Hera knew that Kanan was attracted to her when she invited him on board. She thought she knew what she was getting herself into.
She wasn’t quite ready for him being attracted to her when all the air circulated within the ship. Maybe she could improve the filters in the life support system. She hadn’t really thought about human pheromones when she was setting the standard parameters.
The flirting was one thing. It was entertaining enough some days, even if she had far too much work to do
It was the realization that he was still attracted to her when he wasn’t flirting that was going to drive her up the wall. They were just supposed to be eating breakfast. The basic porridge accompanied by their vastly different mugs of caf might just be the least sensual meal imaginable.
And yet, every pheromone screamed that he was thinking about her.
She wanted to say something. But what could he do? It wasn’t like he had conscious control over any of this. She could send him to take a shower, but that wouldn’t help for long.
The fact that he wasn’t flirting meant he was trying to avoid turning mealtime into an awkward situation. He couldn’t help that every pore betrayed where his true attention lay right now.
“We’ve got a job today.” Hera took another bite of the porridge. Maybe if she just focused on how incredibly beige the cooked grain was it would get both of them back down to a sensible level.
“What are we looking at?”
“Imperial fuel delivery. Should be enough to keep us flying for a few standard months and still pass on plenty to my contact.” And, of course, the further advantage of making life just a little bit more complicated for the Empire. A delivery that made this much of a difference for them was barely a rounding error to the Empire as a whole, but they were particular about these sorts of things. The local despot would still have some accounting to do for this. It might slow him down a bit.
“We hitting them in orbit?”
Hera shook her head. “We’ll be taking the Phantom down. They’ll be vulnerable in transit.”
In open air. She hadn’t planned it for this reason, but she was going to take advantage. Set the scrubbers to run an extra cycle
There weren’t many good places for a clandestine meeting on this planet—none of their usual seedy cantinas or crowded marketplaces. The spaceport wasn’t the bustling sort of place where they could do a drop in passing.
But the Empire did so like building its museums. They had a vested interest in spreading around their particular version of history. The local populace was encouraged to visit to learn the splendor of their overlords. And conveniently enough for people who were barely scraping by as a very small rebel cell, admission was free of charge for all to come learn.
She didn’t need to pick up the pheromones to know that Kanan was uncomfortable. She’d done her best to arrange the meeting as far from any Empire Day-related exhibits as she could but... it wasn’t that big a museum. He hadn’t said much when the date crept by last month, but it troubled him enough to know this was a bad idea. Who in the galaxy didn’t have their share of scars if they were old enough to remember that time?
“If you’re not feeling well, I can do this one on my own.” Having a crewmate had definitely made a lot of things go smoother, but she’d done missions on her own before. She could get out of this situation if she had to.
“No, I want to have your back. I’ll be okay.”
Every subtle signal in the atmosphere said otherwise. She was getting used to ignoring every indication that he was attracted to her. That managed to fade into generic background radiation for their lives. This feeling wasn’t just new, it was more intense. “Look, I can read you too.” She didn’t know how often he actually used the Force for that. Certainly it had been months since she’d seen him do anything flashy, but pheromones only told her so much.
Kanan sighed. “I’m not saying I like it here. But I’m not going to leave you hanging.”
“Then I’m going to need you to actually focus.” It wasn’t the first time she wished she could just send him to take a long shower. That was an even less practical solution than usual
“Let’s just get in and out.”
Hera scanned the room again, looking for the most boring exhibit possible. There had to be something full of dull economic numbers instead of numbers that turned painful events into dry figures.
The glorious cabbage industry of this planet was just what she needed. She rested a hand on his elbow and pointed him over. As an added bonus, it wasn’t very popular.
“Don’t look at any of this. Just look at me.” Maybe she could get him back to being attracted to her. That seemed to be more or less his default state. Change the balance of the feelings. “Talk to me. About anything.”
The seedy cantinas had problems of their own, but she was used to them. She wouldn’t have needed pheromones to be on guard against the men in these places. She knew what they saw her as. She could handle them, she’d handled them plenty of times.
It was nice to have someone else along with her though. Sitting at a table and discussing podracing while waiting for the contact to approach was a definite improvement over sitting at the bar and fending off advances.
“It’s all about having the engines perfectly in tune.” It wasn’t Kanan’s preferred form of entertainment, but he was managing to say something that sounded like he actually paid attention and wasn’t just choosing a topic of conversation that sounded innocuous to prying ears.
He was wrong, but that was perfectly acceptable in a cover story. She wasn’t going to let him just keep being wrong, though. It wouldn’t look good, for one thing. “It’s about the pilot. Give a novice too much machine and they won’t be able to handle it.”
The two humans who approached weren’t interested in subtlety. “I like a girl who knows her racing.”
Hera suppressed a sigh. This might be the usual setting for meeting their contacts, but these situations were always going to be annoying. “Not interested.” She’d been dealing with this her entire adult life and for a few years before that. Every Twi’lek girl was warned about it from a young age.
