Title: When the Time Is Right Author: Raissa Baiard Timeframe: Saga, 0 ABY Genre: Friendship, introspection, AU, in the Marzra-verse continuity Characters: Ezra Bridger, Zeb Orrelios, mentions of Mara Jade Blayne Synopsis: Ezra consults Zeb for some romantic advice. Thanks to @Findswoman for beta-reading ——— Beacon maintenance duty was not Ezra’s favorite task. The jungle moon’s high humidity and near constant rainfall played havoc with the temperamental instruments inside, requiring them to be recalibrated every other week in order to function properly. Maintenance teams also had to cut back the thick creeper and strangler vines that crept up the beacons; their tendrils worked their way into every crevice and they seemed to grow back as fast as they were cut down. And to make things just that much more fun, whoever made the roster for the patrols had apparently discovered Ezra’s affinity for animals, because he and Zeb were always assigned to work on the sensor beacons north of base, where the woolamander colonies were a nuisance. The pesky primates were fascinated by anything shiny, and had been known to steal patrols’ gear and tools and even dismantle the sensor beacons themselves. When Ezra reached the last beacon on his and Zeb’s route, one of the bachelor troops—the young male woolamanders who’d struck out on their own and seemed to be particularly destructive—had surrounded it and were working busily to pry off bits of the metal with their long, clever fingers. The largest woolamander, who had nearly detached the main antenna, bared his teeth and hooted a warning at Ezra. This was their shiny tree and he should not come any closer. *You know, it’s not really a tree, guys. No leaves, no fruit—nothing good to eat here. * The woolamander snorted and made a zoochberry noise. Despite his size, Ezra was clearly a youngster who’d just left his tree. Shiny trees weren’t for eating. Their branches made good courting gifts; females were impressed by shiny things, the bigger and shinier, the better. He hooted derisively. Someday Ezra would understand that; until then he should run back to his family’s troop. “Wow, I think that’s the first time I’ve ever been put down by a monkey. You’ve been talking to Kanan, haven’t you?” Ezra felt the irrational need to defend himself and tell the obnoxious little simian that he’d already found his perfect female, thank you very much, and whatever it or his Jedi master or anyone else thought, he was definitely not too young to be thinking about courting gifts. He was spared that indignity when the sound of a large creature lumbering through the jungle caused the woolamander to give a startled shriek and drop the antenna. He hooted urgently to tell his fellows that something huge and smelly was approaching. The others ceased their depredations on the beacon, too, scattering and chattering angrily as a large purple interloper crashed his way through the undergrowth. “Stinking woolamanders,” Zeb grumbled, using his bo-rifle in staff mode to chase the last stubborn simian away. “I hate those annoying little bogans. No wonder these arrays are always frotzing out when those stupid monkeys keep ripping off parts. Always into everything, stealing things, and…” Zeb wrinkled his nose in distaste. “They smell awful.” Ezra bent down to pick up the broken antenna, hiding a smile as he did. Zeb complaining about the way the woolamanders smelled was like the Jawa calling the Ugnaught short. “At least this is the last beacon on our route.” He handed the antenna to Zeb. “Here. You get this put back on, and I’ll start working on the vines.” The Lasat grunted as he set down his backpack and pulled out a hand torch and welding goggles. His torch sparked and sizzled as he reconnected the broken antenna. Ezra unclipped a pair of vibro-cutters from his belt—his lightsaber would have been faster, but the vines were wrapped too tightly around the beacon. He knelt down by the its base and began cutting. His hands worked automatically, falling into a rhythm of their own, and that, unfortunately, left Ezra’s thoughts free to wander. There’d been something on his mind all morning, and he’d been trying to find the right way to broach the topic with Zeb. Somehow, no matter how he turned it around in his mind, he just couldn’t figure out