Saga The Fighting Kind: Captain Rex/OC, Romance/Drama, COMPLETE as of 5/19/14

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by laloga, Dec 21, 2012.

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  1. laloga Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2011
    star 2
    Title: The Fighting Kind
    Author: laloga (Lauren)
    Characters: Captain Rex, assorted clones, Ahsoka Tano, Anakin Skywalker and OCs
    Genre: Drama, Adventure, Romance (Not Rexsoka)
    Era: TCW
    Rating: T
    Summary: This is the story of how Captain Rex fell in love and why he deserted the army. Rex/OC.

    Author's Note: I blame Jade-Max and her amazing Captain and Commander series for spawning a plot bunny that absolutely refused to leave me alone. 140k+ words later this fic happened. Most of the first chapter springboards off of ideas that Jade presented in C & C, (Chapter 3: Boys Are the Same, and Chapter 8: Fallout), as well as the episode “A Friend In Need,” and the four-part Umbara arc, but the rest of the story is the product of my crazy brain that simply had to know “what if...?”

    Additionally, I'm in Jade's debt because she graciously offered to beta this fic; her feedback and insight were a tremendous boon, and this story would not be what it is without her input.

    Caveat: this is not a Rexsoka, so if that's what you're looking for, you won't find it here. However, there is much romance, fun, angst, and drama ahead, with a bit of adventure sprinkled in, and I sincerely hope that you enjoy the ride.

    In case it's not obvious, I don't own Star Wars and make no money off of this story.

    Remember: reviews and feedback are always welcome. :)

    *
    The title is taken from Keane's “A Bad Dream,” on the album, Under the Iron Sea.
    *

    The Fighting Kind

    Why do I have to fly,
    Over every town, up and down the line?
    And I'll die in the clouds above;
    And you that I defend, I do not love.
    Where will I meet my fate?
    Baby, I'm a man and I was born to hate.
    When will I meet my end?
    In a better time, you could be my friend.
    I wake up; it's a bad dream,
    No one on my side. I was fighting,
    But I just feel too tired to be fighting.
    Guess I'm not the fighting kind.

    *


    Chapter One

    Despite what you may think, this is not a love story.

    It is not a defense of my actions, nor is it a plea for you to understand why I made the decision that I made. Leaving the GAR was perhaps the most difficult choice I've ever faced in my tenure as captain of Torrent Company, of the now-infamous 501st Legion, but it was not a choice that was made in a vacuum. It did not happen suddenly, nor did I make it lightly, but I suppose some explanation is needed.

    So I've decided to set down my story. Everything is as accurate as I can make it, and those events that are not from my perspective were carefully notated from the person who experienced them.

    I would like to add that I feel that I made the right decision; it is, after all, my choice, my fate, my future. My life. Perhaps you would have done the same, were you in my shoes; perhaps not. To be honest, I don't much care about that, any longer.

    Whether or not my reasons for desertion are satisfactory, I leave to your discretion.

    *

    During the second year of the Clone Wars...

    The only constant is change.

    It was an unalterable fact of which Captain Rex was well-aware, but his comprehension didn't necessarily lead into acceptance, not always. For nearly two years he'd served alongside the Jedi, and he'd come to know – if not entirely understand – their behavior and actions. On Kamino, he'd been taught that the Jedi were infallible, god-like in their superiority, and that their orders were to be obeyed without question or hesitation. For a long time, this was not an issue.

    The issue – such as it was – sprang up rather unexpectedly, one day after he came across Ahsoka – Commander Tano, rather – seated alone in the observation deck of the Resolute. The ensuing conversation was...enlightening, on many levels.

    Rex learned that Ahsoka – and she was “Ahsoka,” not “Commander” dejected as she was in this moment – had...feelings for a young man named Lux Bonteri. It was to be expected, he supposed. She was a young woman; from what he knew of them – and it wasn't much – they experienced these things, these “crushes,” Jedi or not. Furthermore, the conversation showed him, as if he needed to be shown, that her heart was bigger than it should have been. That she...longed for things that were not necessarily hers to long for.

    Apparently they had that in common.

    It was here, during this conversation, when he realized that his own propensity for the Togruta Padawan was not a passing fancy, or the casual male eye lingering over an attractive female form. No, he was in trouble, because this was the first time that Rex had a name for his feelings about her: a crush, she had called it.

    He didn't like the word in that context; it felt too violent and oppressive for something that was, by all accounts, harmless. However, the longer he worked with her, the more time he spent in her company, the more occasions he had to force his eyes not to linger on the graceful sweep of her montrals or her lithe-but-feminine frame, he realized that the word was apt. A crush...it could do much damage, and his own feelings would not be the only casualty should things go awry.

    Above all other things, Ahsoka was a Jedi. Rex was a clone. There were certain things that, no matter how much he might wish otherwise, would never happen between them, so for some time he contented himself with the fact that all he could do was watch her from afar and imagine. Besides, her eyes were for another, this “Lux Bonteri” person, and he was not willing to try and convince her otherwise. It wasn't his place.

    But despite these things that he told himself every day, Rex still looked at her, still caught flashes of her smile and her sienna skin on the fading edges of his dreams each night.

    Well, then, he was adaptable. Perhaps nothing could ever come of their connection besides friendship, but that was okay – more than okay, actually. Rex had few people he could truly call “friend,” and gradually he realized that he treasured what he and Ahsoka had too much to risk jeopardizing it with his selfish desires. After some trial and error he learned that he couldn't banish the feelings, so he tried to live with them, treat them with the same regard as one would treat one's shadow – a constant presence that could be ignored.

    It worked, sometimes.

    Sometimes, not so much.

    After Umbara, everything changed again. This time, the upheaval was sudden and swift, and left him with the dangerous feeling of being lost in a turbulent sea; even as he decided to shutter the memories of the campaign away, taking what lessons he could and forgetting the other things, the darker things, she came to him to try and shed light on what had happened. She offered herself up, and he spoke harshly to her for the first time in his life, but it was necessary for him. Ahsoka knew that because she knew him better than anyone else.

    When the conversation ended, he was left exhausted and exhilarated – all because of her. If she knew the effect she had on him...no, he decided, she didn't know. Couldn't. He was careful, especially around the Jedi, and was able to keep his thoughts to himself among the Force-users. If he hadn't been so...wrung, he'd have admitted it to her, then and there, because what did any of it matter? His life was a construct, a facade of control that he fooled himself into believing he held. Umbara had proven that. Krell had shoved the evidence in his face.

    And she, Ahsoka, had tried to gently assuage the sting. He appreciated it, he really did, but he also knew it would take more than what she'd offered to heal him, if indeed anything ever would.

    Anyway, she was his friend, no matter how beautiful, no matter how dazzling and fierce and special, no matter how kind. After Umbara, after she came to him and tried to offer comfort, he understood for certain that he needed her and at first he was unsure of how he felt about such a thing.

    He figured it out, soon enough.

    Not good.

    *

    Immediately following the events of Umbara...

    Anytime, anywhere,” Ahsoka said to him, conviction in her voice. They'd left the tower and were on their way back to the Resolute, the last ones out of Torrent Company to leave the shadowy world. “I'll always be here for you – just like you are for me. Count on it.”

    It's good to hear that,” he admitted as the dirt of Umbara crunched beneath his boots and his bucket – clipped to his belt – bumped against his thigh. “Though I must admit, I wish you'd been here instead of...”

    As they boarded the waiting gunship, he trailed off, not saying the name because he couldn't – not right now – and because she knew. Of course she knew. Indeed, a moment later her head dropped and she gave a slow, solemn nod. “Me too, Rexter.”

    When the transport hummed under their feet and he realized that he was well and truly leaving this place, he glanced at her again, noting that her expression had become rather guarded, as if she was deliberately trying to appear impassive. At his look, her eyes flicked to his, the motion making him understand that behind her veneer of forced calm she was apprehensive about something.

    What it could be, he didn't know, but the idea that he could speak of something other than Umbara for a while was a welcome relief.

    Ahsoka,” he said after a moment. “You're more than capable of handling a campaign like this. Why didn't they send you, after General Skywalker was called away?”

    It was true; she was practically a Jedi Knight, at least in his eyes, though admittedly he was probably quite biased. After a beat she took a breath and glanced his way. “I was pulled from the space-battle and sent on another mission,” she said slowly, fixing her eyes on the spot between his eyebrows. “It started on Mandalore, but wound up on Carlac.”

    Carlac,” he repeated, mentally searching for the system. “Outer Rim, right? Lots of snow and not much else, if I'm correct.”

    She chuckled and her hands idly reached up to rub her upper arms, as if she was still cold. “Yeah. It was pretty...barren.”

    Still, her tone was not right. Partly out of an urge to have something else – anything else – on his mind right now, and partly out of his desire to understand her problems because they were hers, Rex cleared his throat. “Something happened.”

    A lot of things happened,” she replied, then proceeded to inform him. Rex felt his jaw tighten with fury at the words “stunned” and “Death Watch,” but her tone had taken on the almost lyrical one it did when she was giving a briefing, which alerted him to the fact that none of that – inexplicably – was what was bothering her.

    Even so, he couldn't stop himself from adding his two creds as the larty's engines droned in the background. “Please tell me that you at least chewed Bonteri out for practically handing you over to those Death Watch scum.”

    At this she gave a quiet chuckle and a nod, but did not answer in earnest, which sent off an internal alarm within him, harsh as any klaxon. Yes, there was definitely something else that she wasn't saying outright. Despite the feeling of warning, he felt an odd slip of relief as the conversation appeared to be steering even further away from his own experiences on the world of shadows that even now was growing more and more distant.

    Rex waited a beat for her to elaborate. When she didn't, he kept his voice soft but firm. “Ahsoka.”

    As he said her name, he put his hand on her arm; even though he wore his glove and even though her arm was covered they were closer than they'd ever been, and Umbara felt that much farther away. Like before, she did not respond right away, which was unlike her. Rather, her dark lips pursed and she seemed to internally debate something; as she did so, he felt a twist of foreboding in his gut, the kind that normally preceded a really terrible clanker-fight.

    It increased when she finally did find her voice. “It's nothing, Rexter.”

    But he knew her too well to be fooled by the slight teasing edge of her nickname for him, and fixed a knowing look, the kind he knew she wouldn't ignore, in her direction.

    His tactic seemed to work, for she acquiesced.

    Sort of.

    It's just...” She winced, then exhaled through her nose. “Teenager stuff. Silly stuff. Nothing worth mentioning...especially not after everything you've just been through.”

    Anytime, anywhere,” he replied, reiterating her own words. When she opened her mouth – either to object or to deflect his concern – Rex shook his head, because if nothing else she had taught him this much. “Isn't that what...friends are for?”

    As it lowered aboard the Resolute, the transport shivered under their feet and she did not answer. She did not answer as the blast doors opened and they stepped out onto the hangar, which was quiet, everyone having already retired to the barracks for some much-needed rest. She did not answer as they made their way across the hangar, towards the interior of the ship.

    Finally she spoke. “It's just that...you know Lux Bonteri?”

    Hard to forget the name of the guy who kidnapped you and brought you to Death Watch.” He tried and failed to keep the irritation out of his tone. Force help that little di'kut if Rex ever met him in person.

    Ignoring his comment, she exhaled. “Well, we kissed. A few times.” She took another breath, as if she was heedless of the way his heart had stopped beating at the word 'kissed,' then cast him a careful look that told him otherwise.

    Kissed. She kissed Lux Bonteri. His stomach plummeted to his knees, but he refused to let his discomfort make itself known, because her expression alerted him to the fact that she was bracing herself for such a thing. Instead, he exhaled and tried to keep his voice light. “And?”

    Her eyes widened in confusion, so he elaborated, while dearly wishing he'd been wearing his bucket so that he could retreat into the world of his HUD, the only world, apparently, that he understood. “I'm no expert on these matters, but I can't see how there's much wrong with...kissing.”

    Oh, no,” she said, her montrals flushing. “No, I guess not...but there's more...”

    More? More than kissing? One very specific thing came to his mind, something that he did not want to have in mind when he was also thinking about her and the other fellow.

    Perhaps catching onto his line of thinking, Ahsoka flushed even harder. “No, Rex. Not that.

    He could see that she was trembling now, but he repressed the sudden, inexplicable urge to take her into his arms; his stomach had sunk further and further with each of her words, but still he held himself back. Instead he placed a light hand on her shoulder and tried to think of what else about the ordeal on Carlac could have her so concerned.

    They were alone, just the two of them and the shadows of the hangar; he wanted to believe that it was because of this that it was an effort to speak. “Does it have something to do with General Skywalker finding out?”

    Her head shook rapidly; the words that followed were even more stuttered than before.“No...I'm in trouble because...I can't stop thinking about him. Actually, I kind of miss him...I know I shouldn't, but I do. And I just...”

    Had this been any other conversation, that queasy feeling in his gut would have perhaps been anticipatory. “Just what?”

    When her brilliant blue eyes met his, it was a sucker-punch right in his heart. “Because I like him, Rex. More than I should. And I don't know what to do about it.”

    Yeah. Neither did he.


    *

    Three days after the Battle of Umbara...

    Rex.”

    He glanced up; Fives was leaning one arm against his bunk, looking down with a slightly worried expression, uncharacteristic for the ARC. Rex lifted his brows in response, and Fives thumbed in the direction of the door to the barracks. “You hungry? Jesse and I are going to step outside the base and grab a bite at that cantina the others were going on about.”

    In Rex's lap was one of his DC-17s, the other was set beside his leg on the bunk, resting atop the blanket; he'd been cleaning them, trying to think of nothing at all and failing. It was only three days after Torrent had returned to the Resolute from Umbara; although he'd seemed more distracted than Rex had seen him before, General Skywalker, upon his return to the Resolute, had ordered that everyone take some time off and “regroup.”

    The Resolute had been stationed near Mimban for a few days, and Rex was aware that many of the his men had taken advantage of the fact; there was a small GAR base on-planet, most notably equipped with a cantina of a sort, which was – now that he considered it – probably where most of his men were located. He didn't blame them for wanting to stretch their legs, but he wasn't in any mood to socialize.

    Fives, however, didn't seem to give a kriff.

    You can't sit here moping all day, you know,” he added, resting his other hand on his belt and giving the captain a knowing look. “You have to get out there and live your life. You only get one, right?”

    They were off-duty and thereby allowed to go socialize if they wanted, but some part of Rex's mind registered the fact that his brother had been taking part in similar activities – allowed or not – more and more often of late, to the point where he was getting a reputation among the 501st as being something of a maverick. Aside from the incident with the Umbaran fighters, there'd been a few instances of Fives acting out, which – while not uncommon for the gregarious clone, or even for an ARC trooper – were frequent enough to cause Rex to wonder if that was how his brother had chosen to handle the stress of Umbara.

    Actually...if he thought about it, Fives had been off since the Citadel. Since Echo...

    While he chose not to judge his brother's actions, Rex had no desire to be a part of them – even the permissible ones – at this time, so he sighed and shook his head. “Thanks Fives, but I'm not hungry.”

    The ARC grinned, long and slow in his amiable way. “Neither am I, but this is a special opportunity to mingle with some civvies, and I don't want to let any opportunity pass me by, anymore.”

    With this, Fives grabbed Rex's arm and hauled him up bodily, oblivious to the glare in the captain's eyes at the intrusion into his personal space.

    Come on, Rex,” he added with a sigh. “Just humor me, okay? Fine, you're not hungry. Have a drink with me and Jesse – even Kix said he'd stop by, later – and just try to relax for once. I'll even wait for you to change into your armor.”

    Glancing down, Rex took in his off-duty fatigues – navy blue, comfortable but simple – and shrugged. Fives was one persistent di'kut when he wanted to be, and Rex didn't feel like arguing the issue at this point.

    Fine,” he said, bending back down to grab and holster his weapons in his belt, which he wore even without his armor. “One drink. And you're paying.”

    Fives beamed at him as they made their way to the exit. “Great. Then I'll let you come back and mope all you want.”

    I'm not moping,”

    Sulking, then.”

    Rex exhaled through his nose and shot the ARC a warning look that Fives ignored; the entire conversation clued Rex in on the fact that Fives was in that kind of mood, which meant it was useless to argue with him, so the captain leveled a not-so-light jab at his brother's side. Fives, naturally, laughed at him.

    When they reached the corridor that would take them to the hangar, Jesse was waiting. “Good,” the tattooed clone said in greeting as Rex and Fives approached him. “I convinced Throttle to wait around and fly us down – but I had to promise him a drink in return.”

    Fives grinned and looped his arms around his brothers' shoulders as they stepped out. “Whatever gets us down there quicker. Come on brothers: let's move out.”
    Last edited by laloga, May 19, 2014
    gracesonnet and Jade_Max like this.
  2. Jade_Max Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jun 28, 2002
    star 5
    Yes yes yes!!!

    I'm so psyched you're posting this here :D

    I love how you used C&C to springboard into this.

    Rex's thoughts about 'crushes' tickle me pink every time I read them and I find myself nodding along to it. Not just nodding along, but agreeing with his assessment. They're dangerous, violent things - or have the potential to be. And then his own 'crush' upends his world right after he's had every belief he's ever held shattered. Powerful stuff.

    I do so -love- the fact that Ahsoka confides in Rex, for all the pain it causes him, as it really showcases the level of trust between them.


    Then we reach Fives. Fives acting out after Umbara, eh? Interesting; I'm kind curious how you see him as acting out. I really enjoy how he seems to be in touch with Rex's emotional state, though I'm curious to know if he's got any inkling as to why *grin*not to mention, his insistence that Rex get out and away :D

    moping... *laughs* [face_laugh] Rexster doesn't -mope-... he broods ;)


    Tag me when you update pls *grin* ;)
    laloga likes this.
  3. laloga Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2011
    star 2
    @Jade_Max: Ah, poor Rexter. All those emotions rolling around that beautiful head. :p C&C was a great springboard into this story; as you know, it gave me an idea that refused to let me go! Ahsoka and Rex are close, and I didn't want to lose that in the writing of this story, even though it's not a Rexsoka, so hopefully I did justice to their relationship, at least in a platonic way. Fives' acting out; I think it manifests itself in his overly outgoing, sometimes "silly" attitude. I think I say this in an author's note later on, but Fives and Rex are both suffering from the after-effects of Umbara, they just deal with it in different ways. Rex keeps all his "stuff" inside, while Fives lays it all on the outside.

    Thanks so much for the review! :D

    ***
    Chapter Two

    The mug of ale was warm and tasteless, but even if it had been otherwise, Rex would have had no desire to feign interest in the drink. Luckily, the room was so crowded that no one else seemed to have any inclination to interact with him, for which he was thankful. Seated between Fives and Jesse at the bar of the dim little cantina, he let the cacophony of voices roll off his back and tried to keep his expression neutral.

    Fives had been wrong. He wasn't moping; he was thinking. There was so much to think about, more than he figured the long-necks ever supposed any clone would be able to wrap his mind around. Shadows tugged at the hem of his thoughts, insistent and demanding his attention, for all that he tried to ignore them; if he closed his eyes, he heard Krell's mocking laugh interspersed with the shouts of dying brothers.

    And of course, there was Ahsoka.

    Because I like him, Rex.”

    Of course she did; Bonteri was vastly more appropriate, should she even go down that road. Rex knew the Jedi Order's edicts on attachment for its members, but he also knew that it was a rule that was often bent, if not outright broken; he'd had a long-running suspicion that General Skywalker had a sort of attachment to Senator Amidala, though so far he'd seen nothing to confirm any true connection between them. Perhaps Skywalker's feelings were one-sided. A crush.

    Rex exhaled and stared at the contents of his mug.

    Beside him, Fives was talking a klick a minute, which was hardly unusual. “Now, she's easy on the eyes, isn't she?”

    Jesse twisted in his chair to look, but was immediately halted by a cuff on his shoulder, courtesy of the ARC. “Kriff, don't be so obvious, Jess.”

    “How am I supposed to see who you're talking about if I can't look?” Jesse grumbled, taking a swallow of his ale.


    Fives waggled his brows. “Finesse, vod. Don't worry, brother...I have it in spades. We ARCs are gifted in ways that you regular guys can only imagine.”

    And so humble, too,” Jesse snorted, shaking his head even as he laughed.

    Leaning forward so that he was only inches away from Rex, Fives dropped the pitch of his voice. “That table to your left, Jess. See? Three of them, and I recognize them, too: they're civilian contractors on the Resolute.”

    At this, Jesse flushed and toyed with the bottom of his glass. “Know any of them personally?”

    They're new to me,” Fives replied. “The one with brown hair's a bit plain for my taste. The blonde's not bad...but that Twi'lek...she's a beauty.”
    Beside Rex, Jesse shifted quickly in his chair, as if making to scratch his shoulder-blade, then twisted back around to Fives. “I like the blonde, myself.”

    There was a moment of quiet while the three clones sipped their drinks, then Fives cleared his throat. “Actually, I think the brunette likes blonds as well.” The words were followed by a slight jab in Rex's side. “As in, she keeps checking you out, Captain.”

    This sparked a reaction from Rex, who managed a subtle glance behind him; indeed, there was a trio of females that he vaguely recognized as independent contractors on the Resolute.

    Often the Republic contracted out jobs to civilians that were too specialized for clones. The pay rate was high, as was the danger – so he'd heard. Well, the pay part, anyway. The danger he was familiar enough with on his own. Generally the civvies kept to themselves; in fact, most of their work areas and living quarters hardly intersected at all with that of the clones', so seeing them in person was a rare opportunity.

    One that Fives seemed intent on making the most of.

    She keeps looking over here,” the ARC said with another nudge as Rex glanced back down at his mug. “You should buy her a drink.”

    Not interested,” was the swift reply, though he cast his mind back to the brown-haired woman and tried to figure out if she was pretty. It was impossible to say, really, as he'd only gotten the briefest glance and the cantina was dim. Quite possibly he was feeling the effects of the ale, despite the fact that he'd hardly touched it. “Actually, I think we should leave.”

    No way,” Fives said, lifting his hand in a gesture to the barkeep. “I'm finally getting a chance to stretch my legs, and I'm going to take it.” When the bartender – an Ithorian – approached, the ARC ordered a round. “Six Toydarian Teases. Three for us and three for the trio of ladies across the room.”

    As six small glasses – three empty and three filled with an ominous green liquid – were set in front of the clones, Jesse shot Fives an appraising look. “These aren't cheap, Fives. Where'd you get the money for this, anyway?”

    Fives picked up his drink and studied it, but didn't drink. “I have my ways.” He twisted in his seat and shot the women a smile, tossing in a casual salute for good measure. When he turned back, he seemed inordinately pleased, and Rex felt Jesse shift on the stool.

    What is it?”

    Again, Fives cast his brothers a grin, as if he hadn't a care in the world. “They're coming over.”

    *

    Brenna Damaris lifted her brow as the Bothan server approached the table she was sharing with two other civilian contractors on the Resolute: her roommate, Marliss Menin, a hyperdrive specialist, and Hypatia – Brenna hadn't caught her surname, yet – who worked with Marliss. Six glasses, three of which were empty and three of which contained a bright green liquid, were set down before the three women.

