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The Fire Within

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There didn't seem to be an emergency, so Hera wasn't sure what had woken her, until she heard footsteps in the corridor outside. Kanan. Checking the chrono, she nodded to herself, not surprised. Not that he hadn't always been a restless sleeper but it seemed that after the immediate excitement of the rescue had faded, his captivity and torture by the Inquisitor seemed to be haunting him more.

She put her feet in her boots and slipped out the door. She met Ezra in the corridor, frowning worriedly. "He's really upset," Ezra murmured to her. "I can feel it."

She figured that must be true, since Kanan had managed to wake her, before he'd walked past her door. That was, it had turned out, a side-effect of being in close quarters with someone who had stopped repressing his sensitivity to the Force; he could touch the rest of them as well, unintentionally. "I've got it," she replied. "You go back to bed."

He cast a worried look in Kanan's direction, but she smiled and squeezed his shoulder. "This isn't the first time, Ezra. He'll be okay."

Ezra nodded, glancing back for confirmation, before he went in his quarters, while she made her way to the common room.

Kanan was at the table, as expected. He appeared calm, at first glance. Wearing trousers and his undershirt, his hair left unbound to brush his shoulders like odd skinny lekku, he leaned against the back with his long legs stretched out. Head resting on the bulkhead, his eyes were closed as if he was trying to sleep or meditate. The only clue to his unsettled mood was how tightly his right hand was curled around the metal cup before him.

"Hey, love." She slid in next to him, pressing her bare shoulder to his arm. His skin always felt a little fevered next to hers, but then he always had burned a little hotter than she did, anyway.

His eyes opened. "Did I wake you? I'm sorry."

She shook her head, that it was nothing to be sorry for, and coaxed that hand off its deathgrip of whatever was in that cup, so she could put his arm around her shoulders. He stilled, eyeing the hatch toward quarters and then her uncertainly. They didn't often touch where the others could see. That was more Hera's wish than his, though his casual touching had faded, either due to Ezra's more constant presence or the reminders of Jedi training, or both. So it wasn't something they did much anymore, and sitting next to him like this, just the two of them, she realized she missed it.

Nudging in against his body, his arm around her, she rested her head against his shoulder. "Bad dream?" He shrugged, as if it didn't matter, and she requested softly, "Tell me about it?"

His fingers tightened, but he made his tone light. "Not much to tell. I was there again, held in the shock frame, watching while the Inquisitor killed everybody. Even Master Billaba." He barked a humorless laugh. "Because that wasn't horrible enough without seeing a Sith stabbing her in the back."

There was so much pain lurking inside the words, the old wound pulled open again by his fear that he would lose this new family he'd found, much as he'd lost his first one.

"Oh, Kanan." She reached for his other hand to hold it, twining their fingers together. "We're here, the rest of us. Ezra's safe."

"You're safe." He murmured, and raised their joined hands to hold her palm against his cheek, as if he needed the extra touch.

"I'm safe," she agreed. With her thumb she smoothed his ridiculous facial hair. Such a human thing. It had taken time to get used to, but she liked the texture under her fingers now. "And so are you, Kanan. You're safe at home."

He closed his eyes, letting her touch reassure him, absorbing the peace that surrounded them. He kissed the palm of her hand and then withdrew. "This is dangerous."

"Dangerous?" She frowned. "I don't understand."

"I do," he said a sort of bleak humor. "I never did as a kid. But now? The Jedi forbid attachment exactly because of this; in my dream I was so filled with rage..." He held his hand out, gathering his fingers into a sudden fist, and the metal cup crumpled, as if his fist had crushed it, even though he hadn't touched it. Water spilled out on the table.

She jerked back into his arm, taken by surprise by the demonstration.

"Dark Side comes easy, when I think of them taking you away, when I thought Ezra was dead," he murmured. He sighed and his tone shifted to a quiet despair, "How can I help him stay clear of the Dark Side when I can't even do what I'm supposed to?"

She hesitated to think through her response. "Kanan-love, don't be so hard on yourself. You have to be Ezra's teacher today. This is a very different galaxy than it was; you have to teach Ezra for here and now, not for ways that are gone. You do your best to help him survive, to use his abilities wisely, to see right and wrong, to have compassion.... what else is there?"

