Chapter 1: Forced Finding
Ahsoka Tano, lately called Fulcrum, once called Padawan of the Hero With No Fear, was doing all she could to keep her head down and not be noticed. The hood she wore was shaped and padded to help minimize the outline of her montrals, and beneath it, she kept scarves up over her distinctive markings on her face. She was, without a doubt, using all precautions here on Lothal, even as she traced Imperial activities.
Having someone not only get too close to her but manage to get hands into a pocket to try and slip free what was in it made her curious, though, more than apprehensive. She did react quick enough to get her hand around the slender wrist and evade attempts to get free. When the youth opened his mouth to use a waif's tricks to set the crowd against her, she locked eyes on him and exerted her will.
"Don't," she said in a very soft voice, intended for their ears only.
To her greater surprise, the youth's defenses pushed back against the defenses, but their eyes widened too, as if aware of the Force suggestion.
"You're like me," the youth whispered, body still tense for flight, but they weren't fighting against Ahsoka's grip. She gentled it, then let go entirely. The youth debated between flight and the potential for an ally in life.
"I am. And you, little one, are at risk, if you are able to resist my suggestion. The Imperials would love to have young people like you to mold and train into their machine."
The youth scowled fiercely. "The Empire took my parents, because they resisted!"
Ahsoka smiled, and listened as the Force spoke to her. "Would you like to learn how to fight them? You're still very young, but you're in as much danger living here alone as you would be with me."
The youth got cagey in his gaze and studied her eyes, all they could really see of her. "Why should I trust you?"
"Ahh. Trust comes later, or not at all, little one. It is for you to decide based on my actions, over time." She started walking, her hand making a motion for the youth to keep up. After half a moment, they did.
"Can you teach me to actually use whatever this is? The thing, in my head."
Ahsoka smiled behind her scarves, nodding. "That, and more. I don't ask more than you listen and weigh what I say, as I will not have you commit to more than learning."
"But if I do want to fight the Empire?"
"I promise you will have all the chances you can stand for that. I lead a very dangerous life, little one. Because I am no friend of the Empire."
The youth was quiet a long moment, then gave a sharp nod. "Name's Ezra. Ezra Bridger."
Ahsoka glanced down, assuming they were a boy, if she remembered human naming conventions correctly. "Fulcrum. Let's get off the street, and you can maybe help me finish why I am here… and then we will go, together, and start your teaching."
Chapter 2: Explosive Addition
The Force leads them to another companion.
Sabine felt the eyes on her and whirled, ready to use the paint cans as a weapon, but the woman watching her was just… watching. No weapons, not hostility, nothing showing that helped Sabine know how much poodoo she was in.
"Pretty nice tag. Mando… influenced by Briski?" the woman asked.
"How do you know Briski?" Sabine asked, cataloguing her way out of this.
She wanted to shoot Ketsu again for dumping her. She saw two nice shots out of the bay, but one of those there was a kid in a poncho and the way his head kept flicking toward the cloaked woman made Sabine certain the kid was with her.
"Lot of the men found his art, back in the war, thought it was one of the most inspired things they'd ever found. I guess the fact he commemorated Galidraan spoke to them," the mystery woman said. "However, I really hate to tell you I'm going to have to mess your tag up."
"Yeah?" Sabine managed even as she processed that this person was talking about the Clone Wars. Her accent didn't sound Mando, but… she said the name of the artist and the planet right. It made Sabine a little homesick, but… she didn't have a home to go to, not now that she'd run out on duty.
"There's an Imperial stockpile of munitions one bay over that's going to explode in about half a minute. So, if you'd please clear out, and I am sorry about your art."
Sabine processed what the woman said, and grabbed her bucket, popping it on.
The HUD gave her the glimpse of the woman's heart rate spiking, and Sabine wondered why, before she put her feet in motion.
"What did you use to rig it?" she couldn't help but ask.
