Saga Worth Fighting For: Captain Rex/OC, romance/drama. Sequel to The Fighting Kind, Updated 12/01/14,

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  1. laloga Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2011
    star 2
    Title: Worth Fighting For
    Author: laloga
    Characters: Captain Rex, assorted clones, Ahsoka Tano, and OCs
    Genre: Drama, Adventure, Romance (Not Rexsoka)
    Era: TCW
    Rating: T
    Summary: After the fall of the Republic, Rex struggles to build a life with the woman he loves. Sequel to "The Fighting Kind." Rex/OC

    *****



    So here we are, again.

    First of all, this is a sequel to my story, The Fighting Kind, so if you are not familiar with that fic, this one will probably be gibberish to you.

    If you're familiar with TFK, this will pick up more or less where it left off, but there are many differences between this fic and that one. This is a slow story. Not a boring one, (I hope!), but there is not a lot of the action that there was in its predecessor. Fair warning: there is a goodly amount of angst and drama, as well as much romance, because that's what I enjoy writing. Overall, this is a story about putting a family together, about love overcoming all obstacles, and about holding on to hope in difficult times.

    Legal” mumbo-jumbo: I don't own Star Wars and am not making any money off of this labor of love. I do own my OCs, and if you'd like to use them, please PM me so we can discuss. Many thanks to LongLiveTheClones and Jade_Max for looking over this before it went live. :)

    Lastly, I had a lot of reservations about this story, and at times it was very difficult to write, so any and all feedback is appreciated more than I can really say.

    Enough of my blathering! Please read and enjoy. :)


    Worth Fighting For

    Save your love through loneliness,
    Save your love through sorrow.
    I gave you my only-ness,
    Give me your tomorrow.

    ~ “If I Were A Carpenter.” Lyrics by Tim Hardin; the “inspiring” version sung by Johnny Cash and June Carter.



    Chapter One

    Above all things, this is a story about love.

    Love is not just a feeling, nor is it solely an action. Love is not something that can be quantified and processed, or assimilated like so much intel – no matter how much my husband would wish otherwise.

    It makes us stronger, makes us better, and it comes in many forms. So many pieces of my past that have been taken from my memory, but when I look upon the faces of those whom I love the most, certainty fills me, pours into me like rain from the sky. My love for them gives me strength to keep going through the darkness and doubt, while their love for me buoys me up, sends me to greater heights than I ever imagined were possible.

    In so many ways, I am blessed beyond measure.

    But as you can probably guess, it has not always been so; I've been asked to set down my story and so I will – what I remember, anyway. What I cannot remember has been reconstructed to the best of my ability, and anything that I describe which didn't happen in my presence was carefully recorded from the person who was there.

    Even though things are vastly more complicated now than they ever were before, I am not afraid any longer. The fear has all but dissipated, replaced with joy, because when I look in the face of my husband and children, I know that I am exactly where I need to be. All of the hardship that brought us to this place doesn't matter quite so much, except to remind me how lucky I am.

    *

    Three months following the formation of the Empire...

    Late summer on Alderaan was perhaps Brenna's favorite season.

    It was the time of year where the ever-present, gusting wind faded to a mild shuffle and the sky was so blue and clear that it hurt to look at it; the halcyon days, so these weeks were called, and she found that it was one of the things about her homeworld that she loved.

    Mama, Rex ride pony?”

    Even though she was safe in her mother's arms, Irini sounded concerned, and Brenna had to chuckle at the direction the toddler's finger was pointing. The main paddock in front of the quagga barn currently contained four quagga and six Humans; four mounted, riding in a messy circle around the two who stood at the center.

    Jensine and Caith Damaris, Brenna's mother and brother, were attempting to instruct the clones in the basic principles of quagga riding. Rex, Jesse, Kix and Coric – all of whom had found their way to Brenna's mother Jensine's home on Alderaan in the aftermath of the formation of the Empire – were each astride a quagga, and as Brenna watched the determined set of Rex's jaw, she felt her smile widen.

    The quagga he was riding gave a snort and a shake of her head, which caused Rex's eyes to narrow even as he bounced ungracefully in the saddle, his body's movements jarring against the rhythmic, light jog of the quagga as it trotted along. He was trying so hard – they all were – but riding was not a skill that could be mastered in a short time, even by a clone trooper with advanced cognitive and learning abilities.

    From the center of the paddock, Jensine lifted her voice. “Don't put all of your weight on the stirrups, Rex. Move with your upper legs instead, and remember to keep your heels down. Coric, keep your hands still – don't confuse the poor thing with mixed signals. Jesse: don't plop back on the saddle like a bag of grain...ease yourself down, gently.”

    If it helps, count along in your head with the quagga's steps,” Caith added. “One, two. One, two. One, two...rise on 'one' and come back down on 'two.' Yes, like that...good job, Kix.”

    Goo' job, Kix,” Iri echoed, which caused Brenna to chuckle again, though a moment later her daughter twisted around from her place in Brenna's lap. “Iri ride pony?”

    Brenna, Iri, Edme and Tavi – Caith's wife and son – were seated on a few old, upturned barrels outside of the paddock, as Brenna had wanted to ensure her daughter would be a safe distance away should any of the quagga become agitated. Not that she was expecting anything of the kind, but Iri's safety was too important to risk. At her daughter's words, Brenna shook her head. “No, sweetheart. You're not big enough, yet.”

    Iri pouted, but before she could argue, Rex and his mount circled around towards them, and the toddler's attention switched to watching the blond clone seated atop the striped equine. “Rex ride pony!”

    As he passed, he shot Brenna and Iri a somewhat pained smile, though Brenna had to laugh when he managed to tilt his hat in their direction. Beside her, Edme chuckled as well. “They're all going to be so sore tomorrow.”

    Nodding, Brenna's mind immediately went over all the ways she could help alleviate some of the discomfort that Rex would surely be feeling in his lower body, as all beginning riders did; as it was, the sight of him in civilian clothes, astride one of the quagga and looking like he knew what he was doing was...

    It was warm outside, but that didn't account for the heat that had suddenly appeared in her face, because she did miss his armor, but this sight about made up for the fact.

    He's not bad,” Edme added with a nod to Rex. “Him and Kix...but Jesse looks like he's about to topple over.”

    The clones hadn't been in the process more than a few weeks, but already it was easy to see that some of them were taking to riding better than others. Rex and Kix seemed to have more of an affinity for the quagga than Coric, but poor Jesse was almost hopeless. Indeed, as Brenna watched, Jesse seemed to lose his balance for a moment and swayed precariously in the saddle, his quagga flicking her ears backward as if irritated.

    Jesse, don't forget to grip with your legs,” Jensine called out, but it was too late.

    The tattooed clone swore sharply in Mando'a – the language that most of the former soldiers were familiar with to some degree – as he toppled out of the saddle and landed on his backside in the dusty paddock, only a few meters from where Brenna and the others were watching. Immediately, and with varying degrees of difficulty, the other clones managed to slow, then halt their mounts so that their brother wouldn't be trod upon while Caith hurried over to help him to his feet. Wincing, Jesse rubbed at his backside, then began to slap his trousers to remove the worst of the dirt.

    Kriffing, shabla thing,” he muttered, looking up at the quagga he'd been riding, who – in a credit to Jensine's training – had not abandoned her rider.

    It's not the quagga's fault, Jess,” Rex said as he brought his mount around. “You just lost your balance.”

    Jesse grabbed at the reins that he'd dropped, which were hanging in the dust. “Yeah, yeah...I know. But I've never fallen off of a speeder, and this seems like it should be less complicated.”

    At this, Rex glanced towards Jensine, who'd been conducting the training session. “Perhaps we should take a break?”

    The wiry, fair-haired woman nodded, though her gaze on the clones was thoughtful, and she said nothing as the rest of the soldiers began to dismount. “Don't be discouraged,” Caith said as Jesse gave a heavy sigh. “You all only just started this a little while ago; it took Brenna months to manage not to fall off at the slightest gust of wind.”

    With this, he shot his younger sister a teasing grin. In return, Brenna stuck her tongue out at him, which made Iri giggle in her lap. Jensine sighed and lifted her eyes to the sky. Beside Brenna, Edme smiled at her husband, who returned the look even as Kix asked him a question about the quagga.

    As the others began to speak, Rex looped the reins of his mount around the paddock fence so that she would be secure, then slipped through the wide gap between the wooden slats so that he could reach Brenna and Iri, the former of whom got to her feet to greet him. Now that he was close to her, Brenna could smell warm leather and trace amounts of dust that had clung to his cotton shirt, and she slipped her free arm around his waist to kiss his cheek.

    You're looking good out there,” she said as Rex tousled Iri's blonde curls with affection. “Very good.”

    There was a pause, then he glanced her way with an inquiring look on his face as he indicated Irini. In response, Brenna handed him Iri, watching with unconcealed delight as the man she loved took her daughter in his arms and smiled at the little girl, who beamed up at him like he was the the sun itself. She could tell that he was still a little uncertain about holding Iri, but she appreciated that he was making an effort to get close to her daughter because right now, standing together as they were, it felt like they were a true family.

    After giving Brenna the half-smile that made her heart skip a beat, he glanced back at Iri, who was reaching up for the wide brim of his hat. “What do you think, Ir'ika? Do I look like I know what I'm doing?”

    The toddler giggled at the Mando'a nickname and her honey-brown eyes were wide as she looked up at the former captain who was holding her securely. “Rex ride pony,” she said sagely.

    I'm trying, kiddo,” he replied with a sigh, tilting his head down enough so she could grab at his hat but not enough for her to pull it off of his head. “It's...”

    He trailed off, because in that moment Brenna's comlink began to chirrup with the cadence that indicated a text-only message was incoming. Reaching in her pocket, she pulled out the device and frowned when she saw the source. “It's a message from Marliss and Fives,” she said, glancing up at him again. “Mar says she's forwarding you a voice-only transmission...and it's in Mando'a?”

    Rex's forehead creased and his expression flickered with curiosity as he nodded. Although Fives and Marliss had enjoyed a brief sojourn on Alderaan with the other clones, it hadn't taken the couple very long to head back for the stars, seeking adventure. While Brenna missed her friend – and she knew that Rex missed his brother, his vod – she was pleased that Marliss and Fives had one another. Additionally, the fact that they were traveling meant that they had access to a wider variety of information than could be found on the HoloNet.

    At the moment, Brenna wasn't certain if that was such a good thing, though for what reason she couldn't have said exactly.

    The comlink chimed again, indicating another message; she reached for Iri, but Rex shook his head and shifted the little girl so she was in one arm, which was when he took the comlink from Brenna with his free hand. Moments later, the voice-only transmission was activated, and Brenna heard the sound of Fives' voice, his normally jovial tone incongruously serious against the beautiful day.

    Most of the transmission was in Mando'a, though there were a few words of Basic sprinkled in. As far as she knew, the majority of the clone army had been passing familiar with some of the language, but there were a few clones, like Rex and Fives, who'd taken quite strongly to the Mandalorian language, assimilating it as a part of their heritage and history, since their progenitor, Jango Fett, had been a member of that warrior culture. Brenna didn't know Mando'a, but because Rex did – and because it was a part of Iri's heritage as well – she'd been trying to learn. Now, as she listened to the recording and was only able to catch an odd word here and there, she wished she'd been able to learn faster.

    As the message progressed, Rex's expression faded from curious to open-mouthed shock, then a harrowing mixture of anger and confusion. Additionally, the other clones, seeing their brother and former captain listening so intently, had gathered around; within moments their expressions matched Rex's, and Brenna was struck with fear.

    What is it?” she heard herself whisper, but Rex didn't answer. In his arms, Iri appeared to be listening to the message as well, her face confused but attentive.

    Hibirar...ner vod...akaan'ade...”

    Caith's voice next to her ear nearly made Brenna start. “What's going on, Bren?”

    Learn, something...my brother...the army...

    Still trying to pick up what words she could, Brenna shook her head; her throat was dry and her stomach was suddenly in knots. The sunlight that had once been so comforting now felt overly bright and glaring; the endless stretch of blue sky seemed oppressive, and she was filled with an unnamed sense of dread, because now Rex looked...

    Frightened, like he'd looked when they'd first met a year ago on Mimban, but more so. Now, he looked like he was being broken from the inside out.

    The other clones matched him: Jesse's mouth was open and his brows were raised; Coric's fists were tight at his sides and Kix's eyes were closed as if in mourning.

    At Fives' next words, Rex's mouth twisted into a grimace, like he was torn between punching something and collapsing where he stood. “Jehaatir...ner vod, it was an jehaatir. I'm sorry to have to tell you this, Rex.”

    Brenna was vaguely aware that Jensine, Edme and Tavi had come to stand around her, all of them watching the unfolding drama before them with no knowledge or understanding of what was going on. Just when she didn't know how much more she could take, the transmission ended and the group was left in silence.

    Eyes fixed on the comlink in his hand, Rex's face had gone completely blank, which frightened her more than any of his other expressions, because she couldn't read this one, couldn't get a sense of what he was thinking. Brenna opened her mouth to ask – again – but her daughter, who was still in Rex's arm, beat her to the punch.

    Why Rex sad?”

    He blinked once, then looked at the little girl in his grasp as if seeing her for the first time. Brenna stepped forward, reaching for him because she had to do something. “Rex...what is it? What did Fives say?”

    She embraced him and her daughter, but he held still and his entire body was tense. The comlink fell out of his hand into the dirt and his eyes were open but unseeing. “A lie,” his said in a hoarse voice that wasn't his. “Jehaatir. It was a lie.”

    Her entire family, new and old, was all around her, but Brenna only had eyes for Rex, who even now was passing Iri back to her with trembling hands, as though he weren't sure he'd be able to support the child's weight. Brenna swallowed and hugged Iri to her chest. “What was a lie, Rex?”

    When his eyes finally met hers, they were shadowed. Haunted. “Everything.”
    Last edited by laloga, Dec 1, 2014
    Kahara likes this.
  2. Nyota's Heart Combos & Paragraphs Host

    Game Host
    Member Since:
    Aug 31, 2004
    star 6
    @laloga -- I adored the introspection of the opening section. The beauty of the first person with the looking back having conquered feeling blessed on times of joy and struggle, feeling relieved that the struggle has been surmounted. =D=

    The clones riding the ponies was so fun! ;) Rex with Iri and Bren -- sweetness all the way. Then :eek: [face_nail_biting] the message. Something tells me that 1. either Rex and his comrades will be haring off to an adventure leaving Bren and Iri behind :( just when they're starting a family. Or 2. Something Rex learned has just turned his world upside down and sideways rather like on the order of: Guess who the Emperor really is, i.e., a Sith, like the one who was pulling the strings of Grievous and Dooku. :p or "I am your father." LOL
    Last edited by Nyota's Heart, May 31, 2014
    Kahara and laloga like this.
  3. laloga Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2011
    star 2
    @Nyota's Heart: Yay! [face_dancing] I'm so glad you enjoyed the opening section! It's meant to mirror Rex's in TFK; both of them looking back, after, and reflecting on all that's happened.

    I hope you like ponies, lol! There's quite a bit of them in this story. ;) Yeah, the message. Sigh. Lots of stuff coming up, naturally...

    Thank you for the lovely comment! [face_love] I hope you continue to enjoy this story! :D


    *****
    Chapter Two

    Approximately three months later...

    As he leaned back in his saddle to halt his mount's progress, Rex took a moment to watch the sunrise.

    The mountains that surrounded his home rose above a patchwork array of greens and golds, a seemingly endless stretch of pasture that filled this section of Alderaan; he could see that the basalt-gray peaks were covered with a dusting of snow, evidence that the summer had truly faded and autumn was well on its way. As if to verify the knowledge, a cool slip of wind snickered beneath his coat and set the hairs on his arms to standing at attention.

    But the chill was nothing he couldn't handle, especially when it was outdone by the majesty of the sky above his head. Threads of crimson, pink and gold had already begun to find their way across the wisps of upper-level clouds that had remained in the sky, itself a lightening indigo that was still peppered with the occasional star. Rex knew that, were he to dawdle on this hill much longer, the mountains and valley below him would be gilded by the light of the sunrise, sharpening the entire stretch of land to such a great degree that it seemed surreal.

    Sometimes he found it difficult to believe that this was his reality, that it wasn't a dream. He inhaled; the air was brisk and clean, so far from the stale kind that he'd grown used to while on the Resolute. The warm scent of leather and animal met him, and he could also tell that someone – perhaps one of the neighbors – had a fire going in the distance; Brenna had said that it wasn't quite cold enough to warrant using the fireplace of their homestead to supplement the heaters, but Rex thought he would enjoy it when the time came.

    Beneath him, his mount gave a soft whicker; Rex glanced down at the quagga's striped, stiff mane and reached out to pat the creature, feeling the muscles of her neck tense under his gloves. The quagga stomped one of her feet, as if reminding him that they had a job to do, and he gave a chuckle. “Alright, Nova,” he said as he turned away from the vista. “We're going, girl.”

    Rather than use the reins to guide her, he shifted his body weight and nudged the quagga's right side with his heel; moments later he felt a small flicker of satisfaction when she began to move in the direction he'd indicated, and they resumed walking along the fence-line of the far pasture.

    It was quiet now, but Rex's attention had shifted from appreciating the view to the task at hand. The fences that ran across this section of the Damaris' land were in constant need of repair, and despite the fact that he and his brothers were trying to upgrade the entire length to an energy-fence, the portions that were still old-style metal needed to be checked for damages almost daily. Like much of the work out here it wasn't a difficult job – especially when compared to planning and executing a battle – but it was time-consuming.

    There were a few speeders on the property, but Rex found that he preferred to ride Nova while on this type of mission; the quagga allowed him to take the appropriate pace necessary to get a good look at each section of fence. A speeder would be much too fast, even at a low velocity.

    Additionally, Rex enjoyed riding. He'd always preferred working with living creatures while in the army, as rare an opportunity as it seemed to be, and among all of his brothers, he and Kix had taken to riding the quagga better than Coric or Jesse. It helped that Brenna also seemed to enjoy the sight of Rex on one of the creatures, though he couldn't for the life of him have said just why.

    When he wasn't with Bren, Rex preferred quiet moments like these, where it was just himself, Nova, and the sky. The only thing that would have made it better was if Brenna and her daughter Irini were with him, but the child was still – in Brenna's opinion – too young to learn how to ride, and in any case they weren't at the ranch right now, having gone on an overnight trip with Kix and Brenna's mother into the nearby town of Belleau-a-Lir to sell a few quagga at the monthly auction.

    As much as he was loathe to be apart from the woman he loved, Rex knew that Bren had a number of other reasons for the trip, and he looked forward to seeing her again later this afternoon, when she, Iri and Jensine were supposed to return.

    There was also a flare of worry at the thought of what news she'd bring back with her from Belleau-a-Lir, but he tried to push it aside. Speculation, as he knew, was pointless until one had all the facts.

    Besides, he had a job to do right now.

    Glancing down, Rex frowned at a segment of fence where the wire had come undone from the post, leaving a significant gap. With a fluid motion he dismounted, hooked Nova's reins over another post, and set about the repairs. It was a simple matter to reattach the eyelet that connected the wire to the post itself, and after a few tugs to ensure that it was now secure, Rex was satisfied. As he made to gather up the reins, a tuft of pale wool caught between the twining wires of the fence caught his eye, and he looked up and around, searching.

    About three months after Rex and his brothers had found their way to Alderaan, Jensine and her son Caith had invested in several dozen head of vilpacas, long-necked, temperamental creatures raised for their wool; while Rex supposed they were lucrative enough stock, the damn things were too smart for their own good, and were prone to escaping their pasture close to the house, which was what he supposed had happened now.

    As if sensing his shift in attention, Nova lifted her head as well and her nostrils flared as she scented the wind. To get a better view of their surroundings, Rex slid his foot into the metal stirrup of his saddle and swung his body atop the quagga. Absently, he patted her neck, then drew a folding pair of electrobinoculars out of his jacket pocket and scanned the area once more.

    As he did so, he lifted his wrist-comm, one that Bren had modified for the clones to use while on the ranch itself. “Jess?”

    There was a riff of static, then he heard his brother's reply. “What's up, Rex?”

    Are you near the villie pasture? I think we've got a escapee out here.” As he spoke, Rex twisted in his saddle and scanned the surrounding hills, searching for the tell-tale, wooly form of the wayward vilpaca. “Do a head count, if you can.”

    Another pause, then Jesse spoke again in a chiding voice that reminded Rex that none of them were in the army any longer. Of all his brothers, Jesse had best taken to the lack of command-structure that had served them all so well in the past, and while the tattooed clone was never disrespectful, there were times when Rex wished for a simple “Sir! Yessir!”

    Like right now. “Didn't you say that none of us are supposed to go out to the far pasture alone?”

    Rex sighed and squinted through the electrobinoculars again, nudging the brim of his hat out of the way to get a better look through the device. “Jess-”

    Hang on a sec,” Jesse broke in. “Coric says yes, we're missing a villie. Damn things. I'll come find you and we can look together. Protocol, right?”

    Before Rex could argue, the link was cut and he was left in silence. For a moment he frowned at the device, then he shook his head and continued to survey the area, still searching for the vilpaca. After a few minutes he nudged Nova into a walk again and began alternating his attention between the fence-line and the view through the electros as he searched.

    Finally, about five minutes later, he spied a villie-sized clump of pale wool in the distance, at the bottom of a nearby gully. The fact that the clump was unmoving was far from reassuring, so Rex slipped the electros back into his jacket and urged his mount forward into a brisk canter. Within a few moments he and Nova reached the body of the vilpaca and he frowned at the sight.

    Something – perhaps a mountain anooba – had found the creature first; there wasn't much left of the villie besides its wool. Beneath him, Nova made a low noise of worry and shifted her feet, ears pricked forward as if she'd caught the scent of the predator, so Rex reached for the blaster rifle that was slung in a special holster affixed to the saddle, just in case whatever had killed the vilpaca was nearby. While the mountain anoobas were nocturnal and solitary – unlike their Tatooine cousins – Rex knew better than to let his guard down, and he trusted Nova's nose far more than his own senses. Aside from the anoobas, he'd seen cath hounds and the occasional bolraida out here, but the predators mainly kept to the outskirts of the Damaris' property.

    But there was no sign of anoobas or any other sort of predator, so after a few minutes, Rex sheathed the weapon and raised his comm again. “Jess, what's your location?”

    I'm about half a klick away from your signal,” his brother replied, voice slightly muffled by the whine of an engine. “Everything okay?”

    Rex exhaled and blinked up at the sky, which was growing lighter with each passing moment. “I found the villie – or what's left of it.”

    Kriffing anoobas again?”

    I think so,” Rex replied, twisting around in his saddle to see if he could spy the other clone's approach. There. If he squinted, he could make out the shape of a speeder-bike as it raced toward himself and Nova, who lifted her head as the vehicle's buzzing became evident. “I found a breach in the fence earlier as well; I suppose that's how it got in.”

    There was a pause, then he heard Jesse sigh into the comlink. “I see you. Stand by.”

    Jesse pulled up on the bike within a few moments, slowing the vehicle as he approached Rex and Nova. Rex had dismounted and wrapped Nova's reins around a stake that he carried, which he then he slipped into the ground – a handy trick when there was no fence or tree nearby and the quagga was not yet fully-trained – and was currently examining the dead vilpaca.

    Like Rex, Jesse was dressed in a warm pair of trousers, a thick jacket that fell past his hips and sturdy boots; however, he wore a knitted hat over his head, which concealed most of his tattoo, while Rex favored one of the more wide-brimmed variety that kept the sun out of his eyes. There were times where Rex missed the information that the HUD in his bucket had provided – not to mention the comforting feel of armor on his skull – but there was no use crying over spilled bluemilk, as the saying went, and the hat was practical enough to suit his needs.

