Title: The Simplest Gesture Author: Gabri_Jade Timeframe: Saga-PT, 18 to 1 BBY Characters: Hera Syndulla, Kanan Jarrus Genre: friendship, romance Summary: Five times Hera took care of Kanan, and one time he took care of her. Notes: Written for the OTP Challenge #18 5+1. Many thanks to @ViariSkywalker for her encouragement and beta work Bail Organa: The simplest gesture of kindness can fill a galaxy with hope. Kanan Jarrus: Isn't that a Jedi saying? Rebels S1:E3 – Droids in Distress ---------- His hair was dark, Hera noticed. Shoulder-length, disheveled, almost rakish. He sported a short beard, and was nearly a head taller than her, with a proportionate build. He was also a few steps away from being dusted by an Imperial blaster. She turned down the side street to the left and waited behind the corner, holding her breath and counting. He had just barely come into sight when she lunged forward, grabbing his shirt and yanking with all her strength. His full weight added to the momentum; he’d apparently thrown himself into the side street at the same moment. Odd, she thought. Then they hit the pavement, the tall stranger landing on top of her, and her thoughts were briefly suspended as the wind got knocked out of her. He raised himself on an elbow, looking down at her with visible confusion. “Who–” The staccato of blaster fire made him instinctively duck his head, which nearly collided with Hera’s own as she began to push herself up. “Hey!” The word came out with less power than normal; she hadn’t fully caught her breath yet. “Sorry—” “No time,” Hera wheezed, pushing against his chest. There was a faint aroma of ale on his breath. Great, just what she needed today. Well, he’d better still be sober enough to follow directions. “Get off–” He rolled off of her and stood, holding out a hand to help her rise. She took it and he pulled her upright with one smooth motion. Beyond them, in the main avenue, the blaster fire continued. “This way,” she said, and ran in the opposite direction. The stranger followed, his footsteps landing with surprising quietness considering his size. She reached the next intersection and skidded to a stop. “Go that way,” she told him, gesturing to the left. “What about you?” Hera shook her head, still gasping a little. “That’s my distraction back there. Have an asset to collect before the Imps pause long enough to look around.” “Distract–” “You’re welcome for the save,” Hera said, raising an eyebrow at him. “Hey, I was–” She made a shooing motion at him. “Unless you want to be standing around here looking suspicious when those stormtroopers stop shooting, you’d better get going.” She glanced both ways–good, the troopers who’d been patrolling this street a few moments ago had indeed run toward the firefight, while the civilians ducked into whatever buildings were handy once the shooting started. The street was empty, and if she hustled, she would have just enough time to steal the holodisc that held the details of Imperial troop movements in this sector. She turned her back on the stranger and ran. ---------- The holodisc was safely tucked in her belt pouch the next evening when Hera entered the rundown cantina her contact had specified. She found a dark booth off to the side and slid into it, casually scanning the clientele as she did so. Nothing more suspicious than you’d find in any place like this–wait. Was that–? It was. Behind the bar, mixing a drink and making eyes at the girl who sat a few stools down, was the stranger from yesterday. Well, that explained the ale on his breath, she supposed. The coast clear and her contact not yet arrived, she spent a few moments watching the stranger flirt with the girl, who was wearing a particularly ridiculous style of dress currently popular with university students. “Give me a break,” she muttered under her breath. Was that girl even old enough to be in a cantina? Not her problem, Hera told herself. She turned to smile charmingly at the waitress who approached to take her order, then settled in to wait for her contact. An hour later, her meeting was done, the information gathered, the contact gone, and she was ready to leave this planet. Hera drank the last sip of her whiskey, then slid out of the booth. She took a step toward the door, then glanced again toward the bar. The stranger was now leaning his elbows against the bar-top, his arms crossed, flirting with yet another girl whose parents probably didn’t know she was out cantina-crawling at this hour. She took another step toward the door, then hesitated. Oh, what the hell. Turning, she headed toward the bar and seated herself a half dozen stools down from the stranger and his current flirtation. He