"Therasand with nanotimers set," the woman said without a hitch in her voice, beating feet alongside the girl at a steady but quick clip, the kid falling in with them as they got away from the bay, away from the few patrols… and then the sky lit up with the glorious tempo of munitions crackling off in the aftermath.
"Did you know therasand can be color-coded in its explosions?" Sabine asked casually, when the woman's hand settled on her shoulder pulling her and the kid into darker shadows a full second before her HUD told her there was movement ahead.
"You remind me of a few friends of mine, little Owl," the woman said. "They would have done something like that."
Sabine tensed inside her armor; this woman recognized the bucket?
"It's alright. If you're flying solo, I understand. If you have a wing… I hope you find your way safely to them," the woman said.
"How'd you know?" Sabine demanded, as they waited for the squad to pass fully and be out of range.
The woman sighed softly. "Because I knew Kryze, and aided at Mandalore. Hard to forget the buy'ce of an ally."
Sabine's breathing went harsh, as she thought of the legendary leader of the Nite Owls, of the legends around Mandalore burning in a single night. Their people had begun to decline, falling back into infighting in the aftermath, instead of working together to rebuild. Her clan —
— no, Sabine let the thought go.
"Should be safe. Little Owl, this is where we part. I hope you get to make something beautiful soon."
The woman moved to leave the shadows, the kid following, but looking back at Sabine a long moment.
"Kriff." She wasn't sure why, but she caught up to them pretty quick. "I can help you blow things up, better than that back there," she offered fast when the woman glanced down out of her cloak. "I hate the Empire. I know things about them though. I … I have history."
"Little Owl, my student and I live a harsh life. Hating the Empire isn't enough."
"Let her come, Fulcrum," the kid said. "I've got a feeling. You're always telling me to follow up on those."
The woman looked at him, then Sabine, then back again. "Catling, if those feelings have anything to do with making shared explosions, I'm just going to tell you now that Mando courting is violent and I will not heal anything she breaks if you try to earn the right of even a kiss."
The kid flushed, and Sabine wanted to either laugh or growl. The laughter won, because it had been too long since she had heard her people's euphemisms out of anyone other than Ketsu.
"You're not Mando, but you get it. Who taught you?"
"Oh, just a few hundred brothers of mine," the woman called Fulcrum said, before setting an easy pace for her destination. "Come on, little Owl. The Catling wants you along, and you volunteered. Who am I to ignore the Force?"
As they moved, Sabine looked over at the kid, eyebrow going up. "Catling?"
The boy's skin darkened more, before he gave a small grin. "Code name, because I'm great at managing my balance no matter how thin the walkway is. Name's Ezra."
Not 100% certain I actually hit the right note here.
Chapter 3: Trained Observer
Zeb is having a bad day. Fortunately for him, Fulcrum is on hand with her own team to lend a hand.
Garazeb Orrelios wasn't certain how he was going to get out of this bind and rendezvous back with his shipmates. The Imps had him pinned down pretty tightly, and every avenue seemed blocked. Why had their presence been so heavy here? It went against the information that Hera had procured about the shipment they were intercepting.
One thing he knew; he had no intentions on being captured, and that had him working up his rage, intent on taking as many down with him as he could manage.
His plan took a sideways turn, though, as some invisible energy bowled through the main boy of troopers, opening a path. It was either Kanan or a trap, but it beat dying by stormtrooper, and he took off running, getting in a few blasts on his way. Nothing, and no one, stopped him, as the rest of the troopers were swept hard into walls and crates, leaving them as so many piles of armor and weapons, unconscious.
"Spectres, did not make contact with the shipment; heavy protection in place, but someone is not happy with them," Zeb reported gruffly once he got to a point where he could hide and make out his next moves. The comm was heavily encrypted, and he had to hope it went undetected.
"Spectre-4, copy that. Rendezvous to the ship; unknown players on the board mean we scrub," Kanan came back, playing it cautious. "We ran into both our friends in white and one of the other players, we think."
