A/N: I'm back!
Final warning before things get really rough: Redshift is not a FANfic. It is a bitter, spiteful, rage-fuelled Take That to Star Wars: Rebels. If you want a sympathetic portrayal of the original Ghost crew, hit the back button and look elsewhere, or just watch the show itself. Please don't complain to me that I'm not giving Kanan and the gang a fair shake. I am well aware of my narrative unfairness. I am also dead fucking tired of the show's narrative unfairness. I like to hope that in SWR's case, it's unintentional.
In mine, it is 100% deliberate, with malice aforethought.
With that said . . . enjoy.
Chapter 6: Routine Disruptions
In which the crew settles into its new equilibrium.
Evren spends a restless night on the couch in the crew lounge, drifting in and out of bloody dreams. Eventually, he gives up on sleep, and wanders into the galley to make tea.
Finding everything takes a few minutes; heating the water and steeping the tea takes a few minutes more. When it's done he presses his back to the wall and holds the mug close, arms tucked in, head bent until the rising steam drifts and curls over his face. He closes his eyes for a moment and breathes. It helps. Three and a half thousand years, and that much, at least, hasn't changed.
Heat seeps into his hands through the gloves. Gradually, the surface of the tea calms. The waking world may be strange, but Vitiate is long gone. The war is over. He'd appreciate it if his mind would concern itself with the new present, this future with neither Sith nor Jedi, and a Republic that became an Empire.
The Force is empty, and the emptiness is wrong.
Hera. Evren murmurs a return greeting, then falls silent, unsure of how much interaction is appropriate or desired. Or how welcome he really is, here.
Hera starts preparing breakfast for herself, cracking eggs into a pan and topping off the kettle to boil again. She moves with practiced confidence—which is honestly astounding given how early it is—but the Force is edged with her well-disguised tension.
"Sleep well?" Hera asks.
"Yes, thank you."
"If you're staying, you'll need real quarters eventually. We might need to shuffle things around over the next few days."
Evren winces. "I apologize for the inconvenience, Captain."
"Don't worry about it." Hera flips the eggs deftly and glances at him over her shoulder. "And you can call me 'Hera.' We're not big on titles, here, at least when we're not on missions."
"Understood. Thank you."
"Or formality in general. This isn't a military ship. We're not a unit, we're a family."
So was Meliah. "I see."
Hera scoops the eggs onto a plate and dusts them with something spicy and aromatic, retrieves a fork from a drawer, and turns to him with an amused half-smile. "What I'm trying to say is that you can relax. I'm not going to throw you out the airlock for taking up space."
"Oh, you're not the one I'm worried about," Evren says lightly.
Hera's smile turns just a little sharp as she takes a bite without breaking eye contact. "This is my ship. And if you prove yourself a threat to this crew, you'll answer to me." Then she shrugs. "But so far you haven't, so like I said. Relax."
Apparently the possibility of Kanan attempting to space him is not to be discussed. Or she simply read his comment as an insult to her, which was not his intention at all. ". . . I take your meaning, Captain—er, Hera." Evren puts the slightest note of embarrassment into the name, smiles nervously, looks down.
It's almost sincere. A show of vulnerability. Not a threat.
"So," he says after a moment. "How can I help with day-to-day operations? Is there a task roster, or is it an as-needed basis?"
"What can you do?"
Aside from killing people . . . "Electronics repair and ship maintenance, some slicing, basic first aid, cooking. I can also loom ominously." She doesn't laugh. He shifts his weight, swallows. "But, er, if there's something else you need I'd be glad to learn."
Hera raises an eyebrow. "Cooking, huh?"
Evren smiles, and this time it is genuine. "Everybody needs a hobby."
She glances down at her half-eaten eggs, then sets the plate aside. "Show me."
Breakfast is excruciating.
The galley counter is large enough to fit all six humanoids. Evren is jammed between Zeb and Hera, directly across from Sabine; Ezra sits to her right, by the wall, and Kanan on her left with his long legs angled away from the counter. Evren is . . . very glad he's still in his armor. At least his flesh knee won't bruise from repeated knocks.
