A quick aftermath fic for The Clone Wars, set right after Victory and Death, featuring full spoilers ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- A chill in the air made Ahsoka clutch her cloak tighter. Staring at the rows of helmets laid out before the wrecked cruiser, she knew that she and Rex couldn’t linger here. Soon night would fall, and the wolves would be upon them. She’d already heard them, howling in the distance. That was why they’d had to dig such deep graves for each of the bodies. Though they’d been enemies until the last moment, these men laid out before her deserved more respect than to end up a scavenger’s meal. Each of the dozens of cracked and damaged helmets staring back at her told its own story. The clones all had long histories across the war; nicknames, battles won, and private moments they’d each taken to their graves. Behind her, Rex rested the shovel against their ship, drained of all energy. But he’d find a way to carry, to keep the two of them going. Without him she didn’t think she’d have the strength to carry on. It would be all to easy to give up now, after the struggle to escape and the loss they’d suffered. But Rex was a soldier, he knew how to survive. She hated to think of him that way, still conditioned. He would follow her order to keep them alive, enacting it tirelessly. Somehow he always found a way to try and move past the horrors he’d witnessed. Ahsoka looked at the helmets again. When they finally departed, there’d be no-one to remember these men. They could have just gone, taken the Y-wing and flown away. But she owed it to them to honour their memories, one last time. The clones buried closest to the ship’s prow had been the ones they’d dragged from the hangar. That had been the hardest part of the ordeal. She and Rex had to pick themselves over the bodies, relentlessly marching back and forth to carry them out of the wreckage. They worked silently, carrying out the grim task in solemn understanding that it was the best they could do for these men. All of the troopers had fought so hard, ignoring any instinct to save themselves. They could have used the shuttle or found some other way off the ship. But they were good soldiers. They followed orders, to the letter. Climbing through the ruined superstructure, she’d found her muscles were still tense and her reactions overly alert. The heat of battle was still too fresh in her mind for her to truly relax. It was hard to look at the bodies strewn about without feeling the weight of guilt. She’d had no other choice, she told herself. That didn’t do much to change the way she felt. As Ahsoka had gone in deeper, Rex chose to stay behind with the ship. He’d been fruitless tying to repair her droid, R7. Unlike his brothers, Rex could put her back together, fix her up, maybe even make the droid work again. At the moment he was powerless to do anything else. Her eye moved across to one of the many helmets recently painted orange and white. In her honour. It was Broadside. He’d been there right at the start. He and his brothers had listened on as she’d excitedly recounted her first adventure with her new master on Christophsis. They’d been thrown into the heat of battle not long after, but Broadside had come through and survived, bonded ever closer to those he fought beside. Now she’d found him laid out in a hallway, a searing blaster hole through his chest. He was dead by her hand. In the chaos of her initial escape she didn’t have the luxury of sparing any clones that threatened her life, reflecting their blaster bolts right back at them. It was kill or be killed, at least until she learnt the full nature of the attack. Beside that helmet was one that had belonged to Matchstick, Broadside’s partner through thick and thin. He’d been overseeing the destruction of the escape pods as instructed, ensuring that their quarry didn’t escape. And also ensuring his own demise with no way out in those last moments. Two helmets were unlike the rest, painted with red highlights marking them as Shocktroopers. The small company had been dispatched from Coruscant to oversee delivery of the 'special prisoner'. When the order was sent to execute him, Rys and Jek were the two assigned to the mission. She’d found their bodies in the brig, in the same cell she’d left the pair in after incapacitating them. Their fragile bodies couldn’t have possibly stood up to the force of impact. She hadn’t killed them directly, no, but the end result was still the same. She couldn’t bear to look at the twisted remains. Still standing upright in the cell was the Mandalorian coffin. Trying to think of a way forward seemed impossible, but she forced herself to consider the options rather than focus on the dead men sharing the cell. They could go back to Mandalore. They had allies in power. But that would be the most obvious move, so blatantly returning to the last place anyone knew their position. And there was an occupying force on the planet now. One she and Rex helped bring upon that world. Even if she went back to Coruscant, to the very heart of the Republic, this clone uprising might be widespread. If that was the case, as she suspected in the pit of her stomach, then it was already too late. Obi-Wan, Master Plo… though she was a Jedi no longer, the whole chain of command might be lost. Lord Sidious, whoever he truly was, controlled the clone army now. And she daren't think about what had been said on Mandalore. About her master. Perhaps Rex could return. Nobody in the galaxy knew what had transpired on this anonymous moon. He could explain the situation as the only survivor. He could even claim that he’d successfully carried out his order. That Ahsoka Tano had gone down alongside all his men. She doubted he’d want to face that. Pretending nothing had changed. Clones weren’t taught to lie. It didn’t come naturally to them. She knew couldn’t go back to the old ways. Out there in the galaxy were countless worlds she could try to hide and start again on. Hadn’t she already tried that once, in the lower depths on 1313? Picking up the pieces of a shattered life. Up atop the ship’s main spire, the bridge crew had been wiped out in seconds. A small mercy perhaps, instead of the agonising crash and forces that had broken bones. Ahsoka found nothing to retrieve there but a single officer’s cap, singed and torn. Everything else had burnt to ashes. The engine room was a similar sight, just twisted metal and debris. But in the corridor leading from it, Ahsoka found a massacre. She paled at seeing the destruction that had been wrought. The men there had died long before the ship impacted on this moon. Headless corpses, bodies split in two by sheets of metal, severed limbs. Casualties of her ‘distraction’. That was her biggest failure in all of his. He had made it out. He could still spread his chaos across the galaxy, whatever state it was now in after all that had happened. One of the helmets retrieved from that bloodbath was now resting lifeless on a stick. Ridge was another of those who served beside her in the early campaigns, at the start of the war. He’d gone through so much only to perish right at the end. Perhaps that would be her destiny. Avenging men like Ridge. Righting wrongs, helping the beaten down and disadvantaged. Fixing her mistake. On her way out of the ship, burdened with memories and having hefted down as many of the bodies as she’d been able to, she’d finally found him. Jesse, most loyal of them all, had gone down fighting in the maintenance room, beneath the main hangar. He’d been wedged underneath a fallen fighter craft, out of sight from the rest. He’d died alone. Rex hadn’t wanted to find his body. In his heart he knew Jesse was dead, but it was better to cling to the barest flicker of hope than have the full confirmation. Now the men of the 332nd company were together in death, interred in freshly turned earth. Ahsoka held her lightsaber out in front of the ranks of graves. It could be useful to have a weapon. The galaxy was still at war after all, at least as far as she believed. But there was only one way to make sure she was truly safe. She let the saber fall out of her grip onto the bare earth beside the graves. In time the seasons would shift. Winter would bury her saber along with the other remnants, and if anyone ever stumbled upon the crash site and found her weapon they’d believe she was dead like the rest of the clones. No Jedi, former or otherwise, would so casually discard something like that. For Ahsoka and Rex, the war was over. Today was the first day of their new lives. All they had to keep them going was a fragile, desperate hope.