She didn’t need the stink in the air to tell her what brought them over to this table. Just eyes to see the way they both leered. “Come on sweetheart, you can do better than him.”
“Not interested.” Telling them he wasn’t along like that would only make them more persistent.
“Ah, come on. We all know you girls are just looking for the right man. Place like this, you’re looking at him.”
She was ready for most of what she faced in a cantina like this. But she suddenly realized this hadn’t happened since Kanan had joined the crew. She suddenly detected a set of pheromones behind her that she’d never felt from Kanan before.
She’d experienced Kanan irritated plenty of times. But never angry.
“I’m just here for a drink. Which I have.” She rested a hand on Kanan’s arm. She didn’t think he’d do anything rash but.... this was new. Very new.
“I’ll get you a drink.”
Like she was ever going to take a drink from a strange man in a seedy cantina. Twi’lek girls were taught about that one from the time they could speak. They had to be.
She was used to it. Kanan wasn’t. “The lady has her drink.” She could see his hand twitch into a fist from the corner of her eye.
She should have prepared him better for this. Made a plan. Because right now, what she was sensing in the air was enough to make her want to punch someone. That would just mean leaving without the information. She kept her hand on her drink (just good sense) and pulled closer to Kanan. “I’ve got this,” she whispered.
They were particularly irritating, but she just needed to fend them off until their contact showed. That meant making sure she and Kanan weren’t the ones the bartender wanted gone. She’d need to get another drink eventually just to make it worth the owner’s while, but she’d navigated this situation countless times.
“You’re really picking him? There’s better quality humans all over this place.”
It shouldn’t matter if she was picking Kanan or picking to sit and drink in peace. But she needed them gone.
The sense of anger wasn’t going down. Maybe she could solve two problems at once. She slipped into Kanan’s lap, draping herself over him in an altogether familiar way. She felt the ripple of surprise through his entire body at the move. “I really am.”
Kanan pulled her drink closer to them. Very thoughtful. And she could be pretty sure he wasn’t about to start any barfights with her sitting on top of him.
“If you don’t mind, we’re busy.”
There were other pheromones in play now, but maybe she didn’t mind those ones so much after all.
They spent so much time getting into fights in dark alleys. It was one of the true constants of their relationship, from the very beginning. It should almost start to feel routine.
All they could do was duck. Fire. Duck again. Get another shot off.
Hera would have preferred the handoff go smooth, but a lot of things happened that didn’t necessarily align with her preferences. She could still keep the situation under something resembling control. Or at least she could keep her head.
The actual job was already done; that should count as a win. They didn’t have any suspicious packages on them. By all rights, they shouldn’t even be the interesting targets right now.
And yet. They were the ones getting shot at.
“I don’t think these guys like us, Spectre One.” They didn’t look like they were Empire. Not directly, anyway. So maybe they’d personally annoyed them somehow.
“Getting that impression, Spectre Two.” Kanan rolled behind a large trash bin and kept firing back.
They needed to find a way out of here. Hera backed as far behind cover as she could manage and pulled out her commlink. “Chop, we need a pickup five minutes ago!”
Chopper warbled some rude comments about the nature of linear time, but she trusted him to get over there as fast as actually possible.
Meanwhile, their opponents kept closing in. Did they just want them dead, was that what this was about?
Bounty hunters would want them alive. There weren’t any specific bounties on them last any of their seedier contacts had heard, but the Empire would always pay to get their hands on rebels. People who couldn’t cut it up against the big name targets might want to go to this much trouble.
Or they could have just stolen the cargo and gotten a much easier payday. Their plan didn’t make a lot of sense, and yet it was still making things incredibly difficult. “Persistent.”
They could analyze the motivations once they survived this.
A blaster bolt flew way too close to of her lekku and she had to dive on top of Kanan to avoid it. For all the flirting she never had to worry about him taking anything the wrong way in a fire fight. They both knew where they stood when they were in mortal peril. Everything got simpler then.
So she wasn’t expecting any pheromone spikes, no matter how cozy they’d just gotten. He did have some sense of the right moment and this was about as far as it could get from that.
They’d had plenty of time to get used to being around each other since Kanan first came on board. Kanan attracted was just a reality now.
Kanan afraid was brand new. “I’m okay. We’re both okay.”
She moved quickly, shooting back at their charming pursuers. She tried to push everything else out of her mind.
Chopper needed to hurry up.
5. Attraction, Again
The seedy cantinas were never a particularly pleasant experience, but at least they were familiar. Hera knew what they were getting into, knew the dangers and how to blend in.
These fancier events were foreign territory for both of them. The people who attended them were just as dangerous as the ones at the seedy cantinas, but they sparkled. They would still kill you if you were in their way, but they were never quite so honest as just a blaster in a back alley.
At least in the seedy cantinas, she got to wear comfortable clothes. She belonged in a flightsuit. Too bad that would make it look like she was some sort of rebel interloper here to cause trouble at the party.