And armor blunts the urgent pressure of bodies and people and trapped.
Sabine is reading something on a datapad, shoveling pancakes into her mouth and ignoring everybody. Not a morning person. If only that were true of—
"So. Welcome to the team," Zeb says, jostling Evren's shoulder with an elbow. "You ready to kick in some Imperial heads?"
He laughs uncomfortably. His skin is crawling. "Can't wait."
"Saw you fight, yesterday—not bad. Bet you'll make short work of that hairless bastard next time he shows up. No offense, Kanan, Ezra," Zeb adds with a condescending nod at the Jedi.
Kanan's eyes narrow. "We don't need—"
"The extra firepower will be helpful, but I'll just be glad if everyone stays alive," says Hera. She stares at Kanan until she catches his gaze. Then she smiles warmly at him. Evren watches, fascinated, as Kanan's ire fades to a low simmer.
Hera deftly guides the conversation elsewhere. Recent missions, future plans, the ship's current status. Nothing that requires Evren's input unless he's addressed directly. He picks at his pancakes and tries not to think about the enclosed space and the way Hera and Zeb's arms bump into his every few seconds. He keeps breathing. Doesn't touch fork to plate unless he's got the shaking under control.
The flow of conversation is halting, awkward. A rhythm tripping over itself. Kanan is quiet, almost as monosyllabic as Sabine, but there are empty beats where Evren can see him almost, almost speak up. This isn't normal for him, then—Evren's fault, of course. Kanan throws cold looks his way every so often, in case there were any doubt.
He'd love to not be here but his standard excuse—washing the dishes—won't take him out of range since the galley is so bloody cramped, and he doesn't know the ship or its maintenance needs well enough to use that.
Zeb is loud, always ready with a boisterous remark or a backhanded comment. He digs at people, constantly trying to provoke them. Sabine, when she bothers to respond, does so in kind, parry and riposte; Zeb seems to enjoy their exchanges without being offended by her barbs. Kanan is by turns an easy target and a completely impervious one, but he's not the focus of Zeb's efforts. Ezra bears the brunt of it. And while Ezra does snap at Zeb in response, Evren can sense the hurt, and his familiarity with that hurt. His resignation to it.
Nobody says anything, nobody tries to stop it. Sabine laughs.
Evren can't stop it, he can't make Zeb choke on his words again without arousing suspicion or turning breakfast into a duel to the death, and the only responses he can think of in the moment will make it worse, turn the others hostile because Zeb is one of their own but Evren is a stranger and Ezra is not worth protecting—
He can't do anything and Ezra is hurting and he hates it. He can only sit there and try not to claw off his own skin or lash out and rip them apart—
And despite it all Ezra tries to crack jokes, tries to bring Evren into the conversation—and that's when Kanan usually sees fit to jump in, subtle as a blue lightsaber on Korriban, and shut him down. After a few minutes Ezra seems to give up, and confines himself to muttered sarcasm when Zeb needles him.
Not enough to wound Zeb back, though. Not enough to stop him.
Hera, though—Hera could play them all like quetarras. When she chooses to do so is . . . telling. She doesn't intercede for Ezra, but she'll chide him, oh so gentle, oh so cutting, when he defends himself a bit too well.
And then she turns to Evren and his stomach drops. "Thirty-five hundred years, huh? Things must have been very different, back then."
He can't shift away from her without touching Zeb or revealing just how much he doesn't want to have this conversation. He takes a deep, slow breath, and pulls a polite expression across his face like a mask. He's lied to the Emperor's Hand. He can dissemble for this wretched crew. "It's difficult to say. I've only seen the inside of the one spaceport, so far," he says, calm and measured.
"The Great Galactic War lasted decades," Sabine says suddenly, not even looking up from her datapad. "Seen a lot of action?"
Apparently she's done letting him be shy. ". . . I suppose."
"You anyone we'd've heard about?"