"Glad it wasn't just me," Zeb grumbled, before setting out for the ship, mindful of his environment. That was why he managed to get his rifle up in time to take out the squad leader first, when a group of stormtroopers spilled out in front of him in the alley he was using. Today was not his day for infiltration, but then, he always had preferred a stand up kind of fight.
It didn't escape him that he was only a secondary target as a pair of DC-17 blasters kept picking off the troopers, aided by a WESTAR-35 pair. In short order, there was not a single trooper moving, and Zeb was able to pick out the fighters he had run into. One, an extremely colorful Mandalorian was wielding the WESTARs. The other…
… that cloak and scarf concealment around such a tall, slim figure was one he had glimpsed in the shadowed transmissions to their unit, always handled through Hera, and Zeb was left with a feeling there was more afoot than he wanted to know.
"It should be clear, Spectre-4," the cloaked warrior with the pair of DC-17s said. "Late intel said the shipment was not what we thought. Go, get clear with the others, and my partners and I will make certain the shipment is never delivered."
He was staring at Fulcrum, and his brain clicked pieces into place quickly. Fulcrum was either a Jedi, or someone who had been trained by one, because that was how all those troopers had been tossed aside like rag dolls. Kanan had never used it quite like that, but the Force could be very destructive.
"I owe you," Zeb said gruffly.
"No." Just that one word refuting his claim, and then the cloaked figure and her Mandalorian moved… joined in the shadows by another small, slender fighter that Zeb couldn't quite make out. He picked up his pace, and got back to the ship just as Kanan was reaching it.
"Ran into more trouble," he said in answer to Kanan's look; the human had been further out on his part of the mission and Zeb should have gotten back first. "Only, I think I was just helped out of it by Fulcrum herself."
Kanan jerked, then his eyes narrowed. "You're not even supposed to know that name. Hera will barely tell me that name."
"Yeah, well, the ship's not that big, and the soundproofing stinks. As I've pointed out a few times, mister middle of the night sex —"
"Whoa, don't go bringing that in to it!" Kanan headed him off, blushing faintly. "Let's get dusted off, and see if Hera will cough up explanations."
"That'll be new," Zeb said, even as his mind kept playing over what he'd seen. The woman, and he was very convinced Fulcrum was one of whatever species her cloak hid, was military trained. She'd held the DC-17s in her hands in a way that spoke of professional training, and those had been the preferred weapons of the GAR. Wasn't that interesting? Yet, combined with the Force use in the initial contact, unless that had been from the third ally, and the fact that was not a human in the cloak, Zeb was pretty certain Hera's contact was definitely a Jedi who had somehow escaped the Purge.
He wondered what that was going to do to Kanan if and when it came out. Their own mystery Jedi hadn't exactly shared much of his past… yet neither had Zeb, and maybe that was the best. He wouldn't needle Kanan over Fulcrum, as he didn't want Kanan poking too hard at his own past.
Maybe they wouldn't even see Fulcrum again… but even as much as he hated superstitions, Zeb felt they weren't that lucky.
Chapter 4: Mindful Mystery
Kanan overhears a conversation, and questions more.
"Thanks for helping my crew," Hera was saying, and Kanan quickly stepped back in silence. He knew he shouldn't listen, but Zeb's words and the odd run in earlier were preying on his mind. Zeb had run into the agent known as Fulcrum, most likely, aided by a Mando warrior, either of a small species or immature, based on Zeb's size estimates.
Kanan was certain his shadowed helped in the rafters of the warehouse he'd hit had been human. More, Kanan had felt the Force whispering around the helper, had seen and felt very subtle pushes with the Force as he got out of the trouble that had erupted. The human had been small enough that Kanan was certain it was not a Temple survivor, yet the precision and discretion spoke of training.
Zeb mentioned the Force had been present with Fulcrum.
