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Saga - PT "Now You're a Home" | OTP #16: Milestones Challenge | Rex/Ahsoka; AU, post-TCW/RotS; Novel

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by Mira_Jade , Sep 5, 2020.

  1. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    Title: new world, now you’re a home”
    Author: Mira_Jade

    Genre: Drama, Romance
    Rating: PG
    Time Frame: ~1 year post-TCW/RotS; slight AU
    Characters: Rex/Ahsoka Tano, Cut Lawquane/Suu Lawquane, OCs, (and a few surprise CCs [face_mischief])

    Summary: Life after Order 66, for those left to pick up the pieces.


    Author's Notes: Whew, but where do I even begin? My muse has been sadly DOA, and this project has been my attempt to nudge her awake and see if I can still string words together into a hopefully coherent tale. As always, I have to thank the OTP Thread and their awesome challenges – this time #16: Milestones – for inspiring me to write. (Even if I unsuccessfully kept this to a vignette, and now I have yet another WIP and AU 'verse on my hands. 8-}) The milestone I'm aiming for here is first kiss or, beginning of a relationship, though that's only after a fair bit of denial and mutual pining and these two dears each being self-sacrificing idiots where the other is concerned. But, we'll get there. :p [face_love]

    That said, the idea for this story is personally very special to me: a tale about grief and healing and finding a bit of light, and even love, in spite of the dark. It’s something I've wanted to write since the series finale of TCW – and I actually did start on in my Tonight Any Dream Will Do drabble set, which is a precursor to this story, and rather sets the scene to start if you want to give it a quick read to orient yourself. From there, in short, I wanted to write a story where Rex and Ahsoka did not split up after surviving Order 66 together, and instead leaned on each other to heal before helping to form the Rebellion and fight back for the memory of the Republic they always served. Together. Because, in my mind, that’s the only thing that makes sense.

    So, to begin: here we find our two battered heroes taking refuge from the Empire on Saleucami, with Cut and Suu Lawquane. As for what comes next, well, you’ll just have to wait and see. [face_mischief]

    As always, I thank you all for reading and hope that you enjoy! [:D]



    Disclaimer: Nothing is mine, but for the words. My title comes from the absolutely perfect song Now You’re a Home by Christian Reindl, ft. Ruuth, which I listened to on repeat while writing this. (And, because I am That Nerd who makes playlists for her stories, you can find the rest of my soundtrack below. ;))





    Chapter Index: Part I (below) | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII | Part VIII | Part IX: Interlude | Part X





    Now You're a Home: The Soundtrack

    i. walls
    Diamond Heart, by Alan Walker, ft. Sophia Somajo
    Periscope, by Papa Roach and Skylar Grey
    Walk Through the Fire, by Zayde Wolf and Ruelle
    Love Comes Home, by Les Friction

    ii. windows
    Battle Cry, by Claire Guerreso
    Warriors, by Christian Reindl, ft. Lloren
    Soldier, by Tommee Profitt, ft. Fleurie
    What You're Made Of, by Lindsey Stirling and Kiesza

    iii. doors
    It Knows Me, by Avi Kaplan
    Who Am I?, by NEEDTOBREATHE
    Safe, by BANNERS
    With You to the End, by Tommee Profitt, ft. Sam Tinnesz

    iv. home
    Under Grey Skies, by Kamelot, ft. Charlotte Wessels
    Endlessly, by Amaranthe
    North, by Sleeping at Last
    Now You’re a Home, by Christian Reindl, ft. Ruuth​






    "new world, now you're a home"
    by Mira_Jade


    I.

    There was something special about a sunset planet-side.

    Rex sank his shovel into the ground and leaned heavily on the handle, taking a moment to stare at the high crater rim surrounding the fields. Saleucami’s yellow-white star was near the end of its descent, melting into a riot of liquid silver and gold as it broke over the illusionary plane of the horizon. Back on Kamino there hadn’t been sunsets or sunrises to speak of, just phases of matte night-black and heavy daytime-grey breaking through the perpetual layer of storm-clouds in the atmosphere. In space, stationed aboard the Resolute, the light of the stars was simply a given constant as one day passed seamlessly into the next. When it came to campaigns, well, Rex usually had a fair bit preoccupying his mind when they were boots on the ground. If he wasn’t dodging blaster-bolts and returning fire and keeping an eye on his Jedi – two eyes, on both of them – then he was planning tactics and reviewing intel and taking stock of the injured and mourning the dead and making sure the likes of Fives and Hardcase never had too much downtime, while -

    - Rex sucked in a breath, and exhaled slowly. His grip tightened over the pommel before he consciously relaxed his hands from fists. The coiled ball of emotion in the pit of his stomach, however – of hollow grief and still smoldering fury and hopeless longing, all – still remained, not nearly as easy to coax away.

    Standing there by his side, he wasn’t the only one looking at the sky. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” As alike to him as it was possible for another being to be, and yet not, Cut too had stopped to admire the sunset. Rex didn’t need to voice his thoughts aloud; his vod already knew.

    Where words were unnecessary, Rex simply nodded an affirmative before turning to finish their work. It had been a long, grueling day, preparing the Lawquanes’ land for the upcoming Scorch Season. For the most part, Rex appreciated the manual labor; he hadn’t been created for peace, after all, and the idea of idleness chafed at him on an almost intrinsic level. If keeping his hands busy and his body in motion also occupied his mind and kept him from thinking – from remembering – well then, that was just an added benefit to helping their hosts in whatever way he could.

    Of course, Cut and Suu had shrugged off their expressions of gratitude, time and time again, and wouldn’t hear talk of repayment. The galaxy would be a better place if everyone simply helped others in need where they could, and, for family, that only held all the more true.

    Family, his chest constricted to reflect. This one of his brothers was still left; alive and as himself. Rex clung to that little comfort as a drowning man scrambling to stay afloat in a violently swelling sea. He still had his one brother, and . . .

    . . . he still had his Jedi.

    As if summoned from his thoughts, Rex glanced down the slope of the hillside to the farmstead. From his vantage-point he had a clear view of the swaying fields of mealgrain, planted alongside plots of vines heavy with meiloorun and zoochberries and seeded scarlet Felucian melons. The pastures were full with a newly sheared nerf herd, grazing on the young green shoots of spring grass, while the eopie yearlings played and chased each other in the far pasture. There, between the farmhouse and the barn at the end of the gravel road that led into town, Suu and Ahsoka had just returned from bartering that season’s yield of nerf-wool at the neighboring farms in the crater. Suu was busy directing the children – who somehow still had a surplus of energy, even at the end of a busy day – to feed the expectantly clucking nunas in the yard while she put the pair of eopies and the cart up for the night. Ahsoka was a calm ripple in the midst of the busy clamor, and she paused to look up at the setting sun just the same as they had. Even across the distance, Rex knew that she was breathing deeply in and out, existing in the moment as she centered herself to find that aura of serenity and stillness that was deceivingly second-nature for the Jedi, but she nevertheless struggled to achieve for herself. The dusk turned the already sunset shade of her skin rich with fire, while mingled tones of silver and gold danced in the white of her markings and glinted off the proud crest of her montrals. He wasn’t close enough to see how the blue of her eyes caught the light, but he could imagine well enough from memory. Ahsoka was always beautiful – that was simply a given observation to any sentient being with eyes – but, in that moment, she was stunning.

    Rex knew he was staring, little as he could help himself – just as he knew he was caught when Cut loosed a low chuckle at his expense. Thankfully, his brother kept his mouth shut and said nothing aloud – that time, at least.

    He wasn’t about to give him a chance to find something smart to say, either. Shooting Cut a clearly warning look, Rex turned to finish loading the rest of their equipment on the hover-sled, and that was that. No more staring at the horizon – at his Jedi, he inwardly berated himself. There was still work to be done right here in front of him, and it wouldn’t be accomplished by standing still.

    Cut humored him, in his own way – though with a knowing little smirk that would've had Rex ordering him to a shift of scrubbing the 'freshers if he was one of the men under his command. But . . . his commission – the rank he'd struggled for and fought to earn as a mutated reg intended for the line – was meaningless now, and Cut had shrugged off the yoke of the GAR years ago anyway. Cheerfully, Cut whistled a jaunty tune in clear defiance of his annoyance, and they finished their task in silence.

    They guided the sled down to its place in the shed with the sun's last light. Then, all that was left to do was to make sure the nerfs’ trough was filled with water and they had enough hay to eat. Cut leaned against the paddock gate when they were done, shaking his head at some thought or another that crossed his mind. By that time, there was only a last hint of dusky red-violet left in the sky as the stars came out. Suu, Ahsoka, and the children had long since gone inside.

    “Suu used to do all this alone, I still can’t believe,” Cut shared aloud, his voice soft with wonder. “And she did it with a baby strapped to her back and Shaaeah toddling at her heels. I don’t know how she managed; everything the long-necks – and the Republic after – put us through seems easier, in some ways.”

    “She’s a remarkable woman,” Rex could easily agree. And, really, Suu was. He was happy for his brother and the place he’d found with his family. It had taken him some time – a part of Rex couldn’t even recognize himself in the man he’d once been; so naïve and blindly trusting at the beginning of the war, swallowing every lie that had apparently defined his service and his reason for existence otherwise – but he understood how Cut had viewed his life here as an independent, free man worth more than the Republic he was purchased to fight and die for as an identical one of millions instead.

    Cut glanced at him from the corner of his eye, and Rex understood the trap he’d unwittingly walked into only after it was sprung. “She is,” he agreed. “It’s amazing what a difference she’s made in my life. Without her and the children I don’t know who, or what, I would be.”

    In a way, Cut may have thought that he didn’t understand, but he did . . . oh, he did. For so long, he'd defined himself by how he led the men under his command and his bond with his Jedi and his service to the Republic. Only, now, his place in the GAR . . . the men whose lives were once his responsibility to protect . . . General Skywalker, who'd become more his brother of choice rather than his superior officer . . . and the very Republic itself . . .

    Rex sucked in a painful breath, and let it out slow. Cut looked him square in the eye then, giving up all pretext of subtlety and staring as if there was something he was trying to say without voicing outright. Rex heard the unspoken loud and clear, just as intended, but while a part of him clung to everything Ahsoka was and represented to him, another part of him held himself back. After all, his was the face – the exact face – of everything she'd lost with the exterminator of the Jedi and the fall of the Republic. She deserved more than a broken old soldier without a war to fight in – a lost man, left without a purpose or a place in the galaxy – weighing her down and keeping her from everything she could be, even now, at the end of everything they’d once known. (Somehow, he just knew that the Force she'd ever served wasn’t done with her yet. How could it be, when her light was still shining so painfully bright in defiance of the dark?) Only, he still didn’t quite know how to let her go when she was all he had left.

    It was a tangled mess of emotions he hadn’t been able to solve in the time they’d been on Saleucami – in the long months since Order 66 and the birth of the Empire, at that – and he knew better than to expect to find an answer then. Instead, he nodded shortly and turned to follow his brother up to the house.


    .

    .

    In her time, Ahsoka had seen hundreds of sunsets on just as many worlds. But there was something special about Saleucami, where the yellow-white sun was more silver than gold as it drowsily spilled across the horizon in welcome to the night. She tried her best to focus on the beauty of the twilight and the happy chatter of the children and the life thrumming in the Force all around her, from the ripening crops in the fields to the contented herds in their pastures and the gently swaying breeze through the fronds of the alim trees high above them. It was better than everything shadowed and ugly her mind had to dwell on otherwise, thoughts that she wouldn’t – couldn’t – let weigh her down just then. Their work for the day wasn’t through yet, and she wanted to help as much as possible while she was a guest – a fugitive, wanted by the newly reigning Empire, and the last of her kind – in the Lawquanes' home.

    As Suu and she undid the eopies’ harnesses, Ahsoka couldn’t help but look up the ridge to the edge of the property, where Rex and Cut had been working to ground the solar nets for the upcoming Scorch Season. She felt a tingling sensation trace up and down her spine – more a hunter’s innate awareness of another as it was a whisper of welcome in the Force – and thought to know that Rex was watching her. She tilted her head up to the light, closing her eyes to better appreciate the last flush of warmth from the day, and sensed the exact moment when he looked away.

    For some reason she couldn't quite understand, she felt a pang. Fighting back a frown, she turned from the sunset – from Rex – and focused on unhooking the second eopie, who’d been impatiently waiting all the while. She patted Kag’s neck in apology, and worked quickly to unlace her bonds in reparation. From across the eopie’s back, Suu looked at her, and then glanced up the ridge, but said nothing aloud. Even so, Ahsoka didn't miss the small smile – or the louder, teasing flick of her pink lekku – the Twi’lek woman tucked away before she turned to lead the first eopie into the barn, and that was that. Her own lekku twitching in frustration, Ahsoka huffed and then led Kag in behind her.

    They'd managed a good sale from the nerf-wool over the last few days. So, dinner that night was something of a splurge. They’d had nos ribs from the Dhakpa farm smoking all day – and a rack marinating raw specially for her. The Lawquanes only saw a humble profit for all their hard work, and they didn’t have much of a surplus to share; they lived frugally, from one season to the next. Ahsoka felt guilty more than once, knowing that her dietary needs were expensive for the small family – especially with Shaeeah and Jek cutting in their own sharp hybrid Twi’lek teeth as they grew. But, every time she brought the subject up Suu would only shush her and not hear another word.

    Ahsoka was mostly silent as they moved inside to finish readying supper, cutting up vegetables for a salad to go with the ribs, but Suu didn’t seem to mind as she kept up enough of a steady chatter for both of them. Beyond the small kitchen, Shaeeah and Jek were bickering good-naturedly as they set the table while the mooka pups played underfoot. The house was warm and boisterous and alive in a way that both soothed her senses and stood as a stark contrast against the chasm in her chest where her own clan of the heart once resided. It was . . . difficult, choosing to focus on one and not the other, and now, even months later, Ahsoka still didn’t feel any closer to accepting and finding balance in her new circumstances, no matter how she tried.

    If that made her any less of the Jedi she should have been, well . . . she hadn’t called herself a Jedi since long before Order 66, and she certainly couldn't claim the title now.

    “Cut’s face when he realized exactly what nuna eggs are and where they come from was priceless.” Ahsoka banished her darker thoughts and, with a conscious effort, focused on the story Suu was telling. “I pointed out that he didn’t mind eating the eggs at breakfast earlier, but that only left him even more horrified. The things we don’t really think about, eh? Yet I suppose that any of us can react similarly, when introduced to anything different for the first.”

    Despite her melancholy, Ahsoka could feel the beginnings of a small smile twist at her mouth – which was undoubtedly Suu’s intention from the first. “I know what you mean,” she said. “The first time one of my ARCs, Fives, realized what blue-milk was, I thought he was going to be sick. But then Master Anakin asked if he would ever turn down a Nuevian sundae from Dex’s, even knowing what he knew, and he caved. Echo laughed himself silly over that one, and Jesse never let him forget - ”

    - but she snapped her mouth shut over her words, and swallowed the memory down like bile. Fives is dead, she was merciless to remind herself, and he has been for a long time now. Fives . . . Echo . . . Kix and Jesse and Tup and every last one of her troopers were either dead or swallowed by the Empire’s war machine as soulless shells of the individual men they'd once been. And, her Master . . .

    . . . Anakin, she felt bubble up as a wail from her spirit, and, for a moment, she couldn't breathe.

    Suu didn’t look at her in pity, for which she was grateful. Instead, she simply stood by her side and let her take as long as she needed to grapple with her grief – with her fierce mourning and indomitable rage and bottomless regret, all. Her feelings had yet to fade, or even temper – how could they? Months had passed, and the black pit at the core of her still seemed deep enough to swallow her whole. Feeling suddenly nauseous, she leaned over the counter and clutched the knife in her hand as if it was the hilt of one of her sabers. But those were lost to her, too, weren't they? – left in the snow by the shallow graves of her men, and after so newly being returned to her by Anakin, back to where they were always meant to be.

    Suu reached over to touch her shoulder in sympathy. She didn’t say anything, but, gently, she squeezed. Ahsoka felt torn, both greedy for the comfort and frustrated that she even needed it in the first place – hating, then, that she couldn’t just give her negative emotions over to the Force and move on from her heartache. Hadn't that always been her downfall as a Jedi, the Masters of the Council would've been quick to agree? She couldn't accept, and through that acceptance move forward as a tool for the will of the Force. She simply stood still, stuck in place and unable to breathe. Breathe; she had to breathe then. Belatedly, Ahsoka forced herself to take a deep breath in, and let a deep breath out until, slowly – finally, she felt strong enough to lift her head again. She shot Suu a wry look, and the older woman simply smiled in return before going back to her own task. Without a word, the moment passed, and wasn't mentioned again.

    Not long after, Rex and Cut came in through the front door. Shaeeah and Jek heralded their arrival with a cheer as they ran up to greet their father and 'uncle', all excited chatter and giddy happiness while Suu followed behind them at a more sedate pace. Cut allowed himself to be tackled by the two younglings, picking them both up and holding one in each arm – no matter that they were quickly growing too big to handle so easily. He patiently listened to their exuberant report of the day, and only shifted his attention from them to their mother when Suu slipped her arms around him to join the group embrace. Shaeeah and Jek only finally struggled to be allowed down, making gagging noises and laughing, when Suu stood up on her toes to kiss her husband in greeting – for which the adults couldn’t help but break apart and laugh at too.

    Ahsoka stood back and to the side, feeling only the slightest bit out of place as she tried to catch Rex’s eye. For a long moment, he hadn’t been looking at the Lawquanes, she thought to know, but at her. That same hunter’s instinct from earlier trailed across her skin, whispering across her senses, and she strangely wanted to bare her teeth at him – in a smile or an invitation or a challenge, she hadn’t the faintest idea before she scuttled the urge with a mortified clench of her jaw. She felt a brief stab of grief, wishing that she had Master Ti to talk to about so many things, before she felt a different sort of hurt when Rex realized that she’d caught his gaze and quickly looked away. She didn’t know why she felt so strangely denied as the men moved to clean up before supper, only that she did. She hadn’t even managed to get out a heya, Rexter in welcome, and he hadn't said a word, either.

    A frown tugged at her mouth, but she was distracted from her thoughts when Shaeeah took her hand to lead her to the table, beaming to ask if she could sit next to her. The little girl had already set up her place and wouldn’t take no for an answer. Faced with the child’s artless good cheer, Ahsoka couldn’t help but summon a grin, and pushed Rex and his strange behavior out of her mind.

    Dinner was as happy an affair to follow as it ever was. For the most part, the Lawquanes carried the conversation – with Cut detailing how far they’d gotten replacing the posts for the solar nets, which would protect the homestead through the upcoming summer months, and Suu reporting how much they had sold their wool for at the Merke and Hanagaen farms. They had one more sale to make the following day with the Dhakpas, and the rest they would spin and dye to sell at the farmer’s market that would accompany the Eventide festival held on the last day of spring, not long from now.

    That was, if they stayed on with the Lawquanes, of course. Ahsoka knew they couldn’t remain as guests here indefinitely – it wasn’t safe, and she was just beginning to accept that she would never truly be safe again as long as the Empire stood. Inwardly, she was torn between wanting to stay with this family and their laughter love light and the need to keep moving and replace stillness and silence with action and words. Only . . . she had no idea where she would even begin, filling her days with a larger purpose again. Where could she even possibly begin?

    Did Rex feel the same, she wondered, trying to catch his gaze from across the table. Every time she thought to feel his eyes on her, he looked away too soon for her to tell, and she never fully managed to capture his attention. That knowledge stabbed at something deep inside of her, tearing a new, fresh wound over the rest of her still bleeding sorrows. Rex had been her captain – her comrade and confidant and friend for years now, and she missed him. She had just gotten him back, she wanted to rage against the injustice of it all, and yet she felt as if she was losing him all over again.

    Did he feel chained to her side by some misplaced sense of duty? she couldn't help but wonder. He was a clone trooper and she a Jedi – or she had been, once. Did he feel compelled to stay with her, to keep her safe and fight by her side and await her command as he'd so long been expected to do? Did he resent her, and the ties that bound them together? After all, he'd killed his brothers for her, all to keep her safe. She'd only been able to break through to him alone when Order 66 was executed; they’d lost everyone else, clone troopers and Jedi both. The idea that he was only still with her because he felt he had to be made Ahsoka queasy to even consider, and she moved her food – a treat that she couldn’t even properly enjoy, then – listlessly across her plate. Rex was all she had left, and she felt selfish for holding onto him. Yet . . . she couldn’t quite find the words to let him go, if that was what he truly wanted.

    What does he want next from life, now that he's free to choose? she was afraid to ask. So, made mute by her dread and guilt, she maintained their silence.

    After dinner was done, Cut and Rex took their turn clearing the table and cleaning up the kitchen while Suu got the children ready for bed. Shaaeah pressed Ahsoka for a story – the little girl seemed to find her life beyond Saleucami grand and breathtakingly exciting, in a way that she couldn’t quite bring herself to contradict. Ahsoka didn't have it within her to spin her own experiences into bedtime stories that night, not when all of her ghosts felt close enough to touch, so she told the tale of the Huntress and the Moon that Master Ti had shared back when she herself was just a youngling. But it did the trick, and both Shaeeah and Jek had heavy eyes by the time she finished, no matter how they protested that they weren't the least bit tired otherwise.

    After the children were tucked in, Suu and Cut took a bottle of sweet wine out to drink on the porch, underneath the stars, and Ahsoka left the couple to enjoy their time alone together. She didn’t see Rex, but that was common enough in of itself to not be unusual. He often walked the perimeter of the farm before turning in for the night – either out of habit or trying to tire himself into needing to sleep or in an attempt to outrun his own demons was anyone’s guess, and she suspected that he voiced his nightly remembrances alone where she couldn’t hear. He'd never kept his dead from her before, she dully reflected, and yet, now . . .