didn’t look her way. Hera sighed, then cleared her throat. The stranger finally turned to see his new customer, and his eyes widened. Hera smiled at him, leaning her elbow on the bar and propping her chin in her hand. The stranger excused himself, and came over. Hera waited for him to open his mouth, then spoke before he could. “Isn’t she a little young for you?” He glanced back at the girl, then back to Hera. He frowned. “What are you doing here? You aren’t about to have another distraction in my cantina, are you?” Hera looked him over, assessing what she saw. Last chance to walk away, she thought. But no. There was something here, she was sure of it. “Business,” she said. “Thought maybe you’d want in on the next round?” “Oh, yeah?” He crossed his arms, looking entirely unimpressed. “And what would make you think that?” She shrugged. “I’m good at reading people. And I think you’re more than you seem.” The change from unimpressed to wary was instantaneous, far more caution suddenly in his eyes than her comment warranted. “What do you mean?” Well, now, that’s interesting. “Just what I said,” Hera answered. She was more curious than ever, but you didn’t get a timid pittin to approach you by getting in its face and shouting. “Ever feel like you could do something more than this? Fight for a greater cause?” He hesitated. She waited. “Tried that once,” he said. “Didn’t work out so well.” “Maybe it’ll work out better this time,” Hera said. “My ship’s in docking bay 94, if you’re interested. I leave at dawn.” She stood and made to leave, but he reached out to lay a hand on her shoulder. “Wait.” She raised an eyebrow, and he flushed and took his hand back. “Why are you offering this?” She tilted her head at him. “Like I said, I’m good at reading people. And I think you’re worth taking a chance on. If you want to take that chance on yourself, you know where to find me.” He was silent. Hera watched him for a moment, then turned and left. Hera was running the preflight check just before dawn when she saw him enter the docking bay, a single bag slung over his shoulder. Well, well. “Chopper, finish up here, would you?” The astromech droid bleeped something less than courteous, and Hera rolled her eyes. “You absolutely do not do all the work around here. Don’t give me that. It’s more than half done, anyway, and I have to go greet our guest.” Chopper leaned forward to look out the viewport, then leaned back to beep inquiringly at her. “I don’t know,” Hera answered, looking thoughtfully out the viewport herself. The stranger was nearly alongside the Ghost now. “Maybe just a passenger. But maybe crew. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.” The droid’s response was blunt, as always. She shook her head and patted his dome. “Don’t worry. I have a good feeling about him. Just finish the check, huh?” She headed into the main compartment, and lowered the ramp. Below, he stood just barely beyond the ramp’s reach, already looking up to meet her eyes. The ramp hit the tarmac with a gentle thud, and Hera descended to meet him. “Requesting permission to come aboard,” he said. There was a vaguely military air to his voice just then, a sense that the words were more formal in his mind than the casual, almost perfunctory ritual they were to most. Interesting. “I do have one rule,” she replied. He lifted his eyebrows at her, and she smiled. “I’m going to need something to call you.” He almost smiled back, she could see it. He stopped himself, but there was a lightness in his eyes that hadn’t been there before. “Kanan. Kanan Jarrus.” She held out her hand, and he shook it. “Hera Syndulla, captain of the Ghost. Welcome aboard, Kanan Jarrus.” ---------- Hera checked the navicomputer one last time, then leaned back and stretched, smothering a yawn. Beside her, Chopper let out a long series of electronic gurgles and rocked back and forth. Hera smiled and reached down to pat him. “It’s fine, Chopper. We’re on course and all systems are at optimum levels for once. What’s to worry about?” Another string of beeps, ending with an emphatic blat. “He’s been useful enough this past week, hasn’t he?” Hera asked, standing. “But tell you what: you can stand guard in the cockpit until I get back, okay? If he comes up here and tries to mess with anything, feel free to stun him.” Chopper waved both manipulating arms wildly, chattering away in binary. Hera smiled again. “I know you would. What would I do without you?” A spin of his dome and a descending trill of beeps signaled Chopper’s agreement, then he stationed himself in front of the navicomputer. Amused, Hera shook her head and left. Her own cabin was the closest to the cockpit, but Kanan’s