Who were they? How had they escaped the clones and then the Inquisitors?
"I will never not follow up when I know the intelligence is wrong, my friend," the other voice said with something like affection, and a proper accent on the full name. "I've lost too many operatives to not get involved if I can head it off."
"I hear you have new operatives, a little on the small side?" Hera probed, and Kanan wanted to thank his captain and lover for doing so, even as he made certain not to attract any attention. He wanted to hear this.
"The Force has been blunt with me, my old friend, and given me little choice on that," the other voice said, not without some resignation. "I only hope I am adequate to their needs."
"Fulcrum, I have never seen or heard of you failing to meet any of the needs placed on you. I would like to learn more, but I know you will do well by them both." There was a rustle as Hera shifted in her seat, and Kanan held his breath against discovery. "I'll be waiting for the next lead while I pass on the rest of the information to the right points."
"Thank you, Spectre. Until the next time."
Kanan heard the comm cut completely out and started to extract himself from his place when Hera's voice called out.
"You might as well join me, love, now that you listened to all of that."
How in all the galaxy did she know? He was certain she was not Force-sensitive but Hera was uncanny in her senses. He pushed on into the cockpit, and dropped in the copilot seat.
"I'd apologize, but I really don't like flying blind."
Hera appraised him for a long moment, then nodded. "You trust me though. So please understand that Fulcrum's secrets are ones I will hold to my death. If she chooses to reveal herself, then you will know."
"Not asking for confirmation or denials, but I can guess she's a Jedi, one who actually fought in the War, meaning she's older than me by several years, probably. And she's got a Force-using kid in tow now. Wouldn't be surprised if the Mandalorian one turned out to be one of those clone orphans we stumble across now and then."
"I don't know anything about the small ones with her," Hera said. "I just trust Fulcrum to know how to keep them safe; she's got too much personal experience about kids in danger."
Kanan weighed that, listened to what the Force was saying, and his eyes narrowed.
So, which padawan learner was Fulcrum, and how had they escaped, if he was interpreting the lady he loved correctly?
More, how personal was the history with Hera, and how badly could it bite them all, if the Inquisitors found out?
Chapter 5: Care Taking
The crew is sick. Chopper calls for help.
Chopper didn't care when Zeb started coughing after their mission in the Mid Rim. He still didn't care when the man had to take to his cabin and stay there, insisting that the other two steer clear because it was lingering and bringing out a fever.
Half a day later, when Kanan started coughing and couldn't stop, Chopper's logic board pinged in alarm. It wasn't because the meatbag was sick, but because any illness that could jump from Lasat to human might also jump to a Twi'lek. He used his electro-prod to back Kanan away from his pilot, only to hear her cough, and try to hide it, as Kanan was grumblingly leaving the cockpit.
The fever was in full effect by the time Hera managed to find a small moon to set down on, the landing roughed than any she had done in ages, and Chopper felt something like fear. The Ghost would answer to him, if he needed to move them, but he was limited in how to care for his pilot.
He debated, checking to see if Zeb was showing any improvement, but he seemed to have fallen into a very bad recharge, and was radiating thermal energy at a far higher rate than could be safe. As the first one sick, his progress into worse symptoms was not promising, and that made Chopper make his decision. He rolled into the cockpit, plugged into the comm array, and sent a binary pulse on a very specific frequency.
His pilot would have to forgive him later for hacking her comms to get it.
It wasn't many hours later, but by droid time, it felt like an eternity, when he cycled the lock to let a visitor in. The person came in wearing a sealed suit, one that had been made for her species. It was good to know some meatsacks took him seriously when he warned of things! He didn't even protest the brief hand on his dome, before he led the newcomer to where his pilot and the annoying meatsack were, hoping he had interpreted everything correctly.
"Spectre-3? I need you to turn up the air scrubbers, add a half-percent oxygen for about thirty minutes, and then dial everything back down."