    Feeling suddenly listless, she climbed the ladder up into the attic. The small farmhouse was already filled to the brim with the Lawquanes themselves, and there wasn't much room for guests. Ahsoka was grateful for the space that had been cleared for them next to the shelves and storage crates that usually occupied the space. There wasn’t room enough for two distinct sleeping areas, so their makeshift pallets were pushed up right next to each other. It wasn't as if their sleeping arrangements had been much different when planetside on campaign, Ahsoka hadn’t even blinked to consider; she’d been used to sleeping next to Rex for years now. At one time, she'd known the heartbeats of her men and her Master echoing in her montrals as well as her own; they'd been her clan of the soul, her home, for so long. Leaving that feeling of belonging and security behind when she first refused the Council's offer to return to the Jedi Order had been one of the hardest things she’d had to acclimate to on her own, and, now . . .

    Ahsoka exhaled a slow, lonely trill, and felt only the silence echo back.

    Miserably, she laid down on her side and drew her knees up to her chest, trying in vain to close her eyes and find what rest she could. Sleep eluded her, and she tossed and turned, unable to get comfortable. Her lekku had grown again, and they were sore and overly sensitive to the touch, keeping her from sleeping on her stomach or her back. She was still figuring out the new angles on her crest, at that. The world around her was just so loud in her montrals now, and she borrowed against her pillow as best she could to muffle the excess noise. Her thoughts still raced, even so. She couldn't get her mind to quiet, no matter how her heavy eyes burned for sleep. Restlessly, she floundered.

    Sometime later – well after midnight, if she had to guess – she heard Rex come up the ladder into the attic. He moved lightly, for a Human – more like a hunter of her own people rather than a soldier long used to the weight of armor and marching – with not even a creak on the floorboards to give him away. But she knew the cadence of his heartbeat, the steady rise and fall of his lungs and the pulse of his blood – more so now than ever before, maturing into her full Togrutan heritage as she had in the intervening years since her girlhood. She’d never be unaware of him; her senses had labeled him as clan, as her very own, a long time ago.

    Rex stood without moving for a long minute, looking down at her. In the passing of a single, painful breath she thought that he’d turn and leave to find somewhere else to sleep. Yet, finally – almost imperceptibly, he sighed, and knelt to unlace his boots before carefully laying down on the bedding next to her. He kept as far away from her as he could, and his heartbeat failed to calm for sleep in the slightest. But she could feel the heady, inviting sort of heat his Human body gave off in comparison to her own; his scent settled in her nose, something dark and stormy and Rex to her senses; the very pulse of him echoed in her montrals, blotting out the extraneous noise of the night and soothing her raw emotions until she was left feeling drowsy with a stolen, fragile contentment.

    As comfortable then as she could be, she scooted as close to his warmth as she dared without giving herself away. Then, finally succumbing to her exhaustion, she closed her eyes and gave into the draw of sleep.



    TBC


    ~ MJ @};-
     
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2021
  2. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 8

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Beautiful scenes with Rex and Cut and Suu and Ahsoka, receiving and sharing support. And [face_laugh] Rex and Ahsoka so not inconspicuously catching the other's glance. [face_mischief]

    The happy family atmosphere is just what Rexoka need right now and even giving themselves permission to remember the happy times with laughter and affection. @};-

    Eagerly awaiting more, as I am an unabashed fan for romance-process fics! [face_dancing] ^:)^
     
  3. Cowgirl Jedi 1701

    Cowgirl Jedi 1701 Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Registered:
    Dec 21, 2016
  4. Kit'

    Kit' Manager Emeritus star 5 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Registered:
    Oct 30, 1999
    Such amazing descriptions of grief and love na loss and how they impact on different people. That was just lovely to read (I think I sighed several times). I also love the description of the last paragraph, beautifully vivid. Amazingly done!
     
  5. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    I can't thank you guys enough for your wonderful feedback! I appreciate every word. So, here I am with a few replies and then we can move on with the next part.:D [face_love] [:D]


    Thank-you! These two think they're subtle, but they're really, really not. I don't think I have ever written a mutual-pining story as strong as this one before, and it's a lot of fun so far. Ya know, minus the angsty reasons for said mutual pining. :p

    It really is quite a road to recover from such an unbelievable trauma, I can only imagine. But, in their own way, they are posed to move on and heal together. If they just let themselves, you're too right!

    Aw, thanks! You know me: I am better with writing pre and post-ship phases. The actual getting together? Eh, I struggle. So this really is a fantastic exercise for my muse, in more ways than one!

    As always, I thank you so much for reading, my friend, and for leaving your kind words. [face_love] [:D]


    Yay! Yes indeed it is. [face_mischief] [face_love]


    Aw, thank-you! That means a lot to me, as there were definitely times when I worried that this was a mite too angsty for an OTP challenge fic. But, hopefully, the grief and mourning these two are healing from will just make the mush and romance that much stronger in the end. [face_love] I loved writing that last paragraph, too - I figured that little bit was softness well deserved after getting through such a chunk of angst! Writing the rest of the story will definitely continue to be a balancing act in tone, that's for certain. But it's a story I can't wait to finish telling. [face_love]


    Again, I thank you guys so much for reading, and hope that you continue to enjoy the next part! [:D]


    ~MJ @};-
     
    Last edited: Sep 17, 2020
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  6. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    II.

    Rex was gone by the time the sun began to rise.

    Ahsoka frowned at the empty place on the pallet next to her, blearily rubbing her eyes and wondering how she’d slept deeply enough not to notice him leave. She'd only woken once in the night to nudge Rex awake from a nightmare – a regular enough occurrence for the both of them – before succumbing to her own exhaustion again. She wondered if he’d ever gone back to sleep after that. Somehow, she doubted it.

    It was just barely dawn, she judged by the starlight filtering in through the small window. The moons had set, and the shadows were long and deep across the attic. She still didn't feel wholly rested, but she sat up from her nest of bedding anyway and resigned herself to starting the day.

    The house was still quiet when she climbed down the ladder, though there was a light on in Cut and Suu’s room, shining from underneath the door. Softly, she trilled, and felt the drowsy heartbeats of the children echo back against her montrals, still slow and content with dreams. Rex, she guessed when she didn’t feel him nearby, must have gone out so as not to disturb the sleeping family with his own restlessness.

    Alright then, she sighed; that was that. Ahsoka shrugged aside her disappointment, laced up her boots, and slipped out the front door herself.

    Once outside, she stepped off the porch and inhaled deeply. The cool, misty morning air was fragrant with damp earth and fresh new life. It didn’t rain much on Saleucami, and the dew was all that naturally sustained the planet’s ecosystem through its dry cycle. The winter rains were the most precipitation the seasonally arid world saw, and the farmers had to be clever to irrigate their fields from underground reservoirs through the spring before the sweltering summer months came and razed the land bone dry and brittle. Heralding that thought, Ahsoka could already feel a whisper of balmy warmth on the breeze from where the sunrise touched the horizon, promising one of the first hot days of the season. The weather they’d been enjoying wouldn’t remain so pleasantly cool for much longer.

    As had become her habit, she started out on an easy, loping run down the path between the pastures. She jogged past the dozing nerf herds in their pens and darted through the fields of mealgrain to where the hills gently rose before climbing in sharp ridges to form the crater wall on the furthest edge of the property. She enjoyed the stretch of her muscles and the healthy burn in her legs as she kept her pace up the steep incline of the trail. Reflexively, she hummed as she ran, just as Master Ti had taught her so long ago. Her montrals thrummed in answer, echoing back to map out a vibrant picture of the world around her. A herd of jallope does and their fawns were feeding on the alim nuts underneath a copse of trees, she sensed well before she saw them, and darted off on light hooves at her approach. Catching sight of their spotted grey hides flashing through the dappled foliage, feeling as their heartbeats spiked in alarm, Ahsoka had to quell the instinct inside her that wanted to trumpet out a challenge and give chase. They were not her quarry that morning.

    Leaving the copse of trees behind, she came to a gorge carved into the rise of the crater wall. At the bottom of the gorge was a usually dry wash that now ran with a small, bubbling stream – the last that remained from the winter storms. She could sense the various small critters in the brush lining the waterway, from scurriers to ishmunks and a waddling orkine who peeked out from his burrow in curiosity for the ruckus in his little woodland community. A hush fell over the wash as a pack of cackals returned to their den after a night of hunting on the high side of the cliffs overlooking the water. Although Ahsoka couldn’t see them, she could feel their growls reverberate against her montrals as she picked up her trail again. She flashed the sharp line of her teeth in acknowledgment of the predators as she passed through their territory, and gave a high pitched whistling trill when one of the cackals loosed a throaty howl in reply, startling a family of sharlings from their nests in the violet-needled koili trees overhead. In answer, her smile stretched all the wider, and she trilled again for just the sheer joy of doing so.

    By the time she reached the high lip of the crater, her lungs were pleasantly burning from exertion and her heartbeat was pumping fast and strong in her chest. The sunrise had fully crested over the horizon as she slowed her pace to a walk, taking in the view of the woodlands and fields and farmsteads far below. She felt good for the exercise, such as it was compared to the physical routines she'd kept since her earliest days at the Temple. She couldn’t exactly practice her katas anymore – she couldn’t risk being seen and causing suspicion, even without her lightsabers. And, the one time she'd asked Rex to spar with her – burning with an untapped energy that working with the Lawquanes couldn’t quite touch – he’d looked at her as if she’d struck him before mumbling some excuse or another that she hadn’t been able to hear over the sudden, shameful buzzing in her montrals.

    She . . . she understood why he didn’t want to raise a hand against her, even in friendly combat. (Even now, she could remember the way he shook as he leveled his blasters at her, his teeth grit and eyes shining as he desperately warned her to stay back.) But she trusted him; she’d always trust him, just as she always had, even in their darkest moments. She just wished she could convince him of that truth as deeply as she herself believed it.

    The heaviness of her thoughts managed to snuff out the contented glow she’d found during her run, much the same as they ever did. Frustrated with herself for her inability to shrug off her melancholy for any significant stretch of time, she dropped to sit cross-legged on the rocky ridge, where she had a clear view of the Lawquanes’ land below. Breathing in deeply, and exhaling slow, she reached out to the Force and sank into what a meditation she could.

    Perhaps somewhat ironically – she could still imagine Master Obi-Wan’s fond eye-roll and hear him sigh as if he sat right beside her – her spiritual habits had only really developed into a dependable routine after she left the Jedi Order behind. She'd floundered, at first, in those awful months following her trial, struggling to understand what she was to the Force and what the Force was to her. Meditation had helped her find the answers she'd sought. Before that, during her apprenticeship, Master Skywalker had been a strong proponent of moving meditation, and hadn’t encouraged her to keep up her better habits unless he thought she needed to dwell on why she was wrong and he was right about any given matter. Being a Padawan commander in the middle of a war meant that there simply wasn’t the time to stop overly long for reflection, anyway. She was usually too busy dodging blaster-fire and covering her men while they either advanced on the Separatist lines or held the Republic’s own to find time for her spiritual health. Once, that had been a child’s flippant excuse to avoid something she didn’t otherwise have the patience for, but, now . . .

    Ahsoka breathed deeply, in and out, and turned her focus inward. She concentrated on the rise and fall of her lungs and the beating of her own heart, letting that calm her – center her – before she stretched her attention outwards, beyond her corporeal self . . .

    - and saw as the Force saw: a universe teaming with color and possibility and light.

    As always, immersing herself fully in the Force was a humbling experience. She was nothing more than a drop of water in its endless sea – in all the seas that ever were and ever would be, looking for a current to keep her afloat. More intimately than even her natural senses, she could feel the crater come to life in more vivid detail than ever before. She could sense every creature both large and small, from the tiniest insect scurrying across the ground to the rhythmic beating of a convor’s wings far in the cloudless sky above. She could feel the roots of the trees, shallowly anchored in wide bases across the dry, rocky soil; their trunks thick with water to see them through the hot season to come. She could feel the powerful rushing of the underground reservoirs, and the last, stubborn trickle of the remaining streams in their beds. Stretching her senses out even further, she could feel the ripening crops and the contented herds in their fields and the hundreds of tiny lights burning against her consciousness from the local sentient populace, before she stretched her senses even further still, far and away beyond Saleucami.

    She opened her spiritual eyes to the infinity of the Force . . . and mourned to see only shadow marring its unfathomable majesty where once the Light used to thrive. Where thousands – tens of thousands, even – of bright flames once burned in her perception of the cosmic Force, now there was only emptiness and loss. The Dark had risen from the deep to swallow everything it touched. Even the brightest lights – flickers of star-fire which Ahsoka had always associated with the Masters of the Order, and the blazing supernova of blinding white fury that had been her own Master . . . they were gone, devoured by the Dark that now draped its might so oppressively over every living thing in its path.

    Yet, Ahsoka was determined to sift through the shadows for what she sought. She wouldn’t stop until she found what she was looking for. Careful of the pulsing presence in the center of her perception of the Force – spinning greedy and choking and all consuming, like a pulsar of malice erupting from a black hole at the center of a galaxy – she dimmed her own light so as to go unseen by the Dark. Girding up her strength, Ahsoka breathed in deep for balance, and went hunting.

    Throughout her search there were times when – more than once – she thought to catch a glimpse of kindred lights in the gloom, though quickly masked and muffled from view. One light, old and wise, was obscured by a thick, swampy mire of natural life in the Force, and she could never manage to get a clear picture beyond that bare, flickering instinct of knowing. There were times, more than once, when she thought to catch sight of tiny twin flames, one surrounded by whiteadorationmarbleprivilege and the other by sunlightfamiliarityrootsbeginnings. But she could never glimpse them for too long. Frustratingly, it was as if there was something, or someone, purposefully dimming their presences, keeping them from being found. Letting the two fledgling lights go, she fought to contain her disappointment for the half-answers she had revealed to her, lest she lose her head beneath the swelling power of the Force. The Force could show much, but it only granted clarity in peace. That peace, Ahsoka was now self-aware enough to admit, had always been difficult for her to find.

    Alright, then . . . alright. She sank further into her meditation, submerging herself to catch more vague glimpses of light here and then there, but never anything conclusive. She wanted to sink deeper, to seek out the others she knew had to have survived – she couldn’t be the last one left, but there was always the Dark just waiting . . . and the Dark was searching too.

    Please, she pled with the Force, I never felt him die. I . . . I feel as if he’s in pain, instead; he’s suffering, I just know he is . . . I think he needs me.

    No matter what she logically knew to the contrary, her heart told her that her Master was still alive. He hadn't died; he couldn’t be dead. She'd felt her training bond with Anakin – so newly, tentatively returned to life and allowed to breathe again – tear and scream and burn, that awful day Order 66 was executed. Yet she’d never felt it snap, no matter how much it had twisted and morphed beyond anything she could even begin to recognize. Instead, it was obscured in something she was almost afraid to peer at too closely; she could no longer reach out to him and open herself in return to even try. An instinct deep at the core of her warned her not to, even now. That . . . that shadowy impression of emnitysufferingdread couldn’t be Anakin – not her Skyguy. Yet . . . it wasn’t the more natural pain and sundering of death she felt, either. She didn’t understand, and, through her meditation, she sought clarity.

    Anakin? she whispered to the Force. Where are you?

    The Force swelled in answer, and its currents parted to lead the way. Ahsoka swam along the great ebb and flow of its might, wanting to know – needing to know – and yet, no matter how small and dim she made herself in the Force, the closer she came to Anakin, the more the Dark seemed to notice her in return. No, no! she fought the instinct to snap out of her meditation and back to safetyhidingsurvival; she had to see, she had to know. She was so close! He was right there, she felt, right there at her fingertips, but, the Dark -

    - the Dark was there, too. And the Dark found her first.

    Mentally, she screamed as the Dark burnedtoreflayed through her in furious retaliation for her intrusion on what it had so incomprehensibly claimed as its own. She’d only brushed by the edge of its pall, but that was enough to send her reeling. She panicked to scramble back from the spiritual plane, falling inwards on herself as she stumbled to sooth her wounds and hide in the cooling power of the Light. The intangible awareness that she had so carefully built up to fell away in a dizzying rush of thwarted power, like a vacuum closing in on itself – a tidal wave crashing after swelling, and she snapped back to her corporeal self with a jarring sensation that she felt down to her bones. Her mind hurt in a way she couldn’t explain, couldn't quantify with words, and she gasped to anchor herself on the present, on the here and now in an attempt to muffle the sudden unbearable ringing in her montrals.

    Still feeling as if she was drowning – gasping for air in the suddenly oppressive sea of the Force – she opened her eyes to the physical certainty of her surroundings. Gritting her teeth in determination, she focused on the sunrise – now bright and vibrant in the sky – and the warmth of the breeze and the distant growth in the fields and -

    - Rex. He was there; he was right there.

    Even across the distance, her sharp eyes could see two figures moving down by the barn, getting ready for their day of work. Though they were almost as identical as it was possible to be, it was Rex who caught her gaze and held it. She focused on her captain – her friendchoosenonehunter – and felt the aura of his strengthcalmassurance wash over her with tender familiarity, gently easing her from the turbulent maelstrom of the Force. She inhaled deeply, unconsciously mirroring his own breathing as she recovered herself, in . . . and out. For a moment, she thought that he looked up, almost exactly to her place on the ridge. Though he was blind and deaf to the Force, he nonetheless had a soldier’s sense, a sense for her, that must have warned him that something wasn’t right. It was an intuition, Ahsoka could wryly admit, that had been well developed in their years fighting side by side each other. He knew her, just as she knew him.

    Okay then . . . okay. That was . . . well, that was that. If – when, she firmly amended – she ever found Master Skywalker, it wasn't going to be today.

    Concluding her search as fruitless for the time being, Ahsoka withdrew completely from the Force and rose on still shaking legs. With one last parting glance at Rex, she turned from the sunrise and started back down the trail to the farm.



    .

    .

    In theory, Rex knew exactly how long he could go without sleep and exactly how his performance as related to his physiological needs would suffer as a result. It had been one of the Kaminoans' many forms of product development: long stretches without sleep and sensory over-stimulation while they were sent out on mock battles to either live or die by their own strength. Their Mandalorian Cuy’val Dar instructors used live rounds during those exercises; casualties were simply viewed as quality control by the Kaminoans, culling the weak so as to have a more cohesive, satisfactory product to present to their clients when the time came. Those training practices and other forms of recycling, thankfully, had ended when the Jedi arrived on Kamino and the Mandalorians departed following Jango Fett’s death, but that hadn’t been soon enough for the ten years prior to Rex’s deployment on the front-lines.

    Currently, he knew that he was somewhere between feeling edgy and disoriented but nowhere near the hallucinating and nauseous jitteriness of his uppermost limits. He didn't necessarily have to sleep; not yet. Stars, though, did he want to.

    Just because you can push yourself doesn’t mean you should. We won't lose the war if you get an hour or two of shut-eye, he could hear Kix rebuke in the same voice he usually reserved for the likes of Fives and Hardcase – which was insulting enough in its own right. With all due respect, of course, Captain, has been thrown on as much as an afterthought for rank as it was a pointed reminder of the men who were depending on him to lead. But, Rex squared his jaw to remind himself, Kix was gone now . . . as was every other man who was once his responsibility to protect and command.

    Maybe it wasn’t exhaustion, then, so much as it was weakness that had him giving in and quietly climbing the ladder up to the attic. He just wanted, so badly, to put his head down and rest; truly rest. He couldn’t remember the last time he had a solid night’s sleep (and a peaceful night's sleep was even more elusive), even before Order 66. The war had stretched on for so long, with one battle seemingly blurring into the next. Sometimes, it was hard to remember just what it was, exactly, they were fighting for. It all seemed so meaningless now – was meaningless now, he was merciless to remind himself. It had all been for nothing.

    Rex kept his step light, mindful not to wake the sleeping family below – or Ahsoka, who had curled in on herself in an attempt to find her own rest. She looked so small – not young, Ahsoka had stopped being a kid the day she was ordered to the front-lines – laying on her side with her knees drawn to her chest and tucked under her lekku. Her blankets were rumpled around her body and kicked down by her feet, showing where she had been tossing and turning to find even that small modicum of comfort. It was always a struggle for her, he knew: she hated the weight of synthetic fabric yet couldn’t retain her own body heat without an outside source for long. The furrowing of the diamond shaped markings on her brow and the soft whistles that he recognized as frustration would have been endearing (Rex caught himself before thinking cute, even in the privacy of his own mind) if he didn’t know every reason she had for grief. Their demons always did seem closer in the dark.

    He didn’t think she was asleep – not really – but she didn’t say anything, and so neither did he. Instead, he finally stopped debating with himself (the last time he'd slept in the barn Cut had bluntly told him he smelled like an eopie, even after a good scrubbing in the ‘fresher, with all the brains of one to match) and laid down next to her. He kept himself as far away as he could, even so, on the very edge of his own pallet. It wasn’t that he was uncomfortable sleeping next to her – far from it, in fact, which was half the problem – it was just . . . well, it was different, now, than it had been during their years on campaign. He wasn’t hers to command here, and she wasn’t his to protect, not anymore. (Though something about that didn’t sound quite right, even so.) Though their sleeping arrangements were still born by necessity, Ahsoka was . . . well, she was a grown woman now. He wasn’t sure exactly why that mattered so much to him, but it did. It changed things; it changed everything.

    At the very least, he was too tired to dwell on his thoughts any further. They simply were what they were, and he was tired of trying to parse out right from wrong and up from down in a world that suddenly made so little sense. Instead, he closed his eyes to fall into what a shallow, fitful sleep his body could manage.

    Of course, it didn’t take long for his dreams to find him, and they were far from kind. His first nightmare was an old one, at least, and its horror was worn by familiarity: of being in a deep pool with slick, steep walls and no way out but for the cylindrical chamber to drain completely. The Kaminoans had several trials they imposed as part of their quality management program, and one was testing their ability to tread water while the depths swirled and frothed and they were fired on from above at random intervals. Every year of his development the time in the tank increased until, when he was physically the equivalent of a fourteen-year-old, they were kept in for an eight hour period. Of the ten of them, CT-7560 alone hadn’t been able to endure for the entirety of the allotted time. Rex could still remember the sound of him gasping as he struggled to keep his head above water. Rex had reached out to him, had held on to support his brother and keep him from panicking and sinking beneath the waves. Yet the clinical, detached voice of Kami Ra over the speakers reminded him that this was an individual assessment, and he was forbidden from interfering with the outcome. He could still remember the feeling of CT-7560's fingers slipping from his own; it was something he'd never forget. He’d grappled with his shame for letting his brother die for years, now – for obeying a command he knew, he knew in his heart was wrong. His guilt was still enough to suffocate him when he was alone with the quiet and the dark. Sometimes, his entire existence seemed defined by every life he couldn’t save, and his memories tormented him.

