Chapter 1: The Oldest Trick in the Book
“Here's your coffee, Love.” Hera handed Kanan a hot, full mug.
Kanan smiled up at her. “I love everything about that sentence,” he said as she took the seat next to him. “And I just know you're going to give me a taste of that latte, aren't you?”
He did his best to make it sound dirty. Since it looked like “undercover boyfriend” was the best he was ever going to get, he was going to commit.
“I'm not letting you have the first sip. Look,” she lowered her mug so he could see, “the barista made a heart.”
“Cute.” Kanan watched as she took a sip, closing her eyes to give him a show. There was a dab of foam on her upper lip and Kanan would have given anything to be able to lean over and—
Hera looked him right in the eyes and licked the foam off herself.
“You're cruel. You know that, right?” he groaned. Hera just smiled. He took a drink, wishing he had something stronger than caf.
“It’s nice to have a moment alone,” she said, sounding much more like herself.
Kanan agreed wholeheartedly. They'd been traveling together for almost a month, and privacy was an even greater luxury than pricey coffee. When he wasn't training Ezra or taking on Hera-approved odd jobs, he was stuck back at camp, watching Zeb, Sabine, and Chopper tinker with the scrap electronics they picked up. The dirty looks had stopped, but the tinkering reminded him of Skelly, right down to the suspicious explosions. Thinking of Skelly made him feel guilty, and Chopper hadn't had any luck tracking him down yet.
Time with Hera was even rarer than time alone. She was always out chasing leads and gathering intel. Intel that she still didn't trust him with. When she was around, she and Chopper were huddled over datapads, speaking in hushed voices. It was almost like she was avoiding him, but Kanan knew better—she was too busy to give him much thought at all. It was fine. He had his hands full with Ezra.
Hera seemed to have two uses for Kanan: late night driving companion and reconnaissance operation partner. They had been skulking around the Corellian province for a while now, and while he missed the midnight discussions, it was hard to complain. This was their third “date” in two weeks.
This coffee shop was the favorite of a wealthy banker and rumored ISB sympathizer, but until the guy showed, all he and Hera had to do was enjoy each other’s company. They blended in well-enough with the mix of hip twenty-somethings and young professionals.
Once this banker arrived, Kanan had no idea what they were supposed to do. Hera was keeping him in the dark, as usual. He was just there to look pretty.
“How's the latte?” he asked.
“Have some.” She held it out to him and he balanced his own mug on the arm of his chair. Deliberately brushing his fingers against hers, he took the cup and sipped. Creamy and sweet with a hint of vanilla. Not his thing, though he would have no doubt enjoyed tasting it on Hera’s lips.
Come to think of it, lattes weren't Hera’s thing, either. “Seems a little weak for you,” he said, handing the mug back. “I thought you said caf wasn't strong enough unless there were grounds floating around in it.”
“I had three cups last night,” she admitted, placing the mug on the table next to her. “Thought I should take it easy this morning.”
Kanan frowned. She had been up late again, but he didn't want to bring it up. He was a light sleeper, and it was getting to the point where he knew her in the Force and by her footsteps. Maybe some of that had to do with sleeping on the floor—he knew exactly when Zeb woke up, too.
“Want some of mine?” He held out his mug of black coffee. She grabbed it with both hands and took a long drink, actually savoring it this time. Kanan couldn't help but smile as he watched.
“Sorry,” she said, dabbing at the corners of her mouth with the back of her hand. “I didn't mean to drink so much of it.”
He laughed. “Keep it. You paid for it anyway.”
“Well, my latte’s all yours if you want it, Love.” That was basically his code name. He didn't ask any questions because he really didn't want her to change it.
The latte wasn't that bad, but he wished she'd splurged on an extra shot. He hadn’t slept much last night, either. Not that he'd been waiting up on her.
Hera yawned and turned her head to the side like she was stretching, then pulled her phone from her pocket.
“Hey, take a picture with me,” she said with a subtle lift of an eyebrow. He nodded, leaning in until they were cheek to cheek. They had used this trick before. She lifted her phone high enough so their faces were near the bottom of the screen. Outside the window behind them, a man in a fancy suit was emerging from a car.
“That him?” Kanan said, pressing his lips to her jaw to mask his words. Hera barely nodded as she snapped a few pictures of the man, his car, and the tops of their heads. All business as usual, but her skin was growing hotter against his. Too bad we're cropped out of these photos, he thought. Chopper would have a fit.
“Perfect,” she said, lowering her phone as the man approached the door. He carried a black briefcase but aside from the slightly nicer suit, he didn't look that different from any of the other business people already in the coffee shop.
Kanan sank back into his seat, not because he wanted to, but because no one would want to sit near a couple of horny college kids. Instead, he mimicked Hera and pretended to occupy himself on his phone while the banker waited in line.
