra could clearly see the breaks.  “I can treat them with a bone-knitter, but you’ll still need time to recover afterwards.”

Ezra nodded, staring down at his feet as they swung above the floor.

“Is there anything else he’ll need to do?” Kanan asked.

“Rest and pain management,” Nileeta said.

Ezra shook his head.

“He doesn’t like taking painkillers,” Kanan said, placing a protective hand on Ezra’s shoulder.

“Cold should work fine as long as the pain isn’t too severe,” Nileeta said before she turned her attention back to Ezra.

“You can keep your shirt on,” she told him, “but I need to see the injury.”

Ezra lifted his shirt, moving carefully so he didn’t aggravate the injury.  As the medic gently placed the bone-knitter against his skin and turned it on, Ezra jumped.  It didn’t hurt, exactly, but the feeling of his bones slowly repairing themselves was strange.  Ezra relaxed just a little as Kanan’s hand tightened around his shoulder.

“You’re doing great,” Kanan said.

After a few moments, the medic switched off the bone-knitter and Ezra quickly pulled his shirt down again, covering the injury.

“Remember what I told you,” Nileeta said.  “You still need to rest, and that means no exerting yourself for a week.”

Ezra nodded, pretending to agree to what she’d said so he could leave and put some distance between himself and that sharp, clinging pity he felt from Kanan.  A week of rest to recover from broken bones that had already mostly healed was just excessive.

“And come back if they start hurting more,” she said.

Ezra just nodded again as the medic turned her attention to Kanan.

"It doesn't need to be right now," she said, "but I want you to bring him back for a full examination at some point.  Soon."

"I will," Kanan said.  "But I think it's better if I take him back to the Ghost now.  He's had a rough day."

“Before you leave, just come with me for a minute,” Nileeta said, resting her hand on Ezra's shoulder for a second.  “I just want to get your height and weight.”

Ezra nodded and stood up, resigned to just do what he needed to do so he could leave the medbay as quickly as possible.  As Kanan made to follow, Nileeta glanced at him.

“This won't take long,” she said.  A knot formed in Ezra’s stomach.  She was clearly telling Kanan to stay put, and that had to mean something else was going on.

Still, he followed her, knowing that asking if Kanan could stay with him could just get him in trouble.  She led him out of the curtained area and across the medbay, pointing to where he could stand against the wall.  As she made a note of his height, she glanced quickly over her shoulder for a moment before turning her attention back to Ezra.

“So, how did you hurt your ribs?” she asked, sounding as if she hadn’t already asked or had forgotten that she did.

“Kanan already told you,” Ezra said.  “It was on a mission.”

“Are you sure?” Nileeta asked.

“Yes,” Ezra said, a hard, defensive edge to his voice.  Did she think he’d somehow forgotten how he got hurt?

“And those scars?” she asked, her voice gentle.

Ezra’s heart fluttered with anxiety as it hit him what she was really asking.  She wanted to know if Kanan was the one who’d hurt him.

“It was someone else,” Ezra said quickly.  “It wasn’t Kanan.”

His heart was hammering now.  What if she didn’t believe him?  What kind of punishment would there be if she thought he was lying to her?  What would happen to Kanan if she thought he was lying?

Ezra jumped as he felt a hand on his shoulder.

“It’s okay,” the medic said.  “I believe you.  Come on.  Let’s get you back to Kanan so you can go home.”

Ezra didn’t bother pointing out that the Ghost wasn’t his home.

When he reached Kanan's side, Ezra could feel the Jedi's concern for him spike, as if he'd seen or sensed something that worried him.

"Are you alright?" he asked.

Ezra nodded.

"Everything seems in order," Nileeta said, her voice normal, as if the conversation she'd had with Ezra just seconds ago hadn't happened.  "Just bring him back for an exam as soon as you have a chance."

As they made their way from the medbay back to the Ghost, Kanan kept a hand on Ezra’s shoulder, as if he was afraid Ezra was going to run away or get lost.  Ezra just stared down at his own feet, letting Kanan lead the way through the hangar.

The relief Ezra felt when they reached the Ghost was short-lived.  Now that he’d been treated for his injury, he’d have to face the reason it had happened in the first place: because he’d failed at the task Kanan and Hera had given him.  He steeled himself as he turned to face Kanan, but before he could say a word to apologize, Kanan spoke first.

“I’m sorry,” Kanan said.  “I know you probably didn’t want anyone to see those scars.”

Ezra shrugged, looking down and clutching at his left wrist with his right hand, digging his nails into his skin.

“It’s not what it looks like,” he said, his voice shaking just slightly as he forced the words out.

“Ezra,” Kanan said with a small sigh as he sat down on a nearby crate, looking weary as if he were carrying a heavy weight on his shoulders, “it looks like you were whipped.”

Ezra sat down on another crate, pulling his knees up to his chest, even as his only partially-healed ribs protested.  He stared down at the floor, not wanting to meet Kanan’s eyes.  He didn’t know exactly what the scars on his back looked like, but he knew they were there, left by beatings he’d gotten for disobedience and failure.

“I was,” he said.

"Did your master do that to you?" Kanan asked.

“That, yes,” Ezra said quietly.  “But a lot of it -- when the Inquisitor had me, she had a knife and her lightsaber and she kept…”

His voice trailed off as his eyes lost focus and a hollow pit opened up in his chest.  He could feel the stinging pain of the knife slicing into his thigh.  He knew there was a major artery there, but he didn’t know where, didn’t know if she was aiming for it, didn’t know if he was about to die, unable to do a thing to stop her.

“It’s okay.”

Ezra gasped as he was jolted out of his spiraling thoughts by Kanan’s voice.  While Ezra had been distracted, Kanan had stood up and moved closer, sitting on a crate beside Ezra’s, watching him with concern.

“You’re safe here,” Kanan said.

Ezra slowly nodded to acknowledge Kanan’s words, but said nothing.

“I’m sorry,” Kanan said.  “I know that can’t be easy to talk about, and you don’t have to.  But I --”

His voice broke off, and Ezra felt a flood of some emotion he wasn’t sure he recognized flowing off of Kanan.  It seemed vaguely familiar, and it brought back hazy memories of the first few days after Maul had rescued him from the Inquisitor, but he didn’t know what it was called or why Kanan was feeling it.

“Kriff,” Kanan muttered, running a hand through his hair as if he was frustrated about something.  “I’m sorry that happened to you, Ezra.  It never should have.”

“I survived,” Ezra said, his voice quiet and distant.  That was what mattered, didn’t it?

He took a long, shuddering breath as he tried to push the thoughts and memories of those five days out of his mind.

“It wasn’t all him,” he said.  “That’s what I was -- I just wanted you to know that.  Some of the scars were from the Inquisitor and some of them were just accidents or -- or things that happened like a bounty hunter cutting my tracker out.”

“Your tracker?” Kanan asked, a hard edge to his voice.

Ezra nodded, wondering why Kanan sounded so upset.

“Your master put a tracker in you?”

“Of course he did,” Ezra said.  “He needed to be able to find me if something happened.”

A flare of anger flashed through the air between them and Ezra felt like the air had been ripped from his lungs.  Kanan quickly buried the feeling, as if realizing that Ezra could sense it, but Ezra’s heart was already pounding, his shoulders jumping up into a defensive position.

“I’m not mad at you,” Kanan said.  “It’s him.  He shouldn’t have done that.  Any of it.”

“He only hurt me when I deserved it,” Ezra said, repeating the words it seemed like he'd said a hundred times since he'd arrived on Phoenix Nest.

“You didn’t deserve it,” Kanan said.  “It doesn’t matter what you did.  There was no reason for him to do that to you.”

“He always says pain is a lesson,” Ezra said, his voice flat and emotionless.  Why was he even bothering to try and defend Maul?  He knew Kanan would never see it his way.

“He might have been trying to use pain to teach you something,” Kanan said, “but that doesn’t make it okay.”

Ezra slumped forward, resting his forehead on his knees, his fingers tangling in his hair.  He didn’t understand why Kanan was so insistent that he didn’t deserve whatever punishments his master gave him.  Kanan hadn't been there.  He didn’t know what Ezra had done to cause it.  Ezra had been there.  He’d lived it, and he knew he’d deserved every lash, every scar his master had left on his skin.  His master had told him disobedience and disrespect and failure had to be punished, and his master had never lied to him.

“Ezra,” Kanan said softly, placing a hand on Ezra’s shoulder.  “We don’t have to talk about this right now if you don’t want to.  You’re hurt.  You should be resting.”

Ezra pulled away from Kanan’s touch, shifting nervously where he sat as memories of being forced to continue with training while he was bleeding, bruised, or had broken bones floated to the surface of his mind.  It had never mattered to Maul whether he was hurt or not, so why did it matter to Kanan?

“I’m sorry,” Ezra said, his voice breaking.

“For what?” Kanan asked.

“For this,” Ezra said, looking up at Kanan as he gestured at his side.  “I was supposed to be the lookout and I wasn’t fast enough and I got myself hurt.”

“You don’t need to apologize for that,” Kanan said.  “We all get hurt sometimes.  I’m just glad it wasn’t worse than this.”

Ezra looked up at him in confusion.  He’d failed at the one simple task he’d been given and gotten himself injured in the process.  Kanan should be furious with him.  Maybe Kanan was just waiting until Ezra dropped his guard, or for something else Ezra couldn’t figure out.  That had to be it.

“Whatever you’re going to do, please just get it over with,” Ezra said, his heart feeling like it was picking up speed with every word he spoke.  He never would have dared to say it to his master, but Maul had never tricked him into thinking he wasn’t going to get in trouble.

“Ezra, it’s okay,” Kanan said.

“No, it’s not,” Ezra said.  “I know it’s not.  I -- I messed up and I got myself hurt and it could have been Sabine instead of me.  You gave me a job to do and I failed.”

“Sometimes these things just happen,” Kanan said.  The lack of anger in his voice set off something twisting around in Ezra’s chest.

“It didn’t just happen,” Ezra said.  “It was my fault.  And I just -- I --”

He let out a quiet groan of frustration as one hand scratched at the back of his neck, an automatic reaction.

“Ezra,” Kanan said.  “What’s wrong?”

“I told you,” Ezra said.  “I messed this up.  And I should -- you should be angry and whatever you’re going to do to me, I wish you would just do it instead of --”

His voice broke off.  He didn’t know how to put the feelings of panic and confusion and anger that crashed around in his head into words anymore.  He wished Kanan would just shout at him or hit him or lock him up somewhere to think about his mistake.  Anything but this kindness when Ezra couldn’t tell if it was a trick or not.

“I’m not going to do anything to you,” Kanan said, his voice calm and even, the same way he’d spoken to Ezra the first time they’d met.  “I promise.  You’re not going to get in any trouble for what happened.”

“My master always says failure needs to be punished,” Ezra said, not quite sure if he was really talking to Kanan or reminding himself of why he couldn’t trust what Kanan was saying.

“He’s wrong,” Kanan said.  “You don’t deserve to be hurt.”

“You keep saying that,” Ezra said, “but you weren’t there.  You don’t know.”

“Ezra,” Kanan said, reaching out and placing his hand over Ezra’s, “there’s never a reason for someone to hurt a kid.”

Ezra pulled his hand away from Kanan’s, staring blankly down at the floor.

“There isn’t,” Kanan said.  “Nothing you ever did could justify that.”

Something tightened inside Ezra’s chest.  No matter what Kanan said, he couldn’t believe that.  He wouldn’t.  Letting himself believe that would mean believing that his master had lied to him.  Maul had always told Ezra that there were reasons for all the pain he suffered, that pain was a lesson and sometimes punishment was necessary to make sure he learned.

Ezra stood up abruptly, like he’d been pulled to his feet.

“Can I leave?” he asked, his voice shaking.  “Please?”

“Of course,” Kanan said.  “You need to rest, anyway.”

The words were barely out of his mouth when Ezra bolted toward the ladder, leaving Kanan behind.  When he reached the cabin he was staying in, he stopped short, jumping slightly when he saw Zeb and Sabine sitting on the lower bunk.  They had clearly stopped talking just as he entered the room.  Ezra forced himself to move more slowly, at least pretending to be calm as he crossed the room and climbed up onto the top bunk.

“You alright?” he heard Zeb ask as he curled up on his side, staring blankly across the room toward the door.

“I’ll live,” Ezra said.  “It’s just a few broken ribs.”

“I didn’t mean like that,” Zeb said.

Ezra let out a small sigh.

“I guess,” he said.

“You want to talk about it?” Sabine asked, her head appearing over the edge of Ezra’s bunk as she stood on the edge of Zeb’s.

For a moment, Ezra said nothing as he considered what the answer to that question actually was.  He wasn’t sure he wanted to tell them what was going through his head, or open up to them about his master, but what if Zeb and Sabine told him that Kanan was wrong?  He remembered what Hera had said, that Sabine was closer to his own age and talking to her might make things easier.  She hadn’t been talking about this, but she could still be right.

Finally, Ezra made his decision and sat up, his feet dangling over the edge of the bunk for a moment before he dropped down to the floor and perched uncertainly on the edge of Zeb’s bunk.

“There are things Kanan keeps saying and I don’t -- did your parents ever hit you?”

The question came out abruptly.  He hadn't meant to ask it outright, but that was the question that was burning in his mind.  Kanan was a Jedi.  He’d grown up without his parents.  Zeb and Sabine were probably different.  They might understand things Kanan didn’t, or couldn’t.

“No,” Zeb said immediately.

“Once,” Sabine said as she dropped back down onto Zeb’s bunk, not elaborating on what she’d said.

“Kanan keeps saying my master was wrong to do it,” Ezra said.  “He keeps saying I didn’t deserve it, but he wasn’t there.”

“Kid, he’s right,” Zeb said.

“But why not?” Ezra asked, slumping against the wall as he sighed in frustration and pulled his knees up toward his chest.  “None of you were there, so how do you know I didn’t deserve it?”

Zeb and Sabine glanced at each other, exchanging a look that Ezra couldn’t name, but didn’t think he liked.  His stomach churned as he wondered if he’d done or said something wrong again.

“Because no one does,” Sabine said, her voice quiet.

Ezra looked down, tapping a finger against his knee as he considered what she’d said.  She seemed certain, but Ezra didn’t know how to make it make sense to him.  It went against everything Maul had ever told him, that he didn’t like hurting Ezra and that he did everything he could to make sure Ezra didn’t suffer any more than was necessary, like he had.  If Ezra really hadn't deserved what had happened, then Maul was either wrong or lying to him, and neither of those things could be true, could they?

“It doesn’t make any sense,” Ezra muttered.

Again, Zeb and Sabine exchanged that strange, unnerving look, and it was all Ezra could do not to flinch at the sight of it.  Something about it made him feel like he was a child, cornered and pinned in place by his master’s critical, disapproving gaze.

Ezra shook his head quickly, suddenly wanting this conversation to end immediately and regretting the fact that he’d let it start in the first place.

“I don’t want to talk about this,” Ezra said, his voice somehow sounding more tired than he felt.  “I shouldn’t have said anything.”

There was a moment of awkward silence as Ezra ran through a list of all his potential hiding places in his head, trying to decide where he was the least likely to be bothered by anyone.  Before Ezra could leave, the silence was broken by Sabine’s voice.

“I promised Chopper I’d touch up his paint job tomorrow,” she said, her words hesitant as if she wasn’t quite sure how to change the subject.  “Do you want to help?”

Ezra looked up at her, a little surprised by the question.  He wasn’t sure what he’d been expecting her to say, but that wasn’t it.

“Sure,” he said.

He felt a small smile twitch across his face, and he didn’t even know why.

Chapter Text

Ezra paced across the room, tugging at the cuffs that bound his wrists in front of him, even knowing that they wouldn't open, and knowing better than to use the Force to remove them.  He was locked in the small, windowless room where he’d spent the early years of his childhood, too afraid to do anything but wait.

He froze, his heart turning to ice as he sensed that familiar presence growing closer.  He moved to the middle of the room, facing the door, and knelt on the floor, bowing his head.  The air seemed to grow colder as the door slid open and Maul entered the room.  Ezra said nothing as Maul approached him, simply waiting for his master to speak.

A sharp crack echoed through the room as Maul slapped Ezra across the face.  Ezra clenched his jaw so he wouldn’t make a sound as his head snapped to the side, his cheek stinging.  Maul grabbed his chin, forcing him to look up.  Something tightened in Ezra’s throat as he saw the look on his master’s face, felt his fury and disappointment closing in around him.  There was something else, something that felt so close to sheer, burning hatred.  Sensing it from his master, directed at him, tore Ezra’s heart in two.  He’d failed.  He’d let his father his master down in one of the worst ways possible.

“I’m sorry, Master,” Ezra said, his voice shaking.  “I didn’t mean to --”

His words were cut off as his master struck him again.

“Did I say you could speak?” Maul asked, his voice a furious growl.

Ezra remained silent and bowed his head again as Maul paced in front of him.  Maul was right.  He didn’t deserve a chance to speak and defend himself.

“I took you in,” Maul said, “raised you as my son, and you betrayed me.”

“No!”

The word came out before Ezra could stop himself.  Before he could speak again, he was thrown backward, slamming into the wall and falling to the floor in a heap.

“The Jedi took you away from your home, and you chose to help them,” Maul said.

He strode across the room toward Ezra, who pressed himself back against the wall as if he could pass right through it.  He cried out as Maul kicked him in the stomach.

“You never even tried to escape,” Maul said.

“Yes, I --” Ezra’s words dissolved into a cry of pain as Maul kicked him again, this time in the chest, and grabbed his arm, pulling him to his feet.

He shoved Ezra back against the wall, one hand tangled in his hair, holding him in place, while the other slapped his face again.  Ezra tasted blood in his mouth as his lip split open.  He flinched and went perfectly still as Maul raised his hand and struck him again.

“I’m sorry,” he said, staring up at his master with wide, pleading eyes.  “I didn’t mean to betray you, Master.  I didn’t want to.”

“Do not lie to me,” Maul said, pulling Ezra away from the wall and throwing him to the ground, punctuating his words with another brutal kick to Ezra’s side.

“I’m not!” Ezra cried as he pushed himself up onto his knees.  “I didn’t want to betray you!  I’m sorry!”

His cuffed hands jumped up over his face, his fingers tangling in his hair, pulling at it as he hunched over, the pain of knowing he’d disappointed his master tearing him open, ripping him apart from the inside out.

“Please forgive me, Master,” Ezra said, his voice shaking.

He flinched, a frightened whimper escaping his throat as Maul’s hand rested on his shoulder.

“I always do,” Maul said, his voice suddenly much gentler, sending a flutter of hope through Ezra’s chest.  That hope vanished as quickly as it had appeared as Maul’s hand moved quickly from his shoulder to the back of his neck, his fingers digging in, bruising Ezra’s skin.  He shoved Ezra face-down onto the floor, his grip growing tighter, until Ezra could barely breathe.

“But your actions need to be punished,” Maul said.

Ezra gasped for air as Maul released him.  When he finally got his breath back, he forced himself to speak.

“I understand, Master.”


 

Ezra gasped as his eyes opened and he clamped a hand down over his mouth just in case he started to scream.  He lay there for a moment, eyes wide as he stared through the darkness at the ceiling above him.  Below him, he could hear the familiar sound of Zeb snoring, and he realized that at some point, he’d gotten used to the sound.

Slowly, Ezra pulled his hand away from his mouth and sat up, letting his feet dangle over the edge of the bunk for a moment before he quietly dropped to the floor.  He opened the door and peered through it before slipping out in the corridor and making his way to the cargo bay, moving as quietly as he could, not wanting to wake anyone else.  The cargo bay was usually a good place to hide.  It was quiet, with less of a chance of someone stumbling across him and asking what was wrong.  When he reached his destination, he was surprised to see that the loading ramp was still lowered.  Ezra approached it cautiously and sat down just past the hatch, staring out into the empty hangar.

Seeing his master again, even in a dream, Ezra felt like a hollow pit had opened up in his chest.  In the dream, Maul had been beating him, accusing him of betrayal, and he had been terrified, but Ezra still wished he was back home on Orsis with his master.  Things made sense there.  If he could just go home, he knew he would probably get hurt, but then things would go back to normal.  His master would continue training him, protecting him, keeping him safe.

And then one day, something else would happen, and he would hurt Ezra again.  Whether it was punishment or training, it would happen, and it would keep happening, and somehow Ezra both did and didn’t care.


 

Kanan slid down the ladder into the cargo bay without bothering to climb it.  The carrier’s sleep cycle had begun several hours ago and the others had all gone to bed earlier, but Kanan had stayed awake, telling Hera he would close up the Ghost for the night.  As he crossed the cargo bay to the controls for the main hatch, he saw a figure seated on the lowered ramp.  It was Ezra, his knees pulled up to his chest, his chin resting in the small dip between them, staring blankly out into the hangar.  Watching him, Kanan could feel a quiet but persistent sadness filling the air around the kid.  Kanan didn’t need to see his face to know that Ezra’s mind was a thousand parsecs away.

“You okay?” Kanan asked as he walked down the ramp and sat down beside Ezra.

Ezra jumped slightly and looked up, seeming to relax a little when he realized it was Kanan beside him.

“I’m fine,” he said, his voice quiet as he rested his head on his knees again.  “Just thinking.”

He was clearly trying to keep the emotion out of his voice, but Kanan could hear the slight tremor caused by the same deep, aching sadness he’d felt spilling off of Ezra.  Kanan remained silent, not wanting to push the kid into talking about it if he didn’t want to.  He felt liked he’d done that far too often already, and Ezra didn’t seem to have an easy time saying no.

Ezra’s arms closed around his legs, hugging them tightly to his chest.  His yellow eyes were wide and unblinking as he stared out across the darkened hangar.  Even without trying, Kanan could feel thoughts and emotions twisting around each other, crashing together and splintering apart inside the kid’s head.  A dull pain grew in Kanan’s chest as he found himself wishing he could just reach out, hold the kid, and tell him whatever was going on, it would be okay, but he knew that doing so would probably just scare Ezra away.

Ezra closed his eyes for a moment, taking a long, shuddering breath before he opened them again.

“I want to go home,” he said with a hitch in his voice so small that Kanan almost didn’t notice it.

That pain in Kanan’s chest grew stronger as he felt something twisting around inside him.  He knew that was what Ezra wanted more than anything, and he was once again going to have to tell the kid that it couldn’t happen, that it wasn’t safe.  He was willing to be as patient as he had to be and explain it to Ezra as many times as he needed to, but he hated doing it.  He hated having to tell this kid -- this hurt, confused, terrified boy -- that he couldn’t go home to the person he thought of as the closest thing he had to family.  He hated that tight, pained feeling like a punch to the gut that he felt each time he sensed Ezra’s desperation and saw that pleading, fearful look in his eyes.  He hated feeling like he was keeping a child away from his parent, even if that parent was a monster.

But he had promised to protect this kid, and if that meant slowly getting him to understand that he was safer here, where his master couldn’t hurt him, then that was what he’d do.  Someone had to.

“Ezra --”

“I know I can't,” Ezra said, cutting off what he was about to say.  “And I know I shouldn’t want to, but I still do.”

“There’s nothing wrong with wanting to go home,” Kanan said.  “It makes sense that you’d want to go back to what’s familiar, even if it’s not safe.”

“I miss it,” Ezra said.  “I miss him.  I just want to go home and I know I can't and I --”

Ezra cut off his own words with a groan of frustration as one of his hands came up to claw at the back of his neck.

“I’m…confused,” he said.  “I don’t know what to feel.”

“I know,” Kanan said.

As Kanan studied Ezra, hunched over and defensive, that deep, crushing sadness weighing on his shoulders, he knew exactly what he wanted to say, but he hesitated, not wanting to make Ezra feel any worse than he clearly already did.

“What’s making you realize this now?” he asked.

Ezra shrugged, pulling his hand away from his neck, where his nails had been digging into his skin, not quite deep enough to draw blood.

“You’re right,” Ezra said, his voice catching in his throat.  “I -- I’m afraid of him, and I don’t -- I still don’t really understand why that’s a bad thing, but I know I hate it.”

Ezra tightened his arms around his knees, as if he was trying to take up less space, to shrink himself out of existence completely.

“But it’s not that simple,” he said.  “I grew up with him.  He took care of me and protected me, but --”

Ezra sighed heavily, that weight on his shoulders seeming to grow heavier to the point where Kanan could practically see it in the air around him.

“But he hurt me,” Ezra said.  “And I know why, but he still scares me.  And if I went back now, he’d -- he told me to run the night I contacted him.  He knows I didn’t take the chance when I had it.  He’ll hurt me if I go home, and I want to go home, but I’m scared of what he’ll do.”

He tilted his head slightly, finally really looking at Kanan, his eyes just a little too wide, like someone trying to keep tears from falling.

“And you -- you’re different,” he said, his voice picking up speed as he rushed through what he was trying to say.  “No matter what I do or say, you don’t hurt me, and you’re the same with Sabine and I don’t understand it, but I know it’s different and sometimes I wish my master was more like you but I feel like I shouldn’t want that.  I know why he hurts me and I feel like --”

Ezra averted his gaze again, his shoulders slumping as he stared off into the distance.

“Like you’re betraying him by wishing things were different,” Kanan said, knowing exactly what Ezra had been trying to say.

Ezra just nodded.

Kanan reached out and put a hand on Ezra’s shoulder, moving carefully so he didn’t scare the kid, extending those same feelings of security and comfort that he’d given Ezra when he’d been dreaming about the Inquisitor.  Ezra stiffened up for a moment, then slowly leaned into Kanan’s touch, his mind wrapping around the feelings Kanan was holding out toward him like a child clinging to a security blanket.

“I know this isn’t easy, Ezra,” Kanan said.  “And I wish it wasn’t hurting you so much.  You deserve better than that.”

“No, I don’t,” Ezra said, his voice bitter.  “I am betraying him.  I started doing that the minute you brought me here and I didn’t try to escape.  I deserve whatever he does to me when I go home.”

Ezra sighed slightly.

If I go home,” he said.

“You don’t deserve to be hurt,” Kanan said.  “No matter what you’ve done.”

Ezra’s frustration flashed to life in the air between them, hitting Kanan like a spark of static electricity where his hand touched Ezra’s shoulder.  But this time, it was different.  This time, he felt Ezra fighting to pull it back, to stomp out the sparks before they grew.  Fighting to control his anger.

“You weren’t there,” Ezra muttered.  “You don’t know.”

He gave a heavy sigh as he kept fighting to hold back that instinctive anger that Kanan sensed burning away in his mind.

“When I was younger, I -- it was during training,” Ezra said.  “My master blindfolded me and I got frustrated and I pulled it off.  I did exactly what he told me not to do.  I knew I shouldn’t have done it and I did it anyway.  If it was something more serious than just a blindfold, if we’d been dealing with stormtroopers or an Inquisitor, I could die if I disobeyed him like that.  Are you really saying I didn’t deserve it when he hit me for doing that?”

Something clenched in Kanan’s gut.  By now, he knew perfectly well that Ezra truly believed he deserved everything Maul had done to him, but to hear him talk about it so casually in detail, as if it were a story from a normal childhood, was so different.  It just hammered deeper into his head what he already knew, that Maul’s abuse of Ezra had left mental scars so deep and severe that it was possible they would never truly heal.

“That’s exactly what I’m saying,” Kanan said gently.  “You shouldn’t have to earn the right not to be hurt by being obedient.”

Ezra said nothing and Kanan felt something wrench at his heart as he wondered if the kid believed him at all.

The silence between them only lasted a moment, but it was a moment that seemed to drag out for hours.  When Ezra finally spoke, his voice was quiet and fearful.

“Were you serious before?” Ezra asked.  “About -- about teaching me to be a Jedi?”

His voice faded as he reached the end of the question until it was barely more than a whisper.  Kanan didn’t need the Force to sense Ezra’s fear at even mentioning it, as if he thought Maul would somehow hear him or know that he’d asked.

“I was,” Kanan said.  “And I still am.”

Ezra said nothing, but Kanan saw his eyes narrow just slightly, as though he were thinking about something.

“Does this mean you changed your mind?” Kanan asked.

“I don’t know yet,” Ezra said.  “Is -- is that okay?”

“Of course it is,” Kanan said.  “It’s a big decision, and you never have to make it if you don’t want to.”

He tightened his grip around Ezra’s shoulder just slightly before he pulled his hand away.

“Whatever you decide to do, I’ll be there,” Kanan said.  “I promise.”

Chapter Text

Ezra breathed as deeply as he could and held it for a few seconds before slowly letting it out.  He’d been too distracted to meditate, but he’d decided today it was time to try again.  All of his questions about Kanan and Maul and everything else that was weighing on him buzzed around in his head like a swarm of wasps.  Ezra acknowledged each of them, then tried to push them away, clearing out his mind and focusing on nothing but the Force.  He could feel it flowing around him, wrapping around him like a blanket around his shoulders.  It was the most familiar feeling in the galaxy to him, even more than his master’s presence, even more than the fear and anger that had been his constant companions as far back as he could remember.

Fear and anger he made you feel.

The thought floated to the surface of Ezra’s mind and he quickly set it aside.  He wasn’t going to think about that right now.  He wasn’t going to think about anything right now.

You needed it.  Your fear kept you alive.

Another thought for him to set aside.  He could think about whether or not that was true later.

Kanan will say it’s not.

Ezra let out a frustrated sigh and shook his head as he pushed the thought away and refocused his mind on the Force.  For a moment, his mind was truly clear.  There was nothing but the Force and the faint, distant feeling of the bond he shared with his master.

Ezra.

Ezra fought against the instinct to open his eyes, knowing it might break his focus.  He knew that voice.

“Master?” he whispered, unsure of whether what he heard was real.

Ezra, you’re coming home.

Something seemed to tug at Ezra’s heart as a strange, familiar feeling spread through his mind.  Ezra gasped as his eyes snapped open.  He knew exactly what was happening.  His master was trying to find him.

Ezra’s breath caught in his throat as panic tightened around his chest, squeezing the air from his lungs.  He didn’t know what to do.  He could let it happen, let his master find him and come after him and take him home, or he could stop him, block Maul out of his mind and keep him from tracking him down.  He didn’t know what he wanted.  All he knew was that he wasn’t ready to make this choice but he had to make it now.

It’s alright, Ezra.

“N--no,” Ezra said, his voice shaking.  “No.”

Before he even realized he’d made a decision, he was throwing all of his strength behind his shields, doing everything he could to keep Maul from reaching across the bond and locating him.  He didn’t know if it would work, and he felt like something was tearing at the inside of his chest as he wondered what would happen if he failed, if Maul found him anyway, knowing that Ezra had tried to stop him.

The feeling of something reaching through his mind stopped abruptly.  For a moment, Ezra just sat there, shaking, wondering if it had really worked, if he’d really kept Maul out.  It didn’t feel right.  It didn’t feel normal without his master’s presence within easy reach.  He wanted to rip the wall down and let his master back in.  He should.

No.  He should talk to Kanan first.  Kanan would know what to do, wouldn’t he?  He had to.

Slowly, still shaking, Ezra got to his feet.  He crept out of his cabin -- when did he start thinking of it as his? -- and started down the hall, moving as quietly as he could, though he didn’t know whose attention it was he was afraid of attracting.  He waited for a moment after knocking on Kanan’s door, but there was no response.

Ezra’s heart was hammering as he moved through the ship, checking the common area and the galley first before he heard low voices coming from the cockpit.  He couldn’t make out what they were saying, but one of those voices was distinctly Kanan’s.  Ezra ran to the cockpit, no longer caring if anyone heard his footsteps.


 

Kanan heard rapid footsteps approaching and looked up to see Ezra appearing in the open door.  His eyes were wide and frantic, his fear crackling through the air around him like electricity.

Ezra froze in the doorway, his eyes moving quickly from Kanan to Hera.

“N--never mind,” he said, shaking his head and starting to turn away to leave.

“Ezra, wait,” Kanan said.  “What’s wrong?”

“Can we talk?” Ezra asked.  “Alone?”

Kanan glanced over at Hera, whose eyes were widened, her lips slightly parted in an expression of concern.  She nodded, silently giving him the all-clear.  The mission they were discussing could wait for now.

“Sure,” Kanan said as he stood up.

He led Ezra through the ship to his own cabin.  There wouldn’t be as much risk of someone walking in and interrupting their conversation there.

“What’s going on?” he asked once the door was shut behind them.

“I sensed something,” Ezra said, his hands fluttering nervously.  “I was meditating and I -- it was like I heard my master’s voice.  He’s looking for me.  He said I was coming home.”

A knot formed in Kanan’s chest.  He’d known they might have to face this eventually.  From everything Ahsoka had told him, Maul was nothing if not relentless.  He would come looking for his missing apprentice eventually.  Kanan had just hoped it wouldn’t be this soon, if ever.

“Are you sure?” he asked.

“Yes,” Ezra said, nodding quickly.  “I know it was him.  I tried to block him out of my mind, but I don’t know if it worked.”

Ezra didn’t seem to realize that he was trembling.  Every breath he took was long, heavy, and shuddering.  He seemed to be on the verge of panic.  Kanan stepped forward and put his hands on Ezra’s shoulders, projecting a sense of calm.

“Do you want to go back?” Kanan asked.  Ezra might be terrified, but Kanan needed to know just how difficult it would be to keep him safe.  He needed to know whose side Ezra would be on.

Ezra nodded.

“I do,” Ezra said, “but I’m scared.  And I don’t -- I don’t want him to hurt you.”

“Ezra, listen to me,” Kanan said, his hands tightening around Ezra’s shoulders.  “I’ll do whatever it takes to make sure you stay here and stay safe.”

“I don’t want you to hurt him, either,” Ezra said.  “I just want --”

His voice caught in his throat as his shoulders slumped and he bowed his head.

“I don’t know what I want,” he said.  “I want to go home, but I want to stay with you, and I don’t want to get hurt, but I know I won't stop him if he…”

Ezra was shaking again, and his fear was flowing off of him in waves, filling the small room, practically drowning them both.  Kanan felt like something was ripping through his chest, tearing his heart in two as he saw Ezra on the verge of a breakdown.

“It’s okay,” Kanan said, gently putting his arms around Ezra and pulling him close.

Ezra stiffened under his touch and pulled away from him, stepping back until he was against the wall.  Ezra stared up at him, his eyes wide with fear and confusion.

“I’m sorry,” Kanan said, taking a step back to give Ezra more space.  “I should’ve asked first.”

“What were you doing?” Ezra asked.

Kanan was about to apologize again, trying to calm the kid down, when Ezra’s question hit him.

“It was just a hug, Ezra,” he said.  “I wasn’t going to hurt you.”

Ezra only stared blankly at him and Kanan felt something sinking in his chest as for a moment, he nearly forgot about Maul searching for Ezra.  Was it at all possible that…

“Ezra,” he said gently, “do you know what that means?”

Ezra shook his head and Kanan felt like he’d been punched in the gut.

“It’s --” he cut himself off, wanting to choose his words carefully but not having the slightest idea how to explain the concept.  It was a hug.  It was so basic, so instinctive and fundamental and the kid had no idea.  How could Kanan explain it to him in a way that would make sense?

“It’s something people do to show that they care about you,” he said, keeping his explanation as simple as possible.  “Or to comfort you when something’s wrong.”

“Why?” Ezra asked.

“It’s just something people do,” Kanan said.

“I just -- I thought…” Ezra’s voice trailed off.

“You thought I was trying to hurt you,” Kanan said.

Ezra nodded.

“I’m sorry, Ezra,” Kanan said.  “I won't do that again unless you want me to.”

“Can you?” Ezra asked.  Kanan could sense the hot rush of embarrassment Ezra felt at asking the question.  “I mean…now that I know.”

“You sure?” Kanan asked.

Ezra hesitated for a second before nodding emphatically.  Kanan stepped forward and pulled him into a gentle hug again.  Ezra stiffened up for a second, then leaned into it.  Kanan felt a rush of warmth and safety and love and he wasn’t sure if they were his own feelings or the kid’s.

“Is this okay?” Kanan asked.

“Yeah,” Ezra said.

“Have you really never been hugged before?” Kanan asked.  He still couldn’t quite believe it.  Ezra had to be about twelve years old.  How could he have gone that long without ever being hugged?

“No,” Ezra said.  “Or maybe, when I was really little and don’t remember.  But I doubt it.  My master isn’t…he doesn’t do things like this.”

Kanan tightened his arms around Ezra, running one hand through the kid's hair as he once again felt that tightness in his gut as though he'd been punched.  He’d known that he cared about Ezra from the moment he saw the boy clawing at his own skin, cowering in the corner of the cell, whispering and muttering to himself, clearly terrified of the master he had refused to speak about.  Kanan couldn’t witness that and not care.  He’d taken Ezra in and tried to protect him because someone needed to, not because there was anything special about Ezra himself.  He didn’t know when that basic level of care that should be extended to anyone had grown into such a deep, powerful love.  No matter how confused Ezra was about what he wanted and how he felt, to Kanan the kid was now just as much his family as Hera, Zeb, Sabine, and even Chopper.

“Kanan,” Ezra said, his voice breaking, “if he finds me, you -- you should just let me go.  He’ll hurt you and the others if you try to keep me here.”

“I won't do that, Ezra,” Kanan said.  “And I won't let him hurt you.”

Ezra pulled away, his arms folding around his chest as he stepped back, looking down at the floor.

“You won't have a choice,” Ezra said.  “He’ll kill you if he has to, and I don’t -- I won't let him do it.  I -- I don’t even know if I want to go back, but I will if I have to.”

That was exactly what Kanan was afraid of, that whether out of fear or an actual desire to leave, Ezra would try to leave with Maul when he finally came looking for the kid.

“That’s not going to happen,” Kanan said.  “I’m not letting you get hurt again.”

Ezra took another step back, pressing himself against the wall and shaking his head.  The knot in Kanan’s gut tightened.  He didn’t have to ask to know that Ezra didn’t believe him.  Ezra might be slowly starting to break free from Maul’s control, but he still couldn’t see that Maul was just a person.  Force sensitive or not, he wasn’t all-powerful and Ezra could be protected from him, unless he wasn’t willing to let someone protect him.

Kanan reached out, gently putting a hand on Ezra’s shoulder.

“I promised I’d keep you safe,” he said.  “And that’s what I’m going to do.  No matter what happens to me, I’ll do everything I can to protect you.  Can you at least try to believe that?”

For a moment, Ezra was perfectly still, saying nothing.  Then slowly, he nodded.  That was going to have to be good enough for now.

Chapter Text

Ezra shifted slightly where he sat.  The position he’d been in for the past half hour had begun to grow uncomfortable.  He was curled up in a seat in the common space, trying to focus on reading a book Sabine had put on the datapad Kanan had lent him.  The crew didn’t have any impending missions, so they were all able to take the time to themselves.  Ezra had wanted to distract himself from continuously thinking about what he’d sensed the day before, but so far, it wasn’t working as well as he’d hoped.

As Ezra settled back into a more comfortable position, he glanced up at Kanan, who was across the room, his lightsaber in his hands, a panel on the side of it open, either doing maintenance or making sure none needed to be done.  Kanan hadn't said a word about Ezra’s near-breakdown the day before, but Ezra was certain he’d at least told Hera about it.  She was the leader of the crew.  If anyone should know they were potentially in danger, it was her.

Even with Kanan seeming not to pay attention to him, Ezra could feel his worry humming through the Force, buzzing against Ezra’s mind.  Kanan might not be saying anything, but he wasn’t dismissing the potential threat.

Ezra and Kanan both jumped at the sound of Kanan’s commlink going off.  Ezra quickly averted his gaze back to the datapad, not wanting Kanan to realize he’d been staring.

“Kanan,” Ahsoka’s voice said.  “I’m on my way to the Ghost.  We need to talk.”

“Acknowledged,” Kanan said, sounding almost distracted.

As Kanan switched off his commlink, Ezra heard him sigh and mutter “kriff.”

“Is something wrong?” Ezra asked, looking back up at Kanan.

For a moment, it seemed like Kanan wasn’t going to answer, or at least not answer honestly.  Then his shoulders dropped slightly and he looked away from Ezra.

“When Ahsoka wants to deal with me instead of Hera, it means it’s Jedi business,” Kanan said, a strange bitterness to his voice that piqued Ezra’s curiosity.

“You’re a Jedi,” Ezra said.  “Why does that bother you?”

“It’s complicated,” Kanan said.  It seemed like an answer he’d given many times before.  He gave a heavy sigh and seemed to be steeling himself before he spoke again.  “I wasn’t a Jedi for a long time.  After the others were killed, I --”

He sighed again, running a hand through his hair in frustration.  Under the wall of practiced calm, Ezra could sense the pain that pounded in Kanan’s chest like a second heartbeat.

“I walked away,” he said.  “I didn’t want the Empire to find out I was still alive.  But they did anyway.”

Ezra knew there was more to it than that.  The way Kanan was talking, the pain it was causing him, there had to be more.  But he wasn’t about to ask.  Kanan had never pushed him to talk when he didn’t want to, and Ezra wasn’t about to do that to him.  But there was one question that floated to the surface of his mind that he did want an answer to.

“Why offer to train me if it bothers you so much?” he asked.

Kanan’s silence was different this time.  He was thinking about the answer, as if he hadn't actually considered it before.

“You deserved a chance,” he said.

Ezra didn’t understand what he meant by that, but before he could ask, he heard footsteps approaching.  A moment later, the door slid open and Ahsoka entered the room.  Something seemed to shift in the air as she walked through the door.  Whatever she needed to talk to Kanan about, it was important, maybe even life or death.

“I’ll go,” Ezra said, standing up.

“Wait,” Kanan said.

Ezra stood still as Kanan turned his attention to Ahsoka.

“Is this about what I think it’s about?” he asked.

“The Inquisitors,” Ahsoka said with a nod.

Kanan glanced back at Ezra, and somehow Ezra instinctively understood the question Kanan was silently asking him.  With only a second of hesitation, he nodded.

“Ezra’s dealt with an Inquisitor before,” Kanan said.  “Whatever this is, he might be able to help.”