    After CT-7560, all of his dead seemingly rose to haunt his dreams: of Fives bleeding out in his arms, desperately trying to reveal a truth they’d learned only too late: that they weren’t created to serve their Jedi, but to be their executioners. Five's ashen face turned to Jesse’s helmeted stare, coldly calling him CT-7567 and ordering him to surrender the traitor Ahsoka Tano. Kix had stood so immovable by Jesse's side, bright orange splashed across his armor and forgotten in honor of the same woman they were now driven to destroy. Kix, who'd never wanted anything more than to heal, had fired on them, and Rex had fired back. He'd even aimed to kill, when necessary. His dream morphed, and he was suddenly pulling their bodies from the wreckage alongside Ahsoka. They buried them side by side together, and marked their graves with their helmets. He could hear a dull echo of the funeral rites, with the names of the dead seemingly going on and on and on. His dreams were merciless to march from there, parading every brother he tried to save and yet failed after that: of Wolffe, who had to go on believing that General Koon was a traitor, even after learning the truth; and Cody, who’d walked through live fire to take control of his fate the only way he could; and Bly who couldn’t live with himself after realizing what he’d done, and -

    - Aayla! he remembered Bly’s inhuman wail when they broke past the chip’s programming, and a ghost of CT-7560 seemed to reach out for him like a chill passing through his bones. Rex wondered if he could have moved fast enough to stop Bly from taking his own life, and if he'd only hesitated because a part of him understood. Because, if he had done the same, if Ahsoka hadn’t been able to save him from himself, then he didn't know how he would have reacted when he came to his senses again.

    Those . . . those were the worst dreams of all, and yet all his nightmares always seemed to converge on that one point: of ordering Ahsoka to stay back, of every cell in his body screaming as he aimed at her and fired . . .

    In his worst dreams he wasn’t strong enough and she wasn’t fast enough and then -

    “ - Rex,” he heard a whisper in the dark. “Rex, wake up.”

    There was a gentle, but firm, hand nudging him awake, attempting to free him from his torment. He struggled to follow her voice, letting her pull him up from every memory that threatened to drown him otherwise. Blearily, he opened his eyes again.

    When he finally managed to focus – his heartbeat still racing and his skin clammy with sweat – Ahsoka was wryly smiling at him, even if there was nothing at all amused about her expression. “'It's just a dream,” she mumbled before laying her head back down again. “Just a dream,” she absently soothed – as she'd done for him a hundred times before, and would undoubtedly do again. He’d done much the same for her, too many times to count over the years.

    Yet . . . for everything that hadn’t been a dream . . .

    “Shh,” Ahsoka mumbled into his skin, her voice heavy with sleep. “‘s okay. We’re gonna be alright; you’ll see. You're still here, and I’m still here too.”

    And she was, Rex flexed his arms around her to assure himself, closing his eyes and nuzzling closer to the cool, reassuring weight of her body. She was still with him, and she was . . .

    - she was, apparently, a lot closer than the respectful distance Rex had established when he first laid down to sleep.

    Just like that, the last vestiges of his nightmares were forgotten and he was suddenly, painfully awake. Only a lifetime of training to control his reflexes kept him from jolting backwards and untangling himself from her entirely as awareness washed over him with the same shock of being doused with icy cold water. He held himself completely, painfully still, a part of him still attuned enough to everything that was his Jedi to know that she was sleeping – finally sleeping well and deeply – and he wouldn’t disturb her rest for anything.

    Inwardly, however, Rex panicked.

    It was not an unusual thing, he tried to rationalize, for Ahsoka to seek him out while she slept. Humans, she’d approvingly told him long ago, gave off a natural body heat that she found magnetic. Yet there was a difference between allowing his teenage commander to fall asleep against him in the middle of a war-zone, and entwining himself with the woman she’d somehow grown into while away from the 501st. What was worse was just how comfortable he felt, holding her. Even unconsciously, she’d angled her montrals so that his chin rested against the smooth skin between her horns. He could feel her nose tucked in against the base of his throat; her breath tickled his chest with warmth every time she exhaled. Her lekku were oddly soft, yet firm, trapped between their bodies, pulsing in an absent, contented rhythm. She had one arm bent underneath her pillow while her other arm was – quite firmly – anchored around his waist, pinning him down. He was no better, Rex huffed to realize; he had one arm supporting her head, while his right arm was wrapped around her shoulders with his hand resting on her back underneath the heavy fall of her central lek. Without his conscious realization, he had been running his knuckles up and down the sleek, subtly textured skin on the underside of her headtail – a motion he didn’t need to have spelled out for him that was intimate by Togruta standards, by anyone’s standards. So why didn't he immediately stop?

    He finally stilled his hand, mortified by the liberty he’d taken with his sleeping Jedi, and felt, more than heard, as Ahsoka gave an unhappy trill in reply – the sound was a whine, almost, a demand and a plea that affected him in a primal way that was nearly terrifying in its sudden intensity. (He found, then, that he wanted to touch more of her skin; he wanted to kiss the high slope of her brow and trace his mouth down over every one of her markings before finding her lips. He . . . he’d never kissed anyone before; he had no idea what to do with the intensity of his want now that he acknowledged it . . . but he did know that he wanted to kiss her. He wanted to touch her. He wanted her to make that sound again.) Restlessly, she shifted her body, seeking out his warmth. She was all dips and curves and such a sweet pressure as she somehow moved even closer to him, all inviting comfort and familiarity and Ahsoka -

    - and, sweet stars and tides and all the ones who marched on help him, but that was enough of that.

    Mortified by his desire – and even more petrified to finally give his devotionyearningadoration an honest name – Rex carefully pried himself away from his unwitting partner. Using every skill he’d long developed as a perfectly designed specimen of war and then some, he somehow managed to slip out of Ahsoka’s embrace without waking her. She only gave a last unhappy sigh – a sadly plaintive trill that almost had him doubting his resolve, before curling in on the space of warmth he’d left behind. It was, Rex told himself – repeated to himself, for the best.

    It had to be.

    Quiet as could be, he climbed down from the attic and slipped out the front door. He was glad for the cool early morning air that greeted him, whispering across his still too hot skin. It was just what he needed for a little bit of clarity – and stark, brutal honesty.

    So not okay, trooper, he continued to inwardly berate himself, so kriffing not okay!

    He wanted to fight something, Rex thought as he paced in front of the paddock – disturbing a clearly unhappy nerf mother who rudely huffed at him before turning to bracket herself between him and her calf. That was fine; Rex sourly glared right back. Pacing, however, quickly wasn't enough. He wanted to break something, and he clenched his hands into fists before consciously relaxing them, one finger at a time. He wanted to cry; he wanted to laugh; he wanted to go back to bed and wrap himself around Ahsoka and never let her go. She was the only thing that made sense, that he ran his hand back over the faint fuzz of his hair to admit in complete honesty, and yet . . .

    . . . he would not be the thing that dragged his Jedi down. His hand had already been stayed once before, and he wouldn’t knowingly cause her harm now. Not ever again.

    His determination granted him clarity, at least, and he stilled. He breathed deeply, in and out . . . and that was that.

    With a deep sigh, he looked up at the still dark sky. There was still a few hours left to go before the dawn. He’d hardly slept; he wasn't at all refreshed; but he knew that he wouldn’t be able to find any sort of rest again. Not now. He was thoroughly sick of his dreams, of his nightmares. He was tired of his grief, of his ghosts. He felt heavy with his despondency. So, stuck until the sun came up, Rex heavily sat down on a crate behind the barn, and leaned back to stare listlessly at the stars.

    For some time, he lost himself in a sort of waking daze. As much as he could, he simply focused on his breathing, searched to find some semblance of balance again. Any progress he may have thought he made, he knew was for naught when he saw Ahsoka cut through the fields, just as the sun started to rise. She’d stopped, first, he thought to know, and looked for him. He could join her, if he wanted, and she’d welcome him. He could fall into step beside her and simply enjoy her: her presence, her company; the way that keeping up with her, matching her, was both exhilarating and challenging and right.

    Yet, that . . . that would just make it all the more difficult to leave when she was ready to go her own way, to forge her own path again. Rex was strong enough for many things, and yet that, he found, was one weight he couldn’t bear. In the end, he’d only slow her down . . . in more ways than one.

    By the time Cut came outside to start on their work for the day, Rex’s mood was dark and his eyes burned from a lack of sleep. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he could hear Kix’s long-suffering sigh. “You,” Cody’s quiet, droll voice was ever more blunt to judge, “look like strille osik.”

    Cut, however, was more polite than his ori’vod. He simply looked him over with an assessing, too-knowing eye, and commented: “You’re up early.”

    Rex, in reply, only shrugged.

    “Rough night?” After a moment’s consideration, Cut gave him the option to talk without pressing overly much. While Rex appreciated his brother for trying, this was something he hoped to never voice aloud. To anyone. Not even to himself.

    “Yeah,” Rex muttered. His voice sounded raw to his own ears, as if he'd been shouting orders over cannon-fire for hours on end. “Something like that.”

    Almost imperceptibly, Cut frowned. “Alright then; have it your way. But,” nevertheless, he reached over to rest his hand on his shoulder in a brief, commiserating gesture, “know that I’m here if you want to talk.”

    “I know,” Rex summoned what a bare smile he could manage. His brother deserved that much from him, at least. “Thank-you.”

    Cut just nodded once, and that was that. They headed into the barn to start their day, and Rex put all thoughts of Ahsoka – of everything beyond the work of his hands – far from his mind.



    TBC

    ~MJ @};-
     
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2021
  7. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 8

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Riveting and lyrical details of Ahsoka's experiences touching the "currents" of the Force with contrasting Light/Dark =D=

    Rex's part was just oomphy! from start to finish!!!

    Magnificent how they are inextricably bound, almost despite themselves. ;) [face_love]
     
  8. devilinthedetails

    devilinthedetails Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jun 19, 2019
    A beautiful job with this! I'm always so impressed with the lyricism of your writing. [face_love]
     
  9. Anedon

    Anedon Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    May 11, 2016
    Nice story, I really liked Rex musings about his place in this galaxy. He was created for war, from birth destined to fight in the GAR and now that it is gone, what is there left for him?
     
  10. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    Thank you! I can only imagine what it must be like for the few Jedi - or anyone who's able to touch the Force - to sense the rise of the Dark Side after the fall of the Republic. And, for Ahsoka to try and find Anakin on the spiritual plane without understanding that he now is a part of that self-same Dark . . . it's rough, to put it lightly. [face_plain]

    I knew you'd enjoy his point of view, here! I enjoyed writing it myself. [face_mischief] He's got a lot on his plate, no doubt about it, and he's just trying so hard to do the right thing in so many ways. But he'll figure it out. :p [face_love]

    Almost despite themselves really is the crux of the matter, isn't it? Mmm, I do love me some mutual pining in my stories. :p But they are inextricably bound, you're too right! It's just going to take them a nudge or two to understand what's already been growing between them all along. [face_love]

    Thank you so much for reading, my friend, as always! I appreciate your feedback and support more than words can say! [:D]


    Aw, thanks! That really means a lot to me - especially with the lyricism of your own writing! I appreciate your taking the time to leave your thoughts, and hope that you continue to enjoy the rest of the story as it goes. [face_love]


    Thank you! I just adore Rex (and I find the clones processing what it is to be their own individual selves so engaging already), and I've enjoyed getting in his head throughout this story. He's been created for war, has expected to live and die serving the Republic his entire short life, and, now that that's gone, what's left? He has a lot to figure out and process for himself, even without his feelings for Ahsoka thrown in the mix. I didn't much care for the way Rebels answered what comes next? for him, so here I am writing this story instead. [face_love] [face_mischief] [face_whistling]

    As always, I appreciate your taking the time to read and leave your thoughts. Thank you so very much for your kind words, again! :)



    Alrighty! We'll be moving on with the next part in just a few . . . :D [face_dancing]

    [:D]


    ~MJ @};-

     
    Last edited: Sep 26, 2020
  11. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    III.

    Their first order of business that day was going into town for supplies.

    Rex was admittedly still wary of the idea. Pachunagara – Saleucami, an oppressively arid world across most of its surface, only really sustained life in its fertile crater zones – was a small crater community when compared to others, true. The population density here, and even in the neighboring settlements, was nothing when compared to Taleucema, the planet’s capital and major spaceport on the opposite side of the southern hemisphere. Though not of any importance for anything it imported or exported, Saleucami held strategic value as the only habitable planet in its star-system, a system that was a key intersection between the Telcean Transit and the Perlimian Trade Route. Saleucami’s tactical location was why the Republic had once been so interested in reclaiming and defending the otherwise nondescript world from the Separatists . . . and it was why the Empire was so interested in establishing its presence in Taleucema now.

    But, that was half a world away. The Empire was interested in the spaceport, not the handful of mostly non-human settlers who scraped out their meager livings across the rest of the planet. Or, at least, that was what the local populace hoped. The newly established Imperial governor had built his mansion from the bones of the original Pantoran Shrine of First Welcome in Taleucema, and, so far, hadn’t looked beyond his small seat of wealth and power for what he considered beneath his notice in the provincial farming communities. With any luck, that’s how things would stay.

    Rex, however, knew better than to trust anything as illusionary as hope or luck. There was only proper planning, shrewd foresight, and the ability to follow through on sound strategy with action. Cut, thankfully, was of the same mind. He’d been ready to take his family and run ever since General Allie had been stationed in Taleucema with her legion of troopers near the end of the Secession Crisis. The Lawquanes had plans in place, and the entire family knew what to do if the time came – when the time came. What would've been bad enough for his brother if he was reclaimed by the GAR as a deserter would be nothing when compared to the ruthless brutality of the Empire. There . . . there had been honor in belonging to the Republic, once, or so Rex had thought. Yet, to be forced to bear arms for the Empire, or worse . . . not to mention what fate they’d undoubtedly have in store for Ahsoka . . .

    Well, his brow furrowed as they hitched the eopies to the cart, it wouldn’t come to that. Not for himself, nor for this family or his Jedi. Rex would make sure of that with his last breath if need be. It was just that simple.

    But for now they were safe – as safe as they could be, anyway. As long as the Empire stood they would never truly be able to let their guard down. Which wasn’t terribly unusual, he tried to tell himself; he'd been used to keeping his eyes open even in the lulls between battles and anticipating enemy fire for years now. This was no different to the only life he’d ever known, in some regards.

    . . . only, now, he just had so much more he could lose.

    Once the eopies were set and they took their seats at the head of the cart, Cut kept up a steady chatter as they started out for town. When they reached the end of the lane, Rex looked up to see Ahsoka on the crest of the rim, coming down from her morning run. The dawn was bright to catch on the white of her markings, and the sunrise framed her in a halo of silver-gold. She stopped – hesitated, Rex thought – before lifting her hand to wave goodbye. Rex returned the gesture after a pause, and then tore his eyes away from her to look down the road ahead.

    Cut glanced up at the ridge, and back then at him. “You know,” he started with an easiness that belied the blunt consideration in his eyes, “you could've joined her. It wouldn’t have hurt anything – me doing this alone, or even waiting an hour or so to leave.”

    Rex held back from answering that he did have an open invitation to accompany her – awkwardly mumbled after she tried to recover herself after asking him to spar with her, that one awful morning shortly following their arrival. (He . . . he just couldn’t raise a hand against her, even in friendly combat . . . not yet, and maybe not ever again.) Instead, he said, “She goes up there to meditate. It’s a Jedi thing.” That wasn’t wholly a lie, only it wasn’t the whole truth, either. “I’d just be in her way.”

    Cut didn’t call osik like Cody would have, but it was a near thing. Instead: “Whatever you say, vod,” he shook his head, his tone nevertheless declaring his opinion loud and clear. Rex huffed in answer, and was glad when Cut let the conversation drop.

    It didn't take them long to reach Pachunagara's sole town – town being a loose term to describe the modest collection of mismatched buildings huddled together in the center of the crater. Saleucami had no indigenous species to speak of; instead, it had been mapped and settled by Pantoran explorers back in the earliest days of the old Republic. Since then the world had become home to a variety of drifters in the Outer Rim, drawn by the promise of work to be had in the spaceport or the possibility of owning a plot of land and living in relative peace in any of the numerous crater communities. The Pantoran Houses of Assembly still controlled the planet's commerce – they had for centuries, not counting the Techno Union’s brief stint in control under Separatist occupation – and, as such, Saleucami was a rare haven beyond the reach of the Hutts or any of the numerous crime syndicates that thrived around the hyperspace and transit lanes this far from the Inner Core. (It remained to be seen what happened to the planet underneath Imperial control, of course.) It was quiet here, for an Outer Rim world, and the locals wanted to keep it that way.

    In town there was long-range comm and shipment center; a single interspecies physician, dentist office, and pharmacy all in one; a bakery, a diner, and a pub; a droid repair shop; a small second-hand thrift shop; and somehow three separate all-species inclusive beauty parlors. The tall, rippling spires of the Pantoran Shrine of Welcome decorated the largest, most ornate building in town. The Shrine served as a meeting place for a hodge-podge of different faiths, along with providing everything from a hall for town gatherings to a public forum for when the mayor held council. It also, Rex had thought curious to learn, provided a stage for a troupe of Bimm improv players who toured every first Bendusday of the month.

    After the Shrine of Welcome – and the Blind Acklay Pub – Dhakpa’s General Store pulsed with the lifeblood of the town. The middle-aged Pantoran shopkeeper of the same name sold everything from feed and tack to seed and hardware and sentient foodstuffs. He played the role of broker for many in the crater, arranging for farmers to sell their goods and lining up work with potential laborers and skilled tradesmen with projects for hire. He was easygoing and friendly, with stories as long as the day if he had a listening ear. Everyone knew Dhakpa, and Dhakpa knew everyone.

    Jinpo Dhakpa was also, by his very nature, a tremendous gossip, Rex thought – though not wholly unkindly. It was only that loose tongues could mean danger as far as he was concerned, no matter that Cut had assured him that he had nothing to worry for with the Dhakpas. Apparently Jinpo and his wife had helped Suu through some hard times after the death of her first husband, and Cut had since repaid the favor by dealing with a local gang of Weequays who’d harassed the crater in his earliest days on-world – a deed from which Dhakpa and many others had benefited, and were still grateful. Cut was well-known and respected for his actions – and even liked, at that. The friendly waves and happy greetings he received whenever they arrived in town always surprised Rex, who wasn’t much accustomed to interacting with civilians in general and less so in any positive manner. Near the end of the war, and especially further into the Core Worlds, most natural-born sentients were . . . put off by clone troopers, to say the least. Rex was always aware that he was different, that he was viewed as less by many – like a droid of flesh and bone to be used and disposed of and nothing more. He wasn’t allowed to forget that he was a commodity, bought and paid for to live a brief life of service for them, and he’d developed a natural wariness for civilians as a result.

    Here, though, he wasn’t a clone trooper, a soldier of the Republic and the face of the war. Here he was simply Cut’s brother. And, as Cut was respected and accepted, that good-will spilled over to Rex by association. It was a dangerous feeling that he could all too easily grow used to and even come to crave: belonging to a community, a place, a people. (To a family, again.) Yet, he knew better than to get too comfortable. There was danger to be found in complacency. Saleucami wouldn’t shelter Ahsoka and him indefinitely; it couldn’t; so, Rex kept up what a guard he could against the dangers of getting too attached to his life here. The alternative would only bring nothing but trouble.

    They pulled up to Dhakpa’s storefront, and Cut flipped a credit and a smile to the two Bith youngsters who ran up with water and treats for the eopies. There was a trio of Rodians chatting outside of the comm-center who waved, and the six-armed Besalisk female who was sweeping the stoop of her beauty parlor called out to Cut, asking about Suu and the children. Rex, for his part, kept quiet as he reflexively cast an accessing gaze over his surroundings, hyper-sensitive to every being in their immediate vicinity and instinctively poised for action. It was a habit he couldn’t seem to shake after the war – or even dull to rest in the back of his mind, no matter how he tried. And he did try. Consciously, Rex took in a deep breath, and relaxed his hands from fists.

    Cut noticed – of course he did, but his gaze was steeped in sympathy, at least. He understood his struggles all too well, and must have once gone through something similar himself. Rex didn’t for a moment think that his brother was any less dangerous for his life away from the GAR, that said; if anything, the family he had to protect made him even more deadly. Even so, Rex looked at his vod and couldn't help but envy his peace. His balance was one he so far struggled to achieve for himself.

    With a last, boisterously loud chuckle for some quip or another, the Besalisk – Phorra was her name, Rex remembered – let them go.

    When they entered the store, Rex blinked to adjust to the lighting when compared to the bright morning sunshine outside. The shop was all toned in browns, and seemed washed in a sepia haze from the rust and cream colored floor tiles to the dark wood paneled walls and the bronze enameled front counter and glass display cases where the more expensive items were kept. The shop was cool to ward off the already rising heat of the day, but the pleased greeting of: “Cut, my boy!” was vibrant and warm as Dhakpa himself stepped out from behind the counter in welcome.

    Like most Pantorans, Jinpo Dhakpa had blue skin and smiling golden eyes. A thick stripe of yellow banded across his nose before descending vertically around his cheekbones and up into his hairline, fading off into patches of grey in his otherwise still blue-violet hair. He wore a tailored suit of fine nerf-wool, the fashion of which Rex was better used to seeing deeper in the Core worlds than the Outer Rim. Jinpo wasn’t overly tall or imposing in stature – if anything, Rex looked down an inch or so on him, and there was a softness about the girth of his midsection that spoke of hearty meals and a love of good wine – but he had a presence that nonetheless filled whatever space he occupied. His good-humor was sincere and infectious, and his voice was deep and rich.