What are we doing here? he wondered. Intercepting something? Eavesdropping? Just watching? Whatever it was, he was ready. He liked to think Hera would have warned him if assassination was on the agenda. Assassination wasn't Hera’s style, anyway.
“Cappuccino?” said the barista.
Well, now we know his drink of choice, Kanan thought. That’ll stop the ISB. He watched out of the corner of his eye as Vidian took a seat at a table a few yards away from them and pulled a tablet out of his case.
Hera placed her hand over Kanan’s and laughed softly. “Look at this,” she said, tapping her phone as if she had a funny picture to show him. He leaned in to see an picture and headline on a Corellian news site, announcing someone named Adelhard was running for governor. That must have been the other party they were waiting on.
“Ha,” he said. “Nice.”
Hera looked up. “Looks like the sun’s finally coming out.” Kanan followed her eyes to the window. Along with the parting clouds, a young woman walked in. She must have been significant, but she definitely wasn’t the politician in the picture. Just someone in business casual attire, maybe a few years older than Kanan. She carried a large handbag, but he assumed those were just in style right now.
She asked for 4 coffees to go, further confusing Kanan. If this was the banker’s contact, wasn't she going to stay?
Another barista brought Vidian his cappuccino. Didn't say “thank you,” Kanan noted.
Hera was still close, and her posture shifted. Something was about to happen. He turned his hand, still beneath hers, just enough to squeeze her fingers, to let her know he was ready for anything. To his surprise, Hera squeezed back.
“I’m going to get some water,” Hera said, standing up. “Want some?”
Kanan took the hint to stay put. “Sure.”
“I’ll miss you.” Her lips were pouted and her voice was higher than normal—cracks in her performance that no one else would have noticed. It was so unlike her that he had to fight the urge to laugh until Hera leaned in very close. Her lips brushed his cheek, then his ear. “Text on my signal,” she whispered.
He sat back in his chair, a self-satisfied smile on his face (all part of the act), as he watched her saunter away. Pulling out his phone, he pretended to scroll aimlessly, waiting for her signal. She hadn’t said what the signal was, but he would know.
Hera approached the self-service water at the counter, taking her time to separate a cup from the stack. Kanan cued up a text, “Hope you can get some sleep tonight.”
As the barista prepared the mystery woman’s order, Hera fiddled with the spout on the water dispenser as if she couldn’t figure out how it worked. The mystery woman curled her lip, looking at Hera as if she were stupid, and Kanan resisted the urge to sneer.
“Oh, there we go,” Hera said with a laugh, dispensing water into her cup. Kanan hit Send.
The mystery woman rolled her eyes. Hera took a drink, placed the cup on the counter, and pulled out her phone as if to check the text.
“Here are your coffees,” said the barista. The mystery woman didn’t thank the barista, either. I bet neither of them left a tip, thought Kanan. She took her order and walked toward the exit.
Hera finished her water, pitched the cup, and walked far behind her, still absorbed in her phone.
Kanan’s glanced from the suspects to Hera over the top of his screen, working to keep his shoulders relaxed. This had to be it.
The mystery woman walked past Vidian. He didn't look up. Nothing happened.
Kanan scratched his nose. Had he missed something? Hera was back, still in character with that coy smile.
“You forgot my water,” he said, beckoning her over.
“Oops.” She perched herself in his lap and he slid his phone under his thigh. This was a new move, and he tried not to look too surprised.
“I'm thirsty,” he said. The irony of his words was not lost on him.
“Let me make it up to you,” she purred, linking her arms around his back. Right in his ear, she added, “Make it good.”
She didn't have to tell him twice—he kissed her neck, bringing his hands to her waist.
Hera's phone dug into his spine between his shoulders. She had to be taking more pictures. The worst part (aside from this kiss being fake) was that Hera wasn't even going to tell him what had happened. If he thought too hard about it, it was going to kill his act, so instead, he focused on leaving a hickey where her neck met her collar bone. Just doing what she told me to. It was brazen enough to look convincing but juvenile enough to keep him focused on the mission.
The gasp she let slip sounded pretty real, but he'd have to file that information away for later. He changed angles, taking a quick glimpse to see if anyone was hovering over them. The coast was clear, though he was sure they were making people uncomfortable. After a little more rustling, her hands slowed and the phone dropped to his lower back.
“Got it,” she breathed into his ear. But instead of drawing back, she said, “Don’t stop.”
The words almost broke him. She had to know they would. But it made sense. If Vidian was suspicious, stopping as soon as his supposed colleague left wouldn't help matters.
Or at least that's what he told himself before Hera turned his head to kiss him on the mouth.
The moment it happened, he knew it would be over too soon. Gently, almost like she missed him, she cupped his face, sliding her hands to stroke the back of his neck. Even if it was just for show, she remembered their rhythm. It took all of his concentration to keep stay focused, but it got harder with every soft press of her lips against his. He tried to remember those old Jedi mantras about attachments (always a big turnoff) but the words got lost in the feel of her hands and lips on his skin.