"I worry that his anger at the Empire will lead him down dark paths..."

"It didn't for you."

He snorted. "I was too busy running away to consider revenge. And I wasn't as powerful."

"The point is, you have to trust him and yourself. You're both good people, with a good foundation of heart." She rested her palm on his chest, feeling his heart beating beneath. In his thin undershirt, the heat of his skin and the curve of muscle was more obvious, reminding her of touching him without his shirt in the way.

She pushed that memory to the side, banking the embers while she kept on with words. "And no matter what the Jedi said, I don't believe it can be wrong to love. Maybe that worked when there were other Jedi to be companions, but not now. You can't be alone, Kanan; you shouldn't be. You forced it for awhile, but this you, who doesn't bury his heart, is a better man than the one I met. Fear and grief and loss can lead all of us on reckless paths, not just Jedi, but not if we remember it's not what our loved ones would want." She cupped his chin and turned his face toward her. "Justice, not revenge. Remember that, if something happens to me. And protect the others."

His eyes held hers, neither of them breathing, while he absorbed her words. They weren't different from ones they'd said before, but she thought he needed to hear them again. He nodded a little in acceptance.

But she wasn't finished. Before, she might have left it there. Before, she might have tried to put distance between them, fearing her own connection to him would distract her from her own mission. But when he had been taken, she had come to her own understanding: they were in this together and she did not want to do it without him. She could, but she didn't want to.

She smiled at him gently, letting her heart show in her eyes. "And I do love you," she whispered. "When I imagined what that Inquisitor might be doing to you, I was so afraid I would lose you. I never want to let you go now that I have you back."

His eyes widened at the confession, surprised to hear the words from her, and she reminded herself they both were too good at putting their feelings aside. She couldn't depend on him knowing what she felt. Just because he had Jedi powers, it wasn't fair to assume he knew what she didn't say.

The words helped, settled and softened his features. His smile grew, warm and easy. "You never have to. Because you're stuck with me." Those hands, so capable of wielding blasters and his lightsaber with astonishing precision and lethality, framed her face with exquisite gentleness.

"Good," she managed to answer before his mouth was on hers.

As always it was familiar, and yet new every time; his lips meeting hers, at first soft, checking what she wanted. She pressed into him, closer, wanting to draw his warmth inside those places that still felt chilled those weeks he'd been away.

No, not "away", that avoided the truth. He'd been a prisoner, and day after day someone had been hurting him.

A sound came out of her chest, out of her throat, a whimper of distress, and he pulled back, alarmed. "Hera?"

She cupped his cheek, sudden wet heat in her eyes, thinking about what would have happened if the kids had done as she said and not tried to rescue him. She imagined this dear face pale and drawn, screaming in pain until they'd driven him mad, or he'd turned to the Dark to escape. Her Kanan left on Mustafar with the bones of the rest of the Jedi, as a creature wearing Kanan's body with dead eyes hunted Ezra to murder the closest thing he had to a son... It could have happened; it almost had happened. A few seconds different, she could have lost him.

His arms clasped her around the back, bringing her head against him. "Shhh, Hera, it's all right. I'm all right. It's just another nightmare to add to the collection."

He held her tight, comforting, until she felt warm again and she lifted her head. "I need to feel you," she whispered. "Come on."

His eyebrows went up, as she grabbed his hand and tugged him up. "You're serious."

"Life is too short to pretend something the others know is false anyway," she said.

He held up his other hand. "No argument from me." And that cocky grin spread across his face.

"I didn't think so."

The door had barely shut when she pushed him into it, her hands grabbing at his shirt to peel it off. His heat under her hand was a fire to warm herself by, to feel from the tips of her lekku to her toes, and her fingers indulged her long-repressed desire to touch his skin. It was so warm, furry enough to give it extra texture, and now that she'd started, she didn't want to stop feeling it. Hooking both arms around him, hands tracing the muscle of his upper back and shoulders, her lips slipped from his to the hollow of his neck, tasting the salt there as the remnant of his nightmare.

His hands were on her shoulders, but she felt the laces of her sleep pants loosen and it was so odd she lifted her head, distracted and curious.

Kanan smirked at her mischievously then narrowed his eyes in concentration and her pants slithered down her hips and pooled on the floor. She could feel a ghostly touch on her legs, not like fingers, but more like water flowing over and taking her pants with it. It was odd, but not unpleasant.

