"It's uncommon, but not unheard of." Depa's voice remained calm and soothing. Caleb was aware that she was treating him like a child younger than he was. On any other day, that would rankle. Today, he appreciated her kindness.
"I heard a story about Anakin Skywalker." He left the statement as half a question, waiting for her nod. Gossip was one thing, confirmation another.
"His mother's situation was by no means the first occasion, although hers is the first we ever saw outside of the Jedi. Within the Order, there's a situation every several years. Humans more frequently than other species, women more often than men. You're the youngest one I know of. Master Yoda may know others your age or younger who faced the same challenge."
Neither her expression nor her voice had given anything away, and Caleb was very distracted at the moment, but his subconscious had always been good at putting pieces together.
"Did it happen to you?"
Depa gave him a smile that was half wistful and half proud. "There is my questioning Padawan. I was hoping he hadn't run and hidden away just because he discovered he's pregnant. Yes, the Force also began a pregnancy within me. I was sixteen years old." She went thoughtful. "There were many questions, more than they asked you. I had been apprenticed to Master Windu for some time. It is also not unheard of, though thankfully very rare, for masters to harm their Padawans. The Council was concerned for my safety. There was no need for worry, of course."
"The Force offers us lessons in every moment of our lives, but we choose the lessons we wish to take away. I chose not to continue the pregnancy. Others in the same situation made different choices. The children born from those pregnancies have been raised in the Temple with the other younglings."
Caleb listened, and he considered her words. This was not common knowledge among the Padawans. He would not have been told had his last medical examination not come up with surprising news. His master had been in the same situation, and perhaps the Force had led them to each other as teacher and student for this very reason, to sit here in her room in the slanting light of the late afternoon.
"What do you think I should do?"
"Listen to your own mind, seek out what lesson the Force is putting before you, and decide what you intend to learn from it."
Caleb had enough lessons to learn already. Now even the Force was assigning him homework. "How long do I have to decide?"
"As long as you need."
Putting off a decision was as good as making one. When Master Billaba went back out to the war, Caleb went with her. He was barred from attending the meetings she took before then to convince the Council to let her take him away from the Jedi Temple, and thus he didn't know what she said to persuade them. He could only be grateful as they boarded the ship, where he was to keep regular appointments in Medical to confirm his continuing health.
After his experience on Ilum finding his crystal, Caleb wondered aloud how healthy they expected him to stay.
"You can return to Coruscant if you want."
He shook his head. "I want to be out here, learning with you. Please don't send me back."
"I won't. It is your decision. I do expect you to make the best decisions you can."
"Yes, Master. Thank you." Relieved, he shifted his robe into place. Depa had taught him a trick she called a 'glamour.' The robe hid much, and the eye didn't linger. Caleb looked like he always had, his growing abdomen unseen by anyone who didn't know his secret. Not even the clones knew.
She gave him a smile and ruffled his hair. "You're getting taller. Three planets from now, you'll be taller than I am."
Three planets later, Depa was dead and Caleb was on the run. Running had been harder and harder these last few weeks even before the very busy, very horrible events of the last few hours. Luck alone found him the leaf-filled hollow where he hid from the searching clones. Fear and exhaustion encouraged him to stay there and rest, but pain came on him in growing waves.
"Not now," he whispered to the lump in his belly. "I can't."
He stayed hidden as long as he dared, as long as he could. Then when he could only hope they were gone, he emerged from his hiding place and limped his way into Plateau City. He didn't dare go to the main medical facility. A few increasingly desperate questions led him to a smaller one, where the poorer residents of Kaller went when they had nowhere else to go.
If the clones found him here, he'd die, but if he didn't have medical intervention now, he'd die anyway. "Please," Caleb said as he staggered inside. "Please help me."
They'd seen humans before, thank the Force, but not enough to ask questions he had no means of answering. The operation was over quickly. Even as bacta patches were still being placed on his skin, the attending droid placed a wrapped, squirming bundle into Caleb's arms. "Successful birth, two hundred credits."