    It was an anooba,” Rex said by way of greeting as his brother approached. “A big one. See the tracks and the pattern of the bite-marks? It's a relatively fresh kill, too, so I suppose it must have happened during the night.”

    Kriffing things,” Jesse replied, grimacing. “We need to get those perimeter fences energized already. That'll put a stop to this.”

    Rex nodded, then gestured to the area from which he'd arrived. “Only one section was damaged, but I hadn't been looking too long. I think we need to check every day, instead of a few times each week.” Jesse opened his mouth to object, but Rex beat him to the punch. “Jess, you know as well as I do that energy fences aren't cheap. It'll take time before we can have the whole property outfitted like it needs to be.”

    I know,” Jesse said with a sigh. “But it's...frustrating, isn't it? In the past, if we needed something done...we could just do it. We didn't have to wait for any reason, especially not a lack of money.”

    Not always,” Rex replied. “There was plenty of procedure and red-tape in the army. But I know what you mean.”

    He did, too. Money had never been something that Rex or any of his brothers had to think about while in the GAR, but they'd gotten quite a wake-up call not long into their time as free citizens. However, he knew that he and the others were lucky; they'd been staying with Brenna and her family who'd been kind enough to share what they did have with the former soldiers, who in turn had taken to working on Jensine Damaris' ranch to help out where they could. It was a good system to his way of thinking; the clones did much of the labor around the ranch, which bolstered the profits of the place by a significant amount, and in return Rex and his brothers had a place to stay and food to eat.

    Additionally, Jensine insisted on paying them each a salary. And although it wasn't a lot of money, Rex had never felt pleased in quite the same way as he had when he'd earned the first wages of his life. While he knew that Bren had her own money from her time with the GAR, he was glad to be able to contribute in some way, and had decided to save as much of his wages as he could for Brenna and Iri's future.

    Their future. His future too...however much of it there might be.

    Rex pushed away the thought that had started to twist his gut a little more each time it crossed his mind; he turned his focus back to the dead vilpaca and his brother. “We should try to salvage the wool if we can,” he said, nodding to the creature. “No use letting it go to waste.”

    Jesse nodded in agreement, then thumbed in the direction of his speeder-bike. “That's what took me so long to get out here, actually. When you said you thought one of the villies was missing, I remembered what we did the last time this happened, so I went back and got the clippers. Just in case.”

    Good thinking,” Rex replied, pleased; once Jesse retrieved the clippers from the vehicle, the two of them bent over the lifeless vilpaca and began to shear off the valuable wool by the light of the sun as it began its ascent into the clearing sky. For a few minutes they worked in silence. Rex slid the buzzing clippers across the hide of the creature in as even a pattern as possible while Jess collected the wool and secured it in a canvas bag he'd brought along.

    After a little bit, Jesse cast him a careful look, then pitched his voice to rise just above the noise of the clippers. “So...you came out here alone. Again.”

    Rex said nothing as he guided the clippers along. Along with the increasing light, the wind had picked up, and he had to move slowly to ensure that Jess could collect all the wool before it was carried off by the breeze. Finally he shot his brother a glance. “It needed to be done, and the rest of you were busy.”

    Jesse grabbed at the next patch of pale wool. “You were the one who said we shouldn't travel alone, remember?”

    I know what I said,” Rex replied, narrowing his eyes at the pale wool as it fell away from the clippers. “But that was a while ago, Jess. I think we all know the ropes out here by now.”

    Maybe,” the tattooed clone said with a shrug. “It's still strange though, isn't it? I mean...no drills, no bridge rotations, no battles...”

    Despite himself, Rex had to smile at this. “You miss the clankers?”

    Yeah, something fierce,” Jesse chortled. “What I wouldn't give to hear a tinny's melodious voice again.” They shared a quiet laugh, then Rex's brother spoke again, his voice thoughtful. “But it is strange to live like this. It's good, I mean, but it's...I dunno.”

    They'd collected all the wool they were going to, so Rex turned off the clippers; as he slipped them back into their case, his hands felt like they were still vibrating from their movement. “Strange. Yeah, it is, sometimes.”

    But at least you have your girl, and her little girl,” Jesse added as they stood up. “You're lucky like that.”

    He was lucky. Force, he knew he was. Never in all his days had Rex imagined that his life could have turned out this way: living with the woman he loved, her daughter and the rest of her family on one of the most beautiful planets he'd ever set foot upon. While in the GAR, when he and Brenna were starting to get serious, he'd dreamed of being able to go to sleep beside her each night and wake up beside her each morning; now he was able to, and quite frankly there was nothing better.

    But the rest of his life in the interim had not been as easy, or as pleasant. So much had changed in such a short span of time, that often he felt like he was still floundering. Rex inhaled the scent of grass and Alderaani wind, then cast his brother a look. “I'm going to keep checking the fence-line,” he said at last, handing the other clone the clippers' case. “Can you get this wool back to the shearing shed?”

    Sure thing,” Jesse replied, tucking the sack with the wool and the case beneath his arm. “Or I can – you know – stay out here with you. Like we're supposed to. Especially if there's an anooba running around.”

    Rex shook his head. “I'm fine.”

    You know, Fives would say that you're isolating yourself. He would say that you're sulking.”

    Fives says a lot of things,” Rex said with an exhale. “But he's not here right now.”

    While Rex, Jesse, Kix and Coric had chosen to remain on Alderaan with the Damaris family, Fives' preferences were a bit more...adventurous. He and Marliss Menin – Brenna's former roommate from when they both worked on the Resolute – had taken to traveling the galaxy together. As Rex had learned how to ride a quagga and tend to stock, Fives had turned his attention to piloting the ship that Marliss had acquired, while the blonde woman herself knew enough mechanic's tricks able to keep the vessel from being spotted by any unfriendlies during their travels.

    While Rex did miss his gregarious brother, he liked having a “link” of a sort to the outside world; Brenna and her family had the HoloNet for general galactic news, but Fives and Marliss were the source for news that was very specific, if not always pleasant. It was through Fives that Rex had learned the true identity of Emperor Palpatine, and by extension the real reason that the clone army had been created on Kamino, well over thirteen years ago.

    Something inside Rex threatened to crack open with this thought, but he shoved the feeling aside. Dwelling on such a thing was useless, and he had far too much to do to think about it, anyway, because if he did think about it, if he dwelt on the fact that his life, his brothers' lives – indeed, their very existence – had all been set into motion simply to serve the whim of a power-hungry Sith Lord...

    With a shake of his head, Rex cut off the train of thought again, instead turning his mind to Brenna, who'd helped him work through the initial feelings of helplessness after he'd first learned the horrific news. Even with her and her family's support, there had been many difficult days. However, Rex found that living and working on the ranch, where there was always something to do, had helped himself and his brothers deal with the large-scale implications of Fives' news.

    Umbara had shown all of them that their lives were not what they'd been told, that the clones as a whole were able to be used as pawns in a larger game if they didn't ask questions. Later, towards the end of the Wars, the presence of a new kind of clone – grown, decanted and trained within only a year – was proof enough to Rex that the Republic he'd once fought for regarded its loyal soldiers as little more than expendable drones. The Spaarti clones' strength was – according to every report that Rex had read – purely in their extensive numbers. More so than any Kamino clones had been, these clones were as close to flesh-droids as they could be, and even Rex had to admit that they were inferior in many ways, though he attributed that to the harried nature of their growth and training.

    Anyway, life was different, now. Better. Rex had someone he loved, someone who loved him, and usually it was very easy to go to sleep each night, especially if he was too tired to think. But he couldn't shut off his brain, and nor did he want to, because he had a lot to think about.

    Rex loved Brenna, loved the shape his life had taken, but he was aware that he had too many questions to be truly content, and the peacefulness he'd felt earlier this morning had all but slipped away from his already tentative grasp.

    Taking another deep breath before he spoke, because Jesse's eyes were on him and his brother looked like he was going to ask Rex another question. “I'm not isolating myself, Jess,” he said after a moment. “I just...like it out here. I'll head back after another few hours. How's the windmill coming?”

    There was a beat while the tattooed clone studied him, giving Rex the impression that Jesse wanted to say a good deal more than he was, but eventually the other man shrugged and turned to head back to his speeder. “Wind-pump. And it's trying to give us all kinds of hell, but we'll have it at one-hundred percent, soon.”

    Among the many tasks the clones had taken up in their quest to improve Jensine Damaris' ranch, the upgrading of the wind-powered water pump was proving to be one of the most difficult; being the most mechanically inclined, Jesse had taken the lead on that project, the others helping out when they could. While it pleased Rex that his brothers could offer something back to the ones who'd helped them out such a great deal, Jesse's words had again served to remind him just how different things were for all of them now.

    As he watched his brother speed off across the rolling grass, he felt the same feeling of helplessness that had followed him like a shade these past months coil around his heart once more.

    There was no GAR. There was no Republic. Everything he'd once fought for, worked for, lived for, had been a lie, and there were some days where he felt like he had nothing of himself left, certainly nothing he could give to another person.

    Certainly nothing that would allow him to be a father.

    No, he told himself as he retrieved the stake that held Nova's reins, then mounted the quagga's saddle once more. It's useless to dwell on the past. What matters is the future that you're making now, for yourself and for them.

    But that word, future, held no pleasure for him, either. No matter how he looked at it, Brenna and her daughter deserved more than he could offer, and while the brown-haired woman he loved had told him – many times – that she would love him no matter how long he lived, Rex could not shake the feeling of failure, not so much for Brenna, who understood the nature of his genetically-shortened life, but for her daughter.

    For Iri.

    Of all the tasks he'd ever imagined himself taking on, 'father' was turning out to be the hardest and most complicated role he'd ever imagined, and Rex was aware that he'd only skimmed the surface.

    Without looking back at the dead vilpaca, Rex nudged Nova into a brisk trot and made his way for the fence-line once more.

    *****

    This was originally the first chapter, but I felt that we needed to actually see Rex getting the news, as well as be able to compare/contrast (a bit) how he acted before with how he's acting now.

    Thanks for reading!


    Next time: Bren, Iri...and wedding rings.
    Kahara likes this.
  4. Nyota's Heart Combos & Paragraphs Host

    Game Host
    Member Since:
    Aug 31, 2004
    star 6
    Oh, the peace of the morning ride and the scenery just seeped right down into my bones =D= Totally relaxing and refreshing for the reader as well.

    I loved the introspection and reflections. Superb in scope and extent. Not over or under-done. Rex is like Kyp Durron as I've seen him done beautifully in fanfiction [face_love] Relishing peace and yet feeling the transitoriness or fragileness of it [face_thinking] And having so many questions. Looks like though Rex is pondering questions no person has ever found a true answer to yet: how much future will I have? [face_sigh] Best thing to do with that is what he's doing: cherishing every single second and squeezing every bit of joy and love he can from it. :)

    Woot! Eagerly awaiting the squee that's coming in the next update. ;)
    Kahara and laloga like this.
  5. laloga Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2011
    star 2



    @Nyota's Heart: Yep, Rex finally has a chance to ask the "big" questions. ;) Writing Alderaan was wonderful; makes me wish I could take my next vacation there! Thanks so much for the lovely comment! [face_love]

    *****
    Chapter Three

    Meanwhile, in the town of Belleau-a-Lir...

    See, Iri? That wasn't so bad.” Brenna Damaris gave her daughter a comforting smile as the Nautolan physician smoothed a bright-purple bandage across the toddler's upper-arm over the site of the hypospray injection. In response, the toddler cast a dubious look at her arm, then turned her face to Dr. Tai Bores, who echoed Brenna's smile.

    Your mother's right,” the green-skinned pediatrician added as she reached into her coat-pocket and pulled out a sucker, which she unwrapped, then handed to the little girl. “You did very well, Irini. Thank you for being such a wonderful patient.”

    As Iri began to suck on the candy, Brenna glanced at the elderly Nautolan, who'd treated her when she was just a child as well. She actually remembered sitting in this very room as a girl, surrounded by the same, brightly colored walls and getting treats out of Dr. Bores' coat-pocket. “Have you gotten the results from her blood-work?”

    Since trips to Belleau-a-Lir were often time consuming, Brenna and Iri had dropped by the previous day right after they'd arrived into town, in order to have a small blood-sample taken from the little girl. Iri had not been such a “wonderful patient” for that, but thankfully seemed to have forgotten the incident by now. In any case, Brenna was anxious for the results.

    Dr. Bores flashed her a wide smile and then reached for her datapad to check Iri's chart; once the results were in, they were automatically uploaded, so that all the physician had to do was look. “She's doing beautifully, Brenna,” the doctor said after a moment as she scanned the 'pad. “Perfectly healthy and growing like a proverbial weed.”

    Relieved, Brenna smoothed back a few errant strands of Iri's blonde hair. “She is, isn't she?”

    That's what children do,” Dr. Bores replied with another smile. “But Irini's as healthy as she can be, so you have nothing to worry about.”

    She's fine?” Brenna asked, trying to keep her voice light. “So there's nothing....abnormal about her?”

    Narrowing slightly in concern, the wide, black eyes of the physician held hers. “Are you concerned about something in particular?”

    Brenna shouldn't have been; there had been no signs of rapid-aging in the little girl despite the fact that her father was a clone trooper. However, Iri was...gifted in some ways that Brenna suspected were due to Tucker's – Iri's father's – genetically-enhanced memory and learning capabilities. At two-and-a-half years, Iri was a rather talented artist – albeit of the messy, finger-painting variety – and she could already recognize and say a good number of words, more so than most children her age.

    Before Rex, Brenna hadn't thought much about such a thing being connected to Iri's father, but he'd expressed concerns to her after reading a number of parenting and child development holo-books, and she'd promised to ask Iri's doctor.

    Being a fast learner wasn't a bad thing, far from it; however, having a shortened lifespan by virtue of altered genetics was quite another matter, and Bren didn't want to take any chances. She exhaled and looked down at Iri again, noting how toddler's mouth was now covered with the blue, sticky substance that made up the sucker. “It's just...I worry about her, because of her father.” Brenna met the doctor's eyes and frowned. “He was a clone trooper from the army that fought during the Wars.”

    Ah, I see,” Dr. Bores said with a nod, her multiple lekku bobbing with the motion. To her credit, the Nautolan's expression did not change with the mention of the Wars or the clones, though Brenna thought she surely must have had something to say on the matter. “Well, I can tell you that she's aging at a normal pace right now; her memory and cognitive skills are remarkable for a child her age, but otherwise Irini's perfectly ordinary.”

    There was a beat, then the physician met Brenna's eyes again. “However, I'm afraid I don't know much about the clone troopers...is there a way to get a sample of her father's blood? Perhaps the lab can compare it with Iri's; we might be able to get a better idea of her circumstances.”

    This gave Brenna pause, because Tucker – Iri's true father – had been killed about six months ago. However, Rex – genetically the same as Tucker, as any clone – was very much alive and would probably be more than happy to provide a bit of blood for this purpose. “I think I can manage that.”

    Nodding, Dr. Bores smiled down at Iri, who still seemed completely oblivious to the conversation of the adults as she focused on the candy, then she glanced towards Brenna again before moving to a cabinet against the far wall of the exam room. “Of course, all clones are now members of the Imperial Army and are prohibited from leaving the military, if my understanding is correct,” she said in an off-hand way that made Brenna's stomach twist into a knot. “So, since you'll be unable to have a clone come to the the lab, may I suggest an alternative?”

    With this, the Nautolan reached into one of the drawers and withdrew an empty glass vial. “If you can get a sample and get it to me, I can have a friend of mine in the lab make the comparison,” Dr. Bores said as Brenna accepted the small object. “Off the record and free of charge.”

    I can pay-”

    Not necessary,” the doctor said, shaking her head. Her gaze grew distant and a bit sad for a moment before she added: “The Republic – and the clone army – was instrumental in the protection of my homeworld during the Wars. Consider it my way of saying thank you.”

    For a moment Brenna was overcome with emotion; she knew all-too-well that the sacrifices of the clones was often overlooked by those they fought and died for during the brutal years of the Clone Wars, so it was beyond touching to hear that someone appreciated their service. Finally she nodded and slid the vial in the pocket of her jacket, then reached her hand out to shake that of the pediatrician. “Thank you...for everything.”

    After they shook hands, Dr. Bores smiled at her again; there was still sorrow in her gaze, and as her eyes fell on Irini, she sighed. “Good luck to you,” she said in a quiet voice as Brenna bent to collect her daughter. “All of you,” the Nautolan added as Bren and Iri slipped out of the door.

    Several minutes later, she and Iri had left the office and were making their way through the winding streets of Belleau-a-Lir, towards the outskirts of town. The older portion of Belleau-a-Lir was situated on an island at the middle of Lir Lakir, a lake in the mountains, but through the years the city had expanded to cover a broader stretch of land so that there were a number of bridges that led from the inner island – where Dr. Bores' office was – to the “mainland,” which was where Brenna was guiding her mother's speeder.

    The previous day, Brenna, Iri, Jensine and the clone Kix had arrived at the Lakir Fairgrounds for the quarterly market and auction; Jensine had four quagga to auction off, and Brenna had wanted to have Iri checked out by Dr. Bores, so they'd made an overnight trip of it. Kix had offered to come along and help Jensine with the quagga so that Brenna could focus her energies on Iri.

    As they paused at an intersection, waiting for their turn to cross the bridge, she glanced behind her at Iri, safely tucked in her speeder-seat. “You were such a good girl today, Iri,” Brenna said, smiling at her daughter, who had finished the sucker but was still covered in its sticky, blue remnants. “Let's get you a treat when we get to the fairgrounds.”

    In response, Iri studied her, then gave a blue, sticky and very hopeful grin. “Ride pony?”

    Not right now,” Brenna replied, biting back her frown. Iri loved the quagga, more so than Brenna thought was good for her, and she was constantly pestering her mother about learning to ride. To Brenna's mind, it was unthinkable; Iri was so small, and the creatures were so huge compared to her. Having suffered from more than her share of bites, kicks and bruises, Brenna was loathe to have her daughter around the creatures at all, let alone when she was so little.

    Please ride pony?” Iri said, her eyes growing wider as her expression turned pleading. “Please, Mama?”

    Not now,” Brenna replied again, adding more firmness to her voice. Iri scowled, but before she could say anything further, Brenna continued. “We're coming home today; when we do, will you tell Rex how good you were?”

    Iri brightened at this, as if the thought of Rex was enough to make the little girl happy, which in turn pleased Brenna to no end and made her feel a little bit better about his recent hesitation surrounding interactions with her daughter. While Brenna would have preferred that Rex come with her on this trip, he'd been engrossed with a new project back at the ranch, and had indicated that he would rather stay behind this time around. As much as she didn't want to read anything into such a thing, Brenna couldn't help but wonder...

    It had been difficult, lately. The things that had affected the galaxy as a whole had also affected the clones on an intense, personal level that Brenna had not been prepared for; when Rex found out the truth about the clone army's creation, he'd been...well, upset was putting it mildly. She blinked at the vehicle ahead of her, remembering how stricken he'd been, how lost, almost like he'd been when they'd first met in the days following the Battle of Umbara, which had itself been one of the most harrowing experiences of his life.

    Rex ride pony,” Iri pointed out, blonde curls bobbing as she watched her mother with honey-brown eyes, as if hoping that her argument would be convincing enough to change Brenna's mind. “Mama ride pony.”

    In a way, the child had a good point. It had been the work of the ranch, caring for the quagga and the vilpacas, among other things, that had kept the bulk of Rex's – and his brothers' – sorrow and anger at bay, allowing them to feel like they had a place and a purpose, now. Though Brenna had done her best to console him and give him a place of solace, she felt like she had no true understanding of his position and often wondered how much good she could do when they came from such different backgrounds.

    However, as she'd done in the past, she made sure he knew she was there if and when he needed her, and that he knew how much she loved him. This – he'd said as much to her on more than one occasion – had helped him work through the feelings of helplessness, frustration and anger at the news that Fives had brought them all.

    But now, months later, Brenna could see that he still wasn't quite right, and she didn't know what to do about it.

    Mama and Rex can ride the quagga because we're grown-ups,” Brenna replied, guiding the speeder across the bridge; below, she could make out the sunlight winking across the blue waters of Lir Lakir. “Sweetheart, you're just not old enough yet. One day, I promise I'll let you ride to your heart's content, but for now, you can't.”

    Iri was quiet, absorbing the words, and Brenna prepared herself, for such a thing often accompanied a tantrum; the toddler had reached that age when the meltdowns were more frequent – and louder – than they'd ever been. However, after a moment Iri exhaled as if with great weariness, then said in a petulant voice. “Mama mean.”

    I know I am,” Brenna said, fighting back a sigh. “But it's only because I love you more than anything else and want you to be safe.”

    There was quiet for a few minutes as they approached the site of the open-air fairgrounds, and Brenna slowed the vehicle in order to allow the myriad of passers-by, guests and vendors, to move unhindered; in the corner of her eye she watched as Iri became totally absorbed in the press of people and animals, earlier annoyance apparently forgotten, and smiled to herself. Despite the tantrums, her daughter was brilliant and talented, and the notion filled Brenna with pride and that fierce, all-encompassing love that was unlike anything else in her life.

    Brenna had never considered that she'd be a mother so young – she'd been twenty-one when she got pregnant – but couldn't imagine a life without Irini, now.

    Do you see Nana and Kix yet, honey?” she asked as she guided the speeder towards the area that housed the livestock for auction.

    Iri was silent for a moment, eyes wide and searching as she strained against the straps of her speeder-seat, then she exclaimed in delight and began to point towards the left. “Nana! Nana!”

    Brenna had spotted them, too. Like the other vendors, Jensine had been allotted a small pen in the staging area, the place where the stock was kept prior to the auction itself so that potential buyers could survey the animals beforehand. As Brenna pulled the speeder up to the humming, energized fence, she smiled as Kix nodded a greeting, the brim of his hat obscuring most of his face from the high sun. Beyond him, her mother was speaking with someone Brenna vaguely recognized as an old neighbor.

    In the first weeks of their arrival on Alderaan, the clones had been hesitant to journey into civilian areas, figuring that their faces would be too recognizable; however, after a few careful forays, they'd discovered that one or two of them appearing together, in “civilian” clothes, would not blow their cover. Apparently, most people had no clue what the clones looked like beneath the helmets.

    She parked the speeder beside the hover-trailer in which they'd brought the quagga, then stepped out of the vehicle and began to collect Iri from the backseat. As she did so, Kix approached and offered her a wave.

    Welcome back,” he said in his quiet voice. “What did the doctor say?”

    As he spoke, he rested one hand against the edge of the speeder, as if ready to offer assistance should she need it, but kept out of her way in the meantime. Around them, fairgoers and vendors trickled by; no one cast the clone or the brown-haired woman and her child more than a passing glance, for which Brenna was thankful.

    It took Brenna a moment to reply, for she was fumbling in her bag for a wetcloth to wipe the remainder of the candy from Iri's cheeks; the toddler wasn't helping matters as she squirmed in her mother's arms. “She's fine,” Brenna said at last as she rubbed the cloth over Iri's chubby cheeks. “Perfectly healthy.”

    Kix smiled at the toddler, but his eyes were tight as he looked back at Brenna. “Any sign of...?”

    Nothing,” Brenna replied, glancing back at the clone once she'd finished, ignoring the way that Iri scowled and scrubbed at her face with her hands. “As far as we can tell she's aging at a normal rate. But I was asked to bring a sample of her father's blood to the lab; they're going to compare the two and see if they can't find out anything else.”

    Her father?”

