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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
    Thank you so much for your kind words and support, everyone! I truly appreciate and value your feedback, as always. [face_love] [:D]


    Thank-you! Because, you know, it's true! For every bad memory they have from the Clone Wars there's a good one too; both are so entwined together, and all wrapped up in their feelings for each other, that it's impossible to tell them apart. The best way they can honor their fallen is remembering them for who they were, and living their own lives to the full as they can from here on out. Which is the whole idea behind the Mandalorian rite of Remembrances in the first place. It was wonderful to give Rex and Ahsoka this little bit of healing and closure, in what a small way I could. [face_love]

    As always, my friend, I thank you so much for reading, and for your continued, unwavering support! [:D]



    And it so completely made my day! Thank you so much! And, once again, welcome back! It's always beyond fantastic to have an oldbie return to the boards, at that. [face_love] [:D]

    Oh yay! Because, in all honestly, I could have taken teh red marker of DOOM and cut a few thousand words from this. I probably would have been done already, that way. (Heck, this entire novel was supposed to be a quick and easy vignette. :p 8-}) But . . . I just didn't want to in the end. What's fan fiction for, if not the opportunity to delve into gratuitous purple prose - just for the pure joy of writing itself, all the while better exploring this galaxy far, far away that we all love and appreciate so much - all while giving our favorite characters opportunities for introspection and growth and development as sometimes the very action-oriented canon material simply doesn't have time for? It's fascinating, the limitations and possibilities of visual media versus textual, and I just love getting into the nitty-gritty of, well . . . everything I can when writing!

    And aww yeah, but a good slow burn really is the best, isn't it? Sometimes torturous for readers, yes - and definitely frustrating for the characters ;) - but oh so fun to indulge in as an author. Then, there's just nothing more satisfying than when a slow burn finally ignites! Hopefully, after all of this build up, I can pull off the denouement as it deserves to be written. :D

    Thank you so much! Anakin and Ahsoka's relationship is just heartbreaking in canon, no matter how you look at it. =(( Normally, my usual forte of stories is a universe where Anakin made better life choices during RotS and everyone lived happily ever after. I have a gazillion and one stories in that collection, it seems, and it's my pride and joy. This is quite the different tone for my muse to strike, but sometimes the angst just has to be free to angst. Especially to process all of the pain canon inflicts on us. :p

    Ha, that's brilliant! Good on your sister, getting the kiddos involved! [face_laugh]

    I sooo agree with you, though - Matt Lanter's Anakin has quite happily merged with Hayden Christensen in my mind in the best of ways, and oh my goodness but the RotS novelization is just a work of art. The love can ignite the stars passage is one of the most hauntingly perfect things my own two eyes have ever read, and it's stayed with me over the years.

    Then, I've always been a sucker for anything even vaguely Mandalorian, and that dove-tailed into me just adoring everything about the clones. I LOVED the Republic Commando series back in the day (say what you want about Karen Traviss, and I'll undoubtedly agree with you, but sweet Force can that woman world-build! The culture she gave both the clone army and the Mandalorians is spot-on perfect, and I find myself echoing her clones even more so than TCW at times. Lucas' attempts to retcon a lot of her Mandalorian lore in TCW - and the Fetts by extension - for me just falls flat in comparison.) It just took Plo Koon insisting: but your lives are important to *me* when his clones didn't see themselves as worthy of rescue, and I was over the moon, absolutely a hundred percent smitten with TCW from there on out. You can't just dangle a story about a massive found family learning selfhood and establishing autonomy and discovering what it means to be human when they were built to be nothing more than 'wet-droids' otherwise and expect me not to dive in with my whole heart and soul. I'm but a simple fangirl, making my way through this universe, and I'm weak to resist all the feelings my clone sons - and their Jedi, too - inspire. [face_love]

    Exactly, exactly!!

