A/N: This is kind of a sequel to "The Lost Article," which I wrote earlier this fall. I'm building this tiny little 'AU-verse where: 1.) Everybody lives and is happy and 2.) Kallus really adores little Depa. I picture him as a doting uncle or mentor figure that Depa feels she can turn to. In this headcanon of mine, Kanan and Hera are, of course, wonderful parents, but I think it's important for all kids to have someone outside the family that they can trust, even when they come from wonderful, loving homes. *climbs down from soapbox* Reviews and constructive criticism are most welcome!
Kallus had his eyes on a deployment report, but his ears were attuned to his office door, open in expectation of Depa's arrival. (Weekly, she came to watch a holo-doc with him and ask a thousand questions about the galaxy and its workings.) He glanced at the chrono and shook his head; she should have been here by now, but he wasn't worried. She was infamous for wandering around the New Republic Naval Complex after school, stopping to chat with anyone who'd listen. She never met a stranger.
That's why Kallus thought it odd that her presence was announced at his door by only the sound of her footfalls rather than endless chatter. "You're late," he said in a mock-reprimand. He didn't look up from his computer terminal.
"I got hung up."
Hung up? What could a seven year old possibly have gotten "hung up" by? The smile tugging at Kallus's mouth was a wry one. "I see." He pretended to keep reading his report. She fidgeted uncomfortably in the doorway, half in and half out.
"I kinda—school was long today—is it alright—can I take a nap on your couch?"
Every part of that sentence had Kallus's immediate attention and concern. His head snapped up. "Are you feeling ill?" The words were barely out of his mouth as he really looked at her. His jaw fell slack. "Yes, I suppose you are."
She wouldn't meet his gaze. "It doesn't hurt that much," she mumbled.
"That," he said flatly, "can't possibly be true. Come here."
Shuffling slowly, Depa Billaba Jarrus made her way across the office and stood in front of Kallus. He leaned forward in his desk chair and she put a hand on his knee, drumming her fingers anxiously. Gingerly, he put a finger under her chin and tipped her head back.
Her face was bleeding.
She was looking at him through one eye nearly swollen shut. Below that, her cheek bone sported a sizeable bruise. Her lip was split on the opposite side, a large gash on the lower complemented by a smaller, though no less bloody, one on the upper. It was incredibly jarring to look at; her indigo-hued blood clashed violently with the green of her skin, and her swollen eye had bruised almost black.
Kallus's heart was beating wildly, outrage and panic warring to be his dominant emotion. Yet, his voice was deadly calm. "Who did this to you?"
She swallowed. "I got in a fight."
That wasn't an answer; it was an evasion tactic. Kallus was on guard and very, very suspicious. "You got in a fight?"
She squirmed, saying nothing.
Kallus's eyes nearly bugged out of his head as realization dawned. "You started a fight!"
"Well!" She exploded suddenly, cheeks flushing. "People can't just—" She stopped and swiped the tears that had fallen from her good eye.
Face softening, he took her hand and pressed it gently. "Can't just what?" She lifted her chin haughtily and clenched her jaw, looking every bit like her mother. She didn't say anything else, but the rapid rise and fall of her shoulders with shallow breaths indicated the depth of turmoil she was trying to hide. Kallus got on eye level with her. "Depa," he prompted. "People can't just what?"
She struggled for a response, face twitching. "Say stuff."
"What mean stuff?"
"About—" She flicked her eyes up to his and then back down again. "About my parents."
Kallus nodded gravely in understanding. His first instinct was to call Kanan and Hera and let them come and deal with this singularly upsetting situation, but a moment's reflection told him maybe it was best if Hera didn't see the bloody mess on her daughter's face. Kallus stood, still holding Depa's hand. "Come," he said.
He led her over to the small couch in his office and she settled in, pulling her knees up to her chin. She looked very small and very fragile, no trace of temper left. Kallus pulled a small first-aid kit from his desk drawer and sat down beside her. She watched him with a look of resigned distaste, knowing that he was about to clean her up. "Are you gonna use stuff that stings?"
"I'll pick the least sting-y one," he promised.
The first aid kit had several packets of antiseptic-doused towelettes meant for treating wounds like Depa's. Kallus tore one open and unfolded it, wiping as gently as he could to clean the now-dried blood from her skin. She flinched and made a pained sound when he swabbed at her split lip and the cut at her eye, but she didn't fuss. "You're a very brave girl," Kallus said with a hint of pride. "I know it hurts."
"Not as much—" She clamped down on whatever she was about to say, going stubbornly silent. Kallus frowned, noticing tears threatening to spill again, but knew better than to push her. He smoothed some anti-bac ointment on the angry gashes she'd gotten in the mysterious fight she wouldn't talk about. With the blood cleaned from her face, she looked somewhat less like a street urchin, but the rapid swelling and darkening of her bruises were quickly making up for that. Kallus cleaned his hands and put the first aid kit away, sitting next to Depa on the couch. She nestled into his side. "I know you have to call my parents," she said quietly.
"Yes, I do." He knew she was wishing they didn't have to know. "They may be cross to find out I didn't call them straight away as it is."
She looked up at him hopefully. "So another five minutes won't make a big difference, right?"