    Iri was still squirming, refusing to be held, so Brenna acquiesced and set her down, taking the toddler's hand to guide her towards Jensine, who even now was nodding goodbye to her companion. “I thought Rex could donate some...do you think that will that work?”

    Walking with them, Kix looked thoughtful. “It should; genetically, we're all the same.”

    But you're each very different, so I'm learning,” Jensine Damaris said, casting the former medic an appreciative look. To Brenna, she said: “Everything okay with our girl?”

    Mama! Pony!” Iri called, tugging at Brenna's hand as she pointed towards a quagga in another section.

    Tightening her grip on Iri's hand, Brenna nodded. “Dr. Bores said she's perfectly healthy, and now she's good on her vaccines for another year.” She paused, then glanced around the empty pen, where the four quagga had been that morning. “You sold them?”

    It was Kix who answered, obvious pride in his voice. “We got an excellent price for them, too. Nearly twice as much as Mrs. Damaris was hoping.”

    Jensine nodded, though her eyes were still on her granddaughter, who was still gesticulating towards the nearby quagga. “Thanks to yours and Rex's handling of them,” the blonde woman replied as she watched Iri. “You boys have quite an affinity for the quagga.”

    Kix shrugged, but Brenna could see that he was pleased at the compliment. “Thank you, ma'am. We try.”

    You need to drop that 'ma'am' nonsense,” Jensine sighed, running her hand along her own wide-brimmed hat. “Makes me feel old.”

    Mama! See ponies? Please? Please?

    I can take her,” Kix offered, looking down at Iri, who beamed at up at him and batted her lashes. “Or I can start to pack up the tack we brought.”

    Brenna glanced at her mother, who shrugged. “Don't need help with the tack, Kix, if you want to take the little one to see the quagga. Assuming Brenna doesn't mind, that is?”

    This last part was said with a raised brow towards Brenna, who bit back her annoyance at her mother's slightly patronizing tone; Jensine was of the mindset that Iri should have much more freedom than she did, especially when it came to the quagga. Everyone looked at Brenna, who knelt and gave Iri a stern look.

    Do you promise to be a good girl with Kix?”

    The toddler nodded, her expression solemn in a way that reminded Brenna so much of Rex it made her heart ache with longing. “Yes, Mama. Iri be good.”

    I'll look out for the adi'ka,” Kix added, tossing in the Mando'a term of endearment out of habit. Brenna nodded and rose, watching as the clone swooped up Iri with a single motion, fast enough to make the little girl shriek with joy, then carried her towards the next pen that held the quagga. He made the gesture look so easy, so natural, and as he walked away, she pretended for one moment that it was Rex who was doing so.

    She wanted it to be Rex.

    He's a natural with her,” Jensine said, as if reading Brenna's thoughts. Standing beside her daughter, Jensine was several handspans shorter, but her presence felt a great deal larger. Her hat tilted as she shot Bren a glance. “Don't you think?”

    Yeah, he's great,” she replied, shoving her hands in the pocket of her coat. Autumn in Belleau-a-Lir was brisk, and she was thankful for the cover of her jacket even as the breeze lifted up her hair. “They all are.”

    Jensine was still looking at her, pale blue eyes missing nothing in the way that had always annoyed Brenna to no end. “Not all of them.”

    As much as she didn't want to admit it, Brenna knew that her mother was right. Ever since he'd learned of the Chancellor's treachery and the true reasons behind the clone army's creation, Rex had seemed to distance himself from Iri a little bit more each day. It was plain to see that he cared for the little girl, but it wasn't as Brenna had been hoping it would be between the man she loved and her daughter. They weren't a family.

    It will take time, she told herself as Kix held Iri up to a friendly-looking quagga; Iri's eyes were huge and she was grinning happily as she patted the creature's nose, all under Kix's watchful eye. You just have to be patient. He's got so much on his plate right now...and being a parent, a father, isn't something that can happen overnight.

    He's a good man,” Jensine said at once, shifting her eyes back to Kix. “Your Rex, I mean. You did a good job with picking him.”

    He's not a 'thing,' Mom,” Brenna replied with a scowl. “He's not a saddle or a speeder...it's not like I walked into the barracks and selected him out of a row of other clones. That's not how love works.”

    At this, Jensine gave a snort of laughter that made Brenna's hackles rise despite herself. “Of course that's not how love works, Bren. Especially with you. No, I'm well-aware of how it works with you. I'm only thankful that this time you've hitched your wagon to someone who's actually worth a damn.”

    Brenna felt her cheeks grow warm. “Tucker wasn't a bad guy. I know I made a mistake with him, but-”

    I'm not talking about Tucker,” Jensine said, shaking her head and crossing her arms. “I'm talking about that other one. Arcas. Remember?”

    Before Rex, before Tucker, there had been Arcas. Older than Brenna by about a decade, he'd been the first man she'd ever loved, and she when she'd fallen for him, she'd fallen hard. It had been a brief – thankfully, looking back on it now – affair that had ended with her getting her heart broken when he left one day, suddenly and without any warning or real explanation, and it had taken Brenna several years to trust another with her heart again.

    Oh, yes. She remembered Arcas. All-too-well.

    The thought had occurred to her that she had gravitated to Tucker because of his inexperience with relationships; by virtue of being older than she'd been, Arcas had been vastly more experienced and worldly to her then eighteen-year-old self, and it had ended so badly. “I know I made a mistake with Arcas, Mom, but I've moved on. You should, too.”

    There was a sudden shriek; Brenna's eyes snapped to Kix and Iri, but the little girl was fine. A moment's observation told Brenna that the quagga had tossed its head and startled her daughter, and she was now giggling as Kix held her at a safe distance from the equine, just in case. Kix glanced towards Brenna and shot her a reassuring smile, which further made the brown-haired woman relax.

    I know you've moved on,” Jensine replied shortly. “You're good at that.”

    Not this again. It was an old argument between them, one that Brenna had no wish to visit right now. “Mom-”

    But you came home in the end,” her mother added after a beat. “So I suppose that's all that matters. And I should be thankful that Rex and Iri like it here so much, otherwise you might take off again.”

    Although she wanted to keep her cool and not argue with her mother, Brenna couldn't back down from this topic, which she felt she'd taken enough flak for. “I thought you wanted to forget the past and move on, Mom. Isn't that why you contacted me after...what was it, seven years of silence? No holo-calls, no messages, no anything?”

    You could have comm'd me as well,” Jensine replied, turning away towards a pile of saddles, bridles and other tack that needed to be returned to the ranch; with swift, sure movements, the wiry woman began gathering up the bits of leather and metal. “Communication goes both ways.”

    Of course her mother found something else more important than her daughter. Of course she found a way to speak indirectly to Brenna rather than face the issues head-on. Of course, Brenna couldn't drop the subject and let it go, as she should have. “I left home for a reason. I got that scholarship to Aldera University, and it was too good of an opportunity to pass by. You should have been proud-”

    You shouldn't have left,” Jensine interrupted, pausing in her work to regard Brenna as if she were a child again, no bigger than Iri. “Look what happened to you when you left.”

    Arcas was a mistake, but that's hardly a reason to say I should have stuck around the ranch for the rest of my life.”

    I just hope you never have to go through with Irini what I did with you,” Jensine said with a shrug as she stepped towards the trailer to put the saddles and pieces of tack away. “Maybe you'll get lucky.”

    With that, Jensine Damaris disappeared into the trailer, stepping up the ramp that led to the vehicle's interior, leaving Brenna alone, which was when she realized that she was trembling with fury, the kind that only someone so close to her could elicit. Her mother was infuriating, and right now, she wanted nothing more than to grab Irini, leave and never look back.

    Anywhere but here, she thought as she took a breath to calm herself. If I could live anywhere but with her, it wouldn't be able to come a day too soon.

    Logically, she knew there were few places where Rex and his brothers could live without fear of being reclaimed for the Imperial Army – her mother's ranch being among them – but right now, all she could think about was getting away from her mother, away from the shadows of her past. She'd even gone so far as to look up information on potential jobs; there were a number of promising options within the private sector on other worlds, all of which sounded incredibly appealing in this moment.

    But her mother was right, and Jensine knew it. Iri loved it here; the little girl had grown up with Brenna's brother Caith and his family, and she loved the ranch, the quagga, and even the vilpacas. And Rex...

    Brenna swallowed, because her throat was tight. Rex loved it here, too. She could see it in his eyes, especially when he came back from a particularly brisk ride; he would smell like wind and grass, and his cheeks would be flushed with happiness. He had a place here, with his brothers. He had work to occupy him and a sense of belonging, of purpose, that she knew he needed, especially now that the rest of his life was in such upheaval.

    But she didn't know how much more of her mother she could take.

    Hey, Kix,” she called out, watching as the clone and Iri turned to her. “I'm going to step to the 'fresher. Will you...?”

    The former medic nodded and hefted Iri in his arms, making the little girl giggle. “I've got her, Miss Damaris.”

    Ignoring the formal term – her mother was right about that, too – Brenna waved to Iri, then turned and made for the direction of the public 'freshers in this area of the fairgrounds. It was soothing to lose herself in the bustle of the crowd for a little while, so once she was done she took a few minutes to meander through the vendors that were lined up in this section of the grounds.

    Along with livestock auctions, there were a wide variety of goods for sale, and she wandered through the merchants' stalls, glancing over everything from handcrafted saddles, bridles and other practical items, to the less-practical booths. As she surveyed a toy hover-ball in a booth that seemed to have a little of everything, wondering if Iri would like it, her eyes fell on a nearby tray of slender, silver rings, and something made her heart swell with longing, again.

    Wedding rings.

    It wouldn't solve anything, she knew. It wouldn't make Rex feel less lost, less adrift. It wouldn't magically turn him into Iri's father – that would come with time and patience – and nor would it ensure that he would stick around. Marriagewas not something that should be undertaken lightly, on a whim, no matter how certain she was that he was right, that they were right.

    But she wanted it. Badly.

    No, Brenna told herself even as she skimmed her hands over the rings, noting the various sizes and mentally calculating which would likely fit Rex. No, you have to be patient. He loves you, he's not going to leave you or Iri, no matter how hard things are for him right now.

    She knew better than to let the shadows of the past cloud her view of the present. Arcas had left her, but there had been warning signs along the way that she'd been too inexperienced to heed. Tucker had left as well, but again – she should have known better, should have known that, inexperienced as he'd been when they'd met, he'd balk at the first sign of trouble. No, Tucker shouldn't have left her when she told him she was pregnant, but she shouldn't have gotten involved in the first place.

    Her heart, he foolish heart, always led her down the wrong path, and she should have learned not to trust it any longer. While loving Rex was not an intellectual decision, she had to approach her relationship with him as rationally as she could, because she had a responsibility to her daughter. Irini's well-being couldn't be trusted to Brenna's heart alone.

    She needed to turn away, perhaps buy that hover-ball for Iri if she wanted to spend money, and then go back and make peace with her mother because it was the right thing to do. When they got home, she could explain her concerns to Rex and try to approach the situation as logically as possible; he loved her, she loved him, and she knew that together, they could handle anything that life threw at them.

    But first she needed to walk away from this booth, because it was too tempting. It would be for the best.

    Instead, she looked up, caught the eye of the vendor in charge of the booth, and gestured to the tray of rings. “How much for two of these?”

    *****

    A/N: Thanks for reading!

    Next time: Bren gets busted. ;)
    Kahara likes this.
  6. Nyota's Heart Combos & Paragraphs Host

    Game Host
    Member Since:
    Aug 31, 2004
    star 6
    Jensine's approval and compliments are hard-won and must be earned. I think her sniping about Brenna's dashing off again is the fear that she might. [face_thinking] And not wanting to ask or admit that Brenna not leave, she can only resort to pushing the familiar buttons [face_thinking] :p Brenna's reflections about the past and present =D= I can so understand her longing to get the rings - not to force an issue but to validate it, make it tangible, less likely to vanish ... she wants to form a bulwark around her and Rex's relationship, keep it from being undermined.
    Kahara and laloga like this.
  7. laloga Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2011
    star 2
    @Nyota's Heart: You are dead-on about Jensine worrying that Bren might leave - again. And that's a lovely way to phrase what's going through Brenna's head wrt the rings! Thank you for your wonderful insights and comments. [face_love]

    *****
    Chapter Four

    Later that afternoon...

    Balancing on one of the support beams for the wind-pump, Rex was the first to see the tell-tale cloud of dust from Jensine Damaris' speeder as the vehicle wound its way up the dirt driveway that led to the main house. Due to “technical difficulties” with the speeder – as Bren had put it – the sight of the approaching vehicle greeted Rex several hours after the others been expected back.

    After alerting the rest of his brothers and Caith over the comm, Rex began to collect his tools and prepare to clamber down the slender, durasteel structure. Because the top-most portion of the pump was more narrow than the bottom, only one person at a time was able to safely work there, so Jesse had opted to wait below while Rex acted as his “second pair of eyes.”

    At the sight of the speeder, a thrill of happiness moved through him because it heralded Bren and Iri's return, though even as he carefully made his way down the latticed, metallic sides of the wind-pump, he also felt apprehensive, because of what the doctor might have said. Shortly after the appointment was scheduled to have ended, he'd gotten a message from Brenna indicating that Iri was fine – no anomalies with her aging – but Rex couldn't help his anxiety. How much did the pediatrician know about clones, anyway? How much of his own genetics would find their way into the little girl, and to what extent?

    The thought entered his mind again: he should have gone with them.

    It was what a father was supposed to do, wasn't it? But each time he thought he had a handle on what that word meant – father – the universe would remind him just how much of a rookie he was at this business. Most of his new roles he'd taken to with aplomb because they were extensions of those he'd held in his old life with the GAR: ranch-hand and provider – in a sense – protector of his new family, and his new charges, like Nova.

    But raising a child? Teaching her what she needed to know to be a healthy and happy adult? Hell, he'd only been alive for just over thirteen years, and up until the last six months had only interacted with children a handful of times. What in the void did he know about being a father?

    Brenna had tried to ease his mind, saying that no one really knew what they were doing when they first had a kid. Caith, her brother, who had a six year-old son, had said much the same thing.

    But Rex couldn't stop the worry from consuming his mind. Every time he looked at Iri and saw his own eyes looking back at him, he was afraid of what his ignorance and his inexperience would do to her, because at the end of the day, the only reason that he was even alive was to serve the whim of a power-hungry Sith Lord, to fight and die in a war that was simply another footnote in the history of the Sith and the Jedi. His life, his very being, was a construct of formerly-held beliefs and empty convictions, none of which were things to raise a child with.

    And that, more than anything else, made him think that perhaps it was better if he kept his distance from the little girl, at least until he knew he wouldn't cause her any irreparable damage.

    None of these thoughts were pleasant, but he refused to set them aside. Rex was well-aware that he thought a great deal – perhaps too much, sometimes – but Iri's well-being was just too important to not think about; as his boots touched the dirt around the base of the wind-pump, he felt the anxiety again, only this time it was centered less on Iri and more on himself.

    She deserves a real father, he thought as he nodded to Jesse, who'd been watching his progress down the wind-pump carefully. Not an ex-soldier suffering an identity crisis.

    Well?” Jesse asked, shading his eyes from the sun with the flat of his hand.

    Rex shrugged, his eyes flickering to the direction of the approaching speeder and the little trailer hovering behind it. Most of the Damaris' property was made up of pastures and fields, with the house, barn and collection of sheds placed relatively close together, so it was a short walk from the location of the wind-pump in the main courtyard before the stables to the home itself. “Everything in the rotor shaft looked fine to me, Jess. But I'm not expert on this kind of stuff.”

    The tattooed clone's face shifted into a scowl, but it wasn't at his brother; the wind-pump had been giving him no end of trouble, but with typical clone efficiency, he was determined to find victory against the machine. “I don't know why it's not generating as much power as it needs to,” he mused, hand moving to his chin. “Maybe the pitch of the blades isn't right?”

    Maybe,” Rex replied, but he was already making his way back to the main house. “Leave it for today; you can pick it up tomorrow.”

    He missed his brother's reply, as the speeder was pulling into the gravely driveway that curved before the main house, the repulsors kicking up dust as the vehicle slowed to a halt. As the passengers began to disembark, Rex found his steps growing a little quicker in anticipation, because a part of him – the ex-soldier, ex-captain – never quite believed that the ones he cared about would be safe without him, despite the fact that he wasn't sure they'd be safe with him, either.

    Jensine and Kix greeted him as they stepped out of the vehicle and moved towards the house, but his eyes were only for the brown-haired woman who was leaning over the child's speeder-seat in the backseat of the vehicle as she fussed with the buckles that secured the little girl into the chair. As he approached she didn't turn, and he took a breath, feeling very worried all of a sudden.

    Rex!”

    At the sound of her daughter's exclamation, Brenna did turn, and when her eyes fell on him the knot of anxiety in his chest loosened just a bit. There were smudges of dirt on her cheeks, her jacket was streaked with dust and her hair was messy, but she was smiling at him like there was no one else in the galaxy she wanted to see, and in the back of his mind, behind all of the worries and agitation, he thought: yes, it will be okay, as long as we're together.

    Welcome back,” he said as he came to stand at Bren's side; as much as he wanted to take her in his arms, he knew that she had to focus on getting Iri out of the speeder-seat, so he refrained from embracing her as he desired. Instead, he slid his body into modified parade-rest – a habit he figured he'd never be able to get over – and tried to stay out of her way.

    For a moment, her smile wavered, but she gave him a nod and then looked back at her daughter. “We're just glad we made it in one piece, aren't we, Iri?” As Brenna pulled the toddler from the seat, Rex noted that the child's eyes were red and puffy, and her face was flushed. When Bren righted herself, she shot Rex a tight smile. “It wasn't exactly a pleasant trip.”

    I can tell,” Rex replied, feeling his forehead creasing with worry as he studied the child. “Is she okay?”

    Mama mean,” Iri said in response, her lips set in a pout. “Mean.”

    At this, Brenna sighed and hefted Iri on her hip, then indicated the house. “She's cranky and tired, but she's healthy, otherwise.” As they began to walk, she gave Rex another look. “Perfectly healthy, in every way.”

    The doctor's certain?”

    A gust of wind, cooler now that evening was approaching, lifted the loose ends of Brenna's hair around her face as she replied. “Fairly certain, but-”

    The pause made Rex's pulse leap with apprehension. He knew it. Iri was aging fast – too fast – and her life would be unnaturally shortened; that, or there was some defect, some issue with clone children that no one had anticipated or prepared for...

    But Brenna was speaking again, her voice slightly cautious. “Dr. Bores is aware of Iri's parentage, and would like a sample of your blood to compare to hers, just in case.”

    My blood.” Rex paused, then nodded a moment later. “You mean her father's blood.”

    At his words, something shifted on Bren's face, a trace of sorrow, but before he could ask if she was okay it disappeared.

    Kix said it should be alright,” she replied, hefting the little girl again. Rex considered taking Iri, but held himself back; she was so little, and he was always worried he'd break something. “Rex, I know you and Tucker aren't the same, but genetically...”

    They'd reached the house, and after they'd climbed the steps that led up the front porch, Rex held the old-fashioned swinging door open for her as he spoke. “Genetically we are the same. Kix is right, and I'd be glad to give Iri's doctor a sample if you think it will help.”

    It can't hurt to be extra-certain,” she replied as they stepped into the interior of the house. As always, Rex found it a little too cluttered here for his tastes, but since he didn't own the place, he didn't think it was his call to comment on the fact that Brenna's mother seemed determined to cover every available surface with bits of tack for the quaggas or other, random bits of ranch-related miscellany.

    No, it can't,” he said, bending to move a saddle that had fallen to the floor out of Brenna's path. “You can't take any chances when it comes to Iri's health.”

    As he hefted the object, Iri's head lifted and she gave Rex a hopeful look. “Rex ride pony?”

    Before he could reply, a delicious scent met his nostrils, and his stomach gave a growl; looking up, Rex could see that Caith was checking on something in the oven, Jensine standing behind him while they spoke quietly. Although they owned their own house not terribly far from Jensine's, Caith and his wife, Edme, had chosen to stay on the ranch for a little while, helping out when they could; Rex got the impression that both Caith and Edme loved it out here, so it didn't appear to be much of a hardship, despite the fact that Edme had to commute into the city for her work.

    Welcome back,” Caith said, looking up and nodding to Brenna. “Dinner should be ready in about an hour.”

    An hour?” Jensine asked, putting her hands on her hips and looking up at her adult son. “We were late...how is it going to take an hour?”

    Caith sighed and shook his head, but Rex missed his next words, as Brenna was speaking to Iri. “Just enough time to get you a bath.”

    No!” Iri's reply was loud and very firm.

    However, Brenna was firm as well, albeit much calmer and quieter. “It's not up for debate, Iri. You need a bath. Come on, I'll make it quick-”

    As she made to carry the little girl upstairs, Iri's face scrunched up and she shook her head from side-to-side and screamed. “No! No bath! See ponies!”

    Later,” Brenna replied, hefting her daughter and stepping on the bottom step of the stairs, Rex following. “You can visit the quagga after your bath.”

    The resulting shriek that Iri made was loud and sharp enough to split right through Rex's skull, and for one instant he longed for the sound of blaster-fire, because that noise would have preferable to the wail of the child. It was a sound that he'd heard before, of course, but it shook him a little every time, because Irini sounded like she was being tortured, yet as far as he could tell, nothing was truly wrong. Additionally, Iri's face was bright red, contorted with fury and misery as if this moment, right now, was truly the end of the world, and he couldn't even begin to understand why she felt this way.

    But Brenna was calm. She'd continued up the stairs as if nothing was wrong, even though Rex knew there was no way she didn't hear the screaming, and he was struck with the feeling of helplessness again as he followed her up the stairs, to the children's 'fresher. The entire situation was always so far out of his realm of expertise, that he was at a complete loss as to how to handle it. During the first few months of his and his brothers' time on Alderaan, Iri had been remarkably – as Brenna and Caith said – even tempered, but in recent weeks the tantrums had begun to arrive with more frequency, and more force.

    He didn't know why. The parenting manuals he'd read said that such a thing happened with kids Iri's age, because they desired more independence but didn't yet have the skills to express how they felt. He supposed that made sense, but it was in a purely academic way that his brain couldn't quantify when faced with the reality of a screeching toddler.

    When they arrived in the small room, Iri had not stopped screaming; if anything, the sound had only grown more shrill and horrible, and Rex didn't know how Brenna could be so calm.

    Iri, I know you don't want to take a bath,” Brenna said as she set the little girl down on the rug that was spread over the tiled floor. “I know you're tired and upset with me, but it's bath-time right now. When you're all clean, you can visit the quagga, and then we can all get some dinner together. Doesn't that sound nice?”

    Suddenly, there was blessed silence. Astonished, Rex watched as Iri's face smoothed even as tears continued to leak out of her eyes. Irini gave a single, despondent sniff, then nodded once, slowly, as if accepting the terms she'd been offered, and he gave a sigh of relief.

    Perhaps Bren heard him, for she shot him a glance; again, he saw how tired she was, and he was struck with a desire to do something. Ill-prepared as he was for this role, certain as he was that he was going to somehow do irreparable damage to Iri, he had to help the woman he loved, somehow.

    But he was at a loss. However, Brenna made the choice for both of them. “Will you take her to see Nova when we're done here?”

    Of course,” he replied at once, quietly relieved she'd asked him, because he hadn't known what he could do. Even though he'd thought that his words would be appreciated, again he noted disappointment within her eyes.

    However, before he could ask her about it, she nodded and then looked back at Iri. “What do you think, sweetheart? Would you like to visit Nova with Rex?”