    Cut didn’t hesitate before stepping up to embrace the Pantoran, even going as far to accept the kiss on both cheeks that Jinpo bestowed in fond welcome. Rex awkwardly followed suit – only slightly more settled now than he was the first time he’d been included in the ritual, but still not entirely comfortable with the display. (Before, the only other sentient touch he’d known in kindness had been his brothers, in their own way – or from Ahsoka, who’d been free and open with her affection since the beginning, when she was just a gangly slip of a Padawan assigned to General Skywalker and the 501st.)

    Lost in thought – and still keeping a wary eye on the shop’s entrance and the customers milling about within – Rex only half heard as Jinpo mentioned that he’d set aside the supplies they needed to finish preparing the homestead for the upcoming Scorch Season, and they went on to chat about the growth of the Lawquanes’ crop of mealgrain, the excess of which Jinpo would buy to sell in his store after they sold what they could at the Eventide market come the end of spring.

    The conversation didn’t wholly snap into focus until: “And, speaking of Suu and the children, where are your better halves today?”

    “With your better half, actually,” Cut answered – though with a clear look at Rex that was all teeth and good humor. “Suu should be there now, bartering the rest of our nerf-wool.”

    “Ah yes, Azzi did mention as much, now that you say,” Jinpo gave a self-deprecating chuckle. “My old mind, you know? Some thoughts just come and go!”

    Rex didn’t believe that for a second – the Pantoran was as sharp as a vibro-blade and as shrewd as a Hutt. Instead, he rather suspected that Jinpo was looking for a story, the same as he'd been since the first time he'd accompanyed Cut into town.

    Which, Rex could kick himself to admit, was half his own fault. He – like a still rain-soaked shiny fumbling when ordered to give his first sitrep – had completely frozen when the well meaning Pantoran had politely asked for his name the first time they met. It was unusual for a Human to have only a given name, he knew – and he still had to quell that deeply ingrained instinct to snap to attention and offer up his rank and number when addressed by a superior being. He had faltered to think of an alias on the spot. Instead: Rex Tano, he'd stupidly introduced himself as – ignoring Cut, who'd had to cover his very obvious fit of laughter with a cough behind his hands, in favor of mentally berating himself. The tips of his ears had burned, but he hadn’t been able to take the slip back – and a slip it was; they shouldn’t be using their real names anyway, even in a small, out of the way town like Pachunagara. And, since Ahsoka was very clearly not related to him by blood, most everyone in town just assumed she was his wife.

    Ahsoka, for her part, had laughed when first told about the ruse, and her eyes had sparkled to say that he could share her name for as long as he liked. His heartbeat had given a worrying skip as he turned red for her words – even more so then than he had when Cut had teased him on their way back to the farm: “Rex Tano, eh?” For which he couldn’t even blame his brother: he’d walked straight into that one, and left himself with no way out to establish a clean retreat.

    So: “I could have come up with something more believable,” Rex had muttered, standing his ground and prepared to take on fire.

    But Cut had only frowned for his words, honestly perplexed. “What isn’t there to believe?” he’d countered. The bemusement in his voice had given Rex pause – even if it was something that he still didn’t understand himself, not entirely.

    “She’s too young to be my wife,”
    Rex had raised the first, most obvious objection that came to mind. The words had tripped off his tongue – ridiculous and absurd even to his own ears, alien, even. He was a clone trooper: words like wife and children and familyhomebelonging were never supposed to be his. In some ways, they were foreign concepts to him – remained foreign concepts to him, even after months spent living with the Lawquanes and witnessing their happy domesticity firsthand.

    Cut, in answer, had only snorted. “I hate to break it to you, vod, but she’s no child – if you haven’t noticed. And,” he'd sobered to say, “this is the Outer Rim. Even on a planet like Saleucami, there’s safety to be had in claiming each other. It was a smart thing to do, even if you don’t see it that way now.”

    Still, Rex had hesitated. Something about Cut’s words didn’t register quite as right to him. Thankfully, though, Cut took pity on him, in his own way. He swallowed any further teasing, and instead honestly said: “You know, I was only twenty when I first met Suu.” He offered his own outlook on the matter. “I was twenty physically, at least – you know that it's hard to define us by age, anyway. Suu had almost ten years on me, and was infinitely more wise to relationships and intimacy; she’d already been married, and was a mother of two; she’d lived her entire life with her clan on Ryloth before that. I was oblivious for a . . . well, a ridiculously long time. She finally had to pin me down – quite literally – and spell things out for me, word for word. In some ways, your cyare has eons on you in experience with emotional connections, even as a Jedi. Just follow her lead. Whatever she’s comfortable with, you should be too. It’s just that simple in the end.”

    Cut’s advice had seemed misplaced at the time. Rex may have taken Ahsoka’s name in a moment of thoughtless reaction to an unexpected question, but that was it. The idea of anything more between them seemed laughable. Ludicrous, even. Yet . . .

    . . . he remembered waking up with Ahsoka in his arms, how right it felt to hold her, and couldn’t remember why the idea of more was quite so far fetched in the first place.

    But he was careful to keep any of his thoughts from his face, and instead levelly met Jinpo’s eyes.

    “And still Azalae keeps you around,” Cut teased to interject, stepping in as easily as he would to shield him from a physical blow. For that, Rex was grateful.

    “After thirty years together, I should well hope so!” Jinpo chortled. “Then again, I am wise enough to know that she is a blessing I do not deserve.”

    “Do any of us?” Cut asked, and Jinpo gave a throaty chuckle in reply. He clapped Cut on the shoulder in his mirth, and let his hand rest there.

    “Most certainly we do not!” he agreed. “Which is why we must do our utmost to deserve their regard. For that, you know I now have to ask: have you figured out what you are getting Suu for Eventide? I have a source in Antaghara who has come upon a fine cache of Lothali fire rubies! He’s looking to sell at quite the fair price; I could,” he offered with a casualness that belied the gleam of consideration in his gaze, “set up a meeting if you'd like?”

    “Nice try,” Cut neatly sidestepped the merchant, “but I’ve already got her gift all squared away. You don’t have to worry about me.”

    “Oh?” Jinpo’s eyes glittered. “Do tell?”

    “You have a mouth bigger than your ears,” Cut said pointedly, “or, at least your wife does. This, I'm going to keep to myself.”

    “Not about the important things I do not, you insult me!” Jinpo’s reply was quick to keep with the rhythm of their banter, but Rex didn’t miss the way the hand on Cut’s shoulder tightened. There was a sincerity that rang in his words, hidden underneath the surface teasing. Rex wondered then, with a thick rise of concern, just how much the wily old Pantoran had already figured out. “But you may keep your secrets – you know I will find out soon enough come Eventide, at any rate.”

    “You're right, I will be more than happy to show you then,” still, Cut wouldn’t bend.

    “Fine, fine, keep the details to yourself! How about you then, eh, Rex?” seeing his opportunity for a sale fade away, Jinpo turned to him. Reflexively, Rex felt his shoulders square even further as he raised his chin; he fought the urge to stand at attention as had long been inculcated in him. “Perhaps you will prove to have more discerning tastes than your brother here! You must be looking for something as rare and beautiful as your pyara, are you not? If not fire rubies, I know a Squib dealer in the capital who has acquired rainbow gems from the shrouded world of Gallinore – in the heart of the fabled Hapes Consortium itself! Truly, such a gift would be cherished for all of your days together!”

    “That sounds well past my ability to afford,” Rex wryly answered – which was true enough, at any rate.

    “Yet, isn’t such a woman worth every credit?” still, Jinpo tried, a crooked smile hanging on his mouth.

    “Things like jewels aren’t what matter to her, anyway,” Rex didn't have to think to deflect the merchant. Even if he did have the means to get Ahsoka something, he didn’t think frills and finery would ever be where he started to look. “She doesn’t put much value in material things.”

    No matter his lost sale, Jinpo’s look softened for his words. “That is as it should be,” he approved. “Alright, then, alright! You think of what you wish to procure then, and should you need my help in any way you need only ask old Jinpo. How about that?”

    “Affirmative, sir,” Rex inclined his head, and that was that.

    “Good, good!” Jinpo enthused, clapping his hands together and nodding in satisfaction. “Anything for my boys, of course; only the best! I wouldn’t be able to sell mealgrain, let alone the finer things in life if it wasn’t for Cut here. I owe too much, and wish only to repay my debt.”

    “I hope you remember that,” Cut interjected smoothly, “when you're ready to buy my crop of mealgrain at the end of the season.”

    “Ooh ho!” Jinpo loosed a belly deep chuckle, “and the student has become the master, I see. Yes, yes, of course! You need not worry for that, never you fear!”

    With that, they went back to discussing the particulars of the Lawquanes’ crops, and Rex once again found his attention wandering. No matter what his words to Jinpo, he found himself glancing at the trinkets kept behind the display cases at the counter. There were a few gaudy baubles within, but most were hand-made wares from the artisans in the crater. The assortment was nice, as far as he could tell, but nothing really stood out to him – looked like Ahsoka – even if he did have the credits to spare on a gift.

    That thought was pushed from his mind as they went about loading the rest of the posts for the solar nets on the cart out front, along with the few other supplies Cut had bartered for. Rex was wrapped up in his task when Cut finally stopped by his side, and said, “Really, though, you should think about what to get Ahsoka for Eventide. It’s a beautiful festival, and everyone in the crater comes to town to celebrate. There’s good food and drink and dancing, and the displays of lights are something to see. It’s a real spectacle.”

    “I don't have anything I can give her,” Rex shrugged in answer. The words seemed stuck on his tongue, at first, and dropped like stones. There was a bit too much honesty, there. “Besides, the idea of celebrating now, after everything, seems . . .”

    But he swallowed the rest of his sentence, unable to give his ghosts a voice. Months had passed, but sometimes the ever present dull throb of his grief rose up like a wave to paralyze him with fresh pain all over again. He had to stop what he was doing, and breathe in deep to gather himself.

    “It’s just . . .” Rex managed to recover himself, “it doesn’t seem right, somehow.”

    A minute passed as they tightened the last straps to secure their goods. Cut was quiet as they took their seats at the front of the cart and guided the eopies to start back down the road towards home. Rex was glad for the silence as he tried to gather his thoughts back from the now well-traveled prolix they threatened to spiral down.

    “I know it’s hard to let your dead march on,” finally, Cut said. From anyone else Rex wouldn’t have been able to stomach the words, but Cut had lost his own battalion – his batch and brothers and general, in one fell swoop as well. His losses were different, in a way – Order 66, the mental violation of all his brothers, and the combined death of the Jedi Order and the fall of the Republic was a trauma Rex still didn't have the words within him to describe – but grief sank common roots deep in every tragedy. Heartache, at its core, was universal. “You can still remember your dead, grieve them, and yet live your own life. The best way you can honor them is to live, even.”

    Not a one of his brothers would have wanted him to wallow in guilt, stuck in place with his mourning, Rex knew. He could see Jesse’s eye roll for even the thought; could hear Kix’s long-suffering sigh and imagine Cody’s piercing gaze as if they stood right there beside him. Bly would've slapped his bucket as if he was a shiny not even worth a verbal rebuke, while Fives would have had words on the matter – too many and irreverently phrased, undoubtedly, so much so that Rex would be exasperated by the end of hearing them. But he still didn’t know how to pick himself up from everything he’d lost. He just couldn't seem to process his grief after his entire world had spun on its axis before disappearing entirely. Whenever he tried to shoulder his losses and carry on they rose up enough to threaten to sink him entirely. All he could do was stand still, it sometimes felt. At least, he thought grimly, he was still standing.

    Rex could only nod to let Cut know that he'd heard him, and appreciated his words. Then, as much the truth as it was a way to move on from a subject he’d still couldn't talk about, he said, “I don’t exactly have the means to get her anything anyway.”

    “Ah, funny you should say that,” Cut allowed him his retreat. “Here,” he reached into his vest and took out a credit chip. Perhaps knowing that he wouldn’t take it outright, he flipped the chip to Rex – who reflexively caught it before it could sail over the side of the cart and fall onto the road.

    “There's an honest wage for honest work there,” Cut explained. “Suu and I have been talking about it, and we managed to pull that sum together for all the work you've done for us so far. There will be more from here on out as long as you stay.”

    Rex opened his mouth to protest. After all, what Cut and Suu had done for Ahsoka and him, granting them refuge from both the Empire and their woes, was worth the least bit of help they could provide in return. His brother didn’t have to pay him – especially with how modest the Lawquanes’ means were in the first place; they didn’t have an excess to spare. But Cut held up a hand and continued, “You don’t know what the future will hold.” His voice – normally so easy and laid back – took on an edge, then, and he frowned to stare down the road ahead. Rex knew that he was considering the safety of his own family, and felt an answering pulse of determination heat his own blood. “When – if – you need to leave us behind and run, you’re going to need credits. Especially with the state the galaxy is in right now.”

    Still, true as that was, Rex didn’t want to -

    “ - if not for yourself,” Cut still didn’t let him speak, “then for your Jedi. Take this for her.”

    And, for that, Rex felt his mouth snap shut. His brother had him there, as he knew he would – if the smirk that tugged on Cut’s mouth was anything to go by. “I thought so,” Cut gave a low chuckle. The tension relaxed from his expression, and he smiled widely at his expense.

    In reply, all Rex could say was, “Thank-you,” his voice honest with gratitude.

    “Don’t mention it,” Cut waved a hand in dismissal. “It’s what family does for each other, after all.”

    Just barely, Rex found himself smiling in answer. For once, he thought, the word family didn't sound quite so foreign to his ears.



    TBC

    ~MJ @};-
     
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2021
  12. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 8

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Super reading of Rex's observations of the community cohesiveness that Cut and Suu have immersed themselves in and that he and Ahsoka are accepted and welcomed as a consequence. Feeling enfolded like that will certainly make the healing process smoother. :D
     
    Last edited: Sep 26, 2020
  13. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    Thank you so much! It's been just as interesting to explore this bit of 'slice of life' in a somewhat typical GFFA community as it has been juxtaposing the lives Ahsoka and Rex have lived thus far with this kind of day to day civilian domesticity. It's alien to them, in some ways, but also right. They're finding their footing - in more ways than one, to be sure - but they'll get there. [face_love]

    As always, I can't thank you enough for your kind words and constant support. I always appreciate hearing your thoughts! [:D]


    Alrighty, then! I have a wee bit of editing on the next part still left to do, and then I'll be back with an update. Stay tuned! :D [face_dancing]
     
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2020
  14. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    IV.​

    Ahsoka returned to the house just in time for breakfast. Suu had thoughtfully prepared a portion for her, and Ahsoka thanked her before sitting down to eat. Her stomach still didn’t feel wholly settled following her brush with the Dark Side, but she forced herself to clear her plate anyway. She already felt bad enough for wasting food the night before as it was.

    After breakfast was finished and their morning chores were done they headed out on their main errand for the day: selling the rest of their nerf-wool over at the Dhakpa farm. The Dhakpas’ property was adjacent to the Lawquanes’ land, and the homestead was close enough to reach on foot. So, walk they did, with Ahsoka and Suu languidly guiding the hoversled down the lane while Jek and Shaeeah scampered on ahead of them, bright eyed and full of energy for the day.

    Azalae Dhakpa was waiting for them when they reached the white-washed farmhouse. A boisterous, carmine skinned Devaronian in her middle-years, Azalae had her charcoal-grey hair swept back in a twist from the glossy black nubs high on her forehead – where horns on the males of her species would be. She wore a dusky-violet kaftan cinched with a heavily embroidered sash at her waist in a brighter, almost mauve shade of purple. She was beautiful, Ahsoka thought, with her high, sharp cheekbones and smiling green eyes framed by deep laugh lines – if a bit of an odd match for her husband at first sight. Azalae had a good head of height on Jinpo, and was all strength and solid lines when compared to the Pantoran’s slighter, more graceful build. But there was a deep affection that bound the couple together, and they shared a love of laughter and life that surpassed any difference in their species otherwise.

    Unfortunately, however, some things couldn’t be overcome by love alone, and the Dhakpas were childless. They coped with that one disappointment in their marriage by embracing a large, extended family of choice – of which the Lawquanes were warmly included. Jek and Shaeeah called Azalae ouma, or grandma, and the Devaronian loved to spoil them as if they were her own.

    Azalae was also, Ahsoka thought – though not wholly unkindly, a tremendous gossip. The older woman was always on the lookout for stories, and just as eager to tell the stories of others in her turn. Ahsoka had more than her fair share of secrets to guard, which Azalae had of course sensed from the first like an akk dog catching wind of prey on a hunt. She was determined to satisfy her curiosity, and was only more gregarious and playfully cajoling the more Ahsoka resolutely kept her past to herself. For Ahsoka, meetings with Azalae were enjoyable but nonetheless still tiring in their own way.

    But Ahsoka was far from the first thing on Azalae’s mind as the children ran up the path to her, happily shouting, “Ouma, Ouma!” all the while. She came down from the porch to meet them halfway, kneeling down in the gravel to sweep them into her arms and loudly kiss their smiling cheeks in welcome. Jek and Shaeeah remained giddy with excitement as Azalae rose to embrace Suu next, kissing her first on one cheek and then the next in the Pantoran fashion she’d long since adopted from her husband. Though it had been something of a shock when she was first included on the ritual – civilians didn’t normally touch Jedi, as if doing so was some great taboo – Ahsoka had quickly warmed to the greeting. She’d always been tactile in her affections herself – too much so, to the exasperation of her crèche-masters as a youngling. But, after leaving the Temple for the frontlines Master Skywalker had understood, and her men hadn’t seemed to mind. Besides, Devaronians gave great hugs. They naturally exuded even more body-heat than Humans, and Ahsoka always felt lulled and happy after an embrace from Azalae. She . . . she wasn’t a Jedi anymore, after all; she hadn’t been for a long time now. This one of their expectations, Ahsoka felt, she could ease from herself.

    “Look at you, my dear, you are positively glowing today!” Azalae enthused to Suu. Her Basic was thick and accented from the back of her throat, but rich and sincere with warmth.

    “You flatter me,” Suu’s eyes twinkled to respond. “But then, I suppose I usually am before making a sale.”

    That had the Devaronian throwing her head back, and she laughed a full belly laugh in reply. “You, little pashkat, have been spending too much time with my Jinpo. But yes, yes, of course! Let me see what you have brought and I promise that you will leave quite pleased indeed.”

    With that, Azalae turned and ushered them all inside the house. Unlike the Lawquanes' humble little home, the Dhakpas' farmhouse was more of a manor, broad and spaciously inviting. There were polished dark umber floors underfoot, covered by thick rugs, and the white paneled walls were richly decorated with tapestries – most of which were woven by Azalae’s own hand. Bone white furniture filled the space, with pops of loud blue and vibrant red breaking up the clean, open space of the house. Large windows on every wall let the light in, showing the decorative fronds of the alim trees and the colorful beds of flowers in the gardens before the orchards and rows and rows of crops in the fields. The Dhakpas were prosperous enough that they had droid harvesters, and they employed more than a few of the young men and women of the crater to work where a sentient hand was needed to tend the crops. Beyond the barns and pastures were storehouses, a mill, and even a distillery, all of which employed even more of the crater’s residents. More than a few of the workers had waved in greeting as they passed down the lane, and Suu had happily waved back.

    Once inside, they headed upstairs to what Ahsoka knew was Azalae’s favorite parlor – a room that had a balcony open to the growing warmth of the day, dominated by a massive loom in the center of the space. Several smaller stands around the couches in the sitting area held up various textile projects in one stage or another of completion, with each one as uniquely beautiful as the last. Ahsoka couldn’t help but marvel at the tiny details already painstakingly woven into Azalae’s latest creation, a tapestry detailing the Pantoran myth of First Winter, with speckles of silver thread glinting in tiny snowflakes and vibrant red-orange marrying with the blues to form a brilliant, setting winter sun. When she wasn’t weaving practical items for redistribution, Azalae was an artist – and a particularly skilled one, at that. Suu herself was wearing one of the finest items in her own wardrobe for their meeting: a dark blue vest over her good black sleeveless coveralls, decorated with leaves and vines and flowers in every shade of magenta and violet and pink imaginable, that had been a gift from Azalae last Eventide. The detailing in the stitches was so fine that even Ahsoka’s sharp eyes had trouble telling exactly where one thread ended and another began to give the embroidery the illusion of reality.

    Azalae already had a pot of tea prepared, and she offered them both a cup once they were settled. Mugs of blue-milk and fresh baked cookies were just as eagerly presented to and accepted by the children. One of the grains that the Dhakpas grew was noak, a Devaronian cereal that several carnivorous species – Togruta included – could digest with ease. From that she made a delicious noakmeal cookie that Ahsoka happily took two of when offered. Along with the cookies, the children also had gifts waiting for them: two hand-stitched puppets to add to their already impressive collection of Azalae-originals. This time, there was a Nautalin water dancer, with each of her dozens of head-tails gracefully swaying from her head and her costume glittering with iridescent bead-work, and a Wookiee warrior with thick silver-blue fur and tiny, enameled black claws on the tips of his paws. Once their treats were finished, Shaeeah and Jek took their new toys to play in the sunshine out on the balcony, gleefully buzzing to come up with names and stories to include the puppets in the larger community of characters they already had growing between them back at home.

    With that, Ahsoka was content just to observe as Suu brought out their newly fleeced nerf-wool for Azalae to inspect. She sipped at her tea – a strong, almost bitter brew that was offset by a floral sort of sweetness in a way Master Obi-Wan would have loved – and listened as they good-naturedly went back and forth to haggle out a deal. In the end, though, Ahsoka knew that Suu sold more than she had expected to, and at a price that was more than generous in return.

    “Now that we have all that sundry out of the way, we can speak of the more important things,” Azalae put her empty cup of tea down on its delicate little saucer to glance between them with a serious expression that was belied by the sparkle in her eyes. For all that their deal had already been struck, she gave the air of only just then getting down to business. "Tell me, Suu, do you know what you are getting your pyare for Eventide?”

    “Oh, I have something in mind,” Suu, for her part, did not even look up from her own cup of tea to respond. “A little bit of this; a little bit of that.”

    “There’s no need to keep secrets, my dear,” Azalae was not in the least bit deterred by her reticence. “Not between such old friends.”

    “And yet, as your old friend, I know full well that your mouth is bigger than your ears,” Suu gently teased. “I plan to keep this to myself for the time being.”