He couldn't resist her. "I suppose not."
"Okay." She was silent for a long while. When she spoke again, she sounded small and uncertain. "Xander?"
"What's—what does 'whore' and 'half-breed' mean?"
Something cold closed around Kallus's heart and he swallowed hard. "I think you'd better let me have the whole story."
She shifted. "I got hurt because I pushed a bigger boy and knocked him down and I don't think he meant to hit me—'cause his eyes got super big—he just wanted me off and he swung his fist like this and that's what happened to my lip."
Kallus could hardly process. "You—and your eye?" He managed finally.
"Well when he hit me, I fell on the other side and busted my eye on the curb."
"You said it was a bigger boy? From school?"
"How…how much bigger?"
"He's in fifth year…he's ten, I guess."
"You—" Kallus had to stop, drawing a deep breath. He didn't know much about children and their growth patterns, but he did know that a child as small as Depa had no business picking a fight with someone probably double her size—and vice versa. "What got into your head, fighting someone that big? Fighting at all? I'm sure it's not something your parents taught you to do." There was a decided note of aggravation in his voice, despite his best intentions. Depa bristled.
"I'll have you know I blacked both his eyes," she shot back.
"Well!" Kallus exclaimed. "As long as you blacked them both!"
"You don't get it!"
"I 'get' that whoever-he-is could have knocked you clean out." He looked at Depa, at her quivering chin and balled fists, trying to remember that although she had a fierce temper, it seldom ever stirred. He sighed. "What did he say to you?"
"Promise not to tell mama and daddy?"
"You know I can't do that. If I did, they wouldn't trust me anymore."
She accepted that with an unhappy nod. She glanced up at him. "He said—well, he was picking on me and some others at recess, but that—no big deal."
"After school, he—he said—he said my parents are 'rebel scum' and that I'm the 'half-breed daughter of a Jedi criminal and a Twi'leki whore.'" There was a quaver in Depa's voice and she took several breaths to try and calm herself. "I don't even know what that stuff means, I just—it made me feel—it was so ugly—why would someone be so ugly like that?" She turned her face to Kallus, eyes beseeching, imploring.
Half-breed daughter of a Jedi criminal and a Twi'leki whore.
Kallus had heard nasty slurs before—had spoken a few, too, a lifetime ago—and he knew how such terrible things had a way of burrowing deep into the darkest corners of one's soul. He knew that Depa's cuts would heal, but they'd leave scars far beneath the surface of her skin; she'd never forget those words or the contempt with which they were spoken. Part of her innocence had been taken, and that should never have happened. "Oh, dear heart," he whispered. A few errant curls were sticking in the anti-bac ointment by her eye and he brushed them aside, tucking them back into her headband. "You know none of it is true, don't you?"
"Papa says people don't say things they don't mean—not really." She paused. "So it must have been true to him."
Kallus gnawed on that sad bit of wisdom for a moment. He supposed she was right. "I don't know why someone would think those things or say them. All I can tell you is that he must feel very bad inside himself, to be mean that way. I know that doesn't make you feel any less angry or hurt."
She climbed up on his lap, winding her arms around his neck. "Is it true, what he said?" She mumbled into his shoulder. "About me and—"
"Let me tell you what I know to be true." He put a hand on her back, rubbing small, rhythmic circles. It was something his mother had done for him when he was small, and he remembered how comforting the simple motion could be. "You are the daughter of two of the bravest, kindest people I have ever met. I see bits of both of them in you—in your determination, your courage, your compassion for others, your humor, your very sharp tongue. That's who you are. That's who they are. No matter what people say. Do you understand?"
"I never said I thought all that stuff was true," she intoned softly, "I just—"
"I know." He paused. "I need to take you home. Why didn't you go straight there in the first place, Depa?"
She sniffed, and he could tell she was wiping more tears away. "I was afraid they'd be mad about—about all of it."
"I understand. But we still have to go."
"Alright." She sighed. "Xander?"
"Will you do the explaining?"
"As much as I can," he promised.
"Will you carry me home?"
"Yes." He stood with her in his arms and she locked her arms tightly around his neck, her legs around his waist. She was delicate, small for her age, and easy to carry. She turned her face on his shoulder, trying to hide the black eye, he knew. The anti-bac was going to leave a stain on his shirt, but he didn't care. Only when she fell asleep five minutes into their walk did the tension leave her little body. It was good she was sleeping; after the day she'd had, she didn't need the added burden of seeing her parents' faces when they heard about what happened. Kallus himself didn't want that. For a moment, he considered it penance for everything he'd said and done during his days in the Imperial Navy. He quickly banished the thought.
When he finally got to the Syndulla-Jarrus home, it was Hera who answered the door. Her expression went from pleased, to worried, to utterly crestfallen in half a second as she saw the bruises marring her baby's face. Her mouth worked silently and her eyes were wild when she looked up at him. Kallus cleared his throat. "Is Kanan home? We…need to talk."
A/N: Quick shoutout to Guest101, whoever you are. I want you to know I so appreciate all the lovely reviews you leave, and I'm glad that reading one of my fics was a bright spot for you the other day. I know it's tough to not get the kind of grades you were expecting when you've worked so hard. Keep that chin up, babe!