Someone was clearing their throat. That was the signal. Hera turned to look behind her, eyes narrowed. It was their mark who wanted them to get a room, but the employees and other customers were either staring or determinedly looking away. At least we left a good tip, Kanan thought.
“Do you mind?” Vidian growled. “I'm trying to work.”
Hera rolled her eyes and heaved a sigh. “Come on, Love. Let's take this somewhere more private.”
She crawled out of his lap and dropped the mugs in the collection bin. It was a very good thing he was meditating so much more these days. Kanan slipped Hera’s phone into his back pocket and replaced his own. He stood, summoning his cockiest energy.
“I'd apologize, but come on, have you seen her?” Kanan said, admiring Hera’s retreating form with exaggerated greediness. She took his hand and led him outside amid grumbles and eye rolls.
“Are you trying to kill me?” he hissed in her ear once they were clear of the windows.
She smiled and whispered, “Mission accomplished.”
He knew better than to ask which mission she was talking about. She wasn't going to give him information on either. When they were off the main drag, Kanan let go of Hera’s hand. She didn't protest.
He passed her phone back to her. “Thanks,” she said.
It was a long, awkward walk back to the remote parking lot they had chosen.
He should have used the time to think about the actual mission. Maybe if he could push the kiss from his mind he could piece together the missing information and figure out exactly what they had witnessed today.
Something must have happened outside the store behind him, but it was pointless to guess, so he went back to wrestling with his emotions. Their undercover operations had never called for kissing before. Permission to make out with Hera was always good, but it was all just for show. He didn't know whether to feel used or grateful she'd invited him at all. It was all going fine until kissed him like she had back in Lothal.
Now, there was no one around to overhear them.
“You and I are pulling this fake couple act a lot,” he said. “Not that it isn't fun, but it's almost like you're trying to tell me something.”
Hera shrugged. “I do what works, and this works every time.”
That wasn't an answer. “And why do you think that is?”
Hera didn't even blink. “Because we've seen each other naked.”
Kanan was too shocked to laugh. “So it wasn't a dream,” was the best comeback he could manage.
“Look,” she went on, “You're good at hiding in plain sight. And it doesn't hurt that we have history.”
“Just history?” Kanan asked.
Hera fixed her eyes on the sidewalk ahead. “Would you rather I left you behind?”
“No,” he said quickly. This wasn't getting him anywhere. He was back where he started: suck it up and help Hera or never see her at all. He sighed and followed her in silence for half a block.
“Good,” she finally said. “Because if I take someone else, I'm going to have to come up with a new cover story.”
He laughed. Knowing this particular act was reserved for him had to mean something.
They reached the car and climbed in, taking a circuitous route to ensure they weren't followed. Once Kanan was on the path back to where the camper was waiting, Hera spoke.
“That woman works for Adelhard’s campaign.”
“Oh,” Kanan said, amazed she was sharing anything with him. “So she was doing business with Vidian?”
Hera nodded. “But that wasn't Vidian. That was just an underling.”
“Makes sense,” Kanan said. “I thought Vidian was too much of a big shot to buy his own coffee.”
“Chopper and I pieced the details together. They tried not to leave a digital trail, but we got them.”
“Got them?” Kanan echoed. “I know I was a little preoccupied but I didn't see anything happen.”
“While you were,” she pursed her lips, searching for the right phrase, “creating a diversion, that campaign worker was getting into that same car. The driver must have just taken a spin around the block after dropping Vidian’s guy off.”
Kanan sat back a little in the driver seat. He figured Hera had been taking pictures of something back there. “But what does that really prove? It could just be a ride-share.”
“Blacked out windows on a ride-share? Besides, we’ve been tracking the plates.”
There were plenty of other possible explanations, but she was probably withholding some details. He wanted to ask what she planned to do with the information, but Hera had never shared this much about a mission before. Even if it was out of pity, he knew better than to question it.
So Vidian was funding the campaign under the table, and by extension, the ISB was funding the campaign. Blackmail didn't seem like Hera’s style, so he guessed she was going to try to expose the candidate for who he really was. People had a right to know who they were voting for, after all.
Kanan just hoped that it would make a difference. Populists could get away with a lot—not even the Jedi were immune to charisma. He had been shielded from the full extent of the corruption, but in hindsight, he should have seen the warning signs.
The atmosphere almost felt like it did back then, only now he had no Master to guide him. He was responsible for his own student, of sorts. It had all happened so fast. And instead of running away, here he was dipping his toes into the fray.
It’s all Hera’s fault.
He couldn't even pretend that was true anymore.
They reached the woods where the camper was hidden and stashed the car in a new spot before walking the path back to their makeshift campsite.