Caleb groaned. He looked at the baby, a boy if the scans back aboard the last transport had been correct. The Jedi were discouraged from having children of their own, knowing that parents tended to feel very strong bonds of attachment to their offspring. He wondered if he would be overcome with a wave of emotion or something, but right now the only thing he felt was tired.
The first thing he said to his son was, "You are going to be nothing but trouble, aren't you?"
Caleb let himself sleep at the medical facility for the night, and let the droids confirm the baby was in good health. At daybreak, Caleb used the mind trick to convince the nurse who came in to check on them that he was already paid up and was ready to leave.
He didn't like using the mind trick as often as he had to now. It didn't work on every species, and he'd still been learning. Depa said she was.... No, Depa had said, and she wouldn't say another word to him now. Caleb was on his own and responsible for another person. He could dig through the garbage for something to eat, but the baby couldn't eat it, and whatever magic had allowed him to grow inside Caleb's body hadn't been thoughtful enough to provide the means for Caleb to feed him now that he was outside.
"Your lessons stink," he said to the Force as he tipped blue drops of milk into the baby's hungry mouth. He could influence a stranger to give him food, and he could hope the milk was good enough, but he couldn't live here on the streets for long, not with the brand new Empire posting holos of his face as a wanted criminal, and definitely not with the planet's winter cycle on the way.
Janus Kasmir was a gift. Maybe not the kind of gift he'd wished for, but a gift nonetheless.
"Fine, you can work for me. We split the profits 70/30." Kasmir sneered. "You should get rid of that. Where did you find him? Not a lot of humans around here."
Caleb pulled the baby closer. "I just found him. He's staying with me." He didn't try the ultimatum and threaten to leave. Kasmir would hold the door open for him to walk out.
"A Jedi baby and a baby. Hah!" Kasmir didn't press. It was clear he thought the baby belonged to Depa, and Caleb had no means of changing his opinion without explaining the rest.
Caleb accepted the hard charity, and the spare bunk. He scrubbed out an empty crate and put a folded blanket down as a cushion. Most younglings were toddlers when they came to the Temple, but there were infants, too. The nursery on Coruscant had sturdy, soft, clean cribs, and a dedicated team of caregivers. Caleb tried not to think about what must have happened to the nursery if Master Obi-Wan's message was true. Had he stayed on Coruscant, had the baby been born there, they'd both have been slaughtered. An old crate wasn't much, but it was better than heavy boots marching outside the nursery door, and the crack of blaster fire.
Thirty percent wasn't a bad take. Human-formulated baby food could be found on some of the planets they stopped at, and the clothes refresher took care of cleaning diapers. The baby was safe in his crib while Caleb worked, and he found that they both slept more soundly if the baby rested in the bunk with him at night. The HoloNet had opinions about infant safety, which Caleb ignored.
"The Force surrounds us, binds us, and fills us," he said to the baby as they settled to sleep together, his finger caught in a tiny fist. "The Force will always be with you."
Kasmir paid him the cut from their latest job. "He needs a name. So do you. I can't keep calling you 'kid,' and your old name is on every Wanted list on the 'net."
"I'll think of something," Caleb said. "Don't call me 'kid.'"
The baby had learned to roll over. Now he was more trouble, tangling himself in his blanket. Caleb could feel his distress all the way across the ship, and hurried back to unwrap him before he suffocated. Shaken, Caleb rocked him soothingly, lying to him that everything would be fine.
Kasmir followed him, watching from the doorway. "You can't always run to help him. If we're in the middle of a job, you can't leave to go change a diaper."
"It wasn't his diaper. He couldn't breathe."
"What do you intend to do when he's crawling? When he can walk? I'm not covering all the power inlets on the Kasmiri for you, and if he pulls something down onto his own head, that's not my problem. It's yours, and you'd better figure it out now."