    As soon as Dave Filoni said at a comic con panel - way back when TCW was canceled by Disney and he was working on Rebels instead, I'm pretty sure but I'd have to look it up - that it was always supposed to be Ahsoka and Rex in the end, surviving Order 66 together and only because of each other, my shipping started. (Finally watching a fully realized Season 7 only just solidified them as my OTP: yep, that bond there is unbreakable, no matter how you look at it.) I remember watching Rebels as each episode aired and being thoroughly shocked when we finally met Rex onscreen. What do you mean he wasn't with Ahsoka the whole time? I couldn't wrap my mind around the idea then, and I still can't now. Fine, then. Even if he wasn't with Ahsoka, you can't tell me that Rex retired to fish in the desert, still wearing his worn out old armor (how's that for hiding?), and doing nothing to fight against the Empire that took everything from him and still stands in direct opposition of the Republic he once dedicated his life to serving? Yeah . . . thanks but no thanks. What wasted potential, both before and after he joined the cast. I have a lot of the same criticism for Rebel's handling of Zeb's character. He has such an amazing backstory and he's such an untapped military fount of talent for the Rebellion . . . but instead he's mostly just side-lined as comedic relief . . . what? With yet another child soldier put in charge over his clear, vast expertise? Not to downplay Ezra's strengths, of course. It's just that the Padawan Commanders in TCW were already bad enough, and that was at least a needs must situation between a terrible rock and hard place for the Jedi. Just . . . excuse you, Disney, but no. o_O)

    So! All of that ranting just boils down to: you can find me here, happily writing this AU and watering my Rexoka crops instead. Thank goodness for my saltiness fueling my muse, though! Apparently I have years worth of pent up ideas and thoughts and feelings where these two are concerned to draw from and finally get down in words! It's resulted in quite the unexpected flow of productivity! [face_laugh] :p 8-} Which I know you understand! Your Monster Challenge fic was incredible, btw, and I'm having quite the blast catching up on your Time Travel AU now, as well. Ah, but fan fiction writers really do it better than canon sometimes, don't we? ;) [face_mischief] [face_whistling]

    Aw, thank you so much, again! Truly! [:D]

    Hey, disjointed rambling makes for the best reviews! I couldn't ask for more as an author, knowing that I'm connecting with my readers on any level. [face_love]

    It's too true, though! Swimming - and any form of recreation or down time, really - seems to be few and between in the GFFA. You know it's there, but we usually see our Big Damn Heroes being, you know, Big Damn Heroes, and we don't see much else of their day-to-day lives. Then, for characters like Rex and Ahsoka, there simply hasn't been swimming for the sake of swimming for them, period. Maybe there was for Ahsoka, to an extent, growing up as a Jedi, but for Rex . . . yeah, not so much. The only time he's been in the water has been to learn and develop skills for battle. Letting them both just be sentient beings indulging in the little things, even as they navigate their feelings for each other, was a refreshing way to let them heal and grow - in more ways than one! [face_love]

    Thanks so much! That really means a lot to me. This scene was one of the first ones I had in mind when I planned this story, and it was a long time coming in every way. These two have been burying their grief and soldiering on to the point that they didn't even realize that it was affecting their relationship for the worse. They're both so prepared to be self-sacrificing and shoulder blame that neither of them place on each other. In a way, they're already prepared to let each other go, so much so that they don't yet see that clinging to each other, and finding strength in enduring their losses together, is really going to be the best thing for them going forward. This shared catharsis was a huge step in the right direction, and a conversation that had to happen before any sort of romance could continue to flourish.

    Also, just thinking about the sheer scale of loss through Order 66 is gut wrenching. For the genocide of the Jedi Order and the gross mental violation of the clone army . . . knowing just how deep the bonds between Jedi and clones truly were, and the existence of the chips themselves, makes the already harrowing massacre in RoTS even worse. Palpatine has so much blood on his hands to answer for, even before his atrocities against Alderaan and Jedha and Lasan. He's truly a monster, in every way.

    That makes perfect sense, and I thank you so much for saying so! That was one of my favorite lines of the chapter, as well. [face_love]

    And I can't thank you enough again for the wonderful feedback! I hope that you continue to enjoy this story as it goes. [face_love] [:D]



    Oh my goodness, but you are too kind for words! I have appreciated every one of your supportive 'likes' along the way, and knew you were reading and enjoying. I also know that this is a lot of story, and DRL doesn't lend itself well to a surplus of time for reading right now, especially with how I know you like to leave well thought out feedback. But that just makes me all the more grateful for your wonderful review now! [:D]