“I'm sorry I kissed you,” she said. “I got caught up in the moment, and it just…”
Whatever she wanted to say died on her lips. Kanan turned and touched her arm.
“Hera, you can kiss me any time you want to.”
It was just a statement, not a request, but Hera looked up at him like she was considering it. Still, she hesitated. Even though she made it seem so easy in a room full of strangers—their first kiss came to mind—it was suddenly impossible when they were alone. He didn't blame her; the timing was all wrong and the last thing he wanted to do was put pressure on her.
“I just hope you did it because you wanted to,” he said, trying to ease the tension. He let his arm fall back to his side. “That's all I'm saying.”
“Oh, I definitely wanted to.”
She left it at that.
No closure, no new beginning, but their footsteps were lighter as they walked on, and that was good enough for him.
“Welcome back, guys,” Sabine said, not looking up. She was sketching while Zeb and Chopper were hunched over their portable router, arguing about something.
Ezra looked up from his meditation—Kanan was proud of him for practicing—and tilted his head.
“Hera, what happened to your neck?”
Now, everyone looked up. Hera touched her neck on instinct, confused. The moment it dawned on her, she sighed under her breath. At about the same time, Ezra let out a snort of laughter, Sabine snickered, and Zeb rolled his eyes.
“Recon mission, my ass,” Zeb muttered.
“I got the pictures,” Hera said. Her serious tone was betrayed by the flush spreading up her neck, a nice compliment to the little bronze patches Kanan had left there.
“But at what cost?” Chopper asked.
“Just come with me,” she said to him, throwing Kanan a look as if to say, Seriously? He feigned innocence.
“You too, Ezra,” Kanan said, tearing his eyes away from her. “We’ve got work to do.” Ezra hopped up.
“So, what—” he began.
He could hear Sabine laughing as he and Ezra headed deeper into the woods. Kanan still felt like they were all in over their heads, and he still had a ways to go in earning everyone's trust, but compared to where he was just a couple months ago, he'd take his chances.
Chapter 2: What You Don't Know
Zeb and Kanan are sent on an odd job to earn some money, but it's never that simple.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
“So we're movers now?” Zeb groaned. Sleeping on a step down from a sofa bed was hard enough on his back and now Hera wanted him to move some dead woman’s furniture? Chopper got a solo recon mission even though he was younger and weaker than Zeb.
Hera frowned but didn't look up from her datapad. “You like eating, don't you? Having gas in the RV?”
“Oh, Zeb puts plenty of gas in the RV,” said Ezra under his breath.
Zeb glared at him. “ You could get us back to Lothal with all the—”
He fell silent when Hera looked up. Zeb didn't need her disapproval to know he shouldn't have taken Ezra’s bait. He had a good ten years on Ezra, but weeks of close quarters were beginning to get to all of them.
Zeb hadn’t known what to expect when he had agreed to help Hera and Sabine. The Force didn't mean much to him, but knowing that the ISB was still out there spewing hatred was enough to get him on board.
Hera only seemed to trust Chopper with her plans, and Zeb was starting to get restless. There had to be some middle ground between escaping from a possible Inquisitor and sitting around in a van.
Maybe it was moving dusty furniture.
“Look, this pays under the table, and it's honest work.” With that, she turned to glower at Kanan. “If you have something to say, just spit it out.”
“ Honest work is code for lousy pay,” Kanan said, crossing his arms. “If we did things my way—”
“We're not doing things your way.” Hera spoke through gritted teeth, as if this was a discussion they'd had many times.
“You don't have to remind me,” he said, voice icy.
Zeb rolled his eyes. He wished Kanan and Hera would just take a night off (somewhere way, way out of earshot) to sort out their issues.
“Great,” Hera said. “You can help Zeb.”
Zeb and Kanan spoke at once, then looked at each other. Maybe Zeb didn't want to headbutt Kanan anymore, but he didn't want to spend the afternoon with him, either.
“They said it's a big job.” She pointed at her tablet. “I'm guessing lifting 80 pounds is no trouble for either of you?”
Zeb sighed. At least he'd be getting out of the RV. “Shouldn't be a problem,” he said.
Kanan shrugged, looking just as dejected. “Fine.”
“Perfect.” Hera tapped her screen and Zeb’s phone buzzed with the address. “Take the subway.” To Kanan, she said, “Don't do anything reckless.”
He put up his hands and walked past her, leaving as much distance between them as he could. “Why do you always assume the worst with me?”
“Past experience,” Hera muttered.
Kanan and Hera had their arguments, but Zeb had never seen them this hostile to each other before. Something must have happened, and the less he knew the better.
Zeb and Kanan trudged off for the subway in silence. It wasn’t a far walk but the ten minutes it took was more time than they had ever spent alone together.