Chopper agreed, as the Rebel agent sat down on Hera's side of the bed, removing her gloves to reach for the woman's face. Chopper executed the commands from the socket there in the room, trying to see what was happening. There was no visible exchange of energy, but he could hear the coughing fade, bit by bit, and then his pilot took a deep breath, no rattling rasp in the back of it.
"She'll be fine, little one," the healer said softly, and Chopper felt a bit odd to have his fears addressed by someone who was almost a stranger. He watched as the process was repeated with Kanan, and then the healer stood, managing to hold steady for a long moment, before going to find the last victim of this illness.
Chopper stayed under Hera's hand the entire wobbly way to the lounge area, where the Rebel agent had taken up residence, communicating with her own ship's crew.
"If either of you break anything, I'm taking it out of your hides in training," she was saying, the mask and hood of the suit in the seat beside her, revealing a deep orange skin broken by white markings, framed by tall blue and white montrals that descended into the same patterns along three lekku.
"Fulcrum," Hera said, still half in wonderment at both Chopper's initiative and that the woman had come, had used her Jedi skills for her crew.
"Hello, Hera." The Togruta flicked the small comm off, and focused on the pair. "And Chopper. You have a very loyal and smart friend in him."
"I know," Hera said with deep fondness, making Chopper bustle off in discomfort. Hera sat at the small table with the elder woman, tipping her head. "You won't get sick, will you?"
"Med scanner says no. What you had was a lesser variant of something I have immunity to anyway. I prefer my junior members not come aboard, and they are rigging a decon for me on the other side of the airlock. I wanted to be certain the three of you would come through, before I leave with them."
"Thank you," Hera said softly. "I was worried about Zeb, but when it seemed to just be a cold. Then it hit Kanan and I so fast…"
"You two had more of the virus in your system before it actually gave you symptoms, from being around him," Fulcrum answered that. She then reached for her hood and mask. "Plenty of liquids, go easy on food for a few days, and get some more sleep. We won't leave right away, but now you are awake, I should get back to the Trouble Twins."
Hera smiled at that. "How are you doing with that?"
"Well, the boy hasn't joined the Sith, and the girl isn't Death Watch, so I guess I'm doing okay so far," Fulcrum answered, standing up to go back to her ship.
Chopper gave a disgruntled noise just before she stepped into the opening, sensing Kanan… and Fulcrum paused, face bare to the world as she came face to face with the Ghost's resident Jedi.
"You?!" Kanan gasped, as she took in a deep breath.
"Hello, friend," Fulcrum said, feeling the deep Force presence within him, one that had been badly damaged in the past, rebuilt as a shield against the world. She had long-since made a guess as to who he was in using their team as much as she did, but would have preferred to spare him from knowing who she was.
Chopper gave a buzzing noise and waited, in case his stupid meatbag got worse than usual, but Kanan just slumped against the wall opposite the opening.
"I knew it had to be one of the padawan-Commanders, but… you left."
"I did. For many reasons. That path is not mine, Kanan Jarrus, but I wish you well in guarding your family here by using it." She then inclined her head, and moved on to get back to her ship, to her wards.
"Love?" Hera called, and Kanan collected himself to come to her side, while Chopper watched. "You know who she was?"
"Yeah, I do. She was just a few years older than me, and most of us knew her. She liked watching younglings, and got assigned it quite a bit as an Initiate, to keep her out of trouble," he admitted softly. "I guess, like me, she managed to survive by being away from everything.
"How do you know her? Because it's obvious you do, outside of the Rebellion."
Hera smiled. "Daughter of the leader of Ryloth's resistance… and she's one of the heroes of that campaign. We met briefly then, and she remembered me, years later, when I wanted to get involved. I've never regretted it, either."
"Good thing for us, I guess."
I figure Chopper knew who Hera would most trust with them incapacitated.
Chapter 6: Safe Guard
Both teams come together for a joint mission that goes slightly sideways.