"I'll think of something," said Caleb, and knew as he said it that he wouldn't, that Kasmir knew he wouldn't, and was only going to be indulgent up to a point with hearing the words over and over.
People raised babies all the time. That's how you got new people. Caleb guessed even declared criminals on the run from the law managed to keep their children alive somehow, and the odds said some of them were fourteen years old when they tried. He was a Jedi, almost, and that had to give him a little help. He knew when the baby needed something, and he always knew what the issue was without having to guess. Hungry, wet, or dirty, sometimes all three, those problems weren't hard to figure out or to solve.
Crawling was a different issue, walking a worse one. The baby was safe so long as he slept most of the day and didn't move around. He was happy so long as he was fed and clean and Caleb spent his few waking hours playing with him, making faces and talking to him. This was a good time, happy for all that Caleb worried about being found out.
It couldn't last.
On the bad side of things, Caleb was about to die. The bright spot was that neither Grey nor Styles had known about his pregnancy, and neither was asking questions about his son now. Kasmir might not kick the baby out of the airlock, but could instead drop him off at an orphanage the next time he was planetside. Not much of a future ahead of him, but better than being shot by the same men Caleb had once considered his friends.
The rescue came as a shock, and a relief, and also as a wake-up. Kasmir had been right. This couldn't last.
He loaded what supplies he could aboard The Escape. He almost left the holocron and his lightsaber behind. Those were part of a life he must forget. He brought them anyway, stowing them with the last container of baby food. He was already low on credits, and he'd have to spend more soon to restock. Without further goodbye to his now ex-partner, Caleb took to the skies.
Moraga was unwelcoming. Not harsh, not bitter, but also not the kind of place where he could settle down and raise a child. Not that he could settle. The Empire thought he'd died with the clones sent to kill him, and the only people who knew better were Kasmir and Kleeve, but that didn't mean other Jedi-hunters wouldn't be sniffing around for other survivors. He had to keep moving, keep his head down, and keep the little one safe.
"We need good aliases," he said, while setting up some blocks for the baby to knock over again and again. "I can't use my old name. You don't even have a name."
The baby crawled into the blocks and knocked them over, giggling with a gummy squeal as he did. The sound made Caleb grin every time.
"All right, back in your crib," he said, picking up his son and carrying him over to the larger crate he'd started using. No blankets in this one, but it was tall enough to keep the baby contained as he pulled himself up on his feet. He wasn't standing on his own yet, but that was coming soon. Ship's artificial gravity was bad for human babies learning to walk, according to the HoloNet parenting sites. He needed to be on a planet, and run around under a real sun.
Caleb poked at the navicomputer. There were a few systems nearby he could make for. His skillset was neatly divided into "Jedi" and "smuggler," which meant his prospects for finding a job weren't great. He'd never find out if he didn't try. He closed his eyes, reaching for the calm place inside his mind where he communed with the Force.
Something bumped his cheek.
Caleb opened his eyes. A block was floating in front of him, bobbing unsteadily. He turned around, and saw the baby standing in his crate, face alight with the same simple happiness he got from knocking over his blocks. The block dropped onto the map screen, though thankfully not enough to break it.
Caleb looked at the planet the block had landed on. He looked at the baby again. Then he set their course.
Farms needed farmhands, paid in food instead of credits. He called himself Jondo, stealing Kleeve's last alias for quick use. He slept in the barn of the farmer he was helping. The baby squirmed against his shoulder at night, upset at their new living quarters. It was itchy and it smelled. "It's safe enough," Caleb told him. "Now get some sleep." He didn't sleep, though, and Caleb got up before dawn with too little sleep of his own, and went back to work, day after day, while the baby stayed in the farmhouse with the farmer's husband and children. The farmhands ate at dawn and at dusk, and Caleb always fed a portion of his share mashed up with some milk to his son.
This too couldn't last, he knew, his hands aching and his back sore. After four weeks and the harvest's end, he took the last of his pay and as a bonus, a handful of credits. They could return to where he'd hidden the ship and go somewhere else. There had to be somewhere else.