He's drowning in a pool of other people's body heat with no way out. It's hard to breathe. "Probably not." Which is . . . probably true. He hopes. The Emperor's Wrath was a shadow of a rumor for his entire life, until it was suddenly his title. And while Baras's destruction was widely publicized, his own role was mercifully downplayed, at least for the general populace—one of the Emperor's personal agents, not Lord Evren Straik, Emperor's Wrath. And after that . . .
"You've killed Jedi," says Kanan.
Evren looks at him, expressionless. Cold. This, he knows how to handle. "Yes. It was a war. We were on opposite sides."
He twists his face to affront and disgust. "I don't keep count as if people's lives are marks on a scoreboard."
"So you've lost count, is what you're saying."
"Do you know how many people you've killed? Or are you trying to pick a fight over quite literally ancient history?"
"Seems pretty present to me," Kanan says, almost a growl. He stabs at a bite of pancakes.
"We're all on the same side now, though," says Ezra, voice pitched high and anxious.
"Exactly," Hera says smoothly. "I'm sure you'll be an asset to the crew, and to the Rebellion."
Evren chokes down a hysterical giggle. Asset. He's been here less than twenty-four hours and already somebody considers him their weapon. He wants to Force-blast everyone away, he wants to scream, he wants—
He wraps the Force tight around him, another mask, another shield. He smiles at Hera. "I certainly hope I can help. Although I'm afraid I'm a bit hazy on exactly what the Rebellion is. A loose organization, I take it, but do you have any contact at all with—"
"Don't even try," Sabine says wearily. "She's not gonna tell you anything. Never tells us anything, either. Security issue."
Hera looks apologetic and feels completely unrepentant in the Force. "I trust you all, but we can't afford the risk. The more people who know my contact, the more danger they're in if any of us are captured."
Smart. The Balmorran Resistance uses similar tactics. One connection up the chain of command per cell. "I can live with need-to-know," Evren says with a shrug. His elbows brush against Hera and Zeb's arms.
"Glad to hear it," says Hera.
He smiles vaguely and pulls his elbows in, tight to his sides.
There is a very long and very painful silence. Nobody seems to quite know what to say, where to go from there.
"These are really good pancakes, Hera," Ezra says.
"Yeah, new recipe?" says Zeb.
Hera smiles and shakes her head. "Actually, they're Evren's."
Kanan starts coughing.
"Huh. Not bad," Sabine says.
Kanan chokes down the mouthful he's working on, washing it down with a long gulp of caf. Then he glances at Evren, just a few seconds of eye contact—disgust hostility distrust anger fear—and sets his fork on the countertop with a sharp, final click.
Evren looks away and stares down at the remains of his meal. "Glad you're enjoying them."
After breakfast—or half a breakfast, in Kanan's case—Kanan pulls Ezra aside for a talk.
"About what happened yesterday," Kanan says. "I left you to fend for yourself during that flight."
Ezra shrugs. "No worries. Had an interesting conversation." You left me to fend for myself in that temple and I watched you all die, he doesn't say. Kanan would've asked about the temple if he wanted to hear about it. Bringing it up on his own . . . that'd be just fantastic, whining about how hard it all was, making excuses for why he failed.
Kanan grimaces. "Yeah, well, I do worry. Especially when it comes to Sith." He pauses. "Did Straik try to turn you?"
That's what's got him in a mood? Still? Ezra makes an irritated noise. "No, he literally just asked some stuff about history and then we talked for a while."
"I don't know. Stuff."
"Yeah, a little. So?"
Kanan looks at him like he's just admitted to doing something incredibly stupid. "So you practically invited him to start trying to corrupt you—"
"Look, just because you're annoyed that you liked his pancakes—"
"This has nothing to do with the pancakes, Ezra!"
"Landing in five," Hera crackles over the intercom while Ezra's still trying to come up with a snippy retort.
Kanan shakes his head in the suddenly awkward silence. "Don't know why I even try," he mutters.