Ahsoka nodded and Ezra crossed the room to stand closer to the two of them.

“You know I’ve been trying to learn more about them,” Ahsoka said.  “I intercepted a transmission from Mustafar.  It included a set of coordinates and a message about making a retrieval.”

“A retrieval of what?” Kanan asked.

“I don’t know,” Ahsoka said.  “But it could have something to do with why there was an Inquisitor on Altier, and why they've been popping up in so many strange places.”

“I think I know,” Ezra said, the pieces beginning to fall together in his head.

Kanan and Ahsoka looked at him expectantly, and Ezra’s gut clenched as he wondered if he could be wrong.

“When I was younger, I was abducted by a bounty hunter,” Ezra said.  “I overheard him say something to his partner about the Empire paying for Force sensitives.  And the Inquisitor on Altier told me “you’re not the child I came here for, but you’ll do.””

“Force sensitive kids,” Kanan said.  “That’s what they’re after.”

“It wouldn’t be the first time,” Ahsoka said.  “A Sith Lord attempted the same thing during the Clone Wars.”

“We can’t let the Inquisitors get to that kid,” Ezra said.

His heart hammered, picking up speed as his mind latched onto the thought of some helpless child, maybe even younger than he had been, taken by the Inquisitors.  He could feel the Seventh Sister’s eyes on him, her gaze seeming to burn into his skin, her hand closing around his throat.

“Ezra.”

Ezra was jolted out of his thoughts by Kanan’s voice and his hand on his shoulder.

“Are you okay?” Kanan asked.

“I’m fine,” Ezra said, nodding.

“We won't let anything happen to that kid,” Kanan said.

He turned his eyes to Ahsoka.

“You have those coordinates?” he asked.

“Let’s get going,” Ahsoka said with a nod.  "We don't know how much time we have."

“I’m going with you,” Ezra said.  “I have experience with Inquisitors.  I can help.”

“Are you sure you’ll be okay?” Kanan asked.

Ezra nodded.  He wasn’t about to let himself be left behind.  Not for this.


 

Ezra paced nervously around the Phantom as the ship sped through hyperspace.  It was the only thing he could do to stave off the memories that hovered just at the edges of his mind.  He wouldn’t let the Inquisitors get their hands on this child.  He didn’t care what he had to do.  What the Seventh Sister had done to him wasn’t going to happen to someone else, not if he could stop it.

“Are you sure you’re going to be okay?” Kanan asked.

“Yes,” Ezra said, wincing as the word came out more harshly than he’d intended.

“If you’re not going to be, you should stay on the Phantom,” Kanan said.

“I’ll be fine,” Ezra said.

He sighed slightly, sitting down and closing his eyes for a few seconds as he tried to reign in his fear and anger, at least enough to hide it from Kanan.

“I’ll be fine,” he said again.  “I need to do this.  I can't let what happened to me happen to someone else.”

“Okay,” Kanan said.  “I trust you.”

Ezra clung tightly to the deep sense of calm he felt from Kanan and Ahsoka, but it quickly slipped away from him.  How they could seem so unconcerned, even if it was just an act, Ezra had no idea.  Just thinking about the possibility of facing an Inquisitor again, Ezra’s blood went cold, his heart freezing over in sheer terror.

Channel your fear into anger.

Ezra remembered the heavy feeling in his limbs after he’d been drugged, his panic as he realized that he couldn’t move.  That had been the beginning of five days of torment, five days of pain and fear and wondering if his master was looking for him, or if he was even still alive.  Ezra latched onto that feeling, thinking of everything that had had happened after it, of everything the Inquisitor had done to him and how it had made him hate her that much more.  He pulled his anger around himself like a shield.  It wouldn’t happen this time.  He wouldn’t let it.  And he wouldn’t let it happen to that kid.

Kanan glanced over at him and Ezra looked down at the ground, knowing Kanan had sensed the change in his emotions.

“Promise me you’ll be careful,” Kanan said.  There was something else under his words, some other meaning Ezra couldn’t figure out.

“I can’t,” Ezra said.  “I don’t care what I have to do.  I’m not letting her get near another child.”

As he said it, he felt a dull, distant pain shooting through the backs of his legs, like it was emanating from the scars she’d left there.  He winced, hoping that staring downward hid his face enough that Kanan wouldn’t notice.  The last thing he wanted was Kanan assuming he’d freeze up and forcing him to stay behind.

“I’ll be okay,” he said, trying to keep his voice as even and emotionless as possible so he could sound convincing.  “But I have to do this.”

I deserve my chance at revenge.

Ezra pushed that thought away.  He couldn’t say that to Kanan.  He was a Jedi.  He wouldn’t understand.

“Well, there’s no going back now,” Ahsoka said, breaking up the tension as the ship emerged from hyperspace.

Ezra stood up, gazing out the viewport of the planet that loomed ahead of them.  White swaths of clouds swirled over brown and green landmasses and blue oceans.  Ezra’s hands curled into fists at his sides, his heart hammering as they drew closer.

“Welcome to Lothal,” Ahsoka said.

Ezra’s eyes narrowed slightly as he tried to place the name.  He knew they were now somewhere in the Outer Rim, and they hadn’t spent much time in hyperspace, which meant that Phoenix Nest was probably closer to Lothal than to Altier.  Closer to Lothal than to Orsis.  Ezra was a long way from home, and he didn’t know whether he should find that comforting or not.

Ezra set that thought aside, trying not to dwell on it.  He didn’t need to be distracted by his confusion of whether or not he really wanted to return home when he needed to focus on stopping the Inquisitors.

Ahsoka brought the Phantom down through the planet’s atmosphere, piloting it toward a large, sprawling city surrounded by miles of empty grasslands.  Once they’d safely landed in the city’s spaceport, she stood up and turned to face Ezra and Kanan.

“Ready?” she asked.

Ezra glanced at Kanan and, upon seeing the Jedi’s expectant look, realized the question had probably been meant more for him.  He nodded.

“Our first move is searching the spaceport,” Ahsoka said, reminding them of the plan she’d already laid out.  “If we can find where they’ve landed, we can get a sense of how many are here before we engage.”

“Not to mention we can sabotage their way off the planet,” Kanan said.  “And you might be able to find some more information you can use.”

Ahsoka nodded.  She stepped around Ezra and headed for the hatch at the back of the ship.  Ezra followed her and Kanan off the ship, sticking close to them as they made their way through the hangar they’d landed in.  He looked around, trying to get a sense of the size of the spaceport.  It was big, probably too big for them to search on their own.

“We’ll have to find a terminal somewhere,” Ahsoka said quietly, clearly coming to the same conclusion Ezra had.  “Try to find where the Inquisitors landed.”

As they turned down a corridor leading to another hangar, Ezra caught sight of a pair of stormtroopers heading in the opposite direction, toward them.

“I have an idea,” he said quietly.  “It’ll be faster than trying to slice into the system.”

As the stormtroopers walked past them, Ezra turned around, staring after them and holding out a hand, reaching through the Force, into the mind of one of the stormtroopers.

“Ezra, what are you doing?” Kanan whispered, his voice seeming to echo in the back of Ezra’s mind.

Where are they? Ezra thought.  The information wasn’t there on the surface.  He’d have to look for it.

He pushed deeper into the stormtrooper’s mind, searching for either the location of the Inquisitors who’d landed here or the access codes for the spaceport’s entry logs.  Either would work.

The stormtrooper stopped in his tracks, dropping his blaster and pulling off his helmet, his hands pressing against his eyes as he dropped to his knees with a cry of pain.

“Ezra, no!” Kanan said, his hand coming down on Ezra’s shoulder and gripping tightly, as if trying to physically pull Ezra out of the stormtrooper’s mind.

The other stormtrooper turned around, raising their blaster when they saw Ezra, Kanan, and Ahsoka.  Ezra threw out his other hand, slamming the other stormtrooper against the wall.  They crumpled to the floor in a heap, knocked unconscious by the blow.

“Ezra!”

Ezra ignored Kanan.  He was so close.  There.  He found what he was looking for.  He pulled back and the stormtrooper fell to the ground, just barely holding onto consciousness.

“Ezra, what did you just do?” Ahsoka asked, a quiet note of horror in her voice.

“I just found the Inquisitor,” Ezra said.  “Just one of them in hangar bay A-17.”

“You also just let the Imperials know we’re here,” Kanan said.

“I’ll handle it,” Ezra said.  He stepped forward, taking his lightsaber from his belt and igniting it, the blade’s red glow filling the corridor.

“Ezra!” Kanan said, his hand closing around Ezra’s arm.  “Stop.”

There was something in his voice that froze Ezra in his tracks.  When he looked up, he saw the expression on Kanan’s face wasn’t angry, but was deadly serious.  Ezra’s breath caught in his throat as he switched off his lightsaber.  He knew he’d done something wrong, but he didn’t know what.  He only knew that even if he wasn’t angry, the way Kanan was looking at him was terrifying.

“I --” Ezra’s voice died in his throat.  He didn’t know what he was supposed to say.

“We have to move now,” Ahsoka said, glancing over her shoulder, watching for anyone else who might be coming their way.  “I’ll take the hangar, you two go to the coordinates.”

Kanan nodded.

“Come on,” he said, releasing Ezra’s arm.  “Let’s go.”

Ezra followed Kanan down another corridor and out of a side exit onto a city street.  The pace Kanan kept as they made their way through the streets was fast enough that it wouldn’t be easy for them to talk to each other, which was fine by Ezra for now.  He knew the only reason Kanan hadn't said more at the spaceport was because Ahsoka had interrupted, and even though he knew it would happen eventually, he wasn’t eager to face Kanan’s anger, or whatever it was he was feeling.

Kanan stopped in his tracks, throwing out a hand to stop Ezra as well.  They were standing outside a tall, run-down building that held multiple housing units.

“This is it,” Kanan said.

Ezra didn’t need to be told.  He could sense the Inquisitor’s presence, and it was painfully familiar.

“She’s here,” Ezra said quietly.

“Are you sure you’ll be alright?” Kanan asked yet again.

Ezra nodded.  Kanan’s hand came down on his shoulder, clutching it tightly for a moment before he stepped forward and opened the door.  Ezra followed him into a dark, narrow corridor where half the lights were dead or flickering.  Kanan led the way to a staircase, following the dark presence of the Inquisitor like it was a visible trail.

Ezra threw his strength behind his shields, trying to muffle his own presence in the Force.  He sensed Kanan doing the same, hiding their approach from the Inquisitor.  As they emerged onto the third floor of the building, Ezra caught sight of a door that was jammed open.  Kanan had clearly spotted it, too, and led the way toward it, moving quickly but quietly.  As Kanan shoved the door open, Ezra kept his hand on his lightsaber, his heart pounding as he prepared himself to fight if he had to.

“Kriff,” Kanan muttered as the door finally gave way.  He rushed forward, leaving Ezra standing in the doorway, staring at the scene before him.

A human woman lay in a heap in the middle of the room.  Inches away from her hand was a knife.  Blood covered part of the blade, and there were small droplets of it across the floor.  She’d wounded the Inquisitor, though not badly, before she’d sustained the large, blackened wound to her stomach and been left to die.

Kanan crouched down beside her, pressing his fingers against the side of her neck to check for a pulse.  After a moment, he sat back on his heels.

“She’s dead,” he said, his voice flat.

Ezra hadn't needed Kanan to tell him.  With a wound like that, she hadn't stood a chance.

“It hasn’t been long,” Kanan said.  “She can't have gotten too far.”

Ezra closed his eyes, blocking out the sight in front of him as he reached out through the Force, searching for that twisting, snakelike presence that he knew was the Seventh Sister.  She might have gotten her hands on this woman’s child, but he was not going to let her take the kid to the other Inquisitors.  He’d hunt her down across this entire planet if he had to.

“She’s still in the building,” he said, his eyes snapping open as he found her.  “She only just left.”

He turned on his heel, running from the room.  He heard Kanan’s footsteps pounding behind him, following him as he raced down another staircase at the opposite end of the corridor.  As he drew closer, Ezra could hear the sound of crying and felt something tear at his chest as he wondered if the Inquisitor had already hurt the kid.

When he reached the ground floor, Ezra skidded to a halt as he saw the Seventh Sister just ahead of him.  Clutched tightly in her arms was a child, still just a baby, maybe not even a year old, screaming and trying to squirm out of her grip.  Ezra drew his lightsaber, fury exploding in his chest as he ignited the blade.

The Seventh Sister turned her head at the sound, a smile spreading across her face as she recognized Ezra.

“I was hoping I would see you again,” she said, shifting the child into her left arm and taking her lightsaber off of her belt with her right hand.

“Hand over the child,” Kanan said, stepping forward until he was beside Ezra.  “Now.”

“If you want him,” the Inquisitor said, igniting one of her blades, “come get him.”

Ezra lunged forward, slashing at the Inquisitor’s right leg.  She blocked him easily, thrusting her blade forward toward Ezra’s stomach.  Ezra swung to the side, dodging out of the way.

“Let him go!” Ezra growled as he blocked the Inquisitor’s attack on his side.

“That’s not going to happen,” she said.  “In fact, I think I’ll take both of you.”

As she spoke, the air tightened around Ezra’s throat.  He kicked wildly as he was lifted off the ground.  He hung there for a moment, suspended in the air, before his back was slammed against the wall.

“Ezra!” Kanan shouted.

He ignited his own lightsaber, rushing forward, taking advantage of the Inquisitor’s momentary distraction to strike at her right arm, leaving a shallow gash across her forearm.  The Seventh Sister released her grip on Ezra and swung at Kanan, who jumped backward to avoid the tip of her blade slicing across his chest.

“So, Ezra’s your name,” she said, ignoring Kanan even as he attacked again and she swatted him away like a bug.  “Not that it will matter soon enough.”

As Ezra tried to get to his feet, the Inquisitor’s boot slammed into his stomach, leaving him gasping for breath as the air was driven from his lungs.  As she raised her foot to kick him again, something slammed into her, knocking her off balance and shoving her to the ground.

Kanan had the Inquisitor pinned on the floor.  His fist slammed into her face, dazing her just long enough that her grip on the baby loosened.  Kanan pulled the child away from her, shoving him into Ezra’s arms.

“Run,” he said.

Ezra stumbled to his feet, still gasping for air as he ran down the corridor.  As he looked back, the Inquisitor threw Kanan off of her, her knee connecting with the side of his head.  She reached out and Ezra froze in his tracks.  For a second, he fought to keep moving before something wrenched him back.  He hit the floor, curling his body protectively around the screaming child as he was dragged toward the Inquisitor.

A loud crash shook the air and the invisible grip around Ezra released him.  As he stood, he looked back to see Kanan with one hand outstretched, having just thrown the Seventh Sister into a wall.

“Go!” Kanan shouted.

Ezra sprinted down the dimly-lit hallway toward the back exit.  He shoved the door open, blinking rapidly as he emerged onto a bright street.  He turned back toward the door, watching it, waiting.

He jumped as the commlink Kanan had given him in case they were separated went off.  As he switched it on, he heard Kanan’s voice.

“Just keep going!” Kanan said.  “Get back to the ship!  I’ll find you!”

There was a crash and a cry of pain and Kanan’s transmission abruptly cut off.

For a moment, Ezra stood there, frozen by indecision, wondering if he should go back to help Kanan.  But he couldn’t.  He couldn’t risk this kid falling into the Seventh Sister’s hands.  He could still help Kanan, but he had to find a safe place to hide the baby first.

Ahsoka.  Ahsoka would know what to do.

Ezra turned away from the building and took off running again.  If he could just reach the spaceport and find Ahsoka, they could help Kanan together.  He had made it almost a block away and was about to turn a corner when he heard a door crash open behind him.  Instinctively, he looked back to see the Seventh Sister emerging onto the street.  Kanan was nowhere in sight.

Even from this distance, Ezra could see -- or maybe he felt -- the Inquisitor’s smile as she caught sight of him.  Without giving it a second thought, Ezra bolted, turning the corner and running as fast as he could, ignoring the burning feeling in his lungs as he pushed himself to the very edge of his limits, the pain in the scars on his legs, the child’s cries that rang in his ear.  He had to get away.  That was all that mattered.  Finding Ahsoka or finding a place to hide before he could make his way back to Kanan was all that mattered.

He knew the Inquisitor was gaining on him.  He didn’t need to see or hear or sense her; he just knew.  He knew it the way a frightened animal knows a predator is closing in.  He couldn’t keep this up forever and he didn’t know what he would do if he led her right back to the Phantom and to Ahsoka.  They would be in a hangar where there would be other Imperials to assist her.  They’d shut down the spaceport until Ezra, Ahsoka, and the child were captured.  He needed a better plan than to just keep running and hope he was faster than her, but he was so consumed by the need to escape that he couldn’t think.

On impulse, Ezra quickly ran through a hole in the wall of an abandoned building where a door had clearly once been.  He raced down a crumbling, dilapidated hallway until he reached a door.  Opening it, he found himself looking into a small, empty space that had likely once been a closet.  Sighing with relief, he shut himself inside, getting down on the floor and huddling in a corner beside the door.  He loosened his grip on the child just a little bit, no longer clinging to him like his life depended on it.  At some point, the baby had stopped screaming, but was still quietly crying.  Ezra knew that if he couldn’t get the kid to stay quiet, they would be caught in minutes.

Ezra jumped as he heard the sound of footsteps approaching.  It was her.  She must not have been as far behind as he thought she was.  He heard her footsteps growing closer and closer, the quiet buzzing of her probe droids filling the air as they split up to search the building.

One of the droids drew closer to Ezra’s hiding place, that sickening humming sound dragging back memories of pincers around his wrist as he was pinned to a tree, held there as a hypospray needle was shoved against his neck.  Ezra held his breath, trying not to make any sound that would alert the droid to his presence.

The baby made a quiet, terrified sound as if sensing Ezra’s fear.  Ezra had to do something fast or they would get caught.  But he couldn’t reason with a baby.  The kid was too young to understand what was happening.  All he knew was that he’d been separated from his mother and that something was wrong.  There was nothing Ezra could do to explain it to him.  At least, not with words.

Remembering what Kanan had done the night he’d woken up screaming, Ezra closed his eyes and took a long, slow breath.  He reached out through the Force, extending his mind toward the baby’s, holding out a single thought: it’s okay; you’re safe.  He wrapped that thought in the feelings that went with it, safety and comfort and security, like what he’d felt that night when he’d grabbed hold of Kanan’s hand.

For a moment, the danger was gone, and all Ezra could feel was the Force.  The Inquisitor was a distant shadow, and the child in his arms was a brilliant, glowing light, unable to shield his presence and make himself dimmer and harder to sense.  As Ezra reached toward his mind, extending those thoughts of safety toward him, for one strange, unnerving moment he was able to see himself through the child’s sense in the Force.  A dark, twisted presence that sent something cold shooting through his heart and was growing closer and closer, reaching toward him…

The moment Ezra’s mind brushed up against the boy’s, the baby screamed in terror.  Ezra gasped, clutching the child tightly against his chest as footsteps ran closer and closer.  He pressed himself back against the wall as his heart pounded.  There was no way out except the door they’d entered through.  Why had he been foolish enough to choose a hiding place with only one exit?  Why had he thought he could keep the kid calm?  Why had he thought hiding was a better idea than running?  Why --

The door opened and Ezra cried out as a hand gripped his hair, dragging him out into the hallway.  The Seventh Sister stood over him, a smile on her face as she wrenched Ezra’s head back, forcing him to look up at her.

“Did you really think trying to hide would work?” she asked, sounding almost amused.

She pulled at Ezra’s hair, dragging him to his feet.  She raised her other hand, her fingers tracing along the scar over Ezra’s left eyebrow.

“I remember giving you this,” she said.  “Unless you want another, hand over the boy.”

Ezra tried to lunge forward, his teeth snapping at her arm.  She only laughed as she pulled her hand away.

“You’re not touching him,” Ezra said, his arms tightening around the boy.  “I won't let you hurt another kid like you did me.”

The Seventh Sister released her grip on Ezra’s hair.  For a moment, all seemed dangerously calm before her fist struck Ezra’s face.  Ezra stumbled back against the wall behind him.  The Inquisitor stepped closer, her hand closing around his throat, pinning him in place.  Ezra struggled, but her grip only grew tighter, dragging him back through time to the woods on Altier.

“Give me the child,” she said, “or I will take him from you and he will get hurt.”

Ezra couldn’t move.  His arms and legs were weighed down and he was pinned in place, her nails digging into his flesh just like her knife.

With her free hand, the Inquisitor reached for the child, and Ezra couldn’t do anything to stop her.  He couldn’t move, couldn’t reach for the Force.  He was helpless and trapped and no one was coming for him.

As her hand slid between his arms, he tightened his grip around the boy.  He wasn’t back there.  He wasn’t drugged and beaten, completely at her mercy.  He was on Lothal, not Altier, and he was not helpless this time.  The child in his arms was, and even if he didn’t understand it, he was counting on Ezra to protect him.

Ezra shoved through the Force, throwing every scrap of strength he could summon at the Inquisitor, pushing her away from him.  He drew his lightsaber, igniting the red blade as he clutched the boy tightly in his other arm.

“Get back!” he growled.  “You’re not taking him!”

“I am,” the Inquisitor said, activating the twin blades of her lightsaber.  “And you will be joining him.”

She leapt at Ezra, her blades spinning through the air, slashing at his chest.  Ezra deflected one and just barely dodged the other, crying out as the tip of it slashed across his shoulder.  He dropped to the ground, aiming low, going for her legs.  She deflected his blade and kicked, her foot connecting with his jaw just before she brought her lightsaber straight down through the air toward him.

Ezra threw himself to the side, hitting the wall as he narrowly avoided the end of her blade piercing through his shoulder.  He hooked one foot around her ankle and yanked, knocking her onto her back.  He stumbled to his feet and slammed one heel down into her stomach.  As she gasped for breath, Ezra slashed his blade down toward her neck.  She deflected it, her heel coming up to slam into his kneecap.

Seeing what might be his only chance, Ezra reached out through the Force, shoving the Inquisitor back, sending her skidding along the floor until her head connected with the wall at the far end of the corridor.  For a moment, Ezra stood there, his lightsaber clutched tightly in his hand, watching and waiting for another attack.  But it never came.

Ezra took a slow, shuddering breath as he switched off his lightsaber and hung it on his belt.  The Inquisitor was likely unconscious -- he would feel it if he’d killed her -- but Ezra didn’t want to get close enough to check, in case it was a trick.  Not while he still had this child to take care of.

“It’s okay,” Ezra said quietly as he turned away from the Inquisitor and ran back to the door he’d entered the building through.

Once he was on the street, Ezra took off running again.  He didn’t know how long the Inquisitor would be knocked out for, if she was really knocked out at all.  As he ran, he heard his commlink go off again and nearly dropped it as he tried to answer it while still running.

“Ezra?” Kanan asked.

“Kanan,” Ezra gasped, relief flooding over him as he heard the Jedi’s voice.  “You’re okay.”

“The Inquisitor knocked me unconscious,” Kanan said.  “I’m almost to the spaceport.  Did you make it there?”

“Not yet,” Ezra said.  “But I’m --”

Ezra stopped in his tracks as he felt something tug at him through the Force.  It wasn’t the Inquisitor.  It was a familiar feeling, like a rope or a leash being pulled around his neck.

“Ezra?”

“I’m almost there,” Ezra said.  “Just be ready to take off.”

He shook his head and kept moving, walking at a normal pace this time.  He had to be imagining it.

Moments later, Ezra found himself taking a left turn he hadn't intended to make, wandering into an alley.  He was about to turn around to leave when he saw something moving in the shadows.  His hand jumped to his lightsaber, his heart hammering until the figure stepped closer, into the light.

“Master?” Ezra said, his eyes widening as Maul strode toward him.  How could this be happening?  How could Maul have found him here, of all places?

“It’s alright, Ezra,” Maul said as he closed the gap between them, putting a hand on Ezra’s arm.  “I’m taking you home.”

Ezra took a step back, looking down at the ground.  He didn’t know what to do.  He wasn’t ready for this.  He wasn’t ready to choose between Maul and Kanan; not yet.

“Ezra,” Maul said, his voice just slightly harsher, as if warning Ezra.  “Come with me.”

“I -- I can’t,” Ezra said, his grip tightening around the child.

“Leave him,” Maul said.  “He isn’t worth your life.”

“Please,” Ezra said, his voice shaking, “just let me get him somewhere safe.”

“We don’t have time for this, Ezra,” Maul said.  “I know the Inquisitor is hunting you.  You weren’t ready to face her.  I am taking you back home now, before it's too late.”

“No,” Ezra said, taking another step back.  “I can’t.  Not now.”

Ignoring the wrenching feeling in his chest that seemed to draw him toward Maul, telling him he could escape now, he could go home, he could be with his master again, Ezra turned away and ran from the alley.

“Ezra!”

He pushed himself to run faster.  He knew Maul wouldn’t let him leave this easily.  He didn’t even think he cared if Maul caught up to him as long as he got the child to Kanan and Ahsoka first.

Ezra kept running, dodging past anyone and anything that got in his way.  When the spaceport came into view, he pushed himself even harder, sprinting as fast as he could.  He didn’t care about drawing attention from Imperials anymore.  He just had to put the child in Kanan or Ahsoka’s hands before Maul caught up with him or the Seventh Sister tracked him down again.

His feet carried him instinctively to the hangar bay where the Phantom was waiting.  As soon as he was through the hatch and on the ship, Ezra collapsed to his knees.

“Go!” he shouted.

He heard the hiss of the hatch closing behind him before the ship lifted off the ground.  He felt hands on his shoulders, gripping tightly as if someone was trying to draw him back into himself.

Shaking, he looked up to see Kanan kneeling in front of him.

“It’s okay,” Kanan said.  “I’ve got you.  You’re okay.”

Slowly, Ezra’s breathing returned to normal.  Kanan gently guided him to his feet and got him to sit down on a seat.

“I’ll take him,” Kanan said.  “It’s okay.  You did your part.”

Ezra nodded and carefully handed the baby over to Kanan.  Something was placed into Ezra’s hands, and it took him a moment to realize it was a canteen of water.  Ezra quickly gulped down as much as he could stomach.  As he did so, he seemed to sink back into his own body, feeling the aches and pains in his muscles that he’d forced himself to ignore and forget as he raced back to the spaceport.

Kanan paced back and forth across the Phantom as Ahsoka piloted the ship out of Lothal’s atmosphere.  As the ship entered hyperspace, the baby finally calmed down, settling into Kanan’s arms until he fell asleep.

“What about the parents?” Ahsoka asked, standing up as she set the autopilot to take over.

“The mother was dead when we got there,” Kanan said.  “We weren’t there for long, but it looked like it was just the two of them.”

He sighed slightly, sitting down across from Ezra.

“We don’t even know the kid’s name,” he said.

“What’s going to happen to him?” Ezra asked.

Silence settled over the ship as Kanan and Ahsoka exchanged a concerned look.  None of them had thought that far, focusing solely on stopping the Inquisitors from taking the child.  They hadn't come up with a plan on how to keep him safe after the fact.

“I’ll take him,” Ahsoka said after a moment.

Ezra looked up at her curiously.

“There’s a family I know,” she said, responding to his quizzical look.  “They have one Force sensitive child that I know about, and they’ve kept her safe this whole time.  He looks enough like them I think he could pass for one of theirs.”

“What if they won't take him?” Kanan asked.

“I’ll find someone,” Ahsoka said.  “I have contacts I can trust to help, and he might have other family I can track down.  He’ll be safe, one way or another.”

Chapter Text

Ezra sat on the Ghost’s lowered ramp, his knees pulled up to his chest and his forehead resting on top of them.  Ahsoka had just left a few minutes ago with the kid they’d rescued.  The kid who didn’t even have a name anymore.

Ezra had long since physically recovered from being chased through Lothal’s capital, but even though his heart had stopped pounding and he could breathe again, his mind just wouldn’t quiet down.  Thoughts and memories crashed around in his head.  The Seventh Sister holding her hand over his mouth, telling him she loved the sound of his muffled, helpless screams just as much as his real ones as she held her knife up to his throat.  The bounty hunter binding his hands to something behind his back, kicking him in the side when he struggled too much and warning him that just because the Empire wanted living Force sensitives didn’t mean they couldn’t be damaged.

He tightened his arms around his knees.  It wouldn’t happen to that boy.  Ahsoka had promised she’d find somewhere he’d be safe.  She’d find him a family that would take him in and care for him and protect him.

Just like Maul did for you?

Ezra growled in frustration, his fingers tangling in his hair.  He wouldn’t think about this right now.  His confusion about his master was one thing too many today.

“You okay?”

Ezra looked up to see Kanan walking down the ramp toward him.  He'd had been so distracted that he hadn’t heard him approaching.

“Yes,” Ezra said, his voice flat and dull.  He didn’t care if Kanan believed him or not.

“Good,” Kanan said, sitting down beside him.  “Because we need to talk about what happened at the spaceport.”

“Do we?” Ezra asked, too exhausted to hold back the sarcastic, almost defiant question.

“Yes,” Kanan said.  “You almost killed someone.”

“I almost killed a stormtrooper,” Ezra said, his hands curling into a claw-like shape, his nails digging into his arms.  Why was Kanan defending the enemy?

“You’ve killed before,” Ezra said.  “I’ve seen it.”

“I killed someone who had a blaster pointed at Zeb’s head,” Kanan said.  “And I do everything I can to avoid killing someone when I don’t have to.”

“I’m not you,” Ezra muttered.  “I’m not a Jedi.”

For a moment, Kanan was silent, like he didn’t know how to respond.

“I know,” Kanan said, his voice gentle.  “But that stormtrooper couldn’t do a thing to defend himself after what you did.”

“I did what I had to do,” Ezra said.

“You ripped information out of his mind,” Kanan said, his voice maddeningly calm.  “Do you realize that doing that to someone is torture?”

“We didn’t have time!” Ezra said, slamming his forehead down against his knees, tangling his fingers in his hair once again and yanking at it.  “The Inquisitor was going to take that kid!  She was going to hurt him!  She’d have done so much worse than what I did!”

As his voice broke, he realized he was breathing heavily again, feeling like something was tightening around his throat.  For one horrifying moment, he couldn’t tell if it was real or not, and wondered if Kanan was choking him, if this was it, and he'd finally crossed the line.  As he gasped for air, he realized it wasn’t Kanan.  He could breathe, but a hard, heavy lump had formed in his throat as his eyes began to sting.  He widened his eyes as far as they would go, refusing to let himself cry.  He didn’t do that.  He wouldn’t.

Of course he’d understood what he’d done.  His master had taught him how to do it and hadn’t lied to him about what it was.  What he didn’t understand was why Kanan seemed so angry and disappointed and worried at the thought of it.  He didn’t understand why Kanan had a problem with him doing that to an Imperial, who wouldn’t have lifted a finger to stop the Seventh Sister from hurting that boy in even worse ways.

Ezra flinched as he felt Kanan’s arm slide around his shoulders, as if Kanan was trying to comfort him, which only made him more confused.  Kanan was angry at him, wasn’t he?  So why was he doing something like this?

“I know,” Kanan said.  “I know you were thinking about that kid and what the Inquisitor could do to him.  Maybe…”

He sighed softly, his arm tightening around Ezra’s shoulders for a moment.

“Maybe I shouldn’t have let you come on this mission in the first place,” he said.

Ezra shook his head.

“I had to,” he said.  “I had to face her again.”

“Ezra, look what it’s doing to you,” Kanan said.  “You haven’t stopped shaking since we left the spaceport.  You tortured and nearly killed a man.”

“I was just doing what I was taught,” Ezra said, a tremor in his voice.  “No mercy for anyone, it doesn’t matter who they are or if they can stop me.”

“I know,” Kanan said.  “But here in the rebellion, we don’t do that.  Not to anyone, including our enemies.”

Kanan pulled Ezra just a little closer, holding him tightly in a one-armed hug.

“I guess it never occurred to me that this was something you’d need explained to you,” he said.

“I’m sorry,” Ezra muttered, his voice shaking as he pulled away from Kanan.  “I’m sorry.  I -- I’m trying.”

“I know,” Kanan said.  “It’s okay.”

A knot formed in Ezra’s stomach.  It clearly wasn’t okay and Kanan was being so calm and gentle and it was only making things worse.  It was just going to make everything hurt more.

“Just do whatever it is you need to do,” Ezra said, his voice breaking as he reached the end of the sentence.

“I’m not going to hurt you, Ezra,” Kanan said.

“But I -- you just said what I did was wrong,” Ezra said, looking up at Kanan in confusion.

“It was,” Kanan said.  “And I think you understand that now, or you're trying, at least.  But even if you didn’t, that wouldn’t make it okay for me to hurt you.”

Ezra hugged his knees closer to his chest, curling in tighter on himself.  Maybe it made sense that Kanan wouldn’t hurt him for something like getting himself injured during a mission, but it didn’t make any sense at all that Kanan would let him get away with something like this.  He’d just explained to Ezra that what he’d done was wrong and now he wasn’t going to do anything about it?

“You’re just a kid, Ezra,” Kanan said.  “And you didn’t know any better.”

Even though it was true, that did nothing to ease the tight, painful feeling in Ezra’s chest.  Kanan was being so patient with him and there was still so much that Ezra didn’t understand and needed explained to him.  He couldn’t help but feel like he just kept letting Kanan down over and over.

“No one else needs to know what happened today,” Kanan said.  “I won't tell anyone; not even Hera.  And you’re not going to get in trouble for this, but you can't do it again.  Understand?”

“No,” Ezra said, his voice breaking yet again.  “I don’t.  You said it was wrong and now you’re saying I’m not going to be punished because I didn’t know any better.  Why does that matter?”

“Because you grew up with someone who made violence normal for you,” Kanan said.  “You had no way of knowing that what you did wasn’t okay, and you don’t deserve to be hurt for not knowing something the rest of us take for granted.”

“It doesn’t make any sense,” Ezra muttered, speaking more to himself than to Kanan.

“I know,” Kanan said.  “And I know it might not for a long time, and I’m sorry for that.  I wish there was more I could do to make it make sense to you, but I will keep doing everything I can to help you until it does.”

Ezra said nothing.  He didn’t know what he could say.  He didn’t know the words to explain to Kanan just how confused he was and how hard he was trying and how grateful he was for Kanan being patient and understanding even if it didn’t make any sense to him.

“I’m sorry, Ezra,” Kanan said, putting a hand on Ezra’s shoulder.  “I should have let this wait until tomorrow.  I know facing the Inquisitor again wasn’t easy for you, and I should have given you some time.”

“It wasn’t just her,” Ezra said, shaking his head.

“What do you mean?” Kanan asked.

Ezra took a long, deep breath as he prepared himself to say it.  He’d been surprised to realize that he wanted to tell Kanan what had happened on Lothal.  He just hadn’t known the right time to say it.

“After I got away from her,” he said, “I -- I just turned around a corner and my master was there.  He found me on Lothal somehow.”

“What?” Kanan asked, his voice flat.

“I don’t know how he did it,” Ezra said quickly.  “I didn’t tell him.  I tried to block him out of my mind when he was looking for me, but he found me and he told me to leave with him and I --”

His voice broke off, his breath coming in short, sharp gasps.  Telling Kanan was a mistake.  What if Kanan didn’t believe him?

“I didn’t know what to do,” he said.  “I wasn’t ready to decide if I wanted to go with him or not, so I just ran.”

Kanan’s arm slid around Ezra’s shoulders again, pulling him close.  Ezra leaned into Kanan’s touch, one hand clinging to his.

“It’s okay,” Kanan said.  “You got away.  That’s what’s important.”

“I didn’t know what else to do,” Ezra said.  “I -- I couldn’t fight him, Kanan.  I just ran.”

“Did he hurt you?” Kanan asked.

“No,” Ezra said, his voice shaking.  “He didn’t want to hurt me, he just wanted me to leave with him.  But I -- I had to get that kid back to you and Ahsoka.  I couldn’t just leave him.”

“You did the right thing, Ezra,” Kanan said.  “I know it was hard, but you got that kid to safety.”

“I still want to go home,” Ezra said.  “But I promised.”

He hadn't said it out loud to Kanan at the time, but he’d promised himself over and over that he wasn’t going to let that boy fall into the hands of the Inquisitors.  He’d promised the kid he wouldn’t let anything happen to him.  And if he’d been even a little more indecisive, or hesitated for just a second longer, he might not have been able to keep those promises.  Maul might have been able to convince him to leave.  Maul could have just taken him whether he wanted to go or not.

“Kanan,” Ezra said, his voice shaking slightly, “I -- I don’t want this anymore.  I want to train with you, as a Jedi, if you still want me.”

For a moment, Kanan said nothing, clearly not expecting what Ezra had said.

“Of course I do,” Kanan said.  “I meant what I said.  You deserve a chance.”

“Where am I supposed to start?” Ezra asked.

“You start with taking a break and getting some rest,” Kanan said.  “You’ve had a long day.  Everything else can wait until tomorrow.”

Chapter Text

Ezra didn’t even bother with trying to sleep.  He knew he wouldn’t be able to, so he decided to skip the hours of lying awake, staring at the ceiling and hoping that he would just drift off somehow.  As far as he knew, everyone else was in bed, so he moved as quietly as he could as he wandered and paced around the Ghost, as if it would ease the prickling feeling under his skin that he knew as guilt.  Guilt over accepting Kanan’s offer.  Guilt over not accepting it sooner.  Guilt over his encounter with Maul on Lothal and all the conflicting feelings it had caused.  Guilt over what he’d done at the spaceport, over how he’d needed Kanan to explain to him that what he’d done was wrong, over his assumption that Kanan would hurt him for it.

But no matter how much he wandered, or where in the ship he went, he couldn’t hide from the feeling that stuck at him from the inside, like needles trying to press through his skin.

Without even thinking about where he was going, Ezra found himself in the nose gun of the ship, a transparent bubble that looked out over the other ships in the hangar.  Rather than settling into the gunner’s chair, he curled up on the floor, his knees pulled up to his chest as he stared through the transparisteel into the darkened hangar.

What if he told Kanan he’d changed his mind?  Would Kanan accept that?  Or would he tell Ezra he had committed to training and had to keep his word?  Would he be angry?  Ezra knew Kanan had been frustrated with him before, but he still hadn’t seen Kanan angry at him and didn’t know what to expect.

What if training with Kanan changed everything?  Kanan had repeatedly said he wouldn’t hurt Ezra when Ezra was a prisoner, and then a member of the crew.  If he was going to be Kanan’s student, and he didn’t live up to Kanan’s expectations, maybe that would be what finally pushed Kanan over the line.

What if Maul found out?  What if Ezra went back to him, or Maul found him and brought him home, or Kanan got tired of Ezra and sent him away?  Maul would think Ezra had betrayed him, and wasn’t that exactly what he was doing?  Even if he didn’t punish Ezra for it -- though he would and Ezra knew he would deserve it -- Ezra would still have to live with the knowledge that he’d turned his back on his own master.

What if…there were so many things that could go wrong.  So many ways that this could end with Ezra being hurt again.

A soft sound broke Ezra out of his thoughts.  He tensed up as he heard footsteps behind him, only relaxing when they passed the nose gun by.  Whoever it was apparently hadn't seen him.  The footsteps stopped, and Ezra froze up again as they doubled back, drawing closer.

“Sabine?” Hera’s voice said from behind him.

Ezra looked back to see Hera peering through the hatch.

“Oh,” she said.  “I thought that was strange.  Sabine usually hides in her room.”

She drew closer until she was standing right beside Ezra.

“Couldn’t sleep?” she asked.

Ezra shook his head.

“Should I -- am I not supposed to be here?” he asked.

“No, it’s okay,” Hera said.  She seemed to hesitate for a moment before she sat down on the floor beside him, her legs crossed.

“I like to hide out here, too, sometimes,” she said.  “It’s even better when we’re not on the carrier.  When we’re in space or on a smaller moon or an asteroid, you can see so many stars from here.”

Ezra stared up through the transparisteel.  He missed being able to see the stars, the open sky, the woods, anything except for the dark, lifeless hangar.  Being on the Ghost and on Phoenix Nest felt so confined, like the small, windowless room he’d been kept in when he was younger.

“Kanan told me you did really well on Lothal,” Hera said, “even though it was hard for you, facing the Inquisitor.”

It was all Ezra could do not to shudder at the mere mention of the Seventh Sister.

“Did he tell you about -- did he tell you I’d met her before?” Ezra asked.

“He did,” Hera said.  “He didn’t give me details, and you don’t have to, either.”

Ezra’s gaze shifted down to the floor at his feet.  It wasn’t like what the Inquisitor had done to him was some kind of closely-guarded secret at this point, but that didn’t mean he liked talking about it.

“She tortured me,” Ezra said, hugging his knees tighter against his chest.  “It wasn’t that long ago, really.  And seeing her again, it just…”

He trailed off, shaking his head.  He didn’t know how to explain it, the sheer terror that had pounded through his veins, the feeling that he couldn’t move, just like when she’d drugged him to stop him from running away.

“I’m sorry, Ezra,” Hera said.

“Why do people keep saying that?” Ezra muttered.

“What else is there to say?” Hera asked.  “It shouldn’t have happened.  It shouldn’t happen to anyone, but especially not to a kid.”

“I survived,” Ezra said with a shrug.  “That’s what matters, doesn’t it?”

“That matters a lot,” Hera said.  “But it’s not the only thing that does.”

Ezra just shrugged again and rested his chin in the small gap between his knees, his eyes wide and unblinking as he stared out into the hangar.

“Maul was there,” Ezra said, not even sure of why he was telling her.  Kanan probably had already.

“When you were tortured?” Hera asked, horror threading its way into her voice and the air around her.

“No,” Ezra said quickly.  “I meant on Lothal.  He wanted me to go with him and I -- I wish I had.  I should have just left with him.”

“You shouldn’t have,” Hera said, putting a hand on his shoulder.  “You made the right choice.”

“You’re just saying that because you want me to stay,” Ezra said.

