A soft rapping of knuckles startled Ezra from his reverie. He swiveled in the gunner’s seat and saw Kanan standing in the passageway, one arm leaning on the bulkhead above, the other on his hip. His shoulder guard and holster were absent; so was his green tactical sweater. The sleeveless gray undershirt revealed his hidden muscles, hairy armpits, and one or two blossoming bruises. His face was tired, his eyes soft and sad.
“Hey,” Ezra answered quietly.
“Just… wanted to check in on you. See how you’re doing.”
“Good, good.” Kanan rolled his lips inward and bobbed his head. An awkward silence followed. “You hungry?”
Ezra wanted to say no, but his stomach wouldn’t let him. “A little.” A high-pitched gurgle suddenly whined from his belly. He hadn’t eaten since that morning’s ration bar; he was starving. “Actually, a lot.”
Kanan visibly relaxed. “Okay, I’ll get you something.” He turned and left, boots thumping on the deck toward the galley. Ezra watched the man’s tall, lean silhouette disappear before he turned back around to the viewport. The stars winked at him distantly in the black ocean of outer space.
A few minutes later Kanan returned with two ration meals stacked in one hand, already heated and ready to eat. The utensils were pinned under his thumb. He also cradled two cups and a bottle of something in his other hand. He set everything down on the side console without dropping a thing.
Ezra was impressed. “Did you just use the Force?”
Kanan smiled to himself and cracked open the bottle with a carbonated hiss. “No, no Force.”
He held the first cup at an angle as he poured it full. He handed it to Ezra, who took a sip. It was Crystal Cola, Ezra’s favorite soft drink. He hadn’t had any since he was twelve. He took another gulp. The bubbles tickled the hairs on his upper lip. Sweetness washed through his mouth and made him salivate. He swallowed, relishing the fizzy burn in his throat.
“You worked at a bar.”
Kanan’s smile took on a secretive curl. “Did you just use the Force?”
“You pour like a bartender.”
“Maybe I’m just a guy who knows how to pour a carbonated drink without making a lot of head.”
“Yeah, but you’re good at carrying a bunch of things in one hand. And you called it head, not foam.” Ezra took another sip.
Kanan finished pouring his own drink and capped the bottle. He crossed his ankles and gracefully folded his legs, sitting down on the deck. “You spend much time in bars, Ezra? You seem to know a lot about them.”
A vague shrug. “Just Old Jho’s. But I’d go to other taverns if I was… uh. Working.”
“Yeah. Drunk people are easy targets. I didn’t wanna give Jho’s a bad rap, so I took my game to shadier joints.”
Kanan passed one of the meal boxes up to Ezra. “A thief with a heart of gold. Careful, it’s hot.”
“And your utensils.”
They uncovered their meals together. Steam rose from the compartmentalized portions of protein, starch, vegetable and dessert. Ezra had the pot roast with potatoes and carrots and a sticky little brick of cake. Kanan had the herbed chicken with broccoli and rice and some kind of bright purple fruit cobbler.
“This is nicer than our usual rations,” said Ezra. He scooped up spoonfuls of gravy and poured it over his potato mash.
“It’s been a rough couple of days.” Kanan focused on cutting his chicken into bite-sized pieces with more concentration than was really necessary. “You could use the extra calories.”
“What about the soda?”
“Lots of calories in Crystal.”
“Mm. What’s the real reason?”
Kanan sighed and rested his wrists on his knees. “I’m sorry your birthday was so…”
“Yeah, me, too.” Ezra stirred his pot roast, took a bite. It tasted better than it looked. “But it’s okay. It wasn’t your fault.”
“I know, I just wish I had known. I could have… would have at least tried to make it better for you. I’m sure you have enough bad birthday memories as it is.”
“Yeah, you could say that.”
After a pause, Kanan went back to cutting his chicken. The two Jedi stared out the viewport as they ate and listened to the background noises in the ship. Sabine and Hera’s animated conversation about something. The latest headlines on the holonet. Chopper bleating, Zeb’s full-bodied laughter. Ezra finished his main course and started in on his cake.
“I don’t think there’s anything you coulda done, Kanan,” he said at last. “Empire Day, Tseebo… everything else.” ‘Everything else’ specifically meaning the Inquisitor, Fort Anaxes, and Ezra collapsing after using the Dark Side to summon a monstrous, hostile creature from the deepest darkest bowels of the asteroid. “It was all just… fucked from the get-go.”
Kanan said nothing about the swear word. Sometimes there was no other way to say things. And he was right. It was all fucked, every miserable minute of it.
Ezra licked cake crumbs from his lips. “But thank you. For doing this.”
“Of course. More Crystal?”
“Sure. I mean, yes, please, Mister Waiter.”
Kanan stood with a smirk and refilled their cups. As he handed Ezra his drink, he said, “The Asteroid Belt.”
“That was the name of the bar I worked at.”