how to put it into words without sounding like a total moof-milker. The woolamander’s dripping disdain hadn’t helped his confidence any. He was beginning to think he should just skip it altogether; maybe this wasn’t the right time to say anything. Maybe it was something he had to figure out on his own. “Okay, spill it, kid. What’s eating you?” “What?” Ezra looked up to see that Zeb had already finished welding the antenna back in place and was frowning down at him. And even though he’d been trying to talk to Zeb the whole time they’d been on their maintenance rounds, Ezra suddenly felt like he’d rather scrub all the carbon scoring off the Ghost’s hull with his toothbrush than tell him what was on his mind. “No, nothing’s eating me.” He grabbed a double handful of vines and yanked them free from the beacon. “I’m fine. Fine.” Zeb pushed his goggles back and raised a skeptical brow ridge. “Pfft. We’ve been cabin mates for five years, I can tell when somethin’s buggin’ you—you get all twitchy, like a Loth-cat with fleas.” Was everyone and every creature on Yavin 4 going to insult him today? Ezra slashed at the next tangle of vines and pulled them loose with satisfying rrrrip “Twitchy?! I’m not—” He noticed his hands were clenching and unclenching around the vines and sighed. Might as well admit it; he couldn’t feel more moof-milker-aceous about the whole thing than he already did. “All right, yeah, actually I was kind of hoping I could talk to you about something. I could use some advice.” “Advice?” Zeb frowned and scratched his beard with a clawed fingertip. “I dunno…. Kanan’s better at that sort of stuff than I am.” Ezra had been expecting that objection, and normally Zeb would have had a point. But this… well, this wasn’t something he could talk to his Jedi Master about. “Yeah, except…I already know what he’s going to say.” Kanan was great when it came to matters of the Force, but when it came to more... er, worldly considerations... “Anyway, you’re the only one who has experience with…” “Experience?” The goggles fell out of Zeb’s hand. His mouth dropped open, then snapped shut with the audible click of teeth. He turned away hastily, gathered up the goggles and shoved them into the into the gear pack along with his hand torch, muttering, “Aw, karabast, kid, I woulda thought Kanan had the talk with you a long time ago.” When Zeb straightened back up, he wore an expression like he’d just swallowed a whole swarm of piranha beetles. “Okay… Well, huh…” He scuffed at a patch of leaf litter, very carefully not looking at Ezra as he continued. “Y’see, when a male sentient being loves a female—” “Aw, no!! ZEB! No!” Ezra barely resisted the urge to cover his ears and declare “I’m not listening!” like a youngling. “Not… Not that kind of experience!” He had indeed learned the relevant facts on that count some time ago; he didn’t need Zeb to enlighten him, and… “How desperate would I have to be to ask you for advice on that?!” The Lasat gave him an affronted look. “Hey, you could do worse.” “Aww…” Did not need that thought! “Marriage, Zeb! You’re the only one of us who’s been married!” Ezra sighed and looked up at his cabin mate—his friend and surrogate brother. “I know you don’t like to talk about it, but you’re the only one I can talk to about this.” “Marriage!?” Zeb’s brow-ridges shot up. As he gazed down at Ezra, his expression transformed from disbelief into a kind of gleeful astonishment. “You’re serious… You’re really thinking about giving Mara a rock, aren’t you?” “A rock?” This was one of those strange Lasat things, wasn’t it? Like prehensile toes or saying “karabast” every five minutes. Zeb shrugged as he sank down on his haunches and crouched next to Ezra. “’S the way we did it on Lasan. You’d give your girl a betrothal stone. There were a whole bunch of rules about what different colors and types of stones meant, but crystals were always good, somethin’ sparkly and shiny. The caves were full of ‘em.” “Wish it was that easy for Humans,” Ezra said with a rueful laugh. “For us, it’s usually jewelry—a ring or necklace—something big and special.” And it was kind of hard to buy an engagement present when you didn’t actually have any money. Rebel commander/Jedi-in-training might be an exciting career, it might be rewarding and satisfying, but it did not pay well. Or at all. While Mara was far from materialistic, he doubted she’d take kindly to being given whatever shiny rock he happened to find lying around in the jungle. “Hey, wait a minute...does that mean by Lasat standards, when Luke gave Mara that rock, he—” “Proposed to her?” Zeb bared his teeth in a pointy grin. “Yeah—didn’t do a very good job of it though. Green’s okay, but you never give a girl a stone with black flecks in it unless you want her to chuck it at your head.” He chuckled to himself for several moments as if at the mere thought someone could be so clueless—black flecks in an engagement stone, ha! Amateur!