"Thought you said there is no try," Ezra says, all bright and sarcastic to cover the miserable twisting dread in his gut. He's pushing too far. He can't afford to do that after yesterday. Kanan's going to give up on him and it'll be his fault.
The temple tried to tell him that. It was all illusions, but none of them were lies.
Kanan sighs. "Yeah, well. It's my duty to train you, even when you make it difficult."
They've landed on some moon that might not even have a name, still near Lothal but far enough off the beaten hyperlanes to avoid Imperial patrols. It's a warm day, sunny and bright, and the sky's so blue it's almost purple. The Ghost is snug up against a decent-sized mesa, on a flat area of bare dirt and scraggly grass. Perfect spot for lightsaber practice.
Which is going about as well as it usually does.
"You're not focusing," Kanan says. "Concentrate. Clear your mind. Don't let anything distract you from the Force."
"It's not the Force that's the problem!" Ezra protests. Well, not the only problem. "I don't get it, this whole kata, the moves are all over the place and it doesn't make sense—"
"If you were concentrating, it would make perfect sense. Letting yourself get frustrated, letting yourself get distracted? It's not the Jedi way, and it will only make it worse."
"Right," Ezra mutters. "And next thing you know I'll be falling to the dark side."
"That's not funny." Kanan's jaw tenses. He glances at the ship, and, Ezra would bet, straight through the hull to one occupant in particular. "Ezra, you have to be careful. Now more than ever."
". . . I know."
"Do you? Really? Because you keep saying you understand, but I have to wonder . . ."
"I screwed up, okay?" Ezra says. "I know I screwed up, with the fyrnocks, and I'm sorry—"
"It's not just the fyrnocks." Kanan whisks the lightsaber out of Ezra's hands, clips it to his belt, folds his arms. "We need to talk about the temple."
Ezra mirrors him, shoulders hunching slightly. Oh no. "What about it?"
"You said that the Sith saved your life. What happened, exactly?"
Ezra drops his gaze. Yeah, not gonna mention the part where Kanan "died" in front of him, or where the rest of the crew . . . no. Stick to the pertinent details. He's done enough to convince Kanan he's a terrible Padawan already. "He showed up when the Inquisitor—uh, a vision of the Inquisitor—was about to kill me, and fought it off. And then he helped me find you."
Ezra's shoulders tense up even worse. "The Force—following your, your signature, or whatever. Listening for it, kind of."
Kanan raises an eyebrow, disapproval swirling in the Force. "You needed a Sith Lord to walk you through it? It's nothing you haven't done before. It's just like making a connection with a lothcat. I know you could have figured it out if you'd just made the effort to—"
"To concentrate?" Ezra says. His eyes are stinging and his voice is going all ragged and he hates this, he hates it, the way his cheeks burn and the way his throat tightens and the way Kanan looks at him in disappointment at his outburst. He wants to dissolve away to nothing. He tries to keep breathing normally, but it's so, so hard when Kanan is—he's right. Ezra should have been able to work it out on his own. He doesn't think Evren was trying to be anything but helpful, but he shouldn't have needed the help in the first place.
All he does is drag people down.
Kanan sighs, then, and reaches for Ezra's shoulder. His grip is solid and reassuring. "I don't blame you for being a little confused, Ezra."
He leans into the touch. They're okay? They have to be okay. "It's just . . . difficult," he mumbles.
Kanan nods sympathetically. "Sith are master manipulators. Just . . . be aware that the dark side is a corruption of the Force, a quick and easy way to power, but at a terrible cost. You don't need it in order to succeed. I know you're better than that." A quiet snort. "Don't always act like it, but you are."
"Wait, what?" Ezra says, backing up a step. "What are you talking about? I haven't used the dark side since Anaxes."
Kanan's hand drops as Ezra pulls away. Hurt, and then frustration, flash across his face. "Just—just run the kata again. Do it right this time," he says, and he shoves the lightsaber at Ezra.
Ezra stares at him for a second, then tries to arrange himself to restart.