Ezra smiled for the second time that day. It lit up his entire face. “I knew it.”
Kanan raised his cup. “Cheers.”
Ezra mimicked the gesture. “Cheers.”
They bumped their cups together and drank.
Ezra finished his meal—he ate fast, a bad habit—and set aside the empty box. Bits of gravy and potato still clung to the sides. Once upon a time, a very hungry time ago, he would have licked it clean. But he didn’t need to do that anymore.
“Sabine gave me something. You wanna see it?”
“Sure. A birthday present?”
Ezra dug the holodisk out of his pocket and popped it into the chip reader on the console. He tapped a few buttons. The holoscreen in front of the gunner’s seat glowed to life and displayed an image of a woman, a young boy, and a man. They were dressed in Lothalian clothes and had familiar indigo-black hair and copper skin.
Kanan stood and put his hand on the back of Ezra’s seat. A smile sprang to his face. “Your parents. And you. Little you.”
“Yeah. Sabine found the disk at my house. Said it was pretty degraded, but she managed to clean it up and defrag the data. When they…” Ezra winced. “When my parents disappeared, the Empire confiscated all the broadcast equipment and tech in our house. There was nothing left. They took everything, smashed the rest. I didn’t even have a holo of them.”
Kanan turned his head and was almost nose to nose with Ezra, close enough to see the faint freckles on his cheeks and the individual stripes in his dark blue irises.
“I’d almost forgotten what they looked like,” said Ezra. “I hadn’t seen them in seven years. I tried to draw them a few times, but a drawing isn’t the same as a holo.”
His breath smelled like cake.
Kanan’s gaze wandered over Ezra’s face, mapping. Assigning features with this new knowledge. “You look a lot like your father. But you have your mother’s eyes.”
“Yeah, that’s what everyone used to say.”
Kanan looked at the screen again, pulling on a shallow, melancholy smile. “You were a cute little rascal.”
“You’re kidding, right?”
“What? No. Why would I kid?”
“Come on, Kanan, look at me. I was so goofy. I had teeth like a Loth-rat, and you could still see that scab on my chin from when I fell off my bike.”
“Hey, all kids look goofy. You grow into it or you grow out of it. In any case, it doesn’t matter. Just look at how happy you are. How happy you all are.”
“Yeah. We were.”
A trickle of pain leaked through their bond. Kanan felt it like cold blood pooling in the bottom of his heart. He reached out and laid a hand on his Padawan’s shoulder.
“We’ll find them, Ezra.”
Ezra sniffed and rubbed his nose. “Yeah, I know. I just…”
Kanan sensed the sudden flare of emotion before there was any outward indication of it. The dam was splintering, the flood imminent. He wrapped both arms around Ezra and pulled him close.
Ezra buried his face against Kanan’s shoulder and wept. He didn’t make a sound. Sobs wracked his body in silence. He shuddered and trembled, going still only when he inhaled long, snotty breaths through his stuffy nose. Kanan leaned his head against Ezra’s and let the boy dampen his shirt.
After a while, Ezra’s muffled voice rose up: “This isn’t just about them. It’s about everything else. Everything that… went wrong. The Inquisitor. The creature.”
“I know. It’s okay.”
“It’s okay. Not your fault.”
Ezra tightened his embrace and dug his fingers into Kanan like anchoring hooks. He pressed his forehead against the side of Kanan’s neck. “Thank you. For the food and the Crystal. And the company.”
Kanan stared at the holoscreen over Ezra’s back. Mira and Ephraim Bridger, frozen in time, returned his stare. We love our son so much, they seemed to say. Please watch over him. Keep him safe. He is all we have. Our precious boy. Please.
Something thick lodged in Kanan’s throat. It felt like his heart. “I’ll be here whenever you need me, Ezra.”
Kanan sighed. “No. ‘Always’ is impossible, and I’m not going to lie to you. But I will be here for you as often as I’m able. That’s a promise I can make.”
Ezra pulled back. His eyes were red and puffy, his face blotchy. “Thanks, Kanan. For being honest. And being so… wise.” He rubbed his sleeve under his nose.
“You know how I became so wise?”
Ezra shook his head.
“I fucked up a lot.”
A million-watt smile cracked through Ezra’s miserable expression. He hiccuped and laughed.
Kanan laughed with him and gave his head a reassuring pat. “Everything’s gonna be okay, Ezra. It won’t always be easy, but we’ll get through it. And if we can’t get through it, we’ll get around it. Under it. Over it, any way we can. We’ll get past.”
Ezra nodded. “Thanks, Kanan. This really… was good to hear. Especially today.”
“Yeah. It was a good reminder for me, too.” Kanan leaned back and reached for the bottle. “Come on, let’s kill the rest of this stuff. It’ll go flat soon anyway.”
With another watery sniff, Ezra nodded, wiped his eyes, and held out his cup.