    In the six months that Brenna had worked aboard the Resolute, she'd learned that it wasn't an uncommon occurrence for men to send her either of her companions drinks when they went out in this fashion, but she'd had a long day – actually a long stretch of days, weeks, months – and she was tired, too tired to pretend she wasn't. Perhaps twenty-four was too young to feel this kind of weariness, but some days she wasn't sure anymore what was normal and what was a product of the tangled mess that was her life.

    Wow, they don't play around, do they?” Marliss said, tilting her head in the direction of the bar, where the three clones who'd sent them the drinks were seated. Even in the dim light of the cantina, Marliss' pale blonde hair glowed; when she looked back at the others, she was smiling, which Brenna knew meant that she'd already made up her mind. “What do you want to do?”

    Hypatia's teal skin contrasted nicely with the ivory top she'd selected for the evening, and she fingered one of the small glasses thoughtfully. “Toydarian Tease. It's not too strong, at least, as long as you drink it right. But I don't know...”

    What about you, Bren?”

    The brown-haired woman cast her eyes towards the clones again; she knew she'd been doing it too much, but she couldn't really help the way her gaze kept getting drawn to the fellow in the center. Maybe it was the blond hair...

    No, she thought with a slight shake of her head. There's no way I can travel down that hyperlane again. Instead, she glanced back at her roommate, who was watching her with the air of someone who knew what was coming and was not pleased by it, but was trying to act otherwise.

    I'm not thirsty, Mar.” As if to prove a point she shifted both glasses aside, the empty and the full, and folded her hands on the table.

    Marliss huffed and leaned back against the booth. “It's tradition to share this drink, you know. Getting one sent to you is like an invitation to chat...we shouldn't be rude.”

    Oh, no,” Hypatia laughed, shaking her head so that her lekku shifted. “We wouldn't want to be rude.” However, she remained seated, and Brenna was secretly pleased; it would be much easier to keep declining if she had backup.

    But Marliss seemed determined to put a halt to any deliberation as she pursed her lips and studied her table-mates, then shrugged. “Well, I'm going over. You two can sit here like bumps on logs all night, but to me, the entire point of coming out was to get off that kriffing ship and have a bit of fun – and not be covered in engine grease, for once. Besides, we never get to see them when we're all on duty. Aren't you curious?”

    Curious. Yes, Brenna supposed she was, which was entirely the problem. Apprehension curled within her gut, but as usual it was no match for her curiosity.

    While the conflicting feelings warred within her, she and Hypatia exchanged glances, which made Marliss sigh. “It's not a marriage proposal, ladies. It's one drink. Besides, it'd be silly not to thank them, at least.”

    Fine,” Hypatia said, ignoring Marliss' look of delight as she slid out of the booth. “But just to thank them, okay? I don't feel like fending off any horny soldiers tonight.”

    As she stood, Marliss glanced at Brenna, who'd remained seated, still toying with the empty glass. “Come on, Bren,” she said in a quiet voice. “It's not going to hurt anything if you say 'hi' to him, is it?” When Brenna opened her mouth to object, Marliss rolled her eyes. “I've seen how you've been watching him since he walked in the door. Just come with us, say hello, ask him his number and rank, then leave. Small talk is harmless.”

    To you, maybe,” Brenna replied, though she couldn't help but cast another look at the three men, two of whom were very obviously trying to appear as if they were not interested in the movements of her companions. Despite herself, a small smile crept to her face; most clones were terrible at dissembling, and the ones she'd met seemed incapable of acting as nonchalant as she suspected they wanted to appear. They were so young in many ways.

    In other ways...

    Well, she knew otherwise, and she knew better than most.

    Still, while she'd been on the Resolute long enough to make friends, she'd done a pretty terrible job of it so far, and Brenna figured such a thing needed change, considering she had an good bit of time left in this posting. So while she wanted to leave the cantina, go to her and Marliss' cabin to check and see if there were any new messages from her young daughter, Brenna gave a deep exhale through her nose, trying to set aside her misgivings.

    As the others had done, she selected the glasses and shifted her way out of the booth. No matter that she did so without a word or a smile, Marliss shot her a pleased look, and the three of them headed over to the bar.

    *

    His name was Rex.

    Brenna Damaris,” she said, extending her hand to shake his. As she always did, she made eye contact and made sure that her grip was firm; she was pleased to see that Rex did not look away, though he did shift on his barstool as if he wasn't entirely comfortable at the moment.

    To their left, Fives – an ARC trooper by his own introduction – immediately launched into an animated story to Hypatia, who seemed more interested than she'd let on at their table a few minutes ago. On Brenna's right side, Marliss was speaking to a shy, tattooed clone – Jesse, if Brenna recalled correctly. All around them, the cantina was ripe with conversation and the clinking of glasses; mostly she could see clones, but there were a fair number of other civilians like herself present. However, of all the folks gathered, only she and her companions had sought to mingle with the soldiers.

    Fives reached a particularly exciting part of his story and the pitch of his voice rose several decibels; she winced. She'd been fighting a headache all day, and this wasn't helping. No one had actually imbibed their drinks yet, as the Toydarian Tease was meant to aerate for a few minutes before consumption, thus furthering the need to converse. Despite this, Rex seemed to be in no mood to chat, and she was tired...she really should leave, maybe go right to bed. She shouldn't stay here, that much was certain.

    But something kept her in the seat, casting as subtle a glance as she could manage towards the blond man seated beside her; as she watched his shoulders tense and his jaw tighten under her gaze, she realized that he was about as displeased with the situation as she was. But she thought – hoped? – that his displeasure wasn't centered on her, for his eyes kept shifting towards the exit and when they fell on her there was no irritation.

    She had a sudden, irrational urge to try and set him at ease, if only to alleviate the awkwardness of the forced social interaction. “Did Fives drag you out here?”

    At her words, he shot her a startled glance, then seemed to think for a moment as he formulated a reply, which turned out to be a swift nod, followed by a slight furrowing of his brow. “How did you...?”

    Brenna tilted her head back towards Marliss, who'd gotten quiet Jesse to speak in a normal tone. “Roommates, you know? They don't take no for an answer.”

    The briefest flash of a smile crossed his face as he shook his head slowly. “No, they don't.”

    There was quiet for a moment while she searched for something else to say while continuing to surreptitiously study him. Normally she could figure out a clone's rank easily, but without armor he was difficult for her to place; there was none of the self-assurance that officers usually carried, but nor did she think he was a shiny. He didn't strike her as shy. Again she thought he just didn't want to be here.

    Finally she cleared her throat, causing him to look at her again. “It's not really my cup of caf,” she said, indicating the cantina with a lift of her hand. “But it's nice to get off the ship for a little bit, isn't it?”

    She'd been expecting another string of one-syllable words, but he surprised her. “This kind of place isn't really my thing, either,” he said, after taking a breath and turning her way a bit, such that she could tell he was making an effort to return her overtures of sociability. However, the tone of his voice darkened, just a bit with his next words. “But it's good to be...somewhere different.”

    Unfortunately, she didn't get much past that, as at that moment, an enthusiastic Fives decided that everyone should partake of their drinks. Someone counted to three – Fives and Marliss, she thought, though it was difficult to say with the din of the cantina – and Bren tipped back her drink, sloshed it around her mouth for a moment, then spit it back into the empty glass as was the custom; she noted that each of her companions did as well, as did Fives and Jesse.

    As if oblivious to the others' actions, Rex tilted the contents of the glass down his throat and swallowed. The moment he set the glass back on the bar, Brenna couldn't help but gape at him. None of the others seemed to notice: Fives had returned to telling Hypatia another story while Marliss was speaking to a flushing Jesse. At her look, Rex straightened in his chair; she noted that his entire body had grown tense, as if he was about to spring into action.

    After a quick glance around the room – assessing the area for danger? – he gave her a cautious look. “Something's wrong.”

    You've never had one of these, have you?” He frowned and shook his head, and she bit back a chuckle at his expression: confusion bordering on concern. “It's strong,” she said. “Really strong...so much so that...well...”

    She held up her glass, the one she'd spat the drink back into, then gestured to the others' glasses; they'd all done the same and watched as his eyes widened marginally. “You're not really supposed to drink it,” she explained. “Unless you're a Toydarian, that is. I guess their tolerance is higher than ours.”

    He'd grown very still at her words, then his head ducked and he winced, rubbing at his forehead as if he were in pain. She took a moment to appreciate the broad stretch of his shoulders and the fine fringe of blond hair, idly wondering if he bleached it, before she shook the thought away. When he looked back at her, she could see that he was thinking over his words very carefully.

    How long?”

    Before you're drunk?” She shrugged, then gave him a sympathetic look. “For you, probably not long. You guys have a pretty low tolerance for alcohol.”

    Compliments of the long-necks,” Fives bellowed, slapping his palm down on the bar; the resulting noise made Rex start, and she wondered if he was normally so jumpy, or if it was the drink. Around them, the patrons of the cantina chattered and clinked glasses; on either side of them, she heard her friends speaking with their respective clones, but her attention was fixed on Rex, who was starting to look a bit pale.

    When did you eat last?”

    He blinked at her, then shook his head as if to clear it. The pale color was fading to a sickly green. “I...I'm not sure.”

    The effects of the Toydarian Tease were – apparently – hitting him faster than she'd suspected, because now he looked like any minute he was about to lose the contents of his stomach all over the bar. Brenna lifted her hand and signaled the bartender, but Rex shook his head, reaching forward as if to physically stop her, though he missed her arm by a few inches. “Don't...worry about it.”

    She studied him, noting the heaviness of his breath and his rapid blinking. “You're going to be sick if you don't get something on your stomach, Rex,” she said in a calm voice after she ordered him a nuna-burger.

    I'm not...” He winced again, and she watched as he seemed to struggle to speak clearly. “This isn't...'

    It's okay...you didn't know.” With this, she put her hand on his arm and gave him a what she hoped was a comforting smile. However, when he caught her eyes with his own, that particular honey-gold of the clones that she never got tired of, no matter what else happened, her smile widened despite herself.

    At her touch, he'd frozen. For one moment his eyes flickered between her hand and her face, then he took a breath and leaned forward to her, eyes half-closed, almost as if he were going to try and kiss her...

    Oh.

    Oh no...

    Okay,” she said, abruptly getting up from her stool. “That's my cue to leave.” There was a moment of utter confusion on his face, but she shot him a knowing look as she dug out a few creds from her bag and set them on the counter. “This is for the burger. Get something to eat, then get yourself to bed.”

    With that, she turned to leave, pausing only when Marliss and Hypatia stopped her; at her words, they'd both slipped off of their stools and come to her side. “What-”

    It's nothing, Mar,” she said, shaking her head and deliberately not looking back at Rex. “He's drunk and tried to make a pass at me. That's the signal for the night to end.”

    Hypatia cast a look behind her; Fives and Jesse appeared to be collecting Rex and were helping him off of the stool. “Looks like his friends are helping him, now. You sure you want to leave? I was actually having fun...”

    Then stay,” Brenna said, tugging the strap of her bag over her shoulder. “I'm tired, anyway.”

    Marliss put a hand on her arm. “No, don't leave on your own, Bren. I'll say goodbye to them, and we'll go back together.”

    It was far to sensible of a plan for Brenna to brush off, so she nodded and stood aside while her companions bid the clones goodnight. She thought she heard Fives offer an apology, but from what she could tell, Rex was beyond words, green-faced and looking at the nuna-burger as if it were about to attack him. Damn those Kaminoans, she thought with a sigh.

    Whoever among that race had decided to make an entire army of muscled, deadly super-soldiers unable to handle their liquor ought to have been shot.

    ***

    Total facepalm moment for Rexter when he *tried* to kiss Brenna. :p Poor guy...he's had it rough, lately. Don't worry...things will get better for him.

    And you got to meet Brenna! Let me know what you think of the leading lady. :) Not that it really matters, but in my mind, her last name is pronounced "dah-MAR-ris." Just fyi. :)

    There's not an "official" soundtrack for this fic, but there are quite a few songs that "fit" with various scenes; the entire bar scene is set to "Willie," by Cat Power. (Seriously...the lyrics are perfect for this story!)

    Next time: Rex learns that hangovers really suck.

    Thanks for reading! :D
  4. Jade_Max Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jun 28, 2002
    star 5
    *snicker* Poor Rex. First Fives doesn't take a no for an answer and just drags him along... then Fives encourages some female interaction [if I were Rex I'd just want to wallow too!] that he's really not that interested in... and then Fives has to go and order a drink Rex has never had [Toydarian Tease *cackles* has the same response as a Tatooine Sunburn in my gaming sessions LOL!] and doesn't even bother to mention to Rex how to 'drink' it.... and then, to top it all off, just as Rex and Bren [who is so totally awesome and well rounded I <3 her completely!] are starting to get along well, Fives has to order they drink *snicker* and Rex... poor innocent Rex downs the whole thing in one go!

    *bursts out laughing* the poor guy just can't catch a break! Things were going so well and then he gets drunk and *bam* suddenly it's back to square one... too bad things don't improve for him just yet - poor guy could use a little divine intervention and grace *grin*

    I do love how Bren and her friends call an end to the night as a party. It's not an 'all for one' kind of thing, which is nice to see :) And she's smart enough to call it quits when Rex is too drunk to really realize what he was doing *chuckle* Smart lady ;)

    Love the phonetic spelling of Brenna's last name; I say it that way too!!

    Merry Christmas! :D [:D][:D]
  5. laloga Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2011
    star 2
    @Jade_Max: Sigh. No, things aren't going so well for Rexter, but that's about to change, very soon. ;) Brenna, for all of her faults, is at least experienced enough to know when to call it a night.

    Thank you so much for the review! I tried to tag you, I promise, but the site's being wonky. :rolleyes:

    ***
    Chapter Three

    The darkness obscured everything and even after a scant few hours on the planet's surface, he longed to see a sun again. Longed for blue sky and streams of light that weren't artificially created or blaster-bolts.

    CT-7567, are you defective?”

    CC, he wanted to say. Command-clone. He'd earned the right, hadn't he? Simple genetics didn't account for his experience, for the things he'd learned.

    The price of victory...maybe one day you'll understand that.”

    Blood. Brothers lives, stolen from them. No clone, no man, should have to kill a brother. They'd won the battle, but the cost had been too high. Shouts of dying men, dying brothers, filled his ears, his mind, his heart. This darkness was too much, too much. He was not made for this kind of fighting.

    *

    The next clear thought that entered Rex's mind was that as soon as his brain stopped trying to bash its way out of his skull, he was going to torture Fives, slowly and painfully.

    ARC or no, Rex knew he could take his brother any day of the week; even though he was a soldier by trade, he didn't normally harbor violent inclinations unless the other person really deserved it. Bad enough that he'd been pulled away from his duties aboard the ship to engage in what was probably the most idiotic and disastrous civilian encounter of his short life; bad enough that he'd gotten...intoxicated – unwittingly or not – and made an utter di'kut of himself to a woman who was, in his memory, undeserving of such treatment; bad enough that later, he'd lost the contents of his stomach on the way back to the ship, and was currently nursing the first – and last, Force willing – hangover of his life.

    Humans shouldn't drink Toydarian beverages, and Rex couldn't trust Fives to inform him of the fact if the ARC had a pretty Twi'lek under his nose. Lesson learned.

    But even as he lay on his bunk with a pillow over his head to block out the incredibly bright lights of the barracks, Rex knew that it wasn't Fives' fault.

    He should have waited to see what the others had done, taking his cues from those who were familiar with the drink before diving in. He'd been distracted, that much he knew. Thinking about things he didn't want to think about, and then the woman – Brenna, he remembered that at least – had been kind. She'd put her hand on his arm and looked at him in a way that no woman had ever looked at him, and he'd forgotten himself for a moment.

    Rather, he'd wanted to forget. A lot of things.

    But that's no excuse, he told himself, wincing as he heard the door hiss open and footsteps start to pound through the room. Even through the painful haze in his brain he recognized Kix's approach across the – thankfully empty – barracks. I need to find her and apologize for my behavior.

    Just as soon as he could get up without vomiting – again.

    How are you feeling?”

    The bunk shifted as the medic sat by his feet; even the slight motion caused a wave of nausea to roll through Rex, such that it took him a moment to form a coherent reply. “I've been better.”

    I've got some painkillers,” Kix said, his voice muffled by the pillow over Rex's ear. “And some water. You should hydrate.”

    Fine. Then I can court-martial Fives.”

    At this, Kix chuckled, then Rex grimaced as the medic pulled the pillow away, handing him a bottle of water and urging the captain to sit up so he could be given the hypo. There was a faint sting as the spray was pushed through the skin of Rex's neck, but the throbbing in his head began to subside immediately, as did the worst of the roiling feeling in his gut. The water was cool, perhaps the most delicious thing that he'd ever tasted, and he shot Kix an appreciative look as the medic chuckled again.

    That's the good thing about our genetics, anyway. It doesn't take much liquor to knock us on our shebs, but we bounce back pretty quickly.”

    After a few minutes Rex's head felt much clearer, and he glanced around the empty barracks. While Rex wasn't the first clone to stumble through the billet, it was unprofessional and he didn't like the idea that any of his men might have seen him in such a sorry state “Do you know how many of them saw me? Last night's kind of a blur.”

    Kix shrugged. “Fives comm'd me before he and Jesse brought you back; it was fairly early, so most of them were still out. Coric had them doing drills at zero-six-hundred this morning, so it's possible none of them will be the wiser.”

    Still working over what he could remember, Rex sipped the water again and gave a slow nod. After a moment, Kix shot him a querying look. “You really didn't know about the Toydarian Tease? I could have sworn...”

    No, but I won't soon forget,” Rex replied with another grimace. The water-bottle was nearly empty, but he was already feeling worlds better. He paused, swirling the remaining contents around for a moment before glancing back at Kix. “Brother to brother...how drunk was I?”

    The medic made a show of putting the empty hypo away in his medkit before he looked back at his captain. “Er...in my professional opinion, somewhere between 'very' and 'extremely.' If you want details...”

    Never mind,” Rex said, shaking his head. “Maybe ignorance is bliss in this case. Thanks, Kix.”

    His brother gave him a smile, then cleared his throat. “Are you okay?”

    It was a valid question but Rex had no ready answer, hadn't had one in some time, so he only nodded wordlessly. In his fashion, Kix seemed to accept the answer despite the fact that he probably knew better; he gestured in the direction of the mess-hall. “I recommend getting something to eat.”

    Now, or before the next time I decide to get plastered?”

    Kix laughed and made to stand up. “Both, actually, though I don't think you'll be repeating that performance any time soon.”

    It wasn't really funny to him, but Rex gave a grim sort of chuckle as he stood up as well, and followed Kix to the mess-hall, which was thankfully devoid of too many clones. About a quarter of an hour later he felt more like himself – in a manner of speaking – and after thanking the medic again, headed for his office.

    As an officer, he was allotted a small space in which to conduct the administrative aspects of his job: scheduling duty rotations, performance and disciplinary reviews, report reading and writing, among other things. There wasn't much in the galaxy that he could call his own, and the little room with its functional desk, chair and computer console was not among such things, but it was at least a place he could be alone.

    Taking a seat in the chair, Rex activated the console and immediately pulled up a query for the Resolute's various civilian personnel. After a few minutes of searching he found her: Brenna Damaris; Security Contractor – Communications Division; Sector R-12. She was on duty at the moment, and while he probably should have waited until she was not working, Rex didn't want to postpone this conversation; he'd made a mistake and had to rectify it as soon as possible.

    Even so, he sat for a few minutes, reliving the night again in his mind – what he could remember, anyway. Much of it was a blur after the ill-fated drink, but he could clearly recall her hand on his arm, even if he wasn't quite certain what color her eyes had been. Warm, he remembered. She'd been warm. Other than that and her name, he wasn't sure about much else.

    Well, he'd find out soon enough. A glance at his fatigues showed him that they were not as clean as he'd like; he hadn't been sick on them but they were rumpled from being slept in, and he had no wish to appear unkempt, not after he'd showed his shebs last night. After a moment of debate, Rex decided that approaching her in his armor would be appropriate, so he rose and slipped out of the door.

    *

    Seated in her little office, Brenna's gaze was on the screens that covered her workstation; however, there was only so much of her attention that diagnostics on the communication system's encryption subroutines could take up, so the rest of her mind was left to wander back to the previous night.

    During her time with the GAR, she'd been hit on before by sober clones with far more tact, so she should have been able to shake off the encounter, but she couldn't.

    For the umpteenth time, she wondered if she'd overreacted; he'd clearly been out of his element, and she'd been tired and crabby. Being suddenly and unexpectedly drunk didn't excuse such behavior, but she could have shown a bit more compassion.

    Anyway, it didn't matter. She hadn't tried to look him up, as she knew that the troopers were listed by their numbers, not their nicknames, and she figured that she wouldn't see him again; the Resolute was a massive ship, and until last night she hadn't even spoken to any clones during the six months of her posting on this vessel.

    Leaning back in her chair, Brenna rubbed at her eyes then glanced at her chrono, noting with dismay that it was still too early for lunch. The second – or was it third? – cup of caf she'd had was starting to work its way through her, so she got up and made her way for the doorway of her little office. There wasn't much to this area aside from a desk, a chair and six monitors, but she'd added a few touches here and there to make the space feel more welcoming; mostly pictures of her toddler, Irini, but a few of Alderaan and her brother as well.

    As she slipped out of the doorway and into the corridor, she was greeted by a blast of recycled air, so she hugged her sweater around her sides and hurried for the 'freshers, about six doors and another hallway to the left away from her office.

    Despite the fact that she didn't want them to, her thoughts drifted back to last night and to Rex. He'd seemed...lost. It was difficult to place her finger on it, but he didn't look like any other clone she'd met – face notwithstanding – and she wondered what it was that troubled him so. She could vaguely recall news of a recent battle on Umbara, but she'd been elbow-deep in work at the time and like many of her civilian coworkers, had only a peripheral awareness of the events.

    But it was reasonable to assume that the Wars that were taking their toll. Fighting would do that to a man whether or not he was engineered for the task – she'd seen it happen before. There wasn't much else to the clones' lives most of the time besides countless battles.

    Indeed, to most of the civilian population, fighting was all these men were good for.

    It was a common theme among many of the folks she worked with; all too often they had little idea of what actually happened during the fighting, and she knew that many of them didn't care to change the fact. No, it probably wasn't a good thing, but it was so easy to get lost in the routine work that they each took part in; for being in the middle of a wartime, living on a battleship like this one, most of the time life was relatively mundane.

    Lost in her thoughts, Brenna didn't see the trooper until she nearly crashed into his chest. As it was, it was the sight of the tell-tale white boots that caused her to skid to a halt, thankfully before she careened into him.

    When she looked up, her mouth fell open a little in surprise. It was Rex, but he looked...well, the clones' armor was always an impressive sight, but coupled with the earnest – and sober – expression on his face, she was left a bit speechless.

    Distinctive slashes of blue along his arms and upper legs marked the plastoid pieces; around his waist was the paneled skirt-thing – a kama, she remembered after a moment – and he wore a curving pauldron over his left shoulder, all of which were indications that he was an officer. His helmet was tucked under his arm; she caught a glimpse of some kind of marking whose significance she didn't understand, and at each of his sides was a blaster-pistol. Beneath the armor she could see traces of the black body-suit that all clones wore. The overall effect was...

    Well, at least she'd remembered to close her mouth.