“Well,” Hera said, a smile in her voice, “maybe a little.  We’d all miss you if you were gone.  But you were protecting yourself, and that boy you helped save.  If you left with Maul, he’d hurt you again, and who knows what would have happened to that kid?”

“I know,” Ezra said, running a hand through his hair in frustration, his nails scratching into his scalp.  “That doesn’t make it any easier.”

He sighed and tore his eyes away from the empty hangar, finally looking at Hera.

“I just wish this had never happened,” he said.  “You -- all of you have been really good to me, but I wish I’d never come here in the first place.  If I had just listened to my master when he told me I wasn’t ready, this wouldn’t have happened.”

Hera’s hand lightly squeezed Ezra’s shoulder.  To her credit, she didn’t say anything, didn’t tell him anything he already knew, that if he’d just listened, he’d still be with Maul, still risking getting hurt every day of his life.

“I’m sorry,” Ezra muttered.  “I shouldn’t have…”

He trailed off, not know what to say.  He wasn’t exactly sure what it was he shouldn’t have said or done, but he knew there was something.  There was always something.

“It’s okay,” Hera said.  “I understand.  That place, wherever it was, was your home.”

“Do you ever miss it?” Ezra asked.  “Your home, I mean.”

“All the time,” Hera said.  “But I had good reasons to leave.  The whole galaxy needs this rebellion, not just my planet.”

“How do you handle it?” Ezra asked.  “When you just want to go home, but you can't?”

“The Ghost has been my home for a long time now,” Hera said.  “And this crew is my family.  If I ever get homesick, I try to think about what I have here, and about why I left.  I’m doing this for Ryloth and my family there just as much as for the rest of the galaxy.”

She winced and looked down at her hands.

“I guess that last part won't work for you, though,” she said.

Ezra looked away and shook his head.  He didn’t have a family, at least not the way Hera meant it.  Even if Maul was family in that sense, Ezra hadn't left for him.  He’d betrayed him.  And he’d done it without even leaving voluntarily in the first place.

“Ezra,” Hera said gently.  “I left for myself, too.  Doing that…it’s okay.  It’s not selfish to walk away because it’s what you need.”

“I didn’t walk away,” Ezra said, though as he spoke the words, he realized they weren’t true.  He’d run from Maul on Lothal, rejected him, turned his back on his master.  “Or, I did, today, but not before.  And I never would have if I had never come here.”

His voice broke and he froze in terror, his eyes wide, as he felt something trickling from his eye, running down his face.

“No,” he muttered, quickly raising his hand to his face and brushing away the few tears that had worked their way from his eyes.  “I’m sorry.  I didn’t --”

“It’s okay to cry about it,” Hera said.  “We all know you miss your home, and your feelings about it are --”

No,” Ezra said, his voice still quiet, but growing more insistent.  “You don’t understand.  I can't -- I can’t do this.  I’m better than that.  He’ll --”

He shook his head, pressing the heels of his hands against his eyes to stop the few tears that were brimming up there from falling.

“He’d hurt you for crying,” Hera said.  It wasn’t a question.

Ezra could only nod, unable to say anything.

“No one is going to do that here,” Hera said.  “You can cry as much as you need to.”

Ezra shook his head, pulling his hands away from his face as he managed to bring himself back under control.  He hadn't meant to let it happen.  It had been an accident, a momentary loss of control.  He didn’t care what Hera said; he wasn’t going to show weakness like that again.  Not even if his master would never find out.

Is he even your master anymore?

“I -- I should --” Ezra glanced frantically over his shoulder, struggling to find the words to make up an excuse for running to his bunk and hiding from Hera, and from the question that had just entered his head.  “There’s something Kanan and I are supposed to do tomorrow.”

“He told me,” Hera said with a small smile.  “We’re both really proud of you.”

Ezra stood up, hugging his arms around his chest and shrugging.  He didn’t know how to respond to that.  He didn’t understand why they would be proud of him for anything, least of all this.

Hera stood up, too, putting a hand on Ezra’s arm for a second.

“Get some sleep,” she said.  “You need it.”

Ezra nodded and turned away, slowly trudging to his cabin, wondering what was going to happen tomorrow.

Chapter Text

Something fluttered in Ezra’s stomach as he paced nervously around his cabin, trying to build up the nerve to leave it.  Walking to Kanan’s door would only take seconds, but right now it seemed like an impossible journey.

Control your fear, he told himself.  You don’t need to be afraid of Kanan.

But what if he did?  What if everything changed now?  If Kanan was his master now -- was that what he was? -- what if things were supposed to be different?

Either way, it was already five minutes past the time they’d agreed to meet, and Ezra didn’t want Kanan to think that he wasn’t taking training seriously, or that he’d changed his mind.  He didn’t want to start off with something that could get him in trouble.

Ezra took a breath, bracing himself before he quickly opened the door and took the few steps down the hallway to Kanan’s room.  He knocked on the door and stood perfectly still as he waited for a response.

As the door opened and Kanan stepped aside to let him in, the tension in Ezra’s chest loosened for just a moment before viciously tightening again.

“Have a seat,” Kanan said, gesturing to his bunk.  “We should talk.”

“Yes, Master,” Ezra said quickly, crossing the room and perching uncertainly on the edge of the bunk.

He flinched as he saw Kanan’s mouth draw into a tight line.  He’d already done something wrong.

“Ezra,” Kanan said, “you can keep using my name.  You don’t have to call me anything you’re not comfortable with.”

Ezra stared down at the floor.  He wasn’t sure he could do that now.  It felt wrong somehow.  It felt disrespectful.

“That’s actually what I wanted to talk to you about,” Kanan said, absently pacing across the room.  “This isn’t going to be like what you had with Maul.  If you do something wrong, you’re not going to get in trouble for it.  You’re allowed to ask questions and argue.  Do you understand?”

Ezra’s hands curled around the edge of the bunk as he shook his head.  It didn’t make sense that things would stay the same now.

“No,” he said.  “But I’ll try.”

“Good,” Kanan said.  “That’s what’s important.”

Silence fell for a moment as Kanan kept pacing, like he was thinking about what he wanted to say, choosing his words carefully.  Ezra stayed quiet, not knowing what he could say.  Even without the familiar anger, for a moment, watching Kanan pacing in front of him, Ezra was almost reminded of Maul.

“I’m going to do everything I can to help you,” Kanan said, stopping in front of Ezra.  “But I can't force you down this path if you don’t want to be on it.  Are you sure this is what you really want?”

“Yes, Master,” Ezra said.  His eyes widened as he realized his mistake.  “I mean -- I -- Kanan.”

His hands flew up to cover his face as his heart pounded.  He couldn’t get this one kriffing thing right.

“Hey,” Kanan said, sitting down beside him and putting a hand on his shoulder, “it’s okay.  It’s okay.”

Slowly, Ezra uncovered his face, his hands twisting together in his lap as his cheeks burned.

“I’m sorry,” he muttered, suddenly embarrassed by his near-panic over this, of all things.

“You don’t have to avoid the word,” Kanan said, sounding for all the galaxy like he was avoiding it.  “I just don’t want you to feel like you have to call me that.  And I don’t -- I don’t want you think I’m like him.”

“I’m sorry,” Ezra said again, not sure exactly which thing he was apologizing for.  “I’m okay.  I -- I do want this.  That’s all I was trying to say.”

“Okay,” Kanan said, his hand tightening around Ezra’s shoulder in a gesture of comfort that did almost nothing to help.  “I wanted to be sure.  And there’s something else.  You don’t have to answer this now, and when you do, you don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.  But I want you to think about why you’re choosing this.”

“I already know,” Ezra said, staring down at his hands so he didn’t have to look at Kanan.

He took a long, shaking breath as he gathered the words together in his head.  He wanted to tell Kanan, and he didn’t even understand why.  He just knew that he wanted Kanan to know, and that Kanan might be able to make sense of it in a way he couldn’t.

“On Lothal, when I was trying to hide from the Inquisitor, that kid wouldn’t stop crying,” he said.  “He was scared and he didn’t understand what was going on, but he knew that something was wrong and that I wasn’t his mother and he wanted her.”

He took another deep, shaking breath, his hands curling into fists on his lap as he remembered the sheer terror coursing through both of them as he hid in the closet, his head filling with the echoes of the Inquisitor’s voice, her knife and her lightsaber tracing across his skin, the hopelessness that had closed in around him during those five days.

“I tried to do what you did for me when I had that nightmare about the Inquisitor,” he said.  “I tried to use the Force to tell him he was safe and I’d protect him and he -- he started screaming like I was hurting him.  For a minute, I saw what I felt like to him.  It was almost like how the Inquisitors feel to me.  This terrifying thing like -- like a monster that was going to hurt him.”

His voice broke off as he wrapped his arms around himself.  He dug his nails into his sleeves as he stared down at the floor, refusing to look at Kanan, something in his chest tightening at the thought of Kanan confirming his fear, of telling him that’s exactly what he was.

Instead, he felt Kanan’s arm slide around his shoulders, holding on tightly.

“It’s okay,” Kanan said.

“No, it’s not,” Ezra said, shaking his head.  “I don’t want to be that.  I don’t want to be like her.”

“You’re not,” Kanan said.

“The way I was taught,” Ezra said, his voice shaking, “my master taught me to feel powerful when I hurt someone else.  I know she feels the same way.  I felt it when she -- when she was torturing me.  It was fun for her.”

“It was also fun for her knowing that you were scared,” Kanan said.  “Did you like knowing that kid was afraid of you?”

Ezra shook his head quickly.  He’d hated that sharp, painful tug in his chest as he realized what that boy saw him as.  He still hated it.  It was burned into his mind, a horrifying reminder of what he really was.

“Then you’re not like her,” Kanan said.  “You’ve hurt people because your master taught you that you had to, not because you think it’s fun.”

Ezra pulled away from Kanan as guilt scraped away inside his chest at the feeling that he was misleading Kanan somehow.

“But I -- I don’t not like it,” Ezra said.  “The first time that I -- that I killed another sentient, I didn’t even care, really.  I just knew I was in danger and that my master wanted me to do it, so I did.  I didn’t think twice.”

Ezra’s heart sank as he said it.  He didn’t know why he’d ever thought he could really do this.  He didn’t know why Kanan thought he was capable of becoming a Jedi.  He didn’t want to be so terrified of Maul that he willingly did things that turned him into that twisted shadow he’d sensed, but he didn’t want to turn his back on everything that he’d been taught.  He didn’t want to walk away from the power Maul had shown him.  Letting Kanan teach him would mean doing that, betraying the man who’d raised him and protected him his whole life, throwing away the knowledge and power that his master had shared with him when he had no reason to share it with anyone.

“I can’t,” Ezra said, standing up abruptly.  “I shouldn’t do this.  I’m not -- I can't be a Jedi.  It’s just not possible.”

“Ezra, wait,” Kanan said, standing up and reaching out toward Ezra, not grabbing him, but putting a hand on his arm to stop him.  “If you tell me what’s going on, I might be able to help.”

“What’s going on is I’m not what you think I am,” Ezra said.  “I’m not just some helpless kid who was turned to the dark side.  I embraced it.  I’ve done things that mean I can never be a Jedi, because my master told me to.”

“Because you were forced to,” Kanan said.  “You were turned to the dark side by a former Sith who’s been controlling your life since before you can remember.  You didn’t hurt and kill other people and embrace the dark side because you wanted it.  You did it because you were never given another choice.  But you have one now.”

“I don’t know what I want,” Ezra muttered, taking a step back to get himself away from Kanan’s warm, protective hand on his arm.  “Except that I’m afraid and I don’t want to be.”

“I won't tell you not to be afraid,” Kanan said.  “You have plenty of things to be scared of.  But I’m going to do everything I can to protect you from them, and to help you learn to control your fear.”

“I can control my fear,” Ezra said.  He sighed and sat down on the edge of Kanan’s bunk again.  “But probably not the way you meant.”

“Probably not,” Kanan said, sitting down beside him again.

Silence fell for a moment, and once again Ezra’s hands twisted around each other as something tightened in his chest.  Kanan hadn't said anything, but Ezra still felt like he’d done something wrong.

“What I’m going to be teaching you probably goes against everything Maul ever told you,” Kanan said.

“I know,” Ezra said.  “But I still want to learn.  It’s just -- it feels like I’m betraying him.”

“You’re not,” Kanan said.  “I know you were trained to see questioning what you’re taught as betrayal, but it’s going to be harder for you to learn and understand what I’m trying to teach you if you’re afraid to ask questions when something doesn’t make sense to you.”

Ezra nodded, not knowing what to say, but wanting to show that he understood.

“Let’s start with something simple,” Kanan said.  “What exactly has Maul taught you about the Jedi?”

“Not a lot,” Ezra said.  “Most of them are dead, and it was the Sith he was trying to destroy, so it didn’t matter as much.”

He scuffed the toe of his boot along the floor, thinking back to everything Maul had told him about the Jedi, wondering just how much of it was even true.  He still couldn’t believe that Maul had lied to him, but what if he’d been taught lies about the Jedi and believed they were true?

“My master told me --” Ezra cut himself off, taking a breath before he kept speaking.  “Maul told me that the Jedi didn’t let themselves feel.  He said that’s what made them so much weaker than the Sith.”

He knew before Kanan spoke that he was going to say it wasn’t true, and he felt something grow heavy in his chest as he realized he was probably going to have to get used to that.  Once again, he caught himself wondering if this was worth it, having to let Kanan dismantle everything he thought he knew all over again.  Kanan had so far always been gentle about it, but that didn’t make it any less terrifying.

“There’s a difference between not feeling and not acting out of emotion,” Kanan said.  “Fear can be a good thing.  It tells you when something’s wrong.  But acting solely out of fear can get you or other people hurt.”

“He always said I had to channel my fear into anger,” Ezra said.  “He said that’s what made me powerful.”

“That’s not the only thing that makes you powerful,” Kanan said.  “And when you use it as a weapon, you risk hurting other people, and yourself.”

“What if they deserve it?” Ezra muttered, scuffing his toes against the floor.

“You’re thinking about the Inquisitor,” Kanan said.

Ezra nodded.

“Ezra, what she did to you was unforgiveable,” Kanan said.  “I’m not saying you need to stop being angry or even stop hating her.  But you can't let revenge be what drives you.  Look what happened on Lothal.  You let your need for revenge push you into facing her before you were ready to, and --”

“And I won,” Ezra said.

“And it hurt you,” Kanan said.  “Even if you got away, just seeing her again hurt you.  We’re fighting against the Empire.  We’re all going to get hurt at some point, so we shouldn’t be throwing ourselves into more danger than we have to just because we need to prove something.”

Ezra nodded to at least make Kanan think he understood, even though he wasn’t sure if he did.  Maul had told him not to take unnecessary risks, either, but he’d also told Ezra not to run from his fears, not to show any signs of weakness that could be exploited.

“Can I ask you something?” Ezra asked before he even realized he was going to say it.

“Of course,” Kanan said.

“What did you mean when you said I deserved a chance?” Ezra asked.

“You probably weren’t born until after the other Jedi were killed,” Kanan said.  “Maybe even years after.  But if it hadn't happened, they might’ve found you.  You could have grown up as a Jedi.  Even if that can't happen, you deserve a chance to know what you could have had.  And you deserve to know things that your master’s been keeping you away from.”

“Why?” Ezra asked.  “Why do I deserve any of that?”

“Maul turned you to the dark side when you couldn’t even understand what that meant,” Kanan said.  “You didn’t choose it.  He chose it for you, and you deserve a chance to decide for yourself.  Everyone does.”

Ezra stared down at his hands, which had locked together in his lap, clenched so tightly his knuckles were going pale.  What Kanan was saying hurt in a way he couldn’t explain, like someone pressing at a day-old bruise.  It made Ezra want to run, to find somewhere he could hide or find a way to just leave this place, leave Kanan and the Ghost and the rebellion for good, to find his way home and tell Maul everything and beg for his forgiveness and…

The only thing Ezra really knew he wanted was to erase what Kanan had just said from his mind.

“He didn’t have a choice, either,” Ezra said, his voice flat, empty, even as he barely held back those twisting feelings of anger and denial and fear and things he didn’t have names for that hovered at the edge of his mind.

“Maybe not,” Kanan said.  “Maybe he didn’t choose to join the dark side, but he did choose to bring you into it.  He chose to raise you and teach you and he had every choice in what he did to you.”

Ezra hugged his arms tightly around his chest, as if he could shield himself from everything Kanan was saying.  Kanan reached out and put a hand on his arm and Ezra immediately flinched away, as if Kanan’s touch had burned him.  Kanan quickly pulled his hand back.

“Ezra,” he said.  “You do have a choice now.  I know this wasn’t an easy decision for you to make, and you can always change your mind.  I just need you to tell me if you do.”

Ezra’s arms drew tighter around his chest for a moment before he let his hands drop back into his lap, his shoulders dropping out of the defensive position he hadn't realized he’d slipped into.

“I understand, Master,” he said.

Chapter Text

Sparring had been Kanan’s idea, and he was beginning to wonder if it had been a very good one.

Ezra’s movements were quick and vicious, with the kid using his speed to his advantage as he darted around the cargo bay, using Kanan’s size against him.  He’d clearly been taught well and knew how to handle himself in a fight.  And Kanan knew he was having fun.  He’d seen the smile that occasionally twitched across Ezra’s face, even as he tried to remain serious.

But something was off.  Ezra was trying, but he was distracted and unfocused.  Kanan, in turn, was distracted by his worries that the kid would get hurt.  Kanan had set his own weapon in training mode and had been relieved to learn that Ezra’s had that setting built into it, too, though Ezra had commented that he hadn't used it in years.  Still, that didn’t eliminate the risk of injury.  A lightsaber in training mode could still burn, and handling one while your mind was elsewhere could be dangerous.  So far, everything was fine, but Kanan was beginning to wonder if he should call a break.

Kanan didn’t have time to consider it any further as Ezra lunged forward, his blade raised to strike at Kanan’s chest.  Kanan blocked the attack, his blue blade locking against Ezra’s red.  Ezra pulled his blade back to disengage, and Kanan was too slow to give a warning as Ezra’s wrist glanced against the blade.

Ezra gasped in pain, but attacked again, his anger at himself driving him forward as he brought his blade down through the air.  Kanan switched off his own weapon and stepped to the side, catching Ezra’s left arm and stopping him in his tracks.

“Hold on,” Kanan said.

For a moment, Ezra only stared at him in confusion before he lowered his weapon and switched it off, his shoulders creeping up defensively.

“I’m sorry,” he said.  “I -- I know that was careless.  I just -- I was --”

“You were distracted,” Kanan said, finishing the sentence when Ezra’s voice trailed off.

Ezra flinched, his grip on his lightsaber tightening, as if he expected Kanan to attack.

“Hey,” Kanan said.  “It’s okay.  You’re not in trouble.  Can I see your hand?”

“It’s just a burn,” Ezra said.  But he extended his hand anyway.

Kanan took Ezra’s hand, examining the angry red mark on his wrist.  It didn’t seem too bad, and probably wouldn’t require a trip to the medbay.  As if knowing that Kanan had reached that conclusion, Ezra pulled his hand away.

“Are you alright?” Kanan asked.

Ezra nodded.

“It’s just a burn,” he said again.  “I’ve had worse.”

“That’s not what I meant,” Kanan said.  “You’ve seemed off all morning.”

Ezra shrugged and looked down, his hands twitching as he hung his lightsaber on his belt, apparently satisfied that Kanan wasn’t going to launch into an unexpected attack.

“You can talk to me, Ezra,” Kanan said, reaching out and gently touching the kid’s shoulder.  As he did so, Ezra flinched, a quiet whimper escaping his throat as he took a step back.  That’s when Kanan realized it.  He’d heard that same sound just this morning as he’d walked past Zeb and Ezra’s door on the way to the refresher.  It had been early, and Ezra probably would have still been asleep.

“You were having nightmares again,” Kanan said.

It wasn’t a question, and Ezra just nodded in response.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Kanan asked.

“I -- it doesn’t matter,” Ezra said with a shrug.

“It does,” Kanan said.  “You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to, but it does matter.”

“It was --” Ezra straightened up, his hands flapping in front of his chest as he stared down at the floor.  “I don’t --”

“You don’t have to say anything,” Kanan said.  “It’s okay.”

Ezra shook his head vigorously, which Kanan assumed meant that Ezra was agreeing and didn’t want to talk about it.

“No,” Ezra said, “I -- I want to.  It’s just -- it’s --”

Ezra’s voice broke off, his hands moving more quickly as his eyes darted around the room, like he was looking for the word he needed.  Or for an escape route.

“Scary?” Kanan suggested.

Ezra nodded.

“I -- I don’t like being restrained,” Ezra said.  “And he would -- when I was being punished for something, he knew I wouldn’t run away, but sometimes he’d do it because he knew -- he knew it scared me.”

Ezra was shaking now as he hugged his arms around his chest, still staring at the ground, his shoulders hunched like he was afraid to look up at Kanan.  To Kanan, the sight was just another piece of the horrifying picture he’d built up of Ezra’s life from the small details the kid had told him.  Rage flared in Kanan’s chest as he found himself wondering how someone could do that to a child.  Not just restrain him, but to do it because it scared him.

Sensing Kanan’s feelings, Ezra flinched, his nails digging into his sleeves as he rocked slightly where he stood.

“I -- I always deserved it,” Ezra said quickly, as if trying to convince Kanan he didn’t need to be angry.  “It was just -- it scared me.”

“You didn’t deserve it, Ezra,” Kanan said, keeping his voice calm as he pushed his anger to the back of his mind.

The kid was so in tune with other people’s feelings, and Kanan still found himself forgetting to take that into account, to shield his mind so Ezra wouldn’t think he was the target of Kanan’s anger.  He hadn't spent so much time in such close quarters with another Force sensitive person in so long, and no one he’d known at the Jedi temple had been as hurt and afraid as Ezra was.

“I did,” Ezra said, his voice quiet and distant, like he was talking more to himself than to Kanan.  Like he was reminding himself, in case he’d forgotten.  “I know I did.”

“Ezra --”

“Don’t,” Ezra said.  “Please, just…”

As if realizing that he was beginning to panic, Ezra took a step back, his gaze darting around the cargo bay.  He was clearly about to bolt.  Seconds later, Kanan was proven right as Ezra slipped past him, leaping halfway up the ladder and quickly scaling the rest of the way to the top before running out of Kanan’s line of sight.  Kanan stared after him for a moment, something tightening in his chest.  After a minute, he slowly climbed the ladder out of the cargo bay and turned toward the cockpit.  He wouldn’t chase after Ezra right now.  He would let the kid handle this in peace and check on him soon.  Ezra was already hurting enough without Kanan following him, bringing his own anger, which Ezra might think was directed at him.

Instead, Kanan made his way to the cockpit, where he found Hera wedged beneath the main console, blindly reaching for a tool that was just out of her grasp.  Kanan sat down on the floor beside her and nudged the tool into her hand.  She took it, her hand disappearing under the console with the upper half of her body.

There was nothing wrong with the ship at the moment, as far as Kanan knew, but Hera was always coming up with new ideas for improvements.  Sometimes Chopper helped her, and sometimes, like now, she liked to do them herself.  Kanan sitting beside her and handing her tools didn’t count as interfering, so he often did so, usually staying quiet, just watching Hera work.  Now, like so many other times, he took comfort in just being near her, letting her calm, steady presence wear away at his anger.

About ten minutes passed, punctuated by Hera’s muttered swearing and requests for Kanan to hand her something, before Hera slid out from under the console, wiping her palms, slick with grease from nuts and bolts, on her coveralls and smiling.  Whatever she’d been doing had apparently been a success.

Her smile faltered when she looked at Kanan, who quickly look away, silently cursing himself for ruining the moment.

“What is it?” Hera asked.

“What?” Kanan asked, choosing to feign ignorance.

“You think I don’t know you well enough to know when something’s wrong?” Hera asked.

When Kanan didn’t respond, she gently nudged his ankle with her foot.

“I can tell when you want to talk, too,” she said.

She stood up, holding out her hands, which Kanan took to help haul himself to his feet.  Hera sat down in the pilot’s chair, arching her back a little to stretch it out.

“Ezra told me something today,” Kanan said.  “It was hard for him and --”

Kanan abruptly began pacing around the cockpit, as if that would alleviate the anger that stabbed at his insides like a knife.  He held no illusions about how many terrible people there were in the galaxy, how many children found themselves victimized by people who should have been taking care of them, but it was one thing to know it and another to see the results standing right in front of him.  Already knowing there were plenty of child abusers in the galaxy did nothing to stop the question from burning in Kanan’s mind of how someone could hurt a child so badly.

“That kid’s been hurt so much that just talking about it, he looked like he was about to cry,” Kanan said.  “And he thinks he deserved all of it.  Maul made him think that.”

His pacing grew faster as he spoke, like he could outrun his anger if he tried hard enough.

“He’s been taking care of Ezra since he was a toddler at most,” he said, “and this is the best he can do?  He’s a kriffing monster --”

“Kanan.”

“-- and if he ever comes near the kid again, I’ll kill him.”

“Kanan!”

Kanan froze in his tracks, hit with the knowledge that Hera had been trying to stop him, and suddenly realizing exactly why.  He turned around, following her gaze to the open door behind him, where Ezra stood, a look on his face like he’d just witnessed Kanan kicking a sick loth-cat.  For a moment, they just stared at each other, before Ezra’s expression hardened into one of anger and he turned on his heel, bolting away from Kanan.

“Ezra, wait!” Kanan called.

The kid didn’t listen to him, not that Kanan had really expected him to.  As Ezra’s footsteps faded, Kanan slowly turned back to Hera.  The silence in the cockpit was tangible, painful, and Kanan couldn’t think of a single thing to say to break it.

“Are you going to go after him?” Hera asked.  “Or should I?

“I -- I’ll give him a minute to cool off first,” Kanan said.  “I don’t want to make this worse.”

He sat down heavily in the co-pilot’s chair, leaning his elbows on his knees and resting his head in his hands.

“Kriff,” he muttered, digging his nails into his forehead.  “Why did I say that?”

“You’re not wrong,” Hera said, her voice quiet, as if she was worried Ezra might still hear.

“But that doesn’t really matter, does it?” Kanan asked.

“Right now, no,” Hera said.

Kanan stared down at the floor, deliberately avoiding meeting Hera’s eyes.  She might agree with him about Maul, but he was still ashamed to face her, knowing he’d just hurt another member of the crew, even without meaning to.

“It took so long to get him to start trusting me,” Kanan said.  “What if I just undid all of that?”

“Then we need to find a way to fix it,” Hera said.  “Before we lose him.  And you should start --”

“By apologizing,” Kanan said.  “I know.”

Kanan took a breath, steeling himself before he stood up.  He moved much slower than he normally would as he left the cockpit, giving himself time to…he wasn’t sure what exactly he was giving himself time to do.

As he approached Zeb and Ezra’s cabin, Kanan heard the distinctive sound of something, not too heavy, but solid enough to make noise, striking the metal wall.  Kanan paused for a second, collecting himself and making sure his anger was thoroughly hidden, before knocking on the door.  He half expected Ezra to shout at him to go away, but to Kanan’s surprise, the sound of furiously pacing footsteps stopped, and the room went deadly quiet.  After a moment, the door opened, and Ezra stood there, staring down at Kanan’s feet.  His eyes darted upward to look at Kanan’s face for just a second before Ezra averted his gaze back to the floor.  He remained silent, and Kanan could sense the anxious anticipation and guilt that hung in the air around him, like he thought he’d been caught doing something he shouldn’t.

“Can we talk?” Kanan asked.  “In private?  It’s okay to say no.”

Ezra stepped to the side to let Kanan into the room, still staring silently down at the floor.  As Kanan entered, the door shut behind him and for a moment, all was quiet.

“Ezra, I -- I’m sorry,” Kanan said.  “I shouldn’t have said that.”

Not where you could hear it, he thought.  He didn’t regret the words themselves, only that he’d been careless enough to say them out loud.  As far as he was concerned, Maul was a monster who was too dangerous to come anywhere near Ezra again.  But no matter what he thought, Maul was still the man who’d raised Ezra, who Ezra thought of as the closest thing he had to family.  Ezra being Kanan’s padawan now didn’t change his past.  For all intents and purposes, Ezra had just walked in on Kanan saying he was going to kill the kid’s father.

For a moment, Ezra said nothing.  It was subtle, but Kanan could tell that he was shaking as he stared intently at the floor, his fear twisting around him like rope.

“Is that what you wanted this whole time?” Ezra asked, finally tearing his gaze away from the floor and glaring up at Kanan.  “To use me to find him so you could kill him?”

“No,” Kanan said.  “I just want to keep you safe.  That’s all.  What I said was -- I shouldn’t have said it, Ezra, and I’m so sorry I did.”

“Then why did you?” Ezra asked.

“I was angry,” Kanan said.  “I was angry at him because he hurt you so much, and I didn’t think about how much saying that might hurt you.  But I don’t want to use you to get to him.  I’d never do that to you.”

“How do I know I can trust anything you’re saying?” Ezra asked.

His voice was filled with venom that stung viciously at Kanan.  This was exactly what he’d been afraid of.  He’d been careless with his words and Ezra had taken them to heart, and now the trust he’d managed to build with the kid was in danger of breaking completely.  And Kanan didn’t know what he could do to fix it.

“Ezra,” Kanan said.  “I don’t know what will convince you, but I promise, none of this was ever about him.  When Ahsoka brought you here, I could tell you were scared of Maul before you ever said anything.  I didn’t care about finding him, and I still don’t.  I just want to protect you, that’s all.  When I said…”

He looked away, ashamed at the realization that he was going to have to say it again.

“When I said I wanted to kill him, I meant -- I only meant if I had to to keep you safe,” he said.  "And I didn't -- I didn't mean it, exactly."

Ezra was still shaking, but it was now worse than before.  Kanan could sense how much the kid wanted to believe him, and how scared he was to let himself do that.

“Master,” Ezra said, “please, don’t kill him.  I can’t -- please.”

Ezra’s voice broke, his eyes going wide as if he was trying to stop tears from forming.  He sank to his knees, an act that made Kanan’s heart freeze over with horror and anger and emotions he didn’t fully understand.  He knew doing so would only scare Ezra more, but he wanted to pull the kid to his feet and tell him never to do that again.

“Please,” Ezra said again, his voice shaking.  “I already promised I’d stay.”

Kanan dropped to the floor beside Ezra, putting his arms around the kid and holding him close.

“I won't,” Kanan said.  “I didn’t mean it, Ezra.  I promise I didn’t.  I was angry, and I shouldn’t have said that and I am so sorry.”

Kanan heard his own voice breaking as he said it, cracking under the weight of knowing that he’d hurt Ezra when all he wanted to do was keep the kid safe, that Ezra was scared enough to think he had to beg for his former master’s life.

“I’m sorry,” Kanan said again as he ran a hand across Ezra’s hair.

With slow, hesitant movements, Ezra pulled his arms out from where they were crushed between his body and Kanan’s, and slid them around Kanan’s chest, clinging to him tightly.  Kanan froze for a moment, surprised that Ezra had done that.  Surprised he felt safe enough to do it.  But the confusion and conflict that hung in the air around Ezra was more than enough of an explanation.  He wanted to believe Kanan.  He wanted to think that his trust in Kanan wasn’t misplaced, that he’d made the right choice, that Kanan was a safe person who wasn’t going to hurt him or anyone he cared about.  But, Kanan realized in a harsh moment of clarity, if Maul had ever made a similar threat, it probably would have been serious.  He would have gone through with it.  And Ezra had no reason to believe the same wouldn’t be true of Kanan, no matter how much he wanted that to be the case.

Since the moment Ezra had come to Phoenix Nest, he’d been waiting for something terrible to happen to him, and in his mind, Kanan had just made a threat to his family, proving his fears right.

Kanan wasn’t sure how long they sat there, Ezra curled up in his arms, shaking like a frightened tooka.  To his surprise, the kid wasn’t crying at all.  Kanan didn’t see a single tear escape from his eyes, even as he sensed Ezra’s fear and confusion and desperation and dozens of other emotions all at once swarming in his mind, overwhelming him.

Kanan just held him and extended those same feelings he’d held out to Ezra when he had his nightmares.  Comfort and security and love; things to remind him that he was safe here, that no one here wanted to hurt him.

“I -- I believe you,” Ezra said, forcing each word out slowly and carefully, like he wasn’t sure how to form them.

Kanan tightened his arms around Ezra, his hand making slow circles on the boy’s upper back.  Ezra leaned in closer against Kanan’s side, his head resting against Kanan’s shoulder.

“I’m sorry,” Kanan said.  “I never meant to hurt you.”

After a moment, Ezra pulled away, sitting back and pulling his knees up to his chest, staring down at the floor, a tinge to his cheeks as if he was embarrassed about what had just happened.

“Are you okay?” Kanan asked, putting a hand on his shoulder.

Ezra nodded, reaching up and covering Kanan’s hand with his, squeezing it tightly for a moment before letting go.

“Do you want me to go?” Kanan asked.

Ezra hesitated for a moment before shrugging.

“You come find me if you want to, okay?”

Ezra nodded and Kanan stood up, quietly leaving the room.


 

Ezra hugged his knees tighter against his chest, both relieved to be alone and already missing the pressure of Kanan’s arms around him.  He still didn’t understand why he liked that feeling so much, why it made him feel warm and comforted and safe, even just a moment ago when he’d been so scared and confused.

He was almost ashamed of what had just happened.  Kanan had been so good to him since the day he’d first been brought here, but still he’d assumed the worst.  Since he’d first woken up in the cell, he’d thought terrible things were going to happen to him, and hearing Kanan say that had set something off, wrenching those fears back to the surface, in spite of his better judgement telling him Kanan wouldn’t do anything to hurt him.

Ezra ran a hand through his hair, resting his forehead on his knees as he took a breath, trying to calm the fear that buzzed in his mind, just like Kanan had been trying to teach him.  Kanan wasn’t going to do anything.  Kanan wasn’t going to hurt him or his -- Ezra growled in frustration and struck his forehead against his knees.  Maul wasn’t his master anymore, was he?  But he had been for as long as Ezra could remember, and it was so hard for Ezra not to think of him that way.

Ezra jumped as a soft knock on the door echoed through the room.  He looked up, staring at the door, unsure of what to do.  The knock came again and Ezra stumbled to his feet.  He opened the door to see Sabine standing there, a strange look on her face Ezra couldn’t place.

“I just wanted to see if you’re okay,” she said.

Ezra nodded, looking down at the ground so he didn’t have to see that look on her face anymore.

“Can we talk?” Sabine asked.

Ezra shrugged, but stood aside to admit her anyway.  She seemed to hesitate before entering the room.

“I heard a lot of…that,” Sabine said, gesturing around the room to indicate what had just happened inside it.  “Kanan wasn’t trying to hurt you when he said that.  He didn’t mean it.”

“I know that,” Ezra muttered, hugging his arms around his chest as he sat down on the edge of the lower bunk.  “He told me.”

Sabine sat down beside him, her hands tucked under her thighs as she stared down at her feet.  Ezra could feel her thinking.

“Why does it bother you so much?” Sabine asked.  “That Kanan hates Maul?”

Ezra shrugged.  He wasn’t even sure that was what bothered him.

“He hurt you,” Sabine said.  “You’re scared of him.  Don’t you hate him, too?”

“No,” Ezra said, shaking his head.  “I’m scared of him, but I don’t…”

He trailed off, tightening his arms around his chest as he bit down on his lower lip before his voice could break again.

“I don’t hate him,” he said, once he was sure he could speak normally.  “I can’t hate him.”

“I’m sorry,” Sabine said, scuffing her toes along the floor, still looking intently downwards.

“For what?” Ezra asked.

“Just…that sucks,” Sabine said with a shrug.  “You should be able to hate him if you want to.”

“I don’t know if I want to,” Ezra muttered.  It would make things so much easier if he could, but the idea made his stomach tie itself in knots.  Maul had done so much that hurt him, and sometimes it seemed like that was all anyone else could see.  But Ezra remembered all the things the others didn’t see; everything Maul had done for him and taught him, every moment Maul could have hurt him and didn’t, all the times Maul had been there for him when there was no one else who could be.  He couldn’t remember all of that and hate Maul, and if being able to hate him meant forgetting the moments that weren’t painful, Ezra didn’t want to hate him.

“Yeah, but you should be able to if you wanted to,” Sabine said, her tone changing slightly, as if she was trying to make a different point, though Ezra wasn’t sure what it was.  “He’s been abusing you…well, forever, I guess.”

There was that word again.  It was starting to become normal to Ezra.  It was starting to become a word he could at least hear and read and think without flinching, even if he couldn’t always say it.  But sometimes it stabbed at him like a red-hot needle digging into his skin, as if the word itself was taunting him, telling him it wasn’t real, he was reading too much into things, it didn’t apply to him when his master had been doing what was necessary to protect him and teach him, he was weak for not being able to handle it, for reaching for a word like abuse to hide behind because he couldn’t face the fact that he was a failure of an apprentice who’d needed harsh correction if he ever wanted to survive without his master there to protect him.

“It wasn’t always bad,” he said, the words coming out almost involuntarily as he dodged out of the way of the thoughts that were filling up his head.

“Doesn’t have to be,” Sabine said.  “Your parents being kind to you doesn’t justify them hurting you.”

The way she said it sounded strange to Ezra.  The word choice didn’t sound quite like her, and there was a shift in her tone so subtle that he’d barely noticed it.  Then it hit him; he’d heard that exact sentence before, or rather, he’d read it.  She was quoting word for word from one of the files on the datapad.  He’d thought at first that Kanan had put them on there, and when Kanan had denied it, he’d assumed it must have been Hera.  It hadn’t seemed like Zeb or Sabine’s style, and certainly not Chopper’s.  But now…

“It was you, wasn’t it?” he asked.  “You’re the one who put…who put that stuff on the datapad.”

“I knew Kanan was talking to you about it,” Sabine said, “but you weren’t taking it well.  I thought maybe if you figured it out for yourself…” she shrugged, letting Ezra fill in the rest of the thought himself.  “Did it help?”

“A little,” Ezra said.  He stared down at the floor, not wanting to elaborate.  He didn’t know how to explain to her that even as things started to make sense, new questions and fears would appear, and he would end up right back where he started; confused and scared and wanting to erase everything every member of the crew had said to him so he could just go back to normal.

Ezra’s arms dropped away from where they were folded over his chest and he began to pick at a lose thread in the hem of his left sleeve.  Guilt twisted around in his stomach again as he remembered Kanan’s voice cracking as he apologized, Kanan’s fear and something close to revulsion as Ezra had dropped to his knees in front of him, Kanan’s arms around him, comforting him again when Ezra knew he didn’t deserve it.

“I need to talk to Kanan,” he muttered, speaking more to himself than to Sabine.

Sabine leaned toward him, her shoulder gently bumping against his.  Ezra looked up, confused until he saw the small smile on her face.  She done that intentionally, and it had been affectionate.  He noted that information and stored it away for later.

“He really didn’t mean it,” Sabine said.

“I know.”

Sabine stood up, offering Ezra an encouraging smile before she left the room.  For a moment, Ezra stayed where he was, his hands curling into fists in his lap as he steeled himself before he stood up and left the room.

He knew instinctively that Kanan was in his cabin and paused outside the door for a moment before knocking.  When Kanan opened the door, Ezra forced the words out as quickly as he could.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

“For what?” Kanan asked.

“For…” Ezra’s voice trailed off as he looked down at the floor.  He hadn't planned this far ahead in what he was going to say.  He hadn't planned at all.  He’d just felt like he needed to apologize.  It was instinctive.  “For everything, I guess.”

Kanan glanced past Ezra into the corridor.  Even though there was no one around to overhear, he put a hand on Ezra’s shoulder and guided him through the door, letting it close behind him, making it a private conversation.

“You don’t need to be sorry for what happened,” Kanan said.

“I was overreacting,” Ezra said, his shoulders rising up defensively as he took a step away from Kanan, trying to put some distance between them, just in case…in case of something, he wasn’t sure what.

“You weren’t,” Kanan said.

“Sabine --”

“Did she tell you you were?” Kanan asked.

“No,” Ezra said quickly, not wanting Sabine to get in trouble.  “But she understood you weren’t going to -- she understood and I didn’t.”

“You don’t need to apologize for not understanding,” Kanan said.  “And the way you grew up, it makes sense you’d see it as a real threat.”

Ezra shrugged, not really understanding what Kanan meant, but not wanting to ask.  Kanan walked away from the door and sat down on the edge of his bunk, weariness and a twisted sense of shame rippling out through the Force.  Ezra’s chest tightened with fear even as he tried to tell himself that feeling probably wasn’t directed at him, and that even if it was, Kanan wasn’t angry and it was anger and disappointment that were dangerous.

“It never really occurred to me…” Kanan’s voice trailed off and he sighed slightly.  “Did Maul ever threaten to kill you or anyone you cared about?”

“No,” Ezra said, his throat tightening at the thought of it.  “He wouldn’t do that to me.  Ever.  And there wasn’t anyone else I cared about.  I never even met another person for…I don’t know how long.”

Ezra abruptly walked over to the bunk, as if drawn there by a desire to be near Kanan, but, he decided as he perched on the very edge of the bunk, pressing himself against the wall, not that near.

“He wouldn’t do that,” he said, hugging his arms around his chest.  “He was -- he cares about me, Kanan.  He wouldn’t kill me.”

“But if he’d ever said something like that, he would have meant it?” Kanan guessed.

Ezra shrugged.

“It wasn’t -- it wasn’t just about you saying that, okay?” Ezra said, tightening his arms around himself, his nails digging into his arms, his eyes going slightly wider as he realized just how abruptly he’d spoken to Kanan.

“What is it?” Kanan asked.

Ezra’s throat tightened again.  He didn’t know if he could say it -- if he should say it.  What if this was the wrong thing to argue with Kanan about?

“You called him --” Ezra’s voice broke, the tightness in his throat growing worse, his jaw trembling slightly.  “You called him a monster.”

