Everything changed after Malachor.
When Ezra couldn’t stand the sight of himself in the mirror, he cut his hair until he finally looked how he felt. Strange. Alien. Ugly. The eyes that stared back at him were still the same. A little sadder maybe. Wiser. He couldn’t do anything about them.
Empire Day came and went. He was seventeen now. A few centimeters taller, a couple kilos heavier. The once-downy hairs at the corners of his jaw had darkened and grown bristly. Shadows of a mustache appeared on his upper lip. Sabine had clicked her tongue and told him to do something about the whiskers sprouting on the underside of his chin. He shyly asked Hera to put in for an electric razor for the next supply delivery.
“It could take a while. I’m sure Kanan wouldn’t mind giving you his razor in the meantime. He’s not using it anymore.”
Ezra said nothing and walked away, order abandoned.
He didn’t blame her. There was no way she could have known.
He taught himself to shave in the dim barracks on base. Standing shirtless in front of the mirror with tears in his eyes, listening to the scrape of the razor on his skin and watching the tiny threads of blood turn pink in the cream coating his chops. He sniffed, rinsed the blade, and raised it to his face again.
This was something fathers taught their sons. But Ezra’s father was dead. He had secretly looked forward to the day when Kanan would show him how to shave. He had played the scene over in his head many times. The two of them huddled side by side over a sink, towels around their waists and steam in the air, Kanan’s calm voice and steady hand guiding Ezra into manhood.
It wasn’t all about shaving. This was bonding time. Storytime. Kanan would tell him things that would never leave the refresher. Things meant only for Ezra’s ears.
When I was your age…
The hardest thing about fighting a war, Ezra, is…
Heh, you know, this reminds me of the time I…
The thing about love, Ezra, it takes many forms…
Tears ran into the nicks on Ezra’s face and stung. He finished, rinsed his face, and squirted a skin-cooling gel between his hands. He rubbed them together and patted his cheeks. Stood there blinking at himself for a few moments. Then he gripped the edges of the sink and wept.
He could have had it that way. Could have. That was the worst part.
Time kept moving forward. Ezra remained in the past, endlessly circling that single event like a satellite trapped in the orbit of a massive celestial body. Or a black hole. Maybe that was why he sometimes felt like he was spiralling downward into some dark, dreadful place where even light was crushed to death.
In the absence of his Master, he turned to the Sith holocron. There was a coolness to it, an indifference. Compared to the scalding flood of remorse that drenched him ever so often, it was a welcome relief, this utter lack of judgement. Distant but ever-present.
Through passion I gain strength.
Through strength I gain power.
Through power I gain victory.
Through victory my chains are broken.
The Force shall set me free.
It made sense. It was clear and straightforward. A logical progression. No riddles to be unraveled. No words within words or hidden meanings. Ezra wanted freedom. He wanted to be unburdened. To breathe. He wanted something simple and easy to understand, and this was.
But most importantly, it helped him forget. As long as he was focused on the holocron, he wasn’t thinking about the past.
He used it like a drug. Ran to it and hid inside it like a frightened child in their mother’s skirt. He mined his courage from its deceitful lodes, and it gave him the strength to go on.
At least for a little while.
It wasn’t long before he outgrew his jumpsuit and jacket. He broadened, busting through the shoulders, his torso lengthening until the crotch seam rode up and started to pinch his unmentionables. He received a new outfit: trousers and a tactical sweater in his favorite color, even some light armor for his shins, and a real blaster with a real holster to carry it in. Two years earlier this kind of thing would have put a smile on his face that lasted for months.
Hey, Kanan, check out my new threads! Isn’t it awesome?
Looking good, kid.
No, Kanan couldn’t look. Would never look again. All he saw was darkness now. Maybe blurry smudges of light through his ruined corneas. But he would never really see.
So Ezra quietly dressed himself in his new clothes and hung his new lightsaber on his belt and holstered his secondhand blaster and got on with his life without fanfare or celebration. He felt forty-seven instead of seventeen.
Guilt can age a person like that.