    If he noticed her flustered state he made no indication of the fact, instead tilting his head at her in a querying manner. “Brenna Damaris?”

    Yes?”

    He hesitated, and she wondered if she'd caught him by surprise just as he'd caught her, for he appeared to be at a loss for words, finally saying: “I'm an idiot.”

    I'm sure that's debatable.” She hoped her voice sounded less breathless to him than it did to her, and mentally rebuked herself. Snap out of it, Bren. It's just armor, it's nothing you haven't seen a thousand times.

    At her words he seemed amused, though after a moment he straightened his shoulders. “I wanted to offer my apologies for my...impropriety last night,” he said in a smooth, professional voice. “I was...well, I haven't been feeling myself, lately. I know it's not an excuse,” he added quickly, his eyes shifting from her face to the wall beside her as the tips of his ears reddened. “But...”

    It happens,” she replied, sliding her hands in the pockets of her pants to give her something to do, as they suddenly felt very awkward and out-of-place. “It could have been a lot worse.”

    It wasn't one of my prouder moments,” he replied with a frown.

    Brenna nodded once to him. “Apology accepted, Rex. And...as someone who's had her share of less-than-proud moments, I'm not going to judge you by that one encounter.”

    Something in her words seemed to give him pause, and she watched as he studied her for a moment; his gaze was intense even if his posture held the distant sense of formality that she was familiar with. In the back of her mind, she wondered what he saw when he looked at her.

    A moment later, after neither one of them spoke, he cleared his throat. “Anyway, that was all. I just wanted to apologize for my...er...”

    Another pause. Was he at a loss for words again?

    Impropriety?” Along with the word he'd used earlier, Brenna offered him a smile that he actually returned, albeit faintly. There was another pause between them, and she wondered again what he was thinking; Jedi-powers would most certainly have come in handy right now, though she figured she'd slice off her arm if she ever got a hold of one of their lightsabers.

    Finally he seemed to reach a decision; he gave her a swfit nod as he turned to leave. “Thank you, Miss Damaris.”

    Before she could say anything else, he was gone. It took her a moment longer than it should have to remember what she'd been on her way to do, before Rex had found her. As she stepped into the 'fresher she exhaled deeply, as if to expel the encounter from her mind.

    But he lingered, still.

    No, she thought as she locked the stall behind her. No, this won't do at all.

    Not again.


    ***
    Rex's Umbara "nightmare" comes up a few more times; it's his way of dealing with the horrific events, which is to say he's not really dealing with them at all. However, they're stuck quite firmly in his subconscious. More on that later.

    Brenna's reaction to Rex in his armor always makes me giggle; who can blame her? ;)

    There is a bit of Mando'a in this fic, which will be explained in time. (Feel free to look up "clone trooper" on Wookieepedia and check out the section labeled "Mandalorian Heritage.") In any case, "shebs" means "butt" and "vod" means "brother."

    Thanks for reading! Reviews, comments and feedback are welcome and appreciated. :)

    Up next: a mission on Ithor and more of Fives' antics...


    Last edited by laloga, Dec 28, 2012
  6. Jade_Max Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jun 28, 2002
    star 5
    *chuckle* Ah Rex; you honorable fool. It so totally makes sense that he'd want to apologize for what he sees as an inexcusable breech of his behavior. To do it in such a fashion - I [face_laugh][face_laugh][face_laugh] -every- time he says... "I'm an idiot" *snort*

    Brenna is so intriguing and while I may know her story, I'd forgotten the hints you'd left at the beginning of it. It's such a joy just to read through this as it is and just read *grin*

    I can't wait for their mission :D
  7. laloga Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2011
    star 2
    @Jade_Max, Rex is totally an "honorable fool." I love him for it, but he's so honorable, it becomes a flaw of sorts, and gets him into all kinds of trouble. Not so much now, but later on, at least in this fic. So glad you like Bren! As you know, OCs are so tricky...thanks so much for reading and commenting! :D

    And hey! I learned how to tag people on the boards! Score! :cool:

    ***
    Chapter Four

    Realistically, Rex thought that the apology had gone about as well as it could have, considering the fact that everything he'd said sounded like a pathetic excuse for his behavior. He'd been rehearsing the words in his head as he'd gone to meet her, but when he'd come across her in the corridor she'd caught him by surprise, thereby negating his carefully prepared speech.

    But she'd seemed not to notice. Instead he'd noted that she'd been about as startled as he was; the fact that they were on some kind of common ground was oddly comforting, and it had ultimately been what allowed him to complete his objective.

    Mission accomplished: apology made. There was no need for him to think of her again, which was a good thing, as he had far too much on his plate already. It didn't matter that when she'd smiled at him, he'd thought she was pretty. And – now, this was a silly thought – she smelled...nice. Not too sweet, but distinctly feminine. Unfamiliar, but pleasant.

    He hadn't really noticed, before.

    Anyway, life went on, and for several weeks he really was too occupied to think much about her again, save for the occasional flash of her hand on his arm; he didn't allow himself to dwell on such a thing, because it was a distraction that he couldn't afford, especially when he was on unorthodox missions like the business at Kadavo. If his unrequited crush on Ahsoka had taught him anything, it was that he was not equipped for the more romantic aspects of life.

    At night, he had his dreams. Rarely were they pleasant...just the opposite. Even though he usually only remembered snatches of them, he knew this was the case because there were many times when he'd woken up sweaty and tangled in the sheets, fighting for air as if he'd been drowning.
    Anyway, they didn't affect him too much during the day so he pushed the nightmares back in the recesses of his mind and tried not think about them at all if he could help it.

    Over the course of the next few weeks, there were a few skirmishes, here and there. Nothing Rex and his men couldn't handle, but certainly more than enough to hold all of his attention and prevent his mind from dwelling in the darkness.

    It was on one such mission that he saw Brenna again. In retrospect, Rex wasn't surprised to learn that Fives – who'd been stationed with the 501st on a semi-permanent basis after Umbara's losses – had orchestrated the entire thing. Despite his harsh words to Kix, Rex didn't really blame the ARC for his own shortcomings; nevertheless, Rex had been unwilling to speak of his encounter with the civilian woman, which he knew annoyed Fives to no end.

    Ithor: it was supposed to be easy, a simple in and out job that didn't even require the whole of Torrent Company, only a few select squads to infiltrate the Seppie bunker and gain access to a bit of valuable intel that had been stored in this particular area. Three teams, thirty minutes – an hour tops – and they'd be able to bang out with none the wiser, returning to the Resolute in time for dinner and not even having to bother the Jedi about the matter, as Ahsoka and General Skywalker were engrossed with their own business.

    Rex and Sergeant Silver's teams were to take out the security droids at the perimeter, while Fives' was to actually infiltrate the base itself and extract the information that had been reported by Republic Intelligence.

    However, in the way of these things, nothing went quite to plan.

    "Captain, this isn't working." Over the comm, Fives sounded rather irritated, which would have amused Rex had he not been in his level-headed battle-mode.

    "What's the problem, Fives?"

    The Ithorian forest that surrounded them was ominously quiet, and Rex tamped down a flash of worry as he, Tup, Jesse and Cay crouched by the smoking remains of the droids they'd just demolished; it would only be a matter of time before their presence was detected, and he knew that every moment mattered. Not for the first time did he wish that the clones' armor was a nice, matte black – even commando-gray – rather than brilliant white; surrounded by darkness, the clones stuck out rather obviously.

    Fives exhaled, the noise distorted over the comm. "Fragging Republic Intel mucked up their info on the decryption sequence; they told us we'd be dealing with one of three, and of course...none of them are what we're prepared to deal with. But don't worry," he added in a voice that was suddenly far too pleased for Rex's liking. "I've called in backup."

    Beside Rex, Tup shifted nervously and glanced around as if the shadows from the trees were about to attack them, which probably wasn't too outlandish of an assumption. Indeed, Rex could feel every iota of his own concentration straining to discern the counter-attack that was most certainly forthcoming.

    When the younger clone spoke, he voice was hushed with confusion. "Backup? What's he talking about, Captain?"

    Rex was wondering much the same thing, especially since it was the first he was hearing of this part of the plan. As much as he wanted to trust Fives, he was instinctively wary, especially given the ARC's recent behavior. "What sort of backup?"

    Even as he said the words, they all heard the distinct sound of a speeder bike, the whining noise growing louder as it approached, then fading to nothing once it rushed by, leaving a rush of air in its wake. Had Rex not been as observant as he was, he would not have seen the passenger of the bike: a feminine form that was clinging to the waist of the clone trooper driving the vehicle.

    After cutting off the mics – internal and external – of his helmet, he let loose a string of virulent swears before he felt calm enough to call up a private channel with the ARC. "She's a civilian, Fives. This is a war-zone...what the hell were you thinking?"

    His brother's reply was swift. "Whatever it takes to get the job done, vod. Besides, Hypatia told me that Brenna's the best man – er, woman – for access-code decryption."

    There wasn't time to argue; what was done, was done. Instead, Rex signaled to his men to mount their own bikes and make for Fives' squad's location, because he'd be damned if he'd let a civilian get shot out here.

    This was no place for someone like her.

    It only took his squad a few moments to reach the Seppie bunker; so far they'd all been lucky, and as he slid off of the speeder – barely before it stopped completely – he saw the rest of Fives' squad standing guard outside the squat building, amidst a few smoking droids lying here and there. No doubt there would be more.

    "Tup, Jess, Cay," he barked into the comm. "Fan out and cover us. I have a bad feeling that this place is about to get hot."

    When his men moved away, he entered the door of the complex proper, most of which was underground; he followed the map that RI had supplied to his HUD down a series of darkened corridors to where Fives was located. Along the way, he checked in with Sergeant Silver's team: all was quiet on the eastern side of the building, which did nothing to quell his nerves. It was always quiet, just before the storm.

    Inside the inner chamber, he could see Fives' distinctive armor as the now-unhelmeted ARC crouched beside a smaller form who was seated in front of an array of glowing terminals; however, rather than looking at the screens, her fingers were dancing, lightning-fast, over the touchscreen of an unfamiliar datapad that he supposed she must have brought along. There was a slender connection cable that ran from the 'pad to the nearest station, and he could see a small, nylon bag at her feet that appeared to contain other bits of tech that he had no knowledge of.

    Actually, he had no idea at all what she was doing, but the determined look on her face indicated that she was intent on her work, so he was loathe to distract her by asking. The console screens themselves contained a blur of numbers and letters that Rex couldn't make heads or tails of, but before he could say anything, Fives twisted around and indicated Brenna with a tilt of his chin.

    "Don't worry, Captain," Fives said in a quiet voice, as if he was also reluctant to disturb her. "I've got the others on the lookout, but she's fast. We'll be done before you know it, Rex."

    At this, Rex glanced back at Brenna, who had eyes for nothing but the little screen before her, though he could have sworn he saw her fingers pause when Fives said his name.

    "We should bring you along on all the missions, Brenna," the ARC added as he looked at her again. "You're pretty handy with these kriffing computers."

    At this she gave a small laugh that was really more of an exhalation of air through her nose, and shook her head; her eyes did not stray from the screen and her fingertips were practically a blur.

    Rex still wanted to object to a civilian presence, but he felt rude doing so in front of her, and Fives' lack of a helmet meant that he couldn't speak to him privately; instead he approached the desk and took a second to study whatever she was doing. Even after a few moments he was lost, so instead he cast her a brief glance.

    Illuminated by the blue glow of the consoles, he thought again that she looked...pretty. Yes, that was the word, he was certain. The shape of her face was pleasing, the lines curving and smooth; even in this light he could see that her skin was creamy pale, and there was a faint scattering of freckles across the bridge of her nose. Her light-brown hair was gathered at the nape of her neck with a few wisps around her face – remnants of the speeder ride, perhaps – and her eyes, a rich brown, were flicking over the screen, her expression indicating that she was absorbed in her task. It was difficult to make out what she was wearing in the dark room, but he caught a glimpse of sturdy boots, which made him wonder if Fives had prepared her for the mission ahead of time without telling him.

    Before Rex or Fives could answer, Silver's voice sounded over their wrist-comms. "We've got droids, Captain," the sergeant shouted, blaster-fire peppering his words. "There's too many for us to take...several of them have made it through out defenses and are coming for you."

    "Almost done," Brenna said suddenly, the words spoken under her breath as if to herself. "Just a few more minutes..."

    "Thank you, but please hurry," Rex replied in as calm a voice he could manage as he withdrew his blasters and put his back to her, Fives doing the same after he replaced his helmet. A few blinks into his HUD opened a channel to the rest of his men. "We've got some visitors, lads," he shouted. "Droids incoming from the east. Be ready for-"

    Even as he said the words, he heard Cay start to swear, the sound quickly followed by the shriek of blaster-fire outside. All around them, the walls started to tremble, as if a legion of droids were approaching, and he knew his men were engaging them. Rex shot a glance back at the console and noted that Brenna's hands were shaking and her face looked significantly paler than it had a moment ago, but she was still working.

    To get a better view of the area as a whole, Rex stepped toward the door that led to the hallway where he'd previously entered, then cast another quick look around him. Besides this door, there was only one other way out of the room: a ventilation duct in the corner, about six centimeters off the floor. Another glance at her; he thought she'd fit, if worse came to worse, and it usually did.

    "When I give the word," he said to Fives, who'd taken a defensive pose beside Brenna. "Get her in that vent over there, behind the desk. We'll discuss this plan of yours later."

    Fives answered in the affirmative, then glanced over at Brenna again; over Rex's comm he could hear his men shouting at the tinnies, though thankfully he still heard everyone's voices, which meant that no one was down. Yet. He took a breath and pitched his voice to be clear and very calm. "Miss Damaris, how much longer?"

    It took her a moment to reply, during which time the walls began to shake a bit harder, and Rex heard the answering tremble in her voice. "Just another minute..."

    "You women," Fives replied with a dramatic sigh. "Always taking your sweet time." There was only teasing in his voice, and Rex saw that the faintest of smiles crept to her face for a moment, to be swiftly replaced by very obvious fear. Her hands were shaking harder now, and Rex watched as she took a few shuddering breaths to steady herself while she worked.

    In one way it was interesting to watch a civilian in this circumstance, as he'd never had the opportunity to observe non-military personnel in a similar situation – save the Gungan senator on Naboo, and Rex didn't really count him – but he was also worried. She shouldn't have been here; it was too dangerous, and despite the fact that she seemed resolved to complete the task at hand, her determination meant that she would very likely get injured, or worse.

    As that thought occurred to him, his hands tightened their grip on his blasters, because he couldn't let such a thing happen. What else was his job, if not to protect those who couldn't protect themselves?

    Suddenly, the distinctive sound of duranium joints creaking down a nearby corridor met his ears, and his body automatically slid into a half-crouch, tensed and waiting. Indeed, he heard Tup shouting into the comm: the droids have broken through and are heading right for you, Captain!

    "Miss Damaris," he said in his calmest, most professional voice as he nodded to Fives. "I really hope you've finished."

    *
    Brenna's hands were shaking, but by some miracle she was able to keep her fingertips steady enough to work. The encryption on the Separatist base was pretty heavy, but it wasn't anything that couldn't be handled with the customized multipurpose decryption software she'd loaded onto her 'pad; however, the sound of blaster-fire and groaning walls all around her as the droids approached – she'd never even seen a battle-droid in person – were both enough to set her heart racing as adrenaline flooded her veins.

    Just a few seconds more...

    As the final sequence of the decryption finished and she downloaded the last of the pertinent information to a datarod, Rex spoke her name. The sudden but rich timbre of his voice nearly made her start out of her chair, but she managed to retain her composure enough to reply.

    "Done," she said, the word coming out more like a gasp as she slipped the 'rod into a secure pocket of her gear-bag.

    The instant she'd stowed her 'pad and the rest of her kit, she felt herself being lifted out of the chair and shoved rather abruptly into a nearby ventilation shaft by an apologetic Fives; behind him, she could see flashes of electric red and blue light as a few initial shots rang off. That and the horrific shrieking sound alerted her to the reality that a battle was about to take place right before her eyes.

    After she clambered in the vent, Fives handed her a small blaster – handle-first – before he began to fit the cover back on the opening. "Stay here and keep quiet," he said in a soft but serious voice. "Rex and I will cover you, but if anything goes wrong, this vent leads to the surface so you should be able to get yourself out of here in one piece."

    With that, he turned away and went to join the captain. There was a brief pause in blaster-fire, and she hoped for a minute that the clones had shot all of them and the ordeal was over already, but she had no such luck. Spindly shadows could be seen coming down the corridor, their shambling gait slow but painfully steady.

    Moving as one, both soldiers sprang into action.

    For a few minutes, everything she could discern through the grated vent-cover was a blur of color and sound; aside from the streaking plasma bolts that illuminated the room, she could see the clones' armor, dim but still white against the darkness, and make out the briefest flickering of the console's lights against the droids' metallic bodies.

    The sound was unlike anything she'd ever heard: violent, shrieking, metal clattering and clanging as the droids were felled one by one by the two men who moved through the chaos with ease. Her ears were ringing from the blaster-fire and her fingers closed around something solid; looking down, she stared at the blaster that Fives had placed in her sweating hand. She had no clue how to fire it, but was reluctant to move even enough to set it down.

    Fives' words rang in her ears: If anything goes wrong...

    Her throat was completely dry and she felt lightheaded; she needed to breathe, but each inhale brought in the acrid scent of plasma and smoke, both of which had a metallic tang from the droids that were piling around the clones. Doubled over in the little vent, Brenna could hardly take a breath, especially with her heart threatening to pummel its way out of her ribcage. It was horribly loud, louder than anything she'd ever heard, and the piercing lights of blaster-fire were jarring against the darkness.

    To try and distract herself, Brenna watched Rex. Each of his movements was fluid and precise, each lift of his arm or adjustment to his stance was designed for maximum efficiency; at his feet, the droids fell like rag-dolls. Every now and then she caught a glimpse of his visor, and she imagined that his face was determined and calm. He'd been so calm as he spoke to her, clearly not wanting her to be frightened, but needing to make sure that she understood the severity of their situation.

    Brenna's hands were slick with sweat, and she tried to will them to stop shaking. For one moment she squeezed her eyes shut in an attempt to stem the panic that was welling within her, but she failed.

    If anything goes wrong...

    If she died here, her daughter would never see her again.

    It was a reality that made her stomach churn and her breath grow even shorter. Dizziness overtook her along with a clenching fear, because she was quite certain she was going to be shot to pieces in a matter of moments.

    That was when a sound caught her attention. Later, she wouldn't recall exactly what happened, only that when her eyes opened, she saw that one of the droids had slipped past the clones' defenses and was approaching her location. Instinctively, Brenna tried to back away, to make herself smaller, anything to make it not see that she was there and go away, but her movements must have caught its eyes – or photoreceptors – because its weapon lifted.
    Her heart was beating so loud it drowned out all other noises, including the sound of a male voice, shouting something unintelligible.

    The droid aimed.

    *
    Cliffhanger! :p

    After writing so many battle scenes with clones and Jedi, both of whom are trained to handle this type of intense, life-threatening situation, I wondered how a "normal" person might react to such an event. Not good, as it turns out, but I doubt I'd react much differently. (I can't even tolerate the sound of gunshots, so this kind of scenario is like my worst nightmare.)

    Endless, endless thanks to Jade-Max for providing me with some much-needed "techspeak" for this chapter. :)

    Slight editorial change in the original text due to some excellent feedback from SerendipityAEY. Thank you! :D

    Thanks for reading!
    Next time: Rex is a knight in shining armor, naturally. ;)
    Last edited by laloga, Dec 31, 2012
    serendipityaey likes this.
  8. Luna_Nightshade Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Jan 25, 2006
    star 5
    :D
    I have missed your Rex. And your Fives and all the others, as well as the heavy dose of "Clone Wars" I get when I read your chapters. I'm sure I will like Rex and Brenna, too, if he ever gets brave enough to ask her out. I'm also quite intrigued that she has a daughter--I hope that's a story that will come up at some point.

    Batcall me when you get to the next chapter, please?
    serendipityaey likes this.
  9. laloga Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2011
    star 2

    @Luna_Nightshade If you like clones and TCW, then you have come to the right place! ;) Ah, much excitement to come. Thanks so much for reading and for the comment! You rock! :D

    ***
    Chapter Five

    All things considered, Rex thought that it wasn't that bad of a skirmish. It was over relatively quickly; the droids outside were felled with his men's usual alacrity – all squads having reconvened to work as one unit – and he and Fives were more than able to handle the few that had found their way through the complex.

    As they were picking off the remaining droids in the corridor, Rex happened to glance behind him in time to see a lone B1 make its way for the vent where Fives had placed Brenna. Without thinking, the captain turned and fired upon the blasted thing even as he shouted a warning to Fives.

    After that, it really was over.

    "That was invigorating," Fives said, holstering his blaster with a twirl and tilting his bucket towards Rex.

    "I'll go out there and see what the damage is," Rex replied, sliding his own weapons in their places at his sides. "You check on our civilian friend and make sure she's in one..."

    He frowned as Fives turned and darted off through the corridor, towards the exit. Honestly, what's the point of being in command, sometimes? Kriffing ARC troopers.

    "I remember when you were just a shiny, you know," he called out to Fives' retreating figure.

    In response, the ARC muttered some nonsense over the comm about it being the Captain's duty to handle any civvies; it was impossible to miss the innuendo that dripped from the words, but Rex chose to ignore it for now.

    The room was small and the presence of so many dead tinnies made moving a bit awkward, but Rex managed to wade through the heaps of scrap metal to reach the vent where she'd been hiding. There were a few scorch marks along the wall surrounding it, but nothing serious, so he figured she'd be unharmed and more than ready to leave. He certainly was.

    But there was no movement from the vent, and he felt a flash of apprehension: what if she'd been injured, somehow? Kneeling down, Rex gently pried the grating cover loose from the wall and peered inside the darkened chamber. "Miss Damaris? Are you okay?"

    She was there, seated and doubled-over with her hands clapped against her ears; he could see the strap of the gear-bag she'd brought resting behind her, and he frowned as he noted a small blaster that she was clutching with white knuckles.

    Rex took a breath, then reached up to remove his bucket, the opening seal making a soft hiss as he did so. "It's over, ma'am," he said once his helmet was clipped to his belt. "Are you injured?"

    "Did we win?"

    Rex had to bite his tongue to not laugh at the words, which struck him as more than a little silly. "We're alive, so I think that's an affirmative. We shouldn't linger, though. Here, I'll assist you..."

    He extended his hand to help her out, but she didn't move. A closer inspection showed him that her breathing was shallow and ragged, and he could see that her shirt was almost soaked through with sweat.

    Terrified...she was immobile with fear, and his amusement evaporated right along with his formality. "Brenna?"

    At the sound of her name she looked up, seeming to note his presence for the first time, and he saw that her face was streaked with tears and her lip was swollen and pink as if she'd been biting it. "Rex?"

    "It's okay," he said again, keeping his voice gentle. "We won. Can you come out, please? I don't think I can squeeze in there with the pauldron." Though I'll take it off if I have to.

    She nodded and after slinging the strap of her bag across her shoulder, began to crawl forward. As she did so, he reached out and plucked the blaster from her hand to clip it to his belt, after checking to see that the safety was on – it was, thankfully. The moment she was out of the vent, she began to hyperventilate in earnest; her entire body trembled and he thought that she looked ghost-pale.