    Iri beamed. It was such a change from her earlier, stricken expression that Rex had to smile as well. Sometimes Brenna made it look so easy to make the child happy. As Bren activated the bath and the tub began to fill with warm water, she started to undress the little girl. “I wanted to get on the HoloNet a little bit before dinner,” she said as she pulled Iri out of the dusty coveralls the child had been wearing. “Thank you.”

    She'll be fine,” he said as much to Bren as to himself. “I won't let anything happen to her.”

    As Bren made to put her daughter in the warm water, she shot him a strange look. “I know, Rex. You'll both be fine.”

    Rex, pony!” Iri added, splashing her mother with a dollop of sudsy bath-water.

    Brenna's eyes squinted shut as she was pelted with the liquid, but when they opened, she gave Iri a stern look. “That's not nice, Iri.”

    Sorry, Mama.”

    There were a few moments of quiet, during which Rex debated what he should do; normally he was off with the other clones, doing chores around the ranch, and hadn't been faced with this dilemma too much. Should he remain here? It always felt odd to stand by and watch, but he didn't know the first thing about bathing kids, and he didn't want to get in Brenna's way. Finally he turned and went to the dresser where Bren kept the child's clothing; he selected a few, warm options and brought them back to the 'fresher.

    Here,” he said, holding them up. “I got the sweater she likes.”

    In the middle of rubbing shampoo in Iri's hair, Brenna cast a brief glance his way. “Not that one – she's outgrown it. Try the purple one that Mom got last week.”

    She's outgrown it?” Rex looked at the little red sweater in his hand, then back at Iri, whose eyes and mouth were squeezed shut as Brenna carefully washed her hair. “Already?”

    Brenna made a noise of amusement. “That's what kids do, Rex. They grow.”

    Right. Of course. He felt a little annoyed, but did as she'd suggested and returned with the new garment. There was quiet for a moment – well, relative quiet, as Iri had started singing to herself and lightly splashing at the water – then Brenna cleared her throat. “She's growing, but it's at a normal rate, Rex. She's fine. I promise you.”

    He wanted to believe her. “For now.”

    Rex,” she said, shaking her head and soaping up Iri's back. “She's fine. Trust me. I've done everything I can do to make certain of it. At some point, you're going to have to accept the fact.”

    There are no other children of clones, as far as I know,” he replied with a frown. He'd taken to leaning against the sink, watching her and Iri, who was still playing with the water. “Even if the rapid-aging didn't get passed to her, there's no telling what other effects she might feel from the Kaminoan's meddling.”

    Brenna took a breath and he got the sense that she was trying very hard to keep her voice calm. “Hopefully we'll find out when we compare your blood to Iri's. Until then...there's nothing we can do about it, so it's silly to worry.”

    Silly?”

    At this, she turned to him, her expression apologetic. “Not silly, Rex. It's just...we don't know, so we shouldn't worry unless we have something to worry about. Does that make sense?”

    He bit back a flare of apprehension at her words and the accompanying, rising annoyance. Silly. He was not being silly by worrying about the health of her daughter, just like he wasn't being silly by thinking that he could do real harm to the child, unprepared as he was to step into the role of father. Rex exhaled, but found that his arms had crossed before his chest, anyway. He didn't uncross them. “Yeah, it does. I guess.”

    There was more quiet; he watched as Brenna rinsed off Iri, then removed her from the tub to dry the little girl. As Brenna wrapped Iri in a towel, some of the tiredness had faded from her face and he had to smile as she cooed and tickled Iri's nose with her own before rubbing gently at Iri's blonde hair to dry it, all while murmuring to the little girl.

    Iri seemed pleased with the attention, and grinned at her mother as well, though after a moment she looked at Rex and spoke. “Un' Kix pony!”

    Rex shot Brenna a perplexed glance, and the brown-haired woman gave him a wan smile as she began to head into the bedroom to dress the child. “At the auction; Kix helped out a little bit while I looked around the fair. He showed Iri some of the other quagga for sale.”

    Kix nice,” Iri added, clearly pleased with herself, even though she pouted when her mother set her on the bed to dress her.

    Yes, he is,” Brenna replied. To Rex, she said: “Mom's really impressed with how you guys have been handling the quagga. She made a point of it to let me know that she thinks you have a knack with them.”

    They're easy,” Rex said with a shrug. “Simple.”

    He didn't think about the word when he said it, but he saw at once that it had been the wrong thing to say, for Brenna's mouth grew tight and she blinked rapidly. “I know they are,” she said after a moment as she urged Iri to hold still so that she could put her socks on. “I'm glad you've taken to them so well, too.”

    Mama...see ponies now?”

    Brenna exhaled and smiled down at her daughter, who was sitting on the edge of the bed, looking up at her with a face that suggested she was on her best behavior. Post-bath, in clean clothes, Iri was practically glowing, and Rex couldn't help but smile as well; she really was a beautiful kid, and for a moment he felt it again, the longing for this, but more.

    It had never left him, only grown stronger when in the presence of Bren and Iri.

    Will you take her?” Bren asked, getting to her feet with the little girl. Rex hesitated, then nodded and stepped forward; as she was about to pass the little girl over to him, Iri grabbed at Brenna's shirt and pulled.

    No Rex! Stay Mama!”

    Rex bit back the feeling of disappointment, and he raised his hands. “If she doesn't want me, I don't have to-”

    Iri, it's okay,” Brenna broke in, looking at the little girl, then back at him. “I'm sorry...she's just cranky right now.” But before he could respond, Iri tugged at Brenna's shirt again, and a small package fell out of the pocket at the front of the shirt, landing on the floor with a soft dink.

    As he bent to retrieve it, Rex heard Brenna's sharp inhale, and immediately felt a sense of warning. It was a small plastic bag, inside of which he could see that something was wrapped in flimsi. “What's this? Something you picked up at the fair?”

    He looked at Brenna and frowned at the somewhat guilty look on her face. “Bren?”

    She seemed to hesitate, then sighed and held Iri close to her side. “Open it.”

    Within the tiny bag, wrapped within a piece of thin flimsi, were two slender, silver rings. They were plain bands; one was significantly large than the other and he knew without trying that it would fit his ring-finger. “Wedding rings.”

    When he met Brenna's eyes, he noted again that she looked guilty. “Yeah. I saw them and...I mean...it was a good deal, and I didn't know if we'd have a chance to look for any...later.”

    She trailed off and studied him, but his attention had shifted to the pieces of jewelry in his hand. They glinted in the lights of Iri's room, and they were warm from being close to Bren's body for so long. “Later?”

    Iri, having grown bored with the conversation of the adults, was starting to squirm with anxiousness in her mother's arms; upon hearing Rex say the word “later,” she twisted around and met Brenna's eyes hopefully. “Mama? Iri see ponies now?”

    In a minute, honey,” she replied. At the words, Iri's face scrunched up and began to turn bright red, signaling yet another tantrum, so Brenna exhaled and began to rummage through her pocket with one hand. As Rex watched, Bren withdrew her comlink and began speaking. “Kix? Can I ask you a favor?”

    The former medic's voice was calm, as it always was. “Sure. What's up?”

    Rex saw her eyes flicker to him, but she continued speaking into the comlink. “I need you to come up and take Iri for...a few minutes. She's dying to visit the quagga and I...can't take her, right now.”

    Kix agreed at once, and Rex felt something inside of him bristle at the idea, though it was not with annoyance at his brother. It should be his job, not Kix's, to take care of the child, and the fact that Bren had even asked his brother to do so struck that part of Rex that was convinced he was simply not cut out for the whole fatherhood thing.

    When Bren set her comlink back in her pocket, she took a deep breath and met his eyes, but neither of them said anything. However, he could tell that something between them that had been growing during the past three months was preparing to bubble to the surface, and a part of him thought back to his time in the army, when he'd have to steel himself for a particularly dangerous or unpleasant mission.

    It felt like forever before Kix came, but it was probably only a minute or so. The former medic took Iri without a word, though he did shoot Rex a somewhat nervous glance; Rex nodded to his brother, but said nothing.

    Conversely, Iri seemed pleased both to see her uncle and to know that she was getting her way, so she giggled happily in Kix's arms. “Iri see ponies!”

    That's right, adi'ka,” Kix said as they slipped out of the room and down the stairs. “Hey, you know what? I think they missed you.”

    After Kix and Iri were out of earshot, Brenna took a deep breath and looked back at Rex. “I want to marry you,” she said in an even, controlled voice. “Not right this moment, but one day.”

    Rather than respond immediately, he glanced back down at the rings. He knew her well enough to have heard what she had not added: If you want to marry me.

    Did he want to marry her? It was a simple question whose answer he had once known. He could remember being on the Resolute and thinking that yes, he did want to marry her, he did want to be Iri's father. But that had been before everything had changed, before he'd been shown that his true purpose was little more than that of a blaster; while he knew, rationally, that his value was greater than that of a weapon, it was difficult to have such a stark reality shoved in his face and not question every decision, every thought, he'd ever had.

    Right now, Rex had an answer to the question. He just knew it wasn't one that she was going to like.

    *

    As she watched him study the rings, Brenna wondered how badly she'd screwed up.

    He wasn't supposed to find them; she'd had every intention of putting them in a safe place and bringing the subject up later, when she thought that he was in a more stable place, more comfortable with himself and his new life.

    Rex looked up at Brenna again, and shook his head. “Brenna...I can't.” Her throat grew tight and her lips parted to reply, but he continued. “It's...not right, not now.” He paused, took a breath. “Maybe not ever.”

    The words struck her with more force than a fist. She blinked once and tried to push away the sudden constriction in her chest, which turned out to be an impossible task as long as she looked at him. “Never?”

    Rex's brow furrowed and he glanced back down at the rings in his hand. “I don't know right now, Bren. All I know is that I can't be what you both need...I've only got what, another ten, fifteen years, at most? That's not enough for Iri.”

    I don't care about that,” she replied, glancing behind her; she debated about sitting on one of the kids' beds, as her legs felt strange and wobbly, but chose to remain standing. “I knew about your lifespan and fell in love with you, anyway, because it doesn't matter to me.”

    But it's not fair to her,” he said, straightening, his fist closing around the rings. “Irini needs more than I can give. Yes, you knew about my lifespan when we met, but she's an innocent...it isn't right for me to agree to raise her when I know that I won't be around much longer.”

    As she listened, all of the frustration that she'd tried to keep at bay during the last three months began to ripple to the surface of her mind, and she was hard-pressed to keep her voice calm as she replied. “You're not raising her at all, Rex. You're avoiding raising her; you're avoiding having pretty much anything to do with her unless I ask you outright to take a role in her life.”

    That's not true,” he replied sharply. “Bren, that's not true and you know it. There have been plenty of times where I've helped you.”

    She took a breath to steady herself. “It feels like I'm twisting your arm, no matter what. I know you care about her and I know you like being with her, but it feels like you're not letting yourself be as much a part of her life as I need you to be.”

    A shadow crossed his face, but she could see that he was trying to fight it back. Even so, when he spoke his voice was like granite. “She doesn't need me.”

    She does, Rex,” Brenna replied quietly. “We both do.”

    There was a beat of silence while she tried to collect herself again, though she felt more of her calm dissipating. It was upsetting to think that, after what they'd been through, he didn't want to marry her, but it was more so – infinitely more so – to think that he didn't want to even try to make things work with her daughter.

    I've tried to be patient, because I know you've gone through a huge upheaval these last few months,” she said at last, fighting back the emotion that threatened to break her voice. “I know that it's been difficult for you and your brothers. And honestly, you can marry me or not; that doesn't matter so much, as long as we're together-”

    What about these?” he broke in, holding up the rings. “Why did you buy them, if it doesn't matter to you?”

    Her mouth opened but no sound came out for a long moment; she wanted to look away, but his eyes on her were intense and he refused to break his gaze. Finally she managed to reply. “It was just a spur-of-the moment purchase. It doesn't mean anything.”

    Rex's hand tightened over the rings again. “That's not true, either.”

    Okay,” she admitted, closing her eyes, briefly. “It does matter to me. When you say you don't want to marry me, it feels like you're rejecting...not just me, but Iri, too.”

    Bren-”

    Iri's my whole life,” Brenna continued, looking back at him. “She's my everything, and right now it feels like you're using your rapid-aging as an excuse not to get close to her.”

    His face darkened again and she watched his jaw tighten. “My accelerated-aging is not an excuse for me to shirk my responsibility. It's a valid concern.”

    But you can't do anything about it,” she pointed out. “So why let it control your life?”

    Rex exhaled sharply; the sound was too harsh and bitter to be a laugh, but she got the sense that he felt a dark sense of amusement at her words. “My life has been controlled since well before I took my first breath.”

    Brenna felt her stomach drop to her knees. “I understand that, Rex, but-”

    But his head was shaking again. “No, Bren. You don't.” He held out the package with the rings and met her eyes. “Here. You should take these back.”

    She crossed her arms before her chest and held his gaze, thinking that if she moved – or spoke, for that matter – she would lose her tenuous calm.

    What you're asking of me...it's too much,” he added, his own voice growing sharper with each word. “I wasn't made for this. That's what I'm trying to tell you.”

    I know,” she said after a beat. “But I'm trying to tell you that if you and I are going to continue, you need to be her father. You need to step into that role.”

    Still clutching the rings, Rex's hand fell to his side as he began shaking his head. “An ultimatum, Brenna? I thought you couldn't raise a child on absolutes. Isn't that what you told Tucker?”

    There was ire in his voice, barely controlled, and she felt herself automatically responding in kind. “If you feel that way, does that mean you're going to leave, too?”


    For a moment they only stared at each other, then he scowled and dropped the rings on the ground right before he turned away from her and slipped out the door. She listened to his booted steps as he hurried down the stairs, then heard the sound of the door closing behind him as he escaped outside.


    *****

    A/N: Gah. Writing arguments is haaard. =(( I just want them all to get along, always. But then there wouldn't be a story, I guess. ;) Special thanks to Jade Max for her feedback this chapter; it was invaluable!

    Thank you for reading! :)

    Next time: Rexter goes on an impromptu anooba hunt.

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  8. Nyota's Heart Combos & Paragraphs Host

    Game Host
    Member Since:
    Aug 31, 2004
    star 6
    I have been eagerly! awaiting this update. Poor sweet Brenna. She must be feeling absolutely shattered, like in a zillion pieces! :_| Rex is being one big moron. Like I don't have many months, years left, so I'll just trash the trust and love of a brilliant and beautiful soul-partner. Waste hours and days in frosty silences and/or cold civility. :( :( I can understand how his personal choices might or would be shaped by such a shocking revelation, but he needs to compartmentalize ;) Bren and Iri are the only and the most relevant things/persons. Always have been, that didn't change.




    Is this song perfect for them or what? [face_love]

    EKFZyr4uF6A[/media] This I Promise You

    :) [face_sigh] [face_praying]
    Last edited by Nyota's Heart, Jun 16, 2014
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  9. laloga Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2011
    star 2
    @Nyota's Heart: Sigh. Yeah, Rex is being a real di'kut, but I hope his reasons, from his POV, are clear. He's still got a lot of growing up to do, poor guy. But there's lots of story ahead, so take heart! :) Thank you for the comment! [face_love] (Except the link doesn't work! Which song is it?)

    ****

    Chapter Five
    What have I done?

    Of course Rex knew he shouldn't have taken off like that, but Bren's words had cut him right to his core, partly because they were true and he hated to hear his fears laid out so plainly.

    Well, the mention of Tucker had been his own doing; but even so, the idea that she'd compare his actions, even in a small way, to the commando's worst transgression had stung more than he wanted to admit.

    So he'd stormed out, like a child? Left her without a word...he hadn't even said anything to Caith when the other man had asked him what was wrong. What the hell is wrong with me?

    Rex shifted in Nova's saddle and watched the beginnings of the sunset over the mountains. It was a sight that he didn't think he'd ever get tired of, but right now it held no pleasure because he was quite certain that he'd screwed things up even worse than before. Bren wanted to marry him – of course he'd known that. She wanted him to be a father to her daughter – he'd known that, too.

    But he also knew that neither of those things should happen until he had some kind of a solution to the problem that kept gnawing away at him. He'd meant every word he'd said: it was fine for Brenna to accept his shortened lifespan because she was aware of the repercussions of such a thing; however, it wasn't right – not at all – to ask a child to do the same.

    Rex's mind cast itself back to Saleucami, to Cut Lawquane and the other man's family as he wondered what Cut would say to him if he could see the path in life that the former captain had taken.

    In the first few months following Rex's desertion from the army, he'd thought about Cut a great deal, but as more and more time passed and it became clear that the speed of Rex's aging was going to be a problem, his feelings on the other clone were mixed. Rex understood the desire to live one's life with a family that you loved and who loved you; Brenna had helped him realize this a while ago, when they'd fallen in love on the Resolute.

    But he also felt that he was being selfish.

    In the back of his mind, the thought sprang up: what do I want? But he tried to push the question aside, because it was irrelevant. What he wanted shouldn't matter, and he did not want his own desires come into play when there was too much at stake, no matter how often he looked at Brenna and Iri and thought, yes, this, more.

    However, in Rex's heart of hearts, he did want a family with her. He wanted to marry the woman he loved and he wanted to raise Irini as his own...maybe even have more children, if Bren wanted them, too.

    So I can die in a few years and leave them alone? Rex gritted his teeth in silent frustration. No, it can't be that way.

    Bren's words came back to him: “...right now it feels like you're using your rapid-aging as an excuse not to get close to her.”

    No. He shook his head again to clear it. No, that wasn't true, couldn't be true, because the accelerated pace of his aging wasn't an excuse. It was a reason, and a damn good one, he thought. Aside from the fact that he was a soldier bred, grown and trained to kill, nothing in his life had provided him with the experience to raise a child to a healthy and happy adulthood.

    Yes, he could handle livestock and ride, but Rex knew that ultimately, fighting was at the core of all that he was, and he knew that was not something that Iri needed.

    It was the same argument, spinning around his head, again and again, and there was no end in sight.

    Rex gave a snort of disgust at himself, and nudged Nova into a walk, then a light trot, and for a few minutes the brisk air against his cheeks allowed him to think of other, simpler things. Since he'd neglected to check the rest of this sector's fence-line this morning, he decided that there was no time like the present, so he urged the quagga onward, breaking her into a smooth canter as they headed for the place he'd stopped before.

    Riding was always calming. Rex eased his body into the rhythm of the creature beneath him and took a quiet kind of pleasure with the way that Nova responded to even the subtlest of commands; her training was coming along, nicely. Before too long they reached the desired section of fence and he slowed her to a walk, glancing up into the sky as he did so. There would be enough light for a few hours, at least, so he had a bit of time to fulfill his task.

    As he'd done early that morning, Rex examined the fence-line carefully, checking for breaks or spots of damage, and gradually, as he calmed down further, he allowed his mind to wander again.

    In so many ways, his life had taken such an unfamiliar shape, he supposed it was no wonder that he'd been brooding and restless, lately. Brenna had noticed, of course, but he'd tried to pretend it wasn't so, because she had enough on her plate as a single mother, not to mention the fact that he knew she wasn't quite as content on Alderaan as he was. Neither of them was at their best, but he could only see one way to rectify the problem.

    He had to find a way to halt, cure, slow – whatever – his and his brothers' rapid-aging. It had caused such a division between himself and the woman he loved and it was preventing him from stepping into the roles he wanted to assume.

    Another battle, this time against my own genetics. Rex sighed and patted Nova's striped neck. “Just that simple, isn't it, girl?”

    Even though she only whickered a response, he felt a little bit better.

    *

    Several minutes later, Brenna found herself at the quagga barn, where Kix had brought Iri while Jensine was calling the equines in for their evening feed. Once Brenna collected her daughter from the clone, she set Iri down outside the paddock fence and knelt beside her, pointing out the various quagga and trying to remember all their names. Eventually, as the sun set a little more and the wind picked up, Iri started to shiver, so Brenna hugged the little girl to her chest, wrapping her own jacket around Iri to keep her warm. The toddler had made it quite plain that she didn't want to go in just yet, and Bren was reluctant to deny her anything, right now.

    The scent of Caith's dinner was wafting through the yard, and she felt her stomach rumble; pressed against Brenna as she was, Iri twisted her head to look at her mother and gave a giggle. “Mama hungry.”

    Brenna smiled at her. “Very hungry. Are you hungry?”

    Iri paused, then looked back around the paddock. “Where Rex?”

    Brenna had come out of the house just in time to watch Nova as the quagga cantered away from the homestead, carrying Rex along. She'd let him go. Now, she hugged her daughter closer, inhaling her familiar scent before she replied. “He had to go for a little bit, honey, but he'll be back very soon.”

    Why?” Iri's voice was perplexed and far too thoughtful for a child who was not yet three.

    There was a beat while Brenna collected her thoughts. Children, especially ones who were as intelligent as Irini, were attuned to the moods and mannerisms of adults around them, and she could tell by the tone of Iri's voice that her daughter knew that Brenna was upset about something. Finally she blew a raspberry against the toddler's chubby cheek, making Iri squeal with delight. As Iri giggled, Brenna replied as innocuously as she could. “He needed to go check on the fences.”

    She had no clue if it was true, but she thought that it was as good a guess as anything. This made the little girl frown, as if she didn't quite believe her mother, but before Iri could question her again, Bren heard footsteps behind tehm; she twisted her head around and watched her brother approach from the house.

    Everything okay?”

    Bren gave him a tight smile. “Sure.”

    Hmm.” Caith squinted off in the direction that Rex and Nova had gone, then looked back at her. “Do you know if he'll be back in time for dinner? Mom and I saw him leave.”

    At this, Bren got to her feet and rested Iri on her hip. “I'm not sure when he's coming back.”

    She trailed off, but Caith only nodded and gave her a warm look. “Come inside, Bren. It's getting chilly.”

    Her eyes slid to the open pasture again, but Caith put a hand on her arm. “Let's give him until after dinner, then I'll go check on him. I think I can guess where he went; Jesse mentioned that he's been at the far pastures a lot, lately.”

    Thanks, but I should probably go.” She pressed her cheek to Iri's, noting with happiness that her daughter was warm, despite the prevalent wind.

    Caith hesitated, then gave Brenna one of those looks that had always made her feel like he really did know what he was talking about; sometimes it was infuriating, but other times, like right now – or when their father had died when she was a kid – she took comfort in the fact that he felt wise, even when she knew he was probably a just as much of a loss as she was.

    Indeed, he seemed to be uncertain how she would receive his words, but he said them anyway. “I think maybe...he might appreciate another...you know.”

    She lifted her brow at her elder brother. “Another guy?”

    Yeah. Or another father.”

    Brenna was quiet for a minute, then nodded slowly. After a few moments, she looked back at Caith and frowned. “I wish he hadn't left. I shouldn't have said what I did.”

    Her brother put his arm around her shoulders and urged her toward the house. “I heard a little of it...from what I could tell, you said what you needed to say, and what he needed to hear. And I know that he'll come back to you. He's not Tucker, you know. You were right about that.”

    I know he's not Tucker,” she replied as their boots crunched along the gravel. Another slice of wind ruffled through her coat, and she shivered despite herself and hoped Iri wasn't getting chilly all over again. “He's not like anyone I've ever met. I love him so much, but I'm worried about him.”

    Caith was quiet for a moment, and she could sense him silently agreeing with her even as his arm tightened around her shoulders. Finally he rubbed her shoulder and exhaled. “It'll be okay, Bren.”

    Be okay, Mama,” Irini agreed in a solemn voice that made Brenna chuckle, and helped lift some of the heaviness from her heart. Moments later, they reached the main house again, and as she carried her daughter inside, she was struck by its warm glow, that despite everything, had always signified home in her mind.