    “But only when a story is worth repeating – and meant to be told! – am I one to share,” Azalae was shameless to agree. She waved a hand in blithe dismissal. “Yet where discretion is called for you know that I can be trusted.” Her eyes flicked to her, then, before turning back to Suu. In answer, Ahsoka felt as her shoulders stiffened, just slightly.

    “It will be my pleasure to not only tell you, but show you,” Suu started – and Azalae’s eyes gleamed in anticipation before she firmly concluded, “come Eventide.”

    Azalae couldn’t even pretend at disappointment. She laughed out loud for the misdirection, shaking her head and moving to pour herself a second cup of tea as her mirth trailed away. “Asch muh nupyk,” she said in her own language, still smiling all the while. “Very well, my pashkat, keep your silence if you must. Every woman must have her secrets, I suppose.” Yet, for all of Azalae’s apparent retreat, a hunter’s instinct thrummed within her, and Ahsoka felt a note of foreboding spark as Azalae next turned her attention to her. “How about you, little huntress?” Azalae grinned, showing off her pointed teeth. “What have you chosen to give your mate come Eventide?”

    Even months later, Ahsoka still had to smother a jolt to hear Rex referred to as hers in such a way. (And she had to scuttle a deeper, even more terrifying instinct that wanted to flash her own teeth and trumpet out a trill in triumph to agree: this hunter is mine; he is my very own!) The chevrons on her lekku flushed an even darker shade of indigo for her thoughts, and she took a long sip of tea to gather herself before replying. Rex was embarrassed and uncomfortable with the deception they’d stumbled into, Ahsoka mercilessly reminded herself. Her claim on him – and his on her – was a ruse only. It wasn’t binding; it wasn’t real.

    Trying to recover from the unwelcome despondency her thoughts inspired, Ahsoka considered Azalae’s question and thought: I don’t have anything to give that he would want. Yet, where the truth – that awful, too real truth – wouldn’t do as an answer just then, she instead attempted to deflect: “I can’t say where the children can hear.”

    . . . of course, it took her all of two seconds to realize just how that sounded, and she could have kicked herself. Azalae, for her part, was hardly as circumspect, and she heartily guffawed in outright laughter for her unwitting slip of tongue. Suu attempted to hide her own smile behind her raised cup of tea, but Ahsoka could see the amusement dancing in her eyes. Even when harnessed, her lekku twitched in laughter just as loud as Azalae's.

    “I only mean that they’d repeat anything I’d say,” Ahsoka rushed to recover herself – little good as it would do. Oh, but why wouldn’t the floor just open up and swallow her whole? There was no way the Force had preserved her alive through the entirety of the Secession Crisis and Order 66 for this. Wasn’t the universe done torturing her yet? “It’s not that they can’t overhear,” she tried to insist. “Nothing like that.”

    “There’s no need to pretend!” Azalae cheerfully ignored her attempts at demurral. “Not here amongst us women. Especially with such a fine young man to call your own – and two of them, at that.” Again, she cast a considering – and all too knowing – glance at Suu before turning back to her again. “Ah,” she let out a happy sigh, “if I was even ten years younger myself – and didn’t have my Jinpo, of course – I’d ask if there was yet another brother of theirs lurking about in the galaxy somewhere!”

    And didn’t that truth hit a little too close to home? Ahsoka shifted in her seat, uncomfortable and suddenly, intensely wary – which Azalae of course interpreted in the only way she could.

    “And yet you blush! How delightful!” Azalae teased, before her look softened. “But you are still so young, aren’t you? Love is beautiful when it’s new, and it only gets better with time. Everything gets better with time,” she gave a wink to say. “Not that there is anything I could say that could shock you, of course!” Azalae completely misunderstood the deepening, mortified flush that stole over her lekku.

    Thankfully, Suu finally recovered enough from her own amusement to intervene, “But you can shock my children, Azalae dear,” she wryly pointed out. “Leave the poor girl alone. You’ve teased her far too much already.”

    Shaeeah – Force bless her a thousand times over – chose just that moment to come back into the room. She snuggled up to her mother on the sofa, her new toy still in hand. “What’s shocking, mommy?” she asked. Jek followed close behind his sister, and climbed onto the couch to reach for another cookie. Thankfully, both children looked content to stay.

    “I’ll tell you when you’re older,” Suu brushed a kiss atop her daughter’s head, and, much to Ahsoka's relief, that was enough of that.

    With Azalae’s attention then taken by the children, their conversation turned to other things. Ahsoka sat back with her tea as Suu and Azalae chatted, lost in thought. Even though Jedi eschewed attachment, it was only natural to grapple with physiological impulses like attraction and desire; they were still sentient beings, after all. Her entire life, she'd grown used to suppressing such instincts as precursors to attachment and even stronger feelings like love and possession and the Dark they could potentially inspire. Hers was fated to be a life of service, and, for that, she’d honored the Jedi Code as best she could, even in thought – which had admittedly been difficult, at times. Going through teenage growth spurts on a ship literally filled with hundreds of men in perfect physical condition in those blacks had been particularly distracting more than once – embarrassingly so. (Although, now she could look back with the clarity of hindsight and realize that it was always Rex her eyes seemed to find.) Poor Anakin had stuttered through more than a few a personal conversations as her Master when their bond had bled through with thoughts that Ahsoka would rather not share with anyone else, ever. There were times when having a male mentor who was only just five years older than her was difficult, to say the least.

    Still . . . she was almost nineteen now, and she’d never even been kissed. Lux, she decided with a tightening of her jaw, didn’t count. He’d only kissed her to silence her, and that was after drugging and kidnapping her and then expecting her to work alongside the Death Watch with him . . . Never mind that if she wasn’t a Jedi, and he wasn’t the Separatist son of Mina Bonteri . . . well, maybe in another time and place she would’ve wanted him to be her first kiss. Even now, she hoped that he was safe and doing well in the galaxy. He deserved to be.

    But, without the Jedi . . . without anyone watching her to make sure her every step fell in line with the Code . . . with Rex . . .

    It was there, sitting in that sunlit parlor, listening to the happy chatter around her as she sipped her tea that Ahsoka inhaled with a start. One moment, she was simply content with the knowledge that Rex was her friend – her captain and comrade and confidant and best friend – and, in the next, an instinct she had so long failed to understand sharpened into focus and she was able to admit: I wonder what it would be like to kiss him.

    Even just the thought sent a flush of heat through her veins, spreading through her body to seemingly warm her from the inside out. She was suddenly very conscious of her fangs in her mouth and the heavy ripple of her lekku over her shoulders and down the length of her back. She felt the same as she would before a hunt, eager and thrumming with anticipation and purpose -

    - oh no, Ahsoka thought as her eyes snapped wide in realization. Oh no, no, no! She wouldn’t; she couldn’t. Rex was just . . . well, he was Rex. He was her friend, her best friend. She still didn’t know how she felt about keeping to the values she'd so long had inculcated into her as a Jedi in training, let alone finding someone she’d just maybe, possibly want to forsake those tenets for. This . . . her attraction (once she gave it a name it seared into her, refusing to be interpreted as anything else) – her everything she felt for Rex didn’t feel like a precursor to the Dark, she attempted to reason. Instead, it felt like the furthest from – like happinesslightlife and everything good she hadn’t felt since the fall of the Republic and the death of everyone and everything she’d once known. She wanted to trill for her joy at merely the idea of Rex just maybe feeling even a fraction of what she suddenly understood about her own heart. Yet . . . what did she want to come of her epiphany, if anything? She was no longer a Jedi, true, but she still lived her life as one in many ways. Could she allow herself to explore what this could mean for her – for them – without guilt or looking back on the path she'd left behind? Could she? Did she want to risk everything they already meant to each other enough to find out?

    Then, a sobering thought crept up to douse her with cold reality: was this even right of her to entertain in the first place? The no small fact of the matter was that Rex was a clone trooper; he was literally created to serve her. Did she have the right to ask something of him that he wasn’t in a position to freely choose for himself? Would he – could he – tell her no if her attraction was one-sided – or if, Force forbid, he still viewed her as the kid she once was and couldn't see her as the woman she'd since grown into? Could he stand his ground to tell her if this wasn’t something he wanted?

    But no, something about that didn’t ring quite right . . . no. Rex was his own self; he was his own person. He’d always been, and he was even more so now than ever before. She wasn’t being fair to him by assuming that he wouldn’t be capable of knowing his own mind, his own heart. He’d never backed down from her before when it came to the hard things she needed to hear – the things she didn't want to hear, even. Instead, he’d always challenged her; he matched her; he completed her. He was her equal, in every way, just as she was his.

    Her pulse raced for the simple truth of that thought, and she briefly wondered just how she’d ever been so stupidly, blindly oblivious before, when her feelings were so clear to her now. She suddenly found it difficult to sit calm and poised in her seat; she itched for movement, then, for action. How could she even pretend at stillness when she all she wanted to do was laugh and trill and chase.

    Patience, young one, she could hear Master Obi-Wan chide as clearly as if he sat right there next to her – though he’d no doubt be horrified to know how blatantly she was considering defying the Jedi Code. And to think that he’d always thought he’d had his hands full with Master Anakin and his nerf-eyes for Senator Amidala. She was supposed to be the more sensible of his apprentices.

    Hate to say it, Snips, fast on the heels of that thought, she could better imagine her Skyguy grimace in her mind, but it sounds like this is something you’re going to need to meditate about. Search your feelings, and then trust yourself to act on them from there.

    You can’t plan a siege without proper intel, verd’ika,
    was Rex’s more practical advice, given when she was still so painfully young and new to the world of war she’d suddenly been immersed into. You’ll just fall flat on your bucket if you rush an assault – or worse.

    The wise huntress does not simply dart after the first sign of her prey,
    Master Ti’s steady guidance sounded last, her Togrutan philosophy uncannily mirroring what Rex had adopted from the Mandalorians’ art of war. First, she stalks.

    So, Ahsoka breathed deeply in, and then let her breath out slow. First, she would meditate to search her feelings . . . gather intel . . . and then she would go hunting.

    Her thoughts were still a tangle and a whirl as they said their goodbyes to Azalae. By that time the silver-white sun had just began to tip from its noontide pinnacle high above them, and the day had turned hot and dry in a promise of the summer season soon to come. The sky was huge and brilliantly blue overhead, and a faint breeze whispered through the ripening stalks of grain, filling her nose with a sweet, earthy scent of new life. Jek and Shaeeah chased each other in and out of the perimeter of the fields in a game only they seemed to know the rules to, and their laughter was loud and happy to ring in her montrals. Suu kept a close eye on her children, but was otherwise content to let them play.

    As they walked, Ahsoka couldn’t help but dart a glance over at her Twi’lek companion and admire her poise and serenity. Suu always seemed so comfortable in her skin; she knew who she was, and had since fought to make the most of what life gave her on her own terms. Considering Suu, Ahsoka found herself missing her own mentors with a sudden, intense pang. What she wouldn’t give to talk to Master Ti or Master Secura or even Padmé just then. It was on the wake of that half-formed thought that she found herself stuttering out, almost wholly on impulse: “If you don’t mind me asking, how did you know that you first liked Cut? You know . . . like liked him?”

    Admittedly, Ahsoka felt ridiculous and even silly voicing everything that Rex was to her in such a . . . simplistic, almost juvenile way. But the fact of the matter remained that while she had led men in battle and helped liberate entire worlds before, she was nonetheless still clueless for being a girl who admitted that she wanted to kiss a boy she liked. She had no idea what to do with the idea of being a woman who just may be in love with a man. That . . . that sounded reasonably better, at least. Still, even the concept was admittedly foreign to her when she’d so long been used to defining herself as a peacekeeper and commander and servant of the Republic instead.

    The idea that she could live both for herself and the values she'd grown embracing was terrifying – in a way that crossing sabers with General Grevious when she was just fourteen hadn’t been. Terrifying and exhilarating and right.

    For her question, Suu cast her a long, evaluating look, but she didn’t seem overly surprised or taken aback. Ahsoka wondered then just how much the older woman had already figured out for herself. Instead, her eyes were soft and kindly encouraging. Ahsoka felt as if she could say whatever she liked, and knew that her words would be heard and valued. Beyond that, Suu would keep her secrets until a time when she herself understood just what she wanted to do with them. Again, she thanked the Force for Cut and Suu; she didn’t know where she or Rex would be without them.

    “To answer that,” finally, Suu replied, “it would perhaps be best if you better understood where I came from.”

    And for that Ahsoka was curious. There was so much she still didn’t know about her hosts, and she wanted to get to know Suu as her friend. The road was still long before them; they had time for a story. Ahsoka inclined her montrals, and listened closely.

    “Ryloth is a harsh world,” Suu began with saying, her already lilting Ryl accent thickening to speak of her home-world. “It only supports life where the day meets the night, and we have lived by hard laws for millennia not only to survive, but to thrive. In the clan, the will of the father, and especially the Clan Fathers, is absolute. Women do not have a final say in decisions made for the family, just as they are allowed no roles in government and leadership. Even though all life begins and ends with the Goddess, that is a truth that, I feel, has been forgotten by my people over time.”

    Suu’s expression darkened, and for a moment her eyes turned distant. Ahsoka well knew the plight many Twi’lek women faced in the galaxy. It had been bad enough in the Republic where Ryloth theoretically upheld the Universal Rights of Sentients in name, even if less so in actuality; it was much, much worse for Twi’lek women in the Outer Rim.

    “When I came of age, my father arranged a marriage for me with a wealthy man from a neighboring clan. The match would have brought prestige and prosperity to my family, but it did not sit well with me. The man I was to marry had three wives in his shae'auna already, and he'd been known to barter off wives who had a temperament he did not find . . . agreeable before. My mother informed me outright that I would not be agreeable to my husband-to-be if I did not change my personality, and better learn to submit. I would have had to humble myself before him – to make myself small and dim if I wanted to avoid being sold as some Hutt’s play-thing. That future was one that I refused for myself.” Even for the thought of the fate she had so narrowly avoided, Suu bared her own sharp teeth to punctuate her words, her lekku arching from her body in taut lines of anger. Ahsoka found herself walking closer to Suu on the path, her own lekku twitching in sympathy to provide what a wordless support she could.

    “So, I decided to take my fate into my own hands. Jek Lawquane was a Human spice trader who’d expressed an . . . interest in me before. I accepted his proposition, and left with him in the middle of the night without looking back. In retrospect, that easily could have been a foolish, dangerous decision, but, thankfully, the Goddess has always kept me in her grace. At least it was my risk, I’d thought at the time; it my choice to make, for better or worse. Undoubtedly, my father has long since torn my totem from our family's kalikori . . . but I have my real family now. My family who loves me for me.”

    For a long moment, Suu was silent, watching as Shaeeah and Jek played together further down the lane – safe and adored and free of the burdens their parents had to shoulder. Gently, Ahsoka asked, “What happened then?”

    Suu released her memories on an exhale, and went on to state: “Jek was not a bad man.” But neither did she say that he was a good one; neither did she say that she loved him. “He respected me, in his own way; he did not tire of me and cast me aside; he even married me when I asked him for legitimacy. Without him, I wouldn’t have my children.” There, and only there, her expression softened to speak of her first husband. “When he bought the farm here on Saleucami I was overjoyed for the opportunity to settle down. The life of a trader had quickly lost its appeal to me, especially with the children to care for. By that time Jek was simply glad to be free from us whenever he went on his runs, I suspect. When he died – his temper got the best of him, and he did not walk away from a disagreement with a buyer that turned violent – I mourned him, but I did not feel empty inside. I was too busy trying to figure out how to support my children and work the land alone to grieve for long. I hardly remember anything about that year except my exhaustion. I don’t know how I would have managed without the Dhakpas coming to my aid. It was then that the war reached Saleucami.”

    Although the Pantoran Houses of Assembly had controlled trade on Saleucami for centuries, the Separatists had claimed the world and its crucial place on the hyperspace lanes through the front of the Techno Union for a time, Ahsoka remembered. That had been in the days just following the first Battle of Geonosis – months before she had entered the war as Master Skywalker’s apprentice during the Liberation of Christophsis.

    “Most of the fighting was on the opposite side of the planet, centered around the spaceport in the capital. Life here carried on much the same as it ever has, and we kept our heads down as best we could to avoid unwanted attention from either side. I had a harvest to bring in alone before the Scorch Season, and didn’t have the time or energy to worry overly much about the war. Yet, one night, a Republic transport ship was shot down just over the crater-rim; it was loud and terrible and frightening. I should have left it be – I knew better than to approach the battlefield in the aftermath. But . . . I was curious. Now, I can safely say that the Goddess was guiding me then just as she always has.

    “I approached the wreckage in time to see the droids execute the last of the survivors,” even now, Suu swallowed to process the memory. Unfortunately callused as she was by her own experiences, Ahsoka could only imagine how the brutal, ugly underside of the Clone Wars had looked to a civilian. She felt her own grief swell to remember digging graves for her men; her palms had cracked and bled for days thereafter. “Or, at least, so they thought," she forced herself to focus on Suu's words as her story continued. "I found Cut, then – or, rather, Cut found me. He scared me half out of my mind, with all that white armor ghosting in the shadows. He had barely been able to say that his comms were damaged and ask me for help when he fell over right in front of me. Apparently, he had a head wound, amongst other injuries; it was a miracle he was still standing in the first place. He’d taken off his helmet when he saw that he'd frightened me, and he just looked and sounded so . . . human; not at all like what I had thought a clone trooper would be. I don’t know how I got him home that night, and cared for him from there. I just did.

    “The next day, I went back to the crash site when the Republic ships arrived to sift through the wreckage. I had intended to return their soldier to them, but when I realized that the natural-born officers were scavenging the field for any ordnance they could retrieve, but leaving the bodies of their own fallen there to rot alongside the carcasses of the droids . . . I decided not to. I felt a kinship with the man I had rescued then, and refused to return him to such an honorless servitude. I would not be the one to leash him anew to his masters after he'd escaped their yoke. I couldn't.”

    Her teeth flashed again, and Ahsoka felt a twinge of guilt echo deep in the hollow of her own chest. So much about the war, she could look back and reflect now – had known, even then, just hadn’t been right . . . in so many ways.

    “It took him days to recover consciousness,” Suu carried on to say. “He wouldn’t give me his name, at first, just his number; he would only call me ma’am in return. In some ways, he viewed himself the same as the Republic did: as a commodity, bought and expected to fulfill a single purpose in life. He even took pride in his perceived sense of duty. I kept on telling him that when he was well enough I would bring him into town to send his message to the GAR in Taleucema. Yet, eventually, he asked less and less. As he got better he simply became part of our lives. During that time I got to know Cut as a man – just as he got to know himself as a sentient being with thoughts and wants and needs of his own. It was a time of healing and growth, for both of us.

    “I suppose that is the best way I can answer your question,” Suu thoughtfully tilted her head. “He was my friend, first and foremost. Somehow, without my even realizing it, he’d become my partner in managing the farm and raising my children. Shaeeah and Jek just adored him, and he loved them just as dearly. He was who I wanted to share my good days with, it took me some time to understand, and he was who I turned to on my bad days. He made me laugh, just as I wanted to make him laugh. He made me happy. I . . . I had not been unhappy, I didn’t think, before, but with him I was suddenly complete in a way that I had not realized it was possible to be. He was my match.

    “It didn’t hurt that I found him beautiful, either,” Suu’s mouth stretched in a sudden grin to admit. “You know: Humans, right? All those muscles, those eyes, and they’re just so warm,” she gave a helpless sort of shrug. Twi’leks and Togruta were incredibly similar physiologically speaking – they probably shared a common ancestor in times bygone – except for every way they weren’t, of course. But, in this one manner . . .

    Ahsoka felt a flush steal over her lekku, and could only give a single small, guilty nod to say that she understood. Oh did she understand.

    Suu gave a bright, girlish sort of laugh to continue, “Goddess, but I was hopeless. I thought that he was attracted to me, as well . . . I suspected that he shared and returned my feelings, but he never said or did anything further. Which was perplexing for me; I’d been so long used to fending off unwelcome advances from men that I had no idea how to make the first move myself! I suppose that he had too long lived his life without expecting anything for himself, as well – we were quite the match in that sense. He had no idea how to admit that there was something he wanted, let alone make the conscious decision to go after it.”

    For that, Suu fully turned to fix her with a pointed, significant look. Ahsoka nodded to show that she heard, and that she understood – she understood better than most, at that. Yet, the idea that she would have to stalk and hunt and claim, if this was what she decided she wanted . . . well, that thrummed an instinctive chord of rightness deep inside of her that she couldn’t exactly begin to deny anyway.

    “It was a delicate balance,” ruefully, Suu shook her head, “and it was terrifying: opening myself up for rejection, explaining that I wanted more all the while leaving him free to make his choice, to make him understand that this wasn’t an order he had to follow . . . but it was worth it, in the end. He . . . he’s my happiness. He and my children are everything to me. They . . . they’re my home.”

    In the end, what more could she say than that? They walked quietly together for some time after, with Suu lost in her memories and Ahsoka attempting to make better sense of her own mind – her own heart.

    “I know that you have lost much, more than I can ever begin to understand,” finally, Suu said, her soft words almost swallowed by the bright day and the endless sky above them, “but I want you to know that you have us, and a place here for as long as you need – and whenever you may need it in the future, at that. I am . . . I am just glad that you have him as well, in whatever form you choose from here.”

    “Me too,” Ahsoka whispered, her lekku twisting in a more sincere expression of gratitude than she could ever manage aloud. Suu inclined her own head in acknowledgment, flashing her one last encouraging smile, and they continued down the lane in companionable silence.