    Alarm coursed through him; he'd seen shinies exhibit some of these symptoms of shock after their first battle, but she looked an inch from passing out altogether. No, she certainly wasn't made for this kind of thing, and he felt the need to keep reassuring her. "You're safe, Miss Damaris. It's over. Come on, I'll help you negotiate the way out of here."

    Indeed, the floor was littered with droid parts, so much so that he briefly debated carrying her, but shook the thought away as she nodded and began to step forward. She was still shaking, but he could see that she was fighting for control, and he realized that he felt odd seeing her this way. It was too familiar - almost intimate - not to mention how unnerving it was to see how she looked as if any moment she'd collapse.

    There was a metallic clatter as she tripped over the smoking husk of a B1, so he offered his gloved hand to steady her. She accepted with a grip that was firmer than he'd anticipated, and together they made their way through the room.

    "Captain?"

    "Jesse," he replied into his wrist-comm, watching as Brenna picked her way over a couple of droids that had tangled together where they'd fallen. "What's up?"
    "We're all accounted for and ready to bang-out. Is she...?"

    He shot her a glance, which she returned with a quick nod. "We're coming," he replied into his comm. "But I don't want anyone to wait for us. Clear the area; we'll meet you at the RV point in ten."

    There was a muffle of static, but he nodded to himself at Jesse's affirmative reply, then looked back at her. As she met his gaze, she seemed to know what he was going to say. "I'm sorry...I'll hurry."

    "I can carry you," he offered, and immediately felt ridiculous for the suggestion when her features tensed and she gave a swift shake of her head. "Or..."

    "No, thanks," she said after taking a breath and situating the strap of the gear-bag more securely across her torso. "I'm okay."

    Neither of them spoke for a few minutes as they made their way across the room to the corridor, which felt to Rex as though they stretched on forever. However, once they cleared the room where the console had been, the going was a bit easier and he noted with relief that she seemed more steady.

    At some point she'd dropped his hand; currently her arms were around her stomach and she was walking with her head tilted slightly down, as though watching her steps. It was not until he heard a halted inhalation of breath that he realized she was crying.

    That was enough to make him pause; he'd seen Ahsoka cry before, and had some idea of how to comfort her, but Brenna was an unknown element, and he had a feeling he'd already upset her somehow by offering to carry her out. As it was, she kept walking, though she stumbled over a loose wire in the floor, prevented from falling only because he caught her elbow.

    "I'm sorry," she said again, her voice soft and shaking. "I'm okay..."

    While he was hyper-aware of the seconds that were ticking by, Rex had never received training for this kind of situation; however, common-sense told him that she needed a distraction to take her mind off of what had just happened so they could make haste.

    As they began walking again and he cleared his throat. "Thank you," he said. "For what you did back there...you saved the mission, you know, though I wish that things hadn't gotten quite as exciting for you."

    "When Fives contacted me about it yesterday, I thought it would be easy," she replied with a shake of her head, her left hand reaching up to wipe at her eyes. "And my supervisor told me I'd get hazard pay, so..."

    She took another shuddering breath, then looked up at him. "I didn't realize it would be...like that. I had no idea."

    He shrugged and stepped aside to avoid the smoldering remains of a droid that must have tumbled down the stairs ahead. It was dark here, uncomfortably so, and he thought of Umbara before he could stop himself. "You're a civilian, ma'am," he said after a moment. "You weren't made for this, not like me and my brothers were."

    The words came out darker than he'd intended, and he hoped that she didn't take it personally; a sideways glance indicated that she appeared to be distressed, and he sighed inwardly at his mistake. However, in the next moment she looked his way again; they'd reached the foot of the stairs that led to the surface, but she paused as if to study him. Her mouth opened to speak, then he watched as she flushed and looked at her feet.

    "Is something wrong?"

    At his words she took a breath and met his eyes again. "It's probably silly of me to ask, but...has anyone ever thanked you? You and your brothers, I mean. For..." Her hand lifted to indicate the area around them. "All of this?"

    A quick analysis of her tone told him that there was only sincerity in the words, and he was unsure what kind of reply would be appropriate. The generals had thanked him on more than one occasion; Ahsoka always made it a point to acknowledge him and his men, but he knew on some level that wasn't what she was referring to.

    Suddenly, he felt an urge to be moving, as time was still short, but her eyes on him were expectant. Finally he shook his head. "No, Miss Damaris. Why would anyone thank us for doing what we're programmed to do?"

    Again, the words came out with more bitterness than he'd meant. Again, she seemed upset, but this time when she spoke her voice held more certainty. "You're not programmed."

    "How would you know such a thing?"

    She smoothed back her hair and gave him a look that was filled with something he identified as regret. "I just do."

    Rex had no response to that, so he simply nodded and made for the stairs. When he stuck his head out of the door, the light from all six of Ithor's moons saturated the area, painting the charred bodies of droids in a silvery glow. His speeder-bike was where he'd left it, and a quick mental calculation told him that they still had a few minutes before they'd be late to meet the others at the rendezvous point. When he stepped out, she followed him silently and they headed for his bike, though she hesitated before mounting behind him while he slid his bucket back over his head.

    "Miss Damaris...?" Rex suddenly felt very tired; he had no wish to remain on this planet any longer, but she'd remained standing about an arm's length away, and still seemed to be considering something.

    When she looked at him again, the light from the moons was reflected back at him within her eyes. "Thank you, Rex. For...well..." Even in the pale moonlight he could tell that she was flushing, which – oddly enough – cast most of his irritation away. "For everything."

    With that, she slipped up behind him and placed her hands on his waist; her touch was light, but firm. He activated the engine and they sped into the darkness, together.
    *
    The first thing that Brenna did when she got to her quarters aboard the Resolute was call her daughter. Still wearing the filthy clothes she'd had on during the mission, she took a seat on her bed and activated the secure link that would open a channel to Alderaan, to her brother Caith's house. It was around dinnertime on her home planet, and she knew that the entire family would be there.

    Her sister-in-law, Edme, answered. "Bren?"

    "I need to talk to Iri." The words rushed out but she couldn't help their abruptness – all she could think about was speaking to her daughter. Edme's eyes swept over her before the other woman nodded, turning to a spot out of range and beckoning to someone that Brenna couldn't see. Her heart was pounding, but every bit of agitation fled as the toddler came into view.

    "There's my girl," she said with a smile that widened further when the almost two-year old recognized her and gave an exuberant wave.

    Iri's answering smile was bright and there were traces of paint on her fingers and face. "Mama!"

    Her daughter's voice made her eyes grow hot, but Brenna shook the feeling away and leaned closer to the transmitter, wishing she could reach her hand through and touch her baby. There were a few minutes of the little girl chattering away – Iri knew quite a few words, but was still working to put them into sentences – during which Brenna could only watch and fight back her own longing. As she listened to her daughter, Brenna was unaware of the room around her, of the soft hum of the hyperdrive in the background, or the recycled air that was always too cool, even for someone from Alderaan's wind-swept plains.

    After a moment, Iri paused, then bit her lip as her pale brows furrowed with concern. "Mama home?"

    Brenna took a shaking breath but kept her features smooth. "We talked about this Iri, remember? I have to be away for a while, but I promise to see you as soon as I can."

    "Now?"

    She hated giving her daughter vague answers, but the reality was she had no true idea of when she could go back to Alderaan, even for a brief visit; it was part of her contract to remain in the service of the GAR until her two year tenure was up. If she were to leave for any unapproved reason, her position would be filled by one of the thousands of applicants vying for such a well-paying job. Aside from a few bits of leave here and there, she hadn't seen her daughter in...

    Well, she didn't want to think about it, but it had been far too long.

    Brenna's only consolation was that she was earning enough money to not only support her daughter, but to put away in what was becoming a rather significant nest-egg.

    To Iri she gave what she hoped was a comforting smile. "I don't know exactly. But I need you to do something for me, okay?" Iri nodded and leaned forward, a serious expression on her face despite the fact that she had sprinkles of finger-paint on her chubby cheeks. "I need you to learn as much as you can and be on your best behavior for Uncle Caith and Aunt Edme. Will you do that, please?"

    Logically, Brenna knew that Irini was far too young to truly understand what she was hearing; however, when her daughter smiled and nodded again, as if pleased to have a "mission," of a sort, Brenna had to chuckle at the earnest expression. She also felt a fierce kind of pride, one that brimmed over with joy despite her absence from her daughter, because Iri was able to sit still and pay attention to something as abstract as a holo-call. From what Brenna knew of other children, such a thing was pretty well impossible for kids her age.

    Iri was still smiling, so Brenna gave a silent exhale as she continued. "Caith, can I talk to you for a minute?"

    Of course, Iri wasn't capable of conducting a holo-call on her own, and Brenna figured that her brother was also around. Indeed, the image shuddered and crackled, but the connection held as her brother appeared, his expression indicating concern. Although he was five years her senior, Brenna always thought that Caith looked like her, which in this moment made her feel oddly homesick. "Are you okay, Bren? You look..."

    "I'm fine," she replied with a nod even as her mind flashed back to Rex reaching for her while she was huddled in the little vent. "I just...had a rough day."
    There was a pause as she watched Iri in the background, returning to the finger-painting, then she swallowed. "She looks good."

    "She's doing very well," Caith said, a sympathetic smile creasing his features. "She amazes us every day with how quickly she learns. You know, I thought my Tavi was a fast learner, but Iri is something else..."

    He trailed off, seeing the look on Brenna's face, then added. "She misses her mother, though."

    It was harder to keep herself together in front of her brother, but Brenna managed. Barely. "The feeling is mutual, believe me." She paused, thinking of the day's events and her hazard pay, then cleared her throat. "I'll be sending along a larger amount than normal next pay-cycle; will you see that it's put into my savings?"

    Caith didn't miss a thing. "What happened?"

    "It's nothing-"

    "Bren."

    She sighed and rubbed at her eyes with the heels of her hands before replying. "I was...involved in a skirmish today. I'm fine," she added as his mouth fell open. "Not a scratch. But it was...well, it was a little frightening, and I just...I wanted to talk to her."

    Her brother's eyes narrowed. "I thought your job was purely administrative? When you started working on that warship, you said that you weren't going to be involved in any of the fighting."

    "I know, but this was a one-time thing." He still looked unhappy and she inhaled deeply. "Caith...I promise. My job is normally so quiet, the only danger is that I might die of boredom." To further draw his attention away from her situation, she lightened her tone and gave him a smile. "Anyway, how are the rest of you doing?"

    At this, Caith looked pensive, his eyes darting off-screen for one moment before flickering back to her. "We're doing well, Bren." There was a pause, then he added: "Actually...Edme and I had dinner with Mom the other night. It was very civilized."

    The mention of their mother sent a flash of old anger through Brenna, but she kept it in check and tried to look pleased. "How is she?"

    "Mostly the same," he replied in a wry voice. "She called us a few days ago, wanting to see us for dinner. Ed and I left Tav and Iri with a sitter, so it was just us adults. "

    "Sounds like fun," Brenna said, trying to keep the sarcasm from her voice.

    In his fashion, Caith ignored her tone and continued. "The ranch was a bit quieter than I remember, but she seemed to be doing alright...you know, it's been almost fifteen years since dad died." He paused to let the words sink in, then added: "She asked about you."

    "She knows how to get in touch with me," Brenna replied, straightening her back. Her father's death was not something that they generally talked about, though the realization that it had been so long since it'd happened hit her harder than she expected.

    "Besides," she added. "I'm not the one who decided to stop speaking to her after I left Alderaan, remember?" At Caith's look of frustration she sighed and shook her head. "I'm sorry...it's not your problem. I am glad that you're getting back on good terms with her, at least."

    He nodded, but his eyes were a little sad. There was a pause that stretched a bit longer then it should have before she couldn't bear it any more. "So you're all doing well? Did Tavi make the the junior smashball team he tried out for?"

    As she'd hoped, her brother smiled at the mention of his young son's name and she tried not to chuckle as his chest puffed up with pride. "Yes, he did, and now that's all he talks about, as you can well imagine..."

    They discussed mundane matters for a while longer, until Brenna glanced at her chrono and realized that it was probably getting close to Iri's bedtime. "Can I talk to her again before Edme puts her down for the night?"

    There was a pause, during which she watched him consider something else; she steeled herself for the next question, the one he always asked her, no matter what. A moment later she watched his eyes shift to her daughter, then back her way. "You haven't heard from him, have you?"

    Brenna shook her head, watching as Caith's expression flicker between anger and old sorrow, though he kept it hidden well when he spoke again. "Okay. I'll put her on."

    After she wished her daughter good night, promising to call again when she got the opportunity, Brenna flicked off the holo-transmitter and sat on the edge of her bed for a few minutes, staring at the device in her hand without really seeing it. Her thoughts were on Alderaan, but they didn't remain there.

    Caith's question reminded her that she hadn't checked on Tucker's status in a few weeks; however, she didn't feel like doing much of anything but collapsing in her bed and sleeping for the next few days, or at least until her next shift started. So she set the device in the nightstand by her bed, peeled out of her filthy clothes and stepped to the 'fresher. Perhaps a shower would help calm her down, or at least quell some of the agitation that chipped away at her heart.

    Failing that, sleep would be a more than welcome reprieve from her own thoughts.

    ***
    Little more about Bren's backstory and life situation here; there are some pretty heavy-handed hints being dropped about Iri's dad, but the full story won't get revealed until a bit later, as it's always tricky to balance information about a new character with the pacing of the rest of the fic.

    Additionally, I don't have kids, so many details about Iri may be "off." A lot of it can be explained by her parentage, but I know I missed the mark on a few occasions throughout the story. Many thanks to SerendipityAEY for giving me some pointers on writing a toddler! :D

    Thanks for reading!

    Next time: post-mission briefing, and Ahsoka has a favor...
    Last edited by laloga, Jan 4, 2013
  10. Jade_Max Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jun 28, 2002
    star 5
    Ack - I'm behind!

    Like that's a surprise :p

    I love the action in the previous chapter. Rex tending to things as per normal, the vivid difference between he and Fives and Brenna in their reactions to the situations is crazy telling. Soldiers, born and bred and seasoned, don't panic in the fact of danger. Brenna, on the other hand, isn't familiar with combat and her terror is palpable.

    I have to say that Fives and his shenanigans is going to get him in trouble! Bringing Brenna in without clearing it with Rex is going to get him called on the carpet; too bad Rex can't demote him like he once promoted him :p

    The tension through the chapter is fantastic; edge of the seat fantastic :D

    And you're welcome for the tech speak - it was my pleasure; anytime!
  11. laloga Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2011
    star 2
    @Jade_Max Thank you for the comment! :D I worked hard to create a "believable" civilian reaction to a firefight. So often on TCW we only see soldiers reacting to such a thing, so I wanted to show how a "normal" (though that term is relative) person would react.

    Fives' shenanigans...sigh. He means well, he really does. He just has his own way of showing it. :p

    Thanks again!

    ****
    Chapter Six

    The morning after the Ithor skirmish, Rex was the first to arrive at the tactical room for the post-mission briefing. Happily someone had thought to provide a full pot of caf, some mugs, cream and sugar, all of which the captain helped himself to while he waited, as he was feeling a little more tired than he should have. Mug in hand, he idly scrolled through the datapad that contained his report of the latest mission, going over the text one last time for any spelling or grammatical errors before he transmitted it to the Jedi.

    When he reached the part where Brenna had come in, his eyes narrowed. Fives had skillfully avoided him last night and all this morning, but a reprimand was coming, because Rex was not pleased that the ARC had gone over his head and brought a civilian into a hostile situation. However, despite his misgivings, she had performed her task well – admirably well – especially considering how upset she'd been by the entire experience.

    It still bothered him that she'd been frightened, and it was not entirely because she shouldn't have been in a situation like that to begin with, untrained as she was. No, it bothered him because of how nonchalant he and Fives had been about the skirmish, an attitude that contrasted so severely with her fear and bewilderment once he'd gotten her out of that ventilation duct.

    War. Fighting. Yes, he'd been trained to handle both on a daily basis, but were they really all he knew?

    Rex considered himself – not quite as worldly as Fives claimed to be – but observant and experienced, in many aspects of life. Until recently, he'd thought he had a pretty good handle on civilians, interacting with them, at least. But Brenna's terrified reaction to something he considered mundane had thrown him for a loop, and he wasn't quite certain what to make of the disparity between their perspectives.

    Additionally, his slip-up at the cantina the night he'd met her still bothered him, because he didn't like making errors in judgment, even in non-combative situations. He'd offended her when she'd only been trying to be kind. Even though she'd accepted his clumsy apology, he couldn't really shake the encounter from his thoughts.

    Rex wasn't certain what that meant either, but he would bet his blasters that it wasn't good.

    The sound of the door hissing open brought his attention back to the moment, and he gave a salute as General Skywalker and Ahsoka entered the room. Skywalker returned the gesture with a nod while his Padawan shot Rex one of her customary bright smiles, and once everyone was outfitted with a cup of caf, they gathered around the holo-proj so that Rex could fill them in on Ithor.

    When he reached the point where Fives had brought Brenna along, his eyes moved to the general, because he figured that Skywalker would have something to say about a potential civilian casualty.

    Indeed, Anakin's eyes narrowed and he frowned at Rex. “A contractor from the Resolute? She didn't get hurt, right?”

    Miss Damaris was unharmed,” Rex replied with a nod; he thought of her tear-streaked face and frowned, adding: “She was a bit shaken by the ordeal, but physically she was fine.”

    Still, that's not okay,” Ahsoka added, frowning as well. “Fives shouldn't have brought her in without consulting one of us. Unless...Master, he didn't ask you, did he?”

    Both Rex and Ahsoka glanced at the Jedi, who gave a slow shake of his head. “No, he didn't. At least it worked out in the end...this time.”

    I've noticed that Fives has been...unsettled since Umbara,” Ahsoka ventured, casting Rex a careful look. “So have a lot of the others.”

    Skywalker exhaled and rubbed at his forehead as if pained. “I know. I still feel horrible about all of that, Rex...”

    Sir, there's no need to-”

    No, there is,” the Jedi said, giving Rex one of those looks that made the clone think that he could see straight through his skull to his very thoughts. “I know I've said it before, but what you had to go through with Krell...Rex, you – all of you – deserved better than...well...what you got.”

    Rex couldn't really find his voice for a moment, so he gave a swift nod of acknowledgment, and the general continued. “If Fives is still...unsettled, just talk to him about his actions. No formal reprimand needed. But it can't happen again,” Skywalker added, his eyes flashing. “The last thing I need is the Council getting in an uproar because some civilian got killed on one of our missions.”

    The tone of his voice had taken a slightly darker turn at the mention of the Jedi Council, but it was not a wholly unfamiliar one; through past conversations with Ahsoka, Rex knew that the young general was often at odds with his fellow Jedi.

    However, internal Jedi affairs were far and away not his area of expertise – or concern, for that matter – so Rex only gave another nod, after which Skywalker held up a datapad that he'd carried into the room. “That reminds me: we got a communique from Master Ti. It looks like the new recruits that we were hoping for from Kamino aren't going to happen.”

    Rex was unable to help the flare of unease at the Jedi's words. “That's...that's not good. The 501st is still recovering from the substantial losses on Umbara – and the War in general. Torrent Company alone is down to forty percent of its men...”

    Skywalker frowned at the datapad as though the piece of tech itself were responsible for the bad news. “We're still getting clones to supplement Torrent and some other companies within the 501st...ever heard of Spaarti Creations on Cartao?” Both Rex and Ahsoka shook their heads and the Jedi continued. “They were contracted after the first year of the Wars to supplement the Fett clones – they're also of Jango's DNA, apparently, though I don't know how all of that got worked out.”

    Ahsoka furrowed her brow-lines and reached to pluck the datapad out of her teacher's hand. “Why haven't we heard of them before now?”

    The Chancellor has his reasons,” Skywalker replied with a shrug as he watched his Padawan scan the 'pad's contents. “He's the one who authorized the contract with Spaarti Creations. In any case, the clones from Kamino are growing fewer and farther in between, so this is a good thing overall. Assuming they work out, that is.”

    Rex felt another lurch of foreboding when Ahsoka lifted her eyes from the device, a disturbed expression on her face. “This is...unreal; it says here that Spaarti is able to grow and train a clone to maturity in only a year...Master, is that true?”

    A year?” Rex felt his eyes widen.

    Skywalker gave a deep exhale as Ahsoka handed the datapad back to him. “Yeah, I read that. It's why I have some misgivings about them, so I sent Appo to personally collect some of the units that are assigned to the 501st; he'll make a report once he takes a look at them. From what I can tell, we're getting some of the first Spaarti clones, so we can 'test' them out on the battlefield. Lucky us.”

    Lucky us, indeed, Rex thought with a frown. New clones were normally not a problem; shinies were inexperienced, but he was confident in his ability to mold them into the soldiers they were bred to be, mostly because he knew what kind of raw material he was working with. Despite their differences – and there were many, no matter what some thought – each clone shared the same training that ensured that they'd be successful at their duty as defenders of the Republic.

    But a new kind of clone, grown and trained within a year? He had no idea how such a thing was even possible, let alone effective. How would they react to the rigors of battle, not to mention integration with older, well-established groups of brothers? Something like fear tightened in his throat, but he pushed it back because surely there were some vital details of which he wasn't aware.

    Everything would be fine; he just needed to know more. Before he spoke, Rex took a breath to collect himself. “Sir, do you have any more information on these Spaarti clones?”

    General Skywalker nodded and flicked his fingers across his datapad; moments later a tiny light on Rex's own 'pad began blinking, indicating that he'd received the information. There was a bit more discussion before Skywalker's comm began to chirrup; as he glanced at the message – text-only, from what Rex could tell – he sucked in his breath and an odd, half-smile came over his face.

    Everything okay, Master?”

    Yeah...” The Jedi blinked a few times, then glanced up at his Padawan and the captain as if seeing them for the first time. “I just...need to send a quick message. I'll find you in a bit, Snips.” Without waiting for a reply, he turned on his heel and exited the room, the door hissing shut in his wake.

    The instant that the door closed, Ahsoka and Rex looked at one another. “Is he okay?” Rex asked, his brow furrowing. “He seemed a bit...distracted.”

    She frowned as well, but nodded. “He's got a lot on his plate. Like we all do, I guess. Especially with those new clones coming.”

    Right...”

    Ahsoka gave him a smile, the kind that was meant to reassure but always made him feel like his armor was uncomfortably two sizes too small. “It'll be okay, Rexter. I know that you and the others can get them into shape. But since they're going to be so shiny, I think you should only using your second-scariest glare on them, okay?”

    Despite his own misgivings, her words made him chuckle; as he reached for the holo-proj to close out the image of Ithor that had been left up, Ahsoka shifted in place, indecision written on her features; a moment later, she cleared her throat and stepped forward, moving around the rounded proj so that she was standing before him. “Rex...can I talk to you for a second? Off the record...”

    Of course.” He tried not to acknowledge the sudden increase of his heart rate at her proximity, nor the accompanying heat that crept up his neck to his ears. In her way, she seemed not to notice; instead, she gave a deep exhale and picked up his datapad, idly thumbing through it while her expression indicated she was still debating something.

    He waited another moment, then cleared his throat.