As much as Kanan irked him, Zeb was glad he wasn’t the type to make idle conversation. Sometimes Zeb almost forgot he was there. Kanan hadn’t come out and said it, but it was pretty clear that he was like Ezra with the Force stuff. Then again, if using the Force meant being quiet and mindful, Zeb didn’t hold out much hope for Ezra.
“We need to take the purple line to Agrilat,” said Zeb, glancing at the subway map on his phone.
“Not exactly Coronet Heights,” Kanan muttered.
“Oh?” Zeb hadn’t set foot in Corellia before joining Hera, so he had a pretty poor grasp on local geography. He’d heard that Coronet Heights was something of a snooty arts community, but he didn’t know much about Agrilat.
“If you’re looking for illegal street races, underground fights, drugs, and dirty cops, then the Crystal Swamps are the place to be.”
Zeb snorted. “Sounds like you’ll fit right in.”
Kanan shrugged. At least he didn’t pretend to be something he wasn’t. Maybe this job wouldn’t be so boring after all.
Zeb’s eyes went wide the moment they stepped out of the subway car. He should have known something was amiss when the only people who got off with them were businesspeople. Either Kanan had the wrong place or things had changed, but they were definitely underdressed.
The station was sparkling clean and looked more like a fancy restaurant than a transportation hub. Zeb saw crystal everywhere, but he couldn’t see the swamps.
Kanan looked just as dumbfounded. “Guess they cleaned the place up,” he said.
“When did you come through?” Zeb asked. Kanan wasn’t that much younger than he was, and there was no way this sort of transformation happened in a year or two.
“Maybe 10 years ago,” said Kanan.
Zeb frowned. What kind of childhood had Kanan had? He brushed the thought aside and glanced at his phone. “We want the east exit.”
Kanan nodded and they headed above ground. Even the streets were paved in white, and the station was surrounded by shops they couldn’t even afford to window shop in.
“How could there be an estate sale here?” Zeb wondered aloud. “Nothing is more than a couple years old.”
“Definitely new money stomping grounds.” Kanan glanced around. “And we are way too conspicuous.”
“Should we, er, check back in?” asked Zeb, taking another furtive look at his phone and hoping Kanan would catch his drift.
Kanan shook his head and narrowed his eyes. “Oh, no. She knew what she was doing.”
The closer they got to their destination, the more the city’s facade started to slip. Away from the station, bits and pieces of the area resembled the Agrilat that Kanan has described.
Luxury apartment ads hid crumbling halfway houses and by-the-hour hotels. Cranes and bulldozers laid in wait to demolish speakeasies and deafen anyone unfortunate enough to be in the vicinity. This went beyond gentrification and it was recent. Where were all the displaced people?
Beyond the construction zone sat derelict homes that had probably been beautiful a hundred years ago. All of them had SOLD signs in the yards.
“I think we found the estates,” Zeb said. Kanan didn’t even acknowledge him. If his Force senses were picking something up, he didn’t say. He adjusted his hoodie but never broke focus. Zeb led the way to the address but Kanan already seemed to know where to go. At least they fit in much better here.
The house from the want ad was slightly nicer than the ones around it, but it was still beyond a fixer-upper. A middle-aged guy answered the door.
“Can I help you?”
Kanan stepped forward before Zeb could say anything. “I’m Gray and this is Gus.”
We have codenames? thought Zeb.
“Oh, right, you’re the ones who answered the ad.” The man shook their hands in turn. “Come on in. I’m Tobian.”
Zeb tried not to react. He didn’t remember Kanan and Hera discussing fake names with each other, let alone with him. Zeb didn’t understand either of them, but they were far too good at covert operations.
“I really appreciate you coming. We didn’t sell as much as I thought we would so I need a hand getting the big stuff out of here.”
“Sure thing,” said Kanan, rubbing his hands together. “Just tell us where to go.”
“Follow me.” Tobian led them deeper into the house.
“I’m sorry about your...was it your mother who passed?” Kanan asked, looking around the house. The dusty, bagged furniture did look like something a grandmother would have picked.
“Oh, yeah, it was my mom.” Tobian didn’t turn around, but he did raise his voice to add, “Thanks.”
Kanan went on like a regular chatterbox. “She must have been hanging onto this place for a while.” It was like a switch had flipped compared to his almost meditative state on the approach. Zeb was happy to let him handle the talking.
“You know how it is, people get set in their ways, and you can’t get em to budge,” said Tobian.
“Too stubborn for their own good,” Kanan put in, tossing a significant look at Zeb. Hera might have been able to interpret Kanan’s gestures but Zeb just shook his head helplessly.
“Exactly. I told her to sell the house but she had her heart set on dying here.” As an afterthought, Tobian added, “May she rest in peace.”
Zeb had to admit that was a bit strange. And come to think of it, he hadn’t remembered seeing a moving truck outside. Or any vehicle at all.