He completed his missions as commanded, using whatever means necessary. He walked around base in a moody fog. He couldn’t bear to be around Rex and avoided him at all costs. Seldom spoke to anyone, rarely smiled, never laughed. His life was pared down to the bare essentials needed to sustain human life. Breathe, eat, sleep, move.
It was Sabine who finally snapped him out of it.
“He’s been sitting out there every day, waiting for you,” she said, gesturing to the open landscape.
In the distance, Kanan was a black silhouette against the setting sun.
“Go to him.”
Ezra stared for a while, then shook his head. “I can’t.”
“You have to.”
“This isn’t about you, Ezra.”
“I know it isn’t.”
“Then stop acting like it is.”
Ezra continued to shake his head. “What would I say to him? Where would I even begin? I can’t… how do you even apologize for something like this?”
“So don’t worry about apologizing. Just”—she clasped Ezra’s shoulder hard—“go out there and be with him.”
“What if the words don’t come? What do I do then?”
“Ezra, stop worrying about what you’re going to say. Maybe you don’t need to say anything at all. Maybe what you really need to do is listen.”
He broke gaze with Sabine and looked at the ground instead. “I don’t think I can take whatever he has to say.”
“Have you forgotten who this is? This is Kanan. Kanan Jarrus. Our Kanan. Your Master. He isn’t going to say anything you can’t take. I know it and I promise you, Ezra. Please.”
When he raised his head, there were tears in his eyes.
She gave him a brave smile, patted his shoulder. “Go to him.”
Ezra’s footsteps crunched over the dirt and gravel. No doubt Kanan heard him coming from a long way off.
He sat cross-legged on the ground and looked over at Kanan. Perfectly still, the light of sunset painting his skin and hair a deep bronze. His beard was full but neatly groomed. Maybe Hera or Sabine had been keeping it trimmed for him. He wasn’t wearing his mask for once. Ezra wondered why and wished he would. The sight of those white eyes and mahogany scar sickened him. He didn’t like being sickened by the man he once thought of as a father.
He looked away.
For several minutes they sat together in complete silence. Ezra became aware of every sound and sensation around him: the dusky breeze whistling across the landscape; the smell of Atollon’s iron-rich soil; pungent fuel wafting from the direction of the hangar; the hum of the perimeter spikes; the angled sunlight heating his face and the front of his shirt; distant voices.
“I bet the sunset is beautiful,” said Kanan. “Can you describe it to me?”
Ezra’s face tightened. “It’s just a sunset. You've seen the sunset on Atollon before.”
“Yes. But I haven’t seen this one.”
“What’s there to describe? It’s yellow and orange and red. There’s some clouds and a big bright sun.”
“There’s more to it than that.”
Anger suddenly flared up inside Ezra. “Why are you asking me this? What’s the point? You can’t see colors anymore. You can’t see anything anymore.”
“You’re right. I can’t. But I can still remember what colors look like. How they feel in my eyes. The taste of them. Warm and cool. Sweet, sour.”
Tears turned Ezra’s eyes into shimmering blue lakes. A knot formed in his throat. He swallowed it down.
“Look again, Ezra, and tell me what you see.”
Ezra dried his eyes on his sleeve and lifted his head. “The sky is mostly orange. It’s… well. No, the sky is white. Whitish. It’s the clouds that are orange. The sky is pale yellow close to the sun and it… as you look higher up, it fades to light blue.” He craned his neck back and looked over his shoulder. “It’s dark blue behind us. But not, like, deep dark blue.”
“Nice. And the clouds?”
“The clouds are…”
Ezra suddenly found that his anger and frustration was gone. Here he had a task, something to talk to Kanan about that had nothing to do with Malachor. It lifted his spirits better than anything that had ever issued from the Sith holocron.
“Some of them are sharp and streaky. Some are big and puffy. They look like big woolly mountains. Or spun sugar. The ones that are closer to the sun are pink on the bottom and purple on top. Kinda bluish. Lots of colors, actually. Yellow and gray. White-silver, like a fish’s scales. The edges around them are glowing like… fire burning the edges of a leaf. The big clouds have shadows like mountains do. Oranges, pinks, purples… reminds me of the candy shop in Capital City. They always had these rainbows of candies on display in the front window.”