— then regarded Ezra frankly. “But you didn’t want me to give you a speech about the language of stones, so what’s on your mind?” Ezra shifted a bit, picking at a tendril of strangler vine that was winding its way into the beacon’s instrument panel. Here it was...the part where he looked like a champion moof-milking idiot for asking stupid questions. “Well, I guess I’ve been wondering… how do you know when it’s the right time to ask?” Zeb’s expression did little to reassure Ezra—the “this kid’s not very bright for a Jedi” look he’d gotten so good at over the last five years. “What d’you mean?! You love her, don’t you? What’s the problem, then? Get yourself the biggest, shiniest rock you can find and propose, Lasat-style!” He gave Ezra a hearty shoulder punch. “A hundred credits says she says yes even if it’s not some fancy doo-dad.” “Of course I love her! And I want to be with her… it’s just…” Ezra sighed, rubbing at his shoulder. How could he explain this without sounding like he just had cold feet? “We’re in the middle of a war, maybe I shouldn’t be thinking of something this huge while everything’s still such a mess in the Galaxy.” He toyed with the bit of vine he was still holding and shook his head. “I mean, what kind of future could we have while we’re still fighting the Empire? Maybe I should wait until the war’s over and things are better.” “There’s a ‘but’ here, or you wouldn’t be asking for advice.” Sometimes Zeb could be pretty perceptive for a big, purple lug. “But… what if things never get better? What if something happens to one of us? What if I wait for the perfect time, and it never comes?” After everything he’d been through over the past five years—fleeing bases one step ahead of the Empire, seeing friends injured and lost in the fight, struggling against the Dark Side and the darkness within himself—Ezra had learned that there were never any guarantees. He stopped fiddling with the scrap of vine and looked up at Zeb. If anyone could understand how profoundly life could change in an instant, it was him. “So which is better: trying to find happiness now, even though things aren’t perfect, or playing it safe, knowing the chance may never come? “Whoa… that’s really…huh…” Zeb looked like a pole-axed bantha and he sank down to the leaf-strewn ground with a thud that shook the sensor beacon behind him. “You sure I just can’t explain the avians and the apians to you instead?” “Zeb…” “All right, all right.” The Lasat blew out a gusty sigh, and his expression turned thoughtful and distant. He stirred the leaves absently with a toe as he considered. “I dunno, Ezra, me and Sh—my wife, we kind of put things off, because I was trying to get established in the Honor Guard so I could provide for her and...and our kits someday, and, well, she wanted to get started in her career, too. But we thought we had all the time on Lasan to be together.” Zeb shrugged, staring off into the forest as if he could see all the way back to Lasan. He smiled a bit sadly, and the tips of his ears drooped as he shook his head. “Lookin’ back… maybe I shouldn’t have waited, maybe we coulda had more time together before… But maybe we woulda had a family when the Siege hit and then…” His gaze came back to Yavin and to Ezra, and he snorted not so delicately. “Don’t give me that look, I know that’s not the kind of answer you were looking for. But I don’t know that there’s just one answer to that question. I guess you just gotta follow your heart.” His craggy face screwed up like he’d bitten into a rotten meiloorun. “Can’t believe I just said that.” Ezra tried not to sigh. The last thing he’d expected was for Zeb to reply to the question