“I shouldn’t have said that,” Kanan said.  “You -- I know how you feel about him, and saying that in front of you about someone you think of as being like a parent wasn’t okay.”

“What if you’re right?” Ezra asked.  He hadn't expected the question to come out.  He’d been prepared to tell Kanan that he was wrong, that Maul wasn’t what everyone thought he was, that regardless of what else he’d done, he’d still been Ezra’s guardian, his protector, his teacher, his world.

“Ezra --”

“And if he’s a monster, then that means I am, too,” Ezra said, his voice breaking yet again.  He clenched his jaw as he felt that strange burning sensation behind his eyes, trying to will it away.

“No,” Kanan said.  “You’re not.”

“He raised me,” Ezra said.  “He taught me to be -- to be like him.  To be what he is.”

“He tried to,” Kanan said.  “But you’re not like him, Ezra.”

“You don’t know that,” Ezra said.  “I -- I’ve hurt people, Kanan.  I’ve killed people.  I -- you saw me torture that stormtrooper.”

“You didn’t know any better,” Kanan said.  “And now that you do, you’re trying to be better.  That’s what matters.”

Ezra felt Kanan slide along the edge of the bunk toward him and put his arms around him without a second of hesitation.  Ezra found himself leaning into it, shaking as he pressed himself against Kanan’s side.

“You’re not a monster, Ezra,” Kanan said.  “You’re just a kid who grew up in a terrible situation.  You’re not a bad kid, and there’s nothing wrong with you.”

Ezra wanted to believe that.  He wanted so badly to just trust Kanan’s words, believe what he said, and let that be it.

“I’m sorry, Ezra,” Kanan said.  “I never meant to hurt you.”

That, Ezra could believe.  As that thought solidified in his head, another quickly followed it.  Kanan had never hurt him intentionally, but Maul had.  Ezra shoved that thought aside.  He didn’t want that on his mind right now.  He didn’t want any of this on his mind right now.  He just wanted Kanan to tell him everything was okay, and he wanted to be able to believe that when he heard it.  He just wanted to go back home where none of what Kanan was saying mattered, where he knew who he was and where he belonged.

He just wanted his master to help him, and right now he didn’t care which one.

Chapter Text

Ezra held the crate in place while Kanan secured it on top of one of the other crates they’d loaded on the Ghost just moments before.  The Ghost’s most recent mission to Oseon had been a success by all measures.  The crew had acquired several crates of medical supplies about to be shipped from an Imperial factory to a base somewhere in the Mid Rim, and this time, none of the crew had gotten hurt.

“Good job on this one,” Kanan said, giving Ezra an encouraging smile.

“Thanks,” Ezra said, ducking his head to hide his own smile.  He was a little embarrassed that Kanan seemed to have been going out of his way to give him praise, and even more embarrassed to find that he liked it.  It didn’t even make much sense to him.  It wasn’t like he’d never gotten praise from Maul.  But from Kanan, it felt…different somehow.  Different in a way Ezra wasn’t sure how to define yet.

In the week since their argument, Kanan had seemed to be even gentler with him, like he was trying to reassure Ezra that he wasn’t in trouble for it.

“The medics will be happy,” Ezra said.  Injuries had been minimal recently, but it seemed like there was never enough to take care of the injured they did have.

Kanan appeared to be about to speak when he was cut off by Hera’s voice echoing over the ship’s comm system.

“New orders from command,” she said quickly.  “Everyone to the cockpit now."

Kanan and Ezra exchanged a worried look before Kanan turned around and dashed toward the ladder, Ezra following close behind him.  When they arrived at the cockpit, Chopper was already there, and Hera was in the midst of calculating hyperspace coordinates.  Zeb and Sabine arrived seconds later, their shared curiosity and nervousness buzzing in the air like a swarm of gnats.

“What’s happened?” Kanan asked.

“I just got a transmission from Commander Sato,” Hera said, still focusing on the console.  “There’s been an incident at an Imperial prison on Akrit’tar.  Prisoners are escaping, we don’t know how many, but we’re going in to help them off-planet.”

“Just us?” Sabine asked.

“There are two other Rebellion ships nearby that’ll be helping,” Hera said.  “And Phoenix Nest is sending reinforcements, but right now, we’re the closest.  If anyone has a problem with this, say it now.”

A few seconds of total silence passed before Hera nodded and launched the ship into hyperspace.  She quickly switched to autopilot and stood up, turning to face them.

“Command only just received word of this,” she said.  “I don’t know what kind of resistance we’ll be facing, so we need to be prepared for anything.”

“Do we know anything about the prison?” Kanan asked.

“Or the planet?” Zeb added.

“Chopper,” Hera said.

Chopper wheeled in closer and projected an image of a rocky, empty-looking planet.

“Akrit’tar’s a pretty barren place,” Hera said.  “So we’re not dealing with difficult terrain --”

“But we won't have much cover, either,” Sabine said.  Hera nodded.

“As for the prison,” Hera said as the image shifted to a distant, low-quality image of a low, sprawling structure, likely taken during a recon mission, “this is the most recent image we have, and it’s all we have.  It’s considered medium-security, but Imperial medium-security is still a challenge.  Sabine?”

“We can probably expect the entrances and exits to be heavily reinforced,” Sabine said.  “And there’ll be a heavy stormtrooper presence throughout the entire area.  And since it’s so isolated, they’ll probably have more anti-ship cannons than most prisons.”

At Hera’s signal, Chopper switched back to the image of the planet.  She indicated a spot on the planet’s rocky, pitted surface.

“We’ll be landing here,” she said, “about one kilometer away from the north end of the prison.”

“That’s awfully close,” Kanan said.

“I know,” Hera said.  “But like Sabine said, there’s not much cover.  The prisoners won't have much of a chance to avoid blaster fire, so the less distance they have to cover, the better.  The good news is most anti-ship guns aren’t designed to fire on targets that close.”

A quiet alarm emitted from the main console and a light flashed, letting Hera know they were approaching the coordinates she’d set.

“Get ready,” Hera said.  “We’ll probably be the first ship there.”

As she took manual control of the ship, the others hurried out of the cockpit.

“You ready?” Kanan asked, his hand resting on Ezra’s shoulder for a moment.

“Yes, Master,” Ezra said.  The words came out automatically, and he could sense Kanan’s…the only way to describe it was a mental twitch at the words.  Ezra had been trying, but it was still hard not to instinctively refer to Kanan that way.

Once Kanan and Ezra descended the ladder into the cargo bay, Sabine greeted them by placing a small metal object in each of their hands.

“Flashbangs,” she said.  “If you use them, just make sure you’re not looking when they go off.”

Ezra nodded to acknowledge her instructions.  Inside his chest, he could feel excitement buzzing, waiting for the inevitable fight.  Guilt quickly followed behind it.  Kanan was trying to teach him not to enjoy the violence so much, but it was hard to undo something that had been so heavily ingrained in Ezra’s mind that he sometimes felt like he’d been programmed for it like a droid.

“Ezra and I will cover the two of you and hold some safe ground,” Kanan said.  “Just get as many people on board the Ghost as possible.  Zeb, if there are injured, you might need to carry them.”

Zeb and Sabine nodded, Sabine drawing one of her blasters and Zeb adjusting his grip on his bo-rifle.

“Stick close to me,” Kanan said, glancing at Ezra.

“I will,” Ezra said.

The loading ramp began to open as they approached the ground, and once it was low enough, Kanan and Ezra ran forward, leaping from the ramp and onto the planet’s surface.

The surface was already a battleground.  Less than a kilometer away, stormtroopers had swarmed around an entrance to the prison.  Most were attacking escapees, many of whom were fighting back using makeshift weapons, stolen blasters, and even their bare hands.  Some of the troopers had begun firing uselessly at the Ghost’s armored hull, and upon seeing Kanan and Ezra, turned their fire on them.

Ezra ignited his lightsaber, following Kanan’s lead and redirecting as many blaster bolts as he could upwards into the air, where they wouldn’t hit any of the prisoners.  Ezra charged forward beside Kanan as the Ghost landed and Zeb and Sabine ran down the ramp.

As Zeb and Sabine dove into the battle, Ezra stayed back, doing what Kanan had said and deflecting blaster fire, using the Force to throw stormtroopers back when they got too close to the buffer zone he and Kanan were holding between the prison and the Ghost.

Several people rushed out of the mass around the prison entrance.  Some of them were supporting other injured prisoners as they made their way to the loading ramp.  Sabine was bringing up the rear, helping a dark-haired human woman with a bleeding wound to her side to keep moving.  Zeb emerged from the crowd seconds later, a limp, probably-unconscious figure slung over his shoulder.  As Ezra watched, a stormtrooper took aim directly at Zeb’s back.  Ezra reached out, knocking the trooper’s blaster from their hands before grabbing hold of them through the Force and hurling them backwards into the duracrete prison wall.  He didn’t have to sense it to know that the stormtrooper wasn’t going to survive the impact, armor or no.

A single person, a young Kaleesh who couldn’t be much older than Sabine, ran out of the fray, toward the Ghost.  He went down seconds later with a blaster wound to his leg, just feet away from where Ezra stood.  Ezra rushed forward, jumping in front of him and deflecting a blaster bolt aimed at the fallen young man’s back.  He leapt at the stormtrooper, who kept firing until Ezra’s blade slashed through their blaster, rendering it useless.  Ezra quickly thrust his blade through the stormtrooper’s chest, not giving the soldier a second thought as they fell to the ground.  As he fell back to the line he and Kanan were holding, Zeb arrived, hoisting the fallen prisoner into his arms and rushing back to the Ghost.

Ezra didn’t know how much time passed, and he didn’t care.  He stayed beside Kanan, holding just yards of space around the Ghost, driving back any stormtrooper who tried to cross their line as Sabine and Zeb continued to rush in and out of the fray, hauling injured people with them until they all received the same signal.

“All Spectres, fall back!” Hera’s voice called through their comms.  “Imperial reinforcements are on their way.  We have to leave.”

Ezra hesitated, his eyes drawn to the fighting still going on in front of him.  There were still prisoners who hadn't made it to the Ghost yet.  Who weren’t going to make it.

Kanan’s hand closed around Ezra’s arm, tugging at it to get him to follow.  Tearing his eyes away from the prison, Ezra turned away and ran toward the Ghost.  The loading ramp was already beginning to rise as Kanan and Ezra leapt onto it as the ship lifted off the ground.

Ezra stumbled forward, Kanan catching his arm to steady him as they half-ran, half-fell into the cargo bay.  The ramp sealed behind them and the ship picked up speed, leaving the prison and the planet behind.

As Ezra took a second to catch his breath, he felt Kanan’s hand gripping his shoulder, as if to reassure Ezra, or maybe to reassure himself.

“Spectres, check in,” Hera called over the comms.

“Spectre One checking in,” Kanan said.  “Spectre Six is with me.”

“Spectre Four checking in,” Zeb said.  “I got separated from Spectre Five.”

“I’m here,” Sabine said.  “Don’t worry.”

“Acknowledged,” Hera said.

Ezra could feel Kanan’s relief mixing with his own at the knowledge that the whole crew was accounted for, and no one had reported an injury.  Finally, Ezra looked up, surveying the cargo bay.  It was packed with as many people as it could hold.  Some were able to stand on their own, but others were leaning on each other, against the walls, or sitting on the floor, unable to stand even with help.

He looked up at Kanan, silently wondering what they were supposed to do now.  Kanan’s hand tightened around his shoulder.

“Come on,” he said.  He led Ezra to the ladder, out of the cargo bay, and toward the cockpit.  As they entered, Hera glanced back over her shoulder at them before turning her attention back to the stars.

“What now?” Kanan asked.

“Chopper’s running a scan for tracking frequencies inside the ship and on the hull,” she said.  “If he gives me the all-clear, we go back to the base.  Anyone who’s injured can get help there.”

“Good thing they sent us to Oseon,” Ezra said.  “By the looks of things, the medics are going to need the supplies we got.”

“Is it that bad?” Hera asked.

“It is,” Kanan said.  “Even the ones who weren’t injured in the escape seem pretty bad off.”

In the viewport in front of them, Ezra could see Hera’s faint reflection as her mouth drew into a tight line, angry but not surprised in the slightest by what Kanan had said.

Chopper let out a series of flat tones Ezra didn’t quite understand, waving one of his manipulators to get Hera’s attention.

“Thanks, Chop,” she said.  Her gaze shifted so her reflection’s eyes met Kanan’s.  “No tracking signals.  We’re clear.”

She turned her attention to the controls, entering the coordinates for the base before launching the Ghost back into hyperspace.

Chapter Text

Ezra was lost in the chaos.

The hangar of Phoenix Nest was packed with more people than usual.  The escaped prisoners had been brought off of the ships that had transported them, and now the medics and people with enough training to be drafted as almost-medics were moving through the crowd, separating out the injured and determining who needed treatment first.  Those with the most dire injuries were being rushed to the medbay, some of them directly into surgery.  So far, three people had been taken away from the crowd, laid beside the wall, and covered with sterile sheets to be moved later.

Ezra stood away from it all, beside the Ghost’s lowered ramp, staring out across the crowd with no idea what he could or should do.

“Here,” Kanan said, pushing a crate toward Ezra.  “The sooner we get these to the medbay, the better.”

Ezra nodded, latching onto Kanan’s steady presence in the Force, using it as an anchor to stop himself from being swept away in the sea of emotions and pain that filled the hangar.  He kept his eyes on the ground ahead of him as he pushed the crate to the medbay.  When he reached it, he flinched and froze in his tracks.  The pain and fear was even louder and stronger here, pressing in around him and crushing him.

For a moment, he stayed there, frozen in place, staring blankly ahead as everything he felt in the Force battered at his mental shields, threatening to overwhelm him.

“Kid?” a voice said.

Ezra gasped and looked up to see one of the medical assistants standing beside him.  He opened his mouth to speak, but it took a few tries to get the words to work properly.

“Medical supplies,” he said, gesturing to the crate.

“Follow me,” the assistant said.  Ezra fell into step behind her as she led him to a storage room just off the medbay.

“Just bring the rest straight here,” she said, before hurrying back into the medbay, leaving Ezra to his own devices.

Ezra kept his head down as he left the medbay and returned to the Ghost, grabbing another crate and pushing it down the ramp.  He tried to focus on nothing but his task, tried to ignore the noise and the crushing feeling in the Force.  Occasionally, he crossed paths with Kanan and Zeb, who were hauling crates to the medbay, too, but he didn’t have it in him to acknowledge their presence.

When Ezra had taken the last crate of medical supplies from the Ghost, he let himself slow down a little.  The sense of urgency that had filled the carrier, pouring from every being on board and flowing through the air, had faded only a little, but it was just enough that Ezra felt like he could breathe again.

As Ezra pushed the last crate of supplies into the storage area, he heard someone calling his name.  He looked back to see Sabine, waving to him to flag him down.  She was standing beside the dark-haired woman Ezra had seen her helping away from the fight and onto the Ghost.  The woman was sitting against the wall, her face screwed up like she was in pain.

“Can you track down an actual medic?” Sabine asked as Ezra ran up to her.  She gestured to the woman beside her.  “I patched up her wound, but I think she might have some internal bleeding.”

Ezra nodded, barely listening to Sabine as she said “thanks, kid,” before he took off, searching for someone who could help.  It took him longer to find a medic than it normally would have.  The medbay was filled with so many people, and most of the medics and their assistants were busy with other patients.

Once he’d finally found a medic and directed her to where Sabine was waiting, Ezra stood frozen for a moment, once again lost in the chaos and emotion that surrounded him, trying to figure out what he was supposed to do next.

The Ghost.  That’s where he needed to go.  Once he was safely back on the ship -- back home? -- he would either be able to hide from everything else happening on the carrier, or Kanan or Hera would give him something else to do, another task to focus on.

He kept his head down as he hurried back to the ship.  As he made his way up the loading ramp, a sense of relief washed over him.  He could still sense the fear, the anxious anticipation, the physical and mental pain from everyone who’d been rescued, but somehow the Ghost’s hull was like a shield, blocking some of it out, making it easier to bear.  It was safe.  It was…it was something he hadn't felt since he was back home on Orsis, where no matter what happened, if he hid away in his room, everything was alright.  He just wondered when he’d started thinking of the Ghost the same way.


 

Anxiety gnawed at Sabine’s gut like a loth-rat chewing at a rope as she knelt down beside the woman she’d been helping.

At the Academy, Sabine had been given basic medical training, just like so many other cadets.  It wasn’t much, and certainly didn’t qualify her to work in the medbay on a normal day, but with so many new people, so many injured, she’d been pulled in as an extra pair of hands who could at least treat simple wounds.

She’d thought this was simple.  A superficial blaster wound, just a graze across the woman’s side.  Nothing she couldn’t handle.  She’d treated the wound, then asked the woman the questions she’d been taught to assess head injuries, just in case.

Then she’d noticed the bruising that appeared to have spread just slightly since she last looked at it, and the swelling that had followed it.  She’d looked up, hoping to see someone more qualified than her anywhere nearby, and instead had caught sight of Ezra.

“It’s okay, Mira,” Sabine said.  That was the name the woman had given her.  Mira Bridger.  “My friend’s getting a medic.”

“Ezra,” Mira said.  At the very least, she seemed to be breathing alright, which could only be a good sign.

“Yeah,” Sabine said.  “That’s his name.”

A strange look flashed across Mira’s face for just a second.  Sabine didn’t know exactly the right word for it, but the closest she could come was haunted.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

“Nothing,” Mira said.  “It’s -- my son’s name was Ezra, too.”

“Was?” Sabine asked, her curiosity momentarily overriding her tact.  It might not be the most thoughtful question, but she wanted to keep Mira talking until a medic arrived.  “What happened to him?”

Mira was silent for a moment, and Sabine thought maybe she just wasn’t going to answer.  She couldn’t exactly blame her if she didn’t.  But after the moment passed, Mira spoke, her voice quiet.

“I never found out.”

Before Sabine could say anything else, she was interrupted by the sound of footsteps behind her.  She looked back to see a medic approaching, a hover stretcher floating beside her.  Sabine stood up and took a step back, allowing the medic to kneel down beside Mira to assess her.

A moment later, after asking a few questions and felling the bruised and swollen area, the medic guided Mira onto the stretcher.  Sabine stared after them as they left, new questions buzzing insistently in the back of her mind.  It had to be a coincidence.  It was a common name, and sure there were some similarities, but it wasn’t like their Ezra was the spitting image of this woman.

Sabine shook her head.  It was just a coincidence.  It had to be.

Chapter Text

Sabine caught sight of Mira ahead of her and picked up her pace to catch up.  It had been two days since the escape, and from what Sabine had heard, this might be her last chance to speak to Mira.  Most of the escaped prisoners were being relocated, but some had opted instead to join the cause.  Mira and her husband had apparently been among them, but they weren’t going to be staying on Phoenix Nest.  If Sabine wanted to put this idea to rest, she’d have to do it now.

“Mira!” she called as she rushed down the corridor.

Mira stopped and looked back, a warm smile crossing her face as she recognized Sabine.

“I thought you’d still be in the medbay,” Sabine said as she caught up to the other woman.

“They released me this morning,” Mira said.  She paused for a moment, concern lacing her voice when she spoke again.  “Are you alright?”

“Yeah,” Sabine said, wondering what had tipped Mira off that she wasn’t just saying hello.  “It’s just…um…”

Sabine cut herself off, absently biting at her fingernails as she wondered how she should even begin to approach this.  She winced at the bitter taste of paint that had been wedged beneath her nails and pulled her fingers away from her mouth.

“Can I ask you something?” Sabine said, shifting nervously where she stood, looking down and to the side to avoid Mira’s gaze.  “About your son?”

She knew it was sensitive.  She knew she shouldn’t be asking.  But this had been nagging at her for two days now, the idea taking root in her mind and refusing to leave her alone.  If she was right about it, she had to know, not just for herself, but for Ezra, too.  And if she was wrong…well, there was really no benefit to anyone if she was wrong, except that maybe she’d stop thinking about this.

“Why?” Mira asked, her voice just the slightest bit colder.

“I just thought --” Sabine silently cursed herself for not coming up with a good excuse beforehand.  “I thought if I knew more, I might be able to find something out about him.  Maybe, if the Rebellion ever has the resources, or once the war is over, we can find him.”

For a moment, Mira remained silent, and Sabine wondered if she should just apologize and leave the woman alone.  She’d already lost her son and now Sabine, a stranger, was asking personal questions and dangling what was probably false hope in front of her.

“I don’t see how you could,” Mira said.  That coldness was gone from her voice, replaced by a deep, bitter sadness.  “He’s been gone for ten years.”

“Did the Empire take him when they arrested you?” Sabine asked, hoping that Mira’s words meant she was willing to talk.

“No,” Mira said.  “He was kidnapped four years before that.  We never found out who did it.”

“Was there anything -- any evidence at all?” Sabine asked.

“Nothing,” Mira said with a shake of her head.  “Whoever took him didn’t leave a trace.”

Sabine was about to bite on her nails again when she remembered and instead bit on the knuckle of one finger, turning the information Mira had given her over in her head.  It seemed like there wasn’t really much to go on in the first place.  She wasn’t sure it would even matter if Mira had been able to tell her anything about who took her son.  From what Ezra had said, he didn’t remember anything from before Maul had begun teaching him.  He wouldn't remember anything about his parents or how he'd been separated from them.

“You seem like a good kid,” Mira said, “and I’m sure you really do want to help, but it’s been ten years.  There’s probably not much you can do that my husband and I haven’t already tried.”

“I’m sorry,” Sabine said.  “I thought --” she sighed.  “I don’t really know what I thought.”

She lowered her hand away from her mouth, staring awkwardly at the floor for a moment before she spoke again.

“I heard you decided to join up,” she said, hoping the change in subject would ease some of the painful tension.

“We did,” Mira said.  “We’re going to help another cell that could use people with our slicing skills.  I can't say where.”

Sabine hesitated, wondering if she should say something, if she should tell Mira the real reason she’d been asking about her son.  But she didn’t want Mira to stay based on some vague possibility that Sabine had already found him only to rip that hope away from her and her husband.  She couldn’t do that to people who’d already lost their kid once.

“Good,” Sabine said, trying to cover up her moment of doubt.  “We can use all the people we can get.”

She didn’t know what else to say, and suddenly desperately wanted this conversation to end.  This was a mistake.  She never should have asked Mira anything.  What had she been thinking?

“I -- I should go,” she said.  Without even waiting for a response, she turned away, only to stop a second later.

“I know there’s not much of a chance,” Sabine said, turning back to face Mira again, “but I’m still going to try.”

As Sabine headed back down the corridor the way she’d come, she fiddled with her commlink, mentally debating whether to make the call she wanted to make.  All of this was a long shot based on a vague hunch she’d gotten just because Mira had said her son’s name was Ezra.  What if she went digging around in this and she didn’t find anything that would help anyone?

But she’d said she would try.  And Ezra was her friend.  If there was even the slightest chance she was right, didn’t she owe it to him to try and find out?

Settling her commlink firmly into her hand, Sabine switched it on to comm Hera.

“Hera,” she said when her captain had answered.  “I’m on my way back to the Ghost.  I need to talk to you and Kanan, together, but in private.”

“Is everything okay?” Hera asked.  There must have been something in Sabine’s voice that had tipped her off.

“It’s -- it’s not something I can talk about here,” Sabine said.  “I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

Sabine sped up, trying to reach the Ghost sooner while still keeping a casual pace.  When she reached the ship, she made her way to the cockpit, where she found Kanan and Hera waiting.  They both stopped talking just as she walked through the door, looking at her with concern on their faces.

“Thanks,” Sabine said, making sure the door was shut behind her and flapping her hands nervously.  “I didn’t want to talk about this in front of the others.”

“Sabine, what’s wrong?” Hera asked.

“It’s nothing wrong,” Sabine said, dropping into her usual seat.  She took a second to collect her thoughts, staring down at the floor and tucking her hands under her thighs, taking some comfort from the pressure.

“It’s about Ezra,” she said.  “There are these two prisoners we rescued, and I think they might be his parents.”

Her words were met with silence that lasted long enough that she looked up slightly.  Seeing Kanan and Hera’s unreadable stares, she averted her gaze again.

“What makes you say that?” Hera asked, her voice gentle.

“One of the prisoners, Mira Bridger, said her son’s name was Ezra,” Sabine said.

“There are a lot of people in the galaxy with that name,” Kanan said.

“I know,” Sabine said.  “It’s not just that.  She looks like him.  And I -- I asked her about it and she told me her son was abducted ten years ago.  Ezra said he was with Maul for ten years.”

Once again, silence filled the cockpit.  Sabine swung her feet above the floor, waiting for one of them to say something.

“It could just be a coincidence,” Kanan said.

“I know,” Sabine said.  “But I keep thinking…what if it’s not?”

She stood up abruptly and began pacing around the cockpit.  She knew they were probably right.  She didn’t even know that Ezra had parents out there to look for him.

“No,” she said, shaking her head.  “You’re right.  It’s stupid.”

“It’s not stupid,” Hera said.  “It makes sense that you’d want to find something that could help Ezra.  But we don’t know anything about his past before Maul.  This woman’s son might have been kidnapped, but we don’t know that Ezra was.”

“Not that I would put that past Maul,” Kanan said.  “But Hera’s right.  Even if Ezra’s parents are out there, still looking for him after all this time, what are the odds that we found them on a mission?”

“It’s not stupid,” Hera repeated.  “It’s just not very likely.”

Sabine stopped pacing, her shoulders slumping as she stared back down at the floor.

“Can I talk to him about it?” Sabine asked.

“We can't exactly stop you,” Kanan said, “but just be careful, okay?  You shouldn’t get his hopes up over something that might not be what you think it is.”

Sabine nodded, once again wondering if this was a bad idea.  Kanan and Hera were probably right.  It was probably just a coincidence that Ezra shared a name with Mira’s son.  Her kid had been taken a decade ago.  If there had been no sign of him since, he was probably dead.  The odds of their Ezra being the Bridgers’ missing son were so slim they were barely existent.  She shouldn’t go digging up the past and dragging out painful things just because of a hunch.

“Do you think it would make any difference?” she asked.  “If they were his parents, would that really make anything better?”

Kanan and Hera exchanged a look that Sabine couldn’t read.

“I don’t know,” Kanan said.  “We don’t know anything about them.  We don’t know if Maul told Ezra anything about his parents, and what he would have said if he did.”

That had never occurred to her.  Ezra might not remember anything about his life before becoming Maul’s apprentice, but Maul easily could have told him something about it.  Maul easily could have lied to him about it, telling Ezra whatever it took to stop him from becoming curious about his origins.  Telling Ezra she’d met someone who could be his mother might just make him angry or scare him.

“It doesn’t feel right to keep it from him,” Sabine said.

“I know,” Hera said.  “And you shouldn’t if you don’t feel comfortable doing it, but Kanan’s right.  You should be careful.”

“I will,” Sabine said.  “But if there’s even a chance, then he deserves to know.”

“You’re a good kid, Sabine,” Hera said with a smile.

“I’m not a kid,” Sabine said.

“Right,” Hera said, a hint of sarcasm in her voice.  “Forgot.”

Chapter Text

There was a quick knock on the door, and before Ezra could say or do anything, it opened, revealing Sabine standing there.  Her face held a carefully practiced expression of calm, but Ezra could feel her anxiety buzzing in the air around her.

“There’s something I need to talk to you about,” she said, stepping into the room and letting the door slide shut behind her.

Ezra slid to the edge of his bunk and moved to the side, giving Sabine space to sit.  She climbed up and sat down beside him, her legs dangling over the edge, her feet nervously kicking at empty air.

“When I was helping in the medbay,” Sabine said, “there was this woman I talked to.  She and her husband were in that prison together, and she -- there was something she told me that I thought you should know.”

Ezra said nothing, just waiting for Sabine to say whatever it was she wanted to tell him.

“She was the one I asked you to go find a medic for,” Sabine said.  “And she heard me say your name.  She told me her son’s name was Ezra, too.”

Silence fell, and Ezra got the feeling Sabine was expecting him to say something in response to that.  But what was there to say?  So he shared a name with someone else’s son.  That wasn’t really something worth noting, and it didn’t make sense that Sabine would seem this anxious about it.

“Okay,” Ezra said with a shrug.  “I don’t…”  He trailed off, not know what else to say.

“Her name’s Mira Bridger,” Sabine said.  “Does that mean anything to you?”

“No,” Ezra said, with a shake of his head.  “Should it?”

“I thought…what about Ephraim Bridger?” Sabine asked.  “That’s her husband’s name.  Does that sound familiar at all?”

“Sabine, what’s this about?” Ezra asked with a small sigh.  Neither name meant anything to him, and he didn’t understand why Sabine thought they should.

“Mira told me her son went missing ten years ago,” Sabine said.  “That’s how long you’ve been with Maul, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” Ezra said.  As he said it, something seemed to click in his mind, and he realized what Sabine was trying to ask him.  But it wasn’t possible.  It just wasn’t.  He didn’t have parents.  He never had.  The only person he’d ever had to look out for him was Maul.

“She looks a lot like you,” Sabine said.  “I know it’s a long shot, and the odds that I just happened to run into her in the medbay are…” she trailed off, shaking her head.  The odds were so slim she couldn’t even describe them.  “But what if she’s your mother?”

“I don’t have a mother,” Ezra said, the words coming out almost automatically as he pushed aside what Sabine had just asked him, not even considering it.

“Sure you do,” Sabine said, shifting until she was seated cross-legged on the bunk, finally facing Ezra.  “I mean, maybe you didn’t grow up with her, but she has to exist.  You had to have come from somewhere, right?”

Ezra shook his head, even though on some level, he knew Sabine was technically right.  But he’d never really thought about his origins.  There had never been any reason to.  His only purpose had been to serve his master, to learn everything Maul had to teach him, to destroy the Sith.  Maul had been the only person he ever remembered taking care of him.  The idea that he might have had a mother or any other family had never even crossed his mind.  It just wasn’t important.  And even if he’d known he’d had a mother before Maul had taken him in, she wouldn’t have mattered to him.  He didn’t belong to her, and hadn't for a long time.

“Why are you telling me any of this?” Ezra asked.  As he spoke, he realized his hands were shaking and pressed them flat against his knees in an effort to hide it.

“I thought you deserved to know if there was any chance she and her husband could be your parents,” Sabine said.

“They’re not my parents,” Ezra said quickly, shaking his head as if he could fling that idea from his mind.  “They can't be.  It’s not possible.”

“Why not?” Sabine asked.

“Because it’s not,” Ezra said, his fingers curling slightly, his nails digging into his knees as his shoulders crept up defensively.

“But someone has to be,” Sabine said.  “I mean, you didn’t think Maul was your father, did you?”

“Right,” Ezra said, rolling his eyes.  “Because I look so much like him.”

“Hey, I don’t know what you do and don’t know about genetics,” Sabine said.  Her tone was lighter, almost like she was teasing him.  Ezra dropped his shoulders out of their defensive position.  He didn’t want this to turn into an argument any more than she did.

“We’re not even the same species,” Ezra said.  He sighed and stared down at his hands, avoiding looking at his friend.  “I -- I always knew he wasn’t my father.  He never made me think he was.  And it wasn’t like I knew he wasn’t my biological father, but I thought I was adopted, either.  I just didn’t have parents, and it never mattered.  It’s not something I ever had a reason to think about.  He was all I had and that was…that was normal for me.”

Ezra hugged his arms around himself and rocked slightly where he sat as a dull ache rose in his chest.  A moment later, he realized what the feeling was.  He missed it.  On some deep, unexplainable level that didn’t care about logic, he missed the time when it was just the two of them against the whole galaxy.  In spite of everything he’d learned and every fear he had, he wanted all of it back.  Maul was still the closest thing he’d ever had to a father, even if Ezra had always known that wasn’t what he really was.

“So he never told you anything about your parents?” Sabine asked.  “Or where you came from?”

Ezra shook his head.

“It wasn’t important,” he said again.  “I’ve been his apprentice as far back as I can remember, so what happened before that just didn’t matter.”

He gave a low growl of frustration, his fingers tangling in his hair and tugging on it lightly.

“Why does it even matter now?” he asked.

“Maybe it doesn’t,” Sabine said.  “I don’t even know if Mira is your mother, but I thought -- I thought you deserved to know.  Just in case.”

“Th-thanks,” Ezra muttered, because it was the right thing to say to end the conversation, though he didn’t feel particularly grateful to her for this.  He didn’t care if he had parents out there in the galaxy somewhere, and even if he did care, the chances that their paths had just happened to cross were so small it was nearly impossible.

“I'll go,” Sabine said, clearly sensing that this conversation was over.  As she jumped down from the bunk, she looked back at Ezra.  For a second, it seemed like she was going to say something else, but decided against it.  As she took another step toward the door, she stopped again and turned around to face Ezra once more.

“We could always talk to them and get a DNA test done,” she said.  “Even if you didn’t want to meet them, you could at least know.”

“I don’t want to know,” Ezra snapped.

“Okay,” Sabine said.  “I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine,” Ezra said.

Without another word, Sabine turned away and left the room, leaving Ezra in peace.

Ezra stared blankly down at the floor.  He wasn’t going to think about this, he told himself.  Who his parents were had never mattered to him, and that wasn’t going to change just because he was no longer Maul’s apprentice.  He’d gone this long without wondering who his parents were, without needing them, and he wasn’t about to start now just because Sabine had thought he wanted to know.  He’d done just fine without them, and he would keep doing just fine without them.  He didn’t need to know.


 

It didn’t take Kanan long to figure out why Sabine and Ezra had both been acting so strange for the past day and a half.

Ezra was quiet and withdrawn, and they both avoided looking at each other.  When they spoke to each other, there was always some level of awkwardness to it.  It almost seemed like they’d recently had an argument, though someone else probably would have heard it if they had.  The obvious conclusion was that Sabine had approached Ezra about the possibility that the two escaped prisoners were his parents, and argument or no, the conversation hadn't gone well.

Kanan knew he would have to talk to Ezra about it, if only to make sure the kid was okay.  It couldn’t have been an easy discussion for him to have, and it seemed as though his feelings about it were still lurking just under the surface.  Luckily, Jedi training meant he had plenty of chances to speak to Ezra alone without making anyone suspicious.

The next time he took Ezra aside for training, he led the kid to his cabin, where they wouldn’t be interrupted.

“Are you alright?” Kanan asked.

Ezra nodded, but the despondent look on his face told Kanan otherwise.

“Did Sabine talk to you?”

“You knew?” Ezra asked, looking up abruptly.

“She came to talk to me and Hera first,” Kanan said.  “She wasn’t sure if talking to you about it was a good idea, and wanted to see what we thought.”

Ezra looked back down at the floor and shifted nervously on his feet.

“I take it it didn’t go very well,” Kanan said.  Ezra shrugged.

“It didn’t go bad,” Ezra said.  “I just -- I never had parents.  All I had was my master --”

Ezra cut himself off and slammed the heel of his hand against his forehead, letting out a low growl of frustration.

“All I had was Maul,” Ezra said.  “And that was enough for me then.  Why shouldn’t it be enough now?”

“You don’t exactly have him anymore,” Kanan said.

“I know,” Ezra snapped.  He flinched as soon as he said it.

“I’m sorry,” he said quickly, taking a step back.  “I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to --”

“It’s okay,” Kanan said.  “I know this is difficult for you.”

Ezra hugged his arms around his chest, biting down on his lower lip.  Kanan wanted nothing more than to pull the kid into a tight hug, but he didn’t want to overstep when Ezra was probably already feeling like Sabine had crossed a line.

“Sabine said we might be able to do a DNA test,” Ezra said, his voice quiet, as though he were talking to himself instead of Kanan.  “But I -- it doesn’t matter.  It shouldn’t matter.”

“Ezra,” Kanan said gently, “no one is going to make you do anything you don’t want to, but Maul was the one who taught you that none of this mattered.  You don’t have to believe it or listen to him anymore.  If you don’t want to ask them to do a DNA test, you don’t need to do it, but if you do want it, you shouldn’t let what you learned from Maul stop you.”

“I don’t know,” Ezra muttered.  “It’s not just him.  I never cared about whether or not I had parents before.  I don’t see why it should be different now.”

Ezra sighed, his arms falling back down to his sides.

“What should I do?” he asked, looking up with an expression on his face that hit Kanan like a punch to the gut.  The kid just looked and sounded so helpless, like he needed to be told what to do.

“I can't answer that for you, Ezra,” Kanan said.  “This is something that needs to be your choice.  But whatever you choose, and whatever ends up happening, we’ll all be there for you.”

For a moment, Ezra was quiet, his gaze slowly lowering back to the floor at Kanan’s feet.  Kanan could feel Ezra thinking, could feel his uncertainty and the conflict in his mind.  He was about to say something, to tell Ezra he didn’t need to make any decisions now, that he had time, but before he could, Ezra’s head snapped up again, his jaw set as he looked up at Kanan.  Without Ezra needing to say anything, Kanan knew he’d made his choice.

Chapter Text

“So how does this work?” Ezra asked.

“It’s just a finger stick,” Ahsoka said.  “A few drops of blood.  We can do it right here, so you don’t even need to go to the medbay.”

Ezra nodded to show he understood.  He was glad this was something that could happen in private, without him needing to explain the situation to anyone else.

“It’ll hurt,” Ahsoka said, “but only a little.”

Ezra extended his arm, resting it on the table between them as Ahsoka gently took his hand.  He didn’t react as the small needle pierced the side of his finger.  She was right.  It did hurt, but Ezra had certainly endured worse.

It only took a moment for Ahsoka to collect a small amount of his blood in a vial smaller than Ezra’s thumb.  As she sealed it, Ezra felt a nervous buzzing in his chest.  Maybe he shouldn’t go through with this.  He could just tell her he’d changed his mind.

“It’ll take a few days to get the results,” Ahsoka said, her voice jolting Ezra out of his thoughts.  “The Bridgers need to get their samples to a medic we trust, and then they need to be processed.  But it won't be long until you know for sure.”

“When you talked to -- to them,” Ezra said, unable to make himself even say their name, “what did -- I mean, did they…”

He trailed off, pulling his hand back into his lap.  He didn’t even know what he wanted to ask.  Did they think I could really be theirs?  Did they ask you about me?

“I think they were trying not to get their hopes up,” Ahsoka said.  Ezra felt that tug in his chest that he recognized as sympathy.  Ahsoka’s sympathy.  For him.  It was all he could do not to physically squirm, even as his mind did.  He was starting to understand why people felt that for him, but it hurt like someone pressing at a bruise or the edge of an open wound.

“All three of you will know soon enough,” Ahsoka said.  “Until then, don’t worry about what comes next.”


 

Kanan could tell the next three days weren’t easy for Ezra.  He knew that Ezra was constantly wondering what the results of the DNA test would mean for him, despite what Ahsoka had told him.  Ezra grew distracted during training, and every time he made a mistake, Kanan could sense fear beyond just his usual anxiety.  He knew the kid wasn’t sleeping well, either, and not just because Zeb told him so.  He’d sensed Ezra’s distress emanating through the Force, made even stronger by the bond that had begun to form between them.  It was still weak and barely there, but it made it that much easier for Kanan to sense Ezra’s emotions, and for Ezra to sense his.

He tried to reassure Ezra, to tell him that no matter what happened with the test, nothing had to change.  But nothing he said seemed to help Ezra feel any better.  Kanan doubted anything would make him feel better except getting the results back and knowing for sure, one way or the other.  He just wished there was something, anything he could do to make this period of waiting easier on the kid.

Kanan didn’t know what Ezra wanted the answer to be, and he doubted Ezra knew, either, but the knowledge that this could all amount to nothing weighed heavily on him, and probably even more so on Ezra.  The kid had said it didn’t matter, that nothing about his life before Maul was important, but he had asked for the DNA test.  On some level, he wanted to know.  But Ezra didn’t know anything about his parents; not from his own memories, and not from anything Maul had ever told him.  For all he knew, they were dead, and if they weren’t, the chances of ever finding them were next to nothing in such a big galaxy when he had no information to go on.  All of that knowledge hovered just under the surface of Kanan’s mind, but he didn’t say a word about it, knowing that none of it would help Ezra right now.

All Kanan could do was be there for the kid, and that was exactly what he would do, as long as Ezra needed it.


 

Ezra woke with a gasp, his hands flying up to defend himself before he realized where he was.  He settled his hands back at his sides as he stared up at the ceiling above him, trying to get his breathing back under control.  His nightmares about Maul had increased since the day Sabine had talked to him about his parents.  Even now that he was awake, he could still hear Maul’s voice echoing in his head, calling him a traitor, a failure, demanding to know why Ezra was turning his back on his master, his real family.

Ezra turned onto his side and pulled his knees up toward his chest, curling into a ball.  He tried to tell himself he wasn’t betraying anyone just by wanting to know about his parents, but everything Maul said and did in his nightmares dug into his mind, refusing to let go.

We are not family.

The words formed in Ezra’s mind with no warning, no forethought.  They just appeared, and as soon as they did, Ezra was trying to shove them back down again.  How could he even let himself think that?  Ezra was slowly beginning to be able to think of Maul as abusive and cruel, but Maul had still taken him in and taught him.  If Maul wasn’t his family, then he had no one.

Finally accepting that he wasn’t going to be getting back to sleep, Ezra sat up.  He stared blankly across the dark room for a moment before climbing down from his bunk to the floor and quietly slipping out of the door.

In the refresher, Ezra clutched his hands tightly around the edges of the sink, trying to stop them from shaking as they had continued to do from the moment he woke up.  Something didn’t feel right.  It was more than just the sense of fearful anticipation he’d felt since the day Ahsoka had taken his blood.  It was something else; some imminent knowledge that something was about to happen.

When Ezra made his way to the galley, he found Kanan there, a cup of caf on the table in front of him, his datapad in one hand.  He looked up when Ezra entered the room and immediately, Ezra felt a sharp tug under his heart as that feeling of some looming event grew stronger.  Kanan set the datapad aside and Ezra froze, torn between staying and running from the room before he had to hear whatever it was Kanan was about to say.