Which was ridiculous; she was just a rebel interloper here to collect an intelligence drop at the party.
Fancy people at fancy parties wore slinky dresses. And if they were rebel interlopers, they tried to make sure the length could tear free to get her knees available to run in an emergency.
She could tell that Kanan was uncomfortable before he even made it out of his cabin. At least that made two of them. They’d had to borrow the formalwear from their contact. It was the right look, even if they were going to feel ridiculous the entire time.
And then he actually saw her and the pheromones became overwhelming.
“You look...” The way that men looked at her at the fancy parties would be the same as at the seedy cantinas. But coming from Kanan, she knew it was all genuine.
It was still going to be incredibly distracting. More so than from anyone else. “Like I wandered off from somewhere else.”
“I’m just saying. I’d never ask you to wear this getup, but you pull it off .” The look in his eyes finished that sentence just fine.
“You don’t look half bad yourself, you know.” Was that as distracting in the Force as the scent of human pheromones in the air were for her?
Could she even really blame it on the pheromones when she would have been interested anyway? There was more than one reason to want out of these ridiculous outfits right now.
“Trust me, no one is going to be looking at me.” Which was, of course, part of the plan. Keep every nefarious eye on her while Kanan actually took care of the handoff. She wasn’t above exploiting those exasperating tendencies wherever she went. It was a good plan. She just wanted it to be over with.
“And that is why I need you to focus .” If only so she could focus.
She was fully prepared to ditch these ridiculous shoes if she had to. Boots weren’t going to fit this look at all. Until this actually went south, she had Kanan playing the gallant escort, helping her up the step while she wrangled the skirt.
She assumed the way that he flexed his fingers after letting go was meant to be some part of the act. Kriff, that man could make it hard to focus on a job. How was he going to get anything done if he was projecting such an overwhelming feeling into the atmosphere?
The Force probably could do that. You certainly didn’t hear stories about the great Jedi getting distracted from their mission by a pretty face or a set of legs. They must train for it.
She, on the other hand, hadn’t. Especially not for tuning out attraction from someone she actually did feel the same toward.
“Focusing. Thinking about nothing but boring things. TPS Reports. The colour beige. That terrible holoseries Zeb loves. X-Wing fuel consumption rates.”
Not exactly sweet nothings, but having him whisper irritation in her ear was the most thoughtful thing he could have done in the moment. Endearing, but she could work with that.
And One Time They Weren't
The job had not gone well. By any stretch of the imagination. It was going to be one hell of a debriefing to work out all the specific ways it had gone wrong because she couldn’t just write “everything” in her report and call it a day. It was accurate, but it wasn’t useful.
The intel was bad. The Empire was ready for them. Their contact wasn’t where they were supposed to be. Even the weather had suddenly turned against them. Someone not her was going to have to figure out the particulars of how all of that had managed to happen at once.
For now, she just needed the kids to stop fighting. Bad enough that they were crawling through the mud trying to get back to the Ghost , it didn’t need to happen with a soundtrack. It probably wasn’t anything any of them had done that was behind all this. The mission had been doomed going in.
“You didn’t have to tackle me into the mud puddle!” Zeb did look quite the fright with his fur standing on end. She was going to have to give him first dibs on the shower, he was worse off than the rest of them.
“I could tell Sabine’s bomb was going off too soon, you’re welcome for keeping you from getting blown up!” Ezra said.
“I told you to get clear!” Sabine yelled.
Hera pinched the bridge of her nose. “All of you stop. We got through it. That’s what matters.” Not asking the kids to help with the report, that was for sure. She didn’t need their theories on who’s specific fault it was. “Go get cleaned up.”
It was going to be a pain to get the seats clean again, but she needed to get them in the air and out of here before any more company showed up. If the kids didn’t stop squabbling soon, she would set them to scrubbing it down. Or possibly the entire ship. With toothbrushes.
At least their unexpected company didn’t seem to have friends in the air to continue their ridiculous day. A few clever moves later and they were safely off the planet. Zeb was going to be in the shower for a while. Ezra and Sabine were going to be fighting for a while and Chopper would probably wade into the fray. She was just going to stay right here until they worked it out and it was her turn for the shower. No sense tromping mud anywhere else on the ship.
She felt the flicker of air as the cockpit door slid open. She didn’t need any other senses to realize who it was. For one thing, there was no accompanying argument.
Kanan slid into the co-pilot’s seat. “Well, that was a day.”
That about covered it.
There was always that standard background radiation of her life. It had been a long time since she’d actually needed pheromones to pick up on Kanan’s moods. But she still noticed them every now and then. And right now, she couldn’t help laughing. “Really? Even now?”
They were exhausted. They were covered in mud. They had bruises in places they were both going to question in the morning. The kids were at each other’s throats.
And yet, he was still actively attracted to her in this specific moment.
Apparently that was a challenge, because he decided he didn’t need to be collapsed in the seat after all. Not when kissing was an option. “Every moment you’re around.”