Despite having access to the rest of the ship, minus crew quarter, Jai sat in the cargo hold. It was the only place on the ship he felt the least awkward being, and the only place quiet enough to think. Jai didn't normally bother putting this much effort into figuring things out, but this was one of those times he had to. He had so many thoughts and questions in his head he could barely string two words together, and his emotions. . .were impossible to figure out. He was angry, scared, frustrated, happy, sad, depressed, excited, eager, resentful, hurt, and so many more he couldn't even identify.
Jai sighed and wrapped his arms around his knees and buried his head, half hoping when he got around to looking up everything would have gone back to normal.
He was still curled up in the corner when a familiar set of footsteps approached and a body slid down the wall next to him. For awhile they just sat there silently, though with the way he was fidgeting it wouldn't be long before he spoke.
"It's a lot to take in, hu?"
"Look, you probably have a lot of questions and–"
"Well, gee, Ezra, I can't imagine why," Jai hissed and felt the other boy twitch next to him. Jai's emotions finally settled, leaving him feeling betrayed, hurt, and angry. "I couldn't possibly be wondering why my best friend, or was that all just an act too–?"
"Shut up!" Jai shot to his feet. "Everything I knew about you. .! Where you came from, what you like, your goals, even your name! Everything was an act, a lie!"
Ezra flinched violently at that.
"Now, because of you my life is over! Everything I worked for is ruined and I'll have to spend the rest of my life somewhere else as someone else doing kriff all knows what!" Jai banged his fist against the wall. "And if that wasn't bad enough you've fracked up my life, you had to drag my mother into this as well!"
"We're trying to help!" Ezra shouted back, leaping to his feet.
"Well, maybe I don't want your help!" Jai spun around, shoving Ezra away.
Ezra stumbled back, and Jai felt a bitter satisfaction at the surprise and hurt that flashed across the other boy's face.
"Maybe I want to go back? Maybe I think you're nothing but skrogging liar–"
Ezra's fist slammed into his face and Jai crashed back against the wall. There was a moment of stunned silence as the two stared at each other in surprise, and then Jai launched himself at Ezra with a strangled cry.
They hit the floor in a tangle of limbs.
"You lied to me!" A fist connected with Ezra's ribs.
"I did what I had to do!" Jai's arm was wrenched back at a painful angle.
"You should have told me!" Another fist found Ezra's nose.
"You were Imperial!" An elbow rammed into Jai's stomach. "You wouldn't have believed me!"
"You should have just left me!" Ezra was slammed against the floor.
"You would have been killed!" A foot dug into Jai's stomach and he was kicked onto his back.
"I thought we were friends," Jai coughed out, staring up at the ceiling.
"We are!" Ezra grimaced as he rolled onto his knees. "You were mine, anyway."
Jai didn't think he was meant to hear that muttered confession, but the words eased the tangled knot of hurt and betrayal and fear that had been growing since the night they'd planned their escape from the Academy. More than the words, the tone told him all he needed to know. There was an edge of vulnerability and need to it and Jai, who had always been able to read people and knew Dev – or Ezra's – habit of hiding his true feeling from others, recognized it for what it was: the truth.
Jai sighed and stuck out his hand.
"You gonna help me up or not?"
Ezra pulled him up with a grin and they sat back where they began.
"So. . ." Ezra faltered, clearly unsure what to say next.
"Jai Kell," Jai said, holding out his hand. "Former cadet of the Imperial Academy of Lothal."
"Ezra Bridger," Ezra replied, shaking Jai's hand with an overly serious expression that didn't quite hide his relief. "Also a former cadet, but full time rebel."
"Fascinating." Jai kept his tone as serious as Ezra's. "And how does a rebel become a cadet at the Imperial Academy, rather how does one become a cadet at all?"
"Well, in my case, you start by being a thief." Ezra grinned at Jai's surprised look and launched into the story of how he'd met the crew and the events leading to his placement at the Academy.
Jai listened, though it was clear Ezra was editing out all the 'classified' information it was still a captivating tale.
"Wow, that's just. . .Woah!" Jai said as Ezra finished. "That's amazing, but why were you stealing in the first place?"
"Well, I, er." Ezra shifted uncomfortably and glanced at Jai. A look of defiant resolve settled on Ezra's face. "I was stealing to survive. It's what you do when you live on the street."
"You. .!" Jai spluttered. His first instinct was to check his pockets, but as he thought about it several things suddenly made sense. "That's why you were so good at the obstacle course!"
"Well, I guess," Ezra admitted with a weak chuckle.
"Sounds like you've had nothing but adventure your whole life," Jai commented. "So, a thief and Jedi in training. . .I guess it's luck you needed to go undercover as a cadet or we'd never have met."
"Yeah, luck," Ezra sighed, and fingered a ratty, yellow hat.
"Nothing," Ezra answered, but seeing Jai's flat 'are you kidding me' look he sighed. "It's just, I can't help thinking, if I'd known what the Academy offered a few months ago, I wouldn't be here."
"What do you mean? I thought you rebels hated the Empire."
"I do," Ezra said quickly. "It's just. . .free food, a safe place to sleep, a future. . .Those aren't things you find on the streets, and if I'd known all I had to do to get them was join the Academy, I – I would have joined."
"Well," Jai slapped Ezra lightly on the back. "Guess it's a good thing they got you first, huh?"
"Yeah," Ezra laughed. "Yeah, it is."
"Jai," Hera called over the comm.. "We've got as close to your house as we can get. Take Ezra and go get your mom."
"Oh, no," Jain moaned.
"My mom's gonna kill me when she finds out I ran away from school!"
"Ah, we'll just let Hera and Kanan explain that," Ezra suggested.
"Great idea, brilliant!" Jai said, sounding immensely relieved and following Ezra off the ship.
It was a short hike to Jai's hometown, and within a few minutes of reaching it they'd arrived at the Kells' house. Jai knocked uncertainly on the door and it opened to reveal a tall, thin woman with a tired face and Jai's hair.
"Hi, Mom," Jai greeted quietly.
"Jai," the woman gasped and tugged Jai into a fierce hug. "I've missed you so much! Come inside, inside."
She ushered Jai inside and Ezra followed hesitantly. The door snapped shut and Mrs. Kell rounded on Jai, hands on her hips.
"Now, why aren't you in school young man? And – Oh, my! Who's this?" Mrs. Kell asked, having finally spotted Ezra.
"This," Jai tugged Ezra forward, relieved to have an excuse to avoid his mother's ire, "is my best friend, Ezra Bridger."
"Hi, er, Ma'am," Ezra greeted with a wave.
"Ezra. . Bridger," Mrs. Kell repeated, her face carefully blank as she looked between the two boys. Whatever she saw caused a look a bitter resignation. "We have to leave, don't we?"
"Ye-yeah," Jai said, shocked his mother had come to that conclusion.
"I see." Mrs. Kell closed her eyes, hands clenching into fists. Letting out a slow breath, she opened her eyes. "Do we have time to pack?"
Ezra and Jai nodded numbly.
"Very well, I'll be just a minute." She swept from the room, and Ezra exchanged questioning looks with Jai.
"Is she usually so. . .?"
"Yeah, I know."
This chapter was not planned but as i finished with the 'Breaking Ranks' episode, i couldn't help but wonder how Jai handled everything and how exactly they managed to persuade his mother to go along with them. I figured i could also use this as a chance to push Ezra into opening up a bit and start bringing up the issue of Ezra's parents, which in case you missed it was the reason for Mrs. Kell's odd reaction: she remembers who the Bridgers were and what happened to them, though i don't think she knew them personally.