“Ahsoka stopped by,” Kanan said, pulling something from his pocket.  It was a small data card, and seeing it, Ezra suddenly knew exactly what he’d been sensing.  “We have the results of the DNA test.”

After a moment of simply staring at the data card in Kanan’s hand, Ezra finally remembered how to get his legs to work.  He walked across the galley with halting, uncertain steps, took the data card from Kanan, and sat down, slowly turning it over in his hands.

“H--have you --”

“No,” Kanan said when Ezra’s voice broke off, unable to finish asking the question.  “You should be the one who sees it first.”

Ezra just stared down at the data card.  This tiny piece of plasteel held the answer to a question he wasn’t even sure he wanted an answer to.  His stomach clenched, his heart hammering as he stared at it.  It was ridiculous.  This scrap of plasteel and circuitry shouldn’t hold this much power over him.  But it did.  He’d told himself over and over during the past few days that this didn’t really matter, but now that the answer was within reach, he was terrified of what it might be.

“Can you do it?” Ezra asked, tearing his eyes away from the data card to look up at Kanan.  “Can you just tell me what it says?”

“Of course,” Kanan said.  It was all Ezra could do not to flinch at the gentleness in his voice, the lack of judgement, the understanding.

Kanan reached out, gently taking the data card from Ezra’s hand and inserting it into the datapad.  For a moment, he just looked down at the screen, his eyes moving as he silently read through the report contained on the card.  He set down the datapad and looked up at Ezra.

“They’re your parents,” he said.

Ezra said nothing, sitting perfectly still and silent as he stared down at his hands, trying to wrap his head around the information Kanan had just given him.  Dozens of thoughts crowded into his mind simultaneously, some of them slipping away before he could fully process them.

It’s not possible

What if it’s wrong?

I don’t have parents.

This is a dream.  This isn’t happening.

I want to go home.

Master, where are you?  I’m afraid.  I need your help, please.

“Are you okay?”

Kanan’s voice jolted Ezra out of his thoughts.  Ezra quickly nodded, even though he was sure Kanan could see right through it.

“It’s okay if you aren’t,” Kanan said.

Ezra shoulders slumped as he bit down on the inside of his cheek.  He wasn’t okay.  He was scared, and he didn’t even understand why.  Knowing who his biological parents were didn’t actually mean anything, did it?

“What happens now?” he asked, his voice quiet.

“You don’t have to decide right now,” Kanan said, “but if you want to, we can try and find a way for you to meet them.”

“No,” Ezra said, his voice frantic as he quickly shook his head.  “I -- I can’t.  I don’t want to.”

“Okay,” Kanan said, his voice calm, that feeling of comfort and safety stretching out across their weak bond.  “You don’t have to.”

“I can’t,” Ezra said again.  The idea terrified him even more than the knowledge that these people were his parents did.  It was one thing to know that they existed, that they were alive, that they were part of the rebellion, but it was another thing entirely to see them and talk to them.

“That’s fine,” Kanan assured him.

Ezra hugged his arms around himself, rocking slightly where he sat.  Why had he ever thought that asking for the DNA test was a good idea?  Why had he let himself get curious about this?  All it had led to was more confusion and more pain, and all over something that had never mattered to him before.

“Ezra,” Kanan said, his voice gentle.  “There’s something else we should talk about.”

“What?” Ezra asked, just barely able to keep his voice from shaking.

“Maul,” Kanan said.  “And how you…Mira told Sabine that you were kidnapped.”

Ezra had been so focused on the results of the test that he hadn’t thought about anything else.  But now that Kanan said it, that knowledge sank its claws into Ezra’s mind and wouldn’t let go.  He remembered Sabine telling him that Mira Bridger’s son had gone missing -- that he had gone missing -- but he hadn't put much thought into what that actually meant.

“What if -- what if it wasn’t Maul who took me?” Ezra asked.  “What if it was someone else?  What if he rescued me?”

He didn’t want it to be true.  It had taken time, but he’d been willing to accept the idea that Maul had abused him.  But he didn’t want to believe that Maul had kidnapped him and taken him from his parents.  He’d never thought about how he’d ended up with Maul, but the idea that Maul could have abducted him just didn’t feel right.  Maul had been taken from his family as a child himself.  Why would he do that to another family?  Why would he do that to Ezra?

“That…could be true,” Kanan said, though Ezra knew he didn’t believe that.  “But whether it was Maul or someone else who took you in the first place, he still kept you from your family.”

“I don’t remember it,” Ezra said.  “I -- I was probably too young and forgot them.”

His voice broke as he said it.  He brought one hand up, driving the heel of it against his forehead as he let out a frustrated growl.  Why did he even care?  He didn’t remember them.  He didn’t remember being kidnapped.  He’d never missed his parents or wished they were there, because as far as he knew, he had no parents.  Knowing who they were and knowing he’d been taken from them shouldn’t be affecting him this much.

“He couldn’t have brought me back to them if I didn’t remember who they were,” Ezra said, desperate to come up with some other explanation.  Why he was trying to defend Maul was just another thing he didn’t understand.  But even after everything Maul had put him through, Ezra didn’t want to believe his master would have done this.

“You’re right,” Kanan said.  “But if you remembered them, do you think he would have brought you home?”

“I don’t know,” Ezra muttered.  “Why does it even matter?  I don’t remember.”

He squeezed his eyes shut, trying to picture Mira Bridger’s face from the brief moment he’d seen it in the medbay.  Maybe if he could picture her face, he’d remember something.  But no matter how hard he tried, there was nothing.  The early years of his life were still the distant blur of pain and fear and anger that they’d always been, and before that, there was nothing.  Like he hadn't existed before that.  And maybe he hadn't.  He didn’t know how young he’d been when Maul had taken him in -- when Maul had taken him, the thought clawed its way to the surface of his mind only for Ezra to shove it back down again.  For all he knew, he’d been taken from the Bridgers the day he was born.

Ezra was snapped out of his thoughts as he felt someone touch him.  He snapped his eyes open to see that Kanan had moved and was now sitting beside him, gently putting his arm around Ezra’s shoulders.  Ezra leaned into it, his own arm sliding around Kanan’s chest, holding onto him tightly.

“I’m sorry, Ezra,” Kanan said.  “I know you want to see the best in him as much as you still can.  But the odds are good that he did take you from your parents.”

“I know,” Ezra said, his voice breaking.  He knew it was true.  On some deep, instinctive level, with the same type of gut feeling that told him danger was lurking around a corner, Ezra knew that Maul was the one who’d taken him away from his birth family.  The master he’d trusted with his life, who he thought of as the closest thing he’d ever had to a father, had abducted him as a child.

“I don’t want it to be true,” Ezra said.  “If it is, then…”

Ezra went quiet, his jaw trembling as he pressed himself against Kanan’s side.  He didn’t know how to put it into words; that feeling hovering over him that everything he thought he’d known about his life and the kind of person Maul was had been a lie.

“I know,” Kanan said.  “I’m sorry, Ezra.”

“I never should have done this,” Ezra said, gesturing to the datapad.  “It shouldn’t matter.”

“It should,” Kanan said.  “It’s your past, Ezra.  Your family.  You deserved a chance to know.”

No,” Ezra said, pulling away from Kanan and standing up abruptly.  “All this did was make things worse.”

He froze as he drew close to the door.  Zeb was still in their cabin, still asleep.  He couldn’t hide out there.  He turned on his heel and ran for the cargo bay, where he shut himself inside the storage hatch and sank to his knees, shaking as his breath came in short, sharp gasps.  This was a mistake.  All of it was a mistake.  He never should have done this.  He still didn’t understand why he had, why he couldn’t have just left it alone.  His whole life, he’d had Maul, who had been all the family he needed.  Now he had the crew of the Ghost, and they were…they were his friends, at least.  Why had he needed to go looking for something else?

Maul’s voice crept into his mind once again, still fresh from his nightmares.  First you betray me for the Jedi, and now for two strangers.

Ezra’s fingers tangled in his hair, yanking hard enough to hurt.  He tried to tell himself he wasn’t betraying anyone, that it didn’t mean anything to just know who his biological parents were.  He knew he wasn’t going to meet them.  He wasn’t going to let them into his life.  He couldn’t.

But no matter how much he tried to reassure himself, the echoes of his nightmares wouldn’t leave him.  Maul’s voice still rang in his head, accusing him of betrayal, reminding Ezra of everything Maul had done for him.

“I’m sorry,” Ezra muttered.  He wasn’t sure who he was apologizing to.  Maul, Kanan, himself, his…he still could barely think of them as his parents.  “I’m sorry.”


 

“Ezra?”

Ezra jumped, the tool he was holding falling from his hand and clattering against the ship’s hull.  He managed to grab hold of it again just before it rolled over the nearby ledge.

“What?” he asked, looking up at Sabine.

She was seated not far from him, a worried look on her face.  Hera had tasked her, Zeb, and Ezra with cleaning off ion scoring on the Ghost’s hull.  Ezra had jumped at the chance to have something to do other than think about what had happened earlier that morning, but the whole time, he had been checked out, going from barely listening to Zeb and Sabine talking to not listening at all.

“You still in there?” Zeb asked.

“I’m fine,” Ezra said.  He could feel both Zeb and Sabine’s concern nudging up against him, trying to understand what was going on without getting intrusive.

“You sure?” Sabine asked.

Ezra shrugged, turning his attention back to the black mark on the metal in front of him.

“If it’s a bad day, we can do this without you,” Sabine said.

Ezra shook his head.

“I want to help,” he said.  “I need to be doing something.  I’m just…I got the results of the DNA test back.”

“What?” Sabine gasped.  Ezra flinched at the sudden jump in the volume of her voice.

“Sorry,” Sabine said.  “I just -- sorry.  You just didn’t say anything.”

“And you don’t have to,” Zeb said.

“I’m saying something now,” Ezra said with a shrug, still looking down at the stubborn black spot on the hull.  “It -- it was -- they’re my -- you were right.”

For a moment, all three of them were silent as Ezra felt his friends processing what he’d said and thinking of what they could say or ask.

“Do you know what you’re going to do?” Zeb asked.

“Nothing,” Ezra said.  “I already told Kanan, I’m not meeting them.  I’m not -- I’m not doing anything.”

“If you had a chance to see your parents, why wouldn’t you want to?” Zeb asked him.

“What if they were lying?” Ezra asked.  The possibility had come to his mind as he’d desperately tried to avoid thinking about the fact that Maul could have taken him from his parents.  “What if my master didn’t take me away from them?  What if they gave me to him willingly?”

“Do you really think they’d do that?” Sabine asked.

“I don’t know,” Ezra said, his chin jutting out stubbornly as he finally looked up.  “Because I don’t know them.  They’re strangers.  For all I know, they handed me over, knowing what was going to happen to me, thinking it was worth it if I could help destroy the Empire one day.  Maybe they didn’t know and they just gave me to a stranger and didn’t care what he might do to me.  Maybe they -- maybe they sold me.”

Zeb and Sabine glanced at each other, sharing a mutual moment of horror.  The thought had never crossed either of their minds.  And why should it have?  From what Ezra knew, they’d grown up with their families.  These were questions they’d never had to ask.

“I can’t see them,” Ezra said.  “I know it’s stupid, but I --”

“It’s not,” Zeb said, cutting him off.

“You’re just trying not to get hurt again,” Sabine said.

Ezra turned his attention back to the scoring on the hull.  The three of them worked in silence for a few minutes before Sabine spoke again.

“For what it’s worth,” she said, “it didn’t seem like she was lying.”

“You don’t know that for sure,” Ezra said.  “And it doesn’t matter.  I can't do it.”

They fell back into silence as Sabine let the subject drop.  Ezra just focused on his work, glad that she was letting it go.  He didn’t know how to explain that even if he knew for sure that he’d been abducted, that his parents hadn’t just gotten rid of him, the thought of seeing them still scared him.

Besides, he thought, he didn’t need them.  He’d never needed them before.

Chapter Text

Ezra set the medkit on the floor beside Hera as she and Zeb lowered Kanan onto a crate.  Kanan braced his left hand against the edge of the crate, supporting himself on his good arm.  Ezra stood back, feeling completely useless as he watched Hera carefully pull away Kanan’s right boot, revealing his bruised and swollen ankle.

“I can do it,” Kanan said.  He tried to reach down to help Hera, only to let out a sharp gasp as he moved his right arm.

Ezra took a small step forward, reaching toward Kanan.  He didn’t know what exactly he planned on doing to help; all that mattered was that Kanan was hurt.

Kanan shook his head as Ezra drew closer.

“I’m alright,” he said, though the sweat on his forehead told Ezra he was in pain.

Kanan gritted his teeth against the pain, reaching out and taking Ezra’s hand, gripping it tightly for a moment before letting go.

“Don’t worry about me,” Kanan said.  “It’s probably not even broken.  And the blaster wound’s just a graze.”

“He might not even need to go to the medbay once we get back to the base,” Hera said.

Ezra nodded and took a step back, staring down at his hands as he tried to figure out what he could do to help.  He jumped as he felt a massive hand come down on his shoulder.

“Come on, kid,” Zeb said.  “Let’s make sure Chopper doesn’t crash this thing.”

Ezra looked up at Zeb in confusion for a moment before realizing what he was doing.  Zeb was trying to get him to leave so he wouldn’t have to see Kanan injured.  Ezra shot a quick glance at Kanan, who gave him an encouraging nod.

“Go,” he said.  “I’ll be okay.”

Ezra hesitated for a moment, but finally, he followed Zeb up the ladder and out of the cargo bay.  When they reached the cockpit, Ezra wasn’t the least bit surprised to find that Chopper was doing just fine piloting the Ghost without Hera.  He knew Zeb had just been trying to get him away from the cargo bay.  Knowing that only made that soft buzz of nervousness in Ezra’s chest grow louder and stronger in spite of Kanan saying he was okay.  What if he was hurt worse than he and Hera were letting on?

“Do you think Kanan’s really going to be okay?” he asked.

“This coming from the kid who didn’t want to go to the medbay for broken ribs,” Zeb said with a slight chuckle.

“That was different,” Ezra said, crossing his arms.

“Kid, he’ll be fine,” Zeb said.  “His ankle’s probably just twisted, and the blaster bolt barely touched him.”

Chopper let out a warble of what Ezra assumed was agreement because Zeb nodded in the droid’s direction.

“See?” Zeb said.  “We’ve got nothing to worry about.”

Ezra cautiously perched on the copilot’s seat and pulled his knees up to his chest.

“If it’s nothing to worry about, then why didn’t you want me staying there?” he asked.

“Just because it’s nothing serious doesn’t mean you need to see him like that,” Zeb said, sitting down in Hera’s usual seat, ignoring Chopper’s reprimand.

“Thanks, I guess,” Ezra mumbled, absently picking at a loose thread in the end of his sleeve.  He didn’t understand why it was such a big deal if Kanan’s injury wasn’t so bad.  He’d seen worse than a twisted ankle and a blaster wound before.  He’d been given worse than that as punishment for doing something wrong during training.

“Hey,” Zeb said, reaching out and gently nudging Ezra’s shoulder.  “How are you holding up, anyway?”

“Fine,” Ezra said.  “I didn’t get hurt.”

“That’s not what I meant,” Zeb said.

“Then what -- oh,” Ezra said, realizing what Zeb must be talking about.

In the days since he’d gotten the results of the DNA test back, he avoided talking about it with anyone and none of the others had asked him about it.  He’d done his best not to even think about it, but thoughts of his birth parents still hovered in the back of his mind.  He kept telling himself that none of it mattered, that he’d survived his whole life without parents and didn’t need them now, that regardless of the fact that he was related to them, they were still strangers who he had no memory of.

But it was like now that he knew who they were, something had shifted, and he suddenly found himself asking questions he couldn’t get the answers to.  Who were they, really?  Why had they been in prison?  Had he really been taken from them?

“I’m okay,” he said, his voice suddenly much quieter.  “I’m just trying not to think about it.  But that’s…not working too well.”

“You want to talk about it?” Zeb asked.

Ezra shook his head.

“What’s there to talk about?” Ezra asked.  “They’re strangers.  It shouldn’t matter.”

“Kid, I think we both know it’s not that simple,” Zeb said.

Ezra shrugged, his mouth pressing into a tight line.  Maybe it wasn’t that simple, but shouldn’t it be?  Shouldn’t two complete strangers he’d never met before and would probably never see again be easy to put out of his mind?

Ezra slid his feet back to the floor and pointedly turned his seat so he wasn’t looking at Zeb and Chopper, crossing his arms and staring down at the floor.

“Alright,” Zeb said.  “Point taken.”

An awkward silence filled the cockpit as they both desperately tried to think of anything they could change the subject to.  Thankfully, Chopper broke the silence a moment later.

“We’re approaching…something?” Ezra repeated.  He was picking up on Chopper’s binary language as quickly as he could, but he still didn’t understand everything the droid said.

“The base,” Zeb said.

“Oh.”  Of course that was what Chopper was talking about.

As the Ghost came out of hyperspace and Chopper sent their clearance codes before navigating the ship into the hangar, Ezra stood up and left the cockpit.  He peered over the railing into the cargo bay to see Hera shining a small light into Kanan’s eyes.  Something squeezed tightly in Ezra’s chest.  He hadn't realized Kanan had sustained a head injury, too.

As the ship settled into the hangar, Hera glanced up and saw Ezra.

“You, Zeb, and Sabine get those parts to the mechanics,” she said, gesturing to the supplies they’d acquired from their contact.  “I’m taking him to the medbay.”

Ezra’s hands tightened around the railing for a moment, his heart fluttering nervously.  He jumped and flinched as something brushed up against his mind.  A few seconds later, he relaxed as he realized it was Kanan’s presence in the Force touching his mind, trying to silently reassure him.

As Kanan stood up, clearly trying not to look like he was leaning on Hera for support, he looked up and gave Ezra an encouraging nod.  A soft rush of comfort passed across their bond, a soothing gesture like a hand on Ezra’s shoulder.  The feeling faded as Hera led Kanan off of the ship and Ezra felt his hands tense up again, clenching around the railing.

“Come on,” Zeb said, his voice to Ezra’s left making him jump.  “By the time we finish with this, Kanan’ll probably be back.”


 

Zeb was wrong.  By the time they finished offloading the supplies and getting them to the carrier’s mechanics, Hera had returned from the medbay, but Kanan hadn't.  She’d told them that in addition to the blaster wound and a mildly-sprained ankle, Kanan had a mild concussion.  She’d said it probably wasn’t too serious, but they’d decided to keep him in the medbay through the carrier’s sleep cycle, just to be safe.

Ezra knew he shouldn’t worry.  It was a sprain, a concussion, and a small, grazing burn.  None of it was life-threatening and it could be so much worse.  Ezra had had much worse injuries than that, and he was sure Kanan had, too.  There was no reason to worry, but Ezra did anyway, and he didn’t even understand why.  As he lay awake in his bunk, flat on his back, staring at the ceiling, his arms pressed tightly against his sides, he clenched his hands into fists, digging into his palms with his nails.  Something twisted in his chest, wrapping around his heart as it pounded furiously, his mind racing with thoughts that moved so fast he didn’t even have the time to understand what they were before they disappeared.

He felt something reaching out toward him, that same comforting feeling he’d sensed before, like a hand on his shoulder, squeezing tightly.  Ezra reached out, too, holding on to Kanan’s presence in the Force.  Slowly, his hands loosened and he was able to curl up on his side, pulling his blanket tightly around himself.  His last thought before he drifted off was that it was so much warmer here than he remembered it ever being at home on Orsis.


 

“Hurry!” Kanan said, his hand tightening around Ezra’s as they ran.

Ezra stumbled as he tried to keep pace with Kanan.  He could hear footsteps crashing through the brush behind them, drawing closer with each passing second.  Kanan’s grip tightened as he yanked Ezra forward, shoving Ezra ahead of him as he turned back, drawing his lightsaber and igniting the blade.

“Go!” he shouted as a hail of blaster fire flashed through the air toward them.

Ezra kept running, his ears ringing with the telltale sound of blaster bolts being deflected off of a lightsaber’s blade.  Seconds later, the sound stopped, though the blaster fire continued.  Ezra could hear Kanan’s footsteps closing in behind him.

“Just keep running!” Kanan shouted.

All at once, Ezra heard a crack, a dull thud, and the sickening crunch and snap that he knew all to well as the sound of a bone breaking.  Kanan cried out and Ezra lost his balance and fell as he skidded to a halt.  Ezra turned around, his heart hammering as he spotted Kanan lying prone on the ground, his ankle caught in the burrow of some small animal.

“Keep going!” Kanan shouted.

Ezra couldn’t get to his feet, as if he was being held down by something, forcing him to stay put and watch as stormtroopers flooded from the trees, surrounding Kanan, their blasters all pointed at him.  Ezra reached out, not know what he could do but knowing he had to do something, just as the first stormtrooper pulled the trigger.

“No!” Ezra screamed.  “Kanan!  No!”

The snap-hiss of a lightsaber cut through the air, spilling red light across the forest floor.  Ezra looked back over his shoulder to see the Seventh Sister behind him, that smile on her face that made Ezra feel like he was shrinking down into nothing.  She extended a hand as she approached and Ezra felt his throat tighten as the air was sucked out of his lungs.  He was wrenched off the ground, clawing at his neck, his feet kicking uselessly as he dangled in the air.

“Kanan,” he gasped with the last bit of air he had left.  But his master wouldn’t help him.  He couldn’t.  Ezra could feel his life slipping away as he lay there helplessly on the ground, his back covered in burns left by blaster bolts.

Ezra was slammed against a nearby tree, the Seventh Sister’s grip in the Force releasing and being quickly replaced by her hand around his throat.

“You don’t know how much I’ve been looking forward to this,” she said, her nails digging into the flesh of Ezra’s neck as her grip tightened.

Ezra squeezed his eyes shut, bracing himself, knowing this was just the beginning and even more pain was about to come.

Ezra let out a cry of pain, his eyes snapping open as a hand gripped his hair, wrenching his head back as cold metal was pressed to his face.

The Inquisitor was gone.  Now, he found himself on the cold metal floor of a ship, his wrists cuffed tightly to something behind his back.  His shirt and been stripped off and he could feel the blood still running down his back from the deep wound in his shoulder where his tracker had been.

“Let the boy go,” a voice growled.  It was familiar.  Harsh and commanding and cold and…Master.

A surge of strength flooded through Ezra’s mind as he reached out and clung to his master’s presence in the Force like his life depended on it.  He forced his eyes open and saw Maul standing in front of him, one of the blades of his lightsaber ignited, casting a red glow through the ship as he stared down the bounty hunter holding a blaster to Ezra’s head.

“I don’t think you’re holding any cards here,” the bounty hunter said with a laugh as he pressed the end of his blaster flush against Ezra’s jaw.

Ezra whimpered and tried to pull away, but the man’s grip in his hair wouldn’t let him move.

“Drop your weapon,” the man said.  “Or I shoot your boy.”

A sharp, pained gagging sound erupted from the man’s throat as he was pulled into the air, his blaster wrenched out of his hand before he could think to use it.  Ezra’s head dropped forward again as sounds he could barely make sense of crowded into his mind.  A furious growl, the hum of a lightsaber slashing through the air, a scream of pain.  The smell of burning flesh filled the air, making Ezra’s stomach churn as it mixed with the coppery scent of his own blood.  Ezra flinched as he heard the distinctive sound of a body dropping to the floor.

The next thing Ezra knew, someone had knelt down in front of him.  Ezra whimpered again as he felt more than saw a hand reaching out toward him.  He weakly tugged at the binders, but only succeeded in making the metal cut farther into his wrists.

Suddenly his hands were free and he was being pulled to his feet, dragged behind someone who kept a painful grip around his already bruised wrist.  He was led through a narrow passageway -- an airlock? -- before the hand on his wrist disappeared and he fell to his knees, shaking.

Someone roughly grabbed his chin, forcing him to look up into a pair of bright yellow eyes.  A familiar presence in the Force grabbed hold of his mind, trying to make him focus.

“Master?” Ezra mumbled, recognizing the presence and clinging to it.  “Y--you came after me.”

“Of course I did,” Maul said, his voice unusually gentle.  “You are my son.  I wouldn’t just let them take you from me.”

As Maul released him, Ezra slumped forward, holding himself up by bracing his left hand on the floor, careful not to put weight on his right arm.  Maul stood up and retrieved the emergency medkit before kneeling down next to Ezra and examining his injured shoulder.

“I’m sorry,” Ezra said, his voice quiet.  “I’m sorry I got caught.”


 

“’M sorry.”

“Ezra.”

“No,” Ezra muttered, struggling against the grip on his arm.  “I’m sorry, no, Master, please!

“Ezra.”

That voice was different.  It wasn’t his master’s voice.  No, it was.  It just wasn’t Maul’s voice.

“Kanan?” Ezra asked, slowly sitting up and glancing around the room in confusion.  Something felt off, and Ezra couldn’t place what it was.

“We’re almost midway through the wake cycle,” Kanan said, as if he knew exactly what Ezra was thinking.

“Oh,” Ezra muttered.  That would explain why the bunk below him wasn’t occupied.  “Why…”

His words were cut off by a small yawn.

“I know how late you were awake last night,” Kanan said.  “I figured we should let you sleep.”

Ezra nodded as his head started to truly clear and things began to make sense again.

“I thought you were in the medbay,” Ezra said.

“They just wanted to keep me overnight,” Kanan told him.  “They let me out once the wake cycle started.”

Ezra nodded again and silence fell, though he could sense Kanan’s uncertainty, as though he was about to say something.

“Are you alright?” Kanan asked.  “It sounded like you were having another nightmare.”

“I was,” Ezra said as he moved to the edge of his bunk and began to climb down the ladder, his face burning when he realized his hands were still shaking.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Kanan asked as he put a hand on Ezra’s arm to steady him and help him to the floor.

“Y--you,” Ezra said, tripping over the word as his voice shook.  “You were hurt.  And Maul.  It was -- I was little, and he…”

Ezra’s voice trailed off and he looked down at the floor, one hand absently rubbing the back of his neck as he found himself suddenly wondering why he was so worked up about this.

“What did he do?” Kanan asked, his voice gentle.

“He called me his son,” Ezra said quietly.

The word caught in his throat as he remembered what had happened after that, when they’d returned home and Maul had locked him up, restrained in complete darkness; his punishment for letting himself be taken by the bounty hunters.  Maul had called Ezra his son and then thrown him to the floor of a dark, cold room with his hands cuffed and left him there.  And Ezra remembered being so grateful that Maul had cuffed his hands in front of him and left the restraints loose so he wouldn’t injure his wrists even more.

Ezra hadn't questioned it.  He had thought that was normal.  He’d always known he wasn’t really Maul’s son, but he’d thought that was what he’d been treated like.  He’d thought that was how normal parents treated their children, that it was Maul’s way of showing he cared.  Ever since he’d met Kanan, he’d been slowly learning that none of that was true, but nothing Kanan told him erased the memories of Maul calling him “son,” or of how genuine it felt, like on some level, he really did care.

“I know I’m not, really,” Ezra said, “but he called me that, and it seemed like he thought of me that way, but he still hurt me, and he…he t--took me from my parents.  I was their son and he took me away from them and tried to make me his.”

Ezra’s voice broke on the last word, and he wondered when he’d begun to care.

“Ezra --”

Ezra shook his head, cutting Kanan off.

“There’s nothing you can say to make this better, Kanan,” he said, his voice bitter.

“That’s okay,” Kanan said.  He gently put an arm around Ezra’s shoulders and pulled him close.  Ezra slid his arms around Kanan’s chest, leaning his forehead against Kanan’s shoulder.

He wished he’d never gotten that kriffing DNA test.  He wished Sabine had never made the connection between him and the Bridgers.  He wished he’d never set foot on this ship in the first place.  He wished he was home, where he never would have had to think about any of this, and it didn’t make any sense that he could want that now that he knew what Maul had done.

“Kanan,” he said, almost cringing at how small and scared his own voice sounded.  “I -- I changed my mind.  I want to meet them.”

“Are you sure?” Kanan asked.

Ezra nodded.

“Is -- is that okay?” he asked.

“Of course it is,” Kanan said.  He released Ezra, but kept a protective hand on his shoulder.  “They’re your parents, Ezra.  If you want to meet them, after everything you’ve been through you deserve that chance.”

“What if they don’t want to see me?” Ezra asked.  He’d already rejected them once.  What if they didn’t want anything to do with him now?

“You don’t have to worry about that,” Kanan said.  “They do want to meet you.”

“You’ve talked to them?” Ezra asked, his curiosity spiking as he looked up at Kanan.

“Not me,” Kanan said.  “It’s just what I know through Ahsoka.  They really want to see you, but they stayed away because you said no.”

“Maybe…maybe I shouldn’t,” Ezra said, shaking his head.  “I don’t even know why I want to see them.  I shouldn’t care.  It shouldn’t matter.”

“Well, obviously it does,” Kanan said.

Ezra couldn’t think of a convincing argument against that.  Kanan was right.  For some inexplicable reason, it did matter to him that he have a chance to see the Bridgers face to face.  He might never see them again, but at least this way, he could put it all behind him.  He hoped.

Chapter Text

Ezra made his way down the hallway, toward the currently-unused room where they’d agreed to meet.  The room Ezra couldn’t help but think of as neutral ground.  Ezra stopped in his tracks as he saw the door ahead of him, his heart seeming to stop and restart at triple its normal speed.

Ezra shook his head and clenched in his hands into fists at his sides.  His palms were clammy with sweat, and every breath he took felt like it was restricted by something squeezing around his chest.

“I can't do this,” he said, his shoulders tensing up as he stared wide-eyed at the door.

“Yes, you can,” Kanan said, putting a hand on Ezra’s shoulder.  “You don’t have to if you don’t want to, but I know you can.  If you can face an Inquisitor, then this is nothing.”

Ezra choked back a rough, humorless laugh.  In some ways, this was even more terrifying than the idea of facing an Inquisitor again.

For another few minutes, Ezra stood perfectly still, his eyes locked on the door in front of them.  He tried to draw strength from Kanan’s hand on his shoulder and the bond that connected them, but every scrap of resolve he managed to pull together would fall apart within seconds.  Finally, he took a breath, steeling himself as he accepted that he wasn’t going to be able to force himself to be brave, and crossed to the door, with Kanan following close behind him.  He swallowed nervously before palming open the door, only to freeze up the moment he stepped through it.

There were two people sitting at a table who had looked up when the door opened.  Ezra vaguely recognized the woman from the rescue mission at the prison.  But beyond that, there was nothing.  No spark of recognition, no flood of memories rising to the surface, no sense of connection.  Nothing but the impulse to run and never come back, never let himself be in a room with either of them again.  Ezra stood still, his shoulders so rigid he was almost shaking, as he fought against that impulse.  Kanan’s hand rested on his shoulder again, and Ezra could feel the silent message echoing across their bond.  I’m right here.

The woman at the table stood up, opening her mouth like she was about to say something.  Ezra flinched and looked back over his shoulder at Kanan.

“I can’t do this,” he said.  He turned back to the two strangers -- his parents, they were his parents and now that he was seeing them, he couldn’t get his head around that fact -- flinching again as he laid eyes on them.  “This was a mistake.  I’m sorry.”

“Ezra, wait,” the man -- his father, this was his father -- said.  Ezra had been about to turn and run, but he froze at the sound his name.  “Please talk to us.”

Ezra tried so hard not to shake as he walked to the table and sat down across from his -- from the two strangers, that was the only way he could get himself to think of them right now, but he couldn’t stop himself from trembling.  His hands curled around the edges of the chair he sank into, clutching tightly at the cool metal as he stared down, not meeting their gaze.  Kanan sat down beside him and Ezra couldn’t even bring himself to look at him.

“I -- I don’t even know what I’m supposed to say,” Ezra muttered.

“Neither do we,” Mira said, her voice strained like she was trying not to show too much emotion.  “Except that we --” her voice broke and Ezra flinched at the sheer, raw emotion that cut through the air.

“We never thought we’d see you again,” she said.  “And we’re so sorry.”

Ezra stayed silent, his hands curling tighter around the edge of his seat as his heart hammered like it was trying to burst out of his chest.  What could he even say to that?

Slowly, Ezra looked up, only to flinch and look away again the second he saw them, a noise he couldn’t even describe rising in the back of his throat.  He felt Kanan’s arm around his shoulders and instinctively shrank against him.

“It’s okay,” Kanan said.  “Just take your time.”

As he said it, Ezra felt a sudden, flaring spike of emotion.  Not his own, not Kanan’s, but the Bridgers’.  Pain, heartbreak, anger, even fear as they saw Ezra -- their son; he was their kriffing son -- turning to Kanan for comfort.

Ezra took a breath before forcing himself to look up again.  He still wasn’t quite looking at them, but near them.

“I--I’m sorry,” he said.  “I just -- this is…”

He was still at a complete loss for words.  He didn’t know how he could explain it to them, that seeing them in person was terrifying and he didn’t even understand why.

“It’s okay,” Mira said.  Ezra saw her hand twitch, as if she wanted to physically reach out to him, but she stopped herself.

As Ezra sat there, unable to make his voice work, and unable to think of a single word to say anyway, the Bridgers glanced at each other, sharing a concerned glance that made Ezra’s stomach clench.

“Do you remember anything?” Ephraim asked.

Ezra shook his head, feeling something tight forming in his throat.

“I don’t remember you,” he said.  “At all.  I’m sorry.”

“It’s alright,” Ephraim said, his voice gentle.  “It’s been so long, and you were so young, it makes sense that you wouldn’t remember.”

Ezra nodded, the tightness in his throat and chest easing up a little as he realized they weren’t angry at him.  Sensing that Ezra was alright, at least for now, Kanan pulled away.  Ezra took a deep breath, clenching his hands into fists in his lap for a moment before relaxing them again.

“I’m sorry,” he said again.  “It’s just that I -- I don’t remember you, and I never knew you were -- that I had parents out there anywhere.  This is -- it’s new for me.”

“Ezra --” Mira cut herself off before she could say another word, and Ezra felt a strange twitch in her mind before she spoke again.

“Is that still your name?” she asked.

Ezra nodded, but that tightness returned to his chest as a distressing thought settled into his mind.  Maul had let him keep the name his…the name the Bridgers had given him.  He could have so easily taken that away, given Ezra a whole new identity or even left him nameless.  But he’d allowed Ezra to keep that, even after taking him from what should have been his family.  Ezra felt a strange mixture of warmth and revulsion at the thought.  He wanted to be grateful that he’d been allowed to keep his name, that he’d been allowed to have a name at all, but some small part of his mind, a part that sounded almost like Kanan, quietly reminded him that he shouldn’t have to feel grateful for that.

“It is,” he said quietly, shoving all his thoughts about Maul to the side for now.  “I -- I guess I remembered that, at least.”

“Ezra,” Mira said, “we’re both so sorry.  We looked for you.  I promise, we did, and we’re so sorry that we never found you.”

Ezra looked down again, biting on the inside of his cheek.  He knew that he should feel glad that they’d looked for him, even if they’d failed, or maybe even angry that they hadn't looked harder, but he felt…nothing.  He had no memory of them, no memory of holding out hope that someone would rescue him, no memory of even knowing he needed to be rescued.  Whether two strangers had searched for him just didn’t matter.

“It -- it wasn’t your fault,” Ezra said.  It was the only thing he could think of to say, and as he said it, he realized it was exactly the right thing.  Maul had gone to great lengths to keep him hidden from the Empire and, Ezra now realized, from the Bridgers and anyone else who would be looking for their missing child.  They never would have found him, no matter how hard they looked.

Ezra glanced over at Kanan, reaching out across their bond, clinging to it for strength and support.  He wished he could just siphon off some of Kanan’s calm steadiness and make it his own.  If his heart would just stop pounding, if he could just breathe, maybe this would be a little easier.

“You’re doing great,” Kanan said quietly, reaching out and touching Ezra’s arm.

A smile twitched across Ezra’s face at the encouragement, but he felt a sudden spike of pain and anger; more emotions that belonged to the Bridgers.  Guilt twisted in his chest and he pulled away from Kanan’s touch as he realized just how much pain they were in as they saw how he responded to his master.

Ezra’s shoulders shot up toward his ears as he stared down at his hands again, desperately trying to think of something else to say, some way to change the subject, as that twisting feeling in his chest grew worse by the second.  Before he could say anything, Ephraim spoke up.

“Ezra,” he said, and it was all Ezra could do not to flinch at the sound of his name.  It didn’t make any sense.  It wasn’t like he didn’t already know that was his name.  “What -- where were you this whole time?”

Ezra flinched and looked up at Kanan, his eyes wide with panic.  He hadn't thought about the fact that they’d want to know, or what to say to them if they asked.  Panic bubbled up in his chest, threaded through with a strange mixture of shame at the thought of his past and defiant pride at the thought that he’d survived it, even if that meant doing things he couldn’t be proud of anymore.

He could feel the Bridgers patiently waiting for his response, and somehow that was worse than it would be if they’d shouted at him, demanding he answer the question.  Ezra felt like something was growing tighter and tighter around his chest until he abruptly stood up, nearly knocking over the chair as he did so.  He didn’t even process that Kanan had stood up, too, and had called after him until he was already out of the room.


 

“Ezra, wait!”

Ezra gave no sign that he heard Kanan as he ran from the room.  Kanan reached out across their bond, trying to reassure him that it was okay and he was safe, only to find himself shut out, his presence barred from Ezra’s mind.

A heavy, painful silence settled over the room as Kanan turned back to face the Bridgers again.  Both of them had stood up as well and were now staring at the door.  Kanan could sense the confusion and pain that crowded in their minds, driving everything else out.  He wanted to say something, but he wasn’t sure what he could say.

“Should -- should someone go after him?” Mira asked, her voice strained as she tried to keep it from shaking.

Kanan shook his head.

“When he runs away like that, he needs to be alone,” Kanan said.  As he said it, he sensed a sharp, painful, twisting feeling through the Force, and it took him a moment to recognize it for what it was; the Bridgers’ guilt and pain at the knowledge that Kanan knew Ezra well enough to know that, while they didn’t.

Kanan’s own guilt surged up in his chest as he realized that while his being here had helped Ezra, it certainly hadn't helped his parents.  Watching their son turning to him for comfort and support as he’d worked his way through one of the most difficult moments of his life, knowing that Kanan played such a strong role in Ezra’s life that they’d never had a chance to fill, it had to have hurt them.  But he didn’t regret it.  Ezra had needed him, and Ezra was what mattered right now.

“What happened to him?” Ephraim asked.

Kanan hesitated, not knowing what he should say.  He hadn't thought about the possibility that Ezra might not want them to know what he’d been through, and now that Ezra had run off, Kanan couldn’t ask him.  But he’d sensed Ezra’s fear just before he’d bolted, taking over and driving him away.

“I don’t know if he’d want me to tell you,” Kanan said.  “But he’s -- he’s not the same kid you knew.”

“Of course he isn’t,” Ephraim said.

“I don’t just mean that he’s older now,” Kanan said.  “I mean, he’s different.  The way he grew up after he was taken…” he hesitated, still unsure of how much he should be saying, especially with Ezra not even in the room to hear it.  “You should ask him if you want details, but he was abused for years.  He’s scared and he’s slow to trust, and you need to be patient with him.”

“Assuming we ever see him again,” Mira said.

“I’m sure you will,” Kanan said.  “He’s just scared.  He’s never thought about where he came from before now, and it’s a lot for him to process.”

“I hope you’re right,” Mira said quietly, though Kanan got the sense that she didn’t think he was.  She looked over at her husband and Kanan looked away, letting them have their silent conversation in private.

“He trusts you, though, doesn’t he?” she asked.

“He does,” Kanan said, the knot of guilt tightening in his chest as he said it.

“Soon, we’ll have to go back to the cell we’ve been working with,” Mira said.  “We want Ezra to come with us.  And he might take that better coming from you.”

Kanan stood there, stunned for a moment.  Of course he’d known it was possible, even probable, that the Bridgers would want Ezra with them.  He was their son, after all, and they’d already missed out on ten years of his life.  He just hadn't thought this would come up now.  He’d thought there would be more time.

In spite of understanding how they felt, a hot rush of anger surged up in Kanan’s chest.  These people might be biologically related to Ezra, but they didn’t know him.  They hadn't saved him from Maul.  They hadn't even been able to stop him from being taken in the first place.  At this point, Ezra was barely their son, and the thought of just handing him over to them filled Kanan with a furious, protective instinct.

A more rational part of Kanan knew that wasn’t fair.  They hadn't chosen this.  It wasn’t like they had just given Ezra to Maul.  They had spent years wondering what had happened to him and now they had a chance to get him back.  In their position, he would probably want the same thing.

“I know you want him back,” Kanan said, “but I’m not going to force him to walk away from the closest thing he’s ever known to a real family.”

We’re his family,” Mira said, her voice pleading, sounding like she was on the verge of tears.  “He’s our son and we already lost him once.  Please don’t take him from us again.”

“I’ll talk to him,” Kanan said.  “I promise.  But I can't make this choice for him.  If you knew what he’s been through, you’d understand.  I can't do that to him.  I won't.”

Kanan’s words were met with a cold silence that weighed heavily in the air.

“We’re grateful that you helped him,” Ephraim said.  “But you’re not his father.”

“I know,” Kanan said.  “That’s the problem.  Ezra thinks of the person who kidnapped him as the closest thing he has to a father.  Hera and I aren’t his parents, but in Ezra’s mind, neither are you.”

The air in the room seemed to grow even colder at Kanan’s words.  He knew it had probably been the wrong thing to say, but it was the truth.  He hated it as much as they did, but they needed to understand why he couldn’t just agree that Ezra should leave with them.

“I will talk to him about it,” Kanan said.  “But this needs to be his choice, not any of ours.”

“Is he happy with you?” Mira asked.

Kanan almost didn’t want to answer the question, knowing that it would just cause them more pain to know.

“I think he is,” Kanan said.  “And he’s safe, too.  Safer than he’s been in a long time.”