He gets three steps into the kata before Kanan's criticizing his footwork and telling him to focus again.
Evren is negotiating use of Zeb's spare toothbrush—unused, he hopes, but at this point he's getting desperate; his teeth feel fuzzy—when Kanan comes stomping back onto the Ghost in a billowing cloud of barely-controlled irritation.
"How was training?" Zeb says slyly.
Kanan glares at him. Then he notices Evren, and glares harder. "Fine."
"Really? Thought I heard screaming, earlier. Kid didn't lop off anything important, did he?"
A snort. "Not this time."
Zeb guffaws as if this is the very pinnacle of wit. "Guess the Force really is with you."
Kanan adds a bit more venom to his glare as he passes Evren, presumably heading for the cockpit. Crawling back to Hera, perhaps. She's ever so talented at soothing his ruffled feathers.
Evren manages to keep his mouth shut and his anger leashed. Such faith in your own apprentice, Jedi—it's positively inspiring.
For now, though . . . Finish this, then find Ezra. He gives Zeb a final pleading look. "About that toothbrush."
"Fine, whatever, all yours," Zeb says, his mood apparently much improved by insulting Ezra's competence.
Charming. Evren gives a short bow. "My thanks, Garazeb. Might I avail myself of it now?"
"You owe me, Straik." It's not a joke.
A Force-forsaken toothbrush.
Evren smiles, hating him, then winces theatrically and raises a hand to his mouth. "Worth it."
Teeth finally, blessedly clean, Evren exits the Ghost and reaches out through the Force. Ezra is a tight-wound bundle of unhappiness and shame a ways around the base of the mesa.
Evren projects, slightly, enough to give warning of his approach; Ezra's Force signature flares and then goes dimmer than ever in response. It's . . . upsetting. He picks his way around a blobby peninsula of stone, then halts—Ezra is in meditative pose atop a flat rock, eyes squeezed shut, shoulders stiff, mouth drawn tight. His breaths are forcibly deep and even, but they shake. The Force, far from the eerie calm Evren's familiar with from Jaesa's meditations, is a cracked veneer of desperate, brutal silence over a—a mess.
It'd almost be Sith meditation if it were actually deliberate.
For a moment, he's unsure of what to do. Are you all right is an asinine question when the answer is an obvious and resounding no. But a comment like It seems training went badly would be . . . hurtful. Salt in the wound.
Evren exhales. "Mind if I ask what happened?"
All pretense at calm crumbles. Ezra's face scrunches up and he draws his knees to his chest and buries his face in them, arms wrapped around his legs, and takes a few more gulping breaths.
Evren takes a step forward, stops, hesitates, keeps going. He sits cross-legged on the ground to Ezra's right and tries to project—steadiness, warmth, something helpful. Something besides his sudden and intense desire to find Kanan and stab him a few times.
He used to fight back tears after training sessions, too.
"I can't do this," Ezra says.
"What's giving you trouble?"
"Everything? I can't—I can't meditate right and I can't do lightsabers even when it's basics and I—the temple—I can't."
Evren glances at him. "It's . . . frustrating. Being unable to do something that seems simple to other people."
"I shouldn't be frustrated! I can't be frustrated, I'm supposed to be a Jedi and Jedi don't get frustrated!"
"Is that what Kanan told you?" Evren says, oh so very mild.
Ezra raises his head enough to nod.
"Then he's a hypocrite." He leans back, weight braced against his palms behind him. "What were you learning? I might be able to help."
Ezra unfolds and lets his legs dangle off the rock. "Just a saber kata." He meets Evren's gaze for a second or two, then looks away again. "You don't have to—I don't want to waste your time—"
"You are not a waste of time," Evren says sharply. He stands up, dusts himself off, and unclips his sabers, offering one hilt-first. "And I want to help."
Ezra's eyes widen. Slowly, he reaches for the lightsaber, as if he expects it to be snatched away. ". . . Okay," he says. "Okay."
Evren nods. "So—which kata?"
