It was approximately 0130 hours in the morning when Hera bustled her way into the cockpit, reluctantly calling the still irritated Chopper to her side and working with him to get the navigator up and ready for wherever they needed to travel. All the while, guilt pawed at the back of her mind like an angry, attention-starved tooka. Guilt not just over the things she had said to Zeb, but surrounding the many choices she had made in the last 48 hours.
She just couldn’t help but to internally reprimand herself for not putting in more of an effort to seek treatment when Ezra had first fallen ill. Maybe if she had, they wouldn’t be in this mess. But what was bothering her most of all about the entire situation was the shame she held for letting herself become an emotional wreck in the face of emergency.
Hera was the leader, and it was her job to look at the situation from a pragmatic angle, not to trip over her thoughts just because a delusional child mistook her for a parent for a brief moment. She was the one who was supposed to offer comfort in these types of situations, she wasn’t supposed to be the one who needed comforting.
Yet here she was, letting herself fall apart in the face of emergency. It was, quite ironically, making her feel sick.
Lost in her own thoughts, she had barely noticed that Zeb had entered the cockpit, datapad in hand.
The Lasat stood in the entranceway, awkwardly shifting his weight from one foot to the other, feeling very cautious about how he chose to capture the attention of his captain after the incident in the bedroom. It wasn’t like Hera hadn’t scolded him before; Hell. the first year of the kid joining the crew consisted of pretty much non-stop reprimands for the both of them. But this was different. Because for once, the life of his little brother was on the line, and she was absolutely right. His slip up costed them precious time, and now things were looking bleaker than ever.
Once he was absolutely sure that she had a moment, Zeb gently cleared his throat, causing Hera to whip her head towards him in surprise.
“Hera, I got in contact with somma’ the other cells...” he began quietly, a slight measure of fear and shame permeating his gruff tone.
Before he could continue, however, Hera cut him off with a slight gesture of hand.
“Zeb, about what I said earlier… I’m sorry…” Her face fell as she grappled for the right words to say, the stress of the entire situations seriously impeding her diplomatic skills.
“No, yer right,” he admitted, voice low with shame. “I shoulda’ givin ya all the info I could, ‘specially considerin’ the kid’s health’s at stake. It was dumb a’me ta just assume that it was no big deal. An’ I’m sorry for that.”
Hera shot her friend a sympathetic look, sensing the deep sincerity behind his words. Making soft strides towards him, she gripped his bicep in a small gesture of solidarity before looking him dead in the eyes in an attempt to return it. “You couldn’t have known, Zeb. It’s not your fault and I shouldn’t have blown up on you like that.”
At that, Hera paused for a moment, crossing her arms tightly against her chest and sighing deeply, as if somehow all of the pain and sorrow that had been building up for the past few months could just flow out of her as easily as the air in her lungs. But it didn’t, and her dear friend could sense her pain.
“Ya know, we’re all worried about the kid,” Zeb spoke, his voice carrying an unusual softness to it. “Ya don’t have to act strong like this, it’s not healthy. For a moment, you’re allowed to just be lady who’s scared for her kid. Ya gotta feel that fear for a moment, otha’wise you won’t be able ta move forwards.”
The room was quiet for a moment, Hera slightly taken aback. Zeb was the least emotionally open member of her crew, and yet here he was, giving her the best personal advice she’d heard in a long time.
And he was correct in all ways but one.
“But he’s not my kid…” Hera muttered, her eyes downcast as she pulled her arms tighter against herself. “I’m his captain, and I shouldn’t be as distraught over the situation as I am. I’m failing you all every time I lose focus like this.” Hera lamented, unable to contain the shame she was feeling any longer, but Zeb seemed to be discontent with her explanation.
“That’s a load of bantha dung and you know it.”
Pure silence ensued this time as Hera looked up to Zeb in shock. Surely he didn’t say what she had just heard?
Seemingly sensing her confusion, Zeb continued to explain. “He might not be yer blood Hera, but you forged that kid. All of us have,” he continued. “Imagine where’d be without us, eh? Hera, if it weren’t for you convincing us all that taking in a random Loth-brat was a good idea, that kid wouldn’t be anywhere near where he is today. Hell, he might not have even lived to see today. So, in the end of it all, Hera, no, you might not be Ezra’s Ma, but you are his family. And he’s yers. So it’s okay to be sad, ‘er scared, ‘er anything else you may me feelin’, just don’t you dare say he ain’t yer kid, cause we all know that ain’t true.”
The room was deathly quiet for a moment once more. The only sounds that could be heard were the gentle hum of the Ghost’s engine, accompanied by the soft, panting patterns of Zeb’s breathing as he attempted to calm himself after the escapade.
After another moment, Hera sighed slowly, breaking the silence around them. She allowed herself to smile slightly as the boldly reassuring words of her friend washed over her like a tidal wave of pure affirmation. Because damn it all, he was right. She always tried to push it away, but deep down, she knew that she loved Ezra almost as if he were her own flesh and blood, and for the first time in a long time she had to admit to herself that she was scared. By the stars, she was scared that she was going to lose him. And didn’t she have the right to be? She wasn’t ready for that. None of them were. After all they had been through, she didn’t want this to be the way it ended. She wouldn’t let this be the end of his story. Of their story.
Hera took a deep breath, feeling better than she had in a long time. Just as Zeb said, it was as if the walls she had built around her heart in the guise of duty and autonomy had suddenly shattered, flooding her body with emotion for a brief moment before it all dissipated into the realm of acceptance. She felt her own fears, held onto them for a moment, and then let them go, ready to move forwards without the burden of repression.
And so, finally being able to truly center herself for the first time since this whole mess started, Hera Syndulla lifted her gaze to meet the strong, yet somehow gentle and understanding eyes of one of her dearest friends standing before her, and began to take charge with a newly found sense of suredness.
“Alright, Zeb. What did the other cells have to say?”
Zeb’s face became set as stone once more. “After contactin’ every possible Rebel cell in this system, it seems that there is only one viable option ‘ere,” he said in a low, graveley tone, his eyes dark.
“And…?” Hera prompted him, fear threatening to wind around her heart again like a vine snake.
“There’s--” but before Zeb could finish, a chillling yell tore through the air.
She knew that voice anywhere.