    It was his way of gently urging her to speak. It seemed to work, for she grimaced and set the 'pad down to meet his eyes. “It's more teenager stuff, so you might not want to hear about it. Actually, it's really more of a favor, I guess. Actually, I'm not sure what category it could fit into, really, but I guess 'favor' would work, even though I don't know if you can help me-”

    Ahsoka.”

    She sighed again, but a smile spread across her face. “Okay. Here it is: I want to send out a transmission, but I need to make sure that it can't be...found. Traced, detected, whatever. It's not technically against regulation, but I'm not sure how to go about doing it. Do...you know how?”

    At first he was wary, for she was almost-but-not-quite asking him to break the rules – for her, but still – and he wasn't entirely comfortable with such a thing. However, the wariness was swiftly replaced with acute disappointment, because he figured there was only one person in the galaxy whom she'd want to contact in this surreptitious manner.

    Even so, he had to know for certain. “I think I can manage it,” he said slowly. “But...if you don't mind...will you tell me to whom?”

    It was not an unusual request, and she must have anticipated it before she'd decided to ask him the favor, but she hesitated again, and his suspicions were confirmed without so much as a word from her. However, she nodded and an accompanying lovely dark flush swept through her montrals when she said his name. “Lux Bonteri. Remember me telling you about him?”

    Rex chose not to answer that question, instead taking a moment to sort through his own emotions; jealousy warred with regret, but above it all was disappointment with himself, because he should have been over his “crush” by now. However, before she could detect his feelings in her Jedi-way, he shuttered them back and gave her what he hoped was an impassive look.

    No, it's not technically against regs, but...” He frowned, thinking over how best to form the inevitable question. “Ahsoka, I know it's not for me to question you about Jedi matters...but what about the Code?”

    She shook her head, lekku swaying with the motion. “I'm not planning on marrying the guy, Rexter. I just want to talk to him, you know? Keep tabs on how he's doing, make sure he doesn't get into anything he can't handle...that kind of thing.”

    A light laugh escaped her, perhaps at some memory she shared with Bonteri, and Rex's chest felt a bit more hollow at the sound. In the next moment, though, her face changed and she looked a bit chagrined, as if she regretted asking him such a favor when she – he was certain – knew how he felt about her despite his efforts to keep his thoughts to himself. The realization struck Rex that she must really like this Bonteri fellow, to have approached him with such forwardness.

    Since the very last thing that Rex wanted was for her to be upset or uncomfortable about anything to do with him, he offered her a reassuring smile. “Sounds like a plan, kid. I'll see what I can do.”

    As he'd hoped, a pleased look crossed her face along with a measure of relief, though he tried not to feel a sting of regret, because he knew her so well, well enough to know how to change her mood with only a few words.

    You know I can't talk to Skyguy about this, right?” The Padawan's question was soft, uncertain, and her expression faded to a look of concern. “He still thinks of me as 'Snips the youngling.'”

    That was – oddly enough – more comfortable ground for the captain, and he gave a slow nod in response. “Like I said, he seemed a bit...out of sorts, there at the end of the briefing. Anything happen that I should be aware of?”

    Even as he said the words he thought of the general's half-smile. The Jedi had been...pleased about something, but that 'something' had been distracting, which indicated that it was probably not work-related. Personal, then. Something to do with Senator Amidala? Rex frowned to himself. Surely that was idle speculation on his part; perhaps he'd been letting the gossiping habits of his men affect him more than he should.

    As if reading his thoughts, Ahsoka furrowed her brow again and shook her head. “The other day he mentioned something about being anxious to get back to Coruscant, but that's really all I know...all that's recent, anyway. I'm keeping an eye on him.”

    Business as usual, then?”

    At his wry tone she gave him another smile, the same kind as before, the kind that usually made him wish he had his bucket on to prevent her from seeing his ears get red. Usually. This time, by some miracle, Rex found that he was able to meet her eyes without any part of his anatomy growing overly warm. There was a single moment of silence between them, then she dug in her pocket and pulled out a datarod.

    This has the message I'd like to send, and its destination,” she said as she handed it to him, watching as he tucked the 'rod in his belt. “It's not weird or anything, you can read it if you want. I trust you.”

    He shook his head. “It's private, Ahsoka. I won't read it.”

    Thanks, Rexter.” She paused, then reached out to put her hand on his gauntleted forearm. “You're a good friend.”

    Again, the smile. Yes, he thought with a mental sigh. This will take some getting used to. In response, he only nodded to her and – after a moment's consideration – patted her hand with his own. “You too, kid.”


    *****
    Oh, look...plot! Did you see it? ;)

    A little non-Rexsoka angst for the shippers...but they make good friends, too! :)

    The Spaarti clones are a topic I sorta tackled in a previous story, (Eye of the Storm: Alchemy), but not to the degree they're handled in this one. Everything about them is as accurate as I can make it; hopefully it all jives.

    Thanks for reading! Please leave a review, even if it's just a few words; I'm always happy to know what you guys think about the stuff I write.:)

    Next up: now it's Rex's turn to ask someone for a favor...

    Last edited by laloga, Jan 16, 2013
    serendipityaey likes this.
  12. Valairy Scot Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Sep 16, 2005
    star 5
    I'm all caught up - just had to read even if it's not about my fav Jedi because, well, I can't resist a good story. And this clearly is one.
    serendipityaey and laloga like this.
  13. JSolo-Wan Jedi Padawan

    Member Since:
    Dec 24, 2012
    Really great. I feel just as anxious as Rex does whenever they interact...great writing!

    Tag please!
    serendipityaey likes this.
  14. Luna_Nightshade Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Jan 25, 2006
    star 5
    I always love Rex's inner monologues, and the way you write Ahsoka and Skywalker together. I really enjoy how the Clone Wars feels in your stories--a lot clearer than the show sometimes is. Great update!
  15. laloga Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2011
    star 2
    @Valairy Scot :D Thank you so much! I know how much you love a certain Jedi (and who can blame you? [face_love]), so it means a ton that you're reading this fic.

    @JSolo-Wan So glad you're enjoying this! Thanks for the comment. :)

    @Luna_Nightshade The Clone Wars are such a dynamic era; it's a blast to write during this time period. So glad you like how the character interactions are coming across. Thank you for the lovely comment!

    *****
    Chapter Seven

    When he and Ahsoka finished their conversation, Rex only debated for one moment before making a decision and heading for Sector R-12. He didn't have long before he'd be expected to lead his men in today's drills and practices, so he ensured that his steps were swift.

    Certainly, there was no other reason to hurry, although a niggling part of his brain teased him that he didn't want to wait to fulfill this aspect of his informal “assignment.”

    Because that was how he had to look at it. An assignment, like any other, albeit this one would be “off the record.” He knew that it was technically more of a favor, but right now he preferred to think of Ahsoka's request in a more formal manner. It was easier.

    It took him longer than he'd anticipated to reach the sector where Brenna worked, again making him realize how unused he was to facets of the GAR that didn't directly involve his men or fighting of any kind. As he made his way through the labyrinthine passages of the Resolute towards the administrative section, he also wondered if the hurry in his steps was – in fact – sprung from a desire to see the brown-haired young woman again.

    But that would be foolish, wouldn't it? He wasn't like Fives, of whom there were rumors that he jumped from lover to lover without thinking twice. And while Rex could appreciate an attractive female as well as any man, he'd only ever really thought that there would be one woman to whom he'd be truly drawn.

    But Ahsoka had made her point clear enough, and while he wasn't thrilled with her choice, he knew he had to respect it and move on. Not that he was planning on doing so now, with...anyone, but he figured that acknowledging the fact was half the battle.

    Soon enough he was standing outside of Brenna's office, the place he'd meant to come when he'd planned on apologizing to her for his inappropriate behavior in the cantina. The door was a plain gray, like all of the others that lined the corridor, and he could see that the panel to one side indicated that the office was occupied; likely she was bent over a computer console as she'd been during the skirmish on Ithor. If he listened, he could hear some type of sounds emanating from the room...muffled music, he realized after a moment.

    For a few seconds he allowed the memory of her face, washed in blue light, to drift through his mind. After, he pressed his gloved finger to the access panel, alerting the occupant of the office that she had a visitor.

    Seconds later, the music faded and the door opened with a hiss, revealing Brenna Damaris. Her hair was loose today, hanging down her shoulders in gentle waves, and she was wrapped in a thick, woolen sweater. Rex wondered if she'd been expecting someone else, for she seemed startled to see him, but she recovered immediately.

    Captain Rex.”

    Miss Damaris,” he said, inclining his head because it would have felt odd to salute her. “May I speak with you for a moment?”

    Her mouth opened then closed, and she nodded quickly before moving aside to allow him entry into the small room. As he stepped across the threshold, Rex assessed the space in an instant; it was about the same size as his own office, though there were half a dozen screens of varying sizes spread across a curved desk, before which a chair was still rotating slowly, as if its occupant had jumped up in a hurry.

    Also unlike his own office, the walls were covered with pictures: stills and flickering holos. Mostly they were of a small girl – a toddler, he thought – a few with other people, probably family and friends, and a few more that featured sweeping mountains and landscapes that he didn't recognize.

    Sorry for the mess,” she said as the door closed behind him. “I wasn't expecting anyone.”

    There was an extra chair pushed against the far wall, but it was covered in stacks of flimsies and datapads; he watched, amused, as she made to clear it, but raised his hand to stop her. “Thank you, but this won't take long.”

    Okay,” she said, coming stand before him; he noted that she was shorter than him by a few handspans, but she wasn't short. Average height, he supposed, and there was a pleasing shape to her body that he could make out even beneath the bulky sweater. Again, he caught the smell of something unfamiliar: feminine and quite pleasant. Her eyes on his were curious, and when she spoke, she seemed hesitant. “What's up? Is this about the mission on Ithor?”

    Rex shook his head, suddenly uncertain that he was doing the right thing by coming to her with something that was probably delicate. Was it appropriate? Despite their previous interactions, they didn't really know each other that well...would she be willing to bend the rules at all, let alone for someone she hardly knew?

    Well, he'd already come this far, and as he could think of no other reason for an impromptu visit of this nature, so he withdrew the datarod from his belt-pouch and held it out. “I have a...situation. I was wondering if you could help me.”

    She took the proffered 'rod and gave it a cursory glance before looking back up at him, waiting for him to elaborate. Rex paused, then took a breath. “There's information on that datarod that I need to send out to someone, but I don't...it needs to be...”

    Kriff, he didn't want to say secret, for her eyes had already widened a bit, and he was starting to think he was causing her alarm, that this whole thing was a bad idea...

    However, in the next moment she nodded, her features smoothing, turning impassive and – he thought – a bit disappointed. “You don't want it traced, right?” At his nod, she shrugged. “It's okay, Rex. It's not an uncommon thing you're asking.”

    It's not for me,” he said before he could stop himself. “It's for a friend.”

    The instant the words left his mouth he winced, because they sounded...well, flimsy. Indeed, she gave him a skeptical look that was edged with amusement. “A friend?”

    Right,” he replied, straightening automatically. “Can you manage it?”

    She actually laughed, though he also got the sense that she was trying not to roll her eyes. “I'll do my best, Captain. I'll find you when it's ready.”

    Rather than attempt to suss out her response, he only nodded again and made to step for the door. “Thank you, Miss Damaris.”

    As she watched him leave, he could have sworn that her amusement faded to a look of fleeting remorse, though she offered him a parting smile as she replied. “Any time.”

    *

    After the door closed behind Rex, Brenna slid into her chair and studied the little datarod for a moment, thinking. A “friend.” Of course...she'd been silly to suspect that it might be otherwise with him. In her experience, officers – captains, especially – tended to be the most...romantically inclined of all the clones; commanders were notoriously uptight while lieutenants and sergeants had a few too many chips on their broad shoulders.

    Anyway, it didn't matter. She had no desire to get involved with another clone, especially after the last time – after Tucker – so it was better this way. As she had little in the way of real work to occupy her at the moment, Brenna pulled out a few comlinks from the box she had in her desk – standard-issue, but they could be improved with a few minor tweaks – and began her task.

    It was a simple matter to modify the tech so that each user could send untraceable messages to one another; she'd done so in the past for Marliss and a few others, and even had sent a few to her brother and Edme, just in case. Privacy was a valued commodity.

    Once the comlinks were ready and she made to transmit the information on the datarod onto them, she realized that he hadn't asked her not to read the message that he wanted to send. For one moment she debated, then she shook her head. He'd obviously been nervous about doing something like this in the first place, and she had no wish to jeopardize his trust, no matter how curious she might be.

    However, she needed to know whom to allocate the other comlink to, didn't she? Perhaps that would satisfy some of her curiosity. She pulled up the information on her personal datapad, then gave a snort of laughter at the name: Lux Bonteri, of Onderon.

    Other than the young man being the son of a deceased Separatist bigwig, Brenna knew nothing about him, but she doubted that he was Rex's type. Not that it was unusual for some clones to gravitate towards other males, but somehow the captain didn't give off that particular vibe.

    Along with being amused, she was relieved. She'd really thought that he had a someone already, which would certainly make all of her feelings more complicated than they already were.

    However, it was tempting. Too tempting. She knew better than to get involved again; experience had taught her that forming a romantic attachment to a clone was far from healthy for her.

    Perhaps it really was all in her – admittedly overactive – imagination, because other than his “pass” that first night in the cantina, Rex had shown no interest in her at all. In fact, he'd been nothing but professional and courteous around her thus far, so there was no reason for her to imagine anything else. She had enough trouble on her plate, anyway.

    Still, she had to deliver the comlinks to him at some point. The sooner she did so, the sooner she could put the whole matter behind her and get on with trying to sort out her messy life. That thought was sobering; no one, clone or otherwise, wanted to get involved with someone who had as many complications in their life as she did. Tucker had indicated as much when he'd fled. Now, of course, she was completely fine and everything was okay, but she clearly remembered the pain of his initial rejection of herself, of their as-yet unborn child, and of the life they could have shared, somehow.

    In so many ways it had been her fault, because she should have known better, shouldn't have let her hormones shut down her common-sense...she'd been an idiot, and now her daughter would grow up without a father.

    But that was all in the past, and she could never go back to fix it; all she could do was work to make her daughter's future as bright as possible. It would have to suffice.

    After another few minutes of debate, Brenna sighed and shook her head, then set the comlinks in her pocket. Later. She'd drop them off to Rex later, and none of this would trouble her any longer.

    *

    Later” turned out to be the following afternoon, because Brenna caught a transmission from a Separatist ship that was particularly difficult to decode. By the time she'd finished, it was hours past midnight and she was too exhausted to do much more than remove her shoes before collapsing on her bed.

    When she woke up just before lunchtime, Marliss was standing before the sink in their 'fresher, preparing for her rotation in the engine room. At the sound of Brenna stirring, her roommate shot her a concerned look through the open door. “They're pushing you too hard up there.”

    It's not that bad,” Brenna replied with a yawn, sitting up and pushing her hair out of her face. “I just stay late, sometimes. Not like you and that hyperdrive...I don't know how you can handle working so much.”

    That's the beauty of unlimited overtime,” Marliss said as she leaned before the mirror to pin up her fair hair in order to keep from getting covered in engine grease. “The army pays well...why else would this job be worthwhile?”

    Brenna stretched her arms up, noting a few popping joints as she did so. “It seems like you're always pulling double shifts.”

    This is a big ship, Bren,” the blonde woman replied with a shake of her head. “There's always work to be done. And I don't mind...it's good to be doing something productive with my time-”

    The words were cut off with a soft curse as Marliss dropped the pin she'd been holding; after she bent to retrieve it, Brenna cleared her throat. “What do you want to do when you're done with this job?”

    Travel,” was Mar's immediate reply as she slipped the wayward pin in her hair with satisfaction. “I want to see...everything I can. And unless I marry rich, like my cousin, that's not likely to happen,” she added with a roll of her eyes.

    You don't want to go home?” Brenna's eyes fell on a picture of Iri, and her heart tightened with longing. Though she could go about her daily routine without any difficulty, it never got any easier to be away from her daughter. Sometimes, when she was tired or lonely, it got worse.

    As she gathered another lock of her hair, Marliss gave a derisive snort. “I don't have much of a home to return to. Unless you like endless desert and moisture farms. Oh, and Hutts. Don't forget the Hutts. I was lucky to get the kriff off of Tatooine before my mother gambled me away, too. Kriffing hell...not another one...”

    A tiny ting met Brenna's ears as Marliss dropped yet another pin, and the blonde woman knelt to search for the object. As she did so, there was a moment of silence, so Brenna reached for her 'pad to see if Caith had sent any messages; a few moments later, her roommate spoke again, her tone considerably lighter than before in the manner of someone trying to change the topic of conversation. “Care for a bit of gossip?”

    No messages, from home or anywhere else. Brenna rubbed the sleep out of her eyes and blinked up at the 'fresher door. “Sure.”

    Hypatia stopped seeing that clone – Fives, was it? Said he was too...”

    Chatty?”

    Marliss chuckled. “I think her words were less flattering, but that's the gist of it. Besides, she's about done with her contract, and wants to meet someone and settle down.”

    At the words, Brenna shook her head, then resumed thumbing through her 'pad. “If she wants a stable relationship, she probably shouldn't look for it on a ship of cloned soldiers who live half as long as we do.” After a moment she set down the 'pad again and glanced over at her roommate. “So it was her call to end things?”

    I think it was mutual,” Marliss replied, frowning as she tucked back a stray wisp of pale hair. “She finally told him that she wants more than just a fling, which is – surprise – all that he was looking for.”

    Brenna chose to say nothing else on the matter; instead, she moved the datapad to her nightstand and slid out of the bed, coming to stand nearby Marliss as her roommate selected another pin and leaned forward to place it. “What about you and Jesse?”

    At the name, Marliss shrugged; to prevent dropping them any more, she'd stuck a few pins in her mouth, so her next words were muffled. “He was nice. Not really my type, but nice enough. We haven't spoken since that night.” She paused and removed the final pins to set them in her hair, then cast a knowing look at Brenna. “What about your blond captain? Have you seen him after that exciting mission of yours?”

    Mar...”

    The blonde woman grinned at her, green eyes sparkling with mischief. “From what I heard, it sounded dangerous...and so romantic-”

    Are you almost done in there?” Brenna interrupted, indicating the 'fresher.

    Marliss gave a roll of her eyes, but she stepped out and nodded in the direction of the toilet. “All yours. If I wasn't running late, I'd call you out on the fact that you dodged my question.”

    Have a great day at work, Mar,” Brenna replied with a wave and an overly bright smile that made Marliss roll her eyes. “I'll see you later.”

    Her roommate gave another long-suffering sigh, but took the not-so-subtle hint; soon enough the door closed behind her, and Brenna was alone again, with a few hours until she was supposed to report back to her workstation.

    After a shower and change of clothes she felt a bit more refreshed. A glance over the ship's duty schedules revealed that Rex's company was off-duty at the moment, so she figured he was either in the mess-hall, the barracks, or working out in the training room. If she was lucky, she could locate him, hand over the comlinks and make it up to her sector with enough time to grab a cup of caf before settling in for another shift.

    Under no circumstances was she going to dawdle or delay when she found him, because there was no telling what kind of stupid thing she would do if she were to spend too much time in his company; she tried not to let the very fact that she had to apply these kinds of rules to her behavior meant that she'd already crossed the boundary between “attracted” and “interested.”

    As she slipped on her shoes, she found herself repeating a litany in her mind, hoping the mantra would help her act as she should. Mind over matter. Don't be an idiot again. Don't keep making the same mistakes over and over. Don't get swept away by your heart – or your hormones.

    Despite her assertions, she caught herself in the 'fresher, taking a little more time than was normal – or necessary – to brush out her hair. Mind over matter. With a sigh, she set the brush down, gathered her jacket off of the chair beside her bunk, and slipped the modified comlinks in her pocket. Mind over matter. Right. Simple, really.

    On a mission now, she headed out the door.
    Last edited by laloga, Jan 25, 2013
  16. Valairy Scot Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Sep 16, 2005
    star 5
    Interesting (in a good way) "behind the scenes" look at the clones and the "civvies" aka contractors aboard the ship. Something few tackle - well, none that I know of except you. Kudos for originality.
  17. laloga Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2011
    star 2

    @Valairy Scot Glad you're enjoying the "behind the scenes" look at the lives of the clones. They are a source of endless fascination to me, though I know of several other writers who handle them far better than I do. :p Thanks so much for the comment!

    *****

    Chapter Eight


    The clone quarters aboard the Resolute were not a place where the civilian contractors were encouraged to visit, but it was a simple enough matter for Brenna to find her way to the barracks' entrance.

    However, once she was there, she stood outside the innocuous door for a moment, considering. It would probably not be the best idea for her to just waltz into the soldiers' area; she didn't think she'd be unwelcome – far from it – but she knew there were probably regulations against having non-army personnel in the barracks.

    While no one had expressly prohibited herself and her civilian coworkers from entering the clones' areas, she'd heard several times since her posting on the Resolute that “co-mingling” was “highly discouraged.”

    Looking for someone?”

    Brenna turned at the familiar voice and nodded to the ARC as he approached her. Dressed only in a pair of cotton pants that she figured were meant for exercising, Fives gave her a lazy, two-fingered salute as he sauntered up, coming to stand about an arm's length from her as he added: “Let me guess...you want Rex, right?”

    Actually, yes,” she replied, shoving her hands in the pockets of her jacket, the fingers of her right hand toying with the comlinks. “Have you seen him around?”

    Fives indicated another door down the hallway. “Just saw him in the training room a minute ago. Want me to take you there?”

    It would definitely be inappropriate to enter the clones' workout room and anyway she didn't want to have any chances to linger in Rex's company; still, her gaze shifted behind the shirtless ARC, to the door he'd indicated where Rex was. Maybe she could be quick...

    No. She had to be strong, she had to be professional. Mind over matter, she reminded herself. Don't keep making the same mistakes over and over.

    As if he could read her hesitation, Fives shook his head and dug around in his pocket, pulling out a comlink a moment later. “I can call him out here, if that would be better.”

    It would,” she said, flashing the ARC an apologetic smile. Suddenly an idea occurred to her, and she glanced around the area, considering. “If he's busy, I can just leave him a note...”

    However, Fives was already making the call, shifting around so that he was facing the direction of the exercise room. “Captain, what's your location?”

    Who is this?”

    Eyes alight with mischief, Fives cleared his throat and shot Brenna a wink. “It's your mother, Rex. Who else?”

    There was a pause, then Brenna had to bite her tongue as Rex gave a sigh. “Very funny, Fives. I'm just finishing up my reps. Is there a problem?”

    The ARC lifted his brow at her, then said: “Nope, but you have a visitor outside the barracks.”

    There was a pause before she heard Rex's reply, but she was unable to determine if his tone was pleased or not. Not that it would matter if he was pleased. Or if he wasn't. Either way...it didn't – couldn't – matter. She'd made her decision. She couldn't afford to-

    Understood. Stand by.”

    When Fives dropped his arm he shot Brenna a look that suggested he knew something that she didn't, which immediately set her on edge; however, his next words were unexpectedly solemn. “I never got to apologize for putting you in harm's way on that Ithor mission,” he said, his shoulders straightening. “I mean, I'm glad you could help us out, but I think you got a bit more excitement than you bargained for.”