Hera went back to where Zeb and Kanan were playing a hand of… no, that wasn't Sabaac. The cards had markings from Zeb's language, so it must be a Lasat game.
"We've got a task, boys," she said, her eyes telling them it was serious. Both looked at her, even as Chopper grumbled from where he was repairing a panel for environmental controls. "Fulcrum will be flying as our wingman on this one. There's a prototype ship being built that we are to either steal or destroy. Chopper, you'll be on data destruction once we get there. Kanan and Zeb, you'll be working directly with Fulcrum, Catling, and Owl," Hera said, trying not to smile at the animal names for the two junior members of Fulcrum's team. "I'll be providing air support and recovery."
Zeb's face was incredulous, as he looked at Kanan. Hera might choose the missions, but Kanan led on the ground, and this was a severe change from their usual mode. Then again, who had ever heard of Fulcrum actively joining a mission from the beginning?
"That's going to be a lot of Force presence in one place," Kanan said, not even bothering to hide how much this bothered him.
"She knew you would bring that up; she is confident that this ship is dangerous enough to warrant it. The specs that were leaked imply that it is either overpowered in its weapons, or they figured out how to put a cloak on a small fighter."
Kanan drew in a quick breath. "Right, yeah, that would call for Jedi intervention."
Hera frowned. "I know you heard her say that path wasn't for her. I have never asked, but she is… very explicit over rejecting the title of Jedi, Kanan."
"I know. I even sort of remember why it would be that bad," he admitted. He could remember his master's shock at the accusation, as well as her deep unease around the proceedings. He'd been new to her then, though, and mostly recalled one thing Depa had said about it all.
"Remember, Caleb, that in this age we live in, nothing is ever quite what it seems. Anyone can Fall, but only a few can rise from their own ashes."
He'd thought she meant herself, but now, he wondered if there hadn't been some foresight in that, knowing that Fulcrum was one of the primary movers of the growing Alliance against the Empire.
"It might be good, for both of you, to use this mission as a chance to start something new," Hera said, before going to handle her piloting.
"We going to have trouble running with two small ones?" Zeb asked after a long moment for Kanan to find his mental footing.
"The smaller one is a Force user, and the other one is a Mandalorian. I wouldn't be surprised if they don't manage to pull their own weight and then some, not with who I know she was," Kanan admitted. "It might be interesting, but I don't think they'll hold us back."
"I trust your judgment," Zeb said before going to prep.
Hera had never intended to set foot on the planet.
She hadn't told Zeb and Kanan the full truth, though. This had originally been meant to be Fulcrum's mission alone, but Hera had argued that it was too dangerous for her and two half-grown kids to handle when Fulcrum mentioned why she'd be out of touch during a quick catch-up communique.
The team had missed check-in, and Hera felt the weight of having put her team in jeopardy, from Kanan who shared her bed and held her heart, to Chopper who had been her friend for so long, to Zeb with his place as an odd but loved brother in their lives.
She did the one thing she had never wanted to have to do then, activating a tacker implanted in her droid companion, letting it give her a solid location before she shut it down, hoping against hope that no Imperials had detected that brief signal.
She then set about sneaking into the base, to find the team, terrified in her heart that some of them might be dead already. She moved as silently as she could, relying on her pilot's intuition heavily. Bit by bit, she made it to where Chopper had been… and found him with both of Fulcrum's small partners. Chopper snapped at her, having noted the ping-trace, but she ignored him to look at the two young fighters.
"Where are the others?"
It was the smaller one, Catling, who answered her. "We got split up. The big one was with us, Fulcrum went one direction, and the Jedi went the other," he said. "Then there was a ship coming in, near the prototype just as Owl and I got eyes on it. Three Quizzies stepped off of it, and Spectre-4 told us to stay with Spectre-3 here before leaving."