    Even though she'd left at a young age, she'd always known that this place was here, waiting for her, and it had always provided a measure of comfort; more than that, though, she valued her brother and his family, and yes, even her mother.

    They were all inside; Edme and Tav having come in from her commute to town, and the clones as well, all of whom had flourished under Jensine's strict but caring eye. The moment that she and Iri entered the dining room, Bren was greeted with warmth and light; Caith took Iri and set the little girl in her feeding chair while Bren took a seat next to Jesse and accepted a plate of nerf-steak and topatoes.

    Good, you're here,” Jensine said, sitting up from where she sat at the head of the table. “Is he...?”

    Brenna shook her head and met her mother's eyes. “Rex is checking out the far pastures; he said not to wait for him.” He'd said nothing of the kind, but she didn't feel like going into the gory details at the moment.

    Thankfully, her mother seemed to understand; Jensine nodded and began to ask Edme about the other woman's work teaching at the local college, and for a little while, the chatter rolled off of Brenna's back as she allowed herself to get a little lost in the eddies of conversation.

    At one point, Jesse leaned over to her and gave her a small but encouraging smile. “Don't worry about him, Bren. He's just a stubborn di'kut sometimes, but he'll see reason, eventually.”

    She couldn't help but smile back; she wondered how much of her and Rex's disagreement was known by everyone in the family. It was one of the curses about living in such close proximity with others: there was little in the way of true privacy. “I hope so.”

    Yeah,” the tattooed clone replied with a nod. “I mean...it's been hard for all of us, you know? But Rex is one of those guys who carries the weight of the galaxy on his shoulders, whether you ask him to or not. Guess that's just the way he was engineered. Anyway, he'll come around.”

    Jesse gave her another, warmer smile, and a part of her was glad that he'd seemed to take so well to this life. Another part of her wished Rex shared his generally positive outlook, though it was a fleeting wish. “Thanks, Jess.”

    Sure,” he replied. “And...for what it's worth, even though you guys aren't...you know, you're already 'sister' in my mind, because he...you know...loves you. He really does. Just so you...er...know.”

    As he spoke, his ears turned bright red and he coughed into his hand, which made her smile again. Kix sighed and nudged the tattooed clone's side, as if to get his attention. When Jesse looked back up, his face was still flushed with embarrassment, and he nodded to the center of the table, to a small basket that was in her reach. “Please pass the rolls?”


    *

    As the final edge of the sun was engulfed in the mountains, Rex spotted the anooba.

    Standing just outside of the perimeter fence, the mountain anooba's coat was a shaggy, thick charcoal, and when it turned, Rex caught the faint gleam of saliva on the bottom edge of the horny beak that served as its lower jaw. Long, slender ears trailed out from either side of the anooba's head, and its tail, tufted and ridged with boney protuberances, lashed in agitation as it caught Rex and Nova's scent.

    Mountain anoobas such as this one were nocturnal and generally solitary; they were also larger and a great deal more intelligent than other subspecies of anooba, and as the last glint of light caught this one's eyes, Rex noted that its gaze was fixed on himself and Nova, and that it did not appear to be concerned in the least by their presence.

    Nova made a low, throaty sound, and her feet danced nervously as if she were anxious to run; Rex had caught the outline of the anooba from a fairly safe distance, but he knew how quickly the kriffing things could move.

    This one was also big, even for a mountain anooba, and he realized at once that it was that it was the most likely culprit behind the death of the escaped vilpaca he'd found early that morning. He had to put an end to it; not only did the creature represent a threat to the stock, but should it wander too close to the house...well, he didn't want to think about the harm it could do to an innocent child.

    Very slowly, Rex gathered up the reins in his left hand, then slid his right down to the leather holster, where he'd replaced his blaster-rifle before he'd left the house. Beneath him, Nova snorted and tossed her head, the scent of the predator naturally causing her distress, and the anooba's ears flicked forward with interest. As he pulled out the rifle, Rex murmured a few soothing Mando'a phrases to the quagga and sat back in the saddle, alerting her with his body that she was to hold still. A part of him was apprehensive about firing the weapon this close to Nova, for he'd never done so while mounted, but dismounting would take too much time as well as put himself at a greater tactical disadvantage.

    The anooba's nostrils flared and its eyes gleamed in the darkness. Nova was trembling beneath him, so Rex spoke again even as he raised the weapon, making sure his movements were fluid and steady while he murmured to the quagga. “Udesii, Nova. Udesii, ner mirdala Nov'ika...”

    It was a little difficult to see the creature amid the growing darkness, and for one moment Rex wished for the night-vision option contained in his old HUD, but he knew he could manage without. He aimed directly at the anooba's chest. Nova shifted beneath him, but it was a small movement, and all of Rex's focus was on the predator anyway. His finger squeezed the trigger.

    The shot of blue plasma illuminated the darkness, and the next thing that Rex knew, Nova gave a terrified whinny and reared back on her hind legs. Even as he felt himself falling, Rex tucked his body into a roll and allowed himself to hit the grass with a thud that knocked the breath from his lungs. Hoofbeats, moving away from the thick, acrid scent of plasma. The moment he could, he righted himself – he'd not dropped the rifle, thankfully – and took stock of his surroundings, but the anooba was nowhere in sight.

    Nor was Nova.

    *****

    A/N: Thanks for reading!

    Next time: Making out...er, I mean up. ;)
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  10. Nyota's Heart Combos & Paragraphs Host

    Game Host
    Member Since:
    Aug 31, 2004
    star 6
    The song is by 'N Sync "This I Promise You." [face_love]


    Next time: Making out...er, I mean up. Woohoo jinkies! Will review in depth later. Just had to say [face_dancing] This fic is the highlight of every Monday. @};- @};-




    I am glad that Rex is focusing on finding a solution instead of thinking: Oh well, there isn't one. :p

    Love Jesse's and Caith's assurances. :)

    :eek: I hope Nova finds her way home again, but I'm pleased to see Rex handling the situation like a born 'horseman.' ;)

    [:D]
    Last edited by Nyota's Heart, Jun 23, 2014
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  11. laloga Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2011
    star 2



    @Nyota's Heart: Aww, that song is lovely! Thanks for sharing. [face_love] Yes, lol. Rexter will come around...eventually. Also, writing clones-as-cowboys was just too delightful. I'm glad you like it! Thank you for the comment. [:D]

    *****
    Chapter Six

    It was almost full-dark by the time Rex spotted his wayward quagga. Thankfully she hadn't run too far; when he called to her, Nova's head swung his way and he thought for one moment that she looked a little guilty. Reins trailing in the stubby grass, the quagga approached him slowly. Her ears canted forward as he continued to speak to her in a soothing voice, letting her know that he wasn't upset with her for tossing him to the ground and taking off. Rex knew well enough how fear could get the better of someone, and didn't begrudge Nova such a thing.

    Easy, girl,” he said as he collected her reins. “Good girl. Good Nov'ika.”

    The moon overhead was not full, but it was close to it, and when the clouds were brushed away from its edges by the wind it provided enough light to see the surrounding slopes of grassland and the mountains in the distance. After a cursory examination to make sure that Nova was unharmed, Rex patted her neck again and swung himself into the saddle; however, Nova's head lifted and she turned towards the direction of the Damaris' homestead, then let out a querying whinny. An answering quagga-call met Rex's ears, and he squinted in the moonlight, wondering who it was that had come to meet them.

    For one moment he thought – hoped – it was Brenna, but when he spotted the figure astride the approaching quagga's back, he knew at once that it was Caith. Happy to see another of her kind, Nova whickered again while Rex lifted his own hand in a greeting, a gesture that Caith returned once he'd cantered up. Now that he was closer, Rex could see that Brenna's brother was dressed similarly to himself: a thick, wool coat and sturdy boots, with a warm, knitted cap that covered his ears. For one moment, Caith studied Rex with eyes that were so close to Brenna's, it made him look away, then the other man cleared his throat.

    Before Caith could say anything, Rex thumbed the direction he'd seen the anooba. “I found the culprit that killed that villie this morning.”

    Jesse said it was a mountain anooba?”

    Nodding, Rex angled Nova around. “A big one; he was on the other side when Nova and I spotted him, but this morning I found a breach in the fence-line. Honestly, this fellow was large enough...he could have just jumped over the barrier.”

    Caith was quiet for a beat, then he nodded as well. “Show me where you saw it?”

    Without another word, Rex urged Nova into an easy canter, and he and Caith made their way back towards the section of fence that crested a grassy hill. Beyond the fence, Rex could see the adjacent valley that sloped down and away from the Damaris' land; beyond that were mountains, now bathed in shifting silver and black as the clouds moved across the moon. It was getting colder.

    Here,” Rex said, indicating the patch of scrubby, autumn grass where he'd seen the anooba. “I tried to get a shot in, but Nova wasn't entirely pleased with me firing a blaster while on her back.”

    At this, Caith gave a chuckle and slanted a sideways glance at the former captain. “She's young, yet. You're doing a fine job training her.” He looked back over the ground, then urged his own mount into a walk so that he was standing right at the fence-line. “I imagine it'll be back tonight as well; Mom put all of the villies into the stables for now, though that can't last.”

    Not enough room,” Rex agreed, thinking of the shaggy, petulant creatures.

    A quiet chuckle met his ears; a glance showed Rex that Caith was smiling and shaking his head. “Those damn things...Mom loves them, though.”

    I'm glad someone does.”

    Caith laughed again, then looked over at Rex. “Thank you for all of your help, Rex. You and your brothers have really made a huge difference to this place; I haven't seen it run this well since before Dad died. We're all really grateful that you're here.”

    But Rex was shaking his head. “I'm the one who should be thanking you, Edme and Jensine. And Brenna.” He hadn't meant to say her name, and his chest felt a little tight after he did.

    Caith didn't miss a beat, and eased the conversation along. “Ed and I love it here, we really do. I forgot how much I love it in the country...she doesn't even mind the commute.” He paused, exhaled. “I think I could stay out here forever.”

    You have a home, though,” Rex replied, frowning a little in thought. “A nice one, from what I remember.”

    It is nice, but it's not...here,” Caith said, his voice almost wistful. He paused again and Rex saw his eyes close, briefly. “After our dad died, I didn't want to stay; I moved to Belleau-a-Lir as soon as I could. Met Edme, got married, then bought that little house. But I stayed nearby...now I think it's because a part of me knew I'd never be happy anywhere else.”

    He looked at Rex. “As soon as she got old enough, Brenna did the same thing, but unlike me, she left it all: Mom, the ranch, me...the whole world. She wanted more.” His face turned towards the sky again and he inhaled before he spoke. “She wanted the galaxy.”

    She deserves it, Rex thought, but he kept silent, waiting.

    Finally, Caith's voice sounded again, quiet amidst the slight shush of wind and the shifting of quagga hooves against the grass. “Dad was killed when she was so young. Did she ever tell you what happened?”

    A little,” Rex replied. “She was only six, right? Some kind of speeder accident?”

    Old pain, sharpened by the wind and the moonlight, appeared on Caith's face and he nodded slowly. “Yeah. I was eleven. It was so sudden. He left to go to town. He never came back.”

    Rex looked away from Caith, as he felt like he was intruding on some private moment, but the other man continued. “I remember...after we found out, Mom went for a ride and didn't return for hours and hours, and Brenna kept asking me why everyone left us, and when they were coming back. I had to explain to her that Dad wasn't coming back.”

    Guilt pierced Rex with more surety than any blaster-bolt, because he'd left, too. Perhaps Caith sensed the feeling, somehow, he cleared his throat and shifted his quagga closer to Nova. “She knows it's not the same thing that you did, Rex. Not even close. She loves you.”

    I know,” he replied in a quiet voice. “I love her, too.”

    Caith nodded. “I know you do. But Rex, sometimes, love isn't enough. It's no guarantee of a lasting relationship. Nothing is guaranteed, nothing is ever certain.”

    A dark chuckle fled Rex's throat at these words. For all that he felt he understood little of civilian life, Rex knew that fact very well; as a soldier, he'd seen how quickly a situation could change, how easily everything could go from good to horrible. “Yeah, I'm aware of that.”

    Great,” Caith replied evenly. “Then you're also aware that love is hard, but building and sharing a life...it's infinitely harder, damn near impossible. Sometimes I think – no, I know – I lucked out with Ed. She's...” He cleared his throat; the fullness in his voice fading to a softer register. “I'm really thankful that I found her, and that she puts up with me. There's no one else I'd want to raise my son with.”

    For a long moment, Rex didn't answer.

    Sometimes he wished he could shut off his mind, or at least ebb the tide of thoughts that never ceased to worry at him, but he couldn't. And while he understood that Caith had his and Brenna's – and Iri's – best interests at heart, a part of Rex felt a swell of bitterness, because there was so much that Caith, with all of his good intentions and kindness, just didn't understand.

    Nothing was guaranteed, nothing was certain, but that understanding didn't change anything for him, because he was fundamentally the same.

    Half a life. Half a man. It was no way to raise a child.

    Eventually, Caith exhaled into the darkness; in Brenna's uncanny fashion, he seemed to know exactly what Rex was thinking, and Rex idly wondered if Caith was that intuitive, or if he himself was just really easy to read. “I know that I don't understand everything that's on your mind right now, like you and your brothers' accelerated aging, but I do know that people have survived much worse things. A relationship is only as strong as those who are a part of it, and it will only last if you both work at it, fight for it. Rex, if you really want this, if you want to be with her, you'll figure out a way to make it work despite any obstacle.”

    I can't fail her, or Iri,” Rex replied, looking back at the mountains; upper level winds had pushed away most of the clouds and the jagged peaks were coated in silver. The entire valley seemed like something out of a dream, and it was only when he shivered from an errant gust of wind that he knew it was very real. “There's so much harm I could do to that little girl.”

    He heard Caith open his mouth to object, but Rex continued anyway. “You said so yourself; Brenna was so hurt when her father died...I couldn't put Iri through that.”

    This is different.”

    Because I know that a swift death is coming for me?”

    The other man winced, but shook his head. “Because sometimes the right thing isn't the easiest thing. Is it better to keep yourself at a distance from Iri until the day you do die? So she'll grow up without a father altogether?”

    It's selfish,” Rex countered. “It's selfish of me to put her through that, just so I can pretend to be her dad for a few years. She's already lost one father,” he added, thinking of Tucker. “It's not fair that she should lose another.”

    Tucker was never her father,” Caith replied at once, his voice full of conviction. “Maybe he died with honor, but he didn't live with it, at least as far as I'm concerned. As for you...Rex, you don't strike me as the kind of guy who pretends to be anything.”

    There was a pause, then Caith spoke again. This time his tone held an edge that Rex rarely heard from the other man. “Yes, Rex. You will grow old and die much sooner than you should – as many people in the galaxy die before their time – but in the meantime...it's a much worse thing for you to distance yourself from Iri and Bren because of what you fear may come in the future. It's so much worse to sacrifice what you have now for what might be, one day.

    It was similar to a Jedi teaching that Rex had heard General Kenobi say to Ahsoka once, a long time ago: be mindful of the future, but not at the expense of the moment.

    Beneath him, Nova shifted and he absently scratched her neck as he considered the words. It went against everything he'd thought was right, because in his mind, the act of raising a child was the very essence of being mindful of the future. But not at the expense of the moment. An inhale brought him the chill of the wind and the moonlight. “I guess.”

    He expected Caith to get angry again, but the other man only gave a tired laugh, then turned his mount back towards the direction of the ranch. “Come on, Rex. Let's go home.”

    She's...angry with me,” Rex replied. “Isn't she? I mean...I stormed out like a di'kut. I'd be angry with me.”

    Caith's reply was filled with compassion. “It'll be okay, Rex. Just...come back.”

    It was something else that Brenna and Caith shared, something that Rex had a hard time wrapping his mind around, the innate faith that things would work out as they should, that everything would “be okay.” He wished he could share the sentiment, but he'd seen far too many things turn out just the wrong way, and wondered if he had faith, any more.

    Certainly, he didn't think he had any in himself.

    But Caith was right about one thing: it was time to go back. Rex nodded and nudged Nova with his heels, and together the two men began to make their way across the open pasture; within a few moments – less time than Rex always imagined – he could make out the warm glow of the house, where Brenna was, and he thought: home, at last.

    *

    Iri hadn't wanted to sleep in her crib, so Brenna – whether out of guilt or her own loneliness – had obliged her daughter; together, they were curled up on the bed that she and Rex shared, the one in her childhood bedroom at the top level of the house, and Brenna was reading aloud from one of the children's holo-books that her sister-in-law had given Iri.

    I am a honey bee,” she read, arm around her daughter as the little girl studied the flickering images of the holo. “Shut out from the colony. And they won't let me in. So I left the hive; they took away all my stripes, and broke off both my wings.”

    Sad bee,” Iri broke in, her fingers reaching for the wavering illustration of a despondent-looking honeybee, looking in the direction of a hive.

    Brenna nodded and smoothed out Iri's hair. “She is, isn't she? Let's see what she does, now.”

    There was a pause while she flicked to the next screen, which showed a thick forest, the leaves of the trees shivering as if rocked by the wind; an assortment of birds and other woodland creatures rested on their branches. “So I'll find another tree, and make the wind my friend. I'll just sing with the birds; they'll tell me secrets of the world.”

    Iri beamed. Brenna had to smile as she watched her daughter absorb the images in the picture; it really was a lovely, well-done holo, and she thought that she'd have to remember to thank Edme again for bringing it to her. She made to flick to the next screen, but Iri protested, so Brenna kissed her daughter's head and let her look.

    While Iri studied the picture, Brenna glanced at the chrono on the nightstand and cast a look outside, through the curtains to the darkness beyond. As he'd said he would, Caith had saddled up one of the quagga and gone to find Rex, but neither of them had returned yet, and Brenna was starting to worry. She knew that there was little real danger for a soldier like Rex in the countryside, and both he and her brother were well-aware of what dangers there were, which meant that the reason that Rex had not yet returned was...

    Because he didn't want to.

    Her chest was heavy and her heart had started to beat a little faster with the idea. He won't leave, she told herself, stroking Iri's hair absently. He loves you. He's not going anywhere...you know that.

    But despite her best efforts, her past mistakes danced at the forefront of her memory. Arcas, the first man she'd ever loved – the only man she'd loved, until Rex came along – had left shortly after she'd admitted how she felt for him. Perhaps she'd said the words too quickly, but to just take off with no warning...?

    And Tucker had left as well when things between him and Brenna had gone from “fun” to “serious.” She'd never loved the clone, not like she loved Rex, but Brenna thought that they could have at least tried to make it work. He could have – should have – stayed around, for Iri's sake. But he'd run away, too.

    And Dad...

    She shook her head in an effort to bury the memories that she worked so hard to forget.

    Anyway, all of that was in the past. Rex was his own man, a good and honorable one, and she knew that she just needed to be more patient. He just needs time, she thought, then felt a dark chuckle rise in her throat, because it was an ironic and painfully true thought.

    Rex needed time, in more ways than one.

    Mama!” Iri's voice tugged her out of her reverie; the toddler was pointing at the holo. “Next?”

    Nodding, Brenna reached around Iri and activated the next image: another honeybee from the first was sitting in what appeared to be an empty room in the hive, and he was looking out of a small window with a sad expression on his face. She cleared her throat. “But my other honeybee is stuck where he doesn't want to be-”

    That was when the old-style rattlebang door to the bedroom opened, and Rex entered. At first his steps were hesitant, as if he was uncertain of the welcome he'd get, but she looked up and met his eyes, feeling relief swell in her heart. However, she didn't want to make a scene in front of Iri, or give the child any indication that something was wrong, so she only inclined her head to indicate that he should approach.

    As he did so, Irini beamed up at him. “Rex read too?”

    Sure, kiddo,” he replied, casting another cautious look at Brenna.

    In response, she smiled at him, then scooted over towards the side of the bed so that there was room for all three of them. He met her eyes and smiled as well – still tentative, but hopeful, too – and after he'd removed his boots, he settled in on Iri's other side, sitting upright as Brenna was so that they were surrounding the little girl.

    Where are we?” he asked, looking down at the holo. Brenna pointed out where she'd stopped, and he nodded, then cleared his throat and began to read aloud. “But my darling honeybee, I'll come save you even if it means I'll have to face the queen.”

    At this, Iri gave a delighted giggle and indicated that they should flip to the next image. Above the toddler's head, Rex shot Brenna a somewhat abashed look, and she smiled at him again as she activated the holo. The next image was of the forest again, but this time it was filled with all manner of creatures, with the “heroine” of the holo at the center, surrounded by her new companions.

    Rex paused to scan the picture, then continued: “So, I'll come prepared; my new friends said they would help me get my loved one back. They say it isn't right, that the bees have control of your mind, but I chose not to believe that.”

    He paused again and glanced at Brenna with a lifted brow, so she took over. “So we'll meet in the darkness of the night, and I promise I will be there on time.”

    The next image showed a veritable swarm of birds, butterflies and other insects, circling around the hive where the heroine had come from initially, with the heroine at the front, a determined look on her somewhat humanized features. As Iri studied the picture, Brenna continued reading. “We'll be guided by my new friends, the butterflies, and they'll bring us back to our own little hive. That's good, isn't it, sweetheart? See all the butterflies?”

    Iri gave a huff as if she was frustrated with Brenna's commentary, and looked up at her mother. “Read, Mama.”

    Beside the little girl, Rex chuckled and Brenna rolled her eyes. “That's 'please read, Mama,' young lady.” In response, Iri snuggled back into the pillows, her gaze fixed on the holo, though Brenna could see that her lashes were starting to droop.

    There was a pause, then Rex looked at Brenna again. “Looks like we're about done. Let me finish?”

    Brenna nodded, so he leaned forward and activated the holo so that the last image appeared. This one showed the two bees reunited at last, happily buzzing around the forest with their 'hands' joined. Rex began to read, his rich voice filling the air between the three of them, and Brenna noted that Iri's eyes were closing in earnest, now, as if the sound of Rex's voice was soothing enough to put her to sleep. “Oh, my darling honeybee, no longer stuck where he doesn't want to be. Oh, my darling honeybee...”

    As he read, Brenna watched his hand slip behind Iri's back, reaching for Brenna herself. When it came to rest against her own cheek, she couldn't help but lean into his touch; his hands were cool from being outside, but the press of his fingers to her skin was welcome, and when she reached her own hand up to cover his, she felt his skin begin to warm. “I have saved you,” he read, tilting his head as his eyes flickered over to hers. “And now that you're with me, we can make our own honey.”

    For the space of a heartbeat there was silence, then he glanced down at Iri, who was now fast asleep. “Am I that boring?”

    Even though she was chuckling, Brenna began to carefully extract herself from the bedclothes. “Let her sleep. In a little bit, I'll move her to her room. She doesn't like it as much as she likes this bed.”

    Rex nodded and rose as well, bending to collect his boots before he followed Brenna out of the room and into the hallway. Once she shut the door behind her, they looked at each other for a moment before speaking, and when they did, it was simultaneously.

    Rex, I'm sorry-”

    I'm so sorry, Bren-”

    There was a pause, during which she watched him smile and felt a corresponding expression creep across her own face; after that, she indicated the stairs. “Maybe we should take this elsewhere?”

    For the most part, the house was dark and quiet; most of the others had gone to bed, though as Brenna and Rex made their way down the stairs and into the living room, she spotted Jesse and Coric seated on the couch, watching a holo of a recent bolo-ball match with the volume turned low. Both men inclined their heads at the couple, and she saw Rex's eyes flicker to the screen with interest before he glanced at her. “Outside?”