“Which candy was your favorite?”
“I dunno. I liked them all.”
Kanan smiled. “What are the clouds shaped like?”
“They don’t have a lot of shape. Although that one…”
Ezra narrated for several minutes, his voice steady and calm. His descriptions grew more detailed the longer he spoke.
“The sun is getting lower now. The sky is getting… paler, but that’s not the right word. It’s like it’s losing its color. The sun is setting and taking all the color with it.”
“It’s the atmospheric density,” said Kanan. “The light’s traveling through more particles and molecules when you see it at sunset. The wavelengths of each color are being scattered by the particles, basically being filtered out by their length. The lower the sun goes, the more faded the colors look.”
“That’s the word. Faded. The sky is fading out. And it’s getting darker too, but not as fast as it’s losing color.”
“I know. I can feel the light getting weaker. It’s losing warmth.” He paused. “I feel like we’ve lost warmth, too.”
Ezra turned to him. The wind blew through his cropped hair.
“I would have given more than my sight to save you, Ezra. I would have given my life.”
Ah. Here it was, at long last. The guilt. The blame. The shame. Just as he expected.
Ezra shook his head. “You shouldn’t have had to give up anything. It was my fault.”
“Maul tricked you, Ezra. He tricked all of us, used all of us. It wasn’t your fault.”
The sky continued to hemorrhage color above their heads. Blood draining from a dying body.
Ezra stared at the dirt between his boots. His vision was blurry and distorted.
“He wanted you, you know. He told me right before he blinded me. I was the only thing standing between him and you, Ezra, and I would have died—gladly died—to save you from becoming his apprentice.”
“She made a choice to stay and finish things with Vader. That was her decision. She wouldn’t have wanted you to sit here and blame yourself for something that was beyond your control.”
Tears rolled down Ezra’s cheeks. He sniffed but made no attempt to wipe them away. “I opened the Sith holocron.”
A sharp intake of breath from Kanan, but nothing else.
“I’ve been using it. Trying to find… I don’t know.”
“It’s dangerous, Ezra. Very dangerous.”
“I don’t think you do.”
“What else am I supposed to do, huh? Just abandon my training and stop trying? Give up trying to be a Jedi? I have no Master anymore. What do you want me to do?”
“Forgive yourself, Ezra. That’s what I want you to do. Forgive yourself and let go.”
Ezra trembled. “But do you forgive me?”
“I never blamed you. Not for one second.”
He sucked in a long, snotty breath. “Are you mad at me for using the Sith holocron?”
“No, I’m scared. Scared for you. Scared I’m”—Kanan’s voice cracked—“that I’m gonna lose you. I love you, Ezra.”
And like a dam breaking, everything Ezra had been holding back for the last six months began to spill down his face in hot, salty rivers. He turned and threw himself against Kanan, groping and sobbing like a child. Kanan wrapped his arms tight around Ezra—so tight it hurt—and breathed forcefully through his nose. He reached up to stroke Ezra’s hair and his hand went still.
“You cut your hair.”
Ezra laughed miserably against Kanan’s shoulder. He’d forgotten how long it had been since they last touched. Kanan never even knew.
“And you’ve gotten bigger. You’re not wearing your jacket.”
“N-no. I got new clothes. A whole new outfit.”
Kanan pulled back. His hands fumbled upward across Ezra’s shoulders and neck until they found his face. His touch-starved fingers traced Ezra’s brow and nose and jaw, rasped against the stubble on his chin, brushed over his eyelids. Ezra was forced to look at Kanan’s milky-blue eyes, but he no longer found them disgusting. Not when they were full of joyous tears, nor his face radiating such pride and sorrow.
“You’ve grown up.”
Ezra burst into tears.
Kanan pulled him close again, cradled Ezra’s head against his chest, and rocked him as if he were an infant. Ezra dug his fingers into Kanan’s shirt and clung to him, holocron forgotten. Guilt forgotten.
Up above, the first twinkling stars appeared in the night sky.
All was well.