Caleb took them into the nearest town to buy supplies before they left. The Escape didn't have a working clothes refresher, which would be a big problem, but not one he could solve with the few credits in his pocket.
He found a table in the square, settled the baby into the seat beside him, and mashed up a piece of the fruit they'd been paid in. If he squished it enough, the baby could gum the rest, and that was a little less formula Caleb needed to buy, a little more fuel he could put into the ship to get them farther out, away and safe. Another few months and the baby would be able to stuff food into his own mouth. Today, as ever, Caleb needed to feed it to him bite by bite.
He was so tired.
At the next table, a human woman sat down, her own purchases on the seat beside her as she checked them over. She made eye contact with him and smiled. Caleb went to smile back, and yawned instead, which brought out a more tender smile.
"Your little sister is adorable," she said.
Caleb blinked. "Uh, he's my brother," he said, then looked at the baby as if expecting him to start talking then and there, denouncing the lie.
"My mistake. Your brother is adorable. What's his name?"
The exhaustion caught up with him. He wanted to sleep. He wanted to cry. "He doesn't have one. My mother died the day he was born." There. A lie to complete the other lie, and almost true. "I just call him Baby."
Her face drew into concern. "I'm sorry. Where's your father?"
Caleb had never met his real parents, not in his memory. For all he knew, he'd been an orphan, or even another baby like his own, conceived by the Force. He'd never know now. He shrugged.
"You must be very brave, taking care of him all on your own."
He shrugged again. "Someone has to. He doesn't have anyone else."
"We all have one another," she said, her voice catching. "That's how we get through hard times. I'm Mira. What's your name?" She held out her hand.
He went for the lie and came out with the truth instead. "Caleb."
"It's nice to meet you, Caleb."
She convinced him to bring the baby and come back with her. The home she shared with her husband was small, but there was a spare room with a bed more comfortable than the straw he'd been sleeping in, or the hard bunk on his ship. Caleb sank down into the cushion gratefully and only woke up once when the baby fussed with a wet diaper. He could hear Mira and her husband talking in low voices on the other side of the wall. He couldn't make out what they were saying, but he knew they were talking about the two of them. He hoped the discussion included a way of getting some fresh cloths, because he was using the last clean diaper he had.
"Nothing but trouble," he murmured, and rested his hand tenderly on the baby's head as they fell back to sleep together.
Caleb woke to delicious smells, and for a moment, just one, he was back at the Temple waiting for the kitchens to open, his mouth watering with anticipation. Then he was fully awake, in a strange bed, his son wriggling and shoving his own little fist into his mouth.
Mira and Ephraim insisted he stay for breakfast, something Caleb was only too happy to accept. Ephraim had warmed some soft cereal for the baby, and offered to feed him while Caleb, for the first time in months, got to eat an entire meal without interruption.
"You're good at that," he said to Ephraim around a big bite of food. Depa would be giving him a disapproving look at his manners, but since she'd also disapprove of the stealing, smuggling, lying, and being the direct cause of Styles and Grey's deaths, Caleb wasn't going to let her imagined irritation stop him now.
"I had two little brothers of my own. You get used to it." Not, Caleb noticed, children of his own. Their home was the perfect size for a little family, but there were no toys or baby things. The spare room didn't have drawings on the walls. Even the children's rooms back in the Temple had scribbled pictures of Master Yoda or flutterbys or sometimes each other adorning the walls.
Mira gave Caleb another glass of milk, which he accepted more politely than he had gulped down the first.
"You look like you both could use a few good meals in you. Why don't you stay today?" From the lack of response on her husband's face, clearly they had decided together last night. Under the words, he could nearly hear the second invitation, much more generous than the first.
"Thank you. I can work for you to repay you for the food," he paused. Again, he was aware that his set of life skills were limited. He'd be set if they needed someone to discuss ancient Jedi philosophy, or to hijack a shipment of droids. Now he'd learned to pull weeds in a field and pick crops. He could learn as he went. "Anything you need."