It was starting to make sense. Kanan had sensed trouble. There were no codenames—Kanan had made that up as a test and Tobian had failed. If Tobian was even his real name.
Zeb clenched and released his hands, steadying himself for a fight. Had Hera sent them into danger without telling them? Had Kanan been in on it?
“I need your help with this armoire,” said Tobian, leading them to a dark and dusty room. He turned around suddenly and Zeb tried to look nonchalant. Voices came from the stairs behind him and Zeb couldn’t hide his twitching ears. “Don’t mind my siblings. Fighting over the good stuff,” Tobian explained.
Kanan walked up to the armoire, still in character. “Well, Gus? Shall we?” He went to one side of the chest and Zeb stepped to the other. Unless they were going to throw it at Tobian, lifting a heavy object seemed like a very bad idea. Zeb didn’t like being close to the stairs either, especially since they had gone silent. Zeb met Kanan’s eyes and the calm was oddly contagious. Kanan had a plan.
Kanan bent his knees in an exaggerated stance and Zeb copied, but when he went to lift the chest, it was weightless. Was it fake? Or was Kanan doing something to it? Zeb looked up in shock. Kanan had one hand on it, but the other was behind his back where Tobian couldn’t see him.
Don’t freak out. Act natural, Zeb thought.
“Right this way,” called Tobian. Before they could move, footfalls echoed down the stairs.
“Down!” Kanan yelled. Zeb ducked. A gun went off—was that what Kanan had under his hoodie?—then there was a blinding flash. The armoire crashed somewhere behind Zeb and when he turned around, it was flying toward the stairs to block the doorway. How was it moving? And had it always been loaded with shrapnel?
Zeb looked back at Kanan just as someone behind the dresser someone shouted, “He’s got a—”
Lightsaber . Kanan had a lightsaber. Lightsabers weren’t real. The Jedi weren’t real. None of it had been real until now.
“I saw it!” Tobian called, waving a gun—his gun—in the direction Kanan had been. His confusion left him open and Zeb charged. He didn’t need a lightsaber to do some damage.
He headbutted Tobian, knocking him to the floor. The gun skidded to the wall and then it was gone.
It was enough of a distraction for Tobian to scramble out of Zeb’s grip. Zeb swore and grabbed for his ankles but Tobian was faster.
“Just go, go!” Tobian shouted as he ran for the front of the house. Was there another way out of the basement?
“You take him, I got them!” Kanan shouted. Zeb looked over his shoulder just as Kanan sliced through the armoire with his lightsaber. He kicked the gun in front of Zeb’s feet. “Take this and go!"
“Right!” Zeb grabbed the gun and charged after Tobian. He had a head start, but Zeb had raw strength on his side. His legs carried him through the each room in just a couple strides, but Tobian had slammed doors behind him and Zeb didn’t have a lightsaber. A gun couldn’t cut through doors, and Zeb didn’t want to shoot anyone unless it was life or death.
When he got to the front door, Tobian was already speeding out of the driveway. Zeb could make out figures in the backseat. How had everyone gotten out so quickly.
“ Karabast, ” he grunted. But where was Kanan? Panic set in and he was about to go back in when Kanan walked out slowly. His lightsaber was absent, like it had never been there at all, but he looked drained.
“You okay?” Kanan asked.
Okay was a relative term. “I should be asking you.”
“I’ll be fine.” He took a deep breath. It looked painful. “We can’t stay here.”
That much was obvious, but there were a million things Kanan wasn’t saying. Had he killed anybody downstairs? What were Tobian and his crew looking for? Had any of that shrapnel hit him?
But Kanan just started walking.
“Hey, you gonna catch me up?” Zeb grunted, going after him.
Kanan didn’t answer right away. “They had something. I don’t think they knew what it was, but they will soon.”
That wasn’t much to go on, but it was more than he usually got out of Kanan.
“What is it? Did you get it?” Was that why Kanan didn’t seem too bothered about Tobian and his crew getting away? Zeb couldn’t see his face.
“It was destroyed.”
That sounded bad. “Did Hera know all this?” Zeb asked. “Did she send us to get it?”
“I don’t think so.” When Kanan finally looked at him, his eyes were dull and heavy. “I need a drink.”
They hadn’t gotten paid, so spending money wasn’t the wisest choice, but they had also been shot at. Zeb still wasn’t sure what had happened but Kanan had possibly deflected a bullet with his lightsaber and moved things with his mind. Just thinking about it made him tired, and Kanan looked like he wanted to sleep for a year.
“Sign me up,” said Zeb. They had earned a drink. They rode the subway a few wards away just to be safe, but even time and whiskey couldn’t take the edge off.
“You okay?” Zeb asked at the bar.
“Fine.” But Kanan’s stiff back and gritted teeth said otherwise.