    As he spoke, he seemed younger and more vulnerable than she remembered, so she offered him a warm look. Perhaps he was a bit too...exuberant for her tastes, but he was a nice enough guy. “Fives, you have nothing to be sorry for,” she replied with a shake of her head. “You warned me that it might get 'exciting,' but it was ultimately my decision to tag along. But thanks, anyway.”

    He nodded, but his gaze had shifted behind her and a faint smile crept to his face. As she turned to see what he was looking at, the ARC said a harried goodbye and darted off, which she only remembered later on because that was the moment when she saw Rex again.

    Having just finished a workout, the clone captain was coated with a sheen of sweat that caused his thin shirt to cling to his torso in a very distracting manner. Beneath the armor, Brenna knew that the clones – therefore Rex by proxy – were exceptionally fit, but there was something about just knowing that was quite different than being confronted with the fact. Broad shoulders complimented his frame, his stride was purposeful and his body was well-defined without being overly bulky; as he approached, she could see the muscles of his arms flexing as he mopped off his face with a white towel, so he didn't appear to see her right away.

    Which turned out to be a blessing, as it gave her a chance to snap her jaw shut and collect herself before she'd have to speak.

    As it was, her careful resolve not to go down that road again dissipated in an instant, and she felt a fluttering sensation in her stomach, the one that often accompanied the decisions that she later regretted.

    When he was about ten paces from where she stood transfixed, he slid the towel into the pocket of the cotton pants he was wearing and looked up, his gaze falling on her the next instant. The moment his eyes met hers, she felt a flush creep across her face for all that she tried to fight it away.

    Thank the Force he seemed not to notice, instead he came to a halt a hairsbreadth closer than Fives had been moments ago, and gave her a nod. “Miss Damaris?”

    For a moment too long she was lost in the honey-brown of his eyes, then she mentally shook herself and pulled her hand out of her pocket, withdrawing the comlinks and offering them to him wordlessly, because she was still forming simple speech in her mind. At his look of confusion she cleared her throat and willed her voice to be normal and not breathless, like some simpering heroine in a romance-holo.

    I figured having these would be easier than having to find me every time you wanted to make a transmission,” she said as he took the comlinks, though he didn't look away from her. “They're modified; no transmission that you make will be traced. I gave you two in case you can get one to your...friend.”

    There. Mission accomplished. All she needed to do was turn around and walk away, and the whole matter would be over. She definitely needed to leave before he spoke to her, because if she stayed any longer, she'd make herself look like an idiot or worse – do something stupid, something she couldn't afford to do.

    If only her legs would work.

    They really are for a friend,” he said, a frown coming to his face even as his tone was earnest. “I wasn't making that up.”

    She took a breath, but she still couldn't bring herself to move. “It's okay. I don't care who they're for, Rex.”

    Frustrated, he shook his head; she could see traces of sweat in his fair hair, glinting beneath the lights of the corridor. When he spoke again, he held her eyes with his own and his words were careful and deliberate. “That may be so, but I meant what I said: they're for a friend, not for me.”

    He paused, then took a step forward, so that the space between them was halved. “I always mean what I say, Miss Damaris. You can count on that.”

    Brenna,” she replied, her name coming out far more breathy than she would have liked.

    A the edge of his mouth lifted into a half-smile and he nodded once. “Brenna.”

    Before she knew what was happening, she was speaking again, which caused a very small part of her brain to reel in frustration because apparently her mouth was now running on autopilot. “Rex...would you like to have dinner with me, sometime?”

    What?” Eyes wide, the captain looked completely thrown for a loop, his composure of a moment ago having apparently fled right along with her common-sense, and she felt her own face flushing in response.

    What was wrong with her? What happened to being strong? Mind over matter? Taking another breath, she shook her head and made to turn away. “Sorry...never mind...that's probably all sorts of inappropriate-”

    Then his hand was on her elbow, effectively stopping her in her tracks. When she looked back at him, he was scanning her face with an intensity that she'd never seen in another man, clone or otherwise, and it was all she could do to remember to breathe.

    When are you free?”

    The rich timbre of his voice echoed in her mind, and Brenna knew that she was lost. Irrevocably. Force above and beyond, her face was probably completely red; she was torn between wanting to vanish into the floor and keep standing here, because his fingertips was still on her elbow, holding her in place with hardly a touch. Before she replied, she blinked as if to clear her eyes. “How about tomorrow evening, around eighteen-hundred hours?”

    He seemed to consider, then nodded once, swiftly and all business again, though she thought for a moment that he seemed...relieved. “That works for me,” he replied, dropping her elbow and straightening. “The mess-hall?”

    I was actually thinking of the observation deck,” she said, trying not to wrinkle her nose at the thought of military food. Even so, Rex must have caught her expression of distaste, for he raised his brow at her, and she gave a light shrug. “I'm not a fan of rations,” she explained. “But don't worry, I'll provide the food.”

    Rex nodded to her one last time before he made to head into the clone barracks. “The observation deck, then. See you tomorrow...Brenna.”

    There was little chance of her reply coming out as anything more substantial than a murmur, so she did the next best thing, offering him the same kind of casual salute that Fives had given her. In response, he ducked his head in acknowledgment and gave his half-smile before disappearing into the adjacent doorway.

    Once he was gone, she stood in place for a moment before giving herself another mental shake and turning to leave for her own section, because she had work to do and couldn't afford to stand around all day like a silly, love-stoned teenager.

    She didn't want to think too hard about why she'd asked him; what was done was done. And although a part of her mind knew that she should be upset – because this was how it started with Tucker, and she really, really should know better – the rest of her was strangely buoyant, and her all the way back to her office, her steps were light.

    *

    The instant the door to the barracks closed behind him, Rex gave a deep exhale and lifted the towel to mop his face again; sometime during the course of his and Brenna's conversation he'd started sweating uncontrollably, and he hoped she hadn't noticed. She'd completely shocked him with her request, and he'd almost been too flummoxed to respond in an even semi-coherent manner.

    Dinner. On the observation deck. With a civilian woman.

    Well, it would certainly be a first for him. Beyond that, he didn't know what to think.

    There you are!”

    Rex looked to his left to see Fives approaching from the rec room; behind the ARC, he could see Keen, Thrash and Imp, gathered around a nearby deactivated dejarik table while Sergeants Coric and Silver were engaged in and impromptu arm-wrestling match. The crew of the Resolute was between missions at the moment, which was why he'd known right away that he'd be free to meet Brenna. The only reason it had taken him so long to respond to her request was simply because he'd been speechless; again, he wasn't sure what he was supposed to make of the fact.

    Anyway, Fives' presence reminded him that he had a bone to pick with his brother, who had come to stand before him, brow lifted and face alight with curiosity. “Well? What did she want, Rex?”

    Slinging his towel around his neck, Rex crossed his arms and cast Fives a steely glare. “I have another idea. Let's discuss your breach of protocol – and common-sense – on Ithor. Aside from the fact that you acted completely on your own, without seeking permission from myself or either of the Jedi...bringing a civilian into a war-zone as you did...it's beyond dangerous”

    I know,” Fives replied, his forehead creasing. “I already apologized to her, but I did warn her ahead of time-”

    That's not the point,” Rex interjected as he shook his head. “Brenna is not trained to deal with hostile situations of that nature; had something gone really wrong, she could have been injured, or worse.”

    At his words, Fives' expression shifted from vaguely chagrined to alert and slightly devious. “'Brenna?' What happened to 'Miss Damaris?' Does it have to do with why she wanted to see you?”

    Rex gave a rapid exhale of irritation and shook his head. “Don't try to change the subject when we're discussing your near-insubordination. I have enough on my plate without worrying if you're going to go rogue at every turn and do as you please...without even consulting me.”

    I did what needed to be done,” Fives replied in a curt tone. That, coupled with his spine straightened and his arms crossed before his chest, reminded Rex a little too much of the ARC's errant “mission” weeks ago on Umbara. “We were successful, in the end. No one got hurt – not even any of your men – and the civvie knew that she was walking into a war-zone. Unlike us, she gets hazard pay.”

    Now there was a bitter edge to Fives' voice that gave Rex pause. He glanced around at the rows of bunks that lined either side of the wall, noting the presence of a few clones besides those at the dejarik table, so he tilted his head and stepped to the side, behind a set of bunks that were partially hidden in shadow.

    Once they were relatively out of earshot of the others, he gave Fives another moment to calm down, then cast him a knowing look. “And what's that supposed to mean?”

    Nothing.” Rex narrowed his eyes and Fives sighed, lifting his hand to pinch the bridge of his nose. “I dunno. Guess I'm just still pretty worked-up over Umbara, you know? Krell said a lot of stuff-”

    I know what he said,” Rex replied, ignoring the tightening of his gut that had begun to accompany thoughts of the Besalisk Jedi – the traitor. “But that's in the past. We have to move on, Fives. We have to keep going.”

    Again, Fives crossed his arms before his chest, but it was not a combative pose, especially when he cast a glance around the barracks, to the other clones in various stages of relaxation. “I know. I'm trying to put it all behind me, but...it's not easy.” He scowled to no one in particular and when he spoke his voice held an edge. “That traitor took more from us than brothers, didn't he?”

    Rex nodded slowly, his fists tightening reflexively at his sides as he watched Chopper enter the room, take a seat on his bunk and start thumbing through a datapad. In the background, he could hear the other jeering as someone – Silver, he thought – had won the latest bout of arm-wrestling. Otherwise, it was quiet, more so than it should have been.

    Neither one spoke for a moment before Fives shook his head and exhaled again. His arms uncrossed and he leaned one elbow against the bunk in a casual manner, lifting his brow at the captain. “So...what did she want, anyway? She looked awfully happy to see you striding out of the gym.”

    Now that was a pleasant memory; Rex had to admit, the sight of Brenna's cheeks flushing a lovely pink was far preferable to most of the other things that had found their way into his mind, and he gave another slow nod, which Fives – naturally – latched onto.

    I'm just going to keep pestering you until you tell me. We ARCs are known for our tenacity.”

    At his brother's insistent tone, Rex gave a sigh of resignation, but did not uncross his arms. It occurred to him that he probably shouldn't reveal the true nature of Brenna's visit to give him the comlinks, but her flustered expression when she'd asked him to eat dinner with her had indicated that she was about as startled by the invitation as him.

    A half-smile crossed Rex's face, but he smoothed it away before he glanced back at Fives. “She wants to...have dinner. Tomorrow. With me.”

    Rex allowed himself to take a measure of satisfaction at the way that Fives' jaw dropped, though the ARC recovered almost immediately as a wide grin spread across his face. “You have a date?”

    What? No,” Rex replied with a frown. He glanced around, making sure that no one was in earshot, but dropped the pitch of his voice, anyway. “We're soldiers, Fives. We don't date. Brenna and I are just going to share some food.”

    And?”

    And what?”

    Fives made a noise of exasperation and shook his head. “You're just going to sit in the same room with her and eat in silence?”

    Well, no,” Rex replied, rolling his eyes. “I imagine we'll...talk, too.”

    Are you going to kiss her?” Fives was grinning in earnest now, leaning forward to absorb every word.

    Now that threw him for a loop. For a moment, Rex felt a flash of apprehension, because he had no clue what she expected of him in this situation. Battle-droids he could handle with ease, but this was not a matter that could be settled with a blaster-bolt, and he realized again just how much of a rookie he was at this civilian business. It was unsettling, to say the least.

    However, rather than answer Fives directly, he gave a shrug. “I hardly know her. I can't imagine she'd be thrilled to have me try that again.” Even if I'm sober this time.

    At this, Fives gave a snort that sounded suspiciously like someone trying not to laugh, then slung his arm over Rex's shoulder. “You might be surprised, vod...I've seen how she looks at you. Besides, in my experience, most women don't want to spend time alone with a man that they dislike for any reason.”

    It was a valid point, but Rex's attention caught on the first part of the statement. “What do you mean, 'how she looks at me?'”

    Fives chuckled in earnest at this, and tightened his arm around Rex's shoulder. “Come on, Rex...she hardly noticed me when I was there, but the second you appeared she practically had to pick her jaw up off of the floor.”

    There was no ready response that came to Rex's mind, so he merely gave a bewildered shake of his head while trying to fight back a grin. In response, Fives laughed again and withdrew his arm so that he could give Rex a brotherly slap on the back. “One more word of advice? Don't wear your armor. Too troublesome to remove if you're in a hurry.”

    Ignoring the innuendo in the ARC's voice, Rex leveled a glare at the other trooper. “That reminds me...I was planning on punishing you for the other night, but now I think I'll be satisfied if you owe me a favor.”

    What kind of favor?” Fives asked in a wary voice.

    Rex lifted a brow. “When I think of it, I'll let you know.”

    ******


    Sigh. That Fives is incorrigible. :p

    I'm sorry to disappoint those of you who wanted Brenna to go into the clones' gym; I tried to suppress the bulk of my rabid-fangirl propensities as much as possible so that the story would take precedence. Jury's still out on how well I managed. ;)

    Okay, this is kind of silly, but when Bren spots Rex striding out of the gym, I picture it happening in slow-motion, perhaps with a really awesome guitar riff playing in the background...oh, what the heck. The song in my head is "Lonely Boy," by the Black Keys.

    Thanks for reading, and don't forget to review! ;)

    Next time: first "date!"
    Last edited by laloga, Jan 30, 2013
  18. Luna_Nightshade Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Jan 25, 2006
    star 5
    Sweet interaction between Brenna and Rex--I like that they're both hesitant but that they both have an attraction to each other. They don't know anything about each other, though, so I'm interested to seeing what they talk about at dinner. You also have me curious about Brenna's past. Great updates! Your clones feel like good friends.
    laloga likes this.
  19. Jade_Max Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jun 28, 2002
    star 5
    Ack! Now I'm -really- far behind; let's get caught up shall we? :D

    Chapter 5:

    I think, as far as battle aftermath chapters go, this has got to be one of my favorite. We get to see Bren’s reaction from Rex’s POV. He’s just all ‘business as usual’ until he realizes what kind of state she’s in; Fives is in -so- much trouble!

    You do a really good job showcasing her fears and her shock from Rex’s angle of things. How he relates it to what he’s seen and what he knows, but is suddenly out of his depth because this is a civilian and how does one deal with it, hm? Honestly, I think he does very well, all things considered ;)

    And then Bren kinda shakes it off and gives Rex something no one really has; acceptance and acknowledgement as an individual. His men as individuals; and thanks for the thankless job they do. It’s such a character moment for Bren and really showscases her at her most basic. It’s a very touching little moment.

    The nods to the atmosphere are what really give your stories the richness they have and the little touches like the comment about the six moons of Ithor are just some of the kinds of details I love about your writing!

    The whole beautiful sequence at the end with Bren and her family and little Iri! *melts* Iri’s so good for her mommy and utterly adorable! :) If I were her mother and in Bren’s position, I can just bet that contacting her would have been my number one priority when I got back to the ship too!

    Chapter 6:
    *cackles and sings* Fives is gonna get it :D

    Ahem; sorry - I just love Rex’s slow boil/burn. Fives really isn’t doing himself any favors by avoiding Rex lol.

    Rex’s reflection on the contrast between himself and Fives reaction to the conflict – casual acceptance and business as normal – to Bren’s fear is really speaking. Rex is a very intelligent and thoughtful individual; it’s points to his credit that he not only recognizes it, but what seems to be the causes behind it.

    Bren being on his mind is a good sign, but the buildup between them is part of the fun of this fic; you don’t race through it. You’re building a kind of friendship between Rex and Bren, sprinkled with attraction [and, of course, entertainment from other aspects of the crews *grin*] but doing so with consummate skill. It’s a real pleasure how you’re not skipping over the important details of the hows and the whys… and the fact you’re not ignoring the fact that Rex has certain feelings for his Commander to deal with before anything can really happen with Bren. ;)

    Anakin’s apology to Rex about the events on Umbara is a long time in coming, but very well done. Brief, perhaps, but fitting to character.

    The lead in from there to the Spaarti clones coming over is a very natural one and feels like just another day in the whole of the story… but we all know that’s not the case *evil grin* I really enjoy how you included them in this and explored the misgivings the ‘older’ clones must have had through Rex’s reactions. Ahsoka teasing him in this sequence is just icing on the cake for me *grin* Second-scariest glare indeed! *snort*

    The end of this chapter, with Ahsoka ‘asking a favor’ makes me just want to smack her. I mean, she knows asking him is probably going to hurt, but she does it anyway because they really are friends first. For all she knows, in a way, I think it’s her way of discouraging it; if Rex knows she’s fixated elsewhere, so too should he be ;)

    Rex, true to form, puts his personal feelings aside and calls on his knowledge of Ahsoka to put her first and make her happy. I really, really enjoy this whole section. It’s a bit… awkward between them, but flows so naturally. They really do make the best of friends!

    I admit to being tickled pink that you’re using that friendship to advance your Rex/Bren story :D

    The business as usual crack made me grin – and I saw plot! A glimmer of it at the very least; plot! YAY!


    Chapter 7:

    Ah Rex; for someone so young, you’re very wise in the ways of the woman *chuckle* or rather, wise in the ways of your Commander. I think if it were any other woman, he’d be as stumped as any man. His realization that he needs to move beyond his fixation on Ahsoka is refreshing and the comparison to Fives is an LOL moment :D

    The meeting between Rex and Bren is so adorable, but the first thing about it is the office she lives in. The comparison to Rex’s sterilized version is quite glaring. Bren’s office is lived in; Rex’s is utilitarian.

    Then the way he phrases his request… oh Rexster! *face palm* for a friend? Really? You poor, poor man, you have no idea what that means to the people who’ve been out in the ‘real’ world since day one! *snicker* though he does seem to realize it sounds like a bit of a cop out *laughs*

    Bren’s experience with the clones as a whole is revealed in all its glory by her reflections through this chapter. How certain ones were more romantically inclined and prone to have affairs etc right down to her reflection about Tucker.

    I do find her relief when she realizes to whom Rex is supposedly sending this message very adorable [Hey! I saw that nod to Trax! :p] even though she seems to realize what she’s holding isn’t exactly what she thought it was to begin with.

    That she pretty much does the task he set her right away is so cute; she really must want to see him again!

    Marliss!! Yes! I love this woman. Bren’s roommate is awesome and fiery and very observant… she’s a perfect foil to Bren’s own somewhat staid nature *grin*

    Gossip *snicker* what a great way to tell us about Fives and his escapades :p Not to mention Mar probing for information and unexpectedly getting something! Her version of ‘romantic’ and Bren’s, though, are probably really far apart *laughs*

    Bren’s admonishments to herself to get out are coming a little too late. She’s already in over her head, she just doesn’t know it yet *grin*

    Go Bren! Go find Rex… one of my favorite sequences is coming up – the slow walk from the training room :D YES!

    ++++

    Okay, not quite caught up but it's bed time; but I will be! :D *claps* I totally love this story <3
    laloga likes this.
  20. Jade_Max Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jun 28, 2002
    star 5
    I think part of the reason I like this particular chapter [aside from our shirtless clones lol] is the way you really emphasize just how segregated the clones are from the rest of the ship; Bren’s obviously had a lot of experience with clones in the past [and the whole ‘again’ thing makes me grin] to know so much about the hows and whys.

    It’s very telling that she had absolutely no reaction to your cheeky, half naked Fives and pretty much converses with him like it’s just meeting another individual on the street. Their discussion and how Bren is contemplating the very thought of going into the clone’s workout room with all those sweat sheened, muscular bodies…





    You did a good job keeping your inner fangirl in check *laughs* I sense Bren’s restraint is probably very similar to your own lol.

    Fives being cheeky with Rex, is, as always, grin worthy :D And then you go and ruin the insouciant Fives with that adorable apology! Gah! So cute, yet so needed; I love that he’s kind of unsure about offering it though he knows he should and Bren… Bren is such a good card *grin* she takes it in stride and gives him an out – and Fives, in return, gives her a sweaty, sexy Rex.

    *cackle* Bren’s reaction to Rex was pretty much mine too – lol; go figure!

    At his look of confusion she cleared her throat and willed her voice to be normal and not breathless, like some simpering heroine in a romance-holo.” *dies laughing* go Bren!!

    Rex feeling the need to tell her that the comlinks really aren’t for him is such an in character moment. His frown, his determination to make her understand that he means what he says - always - are just a few of the reasons I find this sequence so powerful. Bren must too, believing him and all, because then she asks him to dinner!

    His reaction always makes me laugh; “What?” Oh Rex! *shakes head* I do like how Bren doesn’t give up on him… though the thought of history repeating itself is certainly a downside for her, little does she know… *whistles innocently*

    And then the Rex and Fives discussion :D Woot! I adore this chew out; Rex doesn’t really chew him out, but Fives is more than aware he’d in big trouble. The natural flow of the conversation between Rex being irritated with Fives and discussing Bren is so natural, but so much fun too :D

    Fives is such a nut; his persistence to get Rex to tell him stuff *shakes head* man, why doesn’t he do interrogations? :p He’s incorrigible and adorable and dangerous all at the same time!

    Rex’s punishment is fitting; ah that favor! Yes!

    Can’t wait for the ‘date’ *grin*


    And lookie *gasp* I'm all caught up!
    laloga likes this.
  21. laloga Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2011
    star 2
    @Jade_Max Whoa! Thanks for all the awesome comments! :D So glad you're enjoying this fic...again. ;) Yay for being caught up! (One day I'll know what that feels like. :p)


    Chapter Nine


    The next evening, Brenna arrived at the observation deck several minutes early so that she could prepare. As she'd promised Rex, she'd brought along an assortment of foods, mostly non-perishables that she and Marliss stocked up on whenever they had a chance; she had no idea if he would like any of it, but it was a much better option than anything from the mess-hall.

    Located at the stern of the Venator-class cruiser, the Resolute's observation deck was perhaps the only section on the massive ship whose purpose was not entirely functional. Officially, it had been designed to offer any non-military personnel a place to observe space-battles without getting underfoot of the bridge crew, though she'd also heard that it was sometimes used to hold negotiations among various, conflicting parties.

    Overlooking the hyperdrive generator at the ship's stern, the observation deck was not particularly wide; rather, it was shaped as a sweeping crescent, with one whole wall outfitted with transparisteel to provide the occupants with an unobstructed view of the stars. There were several sturdy conference tables set at intervals throughout the room, bolted to the floor in case of turbulence; otherwise the space was otherwise bare, as the view of the stars was meant to be the main feature.

    Presently the Resolute was at rest in the Tel System; as Brenna unpacked her assortment of foodsshe could see a faint flare of emerald beyond the ship: the aptly named Green Nebula. Surrounding it and taking up the rest of her vision were stars and the dizzying blackness of space.

    It felt too formal to drag over some of the chairs stacked at the room's sides in order to sit at any of the tables, but nor did it feel right to sit on the floor; she compromised by settling on top of the central table, spreading out the food in the center and dangling her legs over the table's edge while she waited.

    It was quiet. Brenna glanced at her chrono: seventeen-fifty-four. Six minutes to go. She took a deep breath to quell the fluttering in her stomach and smoothed out the front of her button-down shirt. After a seemingly endless mental debate about what to wear, she'd settled on her preferred style of dress so that the whole thing would feel nice and casual, in case he was as nervous as she was. Satisfied that her shirt was as wrinkle-free as it was going to get, she began to rearrange the food packages, all the while wondering again what the kriff she was doing.