The Bridgers exchanged another glance, and Kanan could sense their shared fear.  Fear that they were going to lose Ezra all over again.  Fear that Kanan was going to keep their son from them.  And Kanan had no idea how to reassure them.  He didn’t know what Ezra would decide.  He just knew the decision had to be Ezra’s.


 

Keeping track of time wasn’t exactly at the top of Ezra’s list of priorities, but he figured it was a little over an hour before he heard a soft knock at the cabin door.  He climbed down from his bunk and opened the door, averting his eyes when he saw Kanan standing in the hallway.

“Hey,” Kanan said.  “You okay?”

Ezra shrugged, his face growing hot with embarrassment.

“I’m sorry,” he said, his voice quiet, barely above a whisper.  “I -- I shouldn’t have run.”

“It’s okay,” Kanan said.  “You were overwhelmed.  They understood, once I explained it to them.”

“What did you tell them?” Ezra asked, stepping aside to let Kanan enter the room.

“Not much,” Kanan said.  “I told them you were abused, but I didn’t tell them any details.”

Ezra shifted uncomfortably, his right hand absently clutching at his left wrist, his nails digging into his skin.

“I had to tell them something,” Kanan said, and Ezra was surprised to realize that he sounded genuinely sorry.

“I know,” Ezra muttered.  “I know, I just -- what if they --”

He gave a frustrated sigh as he raked a hand through his hair and began to pace around the room.

“I shouldn’t have met with them,” he said.  “It was a mistake.  I -- I’m sorry.  I never should have asked to meet them.  I never should have asked for the DNA test.  I -- this was all a mistake.”

He stopped in his tracks, hugging his arms around himself as he looked up at Kanan.  Why couldn’t he have just let himself be happy on the Ghost with the crew?  Why had he needed to go looking for something else?

Ezra gasped, not expecting it as Kanan pulled him into his arms.  He quickly leaned into his master’s embrace, resting his head against Kanan’s shoulder.

“I’m sorry, Kanan,” he said.  “I -- I shouldn’t have done this.”

“You have nothing to be sorry for,” Kanan said.  Ezra felt his jaw start trembling as Kanan’s hand made small circles on his upper back.  “If you don’t want to see them again, you don’t have to.”

“I don’t know,” Ezra muttered.  “I -- I don’t know what I want.”

“That’s okay,” Kanan said.  “You can take your time.”

Ezra slid his arms around Kanan’s torso, holding on even tighter than Kanan was holding onto him.  He could have from now until the end of time and he didn’t think he’d be able to figure out what he really wanted.  All he was sure of was that he wanted Kanan to keep holding him, protecting him, shielding him as much as he could.  He wanted one thing in his life to be easy, and this was.  No matter what happened, Kanan would be there for him.  He knew that he could count on that, at least.

Chapter Text

“You sure you don’t want me to be there?” Kanan asked.  Ezra hadn't been counting, but he was pretty sure it was the third time Kanan had asked that question.

“I’ll be okay,” he said.

“If you need me, you comm me, alright?” Kanan said.

Ezra nodded.  He’d sensed Kanan’s reluctance when he’d first told his master that he wanted to see his parents alone, but whatever concerns Kanan had, he didn’t bring them up.  He’d only asked Ezra if he was sure.  Ezra had told him he wanted to be able to do this by himself, which was the truth, though not all of it.  He’d felt the Bridgers’ pain as they saw him turning to Kanan for support when they’d first met, and that feeling had twisted around him like a rope, cutting off his air, making it hard for him to breathe and focus and think.  If Kanan wasn’t there, maybe it would be easier, for them and for him.

When he reached the room, the same one they’d met in before, he allowed himself a moment to take a deep breath, trying to steady his nerves, before he opened the door.

The Bridgers were already there, waiting for him.  Ezra kept his gaze on the floor in front of his feet as he walked to the table and sat down across from them.

“I thought -- I thought maybe it would be better if it was just us,” he said, his voice flat, empty of emotion as he stared down at the table, not ready to look at them yet.  “Without Kanan.”

“Are you sure?” Mira asked.

As Ezra nodded, he realized that his back was unusually straight and stiff.  It seemed so…formal.  He still didn’t have any idea how he was supposed to act around these people.  With Maul, there had always been some level of formality and distance.  With Kanan, there was less, but Ezra still knew exactly what their roles were.  With the Bridgers, there was nothing.  No context, no history, nothing to help anything make sense.

Ezra tried to force himself to relax as he looked up from the table.  One hand curled around the edge of his chair in an attempt to stop himself from shaking.

“I -- I still don’t know what I’m even supposed to say,” he said.  “I never thought -- this wasn’t something I ever knew could happen.”

“Is there anything you want to know?” Mira -- his mother, Ezra still couldn’t quite believe it -- asked.

Ezra’s mouth drew into a tight line as he thought.  Just days ago, he hadn't wanted to know a single thing about them, about who he’d been or what his life had been like before Maul.  It hadn't been that long ago that he hadn't even wanted to know if these people were his parents at all.  Now, he still wasn’t sure.  Part of him wanted to know everything, to ask any question that sprang into his mind, to learn every scrap of information he could draw from them.  And part of him just wanted his past to stay buried.

As he weighed both the options in his head, his mind wandered back to something Hera had asked him once, and he decided to start with something simple.

“How old was I when I -- when I was taken?” he asked.

“Three,” Ephraim said.  Ezra silently added up the years in his head.

“So now I’m…”

“Thirteen,” Mira said.  “You’re thirteen.  We never stopped counting, even when we thought…” she hurriedly brushed away tears that were forming in her eyes.

“It’s been ten years,” she said.  “We thought -- I mean, we wondered if --”

Ephraim’s hand closed around hers as her voice broke off.

“You thought I was dead,” Ezra said.

“We never completely gave up hope,” Ephraim sad.  “But you were gone.  There was no sign of you anywhere.  A kid goes missing for years like that, and the odds of finding them again are next to nothing.”

Ezra looked down again, suddenly uncomfortable with where his question had led.  His whole life, he’d been one thing: Maul’s apprentice, sometimes maybe even Maul’s son.  But there was a whole other piece of his story he’d never even known was possible; he was a missing child, assumed dead, with no one trying to find him anymore.

“Where am I from?” Ezra asked, forcing another question out to change the subject, even though the answer didn’t make a difference to him.  As far as he was concerned, he was from Orsis.  It was where he’d grown up, even if he wasn’t born there.

“Lothal,” Ephraim said.  “In the Outer Rim.”

“Lothal?” Ezra repeated, looking up abruptly.  “I -- I’ve been there, with Kanan.”

Something fluttered nervously in Ezra’s stomach as he scrambled to think of what he could even remember about the planet.  With everything that had happened there, most of the details had gotten lost, overshadowed by his encounters with Maul and the Seventh Sister and his desperation to save that boy.

“I -- we were in the capital city,” he said, trying not to shudder at the memory of the abandoned building he’d ducked into, where the Inquisitor had found him hiding, pinned him against the wall, her hand around his throat…

Ezra quickly bit down on the inside of his cheek to drag himself out of the memory, forcing himself to pay attention to what Mira was now saying.

“…where you’re from.  You were born in that city.”

“I don’t remember anything,” Ezra said quietly.  “Not from before.”

“We’re so sorry, Ezra,” Ephraim said, and it was all Ezra could do not to flinch, both at the truly desperate, heartbroken sound his voice, and at the small voice in the back of his own mind that relentlessly reminded him that this near-stranger apologizing to him was his father.

“It’s -- it wasn’t your --” Ezra cut off his own words as he clenched his jaw, every muscle in his body going tight as he tried to stop himself from shaking.

“What happened?” he asked, the question coming out before he even realized he was going to ask it.

Mira and Ephraim glanced at each other, as if silently deciding who should be the one to tell him.  Mira was the one who finally spoke up.

“When you were three years old, you just disappeared,” she said.  “I woke up in the middle of the night and I just…felt like I had to check on you.  And you were gone.”

“We looked for you all night,” Ephraim said.  “But it was like you just vanished.  We thought maybe the Empire -- you wouldn’t remember, but we used to do transmissions, pirating the Empire’s communications signals, telling people the truth about what the Empire was doing on Lothal, trying to give people hope and get them to fight back and defend our planet.  For a while, we wondered if they’d figured out who we were and taken you in retaliation, or as a warning, to get us to stop.”

“But you didn’t stop,” Ezra said, not sure how he knew.  Ephraim shook his head.

“That’s why we were arrested,” he said.  “We thought…we thought that if they’d taken you as a hostage, they would have wanted us to know they had you, but there was nothing.”

“We kept looking,” Mira said.  “We tried so hard to find you.  We should have tried harder.”

Ezra shook his head.

“There was nothing you could have done,” he said, his voice bitter.  “My master made sure no one was ever going to find me.”

“Your master,” Ephraim repeated, his voice cold.  “You were a slave?”

“No,” Ezra said quickly, his heart skipping a beat as he realized that he’d just opened up about his past without even meaning to.  “It wasn’t like that.  I was -- I was his apprentice.”

“And what does that mean, exactly?” Mira asked.  “What happened to you?”

Ezra couldn’t stop himself from flinching when he heard the question.  He’d known this would probably come up again.  He’d known and he’d done everything he could to avoid thinking about how he would answer.  Something tightened in his chest and he found himself wishing Kanan were there, so he could tell them.  It would be so much easier to just hear it all from Kanan’s perspective than to actually have to say it himself.

“I -- it’s…”

Ezra drew in a long, shaking breath, clenching his hands into fists on his lap to stop them from trembling.

“I -- I’m Force sensitive,” he said.  “My master took me from you so he could teach me.”

“A Jedi took you from --”

“No,” Ezra said, shaking his head as he cut Mira off.  “He was -- he used to be a Sith.  But Kanan is a Jedi, and he rescued me.  He’s teaching me now, and he’s -- he’s helping me.”

“Ezra…”

Ezra flinched again as Ephraim’s voice trailed off.  He deliberately pulled back, not wanting to sense their feelings, not wanting to know what they thought or felt about him now that they knew.

“I’m sorry,” he said, his voice breaking.

“No,” Mira said, sliding her hand across the table toward him, but pulling back as she thought better of it.  “It wasn’t your fault.”

“You don’t understand,” Ezra said.  “I’ve done -- I’ve hurt people.  I’m --”

His voice broke off again as he looked down at his hands.  He didn’t know how to explain to them that he wasn’t their son anymore.  He wasn’t the innocent three-year-old child they’d lost.  He was a monster, a killer, the apprentice of a former Sith.  He wasn’t the person they’d looked for and wanted to get back.

“You’re our son, Ezra,” Mira said, “no matter what happened to you.”

Ezra couldn’t respond.  He felt like something was closing around his throat, like all the times Maul had grabbed hold of him with that strangling grip in the Force.

“Kanan told us that you were abused,” Ephraim said.  “Was that by the person who took you?”

Ezra nodded.

“Maul,” he said.  “That’s his name.  He was -- he hurt me.  A lot.”

There was nothing else he could say about it.  He couldn’t tell them anything else, couldn’t drag himself through the details, and not just because so much of it blurred together to the point that his earliest memories were just a haze of fear and pain.  Sometimes it was so much easier to think of it as abuse and cruelty when he distanced himself from it, when he didn’t allow himself to think about any one incident too closely and come up with excuses for Maul’s actions.

“And Kanan,” Ephraim said.  “Is he good to you?”

“Yes,” Ezra said quickly.  “He helped me get away from Maul.  He’s never hurt me, and he’s only ever looked out for me ever since we met.  I -- I owe him everything.”

A painful silence fell between the three of them.  Ezra could feel their minds at work, desperately reaching for something they could say to ease the tension that had settled over the room as Ezra had talked about Maul and Kanan; something they could say to make him feel better.  He was reaching, too, trying to think of anything he could ask them that wouldn’t lead them down another painful road.

“Y--you’ll be fourteen soon,” Mira said, tripping over her words slightly as she began to speak again.  “On, of all days, Empire Day.”

Ezra couldn’t help but let out a small laugh.  He’d been raised to destroy the Empire, tear it down by whatever means necessary, and he’d been born on the exact day it was formed.

At the edge of his vision, he could have sworn he caught a glimpse of both of his parents smiling just a little.  Smiling at hearing him laugh, or at the fact that they’d managed to keep him in the room this long.

“The rest of the crew will love hearing that,” he said.

“Tell us about them,” Mira said, her smile seeming to grow stronger.  “What are they like?”

Ezra nodded.  This, at least, was something he could do.


 

When Ezra returned to the Ghost, he wasn’t as exhausted as he had expected he would be.  He’d thought that seeing the Bridgers again would drain him and leave him with the same hollow, scraped-out feeling he’d had the last time he saw them.  He was by no means bursting with energy, but at least this time he didn’t feel like he’d been chewed up and spit out.

He had almost reached his and Zeb’s cabin when Kanan’s door opened, as if his master had been waiting for him to get back.

“There’s something we need to talk about,” Kanan said, stepping aside to indicate that Ezra should come in.

Ezra’s hands fluttered nervously as he entered Kanan’s room.  Kanan almost seemed distracted as he gestured to the lower bunk.

“You should probably sit down,” he said.

“Is something wrong?” Ezra asked as he did so, perching on the very edge of the bunk.

“Nothing’s wrong,” Kanan said, sitting down beside him.  “But I promised your parents I would talk to you about this.”

“About what?” Ezra asked when Kanan was silent for a few seconds too long.

“They have to leave again soon,” Kanan said.  “And they want you to go with them.  They asked me to talk to you about it and I told them I would.  But you have to be the one who makes the choice.  You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.”

Ezra stared down at the floor in front of him as he tried to wrap his head around what Kanan had just said.  The Bridgers wanted him to leave the Ghost and go with them.  As the thought solidified in Ezra’s head, something seemed to freeze over in his chest and all he could think was no.  But what if that was the right thing for him to do?  Kanan had been taking care of him, but the Bridgers were technically his parents.  Didn’t that mean he belonged to them?  No, with them.  That’s the word Kanan would use.

“What do you want me to do?” Ezra asked.

“I want you to be happy,” Kanan said.  “That’s all.  I want you to choose the life you want to have.”

“No, I mean what do you want?” Ezra repeated, hoping Kanan would understand what he was trying to ask.

“Ezra, I love you,” Kanan said.  “I -- I think of you as my son.  Of course I want you to stay here with us, but this has to be your choice.  I won't force you to do something you don’t want to do, and I won't let anyone else force you, either.”

Ezra was silent for a moment, trying to wrap his mind around what Kanan had just said.  Around that word Kanan had just said.

“Y--your son?” he asked, his voice shaking.

“I’m sorry,” Kanan said.  “I probably shouldn’t have said that now, not when you’re already going through this with your parents, but it’s true.  You’re part of my family, Ezra.”

Family.  That word hit Ezra like a punch to the gut even as it felt warm and safe, like a blanket wrapped around him or Kanan’s hand on his shoulder.  Kanan thought of him as a real part of the family.  Kanan wanted him here, and not just to keep him away from Maul.

“I don’t want to leave,” Ezra said, his voice barely above a whisper.

“Then don’t,” Kanan said.  “It’s your choice.  Just yours.  If you want to stay here with the crew, then that’s what you’re going to do.”

Before he even realized what he was doing, Ezra had leaned across the space between them and wrapped his arms around Kanan’s shoulders, hugging him tightly.  Kanan returned his embrace, pulling Ezra close to him.

“I don’t want you to make this choice because of what I want,” he said, “but I’m glad you’re staying.”

“It’s not because of that,” Ezra said as he released his grip on Kanan and pulled away.  “It’s…I don’t want to leave the Ghost and…and all of you.  I like it here with you, and the others.”

He looked away from Kanan again, hoping his master wouldn’t realize that there was more to it than that, or if he did, that he wouldn’t ask about it.  Ezra wasn’t ready to tell Kanan the larger reason he didn’t want to go with the Bridgers.  He was barely ready to think about it himself.

“Hey,” Kanan said, resting his hand on Ezra’s shoulder.  “You know you can talk to me about anything, right?”

Ezra flinched at the realization that Kanan had noticed.

“I know,” Ezra said.  “I just -- I can't.  Not now.  I’m not ready.”

“That’s fine,” Kanan said.  “But when you are -- if you are, I’m here.”

Ezra felt a smile twitch across his face.

“I know,” he said.  “Thanks.  For -- for everything.”


 

When Ezra wandered back to his room, he found Zeb and Sabine sitting on Zeb’s bunk, each of them with a handful of cards, even more spread out on the bunk between them, apparently playing a game.  Ezra guessed the game was more a way to kill time as they waited, because as soon as he entered, they each set their cards aside.

“How’re you holding up?” Zeb asked.

“I’m okay,” Ezra said with a small shrug.  But as he thought back to the conversations he’d had with the Bridgers and with Kanan, his shoulders drooped and his face fell.

“I made my parents cry,” he said bitterly, stumbling over the word parents.

“You’re their son and they haven’t seen you in ten years,” Zeb said.  “They probably thought you were dead.  They’d have cried no matter what you did.”

“They did,” Ezra said, carefully perching on the edge of Zeb’s bunk.  “They thought I was dead.  They told me.”

“Do you want to talk about it?” Sabine asked.

“There’s not much to tell,” Ezra said with another shrug.  “They woke up and I was gone.  They looked and they never found me.  I -- I guess Maul t--took me in the middle of the night, and that means…”

Ezra leaned back against the wall, pulling his knees up to his chest, part of him wishing he could just shrink out of existence.

“That means what?” Sabine asked.

“It means he probably planned it,” Ezra said.  “He waited for the right moment to take me, when no one would be able to stop him.”

Ezra jumped in surprise when he felt Zeb’s hand on his shoulder.

“I trusted him,” Ezra said.  “My whole life, I trusted him, and he took me from the people who were supposed to be my family and he never even told me.”

“If he’d told you, would that really make it any better?” Zeb asked.

Ezra just shrugged again, though part of him thought that maybe it would have made things easier if he’d always known that he’d been taken away from his biological parents.  At least then he wouldn’t have to be facing the fact that Maul had lied to him and wondering what else Maul had lied about.

“I thought he loved me,” Ezra said, staring down at his knees so he didn’t have to look at either of his friends.  “Or I guess that’s what I thought.  I didn’t -- I still don’t really understand what that means, but I thought he did.  And now I don’t even know how much of it was a lie.”

Ezra felt that deep, aching pang in his chest that he recognized as sympathy and sighed heavily, resting his forehead on his knees.  He was starting to get tired of other people feeling that way toward him.  It was just another reminder of every painful thing he’d learned since Kanan had brought him back to the Ghost; that he’d been abused; that Maul, who he’d always looked up to and thought of as wise and powerful and caring, had really been cruel; that he wasn’t even the person he thought he was.  All of those things were bad enough on their own, but knowing they made other people feel sorry for him just hurt that much more.

“My mother said --” Sabine cut herself off with a sigh.  Ezra could sense her hesitation, like she wasn’t sure if she should be saying this.  “She told me it seemed like he cared about his brother, at least a little.”

Ezra looked up at her, surprised by her words.

“What?”

“She knew him,” Sabine said.  “My family doesn’t like to talk about it much anymore, but she -- did he ever tell you about Death Watch and Mandalore?”

“A little,” Ezra said.

“My mother was part of that,” Sabine said.

“Do you think he really --” Ezra sighed, running a hand through his hair in frustration.  What did it matter if Sabine thought Maul had really cared about him?  And how would she know, anyway?  She hadn't known him, and she hadn't been there during the years Ezra had been raised by him.  Even if Maul had genuinely cared about his brother, what if the care he'd shown Ezra was all an act?  Worse, what if it wasn't an act?  What if he had cared and had still hurt Ezra anyway?

“Kid,” Zeb said, “even if he cared about you, that doesn’t make anything he did to you okay.  You know that, right?”

Ezra shrugged.  On some level, he knew that, or at least he knew that was what the others would say, but that didn’t make it any easier to think about it or believe it.

“It’s just a lot to think about,” Ezra said.  “I never thought about any of this before.  I never thought about how I ended up with Maul or where I came from.  And now…”

He pulled his knees tighter against his chest, once again wishing he’d never wanted to know in the first place.  He wished he could have just left well enough alone.

Ezra was jolted out of his thoughts as an arm slid around his shoulders and he was pulled against Zeb’s side.  Sabine stood up and crossed to the other side of the bunk, sitting down next to Ezra and putting her arms around him so he was gently crushed between the two of them.  His heart skipped a beat as he realized he actually liked the feeling.

“What’s this for?” he asked, even as he made no move to pull away.

“Just because,” Sabine said at the same time that Zeb said “Because you need it.”

Ezra felt a hot rush of embarrassment at Zeb’s words.  He didn’t need this.  He’d never needed it before.  But he chose not to argue and just let himself stay where he was, nestled in between his two friends, taking comfort in the warmth and safety they were giving him.

Chapter Text

Ezra was already waiting in the hangar when the Bridgers arrived, and once again, he was alone.  He’d wanted to be the one to tell them, and he didn’t want them to see Kanan standing beside him and think that Kanan had influenced his choice.

When Ezra saw them approaching, he felt a sharp tug in his chest.  They already knew.  He didn’t know how he knew it, but he did.  They knew that he’d decided to stay behind when they left.

As the Bridgers closed the gap between them and stopped in front of Ezra, he pressed his hands against his sides in an effort to keep them from shaking.  He tried to look at them, but the moment he did, he flinched and looked away, his gaze falling to the floor.  He struggled to think of exactly the right words to say.  Everything he’d already thought of suddenly didn’t feel right.

The painful silence stretched out for what felt like hours, but was probably just seconds before Ephraim spoke.

“You’re not coming with us, are you?”

He didn’t sound angry.  He didn’t even sound sad, though Ezra could sense that he was, the feeling hitting him like a punch to the gut.

“I’m sorry, F--Father,” Ezra said, the word catching in his throat.  It felt so strange to say.  It was the first time he remembered calling anyone that.  Even Maul had always been “Master,” not…that.  But if he wasn’t going with them, at the very least, acting like he acknowledged them as his parents might make it easier on them.

“Can I ask why?” Ephraim asked.

“It’s -- it’s the crew,” Ezra said.  “I can't leave them right now, just like you can’t leave the cell you’re working with.”

He’d decided ahead of time that that would be his explanation.  He couldn’t tell them the real reason he didn’t want to go with them.  It would be less painful for everyone if he just let the Bridgers think he was staying behind out of a sense of responsibility towards the other members of his crew.

Guilt twisted in Ezra’s gut as he saw the Bridgers reach for each other, each of them gripping the other’s hand tightly, like they were holding each other up.  Some small optimistic part of him had hoped this could be a clean break, that they would understand the reason he gave them, accept it, and move on, but he should have known better.  He could sense their pain, and beneath it, the anger that he quickly shrank away from, putting all his willpower into not flinching or shaking as he sensed it.  They were hurting and angry over losing him again -- over what they saw as him being taken from them again, and they were working so hard to hide it, terrified of scaring him away.

“Kanan didn’t have anything to do with this,” Ezra said, his voice shaking a little.  “It was my choice.”

“Are you sure this is what you want?” Mira asked.  Her voice was steady, but Ezra could feel the pain behind the words, so strong that she may as well have been begging him to change his mind.

“It is,” Ezra said.  “I--I’m sorry.  I know it’s not what you wanted, but --”

“A--as long as you’re happy,” Ephraim said, his voice beginning to shake a little, too, “that’s what matters.”

“Just stay safe,” Mira said.

“I will,” Ezra said.  It was a promise he didn’t know if he’d be able to keep, but if it made her feel better to hear it, it was the least he could do.

“Ezra,” she said, reaching out and putting a hand on his arm.  Ezra froze up as he realized it was the first time she’d touched him, or the first time he could remember, at least.  “Is it okay if we hug you?”

Ezra hesitated for a second, then nodded.  It had been ten years since they’d last seen each other, and for all any of them knew, they would never see each other again.  He’d just told them he wasn’t going with them, choosing another family over them.  He could let them have this.

He tensed up for a moment as Mira put her arms around him, pulling him against her chest.  Slowly, he managed to move his arms and return her embrace just before Ephraim wrapped his arms around both of them.  Ezra’s stomach tied itself in knots as he stood there, letting them hold him for the first time in a decade.  Part of him had wondered if maybe something about it would feel familiar, but it didn’t.  Not even the faintest memories of being held like this as a child rose to the surface of his mind.  He might know who they were now, but they were still just two strangers.

“We love you so much,” Ephraim said.  “Don’t forget that.”

“I won't,” Ezra said.

“We’re coming back,” Mira said as they released him.  “As soon as we can.  This won't be forever.”

Ezra nodded.  Maybe one day, he’d even want that.

“I -- I should go,” he said.  “Just -- I’m sorry.”

Without waiting for their response, he turned and began to walk away, his eyes fixed on the Ghost across the hangar.  He tried to keep his pace slow, tried not to run.  By the time he reached the ship, his steps were clumsy and staggering as he made his way up the ramp.

Ezra counted himself lucky that he didn’t run into any of the other members of the crew as he ran to his room.  As he shut the door behind him, putting a solid barrier between himself and everyone else, he felt the burning cold of pure anger spreading through his chest.  He hated every feeling he had right now and how much confusion they caused him.  He hated himself for ever digging into the past in the first place, Sabine for being the one to figure it out in the first place, Kanan for ever bringing him onto the Ghost, and Maul.  For the first time in his life, Ezra hated Maul.  He hated his former master for taking him from his parents in the first place, starting him down the path that had led him to all this pain.

As the thought formed in his head, Ezra’s rage collapsed, swallowed up by sorrow.  He might be biologically related to the Bridgers, but he’d never known a life where they were really his parents.  That was the whole problem.  That was why he hadn't gone with them.  He shared their blood, and nothing else.  No memories, no history, nothing.  For so long, Maul had been the closest thing he’d had to family.  Then Kanan had brought him here and had come to think of Ezra as part of his family, too.  Maul might have been the closest thing Ezra had had to a father for ten years of his life, but Kanan was the closest he’d had to a good father, and Hera was the only mother he’d ever known.  And now there were two other people out there who thought he was theirs, and he never really could be, even though he should have been.

It wasn’t fair.  Not to the Bridgers, not to him, not to Kanan and Hera.

Ezra felt that burning sensation behind his eyes that he’d felt so much more often since he’d first come to the Ghost.  For once, he didn’t try to shove it down and will it away.  Tears began welling up in his eyes, and this time, Ezra let them, his breath catching in his throat as they streamed down his cheeks.

For the first time since before he could even remember, Ezra cried.


 

It had been hours, and the tears were still falling.  Ezra had climbed up onto his bunk and curled up on his side, not bothering to try and stop himself from crying, and not really knowing how to, anyway.  He couldn’t remember the last time he’d cried.  He just remembered being terrified to let himself start, knowing it would only get him hurt.

He gasped as the door opened and Kanan entered the room.  He sat up abruptly, brushing the tears from his eyes, hoping that Kanan hadn't noticed them, but realizing that it was pointless as more tears welled up to take their place.

“I just wanted to check on you,” Kanan said.  Ezra couldn’t stop himself from flinching and shuddering at the pity in his master’s voice.

“I--I’m okay,” Ezra said, the words catching in his throat as his voice shook and broke.  It was a lie, and he didn’t need the Force to sense that Kanan didn’t believe him.

Giving up on the act, Ezra reached out across his bond with Kanan, clinging tightly to it, letting his pain and anger and grief flow freely across it, letting himself ask Kanan for comfort and strength.

Before Ezra knew it, Kanan had climbed up the ladder and was sitting on the edge of the bunk, holding Ezra tightly.  Ezra rested his forehead against Kanan’s shoulder as Kanan ran a hand gently through Ezra’s hair, trying to soothe him as he kept crying.

“Ezra,” Kanan said, “you can change your mind if you want to.  We won't make you stay here if you want to be with your parents.”

“They’re not my parents,” Ezra said quietly.

“Ezra --”

“I know what the DNA test says,” Ezra said.  “I know I’m related to them, but th--they’re not my family.  I don’t know them.”

“That’s because Maul took you from them,” Kanan said.

“I know,” Ezra said.  “But that doesn’t make it any less true.  They aren’t my parents.  They never were.”

Kanan’s arms tightened around Ezra, and Ezra began sobbing even harder than before.

“I’m sorry, Ezra,” Kanan said.  “I’m sorry this is hurting you so much.”

“It -- it shouldn’t be,” Ezra said, each word coming out as a sharp gasp as he sobbed into Kanan’s shoulder.  “I shouldn’t care this much.”

“There’s no wrong way to feel about this,” Kanan said.  “I know it’s confusing, but whatever you feel is okay.  Please try to remember that.”

“I’m trying,” Ezra said.  “I’m trying, I just -- I wish I’d never found out.”

“I’m so sorry, Ezra,” Kanan said.  “None of this should be happening.”

Ezra wrapped his arms around Kanan’s chest, clinging to him like Kanan was the only thing in the galaxy left to hold onto.  As they sat there, they didn’t need to speak, simply letting their feelings flow across their bond as Ezra cried into Kanan’s shoulder and Kanan held him close.

Chapter Text

For days, Ezra barely spoke.  The others worked around it, taking it in stride when Ezra was only able to communicate with a nod or a shake of his head.  Ezra pretended not to notice when Hera quietly arranged to only be sent on missions that could be managed with part of the crew.  He wanted to argue and say that he was fine, that he could still help, but he couldn’t find the words to say any of it.

He didn’t regret his choice.  Staying with the crew of the Ghost was the right decision.  The Ghost was the safest home he’d ever known, and the crew was his first experience of a real, loving family.  No, he didn’t regret choosing to stay with them for a moment.  But everything that had happened over the past few days -- meeting his parents, confronting what Maul had really done to him, facing the fact that he’d never had a real family in the first place -- had left him feeling drained.  He spent most of his time holed up in his room.  Kanan didn’t even make him leave it for training, giving him space and just telling him to try to meditate if he could.

Ezra sat on his bunk, his eyes closed, trying to clear away the heavy weight that had settled over his mind, though it didn’t seem to be working.  His head was empty of thoughts, just like it should be, but he could barely sense the Force around him, and he felt like that heaviness was only getting worse with each passing moment.

He reached out, trying to feel the Force surrounding him, take comfort in its presence, pull it around himself like a warm blanket around his shoulders.  But something about it didn’t feel right.  The Force felt so much colder than it ever had since he’d begun training with Kanan.  For a moment, Ezra wondered if it was his own fault, if his anger at Maul and Kanan and himself was making it impossible for him to connect to the Force the way Kanan had taught him to.

No, he realized, it was something else.  Something familiar; a presence that loomed over him, somehow both protective and threatening at the same time.  It reached out to him, and Ezra felt what he could only describe as the mental equivalent of the feeling of a hand on his shoulder.

“No,” he growled, his hands tightening into fists.  Maul was the last person he wanted comfort from right now.

The feeling grew stronger, more insistent, pushing against his mental shields.  Ezra shuddered as he sensed Maul calling out to him across the bond he was trying so hard to block.

Ezra.

“Stay away!” Ezra snapped, slamming his hands against his forehead as if he could physically drive Maul’s presence out of his mind.  Maul only pushed harder, as if telling Ezra he wouldn’t let go.

Ezra jumped down from his bunk, stumbling as his feet hit the floor and gasping as pain shot through his right leg, emanating from the scar the Inquisitor had left there.  He ran from the room and before he even realized what he was doing, he found himself knocking on Kanan’s door.

There was no answer.

Ezra reached out through the Force, silently pleading for Kanan’s help, only to realize Kanan wasn’t in his cabin.

Ezra turned around and glanced up and down the hallway, trying to think of where he could go looking for Kanan.  But he couldn’t get his mind to cooperate enough to even think of something as simple as another location on the ship.

He heard footsteps approaching and jumped as he saw Kanan appear at the end of the corridor.

“Ezra?” Kanan said, like he was surprised to see him there.

“K--Kanan,” Ezra said, his voice shaking.  “He’s coming.”

His breath came in short, sharp gasps as he realized what he’d sensed.  Maul wasn’t just reaching out to him.  Maul was trying to track him down.  He’d sensed Ezra was vulnerable and used that to his advantage.

Ezra felt Kanan’s hands on his shoulders, his grip firm but not threatening, like he was trying to hold Ezra inside of himself.  Ezra clung to his master’s presence in the Force, holding onto Kanan’s steadiness and warmth, trying to calm his own mind to match it.

“It’s okay,” Kanan said.  “Breathe.  Just breathe and tell me what happened.”

Ezra took a few long, shaking breaths as he tried to steady himself.  When he finally felt like he could get a coherent sentence out, he spoke, though his own words sounded like they were coming from the other end of a long, dark tunnel.

“Maul is -- he was trying to reach me again,” Ezra said.  “But something felt different.  I think -- what if he’s figured out where we are?”

“He won't get to you here, Ezra,” Kanan said, his hands tightening around Ezra’s shoulders, trying to reassure him.  “The base is too well-protected.  We move around so much so no one will find us.”

“But what if he does?” Ezra asked, his voice breaking.

“If he does, I’ll protect you,” Kanan said.  “We all will.”

“He--he’ll hurt you,” Ezra said, stumbling over the words as he felt tears welling up in his eyes.  He didn’t want to leave.  He wanted to stay here with the crew, with Kanan, but he knew what Maul would do if they tried to keep Ezra from him.  If Kanan was lucky, Maul would just kill him quickly.  If not, Maul would make sure to draw it out, to make Kanan suffer.

He couldn’t subject his -- friends? family? -- crew to that.  They’d taken him in and protected him and helped him realize what Maul really was, but they shouldn’t have to lay down their lives to keep him safe.

“I don’t care what he does to me,” Kanan said.  “You’re my padawan, my family, and that makes you my responsibility.  I’ll keep you safe.”

Ezra leaned forward and threw his arms around Kanan, holding on tightly.  He wanted to believe that.  He wanted to believe Kanan could protect him, but he knew exactly what Maul was capable of.  He’d seen what Maul did to anything he perceived as a threat to his apprentice.  The only reason the Seventh Sister was even still alive was because Ezra had been so badly injured that he’d taken priority.  Kanan wouldn’t get away so easily.

Ezra felt his whole body shake as the tears he’d been trying to hold back began to slip from his eyes.  He felt like something -- maybe the galaxy, maybe the Force itself -- was trying to crush him, and Kanan’s arms around him were the only thing keeping it from succeeding.

“It’s okay,” Kanan said, sending those now-familiar feelings of comfort and safety across their bond.  “I promise, it’ll be okay.”

Ezra nodded.  He wasn’t sure he really believed that -- wasn’t sure if he could believe that, but he wanted to, so badly.  More than that, he wanted none of this to be happening in the first place.  Kanan had been willing to let Ezra leave with the Bridgers, even after admitting that he saw Ezra as his son.  Why couldn’t Maul be the same?

“Why won't he just let me go?” Ezra asked, his voice breaking.  Some small part of him still insisted that Maul only wanted to protect him; that Maul wanted what was best for him.  He wished it was still that simple, that he could just put his faith in Maul and go home and trust that his master cared about him.  But he couldn’t do that anymore, not after everything he’d learned since he’d come to the Ghost.

“Because he --” Kanan’s voice cut off, as if he was stopping himself from saying something.  Something he might regret, or that he thought would upset Ezra more.

“I don’t know, Ezra,” he said with a sigh.  “I wish I could give you an answer.”

But somehow, Ezra knew what Kanan had come so close to saying, and he knew it was true.  Maybe it wasn’t the only reason Maul wanted him back, but it was one of them, and Ezra wondered if, deep down, maybe he’d always known it.  Maul saw Ezra as his, a possession that the bounty hunter and the Inquisitors and now Kanan had tried to take away.  And he wasn’t going to stop until he took back what belonged to him.

Chapter Text

Ezra’s shoulders slumped a little at the sound of Kanan’s lightsaber switching off.  Sparring at least had given him something else to focus on.  Phoenix Nest had gone through two full sleep-wake cycles since the day Ezra had sensed Maul’s presence, and every moment that passed where Ezra wasn’t focusing on something else, his thoughts would turn back to Maul.  It was as if his former master was lurking in the shadows around him, watching him.  Ezra knew he couldn’t be; Ezra would sense him if he was, but he couldn’t stand the feeling and did everything he could to distract himself from it.

“It’s getting late,” Kanan said.  “We should both get some rest.”

Ezra shifted nervously where he stood, the idea of sleeping filling him with dread.  His nightmares had only gotten worse since Maul had reached out to him.  As soon as he fell asleep, he’d be met with visions of Kanan and Hera being tortured, pleading for quick deaths that Maul refused to give them.  He would wake up with tears in his eyes and lie there, staring at the ceiling above his bunk, trying to tell himself it wasn’t real, even as the knowledge that it could easily become real lurked in the back of his mind, taunting him.

“Can I -- can I stay up?” Ezra asked.  “Just -- I want to practice a little on my own.  I haven’t been doing enough lately.”

Kanan’s mouth pressed into a tight line, and Ezra could sense his master’s concern for him, obvious enough that he doubted he needed the Force to sense it.

“Alright,” Kanan said.  “Just don’t overdo it, okay?”

“I won't,” Ezra said.

Once Kanan had scaled the ladder out of the cargo bay, Ezra took a deep breath, steadying himself before he activated his lightsaber again and threw himself into a kata.


 

As Maul piloted the stolen shuttle toward the carrier that loomed ahead of him, he reached out through the Force, carefully masking his own presence.  His apprentice was there, on the carrier.  Maul could sense him.  He could also sense that Ezra was afraid.  It was a piercing terror he’d only sensed from the boy a few times before, most recently while rescuing him from the Inquisitor.  But he wasn’t in pain; that much Maul could tell.  When they’d spoken, Ezra had said he was safe, though Maul didn’t believe that for a moment.

As Maul flew closer to the carrier, he transmitted the codes he’d found in the memory of an astromech.  The rebels who’d stolen this shuttle from the Empire in the first place really should have been more careful with their data.

Within moments, Maul had been given clearance to land and maneuvered the ship into the hangar.

It was time to reclaim his apprentice.  It was time to bring his boy home.


 

In the back of his mind, Ezra was vaguely aware of what sounded like footsteps approaching the Ghost.  He lowered his lightsaber, switching the weapon off and making his way toward the lowered ramp, peering curiously through the hatch.  He saw nothing, but couldn’t shake the feeling that someone was nearby.  As he crept down the ramp, his eyes scanning the shadows around him, Ezra felt it, as if a blindfold had been pulled away and he could suddenly see.  It was that same familiar, dark, protective presence, and Ezra could only stand there, frozen, as it surrounded him.

As Maul emerged from the shadows, Ezra reacted on instinct, reaching across his bond with Kanan, calling to him.

“M--Master?” Ezra gasped, his heart hammering as Maul drew closer.  He was really here.  This wasn’t a dream or a vision; it was real.

“Ezra,” Maul said, “come with me.  Now, before it’s too late.”

“No,” Ezra said.  “I -- I can't.”

Please don’t make me.

Ezra heard footsteps pounding against metal as Kanan ran through the Ghost, responding to Ezra’s mental cry.  He felt himself being yanked forward and stumbled as the Force pulled him closer to Maul.

“I’m taking you home, Ezra,” Maul said, his hand closing tightly around Ezra’s wrist.

“No,” Ezra gasped.  “Please --”

Before he could say another word, Kanan emerged from the ship.  The moment his eyes landed on Maul, he drew his lightsaber and ignited the blade.

“Let him go,” Kanan said, his voice colder than Ezra had ever heard it before.

“A Jedi,” Maul growled as he released Ezra, his eyes fixed on the glowing blue blade.  “I should have known it would have been one of you who’d taken him.”

Ezra could only stare, unable to get himself to move, as Maul settled his own weapon into his hand, activating the blades and leaping at Kanan.

Maul landed on the ramp above Kanan, his two red blades spinning through the air as he slashed at Kanan’s neck.  Kanan raised his own weapon to deflect the blow, bracing his blade against Maul’s.  Maul took advantage of Kanan’s focus on his weapon and kicked him hard in the side.  Ezra gasped as Kanan lost his balance and fell, landing on the floor of the hangar, his lightsaber falling from his hand and sliding just out of reach.

In a fraction of a second, Maul was standing over Kanan, his weapon raised.

“No!” Ezra cried, reaching out just a second too late.

Kanan’s cry of pain rang in Ezra’s ears as Maul’s lightsaber slashed across his back.  Ezra’s body finally responded to his mind's commands and he ran forward, dropping to his knees beside Kanan, leaning over him to shield him from another attack.  He was still breathing, but he appeared to be unconscious, passed out from pain or from striking his head on the ramp as he fell.

“Kanan,” Ezra said, gently shaking his shoulder, trying to wake him up.  “Kanan, can you --”

His words were cut off by a gasp of pain as Maul grabbed his arm.  Ezra wrenched out of Maul’s grasp, shrinking closer to Kanan, keeping one hand on the Jedi’s shoulder.

“Look at me, Ezra,” Maul said, his voice harsh.

Even as his anger at Maul burned in his chest like hot coals, Ezra obeyed, slowly raising his eyes to meet Maul’s, only to flinch and quickly look away.

“I don’t want to hurt you,” Maul said, that harshness now gone from his voice.  “You know that, don’t you?”

Ezra nodded.

“And don’t you want to come home?”

Ezra just nodded again.  In spite of everything, somehow he still wanted that, desperately.

“Then are you going to come with me,” Maul said, “or do I have to restrain you and take you back by force?”

“No,” Ezra said, his voice quiet as he tightened his grip on Kanan’s shoulder, as if holding onto his master could actually save him from what was about to happen.

Maul’s hand darted out, grabbing Ezra’s arm again and pulling him to his feet.

“Help!” Ezra shouted, struggling against Maul’s grip as he was pulled away from Kanan.

Maul’s arm wrapped around him, dragging him back and pinning his arms at his sides as he was held against Maul’s chest.  As Ezra struggled, Maul’s grip only grew tighter until Ezra could barely breathe.

“Let g--”

His words were cut off as Maul’s hand covered his mouth.  Ezra bit down on his hand but the only effect it had was Maul digging his nails into Ezra’s face as he held on tighter.