"We don't need you to work for us," said Ephraim, wiping the baby's mouth clean. "Children shouldn't have to work. You're what, thirteen years old?"
"I'm almost fifteen."
Mira said, "And you've been acting as an adult for a long time. But you don't have to. You could stay here. There's a school down the road you could attend. All children deserve an education. And a home." They must have talked a lot last night.
The kindness cowed him, hitting him almost like a punch. He'd been on the run for months. Even Kasmir had helped him mostly out of self-interest, knowing it was to his benefit to have a Jedi for a partner. These two owed him nothing and wanted nothing from him, only wanted to help out two children they'd met by chance, strangers they'd taken into their home. He sensed no ulterior motives from them, no danger.
The Force moved in mysterious ways.
"Thank you," he said again, around the thick emotion in his throat.
He accompanied Ephraim into town. They both worked for the local magistrate, but Mira had already taken a few days off, and offered to stay home with the baby.
"He really doesn't have a name?" Ephraim asked as they walked together through the streets.
"I never thought of one that fit." Most of the human names he liked were shared by his friends and fellow Jedi, and they were gone now. While he might honor someone with the choice, he'd also paint a dangerous sign on his son.
Speaking of signs, the Empire had sent out more alerts. Rogue Jedi were suspected of having fled to the Outer Rim. A list of names appeared on the HoloNet feeds they passed by, Caleb trying to lean over to see them without being obvious about it. Maybe twenty names went by, possibly more. More survivors, or just bodies the Empire hadn't found yet?
"Other Jedi may be lurking in your midst," warned the announcer on the feed. "Report any strangers you meet to the authorities."
Caleb froze. Ephraim placed a hand on his shoulder and steered him past the screen. "Fear mongering is the last thing we need," he said when they were out of sight, and away from any microphones hidden near the screen.
"You're not afraid?"
"Of Jedi? No, and you shouldn't be, either. The stories I heard growing up said they were good people who protected the weak."
"That's what I heard, too."
That night, after dinner, Caleb went back to the room with the baby. Ephraim had purchased a few toys while they'd been out, and the baby now happily chewed on a cold, hard, ring which the vendor had said was perfect for a little one whose teeth were breaking through. Beside his stall, there had been another HoloNet feed. Caleb had gone over for a closer look, paying attention to the names on the list. There was a second, longer list after: Jedi presumed dead but whose bodies had not been positively identified and who could still be at large. His own name scrolled past. There was a hefty reward posted for any information leading to an arrest.
"They're still looking for me," he said to his son now. "They think I'm dead, but they're not sure."
The baby made a noise around his chew ring. He was almost ready to talk. And Caleb knew that meant this couldn't last, either.
"The Empire doesn't know about you. I think my medical records must have been lost. I hope they were. You'll be safe as long as they can't trace you back to me."
The Force offered lessons every day. It offered lessons on self-reliance, on accepting help when it was offered, on how to appreciate a meal after picking fruit under a scorching sun. He'd always wondered what lesson the Force intended him to learn by giving him a child. Now he knew.
"The Force binds us all together," he said, knowing the heavy feeling inside him was a kind of grief he wouldn't soon recover from. "That means we'll always be part of each other, no matter how far away I am from you. Trust in the Force."
The baby waved his arms. Caleb grabbed some of the new blocks and set them up for him, smiling sadly as they were knocked down again amid squeals of delight.
"They're good people. They'll take care of you. I think.... No, I know they want me to stay, too. I wish I could." He set up the blocks again. Tonight, he had the patience to set them up as many times as the baby wanted. He'd play with his son until the baby was tired, and he would cuddle with him until he was fast asleep. As soon as he was sure Mira and Ephraim were sleeping, Caleb would slip away back to his ship. He'd be in hyperspace before they woke up.
"I hope they give you a nice name."