    ~ MJ @};-
     
    Last edited: Nov 28, 2020
  15. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 8

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Fantastic sweetness with the teasing and the unfolding of Suu's and Cut's story. She is very insightful in what she says about striking a balance between encouraging and letting the other know you're interested without crowding them. [face_thinking] I also like Suu's distinction between not being unhappy before and being complete in a way she never realized before. :)

    Ahsoka's epiphany and absorbing of Suu's message is very realistically and vividly described. =D=
     
    Mira_Jade likes this.
  16. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    Aw, thanks! I really appreciate that - as you know I was worried about making the transition here as natural as it could be, without feeling forced or awkward. But, they're already so intrinsically bound together that this next step is already there for them in so many ways. Once they just open their eyes to see! Beyond that, I loved filling the blanks in Suu's backstory, and introducing Azalae was all sorts of fun. (She rather reminds me of Mrs. Jennings from Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, only maybe slightly more circumspect when it comes to putting her intuitions to good use [face_tee_hee]). For Ahsoka, it can only help to have these strong ladies in her life - especially after she's lost so many of her previous mentors, comrades, and friends. But Suu has a good head on her shoulders and her sharing her own unique point of view, rather than offering her advice outright, can only help! [face_love]

    As always, my friend, I thank you so very much for reading, and for taking the time to leave your thoughts!



    Alrighty, then, as a sort of housekeeping announcement: I am now pleased to say that this story has grown past my initial parameters (the ~15k words of introspection probably gave that away - I know, I know, this really is a slow moving story :p) and will now officially be a full novella in length. (What can I say? I had a plot twist hit the muse that I now just have to include!) I'm hoping to keep the entire story under 50k words, and at about ten or so chapters. But, of course . . . we'll see. [face_mischief]

    To that end, I have the next chapter written, but it still needs a wee bit of editing, so I'll probably have that up tomorrow morning. So, I will see you all then! [face_love] [:D]
     
    Last edited: Oct 29, 2020
  17. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    V.

    They went straight back to work after returning to the farm. There was still plenty to be done before the Scorch Season arrived, and only a dwindling amount of time left to them. For Rex, it was easy to lose himself in the repetition of digging holes for the posts that would provide the framework for the solar nets. Generally speaking, Saleucami’s topsoil was hard and unforgiving across most of its crust; full of salt and clay and shale. It was slightly more malleable in the deep craters, where deposits of mica and iron and traces of manganese in the red-violet clay helped nourish the crops and local fauna. The planet’s farmers still had to be careful to till a healthy layer of organic matter before planting, and they irrigated out the sodic contents in the fields to prevent salt-burn, but they managed. The stubborn deposits of caliche in the sub-layer of the soil, however, presented quite another challenge entirely. The hard calcrete bound together the natural sediment of rocks and organic refuse and clay deep in the ground, and formed an impossibly dense barrier that neither roots nor water could penetrate. The fields were old and established, and the layers of caliche there had been broken down over the years, but here on the still wild perimeters of the farm – well, it made digging fence posts tricky, to say the least.

    It was like trying to dent durasteel with a spoon, Rex thought – which was why they had drills to help them penetrate through the really tough spots. The drills came with problems of their own, of course, and they were prone to jam when too much of the calcrete clogged between their blades. Rex had developed a patient system of drilling until the drill stalled, cleaning the blades, drilling again, and then usually by the second time the drill stalled the ground was loose enough to manually attack with a shovel. The Kaminoans, he’d thought more than once with a dark sort of satisfaction, would have been horrified to know that all of their careful bioengineering to create the perfect Human soldier was being wasted on such base manual labor. Yet, here he was – and happy to be so, at that.

    The long-necks, Fives’ breezy irreverence echoed through his mind, can kiss my quarter-million-credit shebs, for all I care. For once, though, remembering his ARC only made him smile, bittersweet as that smile may have been.

    At least, Rex reflected, there was honor to be found in cultivating the land – in working to help create something, to use his hands to encourage growth and new life rather than destruction and death. It was a life that, if he was free to choose for himself, he could all too easily imagine being content with. He even enjoyed the more strenuous tasks required to keep the farm running. He enjoyed the healthy strain of exerting his muscles, and how the balmy sunshine soaked into his un-armored skin while he breathed in deep of the fresh spring air without tasting the artificial tang of his helmet’s filtration system. If keeping his hands busy also helped quiet his mind and chase his darker thoughts away – well then, that was only a bonus.

    Of course, thoughts of her were never too far away, no matter how busy he kept himself. That day, he could blame Jinpo’s well meaning teasing about a gift for his wife come Eventide and Cut’s frank words to follow for his current thoughts – the ever-present spiral of wondering what she wanted next from life, and how or even if that included him . . . and just how blue her eyes were when she smiled and how right she had felt in his arms that morning – but he was nonetheless self-aware enough to know that that wasn’t completely true.

    So, Rex turned off the drill earlier than maybe he should have, picked up his shovel, and began breaking down the unforgiving soil with resolute determination.

    In the afternoon, Suu and the children came out to meet them with leftover nos pork sandwiches and glasses of icy cold meiloorun juice for lunch. Suu was alone, he inwardly chided himself for feeling disappointed to see; Ahsoka wasn’t with her. Rex picked at his food for a few bites before putting his portion aside to finish later. He still felt restless in his own skin, and he wasn’t quite ready for stillness, even after days without sleeping through the night. As he picked up his shovel, he stubbornly pretended not to notice the clear look Cut and Suu traded with each other. He didn't have any answers for the questions they didn't ask, so he turned from them in silence and went back to work.

    Rex lost himself in the rhythm of his task until deep into the afternoon. He was almost at the end of his last row of posts when the drill clogged after only just beginning to penetrate the layer of caliche. Swallowing a curse, Rex pulled the drill back, unsure why the bit had stalled so easily. At first, nothing seemed overly amiss to his eyes, that was until he saw two small stones lodged between the blades near the heart of the motor. More curious than anything else, Rex grunted to wedge the stones free, and then thoughtfully turned them over in his hands, wondering just what they were made of. The drill should’ve had no problem breaking down rocks this size – if they were just typical shale or calcite or quartz, that was. Yet . . .

    He was no expert when it came to geology, but, as he scrubbed away the thick layer of clay, he suspected that these specimens were unlike anything Cut had described as common to Saleucami.

    It took a fair bit of patience, but he finally managed to scrub enough of the compacted sediment away to reveal a smooth stone of a dull green color underneath. His brow furrowed as he did the same for the second stone, revealing another that was a milky yellow-green in color. Something tickled at the back of his mind, telling him that this was significant, that this should mean something, when, inexplicably, he felt the rocks – crystals? – begin to warm in his hands. At first he thought it was his own body heat the stones had absorbed from the friction of removing the clay and were emitting back, until -

    “So, whatcha think, Rexter?”

    “I think,” he didn’t look up from the report he was filing to answer, “it looks like you’re holding a rock, Commander.”


    You’re a genius, you know that?” Ahsoka rolled her eyes. “Clearly the GAR’s finest; our very own best and brightest.”

    “So I’ve been told,” Rex took her sarcasm in stride with a droll rejoinder of his own. But, finally, he pushed his datapad aside – no matter that his commander had his full attention from the first; he was aware of her as soon as she entered the mess hall – and waited a calculated heartbeat before amending: “It’s a . . . pretty rock, then?”

    “What?
    A pretty rock? C’mon, you can't be serious!” predictably, Ahsoka released a disgruntled huff and threw up her hands – really, she was all too easy to tease – before flopping down on the seat next to him. “This isn’t just a pretty rock, you dork; it’s a kyber crystal. It's . . . it’s my kyber crystal,” what started as a proud proclamation gentled to a quiet, almost reverential hush to share. “It chose me.”

    “Huh,” for that, Rex glanced at the small scrap of stone she had protectively cupped in her hands, and looked a bit more closely, “I thought you had just gone to Ilum to accompany General Skywalker?”

    Anakin had . . . well, he had
    a habit of misplacing his lightsaber that was, Rex privately suspected, unmatched by any other Jedi in the Order. Or – maybe it was just an inherently Jedi thing, with how often Cody was returning General Kenobi’s own weapon, at that. There were more than a few clone commanders who had a running tally going of how many times they’d retrieved their general’s lightsabers, and so far Rex was at the absolute bottom of that roster. Bly – of course that smug barve did – held the record for General Secura never once loosing her weapon (which was surprising, in it’s own right – but Thire did so love to tell the story of how he once returned High General Yoda’s lightsaber to him after the third Battle of Elchacor), but they were used to tuning Bly out whenever he started to go on about his Jedi, anyway. So, that was nothing special.

    I was just there for Anakin, at first,” Ahsoka admitted. “But, you know how I’ve been thinking of adding a shoto blade to use with my lightsaber form, right?”

    Rex nodded for that. His commander had grown in leaps and bounds over the last year or so, and her prowess in battle was truly something to watch in motion; she was well beyond her years in many ways, just the same as every other too-young soldier fighting in this war. Even so, no matter what she'd achieved, she’d been looking to push herself and expand her abilities for a while now, and he knew that a second lightsaber was an option she’d carefully been considering.

    She’d asked him why he preferred dual blasters once, about a month or so ago, and he’d just shrugged to say that it felt
    right to him in a way that a single, heavier weapon did not. (He left out that, once, when he and his one surviving batcher – Krown – were the physical equivalent of eleven-year-olds, they’d sneaked out to watch Prime train the Alphas – the only clones who received Jango Fett’s one-on-one attention and guidance. Though not his father, Prime was, well . . . he was Prime. He’d held a place of awe in his young mind, and to watch Jango Fett in action – even the genetically enhanced super-soldier, Alpha 7, hadn’t been able to take him down – had been worth everything they risked being caught out away from their pods otherwise. Krown and he had tried to mimic the blaster twirl Prime had done for weeks thereafter, and Rex had known – known – that he wanted two blasters from there on out. Not every clone was ambidextrous and could pass the extra skill blocks required for the dual weapons, but he could. He was like Prime in a way that was special, even amongst his brothers. The next time they sneaked out, Prime had caught them, of course – looking back now, Rex knew that he must have been aware of their presence from the beginning – but instead of reporting their truancy he’d smiled a sharp smile to teach them how to spin a blaster properly before returning them to their barracks. For many years, that had been one of Rex’s favorite memories.)

    It just . . . clicked, watching you,” Ahsoka gave an awkward sort of half-shrug to admit. She bit nervously at her lower lip. “Then, while I was on Ilum with Anakin I told myself that I was just going to keep my senses open. I didn’t know for sure what I wanted, so I decided to let the Force guide me. Then, sure enough, this crystal sang to me. That just confirmed this was the right path for me.”

    It sang?” curious, Rex asked.

    “Yeah, they sing!” Ahsoka brightened to explain, scooting closer to him on the bench to better show him the crystal in her hand. “Kyber crystals are alive, in their own way, and each one has their own unique voice in the Force. I . . . um, I don’t think you’ll be able to hear them,
    but even without the Force you can feel how special they are. Here, look!

    Then, easy as could be, Ahsoka passed him one of the most precious stones in the entire galaxy – and one that had apparently been picked for her and her alone by the Force, at that. Strangely, he could feel the heat of the crystal, just like she said, even through the thick, fire-resistant material of his gloves. Yet it wasn’t a heat that seared so much as it was rich and heady and alive in a way that he imagined it would feel to hold the heart of a star without burning. Imperceptibly, his eyes widened, and he fought the urge to give the crystal back to her. He didn’t . . . clearly, this wasn’t something the likes of him should be holding.

    Aw,” but Ahsoka was staring down at the crystal in his hands with a soft sort of smile quirking at the corners of her mouth. The suddenly bright green light pulsing from the stone caught in the blue of her eyes, and, despite himself, Rex stared, not at the stone, but at her. “I think it likes you. Its song changed . . . just slightly, but it’s definitely different now. I . . . I wish you could hear them, Rex. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard.”

    He wasn’t sure what to say to that – what
    could he say to that? Instead, he gave the crystal back to her, and watched as the verdant stone warmed the already rich sienna tones of her hands.

    Distantly, he shook himself. “Just try not to lose that one,” playfully, he couldn’t help but add – feeling as if he had to break the sudden, strange intensity of the moment. “I’m already at the bottom of our ranks as it is.”

    “Oh please,” Ahsoka breezily waved in dismissal. “I’m not Skyguy, you don’t have to tell me.
    This weapon is your life,” she impressively mimicked General Kenobi with a smirk. “I’ve learned that lesson the hard way – loud and clear a whole lot faster than Anakin.”

    “Sir, yes, sir,” Rex dutifully agreed, but with a glint in his eyes. Ahsoka huffed for his cheek – again – and shoved none-too-gently at his armored shoulder. “Just you wait and see, Rexter. This crystal is special, and the lightsaber it builds is going to be one of a kind. I’m never gonna let them go.”

    . . .
    and yet she had, hadn’t she? They were still there on that nameless moon, left to rest in the snow like an offering atop the graves of her men – their men – to throw off the trail of whoever came to investigate the wreck of the Venator next. He . . . he’d left his own helmet behind to mark his equally empty grave – his jaig eyes standing guard over the legions of their dead – and understood her loss, in what small way he could. It was hard to leave part of yourself behind, and then have to figure out who you were in the aftermath.

    Yet, if these were what he thought they were . . .

    Rex pocketed the stones to better examine later. Yet, when he turned his attention to the drill again, he blinked to realize that the motor had completely burned out. What even the unforgiving calcrete hadn’t yet managed, these two stones – these two crystals – had. The drill was slagged.

    His suspicions – and hopes, if he was honest with himself for what this could mean for her – then swirling at the forefront of his mind, he picked up the busted drill and headed in from the edge of the property. Absently going through the spare parts he knew they had on hand, he thought he could fix the drill – if not, that would mean another trip into town, and he’d just have to -

    - yet his thoughts were interrupted by a sudden shrill, shrieking sound. It was a sound that, once, he’d kept half an ear out for on every battlefield they’d ever walked together, and since haunted his dreams – his nightmares, the ones where she couldn’t break through to him following Order 66, and he aimed and pulled the trigger and didn't miss, because good soldiers follow orders, and -

    - Ahsoka screamed.

    As if a switch was flipped, Rex dropped the drill and cut through the fields at an all out run, honing in on the sound of her voice like an akk dog unleashed on a hunt. Adrenaline flooded his system as it hadn’t in months, settling in his veins with purpose and sharpening his senses into cold, lethal focus. He was suddenly hyper aware of the world around him, attuned to the terrain underfoot and already plotting how to deal with any threat he'd encounter as his hands automatically fell for the holstered blasters he hadn’t worn in months – stupidly so. But: no matter, it didn’t matter. He still had his bare hands and a lifetime of war and intimacy with combat and death, more so than he'd ever known with growth and life. His Jedi was in danger, an instinct encoded into his very DNA erupted with purpose and fury – Ahsoka needed him – and so he raced to answer her call.

    He emerged from the rows of mealgrain, breaking out onto the gravel pathway between the fields and the pastures where the nerf herd and eopies had ambled up to the barn seeking out their afternoon portion of grain and water. His eyes zeroed in to find Ahsoka there by the water trough – though, he puzzled to see, not with any enemy he could immediately find.

    His every muscle was still poised for action – his instincts howled with rage and yearned for battle – but he relaxed, albeit marginally, when he finally espied her foe.

    And, despite himself, Rex had to try not to laugh as the battle-haze slowly retreated from his senses, freeing him from its furor. Somehow, he saw but still didn’t quite understand, the pipe that connected the well in the underground reservoirs to the pump they used to fill the troughs had come loose and was shooting up geysers of water over the bleating herd in the paddock. Ahsoka was covered in red-violet mud from the tips of her montrals to the toes of her boots as she tried to wrestle the errant pipe back into place. All the while, she was impressively cursing in a creative range of Huttese that General Skywalker would have been proud of – peppered with a few choice words in Mando’a that he knew she’d learned from Fives, no matter how much they'd both protested to the contrary.

    “Are you just going to stand there and watch, Rex, or are you going to get in here and help?!” Ahsoka shouted from between grit teeth. She slipped, and fell to one knee in the muck, which only inspired a fresh round of insults as the epoies brayed just behind her.

    Rex was torn between the instinct to obey even an implied command from his Jedi – no, that didn’t apply now; not exactly, anyway – and wanting to stand back for a moment and just laugh at the picture of fire and fury she presented, fighting back the wrath of the pressurized water line. Ahsoka could – and had – held her own against the likes of Maul and Ventress and Grievous; she could stand toe-to-toe with the best of the vod’e on the training mats, out-sass the likes of Fives and Hardcase, and even keep up with General Skywalker while sparring, but this one little pipe . . .

    “I don’t know,” Rex answered – swallowing the sir that threatened the slip out at the end of his words, even now. “It looks to me like you have things well in hand.”

    Ahsoka shot him a murderous glare for that. She didn’t screech again, but she did let out a rumbling trill that was more growl than whistle, a sound that he recognized as a Togrutan vocalization of incensed disbelief. Her azure blue eyes were blazing and the diamond shaped markings on her brow furrowed in a way that yes, he could admit then, he did find absolutely adorable – though, of course, he’d never say as much aloud.

    It was that thought, though, he would later blame for distracting him from the gleam of consideration that lit his Jedi’s eyes, and, thus, he was blindsided when Ahsoka tweaked the errant spout of the gushing waterline just right -

    - and he took a blast of water that soaked him completely, just as easily as that. Spluttering from the pressure of the jet, he tried to duck away, only to have the stream follow him. His boots slipped in the muddy mess of the ground, and he couldn’t find traction enough to keep to his feet. So, he did the next best thing: he accepted that he wasn’t escaping the water, dropped to his knees, and used the cover of the barrage to reach down for a handful of silt.

    “Ha!” Ahsoka crowed in triumph. “How do you like that, Rexter? It’s not so funny when you’re the one taking a face full of - ”

    - yet her words were cut off when he slung the fistful of gooey clay, somewhat ironically, right at her face.

    Yeah: that was definitely a Togrutan sound of rage. Rage . . . and intention.

    “Ooh, that’s it!" Ahsoka smirked. "You’ve really asked for it now, Rex.”

    With that, he only had a moment to enjoy his minute victory before Ahsoka abandoned the still gushing water line to lift her arm. Pausing long enough to let him understand her intention, she actually winked at him before waving her hand in a deceivingly nonchalant gesture.

    Blasted karking cheating Jetii, he thought as an entire veil of mud rose at her command and swept towards him in a wave that he couldn’t hope to evade, but that just wasn’t fair in the slightest.

    Instinctively, he lifted his hands to shield his face, and let the mud hit him. It was the only thing he could as the sludge pelted him, covering him from head to toe until he more or less resembled one of the sentient bog-monsters from the Felucian swamps rather than a human being. “I call unfair use of the Force for that,” he lowered his hands just enough to glare at her. His face was the only part of him that was reasonably clean, though not for long as clumps of mud slipped from the crown of his head to weep into his eyes. Glops of mud slid from the broad slope of his shoulders and disgustingly ran down underneath his collar as he tried to sweep as much mud away as possible with his filthy hands.

    “What’s wrong?” Ahsoka batted her eyes to tease. “Am I too much of a match for the great Captain Rex to handle?” She flashed her teeth then, baring her fangs, and something inside of him rose – a sharp, hot instinct that drowsily blinked its eyes to awaken after too long a slumber – demanding that he answer her challenge and append and match her, measure for measure, in every way.

    “To the contrary,” in her haste to gain the upper hand with that stunt of hers, she’d forgotten about the still gushing water line, he noticed with a soldier's expert eye, “I’d say that, the same as you did when you were a shiny, you've once again ignored your surroundings in favor of an easy, sloppy kill.”

    Quick, then – his Jedi was fast, and her mind was even sharper still – he darted forward and used the mud to his advantage to slide to a stop and take control of the still geysering water line. Ahsoka blinked, and her eyes only had time to widen before he turned the spray on her as mercilessly as she had on him.

    Spluttering, she didn’t use any of her tricks to get away – though he knew she could have. Instead, she held up her hands, choking as she laughed through the spray. “Alright, alright – you’ve got me! Can you just help me fix this pump before we flood the entire paddock? I think we’ve wasted enough water as it is.”

    Rex’s eyes narrowed as he let the water-line go, not wholly buying her capitulation. That sounded, he thought, all to easy. Yet she was right about them needing to fix the pump, and they were both soaked and covered in mud as it was; there really wasn’t a victory to be gained here, for either of them.

    So, he walked over to where she was still on her knees in the muck, and offered her a hand up. She flashed him a grateful look that only lasted a second before it turned sharp and predatory -

    - and, with that, she pulled him down in the mud right next to her. Rex only had a moment to absorb hitting the ground flat on his back, and couldn’t lift his hands in time to thwart her reaching over to smear a handful of soggy clay across his face – the only part of him she'd missed with her earlier stunt with the Force.

    Rex spluttered, and coughed as he tried to breathe around the mud – what kind of a below-the-belt move was that, reneging on a surrender? – before Ahsoka hunched over to wrap her hands around her midsection. She was clearly, inordinately pleased with herself as she loosed a sound that Rex hadn’t heard in ages – not since before Order 66, before that awful year she spent away from the 501st, before the temple bombing and her trial, even. He had to go all the way back to the Siege of Cato Neimoidia just to remember the sound of her laughter – but she laughed, then. Not one of her sad, grudging smiles or absent-minded chuckles, but a full-blown, deep from her belly, laughing simply for the joy of doing so laugh.

    Just like that, everything else was put far from his mind – the muck and the mire and his ghosts waiting in every shadow and the menacing pall of the Empire lurking just beyond the beauty of the sunlit day. Instead, her joy lit something deep inside of him – it lifted him up and bolstered him and made him feel like nothing was impossible again – and he couldn’t help but join her. They laughed and laughed and laughed together, until, somewhere along the line, Rex knew there were tears burning behind his eyes as another layer of his grief exorcised itself in a strange, wholly unexpected way. He looked, and saw that her eyes glistened too.