She tried to give him a disapproving look, but the smile she couldn't repress ruined it. "Well, this is a new fun use for your talent."

He grinned back. "Needs more practice."

"Oh, I'd be happy to provide you with that opportunity." She stepped out of her pants and kicked them and her boots to the side. "But maybe you should keep it to yourself. I don't think this is something your apprentice needs to know, just yet."

"He's fifteen, I'm sure he's already thought about it." His hands found the hem of her tank top and pulled it off, before he tugged her into his body again. "Come here, I don't want to think about Ezra, or the Rebellion or anything else. Nothing but you."

She couldn't disagree with that, especially as his hands slid down her flanks and gripped her hips, to hold her into him. She had her fingers on the waist of his trousers, about to open them, when his lips found that spot on her neck. "Kanan," but that was no objection, only a plea for more, as he pressed heated kisses against her throat, the hair on his chin an additional sensation nearly guaranteed to drive her mad. That electric tingle rose up inside her flesh, that only he could call forth. Was it just him? Was it just his touch? Was it his Jedi powers, or just Kanan?

Then she stopped wondering altogether as he lifted her effortlessly, and she gasped at his strength. He pressed her into the wall, high enough she could grab the upper door frame and wrap her legs around his hips, now thinking it was a tragedy that she hadn't managed to shove his pants off before this. But she couldn't find her voice to say any of that, before his mouth found her breast. Her head went back, and she bit her lip against a moan, letting it rise in her chest so only he could hear.

"Beautiful," he muttered against her skin, "you are so beautiful."

She freed one hand to shove her fingers into his hair and keep his mouth where it was, lips and tongue suckling and sending her inner being afire.

His hands were under her thighs, holding her up, as her legs clasped him, and she could feel him start to shake with the effort of keeping her up there. He paused, and his breathing and hands steadied against her skin. He was using the Force still to help him. But she didn't want him dividing his concentration when he didn't need to.

"Bed," she urged hoarsely. "I appreciate the effort, but we can do this the easier way."

He let her down, sliding her body against his, until she could touch the floor again.

"I missed you," she whispered, mumbling into his mouth, trying to tell him this important thing while she was kissing him and letting her hands roam his back as they danced awkwardly to the bed without losing their connection. "I missed you, every day you weren't here."

He was amused, teasing, "So you missed me? That what you're saying? I didn't quite catch it."

She chuckled, but his tease eased her heart a little, the desperation fading. "You think you're so funny."

"Because I am?" he retorted, but bit his lip as her fingers found the front closure of his trousers.

"You are entirely too clothed for what I have in mind."

"I do like the way you think," he agreed as she shucked his trousers down his legs and he kicked them off the rest of the way.

"You're gonna love this plan," she promised, voice turning husky, as she pulled him to her bed.

Her bed was only a bit bigger than the passenger bunks, and not easy to sleep two. Kanan always ended up curled around her or with half his legs hanging off the edge, and it was uncomfortable for him to sleep there for too many cycles. It could be uncomfortable for her, too, because he was a restless sleeper.

But the captain's bed had the advantage of being without a bunk above it, so that neither of them had to worry about hitting their heads as they sat up to kiss each other. She sat on his lap, fingers buried in his loose hair to hold his face to hers, while he smoothed every bit of her skin as if he couldn't leave anything untouched.

When she tipped them backward, bringing him down on top of her, it was with foreknowledge of what he would do – not through any fancy Jedi vision, but because he'd always done it before. She had the vague thought that she should ask Kanan who had taught him this so she could thank her, but then she forgot as his hands and mouth made slow deliberate trails down her body.

When he settled between her legs, he offered his hands for her hold as his tongue and hair on his chin both pulled her from pleasure into release. She panted and shuddered into climax, keeping her cry behind her teeth so no one else would hear.

Crawling back up her body, Kanan kissed her lips, and she tasted herself on his mouth, groaning his name. Feeling his arousal against her leg made her shudder again in want and need that hadn't been fully satisfied. "Yes, yes, don't stop. Want to feel you," she complained and wrapped her legs around his hips to try to pull him inside her.