    It was difficult to find a place for true privacy, sometimes, so she nodded. After pausing to collect a warmer coat and scarf, and to let Rex replace his boots and slide on his own jacket, they stepped out the front door and onto the wide, wrap-around porch that covered the front of her mother's house. Outside, the scrubby, autumn ground was bathed in silver from the moon, and she was reminded of Ithor for a moment. It felt like a long time ago, now, though in reality it was only about a year since that mission.

    Since then, so much had changed.

    A gentle creaking sound alerted her to the fact that Rex had taken a seat on the wooden bench-swing that hung from twin chains at the far end of the porch; Brenna stepped across the slats of the porch to join him, and for a moment they sat beside one another, a hand-span apart, looking out into the moonlight. When the wind brushed across them, it rifled through her hair and sent a chill across her skin, but she resisted the urge to rub her arms.

    Instead, she glanced at Rex, noting that he seemed tense again even though he met her gaze. “I'm sorry, Rex,” she began.

    No, Bren, I'm-”

    Let me go first?” At her words, he gave an abashed smile and nodded. She smiled back, then reached for his right hand, taking it in both of her own; neither one had worn gloves and already his skin was cool. “I should have been more compassionate. Everything in your life has changed so completely and so quickly, and I know that you've got a lot on your mind.”

    He inhaled, but said nothing; she could tell by the watchful way his eyes were fixed on hers that he was waiting to see if she had anything else to add. “I shouldn't have bought those rings.” Here, she took a breath and gave his hand a squeeze. “But I can't help how I feel. I can't help wanting what I want.”

    To marry me.” His voice was uncertain and quiet, and as he spoke he studied their joined hands as if trying to work out a puzzling bit of intel. After a moment he looked up and met her eyes, which was when she continued.

    I know it won't...fix anything, Rex. I know it won't cure your aging, or even make you stop worrying about it. I know that it won't help me get over my own fears.” She took a deep breath and felt his other hand reach up to cover both of hers. “But it's what I want. You. For the rest of however much time we'll get, and I'm trying to be patient and not worry that you'll leave, but it's...difficult.”

    Almost-golden eyes held hers and his head shook, slowly. “I'm not going anywhere, Bren.”

    There was so much certainty in his voice; it heartened her, because lately he'd seemed uncertain about so many things. Something that had been knotted up small and tight within her chest relaxed, just a little bit, and she nodded. He seemed to feel a little better as well, for he shifted closer to her on the swing, causing it to creak under him. “I do want to marry you,” he added. “And...be Iri's father, if I can. But right now, even with your help, and with Caith's and the others...it feels like uncharted territory for me. I haven't got the first clue about being a parent.”

    And you think I did?” She squeezed his hand. “No one does, Rex. It's not like you get a reg manual when you find out you're pregnant. You learn as you go.”

    He was quiet for the space of a few breaths, and she watched his forehead crease as he thought over her words. “You'll be okay,” she added as she pressed herself closer to him, for the wind had picked up and she felt herself starting to shiver. “You'll learn. It's not something that anyone can master overnight. Caith says that he still feels like he has no idea what he's doing, and his son is almost seven.”

    She was gratified when a low chuckle escaped from Rex, and again when he extracted his hand from her grip so that he could encircle her shoulders with his arm. The warmth of his body enveloped her and she relaxed into his side as he spoke. “I suppose that's true, but it's...strange to me, still. And Bren...my aging. That's not something that I can forget about, even for a minute.”

    There was a weighted pause, during which she twisted her head around so that she could look at him again. “Brenna,” he said in a quiet voice. “I want to marry you, but I need more time.”

    I know.”

    But I love you,” he added, rubbing at her shoulders through the material of her coat. “And Iri's wonderful. I just-” He gave a sigh that was pure frustration and hugged her closer. “I don't know.”

    Neither one spoke for a few minutes; instead, they watched the shadows of the clouds, obscuring the moonlight that covered the grassy yard. Brenna's own eyes felt a little heavy, and she knew she was getting tired, but she was actually rather comfortable here, close to the man she loved, even though her face was chilled from the wind. Finally Rex spoke again, the timbre of his voice filling her ears and her heart. “I'm sorry for storming out. I was just...frustrated by the situation. And...”

    Scared.”

    He exhaled again. “Yeah. But that's no excuse for my behavior.” She wanted to say something to ease him, but before she could think of anything, he rubbed her arm again, a quiet chuckle escaping him as he did so. “I know I'm a rookie at being a father, but I guess I thought that I had this 'relationship' stuff down.”

    She had to laugh at this. “I think it's the kind of thing that always evolves.”

    Again, the half-smile that she loved, that he knew she loved. “As I'm learning.”

    With that, he reached up with his free hand and tilted her chin to him so that he could give her a kiss; the wind had cooled him as well, but the moment their lips met she felt a ripple of heat pass through her body and suddenly the air wasn't quite as cold. The kiss began slowly, because they were each still tentative; gradually, it strengthened, bloomed, until she heard herself make a small noise of pleasure as her body turned to better fit against his, and her hands reached up to cup his cheeks, his cool skin starting to heat.

    When they parted, Brenna noted that his breath was a little short. Hers was, too, and she felt a rather silly grin cross her face. Rex tilted his head and slid his hand around to the back of her neck, pulling her close so that when he spoke his warm breath feathered her mouth. “What's so amusing?”

    I think it's time we made up properly,” she replied. As she spoke, she kissed him after every other word, the kisses starting gently but increasing in strength until he gave a wordless murmur and embraced her again. After a few more minutes, when she realized that she was actually a little too warm in her coat and scarf, she stood up from the bench and took his hand, feeling her pulse leap when she saw the gleam in his eyes.

    They made their way back into the house, through the now-empty living room, up the stairs and to Brenna's old bedroom. Once she opened the door and her eyes fell on her sleeping daughter, she shot Rex a wry look. “I can put her in her room,” she said in a whisper as he stepped past her into the bedroom. “It'll just take a second.”

    He shook his head, then moved forward to the bed, where Iri was curled up with one of the pillows. With extraordinary gentleness, Rex gathered the little girl in his arms and made his way back to Brenna, where he paused. “She's in her sleep-things...should I just set her down in her bed?”

    Brenna nodded; she followed him out of her old bedroom and back down the flight of stairs, to the level where many of the other bedrooms were located, including the one that Iri and her cousin Tavi shared. Tav was asleep in his own bed, no doubt having been tucked in by Caith and Edme some time ago.

    As Brenna watched, Rex approached Iri's bed – smaller than the one that he shared with Brenna and with a safety rail along the side – and paused. There was a moment of hesitation on his part, though after he transferred Iri so that she was resting against his chest while he held her with one arm, he reached down to draw the blankets aside. With the greatest care, he used both arms to set her tiny body into her bed, then replaced the blankets over her sleeping form.

    It wasn't particularly complicated, but he'd never done this before. Always, he'd let Brenna handle getting Iri ready for bed, though he would watch her every move.

    Right now, she understood that this was his way of trying to move past his fears, and she felt her heart swell with love for him from the small action. It expanded further when she saw him stroke some of Iri's baby curls away from her face before he turned back to Brenna, wearing a hopeful expression. In response, she smiled at him.

    He smiled back, then turned to look at Iri; because her bed was beneath a window, there was a faint silver cast to the little girl from the moonlight, and Brenna watched as Rex's brow furrowed again. When he spoke, his voice was so quiet that she thought he may have been talking to himself. “What are we going to do?”

    But she knew the answer. “We keep going. We figure it out, and Rex,” she added in a whisper as she put a hand on his shoulder, drawing his gaze to her. “We do it together, no matter what.”

    This time, his smile was softer, but she thought came from someplace deeper inside because there was an answering strength in his reply. “Sounds like a plan.”

    After a beat they slipped out of the children's room and into the hallway. As Rex shut the door behind them, she shot him a look. Some of the ardor had faded and it occurred to her that he was probably hungry, since he'd skipped dinner. “I saved you a plate,” she offered. “We can heat it in the nanowave.”

    Rex's eyes glinted in the darkness, and although she wasn't cold anymore she felt a shiver pass over her, one that was heightened when he placed his hand at the small of her back. “Later,” he said, drawing her close so he could kiss her. “We still have some making up to do.”

    *****

    A/N: The words to Iri's picture-book are from a song by Zee Avi, called “Honey Bee," and are reprinted without permission.

    Thanks for reading!

    Next time: The return of Chopper, and plot stuff! Woo! [face_dancing]
    Kahara and gracesonnet like this.
  12. Nyota's Heart Combos & Paragraphs Host

    Game Host
    Member Since:
    Aug 31, 2004
    star 6
    Rex and Caith's conversation - stunningly insightful and so true!

    If you sacrifice the moment while being mindful of the future, you'll have more regrets than you can shake a stick at :p :rolleyes:

    The honeybee story is precious! Irini is growing on me with each post, I just want to gobble her up LOL

    :* :*

    Oh, a wrap-around porch with a swing. It doesn't get better than that. ;)

    Bren is right. You don't get a manual LOL but if you work at it together, the challenges are halved and the joys doubled. :)

    Lord, but that conversation, and the mush and Rex putting Irini to bed. My heart is so buoyant with joy and happiness and pride and love for these two!

    [face_dancing]

    SQUEEEEEEE!
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  13. gracesonnet Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    May 20, 2014
    star 1
    Aww! The honeybee story was adorable. I love how Rex is trying his darnedest to go from soldier to farmer/family man, even though it's completely unfamiliar territory for him.
    Kahara, laloga and Nyota's Heart like this.
  14. laloga Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2011
    star 2
    @Nyota's Heart: Thank you for the lovely comments! [face_love]
    This is a lovely way to put it. :) I'm so glad Iri is coming across well; I don't have kids, so I'm always iffy on writing them.


    @gracesonnet: Thank you for the comment! [face_love] Yeah, Rex is giving it his best shot, as is his wont. He's a good man, that Rexter. ;)

    *****
    Chapter Seven

    The next morning came sooner than it should have, though Rex attributed such a thing to the fact that he and Brenna had been up far later than normal, first with making up – which he decided he rather liked – then with trying to sneak into the kitchen as soundlessly as possible in order to acquire some leftovers.

    While he normally preferred to rise with the sun and begin his chores, Rex had decided to forgo such a thing today and remain where he was: beneath several layers of blankets with Bren curled up beside him. He thought that she felt the same way, for when his chrono alarm had begun blaring, she'd groaned wordlessly until he shut it off, then wrapped her arm around his chest as if holding him in place and exhaling into the crook of his shoulder.

    They could hear some of the others moving around the house already, but no one disturbed either of them, and Rex's eyes drifted shut even as light from the rising sun began to trickle into their room.

    For a few minutes, it was peaceful.

    Suddenly, a piercing scream cut through the stillness of the early hours, causing Rex's eyes to snap open and his body to pull itself upright out of long-ingrained habit. Since his thoughts were still a little hazy from sleep, initially he acted on pure, battle-honed instinct: prioritize immediate problems, acquire necessary information, formulate a plan, then execute-

    Rex.”

    The shrieking was horrific, but the sound of his name shaped by Brenna's calm voice caused him to turn back to her; she'd sat up as well, the blankets wrapped around her torso. “It's okay,” she said, which was when he realized he was halfway across the room. “It's Iri...she's awake, I guess.”

    With that, Brenna yawned and began to get out of bed as well, reaching for her clothes. After their impromptu midnight meal of the previous night, Brenna had indicated she was chilly, so of course Rex had offered to keep her warm. Things had progressed from there.

    Anyway, Rex found himself significantly more awake now than he'd been a moment ago, and as he threw on his own clothing he shot Bren a look. “Is she okay? She sounds unhappy.” The screaming heightened in pitch and he winced. “Louder than usual.”

    Dressed now, Brenna was moving to the door; the shrieking ebbed a little bit and allowed him to hear her next words, spoken in a dry tone. “I don't think she's a morning person.”

    Rex had to chuckle at this. However, before he could reply, his comlink began to chirrup from its place at the nightstand, and for a moment he was torn. As he moved to grab it, he looked up at Brenna, who'd paused at the doorway. “It's alright,” she said with a nod. “I'll get Iri; you get your comlink. I'll see you downstairs.”

    Copy that,” he replied, smiling at her and thinking that they made a good team. Once she slipped out, shutting the door behind her, he glanced at the origin of the transmission, then activated his comlink. “Fives.”

    At first there was a hiss of static, but after a few seconds Rex heard the sound of his brother's voice. “Hey, brother,” the former ARC said in a genial tone. “I have a favor to ask.”

    *

    Several hours later, Rex and his brothers were gathered in one of the pastures about a klick from the Damaris house, waiting for Fives and Marliss to return. The day was overcast and a little cooler than the previous one, so Rex was thankful for his warm coat and hat, though he did enjoy the feeling of the brisk air on his cheeks as he peered up through a pair of electrobinoculars. Beside him, standing with his hands in the pockets of his own jacket, Jesse squinted up at the cloudy sky.

    How much longer, do you think?”

    Finding nothing, Rex lowered the 'electros. Since he wasn't certain just how the quagga would react to the sight of the freighter that his brother and Marliss had acquired, he and the others had taken a speeder and a few bikes out to the landing-site, itself located at a low gully at the center of the pasture; even though Rex knew that the nearest neighbor was about twenty klicks away, he hoped that the dip in terrain would prevent the ship from being spotted by anyone. “Fives wasn't sure, but I don't think it'll be too much longer, Jess.”

    At his other side, Coric shaded his eyes with his hands and looked up as well. “I hope not. From what you said, it sounded like Chopper was in pretty bad shape.”

    It'll be good to see him again,” Jesse added, nodding to the 'electros in Rex's hand; the former captain passed them along and the tattooed clone took to peering through them at the sky. “Both of them.”

    It will,” Coric replied. “I must admit, I thought the worst had happened to Chopper.”

    Kix nodded but said nothing; all four of them studied the sky for a few moments more, waiting. Since that morning, when Rex had received the somewhat harried comm call from his brother, everything had happened very quickly.

    Rex was thankful that Jensine had insisted that Chopper be brought here so that he could recuperate, though he was aware that another pair of hands – when the clone was healed, of course – would be useful around the ranch. He was also thankful that there was room on the Damaris ranch for another clone, though he wondered how Chopper would take to civilian life. Brenna and her family were at the house; Rex had thought it might be best to introduce Chopper to them slowly and not immediately surround him with strangers.

    Beside him, Kix's voice sounded, quiet beneath the wind. “You said Fives had other news, too?”

    This made Rex's brows knit, for he remembered well enough what had happened the last time that his brother had brought news, but he nodded slowly. “Yeah. Didn't say what, though.”

    I suppose we'll find out soon enough.”

    Look!” Jesse lifted his hand, raising the electrobinoculars to his eyes again. “I think that's their ship.”

    Sure enough, the clones heard a low buzzing sound that heralded the approach of Fives and Marliss' light freighter that they'd all come to know well these last few months. About a minute later, Rex spotted the rounded shadow of the ship as it moved through the lower-level clouds and began the final descent towards the Damaris' property; all of the clones braced themselves as they were buffeted by the wind and dust that the repulsors kicked up when the ship settled onto the grass several meters from their position.

    While the whine of the maneuvering thrusters began to lessen, the loading ramp at the ship's side lowered and all the clones watched as Fives emerged, another clone leaning heavily against the former ARC as he shuffled down the ramp. As the trio descended, to be met by Coric and Kix with their medical supplies, Rex caught Fives' eye and gave his brother a relieved smile; it was always a little nerve-wracking waiting for Fives to return, but when he was here Rex couldn't help but feel like his family was complete again.

    Fives grinned at him as well, and the group of clones met several paces from the freighter. Immediately, Coric and Kix greeted Chopper then began to assess him for injury; other than a few bruises and scrapes – and a messily-wrapped bandage on his right leg – it appeared that the scarred clone was intact, though Rex caught him flinching as the medics looked him over.

    Once the medics had pronounced Chopper fit for the time-being, Rex reached for his brother's right arm, clasping it in his own in a firm gesture of greeting and trying not to notice how stricken the scarred clone seemed as he glanced around with wide, mismatched eyes. “Glad to see you again, vod.

    Chopper swallowed and nodded, his grip tightening after a pause. “Me too, sir. I mean, I'm glad to see you.”

    Rex gave him a smile. “No 'sir,' Chopper. Just Rex.”

    Right.” Chopper glanced beside him at Fives, who was still helping to support his weight. “Can I walk, now?”

    Don't even think about it,” Coric broke in, slipping himself under Chopper's other shoulder. “That leg needs to be properly wrapped, and you need a set of crutches.”

    And we all need to talk,” Fives added, glancing behind him at the ramp to the freighter, from which Marliss was emerging with a pack slung over her shoulder. Rex nodded to her; in response, she gave him a wry salute and a smile, and he chuckled, thinking that Bren would be happy to see her friend again.

    The blonde woman came up to them and put her hand on Fives' waist though she spoke to Rex and the others. “He's right. We have some news.”

    Not bad,” Fives amended, seeing the looks on the others' faces. “Just...”

    Interesting,” Marliss offered, and the former ARC shot her a grateful smile as he hugged her closer to his side. From there, it was decided that they should reconvene to the house itself, as much to give Coric and Kix a chance to work as to give them all a more comfortable place to speak. Once Marliss was satisfied that her ship would be fine, the group loaded up into the speeder and bikes, then set off for home.

    *

    About half an hour later, Chopper was seated at the Damaris' kitchen table, his leg propped up on an adjacent chair while Coric and Kix bent over him, cleaning and wrapping what looked to be a rather nasty gash. At the entrance of the clones, the “civvies” had vacated the house to tend to the quagga in the paddock, though Bren had paused to kiss Rex on the cheek, mentioning that she had 'good news,' and offering Chopper a wide smile before she whisked Marliss away. Iri had been in her mother's arms, and Rex had felt a gleam of pride when Chopper's eyes had flicked from the little girl to the former captain, though the laconic man didn't say anything about the child.

    Chopper hadn't said much at all, actually, but Rex knew that was just his way; he figured that Chopper would speak about his ordeals over the last six months soon, but that it was better to give him space for the time being.

    Jesse had put on a pot of caf a little while ago, and for a moment things felt oddly normal, for which Rex was grateful. As Fives sipped his caf, he glanced around the room with appreciation. “It's nice to be on the move, but it's also good to be back here,” the former ARC said, his eyes falling on Rex. “Either way, I'm doing things on my own terms.”

    We all are,” Rex replied, adding another helping of sugar to his caf before drinking. “It's strange, sometimes, but it's a good kind of strange.”

    Nodding, Fives sat up and cleared his throat; when the others' eyes fell on him he lifted a brow at Rex. “Do any of you remember a long-neck by the name of Nala Se?”

    Having finished bandaging Chopper's leg, Coric and Kix exchanged looks, then nodded simultaneously. “She was stationed on Kaliida Shoals MedCenter during the Wars, right?” Kix asked as he began to clean up the remnants of the supplies they'd used. “I remember her. She was one of the more...tolerable Kaminoans.”

    The chief physician, if memory serves,” Coric added.

    Fives nodded. “Word is that she fled Kaliida Shoals after the Wars ended. There are rumors – only rumors, mind you – that she's living on Cyrillia, working on a way to normalize our accelerated-aging.”

    For a moment the silence was so thick Rex thought he'd misheard. As it was he blinked and gave a slight shake of his head as if to clear his ears. “What?”

    The former ARC's mouth lifted into a smile. “You heard me, Rex.” He sipped his caf again, seemingly calm, though Rex could tell that his brother was inwardly delighted that he was sharing this news. Indeed, a moment later, Fives spoke again. “I've a mind to track her down...see if she needs any help. What do the rest of you think?”

    It was almost unreal; it was the closest thing to an answered prayer that Rex had ever experienced, so – naturally – he was uneasy to trust it. If it was true, he knew that he'd want to find her, but if not...well, he was unwilling to risk his new family's safety and stability based on a rumor. “Do you have any more information? Any way to validate the truth of all this?”

    No,” Fives replied, shaking his head and glancing down at his mug. “But Mar and I are determined to look into it.”

    Coric and Kix looked about as skeptical as Rex, and Chopper was expressionless, as if he'd heard all of this before. Jesse's eyes were wide and his voice was a little awed. “But if it is true...”

    Either way, it's worth investigating,” Chopper said suddenly, causing all eyes to fall on him. “It's something to hope for.”

    There was a bitterness to the scarred clone's words, and as much as Rex wanted to console his brother and hear about Chopper's experience since the Wars ended, he glanced back at Fives. “When are you leaving to start looking?”

    We were hoping to at least stay the night, here,” Fives replied with a shrug. “After that, we're planning on doing a little more investigation as to the truth of the rumor; if it is true, we can come back and pick up anyone who wants to tag along on this adventure.”

    He said the words with unusual seriousness, and something in Rex's stomach twisted. Yes, it was what he'd hoped for, but the thought of leaving his family was...

    But it's for the greater good, he told himself with an inhale. Not just for us, but for all clones, everywhere.

    There's more.” Fives shifted in his chair and sipped his caf. “We heard from Ahsoka again a few days ago.”

    The mention of his friend's name made Rex's breath catch; he'd known that she was still alive, but that was about it. “And?”

    The former ARC paused, then leaned forward and wrapped his hands around his mug, meeting each clones' eyes in turn. “She's working with Bail Organa, and Mar and I are thinking of joining.”

    Rex knitted his brows, but it was Jesse who voiced the question. “Joining what?”

    A rebellion.”

    Again, silence filled the room. Finally, Fives leaned back in his chair, his expression thoughtful. “It's early days, yet, but there is a resistance to the Empire forming even as we speak. Ahsoka's teamed up with Senator Organa; they're trying to organize everything, and she asked me if I thought I'd like to tag along. I said I'd keep it in mind.”

    All the clones exchanged glances, but no one said anything for a moment. Rex's mind was reeling; in many ways it was an appealing idea, and he knew that he could definitely be useful to such a worthy cause. But his life – such as it was now – was here, and he didn't think he could leave.

    Anyway, that's about it,” Fives replied with a shrug, sipping his caf again. “Oh, except Mar and I got married on Zeltros a few weeks ago.”

    Now, Rex was certain that his brother was relishing the stunned silence, for even as the other clones' jaws dropped – even Chopper's – Fives smirked and leaned back in his chair, setting his mug down so that he could fold his hands behind his head. After a beat, Jesse laughed and slapped Fives' back, the others getting up from their seats to do so as well; when Fives caught his eyes, Rex smiled and shook his head, though his gut had twisted again at the word 'married.'

    Jesse lifted his mug and they all toasted their brother. “Married? You? I can't even begin to imagine...”

    Yeah, well...” Fives' face actually flamed. “It wasn't a big to-do, just a simple Mando'a phrase, you know? But we figured...why not? We love each other and we wanted to. In the end, it was an easy decision-”

    But it's not an easy decision,” Rex interjected, unable to keep quiet any more. “It's a huge responsibility, and there's so much to consider.”

    Fives arched his brow. “Like what?”

    Rex exhaled and shook his head rapidly. “Like the fact that you're going to age at twice a normal rate from her, Fives. What happens if this lead on the long-neck is false, and you die well before she does?”

    There was quiet for a moment, and Rex watched with satisfaction as the former ARC frowned as if in consideration. Finally, Fives shrugged and sipped his caf again. “We each live life by our own rules,” he said at last, meeting Rex's eyes. “Mar's well-aware of my aging, which is one of the reasons she's so keen on finding Nala Se.” He grinned. “Guess she likes having me around. Who knew?”

    Again, Rex frowned. Fives' logic was so far-removed from his own point of view, it was impossible for him to understand how his brother could be so cavalier about the aging issue. But, he reasoned, Fives didn't have a child – not yet, Force willing – and therefore might be able to play things a little...looser than Rex could afford to.