    This time, when he found his feet in the slop, he offered her a hand up and she accepted. Her fingers were strong and firm to wrap around his own, and he couldn't immediately let her go. She was tall enough to look him right in the eye, now – the crest of her montrals easily exceeded him in height, at that. As it was, he knew that he was staring, openly and without pretense and not bothering to look away when she held his gaze with just as equal an intensity. Dull red mud clouded the usual vibrancy of her markings, her grey-blue coveralls were drenched and sticking in ungainly patterns to her body, but her mouth was smiling and her eyes were shining. Rex could scarce think of a time when she’d been more beautiful. There were reasons, he thought distantly, very valid, very good reasons why he was supposed to be holding himself back from her – the Force wasn’t done with her yet, and he wouldn’t be the broken old soldier to slow her down and hold her back from anything, everything, she next chose to be – but that was all suddenly white noise in his ears, meaningless and so, so easy to ignore. Instead, he couldn’t seem to help himself as his gaze dropped from her eyes to her mouth, where her full, sienna-red lips were slightly parted – she was breathing faster too, and not just from their mock battle, he thought – and, no matter how forbidden he told himself it was, he couldn't help but wonder -

    Of course, the universe saw fit to intervene then, and the still cascading water line for the pump belched forth with an even stronger spray as, somewhere, another pressure valve gave way. The eopies blurted out to escape from the renewed vigor of the spout, and for the sound – and the quite literal douse of cold water – Rex shook himself from his momentary stupor. He stepped back from Ahsoka – when had he come that close to her, anyway? – and somewhat awkwardly let her hands go. Ahsoka took a step back too, though he thought – he thought – that the blue on her lekku was flushed slightly darker than usual. But then, it was hard to tell underneath all the mud.

    No matter; the moment had passed as they did have to see to the busted water line. As always, duty called. They each struggled to get closer to the spray and wrestle the pipes back into place again, slipping and sliding all the while. A little bit of brute strength, more than a few curses, and one last kick for good measure, and they finally had a temporary solution that would last until Rex could come back with a hydrospanner and tighten the valves properly.

    With that, they slumped down together in the mud, at that point uncaring about the mess. The both of them were winded and still childishly fighting back bubbles of laughter for the absurdity of it all. Mission accomplished; Rex thought with a snort of mirth; minimal casualties.

    Of course, that was how Cut and Suu found them just a few minutes later, drawn in from the perimeter of the fields by the ruckus of the spout and the bleating of the herds. They looked around with wide eyes of the mess in the paddock and the barnyard, even as Shaeeah and Jek started happily jumping in the puddles – much to the continued annoyance to the livestock in the pen. Suu’s lekku twitched loudly in amusement as Cut raised a brow, looking them up and down with a question in his eyes as plain as day.

    “Dare we ask what happened here?” eventually, Suu was the one who ventured to enquire.

    Ahsoka darted a glance at him, and knocked her shoulder against his own. When she grinned, Rex could see the sharp line of her teeth. “Well, we definitely finished watering the eopies,” she said, trying her best to keep a straight face, only to fail as she dissolved into giggles again. “See?” she struggled to get out between peals of laughter, “there’s nothing that the best of the 501st can’t handle.” She gave a sloppy sort of salute to punctuate her words, which only made her laugh even harder.

    With that, what was there to do but give in and join her? Sitting there next to his Jedi in the muck, Rex couldn't help but laugh as well. And, for a moment, the galaxy didn’t seem quite so dark around them.



    ~ MJ @};-
     
    Last edited: Nov 28, 2020
    ViariSkywalker and Findswoman like this.
  18. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 8

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Great introspection and sheer hilarity with the water [face_mischief] =D= This will ease the tension and dissolve barriers on the path to more :D
     
    Findswoman and Mira_Jade like this.
  19. Cowgirl Jedi 1701

    Cowgirl Jedi 1701 Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Registered:
    Dec 21, 2016
    As fun as that bit with the water and the mud was (and the romantic moment that could have even been a maybe-almost-kiss), I'm really excited to see Ahsoka's face when Rex gives her the Khyber crystals he found.
     
  20. ViariSkywalker

    ViariSkywalker Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Aug 9, 2002
    This is beautiful. =D= Your writing is soulful and your descriptions are so lush and vibrant. I can see the planet, the people, the farm... everything is so clear. You give a wonderful sense of history, continuing that Star Wars tradition of a lived-in galaxy where we enter in the middle of the action. I love the idea of Rex and Ahsoka taking refuge with Cut and Suu and just living their lives as farmers for now. I love their introspection and figuring out how to be around each other now that the war is over. I love how you handle their guilt and pain and uncertainty. And I love the part where Ahsoka reaches out into the Force and tries to find other survivors. (I am a sucker for any kind of vision/Force perception that has to do with Luke and Leia and their importance to the future.) I especially love how you described the Dark as Ahsoka tried to find Anakin.

    Full disclosure: I resisted the idea of Ahsoka for a loooong time, simply because Anakin didn't have a padawan, thank you very much. I didn't really watch TCW when it was first airing, partially for this reason, partially because of where I was with life/school/work/babies. However, when Ahsoka showed up on Rebels, I quite enjoyed her. And then recently my kids wanted to watch TCW all the way through, and I relented and did the whole chronological order thing, and I ended up enjoying a lot of what I watched. (Still haven't seen every episode all the way through, but I'll get there eventually!) I did watch the last 4 episodes of season 7 in their entirety, and they really got to me. And I had the same reaction as you: how could Ahsoka and Rex go their separate ways after that?! I also realized that I really loved Ahsoka and Rex's bond, and I even had that small thought of them staying together and maybe becoming something more; but I thought maybe I was the odd one out for thinking that. So glad to see I'm not the only one. :p

    Looking forward to reading more of this achingly beautiful story! :_|:D
     
  21. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    Alrighty! Thanks to this month's Word Race, I actually have the next chapter all set and ready to go. (I know, I am just as shocked as you guys are!) Half of this chapter wasn't even included in my outline, at that - but, these two deserve a little but of a reprieve and another step towards healing before I bring out Teh Plot guns. So, stay tuned. [face_mischief]

    But, first, I have to take a moment to thank you all for reading! I appreciate every word of support and encouraging 'like' more than I can ever say. [face_love]


    Aw, thanks! It was such a fun scene to write, and you're all too right! They really needed that silly, light-hearted moment to put a crack in the tension and help dissolve their barriers. They've most certainly taken another step on their path towards more, now. [face_love]

    [:D]


    I'M SO EXCITED TO WRITE THAT PART TOO. We're gonna get there. [face_mischief] [face_dancing]

    As always, I thank you for reading and stopping in to leave your thoughts. :D


    First of all, I have to thank you so very much for this beautiful comment! Every word completely made my day, and I appreciate you taking the time to do so more than I can say. [:D]

    Then, you're just too right when you say that it's a Star Wars tradition to have a lived-in galaxy amidst all of the action, and that was really, truly what I was trying to convey here. Sometimes I felt a little too verbose with my descriptions and so much introspection, but these two characters really do just deserve all of the time to heal and figure out who they are after the war and how that relates to who they are with each other. I'm so happy to hear that their journey together, and the world around them, resonated so well with you as a reader. [face_love]

    I know, right?? I too am a sucker for visions/Force perception, especially when it comes to Luke and Leia, and I love love loved writing that scene. It was all too interesting trying to imagine how the Force would feel to anyone with the senses to sense the Dark Side after the Empire's rise to power. Plus, Ahsoka's relationship with Anakin is really just too heartbreaking for words. She hasn't given up on him yet, even if something deep down inside of her has to have guessed that the Dark and her sense of Anakin are one and the same. =((

    I WENT THROUGH EXACTLY THE SAME PROCESS! It took me ages to finally watch TCW - I thought the entire idea of Ahsoka was ridiculous, and I didn't like the look of the animation, so I didn't give the series the time of day. Finally, I had a RL friend who forced me - it took her a few years, but she finally won, which I'll always be thankful to her for :p - to watch the show and then I never looked back. I appreciated all of the PT cast more through TCW, and watching Ahsoka grow up and mature and find herself was such a beautiful story. And then there were my clone babies. I fell for all of them hard and fast, and, since then, have written many thousand words about them finding agency and discovering themselves as individual beings with autonomy of their own. I'm now a bit of a PT/TCW stan myself, and love this era to bits. [face_love]

    [face_laugh] [face_love]

    You're far from the only one! Honestly, I've shipped them for so long that I can't remember a time not shipping them. But, even if you don't ship them romantically, which is more than fine - ship and let ship, I can't understand how anyone can watch the end of Season 7 and then tell me with a straight face how they ever split up and go their own separate ways. (Rex's potential was wasted in Rebels, as much as I love the series otherwise, and I will forever be salty about all of the poor writing decisions I'm so gleefully circumventing here.) There's such a strong bond between them, and they've survived so much together. This story is really just me trying to process the only future that makes sense for them in my mind - along with a little bit of the love and happiness they deserve to be able to claim for themselves, and I'm just having a blast. It's honestly a tale I've wanted to tell for years, now, which is probably why my word count has spiraled so far out of control! [face_love] :p

    Again, I can't thank you enough for your kind words, and I hope that you continue to enjoy. Achingly beautiful! If I could have only two words describe this story, it would be those. [face_love]

    [:D]


    Alrighty! More will be up in a few. :D



    ~ MJ @};-
     
    Last edited: Nov 7, 2020
  22. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    VI.

    Following their hard won victory over the errant pump, Suu made the suggestion that they go to the thermal springs to wash off. The day had turned turned hot in a promise of the summer season soon to come, and the air was parched on the breeze that swept down from over the crater rim. The copious amount of water that had spilled from the gushing pipe was already soaking into the ground to feed the thirsty earth, leaving nothing but a brittle film behind. For Ahsoka, her skin felt itchy and tight where the mud was drying in a similar such crust, leaving the world strangely muffled and hazy around her as her senses struggled to breathe. All she wanted to do was scrub herself clean again, and for that a dip in the hot springs sounded just perfect.

    Once the idea was presented and favorably received, especially by the children, it quickly turned into an impromptu family outing. They took a few minutes to gather what they needed – or, rather, Suu wrinkled her nose and asked them to wait outside while she went in to grab clean clothes and towels. Working in tandem with his wife, Cut wrangled the enthusiasm of the children to get them inside and change into their own swim clothes, leaving Ahsoka and Rex behind to wait in the yard. As the mud dried even further with each passing second, she had to make a conscious effort not to scour her nails over her montrals and lekku. She was already due a full ecdysis as it was and she had no desire to start the long, tedious process just then. Rex, for his part, was less patient as he reached up to run his fingers through his hair and over the shadow of stubble on his face to try in a futile attempt to work the dirt away.

    Watching him, Ahsoka couldn't help but shake her head and say: “Remember Tatooine?”

    Rex flashed her a look for that. “I try not to,” he grumbled darkly. Sand, apparently, got everywhere, even underneath the leathris enforced neoprene of that supported the clones' armor. Ahsoka had been so painfully new to the 501st then, and hadn’t wanted to complain like a whiny kid on their very first mission. She'd hunkered down and soldiered on, only to hear Anakin grumble and snark about the sand. Rex’s opinion hadn’t been that far from his general’s, and, finally, she'd felt comfortable enough to voice her own discomfort. Rex had made her smile then as he wryly commiserated with her, and it'd her taken no time at all understand that the men underneath her command were nothing like she'd first expected clone troopers to be. She'd been quick to adjust her perceptions accordingly.

    “Still, Tatooine wasn’t half as bad as Andomeer,” Rex added, and Ahsoka made a face for that particularly pleasant memory.

    On Andomeer, they’d held the Republic’s line for a solid eight days straight before back-up arrived from the 212th. Rex had been grazed by a blaster-bolt midway through the campaign, and though his armor had saved him from the worst of the damage, his skin had blistered and burst underneath his scorched blacks and was then left to fester for the subsequent days they’d been stuck without even quick rundowns with sani-spray while they waited for reinforcement. He hadn’t bothered to tell Kix about his discomfort, which he’d considered the least of his medic’s worries, then. Somewhere along the way, Rex had spiked a fever from the infected burns, which they'd only realized when they were shuttling back to the Resolute and he'd hardly been able to stand upright on the LAAT/i. Kix had been in rare form when he finally saw to Rex's injuries – even now, Ahsoka could remember him muttering that he should've been programed as a technician, instead, for all that he was apparently wasted on his battalion otherwise. Anakin, too, had been maybe somewhat admittedly hypocritical to join in with his medic’s angry ranting. Either way, they’d gotten their point across. Between the blood and the coarse, somehow sticky green sand and the blaster residue and droid grease and the black oily film from the heavy artillery and Force only knew what else, Rex had been a mess.

    “Andomeer,” she glared to punctuate her words, snapping her teeth for good measure, “was half your own fault, you know.”

    “Thanks, Kix,” Rex grumbled, scowling as he scrubbed at his scalp with a renewed vigor.

    “Kix was right. You were being a self-sacrificing idiot,” Ahsoka retorted. Kix’s summation of his captain, at the time, hadn’t been nearly as kind. “I’m more than happy to say so in his place.”

    With that, she felt a pang – of course she always would – to remember their fallen. But, she also allowed herself a small smile to remember her friend for everything she’d loved about him, too. Kix, she thought, wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

    Rex merely rolled his eyes – which she counted as a victory – and when he huffed for not being able to sooth whatever itch he was trying to chase away, Ahsoka didn’t think twice before stepping in. “Here,” the same as she had done for him back on Andomeer – though he blushed even deeper now than he had then, she couldn't help but notice – she reached up to run her nails over his scalp. “This was mostly my fault, anyway.”

    “Mostly?”

    “Yeah, mostly,” Ahsoka shot him a fanged grin. “You didn’t duck.”

    Rex snorted for that, but where she first thought that he was going to pull away from her – he’d been so weird about touching her lately, or letting her touch him – he instead leaned into the pressure of her sharp nails like a contented akk hound who just couldn’t help himself. She knew that he hated any sort of length to his hair; hated how grime and sweat and everything else they picked up on the battlefield felt when caught underneath the lining of his helmet. But he hadn’t bothered shaving before getting straight to work that morning, and his pale blonde hair was soft and even fuzzy with new growth underneath her fingertips. Hair was fascinating to her, anyway – ears too, definitely ears – she thought as she let her hands slip down from the crown of his head to trace over that day’s shadow of stubble on his cheeks, but this was Rex. Fascination was only a tenth of what she felt as her thumbs rested on his chin, her fingers spanning from the squared edge of his jaw to the high cut of his cheekbones. The texture of his hair was different here, scratchy and stubbly against his oh so warm skin, and she was entranced as the sensitive chemoreceptors in her fingertips all but hummed to take in the very Human levels of pheromones and endorphins and other trace neurotransmitters pouring from his skin. It felt good to touch him, too good.

    This, an all too logical voice in the back of her mind was then unwelcome to pipe in, has gone a bit past a friendly gesture, wouldn’t you say? You can let him go now.

    But, she could then admit to her higher reason in all honesty, I don’t want to. So, she didn’t, instead hardly daring to breathe when he didn’t pull away from her, either. It just felt right, whatever it was that was thrumming between them then with heat and intention and purpose. Her fingers had stilled, losing all pretense, and he was looking at her with something burning in the brown-gold of his eyes, something that she wasn’t used to seeing outside the heady rush of battle and the satisfaction of facing a worthy opponent and the thrill of victory, and she thought -

    “ - alright, that’s everything,” Suu said as she came out of the house with Cut and the children. “We’re ready when you are.”

    With that, Ahsoka jumped back from Rex as if a droid popper detonated right between them. She spun around to face their hosts and plastered an all-too-wide grin on her face in an attempt to play it cool. She probably just looked like an idiot instead.

    Smooth, Tano, that same inner voice chided. Absolutely smooth.

    But Cut’s furrowed brow as he glanced between them, and the way Suu’s lekku flicked in a wordless apology as she realized the moment she’d unwittingly interrupted – no matter that there was nothing to apologize for, no siree there wasn’t, and they were moving on now, yes they were – was put out of her mind as Shaeeah ran up to grab her hand and pull her towards the trail that led down towards the springs. Ahsoka had no choice but to smile – truly smile – as she followed the little girl, and that was that.

    Just within the rise of the crater rim, at the bottom of a narrow slot canyon, there was a geothermal spring that was naturally fed by Pachunagara's underground reservoirs. The spring was one of the few natural watercourses that didn’t dry up throughout the year, even during the height of the Scorch Season. When they first arrived on Saleucami, going to the springs to bask in the hot mineral waters had been one of the few times Ahsoka had felt truly at ease with her new circumstances – cleansed, in more way than one. She was more than happy to return there now.

    Here in the canyon, the sandstone cliffs were banded by ribbons of maroon and rusty orange-red and violet-grey. The myriad colors of the rock-face rippled to reflect across the rich tones of turquoise blue and emerald green in the frothing water, shimmering in a dazzling display of chroma in comparison to the usually muted landscape above the gorge. They had to climb down a well-worn ladder that had been put in place years before, and there was only a single steep slide of boulders and sunken bluffs that offered egress in and out of the water, but it was a wonderfully secluded little oasis that was more than worth the effort to reach. From a jutting shelf high above them, a plunge waterfall flowed in a steady cascade, with its spout merrily separating from the rock in front of a deep indent that formed a hollowed out series of caves. Sunlight made it down through the canyon in fragmented bits and pieces; blinding and white to dance across the glittering water in some areas, while others were shadowed from the heat of the day. The presence of the spring allowed for a bloom of stubborn vegetation, growing from the loose gravel in the fissures in the sandstone. Wild-flowers were few and far between on Saleucami, but here yellow and orange desert poppies grew alongside the purple choke-brush, while a thick tangle of convor-clover draped its delicate, white blossomed vines over the stone. Closest to the water, large scarlet cupped plom flowers grew from dark viridian green bushes, and the steam misting on the air was heavy with their lush, fragrant scent.

    Shaeeah and Jek made it to the shore-line first, and they wasted no time in stripping down to their swim-clothes before jumping off one of the largest boulders to enter the water with a splash. They weren’t too interested in soaking in the hot pools that steamed in the shallows, but instead swam out to where the cool, deeper water of the spring was fed by the spout of the waterfall. Mindful of the young ones where the depth was well over their heads, Cut was quick to follow them while Suu took her time, enjoying the respite from the day as she slowly waded into the water behind her family.

    Usually, Ahsoka would be just as eager to swim out to the spray herself, but she found herself pausing there on the shore instead. Her hands stilled on the buttons of her coveralls as she caught sight of Rex shucking his sleeveless shirt right next to her. Human standards of modesty were, quite frankly, amusing to most Togruta, and, in their own way, clone troopers were just as comfortable in their own skin. As identical millions, it simply didn’t even occur to them to be overly conscious of their bodies; they'd never learned to be concerned with appearance but for the varying surface changes they made to express their individuality. And, Ahsoka thought, her eyes imperceptibly widening to take in all of that tanned brown skin stretched over such gorgeously chiseled musculature, there was absolutely nothing for Rex to be shy about in any case.

    She tried to shake herself from her stupor – this was far from the first time she’d seen Rex in a state of undress, after all, and those blacks had been even worse, in their own way – but it was just . . . well, everything was different now. Her eyes fell to the star-burst scar that was (thank the Force) just inches from his heart, before tracing over the faint, silvery lines left from the lash-marks they’d both endured on Kadavo when he turned his back to her (she had matching such scars, herself). His body was flecked with dozens of little nicks and marks that he’d earned through the war; she knew the story of most of them, just as he knew her own. She had to curl her fingers in on themselves to keep from reaching out to touch him, to run her hands from mark to mark and follow where the sunshine fell over the strong line of his shoulders and every other wonderfully defined dip and plane and flex of his body. She was mesmerized, and all too willing to be captivated.

    He’s just so beautiful, the giddy, girlish thought bubbled up from her subconscious, even as something more intense and hotly wanting flushed through her to look at her chosenonehuntermateofherheart and drink in her full.

    “Hey, you okay there, verd’ika?” Rex asked from the water’s edge, and, yep – her lekku definitely flushed a loud, telling shade of indigo to be caught in her ogling. Yet, somehow, he didn’t seem to realize that she’d been openly and all-too-happily staring – or, if he did, he apparently had no idea why. Instead, his head was tilted in wordless bemusement, and his brow was faintly furrowed in concern.

    He has no idea how he affects me, does he? it took her a moment to understand. She had to squash down a sudden rise of worry and doubt, fearing that her attraction was one-sided and that he didn’t – wouldn't; couldn’t – return her feelings and she was going to ruin everything if and when (soon) she decided to test the waters of their friendship and try for more -

    “ - yeah, I’m great,” she stubbornly pushed her thoughts aside to assure him. "I couldn't be better." And, with that, she forced her suddenly clumsy fingers to finish undoing the buttons of her own clothes. Because she was; she felt easier and lighter in her own skin than she had in months, even – since well before Order 66 and walking away from the Jedi Order and the Force only knew how long before that. There was still her legion of ghosts waiting in every shadow and all the questions of what comes next? and will he be there with me through it all? and the lingering threat of the Empire sleeping like a krayt dragon in the sand, but, in that moment, she was happy. She wanted to let herself bask in and simply enjoy the feeling for as long as she could.

    Exist in the here and now,
    wasn’t that what she’d always been told? So, she tried her best to hold fast to that teaching then.

    By the time she finished kicking away her mud-encrusted coveralls, she felt a strange moment of hesitation to look back at Rex, standing there in her undergarments. She’d never been shy about her body before, she tried to repeat to herself – she’d worn admittedly less than she probably should have on an active battlefield, at that – but it was, well . . . everything was just different now, again.

    She wanted to say that Rex stared at her for just a moment – a telling, breathless moment – longer than could be explained away between friends, with his eyes sweeping over her and lingering before snapping almost guiltily back up to meet her gaze again. Suddenly, she felt bright enough to light up a star.

    “Race you to the waterfall, Rexter!” she challenged, and then she was flying past him to launch herself into the water with a trumpeting trill of joy.

    They stayed in the spring, playing water-nuna and increasingly silly games of Keos Myto until their fingers pruned and even the seemingly limitless energy of the children waned as the afternoon turned towards the evening. Eventually, they got out and dried off on the sun warmed boulders lining the water, and Ahsoka stretched out and closed her eyes for a drowsy few minutes to listen to the gentle trickle of the cascade and the wind echoing through the stone walls of the gorge. The Force was lulled and content here, so much so that she even thought to hear it sing, and she felt full to the brim on an equal such contentment to match.

    Suu had thoughtfully brought extra changes of clean clothes for them, and they dressed and hiked back to the homestead. As they walked, Ahsoka offered to take her turn preparing dinner that night. She was no culinary master, by any means – even Fives used to blanch whenever she tried to heat insta-meals from their rations packets – but after a year of living on her own away from the Order, and Suu’s patient guidance since then, she could at least handle warming up leftovers from yesterday’s supper. She was surprised, but happily so, when Rex volunteered to help her.