    This is not going to end well, she told herself as she fiddled with the containers before her. You always do this...you get your hopes up, fall all over yourself for a guy, then lose everything when he changes his mind. Which he will do, inevitably. It had happened with Tucker nearly three years ago, and about three years before that with Arcas. One of the last things that her mother had said to her was that Brenna had a knack for picking the worst men with whom to fall in love.

    She should have called it off, but she didn't. She should have walked out of that room and never looked back, but she remained in place, waiting. She shouldn't have recalled Rex's touch at her elbow or the way he'd held hre gaze when he said, “I always mean what I say, Miss Damaris. You can count on that.”

    Something within her heart wanted to believe him, so she folded her hands in her lap and kept looking at the stars.

    A soft hiss alerted her to a door opening, and when she twisted around she caught the sight of Rex slipping into the room with the air of someone entering uncharted territory. Almost as if he'd shared her own sentiments about keeping things low-key, he was not wearing his armor; instead he was dressed the navy-blue short-sleeved shirt and trousers that the clones favored when they were off-duty, though she noted that he had not abandoned his utility belt.

    For the briefest moment they looked at one another, then she offered him a smile. “You're right on time.”

    He didn't respond immediately, instead taking several steps forward until he was about an arm's length from her. She watched him absorb the sight of the food she'd brought first, his eyes slowly traveling to her face, which was when he lifted his brow. “Wouldn't have it any other way.”

    There was a pause while he eyed her legs as they dangled over the table's edge, then he shifted his gaze to the chairs that were stacked across the room; she wondered if he'd say something, but he simply turned and hoisted himself on the table-top as well. After he did so, he cast another glance around the room, pausing to look at the massive window.

    Brenna indicated the spread of food between them. “I don't know what you like, so I brought some of everything.”

    I can see that,” he replied, glancing down at the array before looking at her again. “But I should warn you: I'm not familiar with any of this.” As he spoke, he reached for a package of topato chips and skimmed his fingertips across it thoughtfully.

    Well, like I said, it's mostly non-perishable,” she said, straightening as she began to point out the various foodstuffs. “I divided everything up: salty, spicy and sweet.”

    Along with the food, she'd brought several bottles of kolla, a sweet, carbonated beverage that was a rare treat aboard a ship such as this, and handed him one. “Don't worry,” she said in a light voice as he examined the label. “It's non-alcoholic.”

    At her words his eyes shot back up to hers; however, when he saw that she was smiling, she watched as a slow, slightly embarrassed grin spread across his face. “Good to know,” he replied with a low chuckle as he ducked his head. “I don't think you'd appreciate me making a di'kut of myself a second time.”

    I've also made an idiot of myself on more than one occasion,” she replied as she twisted off the cap and took a sip of the drink. “So no judgment, here.”

    As she'd spoken, his brows drew together for an instant; however at the end of her words, Rex's smile widened, and in the dim light of the room she could barely make out a slight reddening of his ears, which, when coupled with his pleased expression, caused her to grow tongue-tied again. For a moment they were quiet and she watched him take a swallow of the beverage; when he eyed it with appreciation she had to laugh.

    What's so funny?” he asked, glancing her way with curiosity.

    It's good, isn't it?”

    He took another swig and nodded. “It's sweet, and...” There was a pause while he considered. “Bubbly.”

    It's carbonated,” she replied with another smile. “My daughter loves it – all kids do, I guess – but it's really not good for them. Well,” she added, taking another sip. “It's not really good for anyone. Tasty, though.”

    At her words, Rex set his bottle down and selected the package of ootoowerg-flavored topato chips he'd picked up before. As he pulled the seam apart, he cast her a glance. “You have a daughter?”

    Brenna hesitated, but his expression held nothing but curiosity. After a moment, she began to toy with the bottom of the kolla bottle. Even though it was much too soon to think of anything like this, she couldn't help but wonder how long it would be before the reality of her situation became more than he wanted to deal with, and when it did, if he would turn away from her as Tucker had done.

    Perhaps a trace of her thoughts flickered across her face, because he added: “I saw the pictures in your office. She looks like you.”

    With the words he offered her a warm look, which caused some of her tension to fade. Finally, Brenna nodded. “Irini's almost two years old,” she said, reaching for a bag of honey sticks and keeping her voice calm. “And she's completely perfect. My brother, Caith, and his family on Alderaan are watching her for me while I work out my contract with the GAR.”

    Alderaan...I've never been,” he said as he picked up a container of caramelized pkneb, brow furrowing as he studied the label. She watched him lift off the top and select one of the sticky pkneb nuggets,then gave a chuckle when he pulled a face and set the container down while trying to swallow the distasteful bite.

    Here, try these.” She held out the bag of the honey sticks, which he accepted, beaming at her a moment later as he tasted one, then making to reach for another. “Alderaan is...beautiful,” she said at last, leaning back on her hands and looking out of the transparisteel window. “I've been to dozens and dozens of worlds, but I've never found one that compares to my home. I'm glad that Iri can grow up there, though I do wish...”

    She trailed off, feeling foolish for the wistful tone of her voice, but he seemed to understand. “You wish you were with her.” When she nodded, he glanced down at the bag in his hand, then back at her. “I can't imagine what it must be like to be away from your child.”

    It's...awful,” she admitted, shaking her head and sitting up to clasp her hands before her. “But I don't have many other options. I've got a pretty lucrative contract with the army; I'm able to send money home to help Caith with her expenses, as well as set some funds aside for Iri and I to live on once I'm done with all this.”

    The inevitable question hung in the air between them, but she could see that Rex was reluctant to ask, because it was rather personal and he likely wasn't certain if she would be willing to speak of it. She saved him the dilemma. “Her father isn't around.” At his pained look she shook her head. “He's not dead. He's just...not around.”

    Rex's brows knitted and he shook his head in confusion. “Forgive me if this is too forward, but does he...know about Irini?”

    He knows,” she replied as she turned to look at the stars again. Tucker's face – somehow so different from Rex's despite their shared genetics – flickered in her mind's eye, and her heart felt heavy with regret. I can't do this, Bren. “He just...wasn't ready to be a father.”

    At these words, his face darkened with a scowl, and she watched his hand tighten over the bag of honey sticks. “I know that we don't know each other very well, Brenna, but that's...well.” He seemed to search for an acceptable word, then exhaled deeply and gave a slight shake of his head. “That's low. Some men would love to have-”

    With this, she watched his ears go red again and he took another swig of the drink but said nothing else for a beat; finally, he gave her a cautious look, as if assessing her reaction to his almost-words before he continued. “Do you have any other siblings?”

    Just Caith,” she replied as she reached her hand to take a honey stick from the bag in his grasp; as she did so, he held the bag out for her to take, but she shook her head and only selected a single stick. “His wife, Edme, is wonderful. They have a son – Tavi – who's about six years old, now.” She paused, then added: “My mother lives on Alderaan as well, but I haven't spoken to her since before Iri was born.”

    At his look, she gave him a tight smile. “I left home when I was about seventeen...she wasn't pleased.” Brenna paused, then sighed inwardly as she prepared herself for the inevitable. “Are you ready to run, yet?”

    Run?” He shook his head in confusion, then his brows lifted as he studied her. “Why would I run?”

    Rex, my life is kind of a mess,” she said after moment. “And...well...I understand if you don't want to...that is...” She frowned and took a breath, her eyes dropping to her knees automatically as she continued. “Not that we're...you know...but just so you're aware. My life is...tangled.”

    Rather than reply right away, he set down the honey sticks and selected another package – she couldn't see from this angle, but she thought it was salted bang-corn – taking a moment to study it before he replied in a quiet voice. “Then I guess we have that in common.”

    It was then that he cast her one of his cautious looks, and she could see that he was gauging her reaction to his words. “But if it's any consolation, I don't think anyone's life is simple. I know that I don't know much about some things,” he added with a faint, distant frown. “But I do know that.”

    Complications make life interesting, I guess,” she said with a lift of her brow.

    He gave a bitter sort of laugh, and nodded. “So I've heard.”

    *

    The date was strange, at first, stranger than almost anything he'd ever experienced, but gradually Rex found himself relaxing more and more.

    Of course, he had not expected to get as angry as he had when she said that her child's father wasn't around, but when he'd heard that...well, it took more control than he would have liked to dial his reaction back, because in that moment, had the low-life in question walked by...

    Rex would have liked to give him a few bruises, at the very least.

    Anyway, it was no good to dwell on such a thing right now, so instead he took another swig of the kolla and wondered if Fives had ever had any, because it was delicious. Sweet and fizzy, with just the right amount of bite, and it he could tell that it had the energizing properties of caf, which he knew his brother would like, should he ever get a hold of any.

    As he was momentarily distracted by the beverage, Brenna caught him off-guard again. “So what about you? What's messy in your life?”

    Rex felt his breath hitch. Lately, there was a kind of dark that consumed him, more cloying than the vastness beyond the window; sometimes, in his mind's eye he could still see the haze of Umbara that obscured and choked, and hear Krell's voice echoing in his ears.

    This moment, with Brenna and the kolla – even with the disgusting caramelized pkneb – was...nice, he realized. Bizarre also, because he was well-aware that he was no civilian, no average person, yet he was participating in something that was common to galactic citizens. He was sharing a quiet, albeit unusual meal with with a lovely young woman, who even now was looking at him with undisguised interest. Speaking of his discontent would sully the moment, tarnish it somehow, and he had no wish to set his own troubles upon her.

    A part of his mind urged him to speak, as she was still looking at him, though her expression was growing more solemn; she'd laid out the bare facts of her own life and was clearly waiting for him to reciprocate. However, he was strong. Rex knew that he could handle whatever she could possibly throw his way, but he still wasn't sure if it would be the same for her. Some burdens were too heavy to bear, and he thought that she had enough on her unarmored shoulders.

    Everything okay?”

    He'd been quiet for too long, of course. Rex nodded and shifted in place. “Sorry...I have a bad habit of thinking too much, sometimes.”

    It's alright,” she replied, her hand lifting to smooth back an errant strand of hair, which was when he caught the scent again, the nice one that he'd noticed before. “This is kind of odd, isn't it? I mean,” she indicated the meal, the table and the stretch of space beyond the window. “It's nice, but it's...”

    Odd, yes.” He offered her a smile that she returned, which pleased him. “But-”

    He was going to say “very nice,” but that was the moment that his kriffing comlink chose to start chirruping. Immediately upon activation, General Skywalker's voice filled the space between them.

    Rex?”

    General.” At the sound of his own name, Rex immediately slid to his feet and lifted his wristcomm.

    I need you on the bridge at once; we've got a situation.” Before Rex could reply, the transmission ended; it was unlike Skywalker to do so without even confirming that he'd heard him, or acknowledging that he was interrupting Rex's off-duty time, but Rex only gave those things a cursory thought. He had a job to do, after all.

    However...

    Brenna was looking at him with an expression he couldn't read, which was unsettling, as he thought he'd been a pretty fair judge of her so far. Her hands were folded in her lap and her back was straight, and he could detect tension in her posture.

    I'm sorry,” he said again. “But...”

    She nodded. “I know. Duty calls, right?” There was a pause before she added: “It was nice, though.”

    The seconds that he was making his general wait were ticking by in his head, so Rex's reply was perhaps more rushed than it should have been. “It was, thank you. Goodnight, Brenna.”

    As he nodded to her and headed for the door, he thought that he caught the briefest flash of disappointment on her face; however, there was no time to dwell on it now. Later, he told himself. He'd deal with it later.

    Both Skywalker and Ahsoka were on the bridge, facing a holo-projector, though only Ahsoka glanced at him when he entered; her eyes flickered over his fatigues and he gave a mental wince, as it was most definitely against regulation to appear on the bridge in such a casual state. But it there was no helping it, as it took too long to suit up and there had been an unusual urgency in General Skywalker's tone.

    Rex came to a halt about a meter from each Jedi and slid his body into parade-rest. “What's the situation, sir?”

    A call from the Temple,” Skywalker said with a frown, waving his arm at a holo-proj to activate it. “Never a dull moment around here.”

    Immediately, the flickering form of General Windu appeared before them, his expression even more grave than usual. “General Skywalker: the Jedi Council has just received word of a potential Separatist attack at our base on Ord Mantell – possibly with a seismic tank, as was used on Dantooine.”

    The Battle of Dantooine was legendary among clone troopers; since so few had survived the tank's attack, only a handful had actually seen the Korun Jedi Master in action. Rex had heard the stories of how General Windu had defeated an entire droid legion and the massive weapon almost single-handedly, without his lightsaber for much of the time.

    It was one of those stories that had – in the past – made him swell with admiration and respect for the Jedi. Now, it served to remind Rex of the extremes to which the Force-users could swing, that despite their preternatural abilities, they were still quite mortal, still quite capable of making mistakes and errors in judgment. Having that kind of power didn't necessarily mean that a Jedi would use it for good, a fact that Rex had seen firsthand.

    Skywalker crossed his arms and studied the Jedi Master for a moment before a wry smile came to his face. “Didn't feel like handling this one, Master?”

    In his fashion, General Windu seemed not to notice Skywalker's flippant tone, instead ignoring the comment and continuing. “You are to make for Ord Mantell at once and provide support to our forces there; additionally, if the intel about the seismic tank is correct, you are to destroy it without delay.”

    Will do, Master,” General Skywalker replied with a nod. Once the transmission ended, he glanced at the helm. “Set our coordinates for Ord Mantell at once.”

    Affirmative, sir,” came the swift reply. “We should arrive within five standard hours.”

    Skywalker nodded again, then shot a look back at Rex, who noted that his smirk that did not reach his eyes. “Should be enough time to get suited up, Captain.”

    In the past, such a comment would have held notes of teasing, which was the general's way; Skywalker was known for his informality and his casual address of those under his command, but there was no trace of friendly mockery in his words. There was a note of weariness, as if the young Jedi was tired or even disappointed; however, since Rex had been off-duty and Skywalker wasn't a stickler for proper procedure, Rex figured that something else must be going on with him.

    Even though this Jedi was not known for keeping his emotions as stable as they should have been, Rex knew him well enough to understand that something was wrong. And if something was wrong with the general, Rex needed to know what; the more information he had, the better prepared he was to lead those under his command.

    A warm look from Ahsoka provided another measure of reassurance, and Rex forced his shoulders to relax. There was nothing he could do anyway, save observe General Skywalker closely, especially if Ahsoka had noticed similar bouts of moodiness as she'd mentioned before.

    I'll see to it that the men are prepared, sir,” Rex said with a salute. “Don't worry, General; everyone will be armored.”

    The corner of the Jedi's mouth lifted into a smile, but he almost immediately gave a mild frown of annoyance and ducked his head to rub at his eyes as he spoke again. “Oh, I almost forgot: Appo will be arriving with the new guys should sometime within the next few days. I trust you can help them acclimate to life on the Resolute, Captain.”

    With that, Skywalker turned and began to pace towards the massive, transparisteel window of the bridge, his hands clasped behind his back and his tread heavy. Ahsoka turned to Rex, clearly about to speak, but before she could, the Jedi Knight called her name. She shot the captain another faint smile, then hurried to her master's side, leaving Rex alone.

    *****


    Many thanks to the ladies of my writing group, who helped me come up with appropriate-sounding Star Wars snacks. (Bang-corn, anyone? :p )

    Awww...and the date got cut short. =(( But look...more plot-ish things! Rex kept insisting to me that this was his story and it wasn't just a romance, but sometimes I have to wonder.
    Just so we're all clear: Tucker is Iri's dad - yes, he's a clone - and you'll learn more about him very soon, I promise. Arcas, (a non-clone), was Bren's boyfriend a few years before she met Tucker, and he left her as well.

    Thanks for reading!

    Next time: Brenna's POV on the end of the date, while Rex and Co. are on the way to Ord Mantell.
    Last edited by laloga, Feb 6, 2013
  22. Luna_Nightshade Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Jan 25, 2006
    star 5
    Bummer on the abrupt ending to the date--it seemed to have been going pretty well. I love Rex's sincerity and how he doesn't want Brenna to be upset. Excited to see Ahsoka and Anakin have a little time on this too, and wondering how Brenna and Rex are going to bump back into each other again after this situation. Intriguing stuff, and I'm looking forward to seeing the clones in action. Great update.
  23. laloga Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2011
    star 2
    @Luna_Nightshade, yeah, sigh. All good things (like the date) must end eventually, but at least it's a start. :)Thanks so much for the comment!

    A/N: I'm going to try and update twice a week, rather than once. Darth Real Life keeps sucking away my time, so we'll see how this goes. :p

    *****

    Chapter Ten

    As she watched Rex disappear out the door that led from the observation deck, Brenna tried not to feel disappointed. Until the end, when he'd been called away, she thought that the experience had been...fun. A bit strange, as they'd each acknowledged, but not unpleasant. They had each laughed a bit, the food was nice, and the view was beautiful...all were key elements in a positive interaction.

    But he'd made no indication that he wanted to see her again – even speak to her again – and she felt deflated, just a bit more than she should have.

    As she slid off of the table and began to pack up the remnants of their meal, she mentally reprimanded herself, because she should have known better than to mistake his kindness for attraction. Likely he was just being polite, as the clones had been trained to act around civilians. After she slipped out of the observation deck and began to make her way to her cabin, she wondered if Rex had been relieved to be called away by the Jedi, as it had saved him from having to continue the charade any longer.

    Again, she'd made the wrong choice, and again she was feeling the consequences of falling for – even in the earliest stages – a man who was wholly unsuitable and unprepared for any kind of commitment. As she'd told Marliss, it was silly to expect more from the clones; they simply weren't made for anything long-term, in more ways than one. It was a harsh reality, but it was one with which she was painfully accustomed. Her life was tangled and his was too short to spend trying to help her unravel the knots.

    Still, she liked him. Had liked him.

    But it didn't matter.

    When she reached her and Marliss' cabin, she disposed of the empty food packages and put away the leftovers, then took a seat on her bunk and pulled out her comlink to call Alderaan. Talking to Iri always made her feel better. However, after there was no answer, she glanced at her chrono and frowned, realizing that it was a time when none of her brother's family would be home just yet. She sighed and set her comlink in her pocket, then cast a glance around the empty room and tried to push away the swell of loneliness that had appeared in her chest.

    Just as she was about to admit defeat and go to sleep, the door to the room opened and Marliss strode in, coming off of her shift rotation. When her eyes fell on Brenna, she frowned and shut the door behind her. “Back already?”

    He got called away by the Jedi,” Brenna replied, folding her legs beneath her and setting her hands in her lap.

    Marliss nodded, but still looked skeptical. “Well, I guess that's understandable, but you look...unhappy. Did something else happen?”

    There was a pause, then Brenna shrugged. “He didn't seem to want to...see me again. And I'm just...” She smoothed back her hair and shook her head, as if to dispel the continuing feeling of disappointment. “I...liked him. But it's okay. It's fine. Serves me right for falling for another clone.”

    Another clone?” Marliss' eyes widened and she slid before Brenna on the bed, still in her mechanic's jumpsuit. There were dark, greasy splotches on the fabric, but Brenna held her tongue because the look on her roommate's face was nothing short of astonished.

    Brenna paused again, considering. Although she and Marliss got along fairly well, they hadn't known each other a terribly long time, and she hadn't shared all aspects of her past with her roommate. Finally she nodded. “Iri's father is a commando named Tucker.”

    Kriff,” Marliss said, green eyes round as saucers. “Bren, I didn't know...”

    Well, I don't talk about him too much,” Brenna replied. “It's kind of a sore subject.”

    The blonde woman bent to remove her boots, tossing them to the floor with two thuds before glancing back at Brenna. “Okay, you really need to catch me up here, Bren. So...Iri's dad is a clone named Tucker?”

    We met at my first posting on Andara, back at the start of the War. I'd never seen a Fett clone before; Tucker was the first one I really got to know.”

    Despite herself, Brenna smiled at the memory of the jovial young man who'd swept her off her feet. “Tucker was...incredible. Vibrant. Full of energy and passion...it was impossible not to like him, and I fell for him, hard. But I have this awful habit of...forgetting myself around men I'm attracted to, you know? I get all flustered and stupid, and forget simple things – like contraception.”

    She glanced at Marliss, who was watching her with concern. At her look, the blonde woman nodded for her to continue, so Brenna took a deep breath. “When I found out that I was pregnant, we'd only been seeing each other – casually, mind you – for about three months. After I told him, everything changed.”

    How?”

    Brenna sighed again. “He got...scared. For the first time since I'd met him, he was really and truly terrified. Everything was so new, then...not just the clones, but the War; so much was uncertain...I think he panicked. I told him and he said that he couldn't handle it. The next day, he and his squad were gone.

    I tried to contact him quite a few times, but he never replied. Eventually I gave up, but I've kept track of his number ever since, in case Iri ever wants to find him; he's still alive, but I'm not sure where he is, now.”

    There was a moment of absolute silence before Marliss took a breath in the manner of someone who was trying to calm herself. When she looked at Brenna, her eyes were sad. “I'm sorry, Bren. That's...”

    Brenna gave a tight smile. “It's okay. I mean, it's not okay – it's an awful situation all around – but I can't let myself be too upset with him. Tucker was so young, Mar, I see that now.”

    You weren't exactly an old biddy yourself,” Marliss pointed out.

    Nodding, Brenna gave a deep inhale, because it was always difficult to speak about Tucker; doing so brought back a lot of memories, many of which she tried not to think about. “At the time we were both just having fun, but now...”

    She frowned and looked down at her folded hands. “It was a mistake, on both of our parts: he shouldn't have taken off the way he did, but I shouldn't have gotten involved with him in the first place. Maybe I shouldn't have even expected him to act any differently once he found out I was pregnant. But since I can't go back and change things, I'm just trying to make them right, from here on out.”

    So...what happened tonight, with your blond captain?” Marliss asked after a moment. “You really think he doesn't like you?”

    It's way, way to soon to go into all the details with Tucker,” she replied. “But he heard enough, I'm sure. Mar, their lives are so short; can you blame any of them for not wanting to spend it with someone complicated?”

    In response, Marliss gave her a knowing look. “Even I know that they're not all the same. Rex isn't Tucker.”

    I do know that,” she replied with a frown. “It's just...difficult.”

    Rex's face came to her mind's eye, along with his words from the previous day: “I always mean what I say...you can count on that.”

    Perhaps it was true, but she didn't think she'd ever get to find out, now.

    Marliss shifted on the bed, a thoughtful expression on her face as if she was trying to sort out a puzzle. “Maybe he just didn't know how you felt, so he decided to be cautious. They don't have much experience with women, right? That's the impression I got with Jesse.”

    It was a valid point, but Brenna suddenly felt too tired to think about it any more, so she gave Marliss a small smile. “Yeah, maybe. I'll give it a few days and see how I feel. Thanks for...”

    There was a pause while Brenna fumbled for the right words, but Marliss made a pfft noise as she rose and made her way for the 'fresher, leaving a smudge of grease in her wake. “It's the least I can do after I got engine grease all over your bed, which I'll clean up, by the way. Besides,” she added with a smile at the brown-haired woman. “Isn't that what friends are for?”