“No!” Ezra screamed, the word barely audible, even to himself, through Maul’s tight grip.

“Quiet,” Maul hissed.

His arm drew even tighter across Ezra’s chest and Ezra gasped in pain.  He felt something shifting in his mind as Maul easily pushed past his mental shields.  His presence flowed into Ezra’s mind, wrapping around him and pressing in on him like it was trying to smother him.

“No!” Ezra cried again.

His struggles grew weak as his limbs began to feel heavier and heavier.  His vision blurred, the edges of it going completely dark, before everything faded.

Chapter Text

Ezra struggled to lift his heavy, aching eyelids, reaching through the fog that flooded his mind.  His heart was pounding, and he didn’t know why.  He just had the vague sense that something had happened.

Kanan.

Everything came flooding back to Ezra the moment he thought his master’s name.  Maul appearing on Phoenix Nest, Kanan trying to fend him off, Kanan being injured.

Ezra tried to jump to his feet, intent on getting as far away from wherever he was as possible, only to find that he couldn’t move.  He frantically looked around, trying to piece together what had happened, and quickly realized that he was on the Nightbrother, restrained in a seat on the ship.

His wrists were bound to something behind him, and as he looked down, he saw that there were cuffs around his ankles connected by a short chain that would only just allow him to walk if he could even stand up.  There was something heavy around his neck.  He couldn’t see it or use his hands to feel it, but he was certain it was a shock collar.  Something in Ezra’s gut went cold at the memories of the other times, as rare as they were, that Maul had used one on him.

Ezra yanked at the restraints around his wrists, but they wouldn’t budge.  As he twisted his wrist, trying to find a way out, the distinctive sound of Maul’s footsteps met his ears.

“Ezra,” Maul said as he approached, “settle down.”

Maul placed a hand on Ezra’s shoulder as if trying to calm him.  Ezra tried to pull away, but he could barely move from where he was bound.  He let out a growl of frustration and pulled at the cuffs around his wrists again, but just like before, all he managed to do was make his wrists ache more than they already did.

“Let me go,” Ezra said.

“You know I can't do that,” Maul said, his hand tightening around Ezra’s shoulder.  “Until I can undo the damage the Jedi did, those restraints stay on.”

“He didn’t do anything,” Ezra said, his heart going cold at the thought of what Maul might do to reverse whatever “damage” he thought Kanan had caused.

“I know you think that,” Maul said.  “But you can't see it for yourself.”

What if he’s right?

That small voice at the back of Ezra’s mind spoke up insistently, urging him to just follow his gut instinct and listen to his master.  Maul knew more about the Jedi than Ezra ever had.  What if he knew something Ezra didn’t?  What if he saw signs Ezra couldn’t notice?

No.  He couldn’t let himself believe that.  He couldn’t let himself be taken in by Maul’s lies again.  He hadn't known any better before, but he did now.  He wasn’t going to listen to a word Maul said.

But what if -- no.

Ezra clung tightly to his anger -- not at Maul, but at himself for even considering for a moment that Maul could be right -- and shoved through the Force, pushing Maul away from him.  He flinched as he felt Maul’s anger, so cold that it burned, flashing through the air.  As Maul regained his balance, he held up his hand, the trigger for the shock collar clutched in it, showing it to Ezra as a clear warning.

Ezra froze, his eyes going wide as he stared at the trigger.

“Do I need to use this already?” Maul asked, his voice cold.

“N--no,” Ezra said.

“No, what?”

“No, Master,” Ezra said, his voice breaking as he watched Maul’s hand for any sign of movement.

Please don’t do it.  Please.  I’ll be good.  The thoughts swam to the surface of his mind, but Ezra refused to say them out loud.  He wouldn’t beg for mercy.  It wouldn’t save him, anyway.

Maul lowered his hand, and Ezra let out the breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding as he realized that Maul had sensed his silent plea.  He felt the soft pulse of reassurance flow across his bond with Maul.  It was a feeling that had comforted him so often as a child, a silent assurance that his punishment was over, he was forgiven, and his master still cared about him, even when he was weak or disobedient or difficult to handle.  Now, he shuddered as the feeling brushed against his mind.  How had he not seen before just how manipulative it was?

“Th--thank you, Master,” Ezra said, averting his eyes in a false sign of respect.  Let Maul think he’d been terrified into submission for now.  Sooner or later, they would arrive wherever Maul was taking him.  Maul would have to unchain him then, and he could run.  He just had to wait, bide his time, and not give Maul a reason to hurt him badly enough that he wouldn't be able to escape.

Hesitantly, worried about what he might find, Ezra felt for his bond with Kanan.  It was all he could do not to sigh in relief as he realized the bond was still there.  Kanan was alive.  Maul hadn't killed him.  Ezra reached out, trying to let his master know that he was okay, that he was going to find a way back.

Before Ezra could make contact with Kanan’s mind, a sharp jolt of pain shot through his body and fire burned through his veins as he screamed.  His eyes snapped to Maul, who he saw had his finger on the trigger for the shock collar.

When the shock ended, Ezra doubled over as much as he could with his hands bound behind him, gasping for air.  He felt a hand under his chin and his face was tilted upwards, forcing him to look up at Maul.

“That will be your only warning,” Maul said.  “If you try to use the Force to contact the Jedi again, the consequences will be far worse.  Understood?”

“Y--yes, Master,” Ezra said, still gasping for breath.

“That’s better,” Maul said, his voice much gentler now, his grip on Ezra’s chin softening, as if he was trying to comfort Ezra.  “I don’t want to hurt you, Ezra.  No matter what the Jedi has told you, I think you know that.”

Ezra wanted to believe it.  If Maul didn’t really want to hurt him, then there was a reason for it every time he did; a reason that made sense and made everything alright again.

Ezra nodded, even though he didn’t know what to think right now.  He’d thought that he understood everything he’d learned from Kanan, that Maul was abusive and cruel.  But now that he was here, face to face with Maul again, Ezra could feel his certainty beginning to unravel.

“You trusted me before,” Maul said as he released his grip on Ezra.  “I need you to do that again.”

Ezra just looked down, not responding.  He still wanted to trust Maul, even though he knew deep down that he shouldn’t.  But if he just stayed quiet, said nothing for the rest of the journey, Maul might let his guard down, and he might stand a better chance of escaping.  Thankfully, Maul seemed to take Ezra’s silence as submission and turned away, walking back toward the front of the ship and leaving Ezra alone.

It wasn’t long before the ship dropped out of hyperspace, and Ezra’s heart began hammering as he realized what might be his one chance to escape was drawing closer.

Emotion, yet peace, he thought to himself, silently repeating the words Kanan had taught him.  He had to control his fear or Maul might sense it, realize what he was planning, and stop him before he even had a chance to run.

As the ship landed, Maul returned.  Ezra kept his head bowed as his former master approached, trying to give the illusion of defeat, trying to make Maul think he’d accepted his fate.  Maul reached out a hand toward Ezra, and the cuffs around his wrists opened.  As soon as the pressure from the cuffs lifted, Ezra jumped to his feet, shoving Maul away.  As he took his first few stumbling steps, he reached out through the Force, feeling for the locking mechanisms on the cuffs around his ankles, knowing he wouldn’t get far with those still on.

Before he could break the cuffs open, Ezra felt something grab hold of him, freezing him in place.  He was yanked back and thrown roughly against the wall of the ship.  Within seconds, Maul was in front of him, cornering him as his hand slammed down on Ezra’s shoulder, holding him against the wall.

With his other hand, Maul grabbed Ezra’s wrist, locking one of the cuffs around it again.  The other went back around Ezra’s other arm, binding his hands in front of him this time.  The chain between them was longer than most, giving Ezra limited use of his hands, but not nearly enough to do any real damage to Maul.

“Let go!” Ezra growled, struggling against Maul’s grip.

Maul ignored Ezra’s struggles and grabbed Ezra’s arms, dragging him away from the wall and shoving him forward through the ship’s hatch.  As Ezra stumbled down the ramp, he looked up to see a familiar forest ahead of him.  They were on Orsis.  Ezra’s stomach clenched at the sight of it.  For so long, he’d wanted to come back here, and now he just wanted to run.

Maybe he still could.  If he could just make it to the tree line, he could try to lose Maul in the forest.  Maybe --

Ezra cried out as Maul grabbed his arm again, dragging him toward the building looming in the distance.

“No!” Ezra screamed.  “Let me go!”

“Ezra,” Maul said, gripping Ezra’s shoulders tight enough to bruise and roughly shaking him, “don’t make this more difficult than it needs to be.”

Ezra shoved his hands out, striking Maul’s chest, only to freeze under Maul’s furious gaze.  He cried out as Maul grabbed hold of him, lifting him off the ground and over his shoulder.  Ezra struggled, but Maul held on, carrying Ezra away from the ship.

By the time they reached the building, Ezra had stopped fighting, going limp as tears welled up in his eyes.  He kept his eyes wide, trying to stop himself from crying, but he quickly lost that fight, too.

As they entered the building and the door closed behind them, Ezra felt the familiar cold and darkness close in around him.  As Maul set him down on his feet, Ezra’s whole body was wracked by a heavy sob as tears streamed down his cheeks.

He struggled against Maul’s tight, bruising grip as his former master led him down the corridor to the turbolift, even though he knew it wouldn’t do him any good.  Maul was never going to let him go, no matter how hard he fought or how much he begged or demanded.

As the lift door opened again, Maul yanked Ezra forward, dragging him out of the lift and toward the door to the room where he’d slept when this place had still been his home.  Ezra stumbled and fell to his knees as Maul opened the door and shoved him through it.  Before Ezra could get back to his feet, the door closed and he heard the distinctive sound of the lock engaging.

Driven forward by his anger, Ezra threw himself at the door, slamming his fists against it.

“Let me out!” he screamed, hitting the door with each word.  “Let me out!”

He screamed and stumbled back from the door, falling to the floor as the shock collar activated again.  He wrenched at the cuffs around his wrists and ankles as he writhed on the ground.  When the collar switched off again, he stayed on the floor, panting as he pulled his knees up to his chest, curling up in a tight ball and squeezing his eyes shut in a vain attempt to stop the flow of tears.

When he’d first woken up in the cell on Phoenix Next, all he’d wanted was to escape and go home.  Now he was here and all he wanted was to be back with Kanan, to be back on the Ghost.  He wanted to go home.  This place didn’t feel like that anymore, and he didn’t even know when that had changed.  All he knew was that he was trapped here.

He was trapped in this place where he’d been a prisoner for a decade.  He was completely at Maul’s mercy again.  He was alone again.

Chapter Text

Ezra lay curled up in a ball on the bed, his fingers tangled in his hair, lightly tugging at it.  By his count, he’d been here two days now, and the most he had seen of Maul was when he opened the door, tossed a ration bar to Ezra, and left again.  Ezra supposed he should count himself lucky that Maul was feeding him at all, and that he’d been locked up here, rather than one of the dark, windowless cells on the lower level where he would have had no way of telling how much time had passed.

Ezra let out a frustrated growl as he mentally kicked himself.  He shouldn’t be grateful for the fact that he wasn’t locked away in a dark box underground.  He was still being held against his will.  He was still being kept with his wrists and ankles shackled and a shock collar around his neck as a constant threat.  But he knew perfectly well that Maul could do much worse than this, and would if he thought it was necessary.

As the door opened again, Ezra stayed where he was, staring at the wall beside him and refusing to look at Maul or acknowledge his presence in any way.

“Get up,” Maul said.

Ezra didn’t do or say anything, ignoring him completely.  His eyes widened as he heard the click of a trigger being hit.  Less than a second later, the shock collar activated.  Ezra cried out in pain, his nails digging harder into his scalp, drawing blood as he convulsed.  When the shock ended, he was breathing heavily and his eyes were stinging with tears, but he still refused to move.  He wasn’t going to make this easy for Maul.  He wasn’t going to just obey him.  Not anymore.

Ezra’s breath caught in his throat, his heart hammering as he heard Maul’s footsteps approaching the bed.  A small voice in the back of his mind urged him to just sit up and face Maul, telling him this wasn’t worth the beating he was almost certainly about to get.  If he just did what Maul wanted, he might avoid getting hurt and he could save his strength and stubbornness for something more important.

Ezra clenched his jaw, ordering that small, treacherous part of his mind to be quiet.  He would not make any part of this easy for Maul.  He would fight and keep fighting until he found a way to escape.  It was what Kanan would want him to do if he was here.  It was what Maul would want him to do if he’d been captured by someone else.

Ezra gasped as Maul’s hand tangled in his hair and dragged him from the bed.  He stumbled to his feet as Maul hauled him up, backing against the wall when Maul released him.

“Stay away from me,” Ezra said, his voice shaking.

“Enough, Ezra,” Maul snapped.  “You need to accept that you are not going back to the Jedi.”

“Yes, I am,” Ezra said.  “I’ll escape.  I don’t care how long it takes.”

“Ezra,” Maul said, resting his hands on Ezra’s shoulders, his touch almost gentle, almost comforting, “there is nothing for you to escape.  You are not a prisoner here.  This is your home.”

“No, it isn’t,” Ezra said.  “This was never my home.”

“I took you in,” Maul said, one hand tightening around Ezra’s shoulder.  “I raised you.  I protected you in a galaxy where you would have been killed or forced to serve the Empire.  I kept you safe when no one else could.”

“I was never safe with you!” Ezra growled.  “Maybe the Empire couldn’t find me here, but you hurt me just as much as they would have!”

Ezra cried out, his head snapping to the side as Maul backhanded him.  The coppery taste of blood filled his mouth as his lip split open.

“I never wanted to hurt you,” Maul said.  “I only did what I had to do, and I never hurt you the way they would have.”

He grabbed Ezra’s chin, forcing his head back against the wall and making him look up into those terrifying yellow eyes.

“Do you need to be reminded of what the Inquisitor did to you?” he hissed.

Ezra felt the cold shadows of Maul’s presence in the Force pushing into his mind, piercing through him like claws made of ice, reaching for memories buried just under the surface, waiting for the smallest thing to uncover them and let them spill out.

He was pinned against a tree, a needle piercing his neck, his limbs going heavy, rendered useless by the drug.

He was being dragged away, the Seventh Sister’s arms encircling him, her hand pressed over his mouth so he couldn’t scream for help.

He was on the floor of that old, abandoned cabin, unable to move, the Inquisitor straddling him, tracing her knife across his arms, digging the blade into his skin at random points, her eyes seeming to glow brighter with each weak cry of pain Ezra gave.

He was facedown on the floor, the Seventh Sister standing over him, the red glow of her lightsaber filling the room as she brought it slashing down across his legs.  He was screaming as the burning pain shot through his body, blurring his vision and turning his mind to static.

“Stop!” Ezra screamed.

He was gasping in pain as the Inquisitor’s fingers dug into the skin around an open wound in his side.

He was convulsing, a scream being torn from his lungs, as one of her probe droids clamped down on his arm and another on his leg, shocking him over and over as she paced around him like a vulture circling its prey.

“Get out!” Ezra shouted.  “Please, stop!”

He pushed back against Maul’s presence in his mind, trying to tear those cold shadows away so he could push those memories back where he’d buried them.  Sensing his point had been made, Maul pulled away from Ezra’s mind, leaving Ezra shaking where he stood, tears he hadn't even realized he’d shed clinging to his skin.

“Do not think for a moment that I ever would have hurt you as much as the Empire already has,” Maul said, his voice like ice as he released his grip on Ezra.

“I--I’m sorry, Master,” Ezra choked out through his tears.  The words were practically a reflex, and he hated himself for saying them.  But on some level, they were still true.  Maul had never drawn out Ezra’s pain for as long as the Inquisitor did, and he’d never hurt Ezra for fun, and shame blossomed in the bit of Ezra's stomach at the thought that he had accused Maul of being anything like the Inquisitor.

But it didn’t matter, did it?  No matter what his reasons, Maul had still hurt him.  He’d still done things that were just as unforgiveable as what the Inquisitor did.  He’d beaten Ezra, tortured him, pushed him beyond the limits of what anyone should have to endure.  He’d taken Ezra from his family twice now.

Ezra’s anger boiled over in his chest until he found himself speaking up again, his voice bitter and furious as he glared up at Maul.

“I know what you did to me,” he said, blinking away the last of his tears.  “I met my parents.  The people you stole me from.”

The icy chill of fear crept through Ezra’s chest as the hand still on his shoulder tightened.  He didn’t have even the smallest sense of what Maul was thinking.  He only knew that he was cornered, trapped against a wall, and Maul could so easily hurt him right now.

“I did what I had to do,” Maul said, his voice much calmer than Ezra had expected it to be as he released his painful grip on Ezra’s shoulder.  “You were always destined for something greater than anything they could have offered.”

“So that made it okay for you to just take me from them?” Ezra snapped, his anger making him momentarily forget his fear.

“They never would have been able to raise you,” Maul said.  “You have a gift they cannot understand.  They wouldn’t have been able to teach you or keep you safe from the Empire.”

Ezra internally recoiled at the thought that not so long ago, he might have agreed.  He would have thought Maul was right, that his parents couldn’t have raised him.  He might even have thanked Maul for saving him from growing up with people who wouldn’t have been able to care for him or protect him.  Now…now he didn’t know what to feel.

“You didn’t belong with them, Ezra,” Maul said.  His voice was gentle, almost soothing, like he actually felt sorry for Ezra.  Ezra hated it as much as he just wanted to let himself believe it.  It would be so much simpler to just accept Maul’s explanation.  He didn’t want to think that the person he’d trusted to care for him his whole life had done this to him without a good reason.

But there was no good reason.  Nothing he could say, no excuse he could give would make what he’d done any better.  That’s what Kanan would say, and Kanan would be right.  Maul had still chosen to take Ezra from the place that should have been his home, the people that should have been his family, and twist him into a tool of the dark side, never giving him a choice in what he became.

“You kidnapped me,” Ezra said, forcing the words out as he tried to shove those thoughts from his mind.  He clung to that word, kidnapped, trying to make himself remember that regardless of how his life may or may not have turned out otherwise, that was what Maul had done to him.  “Your master did the same to you and you hate him for it!  Why would you do that to me?!”

Fury sparked in Maul’s eyes at Ezra’s words.  Ezra shrank back against the wall as if Maul’s anger was pressing up against him, pushing him back.

“My master discarded me and replaced me when I was no longer of use to him,” Maul growled.  “I never would have done that to you.”

“I don’t believe you,” Ezra said bitterly.

“We both know that isn’t true,” Maul said, his voice growing softer.  “The Jedi has twisted your mind and convinced you to turn on me, but he didn’t make you forget your own past.  Haven’t I always taken care of you?”

Ezra tore his gaze away from Maul, refusing to respond to the question.  He hated himself for even thinking it, but it was true.  Maul had taken care of him as a child.  Maul had kept him fed and clothed, had cared for him when he was sick or injured, had taught him about his abilities and hidden him from the Empire.  Maul had never once threatened to abandon him or replace with another, better apprentice.  It was all true, but he wasn’t about to give Maul the satisfaction of hearing him admit it.

“Answer me, boy,” Maul said, his voice harsh as he grabbed Ezra’s arm in a tight, painful grip.

“Y--yes,” Ezra said.

Maul’s hand tightened around Ezra’s arm, his fingers digging into Ezra’s skin hard enough that he gasped in pain as he felt the beginnings of bruises forming.

“Yes, Master,” Ezra said, angrily forcing the word out as if it was a curse.

“Do not forget that,” Maul said as he released Ezra once again.  “I took you in for a reason.  I protected you and cared for you more than you could ever realize.  I have always been more your family than your biological parents ever were.”

“We’re not family,” Ezra said, clinging to his anger in a desperate attempt to avoid thinking about how close to the mark Maul was hitting.

“I did raise you,” Maul said.  “If you are anyone’s son, you’re mine.”

“I am not your son,” Ezra snapped.  “You don’t get to call me that after taking me from my parents.”

“You never seemed to mind it before,” Maul said, an amused smile crossing his face.  “In fact, you loved it.  Every time I said it, all you wanted was to get me to call you that again.”

“That was before I knew what you did to me!” Ezra said.  “Before I knew you were a kriffing monster who --”

Ezra’s words were cut off by a harsh slap to the face, so hard his head was knocked back against the wall.

“You need to mind how you speak to your master,” Maul said, his voice cold as he grabbed Ezra’s chin, his fingers digging into the bruises on his face as he forced Ezra to look up at him.  “That is, if you want me to continue allowing you to speak at all.”

“You’re not my master,” Ezra growled.  “Kanan is.”

“I will always be your true master, Ezra,” Maul said.  “And you will always be my apprentice, my heir, my son.”

Ezra gritted his teeth as he forced himself not to respond, knowing each of those words was deliberately chosen as a way to twist the knife and hurt him even more.

“You are mine, Ezra,” Maul said.  “And I will do whatever it takes to make you remember that.”

As Maul released him, Ezra shrank back against the wall, raising his cuffed hands to his face and pressing them over his eyes as he shook his head.

“You start training again tomorrow,” Maul said.  “We have lost time to make up for.”

He turned on his heel and left the room, leaving Ezra alone.  Ezra slid down the wall, sinking to the floor and pulling his knees up to his chest.  His arm and face hurt where Maul had grabbed him and hit him.  It had been long enough since someone had slapped his face that he forgot just how much it stung, and he couldn’t quiet that part of his mind that insisted that he’d deserved it.  He’d called Maul a monster.  He deserved worse than a slap for disrespecting his master like that.

Ezra lightly thumped his forehead against his knees.  Maul wasn’t his master.  Kanan was.  He couldn’t let himself forget that.  The second he did, Maul would win.

Chapter Text

Ezra stumbled as Maul pulled at the chain connecting the cuffs around his wrists, dragging him into the lift.  He stared down at the floor, stubbornly refusing to look at Maul as the lift descended to the lower level.

When the lift stopped, Ezra followed Maul rather than let himself be pulled along.  He gritted his teeth as the chain between his ankles scraped along the floor, nearly tripping him.  How long was Maul planning to keep these things on him?

Ezra’s heart hammered as they approached the door to the training room, feeling like something was closing tightly around his throat.  So much of his life had been spent in that room, in pain, angry, and afraid as he desperately tried to prove himself to Maul, to show that he was worth his master’s time and patience and attention.

As he followed Maul into the room, Ezra half expected a wave of terror to crash over him as memories of the torments Maul had put him through here clawed their way the surface of his mind.  Instead what welled up inside him was a strange mixture of numbness, anger, and longing for the time when things were simpler.  He stopped in his tracks just inside the door and stared down at the floor in front of his feet, widening his eyes to keep tears from forming.

Without warning, the cuffs around his wrists and ankles opened, the chains falling to the floor.  Ezra looked up at Maul in surprise.

“They will only come off when you are in this room, in my presence,” Maul said, his voice cold.  “I will reconsider that once you’ve earned it.  Now, come here.”

Ezra stepped farther into the room, relieved to finally be able to walk without the chain restricting his movement.  It had only been a few days, but it felt like so much longer.  When he stopped in front of Maul, Ezra felt like a heavy weight was settling on his shoulders.  He was really back here.  This was really happening.

Ezra flinched instinctively as Maul’s hand moved, only to realize that Maul was now holding something out toward him.  Ezra’s lightsaber.  Ezra made no move to take it, freezing in terror as he wondered if this was a trick of some kind.

“Ezra,” Maul said, a warning in his voice.

Slowly, his hand shaking, Ezra reached out and took the weapon from Maul’s hand.  As his fingers closed around the metal, the thought flashed across his mind of simply igniting the blade and attacking, injuring Maul, maybe even killing him, and running.  Almost as soon as the thought appeared in his head, he stomped it back down.  He couldn’t do that.  It wasn’t a fight he would win, and the consequences for trying would be severe.

Ezra took a deep breath before he looked directly up at Maul, just narrowly avoiding meeting his eyes.  He gritted his teeth, knowing that what he was about to do would make Maul furious, before he dropped his lightsaber to the floor and crossed his arms, his chin jutting out stubbornly in a silent challenge.  He might not be willing to attack Maul outright, but he wasn’t going to make this easy.

“There’s no need to act like a child, Ezra,” Maul said.

Ezra clenched his jaw even tighter as he forced himself not to flinch at the harshness in Maul’s voice.  He stayed perfectly still, staring up at his former master, silently telling himself over and over not to back down, not to just obey Maul, not again, not anymore.

The snap-hiss of a lightsaber’s blade hit Ezra’s ears.  He jumped backwards, narrowly avoiding the red blade that would have sliced deeply into his shoulder.  As Maul rushed at him, his blade slashing through the air, Ezra dropped to the floor and rolled out of the way.  His eyes locked onto his lightsaber, lying on the floor behind Maul.  As he reached out toward it, his throat tightened as he was pulled off the ground.  He kicked wildly at the air beneath his feet, gasping for breath as Maul dragged him forward, the red blade growing closer and closer.

Ezra reached out, pulling his own lightsaber into his hand.  He ignited the blade just in time to block Maul’s from cutting into his chest.  He threw all his strength behind the act of pushing Maul’s blade away from him, even as dark spots began appearing in his vision.

Ezra gasped as Maul released him, dropping him to the floor.  Pain burst across his spine as he fell.  When he sat up, he found himself facing the end of Maul’s lightsaber held right in front of his throat, so close that he could feel the heat of the blade on his skin.

“When I said you would begin training again today, I was not giving you a choice, apprentice,” Maul said.

“I am not your apprentice,” Ezra growled.

Staring coldly down at Ezra, Maul brought his blade down, the end of it grazing across Ezra’s chest.  Ezra cried out as his skin burned, even as the blade just barely made contact.

“You’re angry,” Maul said, his voice just as cold as his stare.  “You hate me right now.  You hate the Jedi for taking you from me and for letting me take you back.  You hate yourself for not knowing what you want.”

Ezra bit down on the inside of his lip, trying to stop himself from crying out again as the wound on his chest ached, and refusing to acknowledge that every word Maul had just said was true.  Maul switched his weapon off and reached out toward Ezra, who flinched, quickly pulling away from the outstretched hand.  Ignoring Ezra’s reaction, Maul took hold of Ezra’s wrist and pulled him to his feet.

“You cannot block me out, Ezra,” he said.  “I shaped every corner of your mind.  I know you better than you know yourself.  No matter how many of the Jedi’s lies you have allowed to take hold, you will always be mine.”

“No,” Ezra said, hissing the word out through teeth gritted against the pain.

As Ezra tried to back away, Maul’s hand tightened around his wrist.  He quickly stepped around Ezra, pulling his arm behind him.  Pain shot through Ezra’s leg as Maul delivered a heavy kick to the back of his knee, knocking him to the ground and pinning him down, with one hand holding down his left arm and the other twisting his right arm up behind his back.  Ezra struggled to break free, but Maul’s grip was so tight that even the smallest movements sent sharp jolts of pain through his shoulder.

“Let go,” he growled.

“Your hatred gives you strength,” Maul said, wrenching Ezra’s arm back even farther.  “Even your hatred for yourself.  Use it.  Channel it into power.”

“Let go!” Ezra shouted again.

He barely realized it was happening until it did.  His anger, barely held beneath the surface, burst out of him.  The Force followed his anger, slamming against Maul and throwing him back.

Ezra was shaking as he sat up, his left hand clutching at his right arm as his shoulder throbbed and ached from being twisted around.  Ezra yelped and flinched as a hand closed around his left arm and he looked up to see that Maul was now in front of him.  Rather than resist, Ezra let Maul pull him to his feet.

“Very good, Ezra,” Maul said, a sinister smile on his face.  “I knew the Jedi couldn’t have drawn you away from your path completely.”

His hand moved to Ezra’s uninjured shoulder, and Ezra felt that familiar soft, warm glow in his chest.  Even after everything he’d learned, everything Kanan had helped him realize, that small gesture of affection meant so much to him.  He hated himself for it.  Shouldn’t he know better now?

Something deep in Ezra’s chest ached as Maul pulled his hand away, ending the warm, almost gentle touch.  Completely unbidden, a quiet, almost pained whimper rose up in his throat.  He clenched his jaw and stared down at the floor as his face burned with embarrassment at the sound.  He could sense the bitter sting of Maul’s disappointment in him, the affection and almost-pride abruptly and pointedly withdrawn.

“But he’s certainly done damage,” Maul said coldly.

Shame rose like bile in Ezra’s throat, cutting off his air, stopping him from saying a word to argue or defend himself.  And he wanted to, desperately.  He wanted to shout at Maul that all Kanan had done was help him realize the truth and save him from a lifetime of pain and cruelty at Maul’s hands.  He wanted to tell Maul that he was the one who’d done damage, not Kanan.  But he couldn’t say any of it.  The words wouldn’t come, and neither would the will to say them.  Standing here, surrounded by nothing but that bitter cold of Maul’s sheer disappointment, Ezra couldn’t help but feel like he was a small child again, being reprimanded by his master, anxiously wondering if he was going to be punished, and perfectly willing to accept it if he was.

“Pick up your weapon,” Maul said.

“No,” Ezra said, his voice barely more than a whisper as he pulled together the all the small scraps of willpower he could summon, forcing himself to keep resisting.  It was what Kanan would want him to do.

Ezra flinched as Maul ignited the blades of his own lightsaber, the sound of it like a threat in and of itself.

“Do we need to go through this again?” Maul asked.

Ezra reached out with one hand, calling his lightsaber to him.  The second the metal handle settled into Ezra’s palm, Maul lunged at him again.  Ezra gasped and quickly activated his lightsaber, bringing the red blade up to block Maul’s before his former master could land a blow on him.  His right shoulder ached as he pushed back against Maul’s attack before stepping aside and disengaging, taking a few hesitant steps backward, trying to put some distance between himself and Maul.

“I can feel your anger, son,” Maul said, his voice cold as he taunted Ezra.  “I can feel how much you want to embrace it.”

His blade darted out quickly toward Ezra’s aching shoulder.  Ezra gasped in pain as he deflected the blow.

“I can feel how much you want to come home,” Maul said.  “The Jedi isn’t here to stop you.  Just embrace the dark side; come back to me.”

“No!” Ezra shouted.  He lunged forward, his blade slashing at Maul’s chest.  Maul deflected Ezra’s attack easily, almost seeming bored as he did so.  Ezra growled in frustration and attacked again.  Maul stepped to one side, switching off his own lightsaber and grabbing Ezra’s arm, wrenching it backwards yet again, locking it in place against Maul’s chest.

Ezra gasped as his elbow was bent backwards, reflexively opening his hand and dropping his lightsaber.

“You can't even hold onto your own weapon,” Maul said, that bitter disappointment returning to his voice as he wrenched Ezra’s elbow even farther back.  “Just like you couldn’t hold onto the most basic things I taught you.”

Ezra cried out as pain shot through his arm.  He could feel his bones grinding and shifting as Maul pulled his arm even farther back yet again, straining and creaking until a loud pop echoed through the air and Ezra screamed, his eyes going wide.

Maul released Ezra, throwing him to the floor at his feet.  Ezra gasped as he hit the ground, his eyes locking onto his lightsaber as the screaming pain in his arm crashed together with the rage that burned hotter and hotter in his chest with each passing second.  He reached out with his uninjured left arm, pulling the weapon toward him, but before it could reach him, Maul’s hand darted out, intercepting it in the air.

A loud, harsh snap-hiss hit Ezra’s ears as Maul ignited the blade, holding it directly in front of Ezra’s face.  As Ezra looked up, he recoiled at the expression on Maul’s face, at the pure anger and disappointment and disgust Maul felt as he stared down at Ezra.

“You’re weak,” Maul said.  “Pathetic.  You were gone mere months, but you were so desperate for a master’s guidance that all it took was a few words from the Jedi to turn you against me.”

Ezra gritted his teeth, trying not to scream in rage and frustration as his fingers tangled in his hair, yanking at it furiously.  It wasn’t true.  None of it was true.  He’d refused to give up any information about Maul, he’d tried to resist and remain loyal, but Kanan had broken through his defenses and -- no!  That wasn’t what happened.  Kanan had helped him.  Kanan had saved him.  Maul was the one who had manipulated him, who was still manipulating him.

“Why are you doing this?!” Ezra screamed as he pulled at his hair, tears stinging at his eyes.  “You keep calling me your son, saying we’re family and that you want to protect me and take care of me, and then you call me weak and pathetic!  Why?!”

“That’s it, son,” Maul said, sounding almost proud as he pulled the blade away from Ezra’s face and began to pace in front of him.  “Hold onto your anger.  You know you can't let it go like the Jedi tells you to.  You don’t want to.  You know you need it.  You know you are nothing without it, so use it!

“Stop!” Ezra cried as his tears began sliding down his face.

Maul’s hand darted out toward Ezra, striking his face so hard Ezra felt his barely-healed lower lip split open again.  As blood dripped into his mouth, his vision blurred, his pulse pounding in his ears as he threw one hand out, calling the Force to him, lashing out blindly.  He could feel Maul’s throat constricting as he grabbed hold of it through the Force, tightening his grip, his rage practically taking on a will of its own as it tried to wring the life from his former master.

In the back of his mind, Ezra was vaguely aware of a faint click.  He cried out, his grip on Maul’s throat breaking as the shock collar activated and he fell flat on the ground, writhing and screaming as pain ripped through his body.

When the shock stopped, Ezra pushed himself back up onto his knees, panting as tears continued to run down his cheeks.  He flinched violently as Maul knelt beside him and placed a hand on his shoulder.  He pulled away only for Maul’s unwanted touch to return, refusing to let him go.

“You did very well, Ezra,” Maul said.  He actually sounded pleased, which only made Ezra’s mind buzz with confusion and fear.  “I was afraid it would take so much longer to begin undoing the damage the Jedi did, but you proved me wrong.”

“Then why did you shock me?” Ezra asked bitterly, not bothering to argue about whether Kanan had “damaged” him or not.  He could barely bring himself to care about that right now.  All that mattered was that he’d just done exactly what he swore not to do.  He’d given into his anger, embraced the dark side, even if it was just for a moment.

“I had to stop you from doing something you would regret,” Maul said.

“You mean you were afraid I’d kill you,” Ezra said.  A smile twitched across his face as he spoke, and he immediately felt a painful spike of guilt in the back of his mind.

“I know you would never do that,” Maul said.  “And I think you know that, too.”

Ezra choked back a sudden, heavy sob.  Maul was right.  He knew it and so did Maul.  Ezra wouldn’t have really done it.  He didn’t want to.  What he wanted was to erase the past months of his life and go back to when the thought never would have even crossed his mind.  He wanted to be Maul’s good, obedient apprentice who was safe and protected and maybe even loved, and who revered his master and would never dream of killing him.

He also wanted to run as far away from Maul as possible, to purge himself of all his memories of the man who’d taken him from his family -- from both of his families now -- and twisted him into a weapon, a possession that belonged only to his master.

He wanted both and neither and he wanted something to just be easy.  But nothing had ever been easy since the day Ahsoka had taken him off of Altier, and it never would be again.

Barely even realizing what he was doing, Ezra reached out, throwing his arms around his master and leaning his forehead against Maul’s shoulder as tears kept spilling out of his eyes.  Within seconds, he found himself being shoved back, and Maul’s hand was closing around his throat just above the shock collar, pressing the metal harshly into his skin.

“Do not ever do that again,” Maul growled.  “I am trying to be patient with you after what the Jedi did, but you are not an infant, Ezra.”

Ezra’s hand flew to his throat, trying to pry Maul’s fingers away, but Maul only tightened his grip, causing Ezra to gag as dark spots flitted across his field of vision.  He let his hand fall back to his side and stared up at Maul, his eyes wide as he silently begged to be let go.

When Maul released him, Ezra coughed and gasped for air, lowering his gaze to the floor.

“I--I’m sorry,” he said.  “I didn’t mean to -- I wasn’t thinking.”

His voice shook as he spoke, hoping it would just be over now, that he wasn’t about to be punished further for what he’d just done.  He just wanted this day to be over, to go back to his room where he could hide from Maul and be safe, even if it was just for a few hours before this all started again.

“Get up,” Maul said as he stood, not even acknowledging Ezra’s words.

Ezra stood up and braced himself as a moment later, Maul took hold of his right arm.  Ezra gritted his teeth and squeezed his eyes shut, knowing what Maul was about to do and just how much it would hurt.  It wasn’t the first time Maul had dislocated his shoulder, after all.  There was another loud pop and pain lanced through Ezra’s shoulder briefly before it lessened to a dull ache.

“Thank you, Master,” Ezra said quietly, the words coming out involuntarily, practically a reflex ingrained in him after years of learning to be grateful to Maul for basic things like caring for his injuries or choosing not to hurt him in the first place.

“Pick up your weapon,” Maul said.

Ezra reached out with his left hand, his right arm still aching, and called the lightsaber to him.  Even now, some small part of him insisted that he should be grateful that Maul hadn't decided to force him to continue with training with one arm still wrenched out of its socket.

Maul stepped aside and, with a wave of his hand, activated a training remote.  Ezra ignited his lightsaber, watching Maul out of the corner of his eye, looking for any sign that he was going to trigger the shock collar again.  It was an exercise he’d been forced to do so many times since before he could even remember, teaching him to focus through pain.

As the remote fired a low-grade blaster bolt at him, Ezra raised his lightsaber, deflecting it easily, taking comfort in the fact that least the pain that came with this exercise was predictable.


 

When the remote powered down, Ezra kept his lightsaber raised for a moment, waiting to see if it was a trick, a test of whether or not he would lower his defenses.  After a moment, he switched his weapon off, his shoulders slumping with exhaustion.  Every muscle in his body ached from the stun bolts and the repeated shocks Maul had administered as he put Ezra through his paces.  The beating he’d taken earlier certainly didn’t make things any easier.

As he moved to hang his lightsaber on its usual spot on his belt, Maul grabbed his wrist.  Ezra’s heart skipped a beat as he wondered what was going to happen now before he saw that Maul was holding his other hand out expectantly.  Barely able to hold back a sigh of relief, Ezra pulled his wrist out of Maul’s light grip and placed his lightsaber in Maul’s outstretched hand.

“You will get your weapon back when I can trust you with it,” Maul said.  Ezra just nodded, hoping that this meant he was done with training for today.

Maul’s hand twitched and Ezra flinched as he heard a faint rattling sound from behind him.  Within seconds, metal cuffs had closed around his ankles, and the other chain had settled into Maul’s hands.  Ezra locked his arms at his sides instinctively, his heart hammering as he stared at the cuffs that Maul held.  He hated being restrained so much that he barely had words to describe it.  He hated the sheer terror and powerlessness he felt when his hands were bound.

“Ezra,” Maul said, a warning in his voice.

Slowly, Ezra extended his hands in front of him, flinching as Maul locked the cuffs around his wrists.

“I don’t enjoy doing this to you, Ezra,” Maul said, his hand closing tightly around Ezra’s arm as he led him from the room.

“Then why are you doing it?” Ezra muttered, flinching when Maul’s grip tightened at his words.  His heart hammered as he caught himself wondering why he would even ask that, why he would question his -- no, Maul wasn’t his master, not really.  No matter how many times Ezra was forced to call him that, he would never be that again.

“Because I can't trust you not to run away,” Maul said.  He stopped in his tracks, making Ezra stop as well, and turned to face Ezra, gently gripping his jaw and forcing him to look up until their eyes met.

“I know this isn’t your fault, Ezra,” he said, sympathy in his voice, like he actually felt sorry for Ezra.  “None of this would be necessary if the Jedi hadn't twisted your mind and turned you against me.”

“That’s not what happened,” Ezra said, pulling out of Maul’s loose grip.

“I know you think that,” Maul said.  “You can’t see what he did to you, but I will do everything in my power to make sure you can.”

Ezra remained silent as Maul led him to the lift and back to his room, not wanting to say anything and give Maul something else to use against him.  He didn’t resist as Maul lightly pushed him through the door and locked it behind him.

For a moment, he just stood there, staring blankly down at the floor in front of his feet.  What if Maul really was right about Kanan?  Maul knew Ezra better than anyone.  He’d shaped every corner of Ezra’s mind since he was a child.  Wouldn’t he see it if Ezra was being manipulated by Kanan?

Ezra gritted his teeth and quickly shook his head, as if the motion could drive out that small, insistent voice in the back of his mind that whispered trust him.

Chapter Text

Ezra ran one finger across the glass as if he could trace a pattern in the raindrops that clung to the outside of the window.  The damp chill was so strong that even being safely inside, Ezra could feel it sinking under his skin.

As he moved his hand, the chain binding his wrists rattled faintly.  Ezra growled in frustration and wrenched at his restraints.  All he succeeded in doing was making his wrists hurt.  In the nearly three weeks since he’d been brought back to Orsis, the chains had stayed on his wrists and ankles and the shock collar had stayed around his neck, just like Maul had said they would.  Every night, Ezra struggled to fall asleep with the sound of the chains shifting every time he moved, and every day, before he even opened his eyes, he felt the just-slightly-constricting pressure of the cuffs, reminding him of where he was and who was keeping him locked up.

Ezra sank to the floor, his back to the wall, this window just above his head.  He stared down at the chain that bound his wrists, the burning anger in his chest growing stronger with each passing second he spent looking at the thing.

He hated them.  He hated them so much it drowned out all of his other feelings.  He hated them just as much as he hated the shock collar around his neck.  He hated Maul’s insistence that this was for his own good; for his protection.  He knew perfectly well that this was a punishment.  Maul kept him chained up like a prisoner to remind Ezra of his place here.

Ezra hated the damned things so much.

So take them off.

Ezra’s hands bunched into fists as he tried to freeze the thought out of his mind.  He couldn’t do it.  He could use the Force to open the cuffs, but Maul would be furious with him.  He’d be punished for it and he knew it would be much worse than anything he’d been subjected to since he’d come back to Orsis.