    Thank you so much! There have been times when I've felt both my prose and my introspection have droned on a bit, but, as this entire story really is just me self-indulging my inner fangirl to an outrageous degree I just decided to shrug and ignore my inner editor. Now look at my word count. This was supposed to be a neat and tidy vignette for the OTP challenge, sheesh. :p 8-}

    But, it really has been a fascinating endeavor, writing this little glimpse of everyday life and sundry in the GFFA. I loved meeting the Lawquanes in TCW, and appreciated the warmth and the earthiness of their home that even the fast-paced animation was able to capture. And, as Cut baldly challenging Rex to think about who he is and what he wants from life was the first time Rex blatantly addressed his own selfhood in canon, it felt all too symbolic and poignant to return both Rex and Ahsoka to Saleucami to heal and recover themselves after their losses.

    Plus, in their own way, Cut and Suu have completely been there, done that with the whole awkward denial thing. So they are completely playing match-maker in their own way - along with just providing well needed encouragement and friendship, of course. All of which I have delighted to explore throughout the story! [face_love]

    Aw, thank you so much! I really take that as the highest of compliments, I truly do. I just love these characters to pieces, and adore getting inside their heads as I can. Like the best Star Wars characters, I just think that it's amazing how they've been through so much pain and loss - unimaginably so - but still carry on, not only fighting, but smiling and finding the joy and hope and good in life. Which is something we can all identify with, each in our own way. [face_love]

    Dear goodness, but this story would just be a lead weight of angst, hitting like a ton of bricks if I didn't work in the humor as I could! 8-} And, really, that's all you can do sometimes, taking the good as it comes to heal from the bad. And as that lets me build up the romance, too, that's all for the better! [face_mischief] These two awkward dears have no idea what to do with their attraction, and that's really too much fun to write in its own regard. If the Jedi live monkish, austere lives, then the clones take the cake on being even further self-abnegating. Ahsoka is really the only 'girl' Rex has ever known, and realizing that he sees his Jedi/commander/comrade/friend as a man sees a woman has to be all sorts of awkward and uncomfortable. The same goes for Ahsoka, too! She was raised to think of herself as a Jedi, serving the Republic and the Force first before herself. Love was never in the cards for either of them, and they've led pretty much sexless existences so far. All of these feelings suddenly bubbling up and boiling over, on top of so many other feelings, is quite the maelstrom to contend with! No way one of those 'almost kisses' would have just been 'almost', otherwise. [face_mischief] But, they'll get there. Together. Just as they always do. [face_whistling] [face_love]

    I'VE ABSOLUTELY ADORED WRITING THE DHAKPAS, yes siree I have! Especially with the plethora of fantastic original characters we have on the boards in mind, it was delightful to brainstorm and add a few of my own. And oh! Are there catalysts still to come . . . [face_tee_hee]

    Thank-you! I can only imagine Rex enjoying working the land and seeing things grow, especially after living his life for death and destruction for so long. And, in the Legends material, all of the clones dreamed about the fields of Concord Dawn - Jango Fett's old home-world. The Fetts have always been a clan of farmers; that's even what the name means in Mando'a. (Vhett, for farmer.) Just like their RL counterparts, these space!vikings worked the land between, you know . . . raiding and everything else that makes a Mandalorian a Mandalorian. :p It's interesting, seeing how some things pass on, even though they're not necessarily genetic. With Cut having taken so happily to farming, too, I just couldn't resist exploring that a little bit further. Not that Rex has - or ever will - made that connection himself. He's just happy to work hard, and see things grow. [face_love]

    And the KYBER CRYSTALS!!! All I needed from wookieepedia was to learn that the Jedi once had a presence on Saleucami and then: light bulb! That's how Ahsoka gets her 'sabers back in this 'verse. The crystals know who they sing for, and maybe they just knew that Rex could get them there, too. The Force can work in mysterious ways sometimes, can't it? [face_love]

    But, more about that coming up soon . . . [face_mischief]

    Ha! I bet Cut and Suu do! Something tells me those hot springs were a catalyst back during their own courtship, at that. [face_mischief] I loved describing the springs! I can definitely see the beauty of Yellowstone in the geothermal waters and the colors. All of Saleucami has kinda taken on a space!Arizona aesthetic in my mind, right down to the layers of caliche in the soil. :p I was picturing a combination of the Arizona Hot Springs and Havasu Falls in the Grand Canyon for this particular oasis. [face_love]