They couldn’t talk about what had happened, so they drank. After two whiskeys, Zeb found a reason to chuckle. “You still owe me one.”
Kanan raised an eyebrow.
“We both got shot at, so that makes twice for me,” said Zeb. “Though I get the feeling today wasn’t your first time.”
“Been a while,” Kanan muttered. He downed another whiskey and Zeb could tell it wasn’t his first time drinking away his problems, either. “It’s not like riding a bike.”
“Not exactly a skill you wanna practice,” Zeb said. Kanan nodded and fell silent. At least it wasn’t so tense anymore. Zeb tried another question. “So you think she had no idea what she was sending us into?”
“No, I don’t.” Kanan said. “But I think someone else did.”
But Kanan just narrowed his eyes and drank. “This is what I get for trying to do the right thing.”
“Think you’d be better off destroying your liver in Lothal?” Zeb countered.
“It was already too late by the time I got to Lothal.” Whether he was talking about his liver or his life, he didn’t say.
Unlike his Jedi abilities, Kanan’s drinking was polished and practiced. He quickly outpaced Zeb, but Zeb was already three shots and a beer deep and finding it hard to care. The encounter almost seemed funny now, to both of them.
“Has Hera seen your,” Zeb mimicked holding a lightsaber, “you know?”
“Oh, she’s done more than see it, if you know what I mean,” said Kanan, making an obscene gesture.
Even tipsy, Zeb didn’t need to know that. But no matter how much he drank, Kanan was determined not to give him any direct answers. Zeb gave up and switched to water, but Kanan was facedown on the bar when Zeb was starting to sober up. He was just about to heave Kanan over his shoulder when his phone rang.
Kanan peeked at the screen and made a face like he was sucking on a lemon. “Ooh, she is gonna be pissed .” He was plastered, but he was right. Zeb answered anyway.
“Where have you guys been?” Hera wanted to know.
“I’m sorry! There was a complication—”
“ A complication ?” Hera cut in.
It wasn’t the best choice of words. Zeb put a hand over the phone and said, “Come on, buddy, time to go.”
“ Buddy ? That’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever called me,” Kanan slurred.
Hera was still frantic on the other end. “What happened? Give me a location!”
Time for his original plan. Zeb put down all the money he had and lifted Kanan over his shoulder. Using one hand to balance Kanan and holding the phone in his other, he tried to talk Hera down. “We’re okay! We stopped for a drink in and—”
Kanan still had enough coordination to steal the phone from him. “Hera!” he boomed. “I got a bone to pick with you. And it’s not even the one you’re thinking of.”
Zeb could hear Hera on the other end even when he wasn’t holding the phone. “I guarantee, I am not thinking of that one.” She sounded less worried now but much more annoyed. Both were dangerous states for Hera.
“Then how do you know which one I’m talking about?” asked Kanan, a sloppy grin on his face.
“Put Zeb back on the phone.”
“If you knew how close we came to dying, you’d be nicer to me.” That was it. Hera was going to kill them both because Kanan couldn’t keep his mouth shut.
Zeb put Kanan down and snatched his phone back in the same move. Kanan wobbled, like he didn’t understand what had happened. Perfect.
“It’s me again,” said Zeb into the phone.
“You stopped for a drink? Zeb, he’s completely plastered. And what’s this about almost dying?”
“It’s a long story.” He didn’t want to explain over the phone, but he wasn’t even sure if he could explain in person. Maybe Hera would have better luck getting answers out of Kanan, but no one was getting anything out of him like this.
Zeb looped Kanan’s arm over his shoulder and they walked together. Luckily, Kanan was mostly cooperating, despite making comments that were both unintelligible and obviously lewd. Zeb could have hauled him up over his back again if he had to, but he really hoped it wouldn’t come to that. He was already getting sore from the struggle at the estate.
“Can you make it back?” Hera asked. “Make sure you aren’t followed.”
“I’ll be fine,” he grunted to Hera before hanging up. He heaved Kanan upright a little rougher than necessary as they trudged on.
“Sure, take HER side,” Kanan said, stumbling to keep up.
“We’re all on the same side,” Zeb grunted. “Just leave me out of your...whatever it is you and Hera are.”
“It’s not much anymore,” Kanan said. “Probably even less now.”
That was the most honesty he had gotten out of Kanan since the alcohol went in. He pouted on Zeb’s shoulder and Zeb felt a strange and foreign urge to comfort him.
He still didn’t know what today had meant for Kanan, but he knew enough to be sympathetic.
“I’m sure she doesn’t hate you,” he offered.
“Who said she hated me?” Kanan smirked, not quite reclaiming his swagger. “Sometimes I think she’s the only one who likes me.”
“You’re good to have around in a jam, I’ll give you that. Course, if it weren’t for you and Ezra, we wouldn’t be in this mess at all.”