"We didn't really want to, but Fulcrum hit us both with a 'stay' pulse on our comms," Owl said. "Now we're trying to figure out if we should find where the adults are so we can rescue them, or go ahead and blow up the prototype and let them get out in the explosion."
Hera smiled. "Good plan, that second part. How confident are the three of you that you can do that, and wreck the data archive?"
Chopper updated her on that effort with a razz and completely hurt sound.
"Okay, so you already set the data miner and virus. Good job." She turned her eyes to the pair of young fighters for their part.
"We can do it," Owl said confidently, but Hera had caught the vague tension as the two had exchanged a look before she spoke.
"Spectre-3, get back to the Ghost. Be careful, old friend," Hera said. The droid grumbled but started on his way back, knowing his duty without even needing to be told. Prep it, keep it hot, even get it up off the ground for faster escape were all within his capability.
"Alright, you two; tell me the plan," Hera said, deciding that Kanan and Fulcrum just needed a good distraction to get free, trusting in Zeb to have found Kanan to back him up against the Inquisitors.
The plan almost worked, Hera thought ruefully. The prototype was destroyed, the two young fighters were with her, and then they were ringed in by troopers and those three Inquisitors. She readied her blaster—
— and the familiar hum of a lightsaber sang out beside her, as the smaller fighter, the boy Catling, brought his weapon to bear. An answering hum, above and to her left announced Kanan just before Zeb's rifle sang out and began opening holes.
Kanan dropped into the middle of everything and started destroying blasters, going after the Inquisitors steadily, before Hera heard a different sound, that of twin lightsabers igniting behind the entire group.
"Spectre-1 and Spectre-2, get them all out!"
Fulcrum's voice was firm, that tone that made Kanan start to protest, made Zeb want to rebel, but kick common sense in to play instead. Surprisingly, neither Catling nor Owl protested, with Catling moving to guard Owl from blaster shots while the Mandalorian laid down cover fire.
Hera was the one to see as Fulcrum actually became visible, a swath of destruction through the troopers that only ended when she met the Inquisitors, blade to blade.
"No, Spectre-1," Hera reinforced when Kanan started to balk and go even the odds. "We must go!"
"Listen to her," Owl said. "She's got this!"
Hera started clearing a new path, guiding them out with her memory of the way she had used, guiding the team plus two out of the base, trusting in Chopper to have the ship ready to go.
"We shouldn't just leave her," Kanan growled when they got ahead of the fighting.
"We're not," Catling said. "Our ship is close enough for her to get to. She's probably going to beat us out of the atmosphere!"
"You're putting a lot of faith in one fighter," Kanan said.
"She's my teacher; I've seen what she can and will do to keep us safe," the boy said.
"Can you two both shut it so I have less noise in my helmet?" Owl demanded. "I'm trying to be able to warn us of the… oops, company!"
Hera almost smiled, but the girl was using her blasters with precision, joined by the boy who had flicked his lightsaber off on the run. Kanan and Zeb joined in, clearing the last of the danger, Hera hoped, between them and the Ghost.
Fulcrum did not beat them to the atmosphere, but she wasn't far behind them… with a spectacular string of explosions rising out of the base as she blasted free.
The boy had knocked his concealing facemask down, and after a moment, the girl had removed her helmet. Hera took in their youth and wondered, again, what Fulcrum had been thinking. However, she knew Jedi started young, and so did Mandalorians.
"Spectre-2, come in?"
"Waiting for directions, Fulcrum."
"Fall back to the resort, and I'll retrieve my delinquents there," came the answer, and Hera could hear the boy half-laugh.
The 'resort' was anything but. It was a small moon with a breathable atmosphere, but not much else to recommend it. Hera often used it to lay low, and Fulcrum did too, as both kids were familiar with the place. It also wasn't that far, which meant Kanan didn't have much time to get worked up.
Not, Hera realized, that he could have. The boy, whose name was apparently Ezra, had bombarded him with questions about his unique lightsaber, his fighting style, and how he had managed that jump down.