    Then, there's always that moment when attraction goes from an objective awareness to: oh no but they're attractive, attractive! that's so much fun in a slow burn - especially when it comes to the Friends to Lovers trope. Even if Rex would say there's quite literally nothing special about his face, Ahsoka would beg to differ. Poor girl, there's something about a strong, muscly manly man that's just irresistible, anyway, and she's in deep. Thankfully, though, Rex thinks she's just as gorgeous, because she is. [face_whistling]

    Just like I was saying to ViariSkywalker above, this scene was one of the first ones I wrote, and I am so, so proud of it. So, thank-you for your kind words! These two have taken so much on their shoulders that you could almost feel some of that heavy tension ease, or at least so I tried to portray as best I could. They are trying to be so strong, but the dead are a heavy weight to carry - especially in the form of Anakin, who truly is marching the furthest away of all, you're too right! This conversation, and the little bit of closure and catharsis it provided, was certainly due, and has now opened the way towards increased closeness, just like you said. [face_love]

    Aw, thanks so much again! Really, I appreciate your kind words more than I can say, and always value your feedback. Thank-you so much for diving in and giving this monster of a story a go; I'm so very happy you did! [face_love] [:D]



    Alrighty, then! I have the next chapter all written. It just needs a wee bit of editing, and then I hope to have it up some time tomorrow. As always, I can't thank you all enough for reading, and for taking the time to leave your kind words. I appreciate it so very much! [:D]


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

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

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    VII.

    Rex woke to the sunlight on his face and a faint breeze drifting through the barn doors, whispering between the slatted walls and creaking in the rafters to herald the dawn.

    Though he wasn’t exactly comfortable after a night spent sleeping on the ground – his back was stiff and he’d pinched a nerve in his neck, all as dozens of old aches and half-forgotten injuries from the war grumbled to make themselves known again – he didn’t immediately move from his place. He didn’t have to snap to attention, rushing to kit up well before roll-call as the good captain setting an example for his men . . . so, he didn’t. Better yet, there wasn’t the harsh wailing of sirens or the cries from their sentries interrupting a hard won sleep cycle. Even his general discomfort was nothing when compared to the joys of sleeping in full armor, trying to close his eyes while his HUD kept up a steady input of information that he couldn’t dismiss just in case he was needed. With his hands a twitch away from his blasters, and adrenaline ever a low simmer in his blood, he never quite found true rest while on campaign. Now, though, he could enjoy the drowsy warmth of the sunrise, waking up as he was good and ready rather than because he had to.

    Besides, he couldn’t exactly go anywhere with Ahsoka pinning him down, flat on his back, like she was. Apparently, at some point during the night she’d decided that he was a much more comfortable alternative to the ground and draped herself across him like a Mon Cala starfish, with her torso flush against his and one leg tucked distractingly between his own. Her head rested on his chest, with her cheek over his heart and the lower mass of her montrals brushing alongside his jaw before the horns angled away from his face. Her right arm was bent so that her hand was flat against his chest and tucked underneath her chin, while her left arm was flung up over his shoulder in a lopsided embrace. Her fingers absently twitched against the texture of his hair, even as she muttered under her breath with soft, whistling snores. Her right lek was trapped between their bodies, while the left had slipped down over his abdomen to trail on the ground by his hip. Both were . . . thrumming, and for the strange (all too pleasant) sensation, Rex sucked in a breath. It was already bad enough that he had his arms wrapped around her in return, tucking her in close and holding her against him as if she belonged there. There was no way he could move without disturbing her, and so he exhaled the breath he’d been holding as his senses suddenly vaulted past lazy unconsciousness to painfully acute awareness. He was definitely awake then.

    Alright then . . . alright, he forced himself to breathe the same as he would to steady his aim and keep his mind cold and clear through the scalding furor of combat adrenaline and the red haze of battle. This was . . . completely normal (everything he wanted), and there was no reason to spook and run from this if Ahsoka was comfortable where she was (please let this be something she wants too). He could, instead, treat this as the platonic affection (you keep telling yourself that, vod) of sentients seeking comfort with fellow sentients. They must have just accidentally fallen asleep after listing their