was only a couple of doors down. Hera lifted her hand to knock lightly. There was a brief, slight scuffling sound within before Kanan’s voice answered. “Come in.” Hera opened the door and took a step inside. Kanan was sitting on the edge of his bunk, leaning back casually. “Just wanted to let you know that we’re on course. Eight hours until we make orbit at our first stop. I’m going to get some sleep. Oh, and Chopper is guarding the cockpit from you, so don’t go up there unless you want to be chased by a droid who’s got a welding arc and isn’t afraid to use it.” Kanan huffed a rueful laugh. “What’s it going to take to get him to believe that I’m not planning some sort of sabotage?” “Time, I imagine,” Hera answered, shrugging. “He’s just protective. Anyway, good night.” “Good night,” Kanan replied. He stood as she turned to leave, and as he did something rolled off the bed and hit the floor. Kanan dived for it, but not before Hera had turned back. It was an engraved cube of some sort – Hera recognized it, and her breath caught. “That’s a Jedi holocron,” she said, her eyes widening. “What?” Kanan said, pulling the cube behind his back again. “No. That’s ridiculous. Where would I get a Jedi holocron?” He frowned. “How do you know what a Jedi holocron is, anyway?” Hera stepped further into the cabin, eyeing him shrewdly. “I think the question is, how do you know what a Jedi holocron is?” “I don’t,” he said, very unconvincingly. “You’re the one who said it was a holocron.” “And I’m right,” Hera said, crossing her arms. “Spill it, Kanan Jarrus. Where did you get a holocron?” He sighed heavily and sat down, bringing the holocron forward into his lap. He looked at it, then closed his eyes. The holocron rose slowly into the air to hover about a meter in front of Kanan. The corners twisted and separated entirely from the cube, spreading out from the center piece, where a small holoprojection of a man had appeared. Almost holding her breath, Hera stepped forward to sit tentatively on the edge of the bunk beside Kanan. “This is Master Obi-Wan Kenobi. I regret to report that both our Jedi Order and the Republic have fallen, with the dark shadow of the Empire rising to take their place. This message is a warning and a reminder for any surviving Jedi. Trust in the Force. Do not return to the Temple. That time has passed. And our future is uncertain. We will each be challenged. Our trust... our faith... our friendships. But we must persevere. And in time, a new hope will emerge. May the Force be with you... always.” The holoprojection ended. The cube reassembled itself and floated back to Kanan’s outstretched hand. He opened his eyes and met her gaze. “You’re a Jedi,” Hera breathed. “I thought they were all killed.” Kanan set the holocron down and looked away. “Most of them were.” Hera drew a leg up against her chest, wrapping her arms around it and resting her chin on her knee. “This is what you meant, about fighting for a greater cause not working out so well for you.” He glanced back at her. “Well, it didn’t, did it?” “Oh, I don’t know,” Hera said gently. “The Jedi were guardians of peace for millennia. And even in wartime, they protected and inspired many. Like me. I’m alive because the Jedi helped us on Ryloth.” She tilted her head thoughtfully. “I was only a child during the Clone Wars, and you’re not much older than me. You weren’t a knight, were you?” Kanan sighed. “I was a padawan. My – my name was originally Caleb Dume. I was apprenticed to Master Depa Billaba. When the clones turned on us, she – she told me to run.” He looked down at his hands, clasped in his lap. “I shouldn’t have. I should have stayed and fought with her. Died with her, if that was the will of the Force.” Hera reached out a hand to touch his arm. “What if the will of the Force was this? That you survived?” He looked at her sideways. “Why would the Force care if I survived?” “Your master did.” He remained silent, and Hera leaned forward earnestly. “Kanan, you were a child. What happened to the Jedi wasn’t your fault. If your master thought you staying would have been the difference between victory and defeat, wouldn’t she have told you to stay? It was a losing fight, and she knew it. Of course she wanted to protect you if she could. And she would be proud of you now. Like I am.” He held very still, those teal blue eyes remaining on her. “Thanks,” he said, so softly that she almost didn’t hear him. “Anytime.” Hera smiled and rose. “I’m going to get that sleep now. You should, too.” She touched his shoulder. “Remember what Master Kenobi said. Trust in the Force and persevere. Despite everything, there’s still hope.” He laughed briefly, under his