"I'm trying to get better. Jumping up is easier than down," he told Kanan on that last.
"Yeah, you kind of have to think of yourself as a feather, but not quite that slow?" Kanan replied, and Hera smiled. She left them alone to go handle landing, thinking that it was good to see Kanan being drawn into that conversation, instead of worrying sick over the mission and how it had broken down.
An hour later, both teams were sitting in the Ghost's lounge, and Fulcrum had her concealment off as well. She did let Sabine, the girl they knew as Owl, treat two small burns for her, but Hera had watched as she swept close checks over both kids to be sure they were safe.
"Where did it go sideways?" Hera asked them all.
Fulcrum looked at Kanan, then shook her head. "Honestly, my nerves were tingling the moment we entered the base."
"Mine too," Kanan said. "They were expecting an assault."
"But not us specifically," Fulcrum told them. "That's why the Quizzies showed up late. I think, based on what I pieced together on the way here, another agency was expected. Probably Gerrera, if I have to put an educated guess on it."
Hera sighed. "This… lack of centralization between efforts is starting to get in our way, Fulcrum."
"I agree." She let her lekku flick in annoyance. "Moderate and conservative belief alike, though, say it is still better to run separate."
"They'll pick us off one by one," was Zeb's opinion on that.
"I hope not," Fulcrum told him. She then noticed Sabine's attention wandering to empty bulkhead spaces, and gave a half smile. "You don't get to paint Hera's space without permission."
"I wouldn't," Sabine said, but the flick of her eyes toward Hera let the Twi'lek know she had ideas.
"What now?" Hera asked, even as she smiled in a friendly fashion.
Fulcrum got very serious then. "I had hoped this would be a better introduction between my partners and your team, Hera, as I was going to ask that you let them work with your team for a time. I think Zeb has things to share with Sabine in terms of tactics and strategy, while Kanan knows things that would be useful to Ezra.
"I know that would need the four of you to discuss it, and choose, so I am not trying to put any pressure your way. I just trust your team most, and Ezra would not need to hide his heritage quite so much if he was working with Kanan while I step away for a time."
Hera's glance at her team said that they were intrigued, with only Chopper already fussing at the idea. The two kids, on the other hand, had the look of having talked this out and not being happy about the discussion.
"I vote yes." Kanan said it almost instantly, while looking at Ezra with a patient gaze.
"Thanks," the boy said, smiling a little. "I wouldn't mind learning from you."
Sabine sized up Zeb, and vice versa, before the Lasat grunted. "Sure, why not? Might be interesting to do a little training."
"Who knows, might be able to teach you something too," Sabine said in a cocky voice.
Hera shrugged. "Looks like that settles it. Walk with me a bit, Fulcrum?"
"You two, go get your gear," Fulcrum said, and the pair took off to do just that. She then stood to walk with her friend. They went up toward the cockpit, and shut the door when they were in there.
"Why?" Hera asked, even as she reached out to take Fulcrum's hands.
The elder woman squeezed gently. "I have something I have to do, something far too dangerous for them to be with me when I do it. I don't anticipate any trouble, but I won't risk them that far into the Core. I know they will be safe with your family."
Hera appraised her, then slowly nodded. "You… have changed since they joined you. For the better. Not so lost and icy."
Fulcrum nodded. "I did not want to have people depending on me so closely. The Force said otherwise, and it has been good for all three of us. Sabine has learned to trust, Ezra feels safe again, and I… think I might be healing from what the Order did, at long last. They don't want to leave me, but the fact I trust your team so much has them willing to try this."
"Well, you be safe, and they'll be here when you are done."
"I know, Hera." Fulcrum moved and hugged the shorter woman carefully. "May the Force watch over you all."
"And you, Ahsoka," Hera said, using the woman's real name in this quiet moment of parting.
Thank you all, for the encouragement on this one.