Ezra takes a breath, lets it out slow. "Uh. It starts out like this . . .?" He activates the lightsaber and takes up a halfhearted ready stance, blade at an indecipherable angle, elbows sticking out. Then he begins chopping mechanically at the air, hesitating with every step and every sweep of the blade, uncertainty and self-consciousness curdling in the Force.
He trails off, lets his saber hand drop to his side. "Yeah. Um. Something like that."
A few months of training—that should be enough to build at least some muscle memory for basic strikes and counters and footwork. But definitely not enough for this.
"That," Evren says, "is not basic. That's for breaking enemy lines without getting shot to pieces."
"And that's . . . bad," Ezra says cautiously.
Evren rakes a hand through his hair, exhaling. "It's at least several years ahead of where you are. It's Soresu, for one thing, but I don't know of anyone who wasn't a prodigy getting through the Shii-Cho fundamentals in under a year." It took him two, and his initial training was frantically accelerated to make up for his late start. "And this is intermediate Soresu at the very least."
Ezra looks blank, and ashamed of it. "What's a Soresu?"
Evren blinks. "Ah." He hopes that this is a time traveler's problem—that the terminology has simply changed, that Kanan fucking Jarrus has not been throwing a raw beginner into intermediate Soresu and expecting him to pick up on it immediately.
He doubts it, though.
Ezra is staring at the ground, shoulders tensed again as if he's bracing for recrimination. "Sorry," he says, his voice very small.
"Ezra . . . You have no way of knowing what you haven't been taught. You need not apologize for ignorance. It's not a failing on your part."
Ezra doesn't seem entirely convinced, but a bit of the tension bleeds out of him, and he nods.
Warmth and reassurance and steadiness. Not true peace, but everything he can give nonetheless. Evren cracks a smile, scar dragging it crooked. "Soresu is the third of seven lightsaber forms, and, for the record, I am honestly terrible at it."
"Probably better than me," Ezra says with a terrible, splintery little laugh.
"Eh. Having over a decade of experience does help."
Ezra laughs again. But then he looks up, sudden and wide-eyed, and for a second it's as if he doesn't think he's a burden. "Wait, third of seven—Form III? It's called Form III?"
"It is indeed," Evren says with an encouraging nod. Not the terminology, then. He is going to stab Kanan so much.
Ezra hefts the borrowed lightsaber, thoughtful, eyes almost black in the red glow. "The Inquisitor said Kanan used Form III, a while back."
Well, at least someone in this Force-forsaken time period knows what they're doing. "It's what he was using in the hangar, yes. Soresu is primarily defensive in nature, intended to outlast an enemy, wearing them down or gaining time to escape them."
"Then why was that kata for charging at people? Seems pretty aggressive."
Evren ignites his lightsaber and shifts into the starting stance. "See how the blade is angled across the body? It's meant to catch blasterfire and reflect it back." Slowly, he flows through the motions. "It's all about closing the distance safely so you can kill the larger group. Here, you're dealing with a stray enemy on your left—and now on your right. Very useful in a charge. But you never fully drop your forward guard, you never stop advancing on your foes. In an actual battle the exact sequence of the kata is less important than the tools it gives you to react to a changing situation, of course, but this one would be used as a sort of shield—the Soresu practitioner would be followed by a group of soldiers who'd otherwise be unable to advance." He finishes the kata with a wide sweep. "And here you'd gut everyone in an arc in front of you, allowing your comrades to move in."
Ezra coughs. "That's. Okay then. Wow. Um. A lot, uh, bloodier than I thought?"
"Hardly any blood at all. Lightsabers cauterize on hit," Evren says brightly, and instantly clamps his mouth shut, looks away. Just because he's got the sense of humor of a knife . . . "I apologize. That was . . . inappropriate."
There's a deeply uncomfortable silence. Then Ezra says, hesitant, expecting him to say no: "Could you—I mean, would it be okay if you ran that again? And explained all the moves?"
Evren smiles again, softer. "Of course. Guard up, let's walk through it."