    With that thought, the wavering sense of calm that he'd felt last night in Bren's arms faded, and he realized with certainty that he would never be able to stop worrying about the pace of his own aging; among all of the other doubts he had about his ability to be a father and husband, the fact that he wouldn't be able to live out a normal life-span with his family was a fault that he couldn't overlook.

    He had too much to live for, and not nearly enough time.

    Perhaps sensing his dilemma, Fives gave the former captain a smile that was meant to reassure, and when he spoke, his voice indicated that he was offering a distraction. “You know, I knew that Mar was the girl for me when I mentioned that I wanted to go to Zeltros to...play, and she said, 'not without me, you're not.'”

    At this, the other clones broke into a chorus of laughter; Rex even felt his own face break into a smile, despite his worry, because it was good to be with his brothers and relax, just for a little while. Seeing the former captain's expression, Fives grinned again and sipped his caf. “It made for a very memorable honeymoon, let me tell you.”

    At this, Coric wrinkled his nose in distaste. “Please don't.”

    With a lift of his brow, Fives happily ignored the former medic and proceeded with his story.

    *****


    Thanks for reading! [face_love]

    Next time: Bren's good news. (Hint: it's not baby-related ;))
    Last edited by laloga, Jul 7, 2014
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  15. gracesonnet Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    May 20, 2014
    star 1
    Aww! Yay, Chopper's back! Poor Chopper.
    Billy Joel's "To Make You Feel My Love" came up on my iPod this morning and it reminded me of this story :-D
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  16. Nyota's Heart Combos & Paragraphs Host

    Game Host
    Member Since:
    Aug 31, 2004
    star 6
    I loved the early morning serenity and all facets of Fives' news: the rumor which is worth pursuing, totally; the Rebellion ;) and he and Marliss getting married and making use and taking advantage of the present and future. :D Looking forward to Bren's news.
  17. Kahara Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 3, 2001
    star 3
    Finally caught up here! The beginning is intriguing; makes me wonder who's writing, though it has to be someone in the story. We have the assurance that some things will be alright, but not exactly what or who.

    Bren and Rex's struggles to figure out what they want (and whether it's possible) are as interesting as ever. I like the complexity and the hard-to-solve problems.

    Rex's talk with Caith was interesting. As much as Caith was suspicious in the beginning, he's obviously got Rex's measure a bit better now. The troubles between Bren and Jensine seem very realistic to how they were characterized in the previous story, and I like that Jensine comes off as kind of disagreeable but not a monster.

    It's lucky for them (I hope, at least) that they found a doctor who was willing to help them get testing for Iri.

    I like seeing the continuing relationship between Fives and Marliss -- it's funny that they were first to tie the knot, but they're both decisive types.
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  18. gracesonnet Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    May 20, 2014
    star 1
    In my mind, what happens to Rex and Fives in these stories is canon and the TCW episodes are AU


    Sent from a device using Tapatalk
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  19. Nyota's Heart Combos & Paragraphs Host

    Game Host
    Member Since:
    Aug 31, 2004
    star 6
    Yes, that is so absolutely right!!!! :D CW Gospel. [face_love]
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  20. gracesonnet Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    May 20, 2014
    star 1
    Okay, I promise I'll stop spamming the thread but I was just thinking that the honeybee story/song kind of reminds me of "The Fighting Kind"-- Rex is trapped back in the hive (newly-formed Empire) and Brenna has to go save him.

    I don't know, it made more sense in my head.
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  21. laloga Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2011
    star 2
    @gracesonnet: Ha ha, I don't mind the comments. Just the opposite, actually. :D You're dead on; the "Honeybee" song is supposed to echo some of Rex and Brenna's past, as well as maybe sorta foreshadowing... ;) Gah, just love that song! I'm a sucker for Adele's version, though. [face_love] Thanks so much for all of your thoughts and comments! [:D]

    @Nyota's Heart: The seeds of the rebellion are being sown now! It made sense that the clones would be involved somehow. :D Thank you for the lovely comment! [face_love] @};-

    @Kahara: The beginning of this fic is meant to mirror the beginning of TFK, which might tell you who "wrote" it. ;)
    That is what I strive to write about! That and fluff. [face_love] Thank you so much for the comments, and I'm thrilled you made it to the new story! :)


    *****
    Chapter Eight


    In the moments before Brenna had looked up to see Marliss enter the kitchen along with Rex and the other clones, she'd been gaping at her datapad, because it seemed like her prayers – such as they were – had been answered.

    During her investigations into a potential job – one that might allow her to leave her mother's house again – she'd submitted her resume to a head-hunting company who provided job-placement services; this morning she'd received a message stating that she'd be a perfect fit for a job as a security tech for a company based on the world of Loronar. It was a rather lucrative position, and she knew that it was also an opportunity that she'd be foolish to pass up. Under the Empire, it seemed like jobs had become harder and harder to come by, and ones that paid as well as this one were even scarcer.

    Of course, all of this depended on whether or not Rex would be willing to leave Alderaan; she honestly had no idea, but she was determined to speak with him about it as soon as she could.She thought he'd understand her reasons for wanting to leave; she hoped that he'd be willing to try his hand at living somewhere else, even if it was just for a little while.

    We keep going. We figure it out, and we do it together, no matter what.

    Mama! Down!” Iri's voice broke Brenna out of her reverie; she and Marliss were walking towards the paddocks behind the main house, where Jensine was working with one of the juvenile quagga that she hoped to sell at the next auction. Presently, Brenna's mother had the equine on a nylon lead, and she was putting him through his paces as he trotted around her in the circular paddock, learning to follow commands and cues from a human; it was the first step towards gentling the quagga so that they could be ridden.

    Brenna was not about to risk Iri getting underfoot of the creature, so she shook her head. “Not right now, sweetheart.”

    Immediately, Iri broke into a shriek, her face turning bright red and scrunching up as she wailed, hoping to get her way with a tantrum. As she held her daughter to her chest, Brenna cast an apologetic look at her friend. “Sorry...she's pretty well into the terrible twos.”

    Marliss had winced at the shrill tone, but shook her head. “It's not a big deal, Bren.”

    From her place at the center of the paddock, Jensine glanced over at Brenna. “If she keeps that up, you'll need to take her away...she's disturbing Rico.”

    Indeed, the juvenile quagga's gait was disjointed and his ears were pressed back against his head, as if the sounds of the crying child had set him on edge. Brenna bit back the first comment that came to her mind, which was that Iri's well-being mattered more than any silly quagga, and instead glanced around, searching for a way to distract her daughter.

    Here,” Marliss said after a moment, holding out her hands. “Mind if I take her? I've got younger cousins...I know a little bit about kids.”

    You're sure?” Fek, Iri had a set of lungs on her, and the wailing was starting to hit a nerve in Brenna's mind. The blonde woman nodded, so Bren passed her the toddler; within a few moments, Iri quieted, seemingly mollified by the slight change in scenery and the fact that she was with Marliss again.

    The ensuing quiet was a relief, so Bren cast her friend a smile, watching as Marliss bounced Iri on her hip and cooed at the little girl. “You're good with her.”

    I never got a chance to spend much time with her when Fives and I were here last,” Marliss replied, smiling as Iri's tear-streaked face brightened into a toothy grin. “But I do like kids.” She paused, then shot Brenna a smile that was almost too big for her face. “Might come in handy, one day.”

    Now that Iri had quieted, they resumed walking towards the paddock, where Rico seemed to be at ease as well. There were a few barrels outside of the wooden fence, on which the women each took a seat, Iri still in Marliss' arms. The sky was overcast, the air temperature a bit cooler than before, so when a gust of wind lifted Brenna's hair, she felt a shiver across her skin. After she was certain that Iri was better, she glanced at her friend. “One day? Are you and Fives thinking of having kids?”

    She'd never seen Marliss flush, not to this extent, but in that moment, spots of color appeared on the blonde woman's cheeks even though she gave what Bren figured was supposed to be a nonchalant shrug. “Maybe. For now, though, we're pretty happy with just the two of us or, as he put it, riduur.

    Because it was the closest thing that Rex had to a heritage, Brenna had tried to learn a bit of Mando'a, so she recognized this word at once. “'Spouse?' Mar...did the two of you...?”
    Marliss grinned outright and bounced her knees, causing Iri to jiggle up and down in her lap. “Yep. A few weeks ago, on Zeltros.” She glanced at Brenna, who was struck by how completely happy her friend seemed. “The silly man wanted to go without me; since I wouldn't be left behind, we decided that we may as well make it official. It was really simple, actually,” she added, brow furrowing. “Just a few lines of Mando'a. Much easier than having a big, fancy ceremony.”

    Sounds it,” Brenna replied, watching Iri's smiling face. “Marliss...that's so wonderful. I'm really happy for both of you.” After a pause, she reached around and hugged the other woman's shoulders. “But...Zeltros? Do I want to know...?”

    Again, the blonde woman grinned. “I'll spare you the gory details, but let me just say that there aren't any secrets between myself and Fives after that trip.”

    They shared a laugh for a moment, though within her heart, Brenna was fighting back a swell of wistfulness. She felt a little ashamed for the feeling, because she truly was happy for Marliss and Fives, but the other woman's news only served to remind her that Rex had – essentially – rejected the idea of marriage between them. It shouldn't have mattered, she knew. What mattered was that they loved each other and were committed to one another no matter what, but a part of her – a silly part, she tried to think – wanted to be officially linked with the man she loved, the man whom she wanted to be a father to her daughter.

    But none of this was Marliss' fault or concern, so Brenna smiled at her friend again. “You're an old married lady, now,” she teased, nudging Mar's side with her elbow. “And I think it suits you. Next thing you know, you and Fives will be arguing about who gets to watch what on the holo.”

    Oh, please,” Marliss replied, though she was grinning again. “We do that already. Guess the magic's gone.”

    They shared another laugh at this, though Brenna noticed that her mother's head had inclined towards the women, as if she'd been listening. However, a moment later, Iri looked up at Marliss and gave her another grin. “Mar-reed lay-dee.”

    That's right, honey,” Marliss replied, bouncing her knees again. She cast Brenna a speculative look. “Has Rex recovered from the...news about the clone army and Palpatine? Fives was pretty upset about it for a long while.”

    It's been...difficult,” Brenna admitted, glancing down at the hem of her shirt as she toyed with it absently. “He took it really hard. Lately, he's gotten a little better, but I know that he's still bothered by it.”

    Well, that was putting it lightly, but she didn't want to dwell on the matter right now, as she suddenly felt far too tired. In any case, thoughts about the true nature of the clone army's creation were so tightly woven in with Rex's reasons for not wanting to marry her, so that thinking of the matter was even more painful than it should have been.

    However, Marliss seemed to catch on to her thoughts, and the blonde woman gave her a knowing look. “How are the two of you doing? You've been together about a year, right? Do you think you'll get married?”

    It's not that simple,” Brenna heard herself saying. “On top of everything else that he's got on his mind – the army, the Empire, his brothers who are still out there – it's hard for Rex to get past the idea that he...” She paused, trailed off and looked at her daughter, unwilling to speak about this particular subject so frankly in front of the impressionable little girl. “The idea of the clones' aging,” she said at last, feeling her throat get tight.

    So he doesn't want to?”

    Brenna tried to swallow her misgivings and her fears, because they served no purpose other than to upset her. “Not right now. If it were just me, I think he would but with...other things,” she said, nodding to Iri, whose attention was fixed on the quagga in the paddock as she rested on Marliss' lap. “It's so much more complicated.”

    It's only as complicated as you make it, Bren,” Marliss replied after a moment.

    Maybe.”

    They were quiet for a moment, which was when Iri took the opportunity to try her luck again. “Down? Please?”

    She sounded so hopeful; Marliss looked over at Brenna, her brow raised. Brenna didn't know if she had the energy to deal with another tantrum right now, so she decided to concede this time. “Okay,” she said, meeting her daughter's eyes and giving her most serious look. “But you have to promise that you will stay close by, Iri. I don't want you trying to go to the quagga, okay?”

    Her daughter's face was solemn as the little girl nodded, and out of the corner of her eye, Brenna watched as Marliss bit back a smile. Within a few moments, the toddler was seated on the ground, staring open-mouthed at Jensine and Rico in the paddock before her.

    Marliss chuckled at the toddler, then shot Brenna another glance. “There might be a way to fix the aging thing,” she said in a quiet voice that made Brenna's heart leap despite herself. “Fives and I...we've heard rumors that there's some Kaminoan scientist working on a cure. We've a mind to track her down and see if it's true or not.”

    And if it isn't?” Brenna didn't want to believe it would be that simple, that everything she longed for was within her reach, and couldn't help the faintest edge of bitterness that came to her voice. As much as she wanted to be positive and keep her hopes up, it felt difficult, right now.

    The blonde woman exhaled and squinted up at the sky, which was still overcast. “Then we keep going.”

    There was another pause, then Brenna cleared her throat. “Other than getting married and starting a quest to stop the clones' rapid-aging...how's life on the move?”

    Glamorous, of course,” Marliss replied with a chuckle. “Constantly on the run from Imperials, living on a small ship with a man who has the messiest bathroom habits I've ever seen – you'd think it'd be the opposite, since he's military – but there's no shortage of excitement, which suits me. Though...”

    She trailed off and studied Brenna again; beyond them, Jensine was speaking in easy, soothing tones to the young quagga, who was now cantering around her. The rhythmic cadence of hoofbeats was oddly comforting to Brenna, despite the fact that she was often at odds with the equines. Finally, Marliss continued. “Fives and I have been...invited to join a cause. A forming resistance movement against the Empire.”

    The words were pitched low, barely reaching over the patter of Rico's hooves, and Brenna felt a chill pass through her that had nothing to do with the wind. “A resistance movement?”

    Marliss nodded and folded her hands in front of her, leaning over so that her elbows were resting on her knees. “Right now, I don't see how I can do otherwise. Slavery's gotten so much worse since the Empire formed, you know? I keep thinking, if I can take part in stopping it, even a little bit...well, it's a good thing. Fives feels the same way, though he's also concerned with getting any clones out of the army who don't want to be there. But we're both leaning towards joining.”

    Despite herself, despite the fact that she was trying to trust, to remain patient and give Rex every opportunity to reach a place where he felt comfortable with the idea of a true future for them, Brenna felt a flare of unease at the idea of a resistance movement, because it was exactly the kind of cause that she thought Rex would be interested in joining. It didn't matter that he'd told her he wasn't going anywhere, because when she looked into his eyes and saw that something was missing...

    Well, this could be the thing that filled it.

    It didn't help that her mind automatically turned to the other men she'd known, the ones who'd left her for various reasons, and while she knew that – logically – she was worrying for nothing, she couldn't help her feeling of apprehension.

    Marliss was still speaking. “...this gang called the Red Star Ring, among them. Things have gotten so bad, this gang is actually kidnapping folks, and no one's able to find them again. No one knows what they're doing with these people, but I'm sure it's not good. And this is in addition to the normal slavers that roam around the galaxy, who are starting to operate on a larger scale than ever before; you hear stories about people – regular people – disappearing, only to turn up later being sold to a pirate gang or something.”

    As she spoke, her fists had balled in her lap, and her eyes were narrow. “The Empire promised peace, but all we've gotten is more lawlessness.”

    Brenna was quiet for a moment, absorbing the information and nodding slowly. Finally she glanced back at Iri, who was still watching the quagga. “It's hard everywhere from what I can tell. I can't believe I found a job, actually.”

    A job?”

    On Loronar,” Brenna replied with a nod. When she and Marliss had come outside, she'd left her datapad inside, so she elaborated. “It's a good one, though. Pays well, and it's in my field; they were really excited to hear about the work I did for the army. But...well, I haven't had a chance to talk to Rex about it. I'm not sure he'll want to leave Alderaan.” For this, anyway.

    She considered a moment, then pitched her voice low so that only Marliss would be able to hear. “And – I know this is selfish of me – but Mom's driving me crazy. I don't know how much longer I can put up with her.”

    Marliss seemed to absorb the words, then she nodded slowly. “You have to do what's best for you and your daughter, Bren. And you know...I think that Rex would go with you, if you asked. I know the guys have all taken to life here pretty well, but a new location can't hurt.”

    Maybe,” Brenna replied, rubbing her hands along her upper arms as another breeze rifled through her jacket. Her gaze shifted to the sky, to the clouds that were rushing by far above her head as they were pushed by upper-level winds. “And it would be good to work again. I think that's part of the reason I feel...discontent, here.”

    Until she'd said the words, she hadn't known they were true. All of a sudden, she felt like she was thirteen years old again, staring at the sky and wishing that she were anywhere but here. Yes, a lot of pain had been caused by her leaving – her failed relationship with Arcas and her estrangement from her mother especially – but much happiness had happened, too. She'd found that she had a real talent in a particularly useful field of work, and she'd met Tucker, who – though he also had pain associated with him – had given her Iri, and there was no greater joy in Brenna's life than her daughter.

    And, of course, leaving home had brought her to Rex. That thought made her smile, and she cast a glance towards the house, where he and the other clones were ensconced.

    Seeing her smile, Marliss nodded, then patted Brenna's arm. “So maybe making a new home somewhere else – starting over, in a sense – might be a good option for the two of you.”

    Beyond them, Irini picked up a clod of dirt and grass and tossed it up, giggling as it was caught by the wind and blown away into nothing. As she watched her daughter, Brenna thought that perhaps Marliss' words were true as well; perhaps she and Rex just needed to make their own memories in a place where they could start fresh, build a new life from the ground up. The job with Loronar Corporation was well-paying enough that she thought they could live off of the salary – humbly, but it wouldn't be bad – and she still had money from her time with the GARas well.

    Brenna glanced around her, taking in the place where she'd been raised, where she'd spent most of her life. Every tree held a memory, every building had a connection to her past. Many were positive, but there were many that still brought sorrow, and she thought, yes, it will be good to leave this for a little while. Besides, it would be beneficial to Iri to spend some time on another world, because while toddlers needed a routine to follow, it was important to expose them to as many new experiences as possible.

    I'll mention it to Rex,” she said after a moment, looking back at her friend. “You never know.”

    They sat quietly for a few more minutes before Brenna gave Marliss a knowing look. “Would you like to take a real shower before dinner? I can put your clothes on the wash as well.” Marliss' green eyes grew wide and she nodded, so Bren indicated the house. “The guys have taken up the room that you and Fives used the last time you were here, but you can use the 'fresher that I share with Rex. Grab some of my clothes...I'll wash yours if you leave them on the bed.”

    Marliss gave her a grateful look. “That'd be wonderful...thanks, Bren.”

    With that, the blonde woman rose and made her way back to the house, waving at Caith, Edme and Tav, who were working in Caith's vegetable garden. Once her friend was gone, Brenna scooted off of the upturned barrel and sat on the ground next to Iri, who immediately looked her way.

    Mama play?” Brenna smiled at her and nodded; they spent the better part of about fifteen minutes playing a loose variation of 'I Spy,' though Iri kept getting distracted. As Brenna was thinking that it was time to head inside to give Iri a bath, the sound of approaching hoof-beats met her ears; a glance showed her that Jensine was preparing to bring Rico out of the paddock, so Brenna got to her feet and scooped up her daughter to ensure that she was well out of the way of the quagga's hooves.

    As she brushed dust and dirt off of Iri's coveralls, Brenna watched Jensine lead the equine from the paddock and towards herself and her daughter. “Could I get you girls to help me rub Rico down?” the blonde woman asked as she approached. Her face was partially obscured by the wide-brimmed hat she wore, and her hands were tan and weathered. Perhaps Brenna frowned without meaning to, for Jensine sighed. “He's fine, Brenna. Honestly...you grew up around them; I don't know why you're so skittish.”

    Pony!” Iri added, reaching out for the quagga, whose ears flicked forward towards the little girl.

    Brenna shook her head. “She's too little, Mom.”

    You and your brother were helping Garris and I almost the moment you could walk,” Jensine replied, regarding Brenna in that way that always made her feel like she was a child again. “I don't see the harm in it.”

    Mama,” Iri exclaimed as she twisted around and gave Brenna a pleading look. “Pony? Please?”

    I have a few scars that would beg to differ.”

    At this, Jensine sighed again. “That was different; you fell off and spooked Frost with all your shouting. How many times have I told you that if you stay calm, they'll stay calm?”

    It's kind of hard to stay calm when you're six years old and you have a broken rib,” Brenna replied with a glare. “Anyway, Iri needs a bath after playing in all that dust.”

    However, as she made to turn away, she heard her mother give a deep exhale. “Bren...I just wanted a minute to talk with you and spend a little one-on-one time with my granddaughter. That's all.”

    It wasn't an apology – is she even capable of doing so? – but Brenna immediately felt a sting of guilt for her annoyance, so she inhaled and counted to five, then looked back at her mother. “Okay. But if Rico even looks at her the wrong way, we're leaving.” To her daughter, she said: “We'll go with Nana and the pony for a little bit, then it's bath time for you, young lady.”

    Even though a moment ago she'd been annoyed with her mother, Brenna found it difficult to remain so when her daughter beamed and wrapped little arms around her neck. “Pony! Nice Mama!”

    I hope you remember that, Brenna thought with a smile as she kissed Iri's cheek. Jensine chuckled and they began to walk towards the stables.

    Several minutes later, after Jensine had tied Rico's halter to one of the open-sided grooming stalls and was running a currycomb across his coat, she glanced at Brenna, who was leaning against one of the walls, one hand in her daughter's to prevent Iri from getting too close. “I couldn't help but overhear some of what Marliss was saying, about her and Fives.”

    Something within Brenna pinged a warning, but she kept her voice neutral. “Oh?”

    Jensine nodded and glanced back at Rico's striped neck as she brushed him, loose hairs and flecks of dust flying off of his coat with each pass of the curry. “Married. That's quite a step.”

    I suppose.”

    There was a pause, during which Brenna watched as her mother gave her a very deliberate look over Rico's back. “Do you think that you and Rex will ever get married?”

    It wasn't an unexpected question, as Brenna took pains to keep her relationship with Rex as private as possible when it came to her mother, and naturally, Jensine had an interest in her daughter's life. However, Brenna had no wish to discuss this matter again, let alone with Jensine, so she shrugged and kept her voice casual. “Maybe one day. But we've only been together a year, and things lately have been...hectic. A lot has changed for Rex – and for me – and we're just...”

    She frowned and trailed off in thought. “We're just...taking things one day at a time, right now.”

    Jensine pursed her lips as she gave Rico's back one final swipe with the comb, then reached for a soft-bristled brush that would smooth the quagga's coat to a silky sheen. “Sounds like a lot of excuses, to me.” As Brenna opened her mouth to object, Jensine continued. “You both love each other, from what I can tell, and Force knows he's good to that little girl of yours. The way I see it, there's no reason not to get married, and besides...I want to see you settled, Brenna.”

    While Iri giggled and reached for Rico, Brenna felt anger coiling within her, hot and trembling. She's right, she's right, she's right. Bad enough that she'd been thinking much the same things only minute ago, bad enough that she wanted such a thing to come to pass even though it probably wouldn't; it was too much, far too much, to have to discuss this with her mother, who'd essentially dropped out of her life years ago, and had only recently decided to re-enter.

    It's none of your business what Rex and I do, Mom,” she managed to say after a moment of working to keep her calm. “Stay out of it.”

    If it concerns the well-being of my child and grandchild,” her mother countered, looking over Rico's back towards Iri. “It most definitely is my business.”

    Abruptly, Brenna straightened and collected Iri, because she couldn't stand to be in the same space with her mother any longer. Iri began to shriek with displeasure, but Brenna was past caring about that at the moment. Before she walked away, she turned and met her mother's gaze. “No, Mom, it's not. It has nothing to do with you. Worry about your own life and leave mine alone.”