like a Jedi—with an answer that was true and yet not very helpful. “Yeah… I guess you’re right. I guess we should finish up here and get back to the Ghost.” He yanked the last straggling vine off the beacon, tossed it aside and clipped his vibro-cutters to his belt. Zeb rose and laid a hand on Ezra’s shoulder. “Don’t look so glum. Trust me, whatever your answer is, you’ll know when the time is right.” “Hey, Zeb... don’t say anything to the others about this yet, okay?” “Sure, kid.” As he patted Ezra’s shoulder again, a chuckling hoot like derisive laughter rang through the small clearing. Zeb’s face scrunched into a scowl. “Aw, not another one of those karking woolamanders!” “You go on back; I’ll take care of it.” Zeb nodded, shouldering his pack with a grunt, and lumbered off down the trail back to base. Ezra looked up to see one of the fat blue primates staring down at him from the branches of the nearest Massassi tree. It was the same woolamander who had insulted him earlier. He glared at Ezra and made a series of rude zoochberry noises. Why was Ezra still here? Hadn’t he told him to go back to his tree and leave the business of finding shiny courting gifts to the mature males? The woolamander held something that gleamed as he played with it, and his thoughts about it were smugly possessive. *What have you got there?* Mine!The woolamander stuck his tongue out at Ezra. *I doubt that. Drop it.* Ezra put a bit of Force-suggestion into his words; the woolamander’s long fingers opened and something shiny fell into the leaf litter below. He screeched and bared his teeth when Ezra stepped forward to retrieve it. Mine! Mine! Mine! *Not yours.* Ezra informed him. *Go on, shoo. Go.* The primate glared at him and gave a last resentful hoot as he swung off into the trees. Ezra sighed and shook his head. He hoped the woolamander hadn’t pulled anything too complicated or essential off the beacon this time. He sifted through the fallen leaves until he found a small, hard object about the length of his little finger, but it wasn’t a piece of metal. It was a rock, a crystal, to be exact, but like none Ezra had ever seen before. It seemed to glow softly as he turned it over in his hands, glimmering first green, the same beguiling shade as Mara’s eyes, and the the blushing pink of the sunrise. And he could have sworn it hummed very softly when he touched it, a very familiar note… Ezra grinned to himself. He had a sudden, wicked urge to give the stone to Mara, along with a Force-awful love note telling her that it was as green as eyes and her eyes were as green as ALL THE LEAVES ON YAVIN. He bet she’d get a good laugh before she wadded up the note and threw it at him. At least least this rock was prettier than the one Luke had given her, sparkly and shiny, with no black flecks. Of course, Zeb being Zeb, he’d probably feel compelled to tell Mara the Lasat significance of giving your girlfriend a stone… He paused, looking down at the crystal in his hand—the sparkly, shiny green crystal with no black spots—and another possibility for the stone began to unfold in his mind. Get yourself the biggest, shiniest rock you can find and propose, Lasat-style… It wasn’t a very large crystal, but it was pretty, prettier than some gemstones, even— as beautiful and special as Mara herself. What would she say if…? A hundred credits says she says yes even if it’s not some fancy doo-dad. Ezra turned the crystal over again, listening to its faint music, and wondered if Zeb hadn’t given him better advice than he knew, on several counts. Ezra might not have come up with a definite answer to his question, but if he followed his heart and listened to the Force, he’d know when the time was right. He slipped the blush-green crystal into his pocket with a smile. And when it was, he’d be ready. +++++ Notes: Zeb being married is pure fanon; if you read the Tales of Lasan, you may have a good guess who he married. This story was written before and comes chronologically before And They Lived Happily Ever After, which is why Ezra says Zeb is the only one who’s been married. The story of Luke giving Mara a a sparkly rock and a love note is from Teenage Rebellion. The crystal Ezra finds is a blush-green solari crystal, like the Heart of Mak-Gu-Fina in @Findswoman ‘s The Jewels of….WHAT?!