    *

    Six hours later, Rex and the rest of Torrent Company found themselves scattered aboard a few LAAT/i transports, dropping into the pink-hued, upper atmosphere of Ord Mantell as the pilots searched for a suitable landing zone. By all accounts, Ord Mantell was a pretty world, rife with lush, green mountains and vast inland seas; there were only a few inhabited areas, but they were densely populated by locals and tourists alike, especially when compared to the outlying rural communities, which were few and far between.

    Their destination, the Republic base, was in one of these areas, far away from any of the cities so not to hinder the planet's appeal to vacationers. Apparently, potential tourists didn't want to be reminded of the ongoing Wars.

    The troop transport's whine seemed louder than it ever had before, and Rex was thankful for the dampers in his bucket that blocked the worst of the noise; however, there was nothing to be done for the turbulence that seemed common in Ord Mantell's atmo other than grasp the handles that dangled from the ceiling and try to keep your footing. Once, when the transport hit a particularly rough patch of air, Rex had to stop Tup from falling over by grabbing a hold of the trooper's belt.

    Hang on, Tup,” he called through the internal comm channel.

    The younger clone's reply was edged with embarrassment. “Yessir. Sorry, sir.”

    There was more chagrin to his tone than should have been there for such a minor lapse; such a tone had become more and more common among his men since Umbara. “It's okay, lad,” Rex replied in a mild voice. “No need to apologize. Gravity affects all of us equally.”

    Tup nodded but didn't say anything more, and for a few minutes no one spoke at all over the comm channels, instead letting the distant, humming drone of the larty's engines fill the space. Rex shot a glance through the slotted sides of the transport, noting that he still couldn't make out the ground below and wondering how long it would be before they were able to land; the nature of the fly-zones over the cities made it damn near impossible to drop in like normal. Instead, precious minutes were wasted flying around as the pilot searched for an “acceptable” landing zone that wouldn't disturb the ordinary citizens.

    To Rex's way of thinking, it was beyond foolish. Never mind the fact that there was a battle happening at this very moment, and every second that ticked by equaled more lives lost.

    Beside him, Fives was shifting in place, his mannerisms indicating that the ARC was also anxious. After a moment, Rex heard the soft ding that indicated a private comm channel had been opened. “What's up, Fives?”

    You never told me how your 'not-date' went.”

    Rex rolled his eyes behind his visor. “This is hardly the time-”

    This is exactly the kriffing time,” Fives protested. “It's not like we have anything else to do. Now come on: how'd it go?”

    Not for the first time since he'd left her, Brenna's face came to his mind's eye and Rex frowned to himself. She had looked disappointed when he left, but he was uncertain as to why; she seemed to understand that his duty came first, but her expression indicated otherwise. Finally he sighed. “It was...nice, I guess. She brought some civvie food – not rations – and we ate. We talked a bit, too. But it got cut short when the general called me for this mission, so I had to leave.”

    Beside him, Fives' bucket tilted in an almost imperceptible nod. “And?”

    And what?”

    When are you going to see her next?”

    At this, Rex frowned again. “I don't know, Fives. I didn't...that is...” He sighed and resisted the urge to rub at his forehead. “I had to go, so I left. We didn't make...further plans.”

    There was a beat of silence, then Fives let loose a string of multi-lingual swears that were new even to Rex, adding: “I thought you liked her?”

    I do like her,” Rex replied, puzzled at the ARC's attitude. “But as I said, I had to go.”

    Fives gave a dramatic sigh. “And what did she think about that?”

    Thinking over the moment, Rex shook his head. “She seemed...disappointed, I guess. But I didn't get to talk to her about it, because I didn't have time to linger...why are you so bent out of shape?”

    For Force's sake, Rex,” Fives said, turning his visor so that he was facing the captain. “If you just walk out like that...well, it's like saying that you don't want to see her again. You can't just leave without at least giving her some kind of assurance that you'd like future contact.”

    A flash of chagrin swept through Rex, causing his hand to tighten over the dangling handle; beneath his boots he could feel the vibration of the LAAT/i's engines. “Fives, I'm a soldier,” he said after a moment, thinking of Brenna and her daughter. “I don't really have much of a future to offer her, or anyone else.”

    You of all people should know differently,” the ARC replied in an irritated voice that grew more insistent as he continued to speak. “You're a man, remember? Not just a clone and not just a soldier.”

    There was a pause that Rex took to be deliberate, so that the words could sink in. When Fives spoke again, the irritation had fled, replaced with a odd mixture of exasperation and affection. “Look, from where I'm standing, a pretty girl that you admit to liking also likes you and – for some unknown reason – wants to spend her limited free time with you. Brother, if you let this chance pass, you're an idiot.”

    With that, the ARC gave a huff and silenced the comm channel, leaving Rex alone with his thoughts. It hadn't occurred to him that she might read a snub in his actions, but the realization only served to highlight just how vast the differences were between the two of them.

    Each interaction that he had with Brenna, while enjoyable, gave him further proof that their worlds were just too different to comfortably intersect. In many ways, the distinctions were even more notable than those between the clones and the Jedi; at least those two groups were bound by the common experience of the Wars, and with the earlier years of their lives spent cloistered away from the rest of the galaxy in rigorous training.

    As a civilian, Brenna Damaris was unused to violence of any kind. Based on her reaction to the skirmish on Ithor, he doubted she'd even seen a battle-droid before, or held a blaster, for that matter.

    It was intriguing that she seemed to know a little bit of Mando'a, though, and he wondered if she was simply observant, or had spent more time around clones that he'd reckoned. Anyway, it didn't matter, because she also had a daughter, a family who very likely loved and missed her while she was away. She deserved someone with a strong future, someone who had something to offer besides a impeccable aim and half a normal life-span.

    The understanding hit him harder than it should have: whatever it was that had sprung up between them shouldn't keep progressing. Whether or not she liked him, it simply wasn't fair to her – or, by extension, her young daughter.

    Rex thought it was prudent not to wait any longer; since the larty was still circling he had a moment, so he withdrew a spare comlink from a pouch on his belt and was preparing to tap off a quick message to her, when the entire transport gave a violent shudder, causing him to tumble most ungracefully to his chest, the comlink clattering to the floor and out of his sight. Moments later, he felt his arms being lifted; looking up, he smiled to himself as Tup helped him to his feet.
    Gravity got you down, sir?” There was a grin in the younger clone's voice, which made Rex give a chuckle despite the other things on his mind.

    Looks that way,” he replied as he righted himself and reached for a handle above his head. A scan of the floor of the transport revealed that the comlink was indeed gone; moments later he heard the pilot say that a suitable landing-zone had been found and they were beginning their descent. “Thanks for helping me up, Tup.”

    Tup gave a laugh. “Any time, Captain.”

    *****


    More background info about Brenna and her daughter; it was probably pretty clear that Iri's dad was a clone, but here's the confirmation and backstory. (So, does Bren have a "thing" for clones? :p)

    The dynamic between Fives and Rex was a lot of fun to write. In some ways, Rex really does need someone to nudge him in the right direction, which Fives is more than happy to do.

    This is silly, but I'm proud of the "gravity" joke. It comes up again. ;)

    Thanks for reading and don't forget to leave a review!

    Next time: seismic tank!


  24. Valairy Scot Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Sep 16, 2005
    star 5
    I'm caught up again...and still enjoying this.
  25. laloga Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2011
    star 2
    @Valairy Scot, thanks so much for reading & commenting! I'm glad you're still enjoying the story. :)


    *****
    Chapter Eleven

    As it turned out, the rumors of the seismic tank were true.

    Rarely had Rex come across such raw, destructive power on this scale; surrounded by thousands of battle-droids which prevented the clones from getting too close, the massive vehicle hovered along the countryside, pausing at any settlement and pummeling its cylindrical driver into the ground with a sound worse than any kind of thunder. There was a moment of stillness before it moved on. When it did, nothing was left in its wake besides crushed, crumbled buildings and churned ground.

    The first time Rex saw this happen in person, his men were in the process of coordinating with the 317th Battalion, who'd been stationed on the Republic base. A rumbling had sounded in the distance, and they had all turned to see a massive shadow approaching over a nearby hill.

    Since he'd studied the vids of General Windu, he'd instantly recognized the weapon, as well as the corresponding drop of his stomach to his feet, which was an all-too-familiar sensation in the heat of battle.

    At Rex's word, the soldiers had sprung into action; they'd kept out from the way of the center of the tank, where its pulverizing capabilities lay, instead making for the clanker army that was surrounding the machine. Based on the vids he'd seen, the backlash of dirt and displaced air from the driver of the tank was brutal, so Rex gave the order for everyone to stay as far back as they could. As he'd done so, he'd watched Ahsoka and General Skywalker vault over the heads of the clones, towards the body of the tank itself, where their presence would do the most damage.

    That had been hours ago. In the time since, Rex had only caught glimpses of the Jedi's lightsabers as they worked to demolish the vehicle; however, most of his attention was focused on keeping his men alive amidst a veritable sea of droids, the waves of which kept coming. The casualties were going to be severe: he'd been unable to do anything other than watch as Cay got separated from the group and overrun by a group of B1s; Sergeant Silver had taken a blow to the leg, but he'd gotten back up again, thankfully; many men from the 317th fell around him, and each time he regretted that he hadn't had time to learn their names.

    Rexter!”

    The familiar voice filled him with relief and regret all at once; looking up, he watched as Ahsoka somersaulted over his head, coming to a perfect landing right beside him. In the brightness of the day, he could see that she was coated in brown dust, the markings on her lekku obscured and dulled, and apparently she'd gotten several new scrapes.

    Despite all of that, or perhaps because of it, she was still dazzling.

    For a moment they stood back-to-back, she deflecting blaster-bolts while he sent streaks of plasma towards the droids that were trying to overrun their position. It was a familiar pattern, and it brought him a strange measure of comfort, considering the circumstances.

    Ahsoka moved like wind, like rain. Gravity seemed to have no effect on her as she spun and twisted, bending her body at impossible angles and speeds to deflect the incoming fire. The glow of her sabers was bright even in the daytime, and her sky-blue eyes flashed with the kind of determination he'd always admired.

    At one point she flipped over his head a second time, launching herself off of the ground to defend his other side; as he couldn't prevent himself from watching her move, her body crossed before Ord Mantell's sun and for an instant he was blinded by the fierce light, even with the glare-filter in his helmet. When she hit the ground again, he could still see spots dancing before his eyes.

    When there was a break in the fire, he glanced her way. “The general?”

    A strange, pained expression crossed her face, and she indicated the direction she'd come. “Still at the tank. He told me to help you guys.”

    We need it,” Rex replied, ducking as another round of fire was leveled towards him by a group of super battle droids. Normally it took a slew of blaster-bolts to fell an SBD, but Rex knew the exact spots to aim for maximum damage, so he watched in satisfaction as the lot of them collapsed to the ground only a few moments after he'd let loose.

    They fought side-by-side for several more minutes, until she sprang away from him to provide cover to a pair of the medics of the 317th who were working in tandem to drag a two fallen men to the relative shelter of a pile of droid-pieces.

    Suddenly, he heard a shout over the comm. It sounded like a male voice, but it wasn't a clone; the instant he realized that it was General Skywalker, the ground beneath his feet gave a violent shudder and a distant sort of roar met his ears. A single glance told Rex all he needed to know; save for a few men of the 317th and a heap of dead tinnies he was alone, and his stomach did that horrible plummeting-to-his-knees thing again, because in the chaos and confusion of battle he'd gotten too kriffing close.

    Everyone clear the area, now!”

    Rex heard himself shouting and thought that his voice sounded distant and strange. Time had slowed to the consistency of thick mud as he blinked into his HUD and watched what appeared to be a tidal wave of dust rolling away from the tank, heading right for his position. A streak of sienna and glowing emerald indicated that Ahsoka had managed to leap away, but beyond that he wasn't sure where anyone else was, let alone himself.

    Again, Rex called to the men of the 317th who were nearby, but before he could finish the words, the wind and dust were thundering into his back, plucking him off of his feet and tossing him up, up in the air, higher than any Human should have been without the use of some kind of repulsion system.

    While Rex was airborne he was briefly reminded of Geonosis, when the Jedi dropped him with the Force. He hadn't been pleased with the act – and that was putting it mildly – but he'd ultimately trusted them not to let him plummet to his death, just as he'd trusted them to take care of his men as best they could, even while they were all at war.

    But now he couldn't see anything below him; everything, his men, the droids they had been fighting, Ahsoka...they were all obscured by the dust. For the space of a heartbeat he was alone. Was this it? Was this how he would meet his end? Somehow he'd always thought that it would have been a blaster-bolt to the chest...

    For one moment, one brief moment that somehow seemed to stretch into eternity, he was weightless. Insubstantial.

    Then, Rex fell.

    *

    Darkness surrounded him, darkness and mist. Flashes of light. Shouts. The ground shuddered beneath his boots and as he watched the writhing enemy vehicle approaching, Rex felt exposed even within the shell of his armor. Around him, bodies of brothers littered the area and those that still stood were firing upon one another, despite the absence of their helmets, which had been thrown to the ground below.

    Firing at each other? No...no, it was wrong. It was all wrong, and he needed to set it right, somehow. Rex tore his own bucket off of his head and opened his mouth to shout, but his voice wouldn't work.

    The Umbaran tank slithered forward, its joints creaking like droids even as it churned the ground beneath its mechanized feet. The troopers stood before it, somehow heedless of its existence, and continued to hurl blaster fire at one another. Flares of plasma was blinding against the darkness and the air was filled with the acrid scents of mist, burned metal and death; so many had fallen, already, but more collapsed with each passing moment.

    This...this was the price for victory?

    All around him, the darkness echoed with cries of brothers, sounds that ripped through his armor easier than any streaking plasma. Rex knew he needed to do something but his legs wouldn't work. He couldn't move, couldn't shout, could hardly breathe for the choking mist and darkness. Helpless, he was helpless. Insubstantial.

    Then, there was light. Silver-white, slipping gently between his eyes and the darkness, and a soft voice that was unlike any he'd ever heard. “You're not programmed.”

    How would you know?”

    Rex.” It wasn't his voice, but it could have been. Fives, he realized after a moment. It was Fives. Rex was still surrounded by darkness, but it was the harmless kind that lingered behind closed eyes, and there was something soft beneath his head.

    Captain?” There was a sigh, then Fives' voice was muted, as if he was turning. “Kix...”

    He's waking,” the medic replied, the ease of his tone just enough to offer comfort without sounding complacent. “Just give him a second to come out of it.”

    A bed. Rex realized that he was laying on a bed, or a cot. Likely in the barracks on Ord Mantell, unless he'd been transported back to the Resolute. His head felt thick with the remnants of painkillers, but even so his right arm hurt like hell. An inhale brought Rex the scent of antiseptic, recycled air and brothers. His nose wrinkled. Brothers who hadn't showered in some time.

    Fives laughed, but the sound was just a bit off. “He's frowning – that's a good sign, right? Means his personality's unharmed, at least.”

    Is he going to be okay, sir?” Tup's voice sounded concerned, which made Rex smile to himself even as he struggled to speak.

    At first his words came out garbled and blurred, as if he'd imbibed an entire tray of Toydarian Teases. “...'m fine, Tup. Just...gravity.”

    There was a sprinkle of relieved laughter at his words, which helped give Rex the strength to open his eyes; when he managed, he realized that he was on the Resolute, in the medbay, surrounded by his men. Every one of them still wore his armor, which was dirty and scuffed as if they hadn't yet had a chance to clean it, and he could read the relief and worry in their eyes even as they began exclaiming happily.

    Tup, Silver, Chopper, Jesse, Fives, Coric...for a moment his vision was filled with their faces and his head echoed with their voices, then Coric clapped his hands.

    Alright, he's awake,” the chief medic said, casting a knowing look around the room. “Now clear out and give him some space – or else.”

    Or else what?” Jesse said, lifting his brow even as the others began to grumble good-naturedly and file out of the medbay. “You're a medic. You're here to heal.”

    In response, Kix stepped forward and brandished a hypospray, adding a mock-glare as he addressed the trooper. “One touch with this and you'll be out cold, Jes. Then I'll let Fives decide what tattoo should go on the other side of your head.”

    Several minutes later – amidst a chorus of relieved laughter – Coric had ushered everyone but Kix and Fives out of the room, and Rex was struggling to sit up in the bed so that he could take stock of his condition. It didn't appear to be too bad. His right arm was wrapped in a plexi-cast and resting in a sling, while he had an assortment of bandages and bacta patches on various other parts of his body. Beneath the sheet that rested on the bio-bed he was wearing only his boxers; another glance indicated that his legs were intact, save for a few mild scrapes.

    Rex looked up at Kix, who had pulled out a small scanner and was holding it over his heart, checking the readout on a datapad. “What happened?”

    His brothers exchanged glances, then Kix looked back down at the 'pad. “You landed.”

    On what?” Rex asked, resisting the urge to rub at his cast, as the ache in his arm was starting to sharpen.

    Fives crossed his arms and lifted his brow at the captain. “Nothing much. Just what was left of a nearby building. Your arm took most of the impact...lucky for you I watched your shebs get tossed in the air in the first place.”

    Fives actually knows how to set a bone,” Kix explained to Rex's puzzled look. “Apparently they teach the ARCs something other than how to swagger around in those kamas.”

    Following this, he ducked to avoid a playful jab from Fives, which gave Rex a chuckle. After a moment, the medic nodded to the datapad and began to set away his kit. “You're lucky, Captain,” he said. “It could have been much worse.”

    That seems to be the running theme of late,” Fives replied in a dark voice, hooking his thumbs in his belt.

    Rex didn't reply right away; instead, he cast a glance around the medbay, noting that only a few of the other beds were filled with sleeping or unconscious clones. In his fashion, Kix seemed to know the captain's question before it was spoken. “We lost Cay and Argent. Imp, Shock and Thrash were banged up pretty bad. Silver and Chopper each got a new scar, but otherwise the 501st is still intact. The 317th lost about ten percent of its soldiers, but the general managed to destroy the tank before things got too much worse.”

    You were out-cold by that point,” Fives added as Kix rose to his feet.

    At these words, the three men were silent, marking those who had fallen in their own way; grief clung to Rex's entire body, turning his bones to lead and causing the pace of his blood to grow sluggish and halting. Cay had been one of those men who didn't talk much, but when he did his words made you sit up and take notice. Argent was – had been – sharp, but kind, so much so that despite his often gruff nature, he was one of the few troopers whom no one argued with – ever.

    Rex had been fighting this war for well over two years and he'd seen countless brothers die in innumerable ways. It never got any easier.

    Quite the opposite.

    He took a slow, deep breath to bring back a sense of calm, because even though he was lying in the medbay, arm in a sling, the men who were left still looked to him for guidance. Clearing his throat, he looked up at Fives. “What of the Jedi?”

    They're fine,” the ARC replied with a nod. “Well...Skywalker wasn't pleased when he and the commander got called away almost the moment we returned to the Resolute – General Kenobi's doing, I think – but they were both concerned for you.”

    Kix held up his comlink. “Commander Tano asked me to send her a message the moment that your eyes opened; she also asked me to tell you that she's sorry she wasn't here when they did.”

    Fives chuckled at this, but Rex only nodded. After a few moments, Kix turned to make for the exit across the room. “You're to remain off active duty until that cast comes off, Captain,” he said, his tone leaving no room for argument. “If you need me, I'll be checking on the others with Coric. There's a few cuts and scrapes that'll need patching up. And don't say I should have done that before tending to you,” he added to Rex's opening mouth. “None of them would have it.”

    With that, the medic slipped out of the room, leaving Rex and Fives alone. The ARC gave a sigh and leaned against the wall behind Rex's bio-bed, rubbing at his forehead with his left hand in an uncharacteristic show of weariness.

    The Resolute's hyperdrive droned in the background, a gentle hum that had become as familiar to the captain as his own heartbeat, and he glanced down at the plexi-cast on his arm again. Lucky. He'd been lucky to survive the fall, of that he was well-aware.

    Near-death experiences were commonplace in his world, but this one felt different, somehow. Like every battle, most parts were a blur of action and training so deep it turned reactions into reflexes, but there were a few things he distinctly remembered: the wave of dust and dirt ripping through his brothers; the weightless feeling when he was airborne; Ahsoka as she leaped across the sun.

    He remembered watching her path, and how his vision had been temporarily blinded by dazzling sunlight; he realized at once that it had always been so with her. When he looked at Ahsoka – when he had looked at her, before – he had been unable to see anything else, even when his eyes had turned to other things, because of her beauty, of her brightness.

    But in his experience, nothing ever stayed the same.

    Casting his mind further back, to the minutes before they'd landed the transports and the battle had begun in earnest, he remembered that he'd been about to comm Brenna and tell her that he didn't think it was wise for them to see one another again; it might've been the last thing he ever said to her, and the idea sent a feeling of regret through him. Was it possible to regret something that hadn't come to pass?

    Cred for your thoughts.” Yes, Fives' voice was definitely weary. A glanced at the other clone's face revealed the shadows under his eyes; the darkness followed him, too.

    As Rex considered his reply, he idly skimmed the fingertips of his left hand over the surface of the cast, noting how it was surprisingly smooth. “I might never have spoken to her again,” he said after a moment, brows furrowing.

    There was a frown in Fives' voice. “Commander Tano?”

    Brenna.”

    A pause, a very weighted one, then: “And?”

    It was Rex's turn to frown. “And...I don't think I like the notion.”

    At this, Fives gave a snort of irritation. “What does it matter, Rex? I know that you already made up your mind not to see her any more.”

    The words were harsh, but it was not wholly out of annoyance with the captain; Rex could detect a deeper feeling in his brother's words, an anger that had been apparent since before Umbara. “You don't know that.”

    I know what you were thinking back there, and I still think you're an idiot.” With this, Fives pushed himself away from the wall and faced Rex, his eyes narrowed. Exhaustion creased his features, and Rex wondered if Fives' nightmares were similar to his own. “See, that's the main difference between us, Rex. I've chosen to follow my own path, live my own life, because it's all I have – all any of us have, in the end. Don't you think that we're owed a bit of happiness, after all we've been through?”

    This is a war, Fives,” Rex replied, straightening his spine as best he could while prone. “We're soldiers...our happiness isn't a priority when we work for the greater good. Life and duty are one and the same for us.”

    At Rex's words, the ARC crossed his arms before his chest and gave a deep scowl. “Then you may as well throw yourself in front of the next blaster shot, Captain, because that's where that way of thinking is going to take you, in the end.” Here, his voice softened, and his arms fell to his sides with a kind of heaviness that had become more common of late. “I think that we have to find a balance between duty and happiness. We're soldiers, but we're men, too.”

    I know all that,” Rex replied with another frown. “But-”

    But you don't believe it.”

    Rex said nothing, so Fives shook his head and turned for the exit. When he reached the door, he paused and cast a half-glance back towards the captain. “When it comes down to brass tacks, all we have is this one life. I, for one, am going to make the most of mine while I have it. I recommend you do the same.”


    ******



    Battle scenes are not my forte, so I'd love to hear how y'all liked/didn't like the one on Ord Mantell. According to Wookieepedia, the seismic tank was one of those impractical things that didn't pop up too much, but I thought it was pretty cool and wanted to try my hand at writing it. Also, I love that episode of the original CW cartoon. (Mace Windu is awesome. There's no other word for it.)

    Thank you for reading. :)

    Next time: a visit to Brenna. :D
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