Not relinquishing her hands, he positioned himself, and not for the first time, she was desperately glad that humans and twi'leks were basically the same. They needed no odd gymnastics to fit or find pleasure together, as he pushed into her center, deeper and harder than another twi'lek would, a shock to her nerves with an intensity that made her gasp.

"You feel so amazing," he breathed into her skin, his head down against her, fingers interwoven with hers in a grip no one would be able to part.

He paused to let her adjust until her heel dug into his his side, "More."

There was more, each thrust of his hips making her feel more open, more laid bare, body and heart stripped to the core. She was vulnerable and raw, yet she also had never felt more safe, as if he held her, not just her body, but everywhere, his love spreading tangibly through her.

When she looked at his face, his eyes narrow slits, body moving unconscious drive, as he let his defenses drop to give himself over to the moment.

Heat gathered within, rising and cresting, until at the very height, something... cracked open and even though her eyes were closed-- she saw everything. Felt everything: Kanan like a bright flame beside her, the others on the ship, the ship itself, and everything beyond that like a glimpse of the tapestry of creation.

It held there, open for her, then contracted, shrinking down, wrapping her in warmth that passed over her skin and then gathered inside like a warm glowing crystal in her lower body before it faded.

Collapsing on top of her, Kanan let out a long breath, and panted a little, and she could feel him grin into her shoulder. "Oh," was all he could say.

She was no more ready to talk, still overcome by what she'd felt.

The hatch opened, and her head turned to see Ezra rush in, his face alarmed. "Hera! I felt something strange! I sensed-- I think Kanan might be... in... trouble...." He saw the bunk, and his eyes went round and shocked, staring speechless at far more of his teacher and his ship's captain than he had ever seen before.

In a sudden embarrassed panic she tried to figure out what exactly Ezra could see. At least she and Kanan were parallel to the door, so Ezra was to one side. She lowered her leg from Kanan's back, though it was far too late to pretend they were just sleeping.

Kanan roused enough to order without moving, "Out. Now."

"Uh, yeah. Sure. Sorry! Sorry, I'm so sorry!" Ezra stumbled over Kanan's boots on his way out, but soon enough the hatch snapped shut behind him.

For a moment there was only silence and their still-unsteady breathing, then Hera offered, "We should've locked it."

"Yeah." Kanan snickered. "Poor kid. That's more of me than he ever wanted to see, I'm sure."

His snicker grew to a laugh, and she joined in, feeling more rueful and amused than embarrassed. They pulled their hands apart, Hera finding her fingers ached from as tightly as they'd been gripping his, and he settled more comfortably to the side. She pulled the bedsheet up over them, though it was probably a little late for that.

"I know why the Jedi forbid attachment now," he said, caressing her arm idly.

She knew it was the beginning of a joke and played along, "Oh? Why is that?"

"Because the Padawans can sense when their masters are... attaching."

He chortled at his own humor, and she rolled her eyes and nudged him with her elbow. "Funny."

"And true." He chuckled again, and she inhaled a deep breath, relaxing again as she reached for his hair to run it through her fingers. It was damp with sweat, as was his skin, and she rather liked the feel, knowing she was the cause.

"I like it loose, you should wear it down more."

"Gets in the way. I'd cut it short, but I like it long enough for you to play with." He closed his eyes but his lips were curled upward in a contented smile, as if he was about to purr, as she combed her fingers through the brown strands.

"What happened, Kanan?" she asked after the silence lingered, but she could tell he wasn't asleep. "Was that the Force?"

He hesitated before he answered simply, "Yes."

"You feel that all the time?" she asked, impressed but a little jealous, too, but he shook his head against her shoulder.

"No, not like that. That was different." He pushed up on one elbow so he could look down into her face. "Special. That you shared it, too, that was so..." He shook his head, without words in his amazement, and his fingers traced her cheek and across her temple, where she was normally covered. She shivered, and the tips of her lekku twitched, as if asking for his attention, which he gave in gentle caress.

"I felt you," he whispered. His eyes held a wonder at the feeling that had been more than physical, enough to awe even a Jedi.

"I felt you, too. It was... beautiful." It was more than that, but he understood that she didn't have the words either.

"It was a gift." He leaned in to kiss her lips, and as her hand slid around his waist to bring herself close again, it felt like the beginning of something new.