Ezra jumped as lightning flashed outside, briefly illuminating his room.  He pulled his knees up to his chest and hugged his arms around them, the shifting and rattling of his chains digging into his mind.  He could use the storm to his advantage, get away before Maul realized --

Ezra knocked the back of his head against the wall behind him.  He couldn’t just run away.  He’d already betrayed his master once.  Wasn’t that enough?  Why couldn’t he just put his time with Kanan behind him and accept this?  If he did, he knew his master would remove the chains soon enough.

Ezra rested his forehead down on his knees, keeping his eyes wide as he tried not to cry.  He knew he should just accept that this was his life again, that this had always been meant to be his life, but he missed the crew of the Ghost so badly; Kanan most of all.  He hadn't even had a chance to say goodbye to them, to tell them he was sorry it had to be this way.  Now, he would probably never see them again.  He just wanted to go home, even if it was only for a short time before Maul inevitably found him again.

Ezra reached up, his fingers tangling in his hair, only to hear that grating sound of his chains again.  He screamed in rage and frustration, striking his forehead against his knees as he pulled at the chain.  Barely realizing that he was doing it, he glared at the cuffs, honing his focus in on the locking mechanisms that held them closed.  With a simple nudge through the Force, barely any effort needed, the cuffs opened and fell to the floor.  Ezra froze, holding his breath and staring at the door, as if Maul would have heard the sound and was going to appear in the doorway to punish him.

Slowly, Ezra’s moment of panic faded.  He looked down again, reaching out with his mind and opening the cuffs around his ankles.  A small spark burst to life in his chest as the chain clattered to the floor.

Ezra took a breath, closing his eyes and picturing the lock on the shock collar.  It was more complex, designed to be hard to break out of, but he was familiar with it.  As a child, he’d had to break out of restraints like this both with and without the use of the Force.  It shouldn't be that difficult.

Sure enough, within a moment, the collar had opened.  Ezra pulled it away from his neck and dropped it to the floor, his fingers running across his chafed and bruised skin.  Tears pricked at his eyes as he wrapped his mind around the fact that the collar was finally off.  During training, Maul would remove his chains, but the collar stayed on, no matter what.  Right now, Ezra couldn’t imagine a better feeling than no longer having the weight of it around his neck.

Ezra sighed in relief, resting his head in his hands.  He should only leave them off for a few minutes.  If Maul caught him, he’d probably find himself locked up in one of the cells, chained to the wall so tightly he couldn’t move, left there for a day at least, maybe longer.

Unless he chose to run.  If he ran now, he might never have to be chained up like this again.  Or he would be caught, and Maul would lock him away, never allow him to see sunlight again, assuming he didn’t just decide Ezra was no longer worth the trouble and kill him.

He shouldn’t do it.  If this was as bad as it got, then he was lucky.  If he tried to run and failed, it would get worse.

And if he stayed, it might just get worse anyway.

Ezra stood up abruptly, turning to the window.  He was only one floor up from the ground.  It was an easy enough fall to survive without any injuries.

Ezra braced himself for the cold before he opened the window.  Not taking even a moment to look back, he jumped.  He reached out through the Force, cushioning his fall before he landed lightly on the wet, muddy ground.

In the seconds it took him to stand up, he was soaked through by the pouring rain.  He gritted his teeth, trying not to shiver as he stared toward the ship in the distance.  He could break onto the Nightbrother and be gone before Maul even realized it.

Ezra moved slowly and stuck to the shadows as he made his way to the ship.  Maul could easily have heightened the security measures since Ezra had last been here, and Ezra silently cursed himself for not taking that into account and planning more carefully.  But it was too late now.  Now, there was no turning back.

Ezra stopped in his tracks, pressing himself against the wall.  There was now an open stretch of ground between him and the Nightbrother, with no real cover to hide in.  Ezra waited a moment as he tried to build up the nerve to move, reminding himself that if Maul saw him on a security camera now, it would be too late, if he was even watching at all.

Ezra braced himself and ran for it, his eyes fixed on the ship ahead of him.  He was so close.  He was going to see Kanan again.  He was going to go home.

Ezra stumbled and fell to the ground as something grabbed hold of him, gripping him so tight he could barely breathe.  He dug his fingers into the grass and mud, struggling to hold onto something as he was dragged backwards.  His heart seemed to jump into his throat as he looked up to see Maul standing over him.

“Did you think I wouldn’t know if you left your room?” Maul asked, his voice colder than the rain that pounded down on them both.

“I -- I --”

Ezra’s stammering words were cut off as Maul kicked his stomach, driving the air from his lungs.

“I have been patient with you, Ezra,” Maul said.  “I am only trying to help you, but you continue to defy me.”

“Just let me go,” Ezra said, his voice breaking under the weight of his fear.  “Please!”

“I can’t do that,” Maul said.  “When I took you in, I took responsibility for you.”

He leaned down and grabbed Ezra’s wrist, pulling him to his feet.  Ezra was shaking from more than just the cold as he struggled to break out of Maul’s painful grip.  He’d known this was a bad idea.  Why had he gone through with it?  Why had he ever thought he’d get away with it?

“Unfortunately,” Maul said, “that means I am responsible for disciplining you as well.”

His grip grew even tighter around Ezra’s wrist.  Ezra struggled to break free as he was dragged toward the edge of the woods.

“Let me go!” Ezra cried.  He dug his heels into the ground, but Maul wrenched him forward, pulling him toward the tree line.  Ezra’s heart pounded even harder, his throat tightening as he saw that in Maul’s other hand, he held the cuffs that Ezra had left abandoned in his room.

Ezra cried out as Maul flung him backwards against a tree, the impact against his spine stunning him for a moment.  Before he could remember how to run, Maul had grabbed his arm again, wrenching it backwards and securing one of the cuffs around his wrist.

“No!” Ezra shouted, his cry drowned out by the sound of thunder.

Maul took hold of Ezra’s other arm, pulling it behind him and locking the second cuff around it, binding Ezra’s hands around the tree behind him.  Ezra’s heart pounded faster and faster as Maul stepped in front of him again, staring coldly down at him.

“Please,” Ezra said, his voice breaking.  “Please don’t leave me here!”

His plea was met with a slap to the face, hard enough that his head was knocked back against the tree.  Ezra was trembling, his eyes wide with terror as he stared up at Maul, wordlessly pleading with his master not to do this.

“You brought this on yourself, boy,” Maul said coldly before he turned away from Ezra and walked back toward the building.

“Master, please!” Ezra called, tears welling up in his eyes and spilling down his cheeks.  “I’ll be good, I promise!”

But Maul ignored his words and kept walking, leaving Ezra bound to the tree, shaking from his own fear and the freezing rain that pounded down on him.

As Maul vanished into the darkness, Ezra let out a wordless scream of rage as he wrenched at the chains.  He couldn’t remove them this time.  Maul would know.  Maul would know and he would inflict a punishment so severe that Ezra would wish he’d just chosen to stay chained up outside in the rain.

He reached for his bond with Kanan, desperate for the comfort and safety Kanan always gave him, but he pulled back quickly, remembering Maul’s warning when he’d first woken up on the Nightbrother.  What if Maul sensed that he was reaching out and came back and just hurt him even worse?

Ezra slumped against the tree, staring up at the sky through the leaves as he cried, not bothering to try and stop himself.  He just wanted to go home.  He just wanted to see Kanan again.  But he couldn't even reach out and sense Kanan’s presence without risking an even worse punishment than this.

Ezra continued sobbing as he pressed himself back against the tree’s trunk in a vain attempt to find just a little more cover from the rain.  Why hadn't he just stayed in his room?  He should have known Maul would be alerted if he left.  He should have just left well enough alone.  He should have just accepted his return to his old life and remembered his place.  But instead, he’d chosen to run, to defy and betray his master again.

He lowered his gaze to the ground at his feet, flinching as lightning cracked across the sky again.  Maul was right.  He’d never been this difficult or disobedient before Kanan had come into his life.  Now he was openly defiant, fighting Maul’s will at every turn.

As he shuddered under the freezing rain, the cuffs digging painfully into his wrists, Ezra knew deep down that he deserved this.


 

Kanan ran a hand through his hair, sighing heavily in frustration as he wracked his brain for answers he knew weren’t even there.  All day, he’d been trying to think of anything Ezra might have said, even the smallest thing, that could give him a clue as to where the kid had grown up.  There was no guarantee that Maul would have taken Ezra back there, but they had no other leads.

Since the day Ezra had been taken, Kanan had been reaching out to him, trying to use their bond in the Force to locate his padawan.  But their bond was weak, still forming slowly as Ezra learned to let himself trust Kanan more and more, and now Kanan found himself blocked out completely by a wall that surrounded Ezra’s mind.  A wall that almost seemed like the very concept of fear made solid, keeping him from finding Ezra.

Kanan stood up abruptly and began pacing around his cabin, still searching his mind for even the smallest shred of a clue.  But Ezra had been so reluctant to trust them that he had made it a point to stay away from the subject of where Ezra was from, not wanting the kid to think he was trying to get information out of him that would then be used to hurt Maul.  Once Ezra had begun to open up, they had just never talked about it.  But they should have.  He should have.  He should have done more to make sure Ezra would be safe.  He should have had a plan in case something like this happened.

Kanan pressed the heels of his hands over his eyes for a moment, gritting his teeth as he breathed deeply, reminding himself that blaming himself for this wasn’t going to help Ezra right now.  If he had to, he could beat himself up for this once Ezra was safely back home.  Right now, he needed his mind clear of those thoughts so that he could focus only on Ezra.  He was what mattered right now.

As he lowered his hands away from his face, Kanan’s eyes flitted briefly to the chronometer.  As he saw the date on it, Kanan froze.  That explained it, why today felt so much worse than the past three weeks of agony.  It was Empire Day.  Ezra would have turned fourteen today.

No.  He did turn fourteen today.  He was still out there and Kanan wouldn’t allow himself for even a moment to think like he was lost forever.

Kanan resumed his pacing.  If he couldn’t think of anything Ezra had said that would give him a hint as to where to find him, then he had to think of another plan.  Ezra had been back in Maul’s hands for nearly three weeks now, and he wasn’t going to stay there a day longer if there was anything Kanan could do about it.

Kanan stopped in his tracks as a wave of sheer terror crashed over him, freezing him to his core.  He stood there, his heart pounding as his mind struggled to understand what was going on, before he recognized the source of the feeling.

Ezra.

Ezra was in pain.  Ezra was afraid.  Ezra was calling to him, maybe not even realizing he was doing it.

Kanan!

It was more of a feeling than a thought, and with it came a flood of desperation and despair so powerful it threatened to drown him.  Kanan closed his eyes, clinging to the echo of Ezra’s Force signature in his head.

Father!

Kanan felt like the air had been ripped from his lungs as Ezra’s desperate, pained cry filled his head, overtaking everything, drowning out all other thoughts and feelings until Kanan knew nothing but his son’s pain and fear.

As abruptly as it had started, it stopped, as if Ezra’s emotions had been quickly snuffed out.  As if Ezra had been -- no.  Ezra wasn’t dead.  He couldn’t be.  Kanan wasn’t even going to acknowledge the possibility unless he saw the body himself.

“I’m sorry, Ezra,” Kanan whispered as he sank down onto the edge of his bunk.  He knew there was no way Ezra could hear him, but he didn’t care.  “I’m so sorry.  I’ll find you.  I promise.”

He reached out, summoning the holocron to his hand as he clung to that faint echo of Ezra's presence in his mind.  With that shred of their bond and the holocron's star maps, maybe he could find something that would lead him to Ezra.  He knew the odds were slim, but he had to try.  He wasn't going to fail his padawan again.


 

Ezra knew hours had to have passed by now.  His legs had long since begun to ache from standing for so long, and he had lost the energy to scream or struggle against his restraints.  He barely even had the energy to lift his head and look up as he sensed Maul approaching.  He was still shivering even though he was becoming numb to the cold.

The cuffs around his wrists opened and Ezra’s arms cramped, spasms of pain shooting through them as he tried to quickly pull his hands in front of him, just in case this was a trick or Maul changed his mind.  He didn’t resist as Maul took hold of one of his arms and began to lead him back inside.  Once the door had shut behind them, Ezra’s shoulders dropped from their defensive posture.

“Thank you, Master,” Ezra said, his voice barely above a whisper.  Deep down, he didn’t want to be grateful that Maul had decided to untie him and bring him back inside, but he was anyway.

“Ezra,” Maul said, his voice colder than Ezra’s rain-soaked skin.  “If you try this again, the consequences will be much worse.  Do you understand?”

“Yes,” Ezra said quietly, not wanting to think of what Maul could do to him that was worse than this.

“Good boy,” Maul said.  Ezra flinched at the words, even as a reflexive sense of warmth and pride flickered to life in his chest.

Ezra stayed quiet as Maul led him to the lift and back to his room.  Ezra was almost surprised when he realized Maul was taking him there.  He’d half expected to be locked up in that dark, empty cell Maul had thrown him in so many times when he was younger.

“Get some sleep,” Maul said as he pushed Ezra through the door.  “Tomorrow we have business to attend to.”

As the door closed and locked behind him, Ezra stared down at his hands.  Maul hadn't chained him up this time.  He glanced up at the window, now closed and likely locked much more securely, and shuddered instinctively.  Chains or no chains, he wasn’t going to try that again.  He was going to do what he should have done before and just be grateful for the small amount of freedom he had right now.

Turning away from the window, Ezra rushed into the refresher, where he quickly pulled off his soaking wet clothes, sighing in relief when they were no longer clinging to his skin.  He turned on the shower and stood, shivering, under the steady stream of water, trying to get himself warm again.  The cold from the rain felt like it had seeped underneath his skin, chilling him to the bone.  He wasn’t sure how long he’d have lasted out there if Maul hadn't come back for him.

Don’t think like that, he scolded himself.  He wouldn’t leave you.  He’ll always come back.

Ezra growled in frustration, pressing his hands over his eyes as he tried to drive those thoughts from his mind.  Why, after everything he’d learned from Kanan, was he still thinking about Maul like that?  It didn’t matter if he’d come back to help Ezra when he was the one who’d chained Ezra to a kriffing tree in the middle of a storm in the first place, did it?

But he had come back.  No matter how much Ezra didn’t want to give Maul credit for that, the thought wouldn’t leave his mind.  Maul could have easily left him out there until morning, or even longer than that, but he’d chosen not to.  He’d chosen to end Ezra’s punishment after just a few hours and let him come back to his own room rather than locking him in a cell.  He’d shown a small shred of mercy when Ezra had given him no reason to.

Ezra dug his nails into the skin of his arm, trying to snap himself out of those thoughts and the road he knew they’d lead him down.

Shaking his head, Ezra turned off the water and stepped out of the shower.  He was still cold, but at least it was no longer so bad he was shaking.  He quickly got dressed in dry clothes before slipping out through the door and curling up on his bed, his blanket pulled tightly around him.

As he closed his eyes, Ezra tried to focus only on the warmth of the blanket.  He wasn’t going to think about Maul or about Kanan or about his failed attempt to escape.  He was just going to be grateful for one night he got to sleep without those damned chains on.

Chapter Text

A hand closed tightly around Ezra’s wrist and he gasped as he was dragged from his bed and onto the floor.  He instinctively braced himself for a blow, trying to think of what he’d done to deserve a beating this time.  But no strike came, no harsh kick to the side, no tightening of an invisible grip around his throat.

“You have five minutes,” Maul said before turning on his heel and leaving the room.

Ezra sighed in relief as he stumbled to his feet.  It certainly wasn’t the first time he’d been woken up like that, and he knew it wouldn’t be the last.

Ezra hurried through the routine of changing his clothes and getting ready for the day, trying to mentally prepare himself for whatever torment Maul was going to put him through this time.  Once he was ready, he stood in the center of the room, waiting patiently for Maul to unlock the door.  He wouldn’t kneel.  He wasn’t that broken; not yet.

When the door opened, Ezra’s heart sank as he saw that the chains were in Maul’s hands.  Some small part of him had hoped that he wouldn’t be kept in restraints anymore, but he now realized that he’d been foolish to think that for even a second.  Why would Maul choose to leave him unchained after he’d tried to run away?  Maul was being kind when he’d let Ezra sleep without restraints the night before, but he had no reason to leave them off permanently.  Not yet.

Without arguing or even hesitating, Ezra extended his arms in front of him.  Maul locked the cuffs around his wrists as he used the Force to close the others around his ankles.

“Come with me,” Maul said.

As Ezra followed him out of the room, he realized that something was different.

“What about the collar?” he asked, wincing as he realized he might have just reminded Maul to put it on him.

“Do you think I’m going to need to use it?” Maul asked, glancing back over his shoulder at Ezra.  His voice carried a warning, making it perfectly clear that he would put a shock collar back around Ezra’s neck the moment Ezra gave him a reason to do it.

“N--no,” Ezra said quickly.

“Good,” Maul said as he led Ezra into the lift, his hand closing around Ezra’s arm in a way that was almost comforting.  “I don’t like hurting you, Ezra.”

“I know,” Ezra said, his voice quiet as he stared down at the floor rather than look at Maul.

He remained silent as Maul led him out of the lift and down the corridor, but stopped in his tracks, his heart jumping into his throat as he realized Maul was leading him outside.  He took a stumbling step forward as Maul tugged on his arm, lightly pulling him along.  His eyes grew wider as they fixed on the tree line ahead of them.

He began shaking as they drew closer and closer to the forest, only for the tightness in his chest to ease as Maul steered him in the direction of the Nightbrother.  As he was led onto the ship, a small spark of hope once again flashed to life in Ezra’s chest.  If they were leaving the planet, maybe he could get help.  Maybe he could escape and hide until he could find a way to contact the rebellion.  Maybe…

As Maul pushed Ezra into the copilot’s seat, he lightly gripped Ezra’s chin, forcing him to look up.

“Do I need to restrain you to the seat, or are you going to behave?” Maul asked.  His eyes were burning with that look that Ezra had seen so often as a child; one that always sent the clear warning, comply or be punished.

“I’ll behave, Master,” Ezra said, fighting to keep the small tremor out of his voice.  That look, like so many other things Maul did, made him feel like he was a child again, desperately trying to both avoid punishment and please his master.

Maul smiled briefly, his hand releasing Ezra’s chin and resting on his shoulder.  Ezra’s heart skipped a beat at the gentle touch, then sank as Maul pulled his hand away.  Ezra clenched his jaw, silently berating himself for being so easily affected by a simple hand on his shoulder.

As the ship lifted off the ground and Maul piloted it out of the atmosphere, Ezra began shaking, clenching his hands into fists on his lap.  A prickling, nervous feeling settled over him, and his stomach began to tie itself in knots.  Something was about to happen.  Something horrible that he wouldn’t be able to avoid.


 

Ezra’s heart seemed to double in speed as the Nightbrother dropped out of hyperspace.  He recognized the planet just ahead of them immediately.  Dathomir.

His heart kept hammering as Maul brought the ship down through the atmosphere and landed it on the planet’s surface.  The first time Ezra had been to Dathomir as a child, he’d been terrified, overwhelmed by the echoes of death and destruction, not just of the individual people who’d died there, but the entire planet, a whole population decimated, the few survivors scattered across the stars, never to return.  He’d instinctively reached for Maul’s hand, only to be struck and chastised for his weakness.  By that point, he’d long since learned not to cry, but that day, he’d nearly forgotten that lesson.

Ezra braced himself as Maul pulled him to his feet and led him down the lowered ramp and onto Dathomir’s surface.  He didn’t know how Maul could stand being here.  This had been his home planet, and it was his people who’d been slaughtered here.  He’d watched his own mother die on this planet, but whatever he felt about this place, he hid it well.

“What are we doing here?” Ezra asked as he followed Maul toward the entrance to the cave that loomed ahead of them.

“You will see soon enough,” Maul said.  His voice was empty of emotion, which only made Ezra more nervous.

Ezra trailed behind Maul, his footsteps small and shuffling, hindered by the chain connecting his ankles.  He looked around as they walked deeper into the cave, shuddering at the feeling in the air.  It was cold in a way that was almost alive, and he couldn’t shake the feeling that something was watching him, even though he knew the Nightsisters were long gone.

The tightness in his stomach and chest only grew worse as they stopped in front of the ancient stone altar in the center of the cave.  That feeling of being watched pricked at the back of Ezra’s neck, settling under his skin and growing more intense by the second.

Maul reached out a hand toward Ezra, who instinctively flinched before he saw the cuffs around his wrists open, freeing his hands.  Ezra stared down at the chain that now coiled on the cavern floor for a moment, wondering why Maul had released him.  But it didn’t matter much anyway.  With the chain around his ankles, he wouldn’t be able to run unless Maul was distracted enough for Ezra to free himself.

As Ezra looked up, his heart skipped a beat when he saw that Maul now held a small knife in one hand.

Ezra took a short, stumbling step backwards, only for Maul to grab his wrist, holding on tightly to keep him from backing away.

“What are you doing?” Ezra asked, his voice shaking.  Maul wouldn’t bring him here just to kill him, would he?

“Something I should have done years ago,” Maul said.  “There is a rite of adoption here.  It binds two people together as family, by blood.”

“N--no,” Ezra said, the word coming out as a choked-out whisper as he felt like the air had been pulled from his lungs.  He tried to wrench his arm out of Maul’s grip, but Maul was holding onto him too tightly.  “I--I’m not letting you do this.”

“This is for the best, Ezra,” Maul said as he pushed back Ezra’s sleeve, exposing his forearm.

“No!” Ezra shouted, tears welling up in his eyes as he struggled to break free.  “Don’t!”

Ezra gasped as the cold durasteel slashed across the inside of his arm and blood welled up around the wound.

“Please!” Ezra cried, his voice breaking.

Maul slashed the blade across his own skin, creating a wound identical to Ezra’s.  Ezra’s heart pounded as Maul pressed their wounds together, holding Ezra’s arm tightly against his so Ezra couldn’t break away, no matter how hard he fought.  As drops of their blood fell onto the altar, a glowing green tendril of mist rose up, twining itself around them.  It sank under Ezra’s skin, rushing through him as the magic rooted in the planet bound the two of them together.  It was deeper than the bond they’d always shared as master and apprentice, and Ezra knew instinctively that it would never break, no matter how hard he tried.  Even in death, it would never be gone.

He felt something shift in his mind, like something was rearranging itself, and as he looked up at Maul, his eyes wide with anger and fear, he felt the word rise to the surface of his mind, an instinct he couldn’t fight off if he tried.

Father.

As Maul released him and the green mist vanished, Ezra looked down at the wound on his arm.  It was already beginning to heal, the process sped up by the magic Maul had used.  He stared at it for a moment, his mind struggling to accept what he saw, what he’d felt.

“Why?” he asked, his voice shaking.  “Why would you do this to me?”

“Because you are my son, Ezra,” Maul said, putting a hand on Ezra’s shoulder as if trying to comfort him.  “You always have been.  I just made it official.”

Ezra pulled away from Maul’s touch, tearing his gaze away from the healing cut on his arm so he could glare up at his -- no, why was he even thinking that word again?

“No!” Ezra shouted.  “I’m not!  You’re not my father!”

“We both know what you felt,” Maul said.

“Because you forced me to!” Ezra said.  “I don’t want this!  I’m not your son!”

His voice cracked as tears began to sting at his eyes and slide down his face.

“I’m not your son,” he muttered.  “I’m not.”

Ezra took a step back, his arms hugging around his chest, his gaze fixed on the ground at his feet as something grew tight in his chest and a lump formed in his throat.

“Please,” he said.  “Please undo it.”

“I can't,” Maul said.

“Please!” Ezra cried.  “I don’t want this!  If you care about me at all --”

“Ezra,” Maul said, stepping forward and gripping Ezra’s arms tightly to drive home his point, “there is no way to reverse it.  It’s permanent.  You are my son by blood now and you always will be.”

“No!” Ezra shouted.  He tried to wrench himself away, but Maul’s grip didn’t waver.

“Ezra,” Maul said again, a warning in his voice this time.  “That’s enough.”

Rage boiled over in Ezra’s chest.  It wasn’t the first time Maul had spoken to him like this, as if he was a misbehaving child, but now it felt so different.  Now, things were different.  Now, Maul really was his -- no!  He wouldn’t acknowledge it.  He wouldn’t accept it.

“You don’t get to talk to me like that!” Ezra growled.  “You’re not my father!”

Maul moved so fast Ezra barely saw it coming as a hand struck his face hard enough that his ears rang.  He stumbled back, tripping over the chain that bound his ankles and falling to the ground.  He dragged himself backwards, huddling against the cavern wall, his face buried in his hands.

“Get away!” he shouted.  “Just stay away from me!”

His fingers tangled in his hair, ripping and pulling at it as if he could tear the effects of what Maul had done from his mind.  He didn’t want to think of Maul as his father, but whatever magic Maul had used to adopt him wouldn’t let Ezra not think of him that way.

Ezra let out a wordless, furious scream as he struck the side of his head against the cave wall.  How had he let this happen?  Why would Maul do this to him?

“Ezra!”

Hands closed around Ezra’s wrists, pulling his hands away from his face and dragging him to his feet, away from the wall.

“Don’t touch me!” Ezra shouted, trying to claw at Maul’s arms.  “Let me go!”

“I won't let you hurt yourself,” Maul said, his voice calm even as his hands tightened painfully around Ezra’s arms.

“Right,” Ezra said, his voice breaking.  “That’s your job, isn’t it?”

“Ezra,” Maul snapped, “calm down, or I will make you.”

Ezra said nothing, focusing only on struggling against Maul’s painful, bruising grip on his arms.  Seeing that Ezra wasn’t going to give up easily, Maul released one of Ezra’s arms and pressed the palm of his hand against Ezra’s forehead.  Ezra immediately felt dizziness creeping in at the edges of his mind as Maul’s presence in the Force pressed in around him.

“No!” he cried.  “No!  Get out!”

He threw his strength behind his mental shields, no longer trying to break out of Maul’s physical hold on him, focusing on keeping Maul out of his mind.  But Maul was too strong for him, and he knew exactly where Ezra’s weak points were.  He’d taught Ezra how to shield his mind and he could tear through those defenses easily.

“Get out,” Ezra said again, his voice slurring and growing quieter as his vision blurred and darkness crept in around him.

The last thing he knew was his knees giving out and Maul’s arms catching him before he could fall to the ground.


 

Ezra’s eyes slipped out of focus before they slowly closed and he began to collapse.  Maul caught him as he fell, carefully lifting the boy into his arms and carrying him out of the cave.  When they reached the Nightbrother, Maul gently set Ezra down on the floor before walking to the front of the ship to power up the engines.

He’d known Ezra would likely resist the adoption and would reject it at first, but he also knew it was for the best.  One day, Ezra would understand, when he was older and there was more time and distance between him and the months he’d spent with the Jedi.  The Nightsisters’ magic would only make it easier for him to remember where he belonged.

Once he’d piloted the ship out of the atmosphere, Maul stood and went to the back of the ship to check on Ezra.  He was still unconscious, his hands twitching and his shoulders tensing up as if he was in pain while he dreamed.

Bitter regret stung at the back of Maul’s mind.  He should have adopted the boy long ago.  He should have acknowledged Ezra as his son from the very beginning.  If he had, maybe it wouldn’t have been so easy for the Jedi to lure Ezra away from him.  He had thought that admitting how much he cared for the boy was a sign of weakness, but his refusal to acknowledge it had only made Ezra weaker in the end, leaving him with a desperate need for a father-figure that the Jedi had been able to exploit.

“No,” Ezra muttered, his eyelids twitching frantically.  “No, don’t!”

Maul reached out through the Force, across his bond with Ezra.  He could feel Ezra struggling against him as he pushed the boy’s mind back into a deeper sleep.  Within moments, Ezra was once again lying motionless and peaceful on the floor of the ship.


 

When Ezra woke, his eyes immediately began stinging with tears.  He didn’t even get one brief moment of not remembering where he’d just been and what had happened there.  He curled up in a tight ball on his side, staring blankly at the locked door on the other side of his room as tears ran down his face.  He barely even registered the fact that his restraints were gone.  What did that matter, anyway?

Ezra buried his face in his hands, sobbing as the memory of Maul’s knife cutting into his skin rose to the surface of his mind.  He remembered the broken, terrified sound of his own voice as he begged Maul not to do it, the burning cold of the green mist as it twined around him and sank under his skin, reaching into his mind and twisting everything in it.

He didn’t know why it hurt so much.  He’d told Kanan over and over that Maul was the closest thing he’d ever had to a father.  He’d acknowledged it then, even after he’d begun to realize that Maul had never been a good father.  But now it was different.  Maul wasn’t just like a father to him; Maul was his father now, and Ezra had no choice but to think of him as such.

Ezra bit down on the back of his hand, muffling the sound of his crying.  The bitter, cold sting of betrayal stuck at his heart over and over again, and he didn’t understand why he felt like this.  He should have expected nothing less from the person who’d stolen him from his family as a child and then ripped him away from the people who'd saved him.  But knowing that did nothing to ease the pain of feeling like he’d been betrayed by someone he trusted.

That hurt more than anything else.  He had trusted Maul, ever since he was a child, because he didn’t know any better.  Somewhere, deep down, he still trusted Maul in spite of everything.  He’d trusted Maul his entire life, and Maul had done this to him.

Ezra squeezed his eyes shut, trying to pretend for even just a moment that he was back on the Ghost, that the dull ache in his arm was from an injury he’d gotten on a mission or a training accident, that any minute now Kanan or Hera was going to call him out of his room for some chore he had to do or a mission briefing.  But no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t forget where he was and what Maul had done.  The fresh, raw memories of Dathomir lurked at the back of his mind, relentlessly reminding him that he was Maul’s again, that he had never belonged anywhere but here, at his father’s side.

“You’re not my father,” Ezra whispered.  “You never were.  You never will be.”

He knew the consequences of saying that to Maul’s face would be severe, but at the very least, he could say it here.  Maul might have won this round, but Ezra wasn’t broken yet.

Chapter Text

For three days now, Ezra hadn't said a word, not even when he was alone in his room where Maul wouldn’t hear him.  Not speaking was one of the few acts of resistance he still had the willpower to carry out, though he wondered if it really counted as resistance when it was only partly his own choice.  Most of the time, he felt like everything inside him had been ripped out, leaving him without the will to speak.

Maul didn’t try to force him to talk, but he still came to Ezra’s room every day to retrieve him for training.  Ezra had tried to resist at first, but it was like something inside him had shattered that day on Dathomir, and he couldn’t bring himself to keep up the show of defiance.  He just did as he was told, letting Maul put him through his paces without saying a word about it.

And he was tired of it.

Ezra sat on the edge of his bed, his knees pulled up to his chest, running a finger along the edge of the small metal band around his left wrist.  Maul had put it on him shortly after their return from Dathomir, telling him it was a tracker, and warning him that his punishment would be severe if he tried to remove it.  Fury burned away in Ezra’s chest at the memory of staring down at the metal as it closed around his wrist, of his quiet resignation to what Maul was doing, of how he hadn't fought back or even tried to convince Maul not to do it.  He’d just extended his arm on command, nodded, and mumbled “yes…” -- Ezra’s heart skipped a beat as he realized he couldn’t remember if he’d called Maul “master” or “father.”  It was the last word Ezra had spoken, and he couldn’t remember which it was.

At first, Ezra had wondered if his lack of defiance was Maul’s doing, if the magic he’d used on Dathomir to bind Ezra to him and force Ezra to think of him as a father was allowing Maul to control his actions, or at least sap away his will to fight back.  But Ezra knew instinctively that his actions were his own, and that just made it worse.  He wanted to be able to fight back again.  He was tired of being compliant, of only being able to resist inside his own head instead of doing it outright.

But he was also worn down.  He knew he would be punished for disobedience and defiance and he didn’t know if he had the strength to face it anymore.

As he heard the door unlock, Ezra rested his forehead on his knees so he wouldn’t have to look at Maul when he entered the room.  Simply refusing to look at him was one of the other small acts of resistance Ezra could bring himself to carry out, and Ezra clung to it, reminding himself each time he did it that Maul hadn't broken him completely.  Not yet, anyway.

Ezra could sense Maul’s anger and frustration as he entered the room.  He had been growing more impatient with Ezra every day since Dathomir, knowing perfectly well that even as Ezra obeyed his commands, he still rejected the new bond that had been forged between them.

“Get up,” Maul said, that harsh impatience clear in his voice.

Ezra gritted his teeth, every muscle in his body going rigid as he forced himself not to flinch at Maul’s anger.  He took a long, deep breath, summoning the bitter rage that filled his chest and putting its full force behind his voice as he quietly muttered his first words in three days.

“Kriffing make me.”

Ezra gasped as Maul grabbed his hair, dragging him forward off of the bed and hauling him to his feet.  Ezra grabbed at Maul’s wrist with one hand, scratching at his skin as he tried to break free of Maul’s grip.  Maul quickly drew his free hand back and struck Ezra across the face before he flung Ezra against the wall.

Ezra stayed backed up against the wall, catching his breath after having it knocked from his lungs by the impact and wiping the blood off of his now-split lip.

“I am starting to lose patience with you being childish,” Maul said.

“Sorry, Master,” Ezra said, summoning as much venom as he could force into his voice to make sure Maul knew he wasn’t sorry at all.

As Maul paced in front of him, his eyes fell on the small pile of ration bars beside Ezra’s bed, now holding one more than it had the last time he’d entered the room.

“And I see you’re still refusing to eat,” he said coldly.

Ezra said nothing.  He just crossed his arms, clenched his jaw, and glared down at the floor in front of him, trying to ignore the tight pain in his stomach that got worse at the mere mention of eating.

“Do you think starving yourself will change anything?” Maul asked.

Still, Ezra didn’t respond.  He knew it changed nothing.  It didn’t get him out of training, and it wouldn’t undo what Maul had done, but it was something.  One little thing he had control over, even if it meant that sooner or later he would probably pass out during training or get himself hurt when he moved too slowly.

“Ezra,” Maul said, rounding on him, “you need to accept our bond.  Until you do, you are only hurting yourself.”

You’re the one hurting me,” Ezra said, finally shifting his furious glare from the floor to Maul.  “I never agreed to this.”  He gestured to his forearm to indicate the scar hidden beneath his sleeve.  “I don’t want it.”

“It was for the best,” Maul said.  “The sooner you realize that, the better.  You are just a child, and you don’t know what’s best for you.  You couldn’t have made this decision for yourself.”

Bitter rage rose up like bile in Ezra’s throat.  Not so long ago, he would have jumped at the chance to make this decision, to become Maul’s son, and he doubted Maul would have claimed he was too young to decide for himself if he’d consented to it.

“First you tell me not to act like a child and then you say I am a child so I can’t say no to you slitting my wrist open so you could adopt me by force,” Ezra said.  “Make up your mind.”

Stinging pain burst across Ezra’s already-bruised cheek once again as Maul slapped him.  Ezra could barely bring himself to care.  In the short time he’d been here, he’d become used to it again.

“Watch your tone, boy,” Maul snapped.  “The Jedi might have let you get away with speaking to him like that, but here, you will speak to your father with respect.”

The word brought a spark of rage bursting to live in Ezra’s chest.  He knew Maul had only said it to torment him more, knowing that it caused him pain.

“You’re not my father!” he shouted, unable to hold himself back as his right hand curled into a fist and he lunged at Maul.

Maul caught Ezra’s arm before the blow could make contact, flinging him to the floor.  Ezra barely had time to brace himself before Maul kicked him in the side, driving the air from his lungs.  Ezra groaned, his hand covering his bruised side as he lay there, shuddering on the floor at Maul’s feet.  After days of not eating and barely sleeping as his nightmares grew worse, he was so much weaker than he should be.

“Ezra,” Maul said, the harshness gone from his voice, replaced with a gentle tone as he knelt down and slid a hand under Ezra’s back, slowly helping him to sit up.  “What is making it so difficult for you to accept this?  I know it isn’t your birth parents.”

Ezra flinched away from Maul’s touch, not wanting to let himself feel comforted by it for even a moment.  He wanted to shout at Maul, to tell him that what was making this so hard was him, that he would never accept Maul has his father after everything he’d done.  But it wasn’t true, and Ezra knew Maul would see right through it.  Before, Ezra would have accepted it.  He would have wanted it.  He would have loved knowing that his master was formally acknowledging him as a son.  He would have gladly called Maul his father.  But everything was different now, thanks to one person.

“Kanan.”

Kanan had helped Ezra see the person Maul really was.  Kanan was the one who’d shown Ezra what real, unconditional love was.  He’d shown Ezra what a real father and family should be, instead of whatever twisted version of it he’d had with Maul.

Maul took hold of Ezra’s wrist, a loose grip that Ezra easily could have pulled away from, and pushed back his sleeve, revealing the scar that ran up his forearm.  Ezra could feel Maul’s anger burning beneath the surface, pulsing through his veins and across their bond as he took in Ezra’s simple answer.  To him, it was just proof that Kanan had turned Ezra against him, had taken his apprentice from him.

Ezra’s skin felt like it was burning as Maul ran his finger along the edge of the scar.  He tried to pull away, but Maul’s grip grew tighter around his wrist, not letting him go.  Ezra’s heart hammered as he wondered if he was about to be punished just for saying Kanan's name.

“I should have done this years ago,” Maul said.  Ezra could hear the faintest hint of regret in his voice.  “Maybe if I had, this wouldn’t be happening now.”

In spite of everything, Ezra couldn’t help but think that Maul might be right.  If he’d adopted Ezra when he was younger, before the rebellion had found him, Kanan might not have been able to convince him that Maul had been using him.  He might have run away when he’d had a chance, returned to Maul, and avoided all of this pain and confusion.

“Why didn’t you?” Ezra asked.  “When I was a kid, or when you first took me?”

A dull ache spread through Ezra’s chest as he said it.  A small part of him insisted that he shouldn’t care, but he wanted to know why.  If Maul supposedly cared about him so much, why had it taken him this long?

“I didn’t want to acknowledge it,” Maul said as he released Ezra’s wrist.  “I thought it would make us both weaker.  But I was wrong, Ezra.  We are stronger together.  Not just as master and apprentice, but as father and son.”

Ezra flinched at the words, mentally recoiling from how much he secretly wanted to embrace them.  Maul had called him his son before, and Ezra had liked it.  From the moment he knew what the word meant, he’d thought of Maul as the closest thing he had to a father, even if Maul would always be his master before he was anything else.

“What changed?” Ezra asked, even as he wondered why he cared.

“The bounty hunter,” Maul said.  “The Inquisitor.  The Jedi.  I almost lost you, and every time, you needed me to save you.  I know how powerful you are, Ezra, but when you couldn’t save yourself, I realized you may be a warrior, but you are still just a child who needs his father.”

“I have a father,” Ezra said.

“You do,” Maul said, putting a hand on Ezra’s shoulder.  “And it is not the Jedi.”

“He called me his son,” Ezra said, his voice bitter as he pulled away from Maul’s touch.  “He said I was part of his family.  And he’s right.  He’s a better father than you could ever be!”

“He lied to you,” Maul said, his hand returning to Ezra’s shoulder and his grip growing tighter.  “He has been manipulating you since the day you met him.”

“No,” Ezra said, shaking his head as he tried to pull out of Maul’s grip again.

“He doesn’t care about you, Ezra,” Maul said.  “You were nothing but a pawn to him.  He only wanted to draw you away from your own power, to bring you under his control.”

“That’s not true!” Ezra cried.

“What do you think is more likely?” Maul asked, his voice growing harsh again as his fingers dug deeper into Ezra’s shoulder, bruising his skin.  “That a Jedi who rejects all attachment grew to love you like family within a few months, or that he was lying to you the whole time?”

“It’s not true,” Ezra muttered, staring down at his own hands so he didn’t have to look at Maul.  “It’s not true.”

“Ezra,” Maul said, his other hand cupping Ezra’s face and forcing him to look back up at him, “I know this is difficult for you, but you need to accept this.  “You will never move past what the Jedi did to you if you continue clinging to the idea that he is your real family.”

“He didn’t do anything,” Ezra said, his voice quiet and weak.  He was saying it out of habit now.  He didn’t know what was true and what wasn’t.  Some of what Maul said about Kanan made perfect sense, and some of it didn’t, and all Ezra wanted was for something to be clear.

“You don’t really believe that, do you?” Maul asked.

The question hit Ezra like a punch to the gut, making him feel like all the air had been sucked from his lungs.

“I--I don’t know,” Ezra said, as if the words had been pulled from him against his will.  They were true, but he didn’t want to say them out loud.

“It isn’t true, Ezra,” Maul said.  “He did do something to you.  You’ve changed so much since I last saw you, because of him.  He was manipulating you, trying to make you weaker.  Somewhere deep down, I think you know that.”

Ezra quickly bit down on the inside of his cheek to stop the instinctive yes, Master that rose to the surface of his mind, a cold feeling of horror spreading through his chest at the thought that he’d almost said it without thinking.  How could he let Maul turn him against Kanan that easily after everything Kanan had done for him?

Maul released his hold on Ezra’s chin, his hand moving up and running across Ezra’s hair as a small smile twitched across his face, as if he knew exactly what Ezra had been thinking.

“You know it’s true, son,” Maul said.  “He is a Jedi.  He could never be a father to you.  He doesn’t love you.  The sooner you can accept that, the easier this will be for you.”

As Maul stood up, Ezra felt a faint tug in his chest as that almost-comforting touch disappeared.  He hugged his arms around himself, trying to ignore just how small and alone and cold he felt now that Maul was no longer touching him.

“Make sure you eat something,” Maul said, gesturing to the small pile of ration bars beside Ezra’s bed.

With that, Maul turned and walked out of the room, leaving Ezra feel like everything inside him had been scraped out, except for a cold, slimy feeling that clung to the inside of his chest as he wondered why he wanted that comforting, affectionate touch from Maul of all people.

Ezra pulled his knees up to his chest, hugging his arms around them as he rocked back and forth, trying to will away the burning sensation behind his eyes.  He didn’t know what to feel or think anymore.  He just knew that it would be so much easier to accept what Maul told him and let things go back to how they’d been before.  He didn’t want to fight anymore, and he didn’t know if the reason for that was the magic that Maul had used to alter his mind.  Worse, he wasn’t sure he cared.