“Hey, I was minding my own business back at school.”
Zeb snorted. “Yeah, until you set your sights on Hera at that party.”
“Is that how she said it went down?” Kanan laughed. “Because I can assure you I was not the only one who went do—”
Zeb gave his ribs another yank and Kanan grunted. “I was there,” said Zeb. “I don’t need to know what happened after you two left.”
“Oh, wow, you were there.” Kanan’s eyes went wide with recollection, then he snickered. “Skelly tried to pick you up.”
Kanan had a decent memory, especially for how drunk he was. Zeb would have forgotten all about that party if Hera hadn’t mentioned it on the ride over.
Kanan’s face fell. “I hope he’s okay out there. Lost too many friends this way.”
And for the first time that day, Zeb felt like he understood Kanan a little better. “If he’s out there, we’ll find him.”
They walked the rest of the way in tandem, and the silence lasted until they got back to camp. It was gone as soon as Kanan saw Hera.
“ Honest work , she says!” he announced. “Where’d you get that tip, Hera?”
“Are you both okay?” Hera acted like he hadn’t said anything, giving them both a once-over for injuries.
Zeb didn’t know how to answer her question, but Kanan wasn’t ready to let go of his.
“Whoever gave you your intel wants me to die. Do you want me to die, Hera?”
Zeb didn’t mention that he had almost died, too. He was staying clear of this one.
“Of course not,” Hera replied calmly. “But I’m not discussing this with you while you’re drunk.”
“I am in perfect control of my faculties,” Kanan said, just before bumping into the doorframe of the RV.
Zeb hung his head. Ezra and Sabine didn’t need to see this. At least Chopper still wasn’t back from his mission; he would have made things even more uncomforable.
“Get some sleep and we can talk about this in the morning,” said Hera, helping him up to the door.
“You won’t answer me then, either. You still haven’t told me what you did with those pictures I helped you get.”
Even drunk, Kanan had some good points, but Hera wasn’t having any of it.
“Just go to bed, Kanan. It’s been a long day.”
Zeb cringed. Hera and Kanan were both masters of evasion, but even Zeb knew that it was the wrong thing for her to say.
Kanan whirled around, almost falling off the little steps up to the RV. “ You had a long day? Well, it’s about to get longer, because guess what? I fucked up your mission.”
Hera pushed him the rest of the way into the vehicle and he landed in a heap. “The hangover will be punishment enough.”
“Punishment?” asked Kanan, cheek to the floor. Hera climbed in behind him and slammed the door shut, but it did nothing to muffle their voices as Kanan went on. “In that case, I’ve been very bad. I’ve exposed myself and jeopardized the mission! The least you could do is—"
“Go to bed, Kanan.”
“I’m not dealing with you like this.”
“This is who I am. If you don’t like it, you shouldn’t have brought me along!”
“Sleep! Now!” Hera’s shout left no room for argument.
There was some shuffling and Sabine and Zeb exchanged looks.
“Take the bed,” came Hera’s voice, a bit softer now.
Kanan was still loud. “No.”
“You’re not sleeping on the floor.”
“Then I’ll just sleep in my car."
“Get your ass in the damn bed, Kanan!”
“You know I love it when you talk like that, sweetheart, but I think the kids can hear us.”
There was a thump that Zeb was pretty sure was Hera pushing him onto the bed. She emerged from the RV a moment later and went straight for Zeb, face serious as a heart attack. “What happened out there?"
Zeb recounted the events as best as he could as she, Sabine, and Ezra listened.
“He said they had something?” Sabine repeated. Zeb nodded.
Hera’s frown deepened. “Did Kanan give you any idea what it was?”
“Wouldn’t tell me anything,” Zeb muttered. He cast a look at Ezra. “Some Jedi thing, I assumed.”
“Don’t look at me!” Ezra said, throwing his hands up in the air. “I’m just as clueless about this stuff as you guys are. And don’t tell him I told you this, but for all Kanan doesn’t tell me, I think there’s a lot more he just doesn’t know."
“He’s been through a lot, I can tell you that,” Zeb said, surprised by his own empathy. Hera cast a look at the RV and Zeb spotted a little fondness there.
“I think it’ll have to wait until tomorrow.” Her eyes hardened. “In the meantime, I have a phone call to make.”
Of course, none of them got to hear the call. Zeb got into the RV as quietly as he could, glancing at Kanan on the way to his makeshift bed. Kanan was snoring lightly, but he had earned it. That was what earplugs were for.
As Zeb drifted off to sleep, he thought he wouldn’t mind joining Kanan for another mission, but one thing was for sure—he was never drinking with Kanan again.
I am so sorry for sitting on this chapter for so long and not posting it! If there are still any readers out there, thanks so much for your kudos and comments! I think about this story a lot and still enjoy writing it, but since Rebels ended I've taken on some new fandoms.