breath. “You’re sure you weren’t taught in the Temple?” Hera put a hand on her hip. “I think I'd remember something like that.” Kanan smiled at her then, a real smile, the first he’d given her since she’d entered the cabin. Encouraged, she returned it. “Good night, Kanan. Remember to steer clear of the cockpit until morning.” “Yeah,” he said, still smiling. “Good night, Hera.” She went to her own cabin, thinking about the aspects of Kanan that suddenly made sense, his unexpected strengths and insecurities. All of their generation had been shaped by the Clone Wars, but here was someone who’d experienced the actual frontlines of those wars, as she had, someone who’d also seen people he loved felled in combat. Their specific experiences were different, but the essentials were the same. And that was a common ground they could build from, create a better, more effective partnership. Maybe even a genuine friendship. Hera climbed into bed, and fell asleep thinking about children hiding and fighting and dying on battlefields, and all that had yet to be done to save the next generation from the horrors she and Kanan had known. ---------- They stood side by side on the upper deck of the cargo compartment, watching Zeb load the fuel shipment they’d managed to secure. “You’re completely incapable of not taking in strays, aren’t you?” Kanan asked. Hera smiled without looking at him. “You’re part of that club too, you know.” He reached a hand up and ran it over his head, smoothing the dark hair that was tied back in a short ponytail. Hera had never felt any particular attraction to hair on a person’s head – it was fine in a general sense, she didn’t object to it, but she’d always felt a bit sorry for species that lacked the ability for subtle communication that lekku gave to the Twi’lek people. But Kanan’s hair was kind of – dashing. Like him. “Yeah, I remember,” he said, distracting her. He leaned his elbows on the railing and sighed. “I kind of liked it when it was just the two of us.” A burst of indignant beeps erupted from the hallway behind them, and Kanan rolled his eyes. “Yes, and you too, Chop. How could I ever forget?” “That’s enough out of you, Chopper,” Hera called over her shoulder. “Did you fix the comms yet?” The answer was punctuated by some very dramatic waving of his manipulator arms. Beside her, Kanan muttered something under his breath about overemotional droids. “Well, then, get on it,” Hera said, turning halfway to face the overemotional droid in question. “We’re leaving soon, and we kind of need comms.” Chopper wheeled off, complaining all the while. Kanan hadn’t moved, and Hera nudged him with her shoulder. “Just the two of us was nice,” she agreed. “But this cause is bigger than either of us. Bigger than both of us.” “That’s what I’m afraid of,” Kanan said softly. “I know,” Hera murmured. He looked sideways at her, and she smiled sympathetically. “We’re all afraid sometimes. Real courage is moving forward despite the fear. And you’re more courageous than you realize.” Below them, Zeb moved the last fuel canister into the cargo hold. Looking up, he lifted his arms to the side in exasperation. “Is anyone going to help me secure these things, or am I the only one doing any work today?” Hera shook her head, then nudged Kanan again. “You got this?” “Yeah,” he said, giving her a crooked half-smile. “I got this.” “I’ll go get the engines warmed up, then,” she said, and turned toward the cockpit. She didn’t need a Jedi’s Force-sensitivity to feel Kanan’s eyes on her as she left, and she smiled to herself all the way to the cockpit. ---------- “I don’t know,” Hera said, a hand on her hip and her head tilted thoughtfully. “I kind of like it.” “That’s because it’s not on your wall,” Kanan retorted. Sabine’s latest mural was – colorful. And very abstract. Hera wasn’t entirely sure what the viewer was supposed to derive from it, but then, that really wasn’t the important thing about Sabine’s art. “She needs to express herself, love,” she said. “You know she’s been through a lot.” Kanan folded his arms and heaved a sigh. “Yeah, I know. I just wish she’d express herself on her own walls.” “She did,” Hera replied. “I was in her room last night to talk. Every square inch is covered.” Kanan covered his face with a hand. “You realize, of course, that this is going to end with the Ghost’s entire outer hull looking like -” He lifted his head and waved his hand vaguely at the mural. “Whatever this is supposed to be.” Hera shrugged. “If she wants to spend all her credits on paint and then all her free time scrubbing it right off the hull again, that’s up to her.” She slid her hand into Kanan’s, intertwining their fingers. “I’ll talk