    They made a good team in the kitchen. Rex had picked up the nuances of cooking far more quickly than she had – ha ha, which he could just stuff it about – and she didn’t mind being relegated to chopping vegetables again while he manned the stove. She, at the very least, was good with a knife and happy to put those skills to use in what a practical way she could. They moved around each other in the small space with the same synchronized energy that once punctuated their rhythm together on the battlefield. She was especially thrilled when he even dryly teased and returned her banter while they worked, the same as how it used to be between them.

    Their easy accord lasted them through dinner. This time, it wasn’t just the Lawquanes carrying the conversation, and both she and Rex shared some of their more child-friendly stories from the war – like the time they’d saved Master Anakin and Obi-Wan from that nest of gundarks, or the now fabled legend of the time Fives and Jesse and Hardcase stole Cody’s helmet and hid it with the batteries for the 501st's contingent of AT-ATs. The three had been sentenced to scrubbing ‘freshers for a solid month after that stunt, and Cody had earned his rank of Marshal Commander with the impressive tongue-lashing he’d delivered when his helmet was found – a punishment that’d been worth it, according Fives, no matter Echo’s clear mortification for his batcher’s antics. Traitorously, both Ahsoka and Rex had laughed in private for the joke at the time, and they laughed again to tell the story now.

    It felt good to hear Rex laugh – to laugh with him, at that. She hadn’t realized just how much she’d missed her friend in the silence that had grown, awkward and strained, between them, but she had.

    Suu and Cut insisted on cleaning up after dinner, and Ahsoka supervised the children as they got ready for bed. She was surprised when Rex came in with her when they clamored for a bedtime story, and even further surprised – but pleased – when he offered to share one of his own. The Jaig Eyes of Getal Bur was as close as the Mandalorians came to a fairy-tale, but he remembered the legend from the culture the vod’e had adopted from their instructors, and he shared what little he could with the children in his own turn.

    Ahsoka was lost in the story, even though she already knew how it ended – drawn in as she was by the low, raspy rhythm of Rex’s voice and the expressive gestures of his hands. No matter her lingering contentment from the day, she felt an ache pierce through her to remember the jaig eyes Rex himself had earned and painted on his helmet – proudly declaring a promise that was just as loud as the one inherent in his captain’s pauldron – and yet left behind on that nameless moon with the graves of his men. His armor and all of its individual markings had been one of the first things they’d ditched during their earliest days on the run, even if there were still times when she noticed him absently picking at the second-hand bracers he now wore as if to trace the tally-marks that were no longer there. A thought teased at her mind, then – a hesitant idea, not quite fully formed – and stayed with her as they finished tucking the children in and turned out the light.

    It was an idea that she continued to contemplate as she went through her own routine for the night. And it was one that kept her distracted as she climbed up to the attic and laid down to sleep again.

    Yet, she couldn’t help but toss and turn when Rex didn't immediately follow behind her. She waited, and then waited a little longer still before sitting up with a noisy exhale of annoyance. Rex, she thought, was being absolutely laser-brained about this, and she was done letting him. She didn’t care if it sounded like an order of if she wasn’t letting him figure things out for himself or anything else she was trying to be so careful not to do: she would make sure he got a good night’s sleep whether he liked it or not.

    Her mind then made up, Ahsoka climbed down from the attic and marched outside. She didn’t hesitate to cast a wide arc to the Force in question, and it only took her a moment to receive an answer – with that resonate hum that always seemed to be Rex to her senses almost singing, then. Her stride never faltering, she followed that cadence out to the barn. Sure enough, that’s where she found him: leaning back against the crates of solar nets just inside, with the moonlight flitting in through the gaps in the slat walls and the starry night sky visible from beyond the still open doors. He had a small lantern lit, with its beams casting a bubble of warm golden light against the deep blue and violet-black of the shadows. She didn't think that he was first aware of her presence, not yet, and she approached him with a hushed, silent step.

    His head was bowed, she saw when she came closer, and he was recycling through a well-worn, familiar list of names. In another adopted Mandalorian custom, she knew that he honored his dead every night, keeping them alive, in a sense, through memory. During the war, she’d grown used to hearing the soft mutter of his remembrances, and had even joined in herself after their worst days – such as the long, turbulent nights following their missions to the Citadel of Lola Sayu and the Massacre of Umbara and the carnage of Krell, when rage was just as thick as grief and the war had seemed hopeless and never ending.

    At first, she intended to wait in silence and let him finish when she had not been expressly invited to join. Maybe she would even incline her head and offer up the names of her own dead, waiting here just beyond the threshold separating them. But: “So, this is where you’ve been spending your nights?” she found herself saying instead. “Looks cozy.”

    Rex’s eyes snapped open, and he looked up, honing in on her position in the dark. She could just barely make out his expression between the bright moonlight she stood under and the softer glow inside the barn. But, for a moment, she thought he stared. “Just sometimes,” he finally said. His throat worked once, twice, and she thought he’d say more. Yet, he didn’t.

    Maybe, once – even just yesterday, she would have let that not-quite-an-explanation go. But, memory of their day together was still a contented warmth in her heart, so she instead found her courage to push forward and test their equilibrium to ask: “Why? It’s much comfier inside.”

    With that, Rex turned away from her, unable to meet her eyes. He didn’t immediately answer.

    She waited, but when it became apparent that he would hold onto his silence she walked into the barn and sat down next to him on the ground. He’d pulled a couple sacks of dry feed together for a pillow, of sorts, and there was an old blanket for the eopies he’d found, one for the floor and one for him. They’d made do with less during the war – he’d slept in his armor more often than not, so much so that even the overly-bleached and scratchy sheets aboard the Resolute seemed heavenly between campaigns planet-side – but he didn’t have to now. She didn’t understand why he wouldn’t allow himself the few comforts he could claim, especially when the Force only knew what their future would bring.

    So, where he couldn’t seem to find his words, she took in a deep breath to offer a small honesty of her own: “I’ve missed you.” The words came gushing up like the water from the busted pump earlier, and there was suddenly so much she wanted to say. She didn't even know where to begin between I hate the silence that has grown between us and you’ve always been my friend – my best friend and I pleaseneedwant you back and I’ve thought so many times about kissing you today that it’s easy to trick myself and imagine I already have.

    “Today was . . . the most like myself I’ve felt in a long time,” she finally settled for saying. It was the best way she could think to sum up everything she felt inside . . . and perhaps, just maybe, the slightest bit more.

    A heartbeat passed. Then: “I’ve missed you too,” Rex whispered softly, oh so softly, as if he only half-intended for her to hear that hushed, hesitant truth. But, she did. She did, and, in reply, she couldn't help but smile.

    Alright, then.

    With that, Ahsoka pulled another one of the canvas bags of feed over, and grabbed the remaining blankets from the shelf. She spread out the thick, heavy fabric on the ground, and then laid down on the spot she'd claimed for herself. The floor of the barn wasn't terribly comfortable, but it wasn't the worst surface she'd ever slept on – at least it was dry and relatively clean, unlike a dozen campaigns she could immediately think of to the contrary. After just a second’s consideration, she even propped her feet up on Rex, whom she was perpendicular to, with the lantern a steady warmth on the far side of their bodies from the barn door. She gave an exaggerated sigh of contentment, and closed her eyes.

    “What are you doing?” Rex asked, his voice dry with amusement. Even so, she felt as he rested one of his hands on her leg just below her knee. Absently, she felt his thumb run back and forth over the fabric of her leggings – she hadn’t even bothered putting her boots on to come out and find him – and, without thinking, she shuffled just the tiniest bit closer to him.

    “Well, if you won’t come inside, then I’m staying out here.” She cracked one eye open to gauge his reaction, and then closed it again.

    “Ahsoka . . .” Rex rarely said her name – instead, where he could no longer call her commander or sir or even general, he simply avoided directly addressing her entirely – and she felt a skip and a flutter in her heart to hear the soft syllables fall from his mouth. Even if, just then, her name was more of an exhale, bemused and maybe just the slightest bit frustrated and wary and weary and fond all at once.

    “If this is good enough for you," she forestalled any argument he could think to make, "then it’s good enough for me. Is this good enough for you, Rexter?”

    Ha, she had him there. Ahsoka gave a pointed wiggle, ignoring the way the rough textures of the sack of grain scratched against the sensitive skin of her back head-tail. That was going to make for a long night, she admitted to herself, even so. For a moment she wished that she was as brave and careless as she'd once been, and she could just curl up against Rex completely. She never would have hesitated during the war. But, now . . .

    “See? Nice and comfortable,” she gave a small hum of approval to continue. “I like the view, too – starry night sky, and the moons are out.” Which was true enough, at least. The stars had never been visible from the Temple on Coruscant – the city-planet gave off far too much artificial light – and she rarely stopped to enjoy her surroundings during the war. Here, on Saleucami, though, she could.

    When Rex remained stubbornly quiet, she inhaled deeply and added, “Mmm, and then there’s that fresh eopie scent - ”

    “ - you’re an odd one, you know that?” finally, Rex couldn't help himself.

    “Takes one to know one,” she maturely lifted her head so that she could stick her tongue out at him. But, it worked. Finally, he loosed a quiet, rough chuckle and shook his head in defeat.

    “Fine then, I’ll come inside. No sense in you scraping up your skin just to prove a point. You’ll just be as grouchy as a rancor come tomorrow, and no one deserves that.”

    She sniffed, affronted. “You say that like I’m the stubborn one.”

    Pointedly, Rex raised a brow. “Aren’t you?”

    “Well, maybe,” her mouth quirked to admit. “But only about the things that matter.”

    And this, she felt, really, truly mattered.

    The silence that fell between them then was companionable, and she didn’t mind it in the slightest as it stretched. They didn't need words then. Instead, there was just the faint creaking in the slats of the barn and the echo of the breeze in the rafters as the eopies shuffled contentedly in their stalls. Her eyes fell half closed to stare up at the lattice-work of constellations in the night sky as Rex absently drummed his fingers against her leg. For all that she had been teasing earlier, she really did feel well and truly comfortable then – content, even, as she hadn't been in so long.

    Yet, she couldn’t wholly turn her mind off – not then; not yet – and she found herself taken by the ever present undertow waiting to snare the current of thoughts. The words churned in her mouth, until: “You say your names still. At night,” she went on to clarify, unable to stop now that she started, “when I can’t hear.”

    At first, she regretted breaking the fragile peace between them, feeling Rex's hand still as he stiffened. And yet, she couldn’t wholly keep silent, either. Not anymore. Not when she’d been silent for so long – for too long.

    Rex, in answer, didn’t pretend not to understand. “I do,” he whispered.

    Ahsoka sat up then, regretfully pulling back from him and shifting to sit cross-legged. This didn’t seem like something she could say while laying down. “You know that you don’t have to hide them from me, right? I . . . I remember them too.”

    For the blank, unseeing look in his eyes, though, she hesitated. Fearing his answer, but needing to know, she bit her lip and bravely took the plunge: “Do you . . . do you blame me?” she asked the question that had weighed so awfully on her mind since they left the wreck of the Venator behind. “If it wasn’t for me, then our men – your men,” her voice broke to amend, even as her eyes burned, “they would still be - ”

    “ - how could I ever blame you?” Rex didn't even let her finish before interrupting, his voice heavy with surprise and grief and concern, all, to assure her. His eyes had turned wide at first, before he frowned, and the flicker of the lantern burned to reflect in his gaze. “Every choice I made that day, I would make a hundred times again.”

    Miserably, she remembered him firing on his brothers – his brothers – choosing her life over theirs, over and over again. She closed her eyes, long and slow, yet still had to know: “Even though that meant . . .”

    But, no matter how brave she was trying to be, she couldn’t seem to find her words.

    “Even still,” Rex held her gaze to say. His voice was as low and firm, unwavering, as if he spoke a vow.

    Slowly, she exhaled a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. Somewhere along the way, she'd reached out to take his hands in her own, needing something tangible to latch onto, to hold as an anchor against the maelstrom of buried emotions suddenly tearing through her. He’d held on just as tightly, before his grip faltered, just slightly, as he turned her question in on itself.

    “Do you blame me?”

    “What?” she gaped for his words, and her reply was as quick to return as it was thick with feeling. “No, of course not. How could I?”

    “I fought it when I first received the order,” Rex shook his head, disagreeing with her even as she wanted nothing more than to assure him of the contrary. Once he started – the same as it had for her – his words just seemed to pour out and he continued, “but I couldn’t beat the chip, not until you helped me – not until you saved me. And, the Jedi – your people, your aliit – they, they’re all gone now, and every one of their executioners has my face, my face exactly. How can you look at me and not see anything other than everything we took from you?”

    “Oh, Rex,” her heart broke for the misery that suddenly smothered her impression of him in Force, pressing down like the gravity on a too-massive planet, where their lungs were too heavy to breathe. She could taste his grief on the air and feel it flicker across her skin, and so she held onto his hands even tighter, wanting him to feel her there, alive and still fighting beside him. “You were a victim, Rex – hey, no, look at me. You were a victim, just as every one of your brothers and the Jedi were victims, too. We were all just casualties in a war we didn’t even know we were waging.” She grappled to put that sad truth into words, no matter how slow she was to make her heart understand, and through that understanding accept that there was nothing more that she could have done – that he could have done. “If there’s blame to found, it’s certainly not to be placed with you or me.”

    No. It was the Empire that had risen from the ashes of the Republic that deserved such condemnation, not them. And, at the helm of that awful plague now rotting the galaxy they’d once given their all to serve, there was the Sith Lord – the one they’d so long been searching for was right there, all along, hiding underneath their noses and in front of their eyes. Shrouded in plain sight, the Chancellor turned Emperor had spun his web of lies and stretched out his shadow until there was nothing left but for the overwhelming presence of the Dark.

    The Dark . . . and, there underneath its suffocating pall, a scarce few still stubbornly flickering lights.

    “We were forced to make choices that no one should ever have to make,” she stated, as much for her own benefit as his own, her voice echoing hollowly to remembered Jesse calling for Rex to turn her over for execution, so coldly using her title and Rex’s number. She’d felt so many thousands of voices cry out in the Force before being so horribly silenced when Order 66 went out – in shockterrorgrief before she’d been consumed by her Master’s burningfearpain . . . and yet, not all of those screaming voices had been from the Jedi. The Emperor, her teeth ground together to reflect, had so much blood on his hands to answer for.

    “And now, I miss them too.” She held on tighter to him, her grip nearly bruising. “Every last one of them.”

    “I know you do,” Rex didn’t hesitate to assure her. He returned the clasp of her hands, pressure for pressure. “No one deserves what you,” but he squared his jaw, swallowed, and tried again: “what we went through.” He faltered, clearly trying his best to adjust to the idea – the truth – that his worth far exceeded the price of his birth and the servitude he'd been created for, that he deserved so much more than the scant little he’d been allowed to expect from life otherwise. He could say with her: this was wrong, and I – we – demand justice for the crimes committed against us. So much of everything they’d endured together hadn’t been fair or good or right, but they were here now and alive together. The Dark hadn’t fallen over him, yet, nor her. They were still here.

    In the end, what more could be said than that?

    So.

    “Master Kenobi,” she exhaled to offer up that first, painful name from her own list of ghosts. She still couldn’t say her own Master’s name, not when she yet refused to believe that he was gone. Anakin couldn’t be gone, she defiantly clung to her hope. If there were still lights burning in the Force, then he was the brightest star in that symbolic night sky; he'd blazed with too much fire and fury to ever be so easily extinguished.

    Rex, for his part, only hesitated for a moment, and then he joined her with one of his own: “Jesse.”

    “Master Plo.”

    “Kix.”

    “Master Ti.”

    “Fives.”

    “Master Secura.”

    “Bly.”

    And so, on and on they went, giving their ghosts life long into the night. Not gone, she finally finished the ritual in Basic while the last lines in Mando’a spilled hauntingly from Rex’s mouth, merely marching far away.



    ~ MJ @};-
     
    Last edited: Nov 28, 2020
    Findswoman and ViariSkywalker like this.
  23. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 8

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Marvelous, sharing memories that have more of a tone of healing than bitter grieving. The swimming spot sounds lovely! The talk later was poignant and just what they needed to say and hear. =D=
     
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  24. ViariSkywalker

    ViariSkywalker Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Aug 9, 2002
    You are so welcome! I've been away from the JC and fanfic communities in general for such a long time - I've missed giving in-depth reviews! I know how good it feels to get those, so I love that I can make someone else's day with one! [:D]

    I think your descriptions have been and continue to be a perfect length. They really help build the world as well as the tension! I am all about the slow burn, baby. [face_batting]

    And you do a great job of conveying that Ahsoka might sense the connection, but it's not enough for her to admit it to herself, so it preserves the idea from Rebels that she doesn't know until much later. Any way you look at it, it's devastating and beautiful at the same time.

    For me it was my sister! She would not let up about me watching the show. She even conspired to get my kids watching it so that I couldn't say no. I eventually had to admit to her that my mental version of Anakin now lies somewhere between Hayden Christensen and Matt Lanter (although RotS novelization Anakin is *my* Anakin, if I had to pick just one version - thanks, Matthew Stover :p). And omg THE CLONES. I never really got the clone hype back in the days of the old EU, but they're probably my favorite part of TCW! Seriously, the show could have just been about them, and I probably would have been okay with it. (And this is coming from someone who thinks the Jedi are integral and intrinsic to SW and doesn't understand why people are sick of seeing Jedi.) I am really enjoying the resurgence of PT appreciation and love these days. [face_love]

    Exactly, potential romance or not, I can't imagine them going separate ways. And even if circumstances forced them to, I can't imagine them staying apart longer than necessary. I didn't have much of a stake in their relationship when I first watched through Rebels, but by the time I got to season 7 of TCW... :_| I am quite pleased that you will be circumventing canon in this instance. AUs are how I roll anyway, so I'm here for it. And I can SO relate to having your word count spiral out of control. (Hey there, monster challenge fic. [face_whistling])

    Definitely well-earned. =D=


    And now, on to the actual update!

    I have to say it - there are not enough portrayals of swimming in the GFFA. I was a competitive swimmer for over a decade, so swimming and the water are very second-nature to me, and it just doesn't come up very much in SW - at least not in a fun, recreational sort of way - so when I come across references to it, I'm always happy! (I actually wrote a swimming scene a few months back for a yet-to-be-posted AU fic, so this subject is fresh in my mind... hence, my disjointed rambling.) Anyway, thank you for this fun, lovely scene! :)

    I'm also glad to see Rex and Ahsoka being a bit more comfortable with each other and being able to open up about the people they lost. That last scene, where they spoke the names of their dead, was so poignant and haunting. Even though we the audience know that Obi-Wan is alive and that hope is not lost, that doesn't change the tragedy of it all and the fact that so many of Rex's brothers are dead, and that they were all used so horrifically. :_|

    There was so much to love in this chapter, but there was one line that stood out that I really, really loved:
    No specific feedback other than I could really feel the truth of that sentiment in my bones, if that makes any sense at all.

    Another great update, and I can't wait to read the next one! [face_love]=D=
     
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2020
  25. Findswoman

    Findswoman Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Feb 27, 2014
    So, I really have been reading and enjoying this, I promise! I have just needed some nice, sustained time to catch up and get my thoughts down properly, because there’s a lot of story and I have a lot of thoughts. But I am really loving what you’re doing with this story in so many ways—the amazingly lush and textured descriptions of the scenery and all the “regular old” life and tasks on the Lawquanes’ farm on Saleucami, the gentle friendship of the Lawquanes and its role in bringing both Rex and Ahsoka closer to a realization of their feelings, especially Suu’s for Ahsoka—and of course also (perhaps most importantly) the depth of feeling you tie both Ahsoka and Rex. No one I’ve seen gives these characters the psychological depth you do, both in coming to terms with all the heartbreaking losses they’ve suffered during the Clone Wars and navigating their feelings for each other—and how tied up those two things are for them. But it’s not just about the angst either, because you give them so many fun moments and awkwardly humorous / humorously awkward moments and just generally allow them to be a normal, fun couple together—from Ahsoka’s half-unwitting “cuddlebunnyism” while they’re asleep, to choosing Eventide gifts (and talking about them), to a nice fun water- and mudfight! Though I don’t know these two super well in their canon incarnations, I do know from your stories that I wish them all the very best together, and that they could wish for no better catalysts than the Lawquanes. (And I can’t forget those wonderful Dhakpas, either, especially Azalae!) <3

    To particularly bask in these latest few chapters… I too totally can see Rex really loving working the land as a way to keep himself occupied after the war, and naturally it brings to mind so many thoughts and reminiscences and even that amazing flashback to Ahsoka’s finding of her kyber crystal—I don’t doubt for a moment that it “liked” Rex, as well! :) Could it be that that, too, is what he has just now found drilling in the field? [face_thinking] And of course, once again, I have to mention that wonderful mud fight, with all its raucous action, its snarky repartee, its ALMOST KISS (squee!), and just a chance for these two to laugh and have a little fun together even amid all their jumble of feelings. [face_love]

    And a day at the hot springs—sounds absolutely perfect, especially catalyst-wise! (I think Cut and Suu know exactly what they are doing in suggesting this as a getaway spot!) ;) More super beautiful descriptions here—those hot springs and their lush surrounding flora sound like they would not be out of place at Yellowstone. But not just those—the exceedingly handsome Rex and all his handsome, manly features that Ahsoka very understandably, very intensely notices! [face_love] It’s a beautiful day for a dip, but it’s also the perfect day for Ahsoka and Rex to have a nice long talk about the past and their losses—and what a wonderful nice long talk it is, and their recitation of the names of the lost together is the perfect culmination to the chapter. <3 (And Anakin, I see, occupies a very particular place: he isn’t in their list, because she isn’t sure he’s actually dead dead—but, in a way, he is the one who’s most marching far away of all those they have named.) I can see this closure between them (which they so richly deserve) opening the way toward increased closeness between them, in all sorts of other ways… [face_love]

    Keep up the beautiful work on this—and I’ll try to do better about keeping up myself! Your stories are such wonderful gifts—thank you for sharing them with us, as always! =D=