    Brenna-”

    I'm going to take care of my daughter,” Brenna replied, belatedly realizing that she was trembling with anger. “See you later.”

    Before Jensine could reply, Brenna hurried towards the house.
    *****

    A/N: Mothers and daughters...always complicated.

    Also, it should go without saying but I'll say it anyway: this fic and its predecessor were written before seasons 5 & 6, so are, regrettably, AU.

    Note: if you are interested in any of Rex and Brenna's, [cough] higher-rated (aka MA) escapades, check out Interludes On the Resolute, over on my AO3 page. :)

    Thank you for reading! [face_love]

    Next time: discussions and decision-making.
    Last edited by laloga, Jul 14, 2014
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  22. Nyota's Heart Combos & Paragraphs Host

    Game Host
    Member Since:
    Aug 31, 2004
    star 6
    Oh what a terrific post, laloga!

    I always key in on the psychological/interpersonal aspects, and yours are stunningly in balance as to extent and nature.

    =D=

    Marliss and Brenna--love the gal-pal moments, banter mixed with open and warm discussion.

    Brenna's knee-jerk reaction to Fives' and Mar's formalizing their relationship - completely understandable, even as she fights to not react that way. It'd be strange if she didn't think: Why can't Rex and I do that, too? Especially since she wants to.

    **

    The job on Loronar, sounds like a professional and personal blessing. :D

    Fascinating facet here as well, the restlessness that Rex and Brenna are feeling - surrounding new and different horizons.

    Starting over may just be the best for them, after all, although Alderaan will always be a mixed bag of emotions for Bren-it's still 'home.'

    [face_thinking]

    **

    Brenna's defensiveness around Jensine's words - quite natural as well, since she's been thinking the exact things, literally. So all her underlying fear-buttons are being pushed!

    Of course, Jensine is concerned for Iri's and Brenna's well-being, over any other, so she's being a mama-tigress about it.

    There is an overall superb crossroads fork-in-road feel to the update, which I love.

    [:D]
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  23. gracesonnet Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    May 20, 2014
    star 1
    I forgot to mention this earlier but I love Rex's utter confusion at Iri's tantrums:
    It was a sound that he'd heard before, of course, but it shook him a little every time, because Irini sounded like she was being tortured, yet as far as he could tell, nothing was truly wrong. Additionally, Iri's face was bright red, contorted with fury and misery as if this moment, right now, was truly the end of the world, and he couldn't even begin to understand why she felt this way. ...He didn't know why. The parenting manuals he'd read said that such a thing happened with kids Iri's age, because they desired more independence but didn't yet have the skills to express how they felt. He supposed that made sense, but it was in a purely academic way that his brain couldn't quantify when faced with the reality of a screeching toddler.

    ---Oh, Rex. Wait until Iri gets to be a teenager!
    (My nieces and nephews range in age from almost 14 to infant. And toddlers).
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  24. Kahara Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 3, 2001
    star 3
    Seconded!

    Nice to catch up with Marliss, though somehow I think the tidings of rebellion are going to mean trouble before long. If they can find that cure, it will mean the world to Bren and Rex.

    Bren is getting itchy feet staying on Alderaan; maybe they should take that chance to go somewhere else. For a while, at least. They certainly don't need to be there around the Battle of Yavin. [face_worried] Jensine won't take it well, but she's not taking Bren's attempt at staying all that well, either; somehow permanence doesn't seem to be provable in that relationship. It's a thorny problem.
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  25. laloga Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2011
    star 2
    @Nyota's Heart: You're exactly right; starting over is probably the best thing for Rex and Brenna at this point, though it is not an easy choice to make. Well, for Rex, perhaps. Bren's eager to leave her mom's house behind! ;) Thank you for the insightful comments!

    @gracesonnet:
    :D Indeed. That would be a lot of fun to see... Thank you for the comment! [face_love]



    @Kahara: Alderaan will, I think, always be home for Bren, but I can't blame her for wanting to live elsewhere. Thank you for your comments! [:D]


    *****
    Chapter Nine

    All of this?” Chopper asked, his eyes wide as he took in the vista spread before the clones; Rex had halted the speeder at a particularly impressive view that overlooked the bulk of the property, with Zephyr Mountain at the horizon, seeming to touch the sky. “The Damarises own...everything?”

    From his place beside Rex in the speeder, Caith chuckled. He'd been working in his vegetable garden while his wife and son helped, but when the clones had left the main house to take Chopper on a tour of the property, Rex had asked Brenna's brother to accompany them; the scarred clone was a bit wary of the civilian, but Rex thought that he needed to start getting used to it.

    Caith indicated the rolling hills that led down to the main house. “This land has been in our family for several generations. The house itself has been rebuilt a few times in its history, and the quagga stables are pretty recent. But yes, Chopper,” the brown-haired man said with a smile directed back towards the scarred clone, seated besides Coric. “Mom owns pretty much what you can see from here.”

    Jesse, Fives and Kix had taken speeder-bikes; though Rex would have preferred to ride, it was more sensible for the group to take vehicular transport for a tour of the property. At Caith's words, Jesse leaned over the handles of his bike and gave Chopper a knowing look. “Not a bad place to end up, huh?”

    It's good to have room to move,” Coric added, shading his eyes with the flat of his hand as he surveyed the area; it was late afternoon and although the sky was overcast, the clouds themselves were quite bright.

    Chopper nodded but said nothing, still apparently drinking in the sight of the Alderaani land. Finally he inhaled and Rex got the impression from the tone of the scarred clone's voice that it was an effort to speak. “It's...beautiful.”

    The men remained silent for a few minutes before Caith cleared his throat. “You're free to stay as long as you like, Chopper. Though, you will have to pitch in and help out around here. Mom doesn't give handouts.”

    No, she doesn't,” Jesse added with a laugh. “The first few weeks I had more blisters and bruises than my entire time in the army; you don't think of work around here as being hard, not like fighting, but wow...” He gave a low whistle. “It's tough.”

    It's manual labor,” Kix said, his bike creaking beneath him as he shifted. “It's quite different than what we were used to: running, fighting, marching...those are the kinds of things we were trained for, so it's been a bit of an adjustment.”

    A breeze picked up and tugged at the edges of Rex's coat-sleeves; when he inhaled, he tasted nothing but fresh air. “I think we've managed.”

    More than managed,” Caith replied. “Mom's really thankful to have you guys helping out.”

    At this, Fives gave a chuckle. “She should be careful; if I manage to find any more brothers and bring them here, she'll have her own army before too long.”

    This made Rex frown in consideration. With Marliss and Fives planet-side, even temporarily, things at the house were a bit more crowded than they'd been, and although he knew that the civilians were glad to help his brothers, he wanted it to stay that way. While he knew that he'd remain with Brenna, he figured that the rest of the clones would need to figure some other kind of housing arrangements soon.

    So he glanced over at Caith. “Fives is right-”

    Everyone hear that?” Fives broke in, sounding delighted. “He admitted it. You're all my witnesses.”

    Rex rolled his eyes and continued. “It might be best for everyone if we try to sort out some other kind of living situation.”

    As he spoke, Caith gave him a strange look, so Rex winced and clarified. “That is...the rest of you. I'm not about to leave Bren to sleep alone. Er...”

    The conversation had suddenly taken a strange, embarrassing turn, and as his mind race to figure out a way to rectify it, Jesse spoke up. “Well, that's obvious. But you know-” He paused and exchanged a look with Fives. “It's not really up to you anymore, Rex. We're under no one's command.”

    Well that was true enough, but Rex figured that his long-ingrained habit of looking out for his men – his brothers – was not something he could shake off with ease. Still, Jesse was right; it was their decision, not his.

    Another thing to get used to.

    As the clones considered, Caith cleared his throat. “You know, there are some rooms above the quagga stables; they're not much – just a few bedrooms, 'freshers and a kitchenette – but they're something. I don't know what condition they're in, as Mom hasn't had any station-hands out here in a long time, but it's worth looking into.”

    Rex watched his brothers exchange glances, thinking to keep his mouth shut this time and let them decided on their own. He saw that Fives appeared to have taken the same tactic, as he was in a similar situation as Rex; as the other “attached” clone, it made sense that he and Marliss would stay in the house's guest room while they were dirtside.

    After a few moments, Coric nodded to Caith. “Mind showing us?”

    It was about a ten-minute long journey by speeder back to the homestead; by the time they reached the barn, the afternoon was just beginning to fade into evening, and the air had cooled even more. Once the vehicles had been parked, the men made their way to the interior of the barn, pausing to greet Jensine, who was brushing off one of the quagga she'd been training, before making their way up the staircase that was situated at the center of the barn, tucked between one of the stalls and the tack-room.

    The wooden staircase was dark and in need of some minor repairs, but otherwise was in decent shape, which Rex hoped boded well for the apartments. When Caith paused at the top level, it took him a moment to work the door open, but after a push with his shoulder Brenna's brother was able to do so, and he and the clones stepped into the main room.

    As Caith had said, it was modest. The stairs opened onto a common area, with the end across from the door containing the kitchenette. Rex could make out four doors, two on either side of the room, and as they examined the area, Caith mentioned that each pair of rooms had its own 'fresher, accessible only from the rooms themselves.

    There was furniture: a table and four chairs, a few basic appliances in the kitchenette, and a sofa that looked as if it had seen better days, but was by no means in bad shape. Actually, aside from a few stray cobwebs and spots of dust, the entire place looked to be in pretty decent condition.

    Rex and Caith kept to one side while the others – including Fives – investigated the space, opening drawers in the kitchenette, peering into bedrooms, and glancing out the window that rested above the sink in the kitchenette. “I think each bedroom has a window,” Caith said as Jesse and Kix disappeared into one of the rooms. “Though they probably all need a good cleaning,” he added, glancing at Rex.

    The former captain nodded, but said nothing as he watched his brothers explore. While a part of him wanted to join them, he chose to stay back and let them feel the place out on their own; it was not what their captain would have done, but it was the right thing for their brother to do. After several minutes, when they'd all reconvened in the common area, he cleared his throat and pitched his voice to that particular register that was useful to get their attention without necessarily barking out orders. “What do you think, lads?”

    Jesse grinned. Kix nodded slowly, his expression appraising but pleased. Coric glanced around again, then looked at Chopper, who seemed thoughtful.

    Fives crossed his arms and regarded each of them. “Better than any barracks I've ever seen, that's for sure.”

    I'll say,” Jesse added with a nod.

    Like Brenna, Caith was pretty good at hiding his emotions, but Rex could make out the tell-tale signs that the bearded man was hopeful. “Do you think it will work? Mom has some extra furniture in one of the storage sheds – linens and things as well. And I'll help you clean it out...”

    But – surprisingly – it was Chopper who replied, shoving his hands in the pockets of the fatigues he'd been given and darting his eyes to Caith's. “No need, Mr. Damaris. It's more welcome than I've gotten in a long while.”

    He's right,” Coric added as he glanced around again. “Our own...home. It's...” The former sergeant frowned, then glanced away, blinking rapidly. “It's great.”

    Caith looked confused, but Rex knew well-enough what was going on, so he cleared his throat. “I think that's a 'yes,'” he said with a smile at Brenna's brother. To the others, he said: “Well, we may as well get this place in working order. Chopper, Coric, Jess: why don't you start cleaning while the rest of us see to that furniture?”

    Soon enough the clones and Caith – who'd insisted on helping – were engrossed in cleaning and moving the few possessions that Jesse, Coric and Kix had managed to come by in recent months to the rooms above the barn. As Caith had said, there were a few extra items that would come in handy, and before too long each bedroom was outfitted with essentials. In a way it was strange to do this, Rex thought, because neither he nor his brothers had ever needed to consider things like towels or flatware on their own, but now that that they were living as civilians, such things had to be acquired, somehow.

    The former captain was incredibly grateful to Brenna's family, not only for the material things they'd been able to provide to his brothers, nor even just for the work on the ranch itself, but because the Damaris' had given his brothers a home, when none of them had ever considered that such a thing would ever be theirs.

    It was a comfort to know that – while Rex had Brenna and Iri – his brothers had a place to belong as well. Rex knew that he was lucky, but it heartened him beyond measure to know that his brothers were lucky, too. Where so many others of their kind had lost their lives during the course of the Wars, or been subsumed into the Empire once the Wars had ended, Rex and his brothers were fortunate that they had an opportunity to start new ones, unhindered.

    He hoped it would remain so.

    This thought sent a flare of apprehension through him, and he resolved to find the answer as soon as he could. Now, more so than ever before, he knew that he had to find a cure for the clones' rapid-aging, because they all had so much to live for.

    At one point, Jesse was repairing the leaky faucet in the kitchenette, when Rex glanced at the scarred clone; Coric and Kix had insisted that Chopper keep his weight off of his injured leg, but the clone was determined to help out, so he was seated on a stool, handing Jesse any tools that the tattooed clone needed. Rex was emptying out the conservator, which was filled with an assortment of old items that had long since stopped resembling food.

    Chopper,” he said, glancing at the scarred clone. “Did you spend all of the last six months in the Imperial Army?”

    Chopper tensed, but nodded, and his eyes tightened. “Mostly, sir. I mean...Rex.”

    Nodding, Rex pulled a container of something green and fuzzy out of the conservator and tossed it in one of the bags of garbage they'd collected. “Did you ever hear about the Empire...searching for clones who deserted?”

    At first there was a lot of talk about deserters being hunted down,” Chopper replied, studying a wrench that was in his hand, which Jesse had said he'd need, soon. “But it faded pretty quickly. From what I can tell, the Empire had other things to worry about than a few rogue clones.”

    Good to hear.” Jesse's voice was somewhat muffled by the fact that he was lying on his back beneath the sink, but his words were jovial.

    Rex nodded as well, then looked at Chopper again. “What happened that night?”

    Silence, then Chopper shook his head. “A lot of it is a blur,” he said, his mis-matched eyes flickering to Rex's. “But I remember being with Coric, in the medbay, when we got the order....”

    His voice faded to a whisper, then nothing, and there was quiet for a moment before he spoke again. “It all happened so fast; one minute the sergeant and I were cleaning up the area, the next, a group of Spaartis came in and-”

    He swallowed, took a halting breath. On impulse, Rex reached out his hand and rested it on his brother's shoulder, silently urging him to continue; he figured that Chopper needed to share the memory, painful as it seemed to be.

    At last he took another breath and continued. “When they realized that we weren't going to follow the order, they attacked. I remember trying to stop them from hitting Coric, but I must've blacked out. When I woke up, I was in the medbay, hurt pretty bad. It seemed like the Spaartis didn't quite understand what I'd done was treasonous; the reports indicated that I'd just panicked and gotten in the way of their fire, so Command just...shuffled me back in the army, as if nothing was different. I wanted to leave, but I couldn't.” His eyes dropped. “I'm sorry, sir.”

    The pain in Chopper's voice made Rex frown inwardly even as he squeezed his brother's shoulder again. But he kept his face calm and only nodded again, giving the other clone a warm look. “It's okay, Chopper. You're not at fault. You didn't do anything wrong.”

    He's right, vod,” Jesse added amidst a few swears and an ominous clanging sound. “You're in a good place, now.”

    It was awkward at first, so much so that it took Rex a moment to realize what was happening even as he watched it: Chopper smiled. His head ducked and his hand tightened around the wrench, but he smiled, nonetheless. Despite all the other things that he'd had on his mind, the expression made Rex's heart a little lighter.

    There was hope.

    *

    Later that evening...

    It had taken a little while and much distraction, but eventually Brenna had calmed down enough to try and push the conversation with her mother from her mind. After bathing Iri and setting her down for a nap, she'd done a load of laundry – mostly her friend's clothing, but some of hers and Rex's as well – and then settled down in her bedroom with her datapad, looking over the acceptance message from Loronar Corporation.

    All of Marliss' talk of slavers and gangs had set her a little on edge, so she did a little bit of research to make sure that the company was legitimate and not a scam of some kind, which helped take her mind off of her concerns.

    The rest of the day passed relatively quickly, though she didn't see much of the clones at all, as they'd taken Chopper out on a tour of the property and – she thought – give the scarred clone a little more space. It was a big change, after all, and once Rex had learned he was coming, he'd told Brenna that Chopper wasn't known for his outgoing nature. So while she missed Rex and wanted to speak with him, she knew that it was better for him to be with his brothers right now.

    As it happened, she didn't see Rex again until after dinner, when she was putting Iri to bed for the night. One moment she was pulling blankets over her daughter's sleeping form, the next she felt a hand on her shoulder as Rex approached her from behind; together, they tucked the little girl in, then slipped quietly from the room. It was still fairly early, but even though she was tired, she had no desire to go to sleep just yet, mostly because there was quite a lot on her mind. So she slipped her hand in Rex's and kissed his cheek. “Come upstairs with me?”
    He smiled at her. “Gladly. I have something I want to run by you, anyway.”

    A flare of apprehension filled her at this, but she pushed it back for now. Within a few minutes they were ensconced in her old room, and while she did have much to discuss with him, for a moment all she could think about was being in his arms again, so once the door closed behind her, she reached her arms around his waist and embraced him. His arms tightened around her shoulders and when he spoke again, the timbre of his voice filled her chest. “I'm sorry I was absent so much today; we're trying to get Chopper settled in.”

    It's alright, I understand,” she replied, drinking in his scent. “He looked a bit shell-shocked when he arrived.”

    At this, Rex sighed and nodded; she watched his eyes tighten. “Yeah. He's in a bad way right now, but I think he'll be okay. Caith helped us start clearing out the rooms above the barn...I think that the others are going to move out there permanently.”

    She nodded. “Mom's house is big, but it's getting a bit crowded. And I don't blame them for wanting their own space. Trust me.”

    He looked down at her again and touched her cheek with his hand. “It's good of your mother to let him stay. To let all of us stay, actually.”

    She didn't have a ready reply to that, so she slipped out of his arms to make her way for the bed. As she sat on the edge, she heard him approach her, his steps faint against the hardwood slats of the floor. “Bren?”

    It is good of her,” Brenna replied, looking up at him again. He was dressed in the customary cotton shirt and sturdy trousers that all the clones had taken to, and for one moment he looked impossibly strong and capable. She swallowed, wondering if this would break him. “But...Rex...I don't know how much longer I can live here.”

    His lips parted in surprise, and he sat beside her on the bed, folding his hand before him as he studied her. “I know that you and Jensine don't always get along...”

    I left home for a reason, before,” she admitted. “Although I do love it on Alderaan, she drives me crazy sometimes, and living with her again was not something I ever thought I'd have to do. I know that you love it here, too,” she added, turning to him fully and slipping one leg on the bed, the other resting on the floor. “But...”

    You want to leave.”

    His voice was quiet, his expression thoughtful. She nodded. He seemed to consider again, then – to her complete and total surprise – gave a satisfied nod. “I want to leave as well, but not because of your mother.”

    Mar mentioned something about a resistance to the Empire.”

    At this, Rex furrowed his brow. “Fives did as well. But I was thinking about something else he told me.”

    She tried not to think that he'd glossed over the mention of the resistance, and instead gave him an encouraging look for him to continue. “There's a rumor that a Kaminoan scientist has been working on a cure for the clones' rapid-aging. She's been spotted on Cyrillia...Fives said that he and Marliss might try to track her down.”

    Nala Se? Mar mentioned her to me, too,” Brenna replied, watching as he nodded. Suddenly, something clicked in her mind; she rose and moved to the rickety wooden desk where she'd left her datapad, then returned to his side. A moment of searching later and she made a noise of satisfaction, feeling excitement fluttering within her belly. “Cyrillia...that's not far from Loronar.”

    Rex leaned over and glanced at the 'pad. “What's on Loronar?”

    Brenna took a breath and met his eyes. “A job. A really good one.” He seemed a little startled and she glanced back down at the 'pad. “It's in my field, and I think we could live well-enough with the salary. Rex, I think I want to try and do this-” she set down the datapad and took his hand in hers, “-somewhere else. I think it would help us to be in a place where we could start fresh, even if we only stayed there for a year or so. But I know you love it here,” she added, blinking rapidly. “And I know your brothers are here...but this...well, it feels like too good of an opportunity to pass up.”

    How would we manage?” he asked as he studied her. “You'd work on Loronar and I'd travel with Fives and Marliss? What about Iri?”

    If I lived close by to the main headquarters, I could do a lot of work from home,” she replied. “And there's always child-care. It can be expensive, but I still have a good bit of money from the GAR.”

    A gleam of excitement appeared in Rex's eyes and she could practically see him mulling over the possibilities. “If Nala Se's not on Cyrillia, Fives and I could scout out surrounding systems...it'd likely mean I'd be gone a bit of the time, though,” he added, looking back at her. “Would you be okay with that?”

    It's not ideal,” she admitted. “But it's looking pretty good from where I'm standing. And...you know...I'm no stranger to being separated from you. At least you won't be involved in battles or anything.”

    He gave her a half-smile of acknowledgment, then reached forward and took her other hand in his so that both of theirs were joined; his grip was firm. “That's true. And we'll be together, for the most part.”

    Brenna beamed at him. “Our own little family.”

    *

    A family.

    When she said the words, Rex felt his eyes widen marginally, but his smile broadened to full right along with hers. If he and Fives could manage to track down Nala Se, and find a way to slow the pace of the clones' aging...

    Well, it would solve a lot of his problems. It would mean that he was finally in a position to offer the woman he loved what she and her daughter deserved, and the fact that he could do so without necessarily having to leave her side – for very long – was an added bonus.

    For once in his life, things were falling into place.

    A part of him was wary of the feeling, because Rex knew well-enough that nothing worth having came without a price, but as Brenna was smiling up at him, he thought that she looked so happy he just wanted to savor the moment, just this once. So he nodded once, then lifted their joined hands and kissed her fingertips. “A family. Bren...there's nothing I want more.”

    If possible, her smile widened even further, and she nodded. A moment later, though, her face changed and some of her happiness faded, and he was instantly on alert. “What is it?”

    She looked uncertain. “Your brothers...are you sure you can leave them behind?”

    Although she didn't say as much, he knew that she was thinking of the Resolute, when she'd had to return home to Alderaan and he'd not gone with her; at the time, he knew that he'd be able to walk away from the GAR and the Republic, but he'd been unable to leave his brothers. The decision still bothered him, but he knew that in the end he'd made the right choice; Ahsoka, his dear friend, was alive because he'd stayed and was able to help her during the issuance of Order 66, while Jesse, Kix and Coric – and Tup, though he hadn't survived the night – had found the strength to disobey the order through his leadership.

    Their lives were good, now, and he thought that he could make them even better.

    Again, his thoughts turned to the resistance movement. In a way it was tempting, but he knew that he was on the right path. A family. It was what he wanted, and it looked like – if they were very, very lucky – it would be what he got.

    So he nodded slowly, rubbing his thumbs against her wrists as he considered. “It won't be easy to leave them, but if Fives and I can find the cure...well, it'd make it all worthwhile, I think. And they've settled in quite well here. I think they're happy.”

    And you?” she asked in a quiet voice. “You're happy as well? I know that you've had so much on your mind, lately.”

    It's so much worse to sacrifice what you have now for what could be, one day.

    I have,” he admitted, meeting her eyes as he thought of her brother's words to him the previous day. “And I still don't know what we'll do if the news about Nala Se and the aging cure is false, but in the meantime-” He paused to break the seal of their hands and take her fully in his arms, savoring the feel of her against his body and thinking that there was nothing better than this, anywhere. “We have each other, and we have right now. That's what matters.”

    *****

    Next time: leaving Alderaan, plus Jesse's atrocious table manners. :D

    Thanks for reading! [face_love]
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