to her, tell her to clean this one up.” Kanan’s hand briefly tightened around hers as he gazed at the mural. “No, it’s okay. I can use it as – a meditation focus. Maybe. It’s not hurting anything. I guess.” Hera smiled and leaned her head against his shoulder. “Your very own personal art gallery.” He snorted. “Just what I always wanted. Can you make sure the next stray we take in is at least a little less difficult?” “Now, dear,” Hera said. “How would someone like that fit into this crew? Come on, there’s time for a cup of caf before we lift off.” ---------- “Argh!” Hera’s exasperated outburst could be heard halfway down the corridor from the cockpit, and Kanan cringed briefly, but didn’t pause as he headed toward the recreation area. “Okay,” he said as he entered. “All of you, out.” Sabine, painting a row of miniature starbirds along the edge of the game table, looked up. Two heads turned toward him from where Zeb had Ezra pinned to the floor. At the computer terminal, Chopper’s dome spun, and he waved a manipulating arm as he protested. “Can it, Chop,” Kanan said. “But Kanan -” Ezra began. Kanan cut him off. “You too. Sabine, you get to check the black market in this town, see if you can’t find some decent power converters. Zeb, Ezra, go get supplies. The list is in the mess. I don’t want to see any of you again before sunset. If you get done early, go find something else to keep you busy. Chopper, go work on the Phantom; someone knocked out the sensor array.” Ezra edged slightly behind Zeb. “And if you come back in the Ghost before sunset yourself, I’ll shut you down. Don’t think I won’t.” Chopper’s answering blat was insulting, but he headed toward the Phantom. The others muttered acquiescence as they filed out, elbowing each other. Kanan watched to make sure they were really heading toward the exit, then went to his cabin to get the parcel he’d stashed away after his own last trip to a marketplace several days ago. As he stepped back into the main corridor, he almost collided with Hera storming out of the cockpit. “Kanan, you know I support Ezra’s Jedi training, but you have to work on accuracy if he’s going to practice deflecting shots inside the ship! That last bolt took out the Phantom’s entire sensor array – it’s going to be hours of repair work!” “I know,” he said, taking her arm. “Not my smartest idea. But I’ve taken care of it.” She raised an eyebrow suspiciously, but he pulled her gently toward the recreation area. The uncharacteristic quiet only deepened her suspicious expression. The absence of the others as they entered cemented it. “Okay,” she said, stopping in the doorway and planting a fist on her hip. “What’s going on here?” “Just thought you could use a bit of peace and quiet,” he said, slipping his arm around her waist and steering her toward the table and handing her the parcel. “Here, got you something.” She sat and took it, weighing it speculatively in her hands before unwrapping it. “A meiloorun!” Kanan smiled at her delight. “Got it on our last stopover, but it wasn’t ripe. Hang on.” He went to the mess and returned with two steaming mugs, handing one over and sitting beside her. “You spend too much time taking care of everyone else. It’s about time someone took care of you, even if it’s only for an afternoon.” Hera smiled. He loved that smile, the smile that had lit all his days since she’d found him. “This is all very nice, love,” she said, “but where are the kids? And who’s going to fix the sensor array?” “Out,” he said, taking a sip of his drink. “And Chopper. And they’ve all been told they’re not allowed back in the ship until sunset.” She leaned back slowly, crossing her arms as the smile became a grin. “Well, well. Who’d have thought a bartender who specialized in hitting on university girls would turn out to be so sensible?” Kanan groaned. “Are you ever going to let that drop?” “Probably not,” Hera admitted cheerfully. She touched his cheek, leaning over to kiss him lightly. “Best stray I ever picked up, bar none. Think I’ll keep you around.” “You’re not getting rid of me any time soon,” Kanan told her, putting an arm around her shoulder and leaning back. She was just nestling into his embrace as a string of bleeps sounded and an orange dome peeked into the room. “Phantom!” Kanan and Hera bellowed in unison, and Chopper hastily retreated. Hera shook her head. “He can be so difficult sometimes.” “That’s why he fits into this crew,” Kanan said, raising an eyebrow at her. “With a captain who specializes in taking chances on difficult misfits.” “It’s been a rewarding way of life so far,” Hera replied, her eyes shining at him. And in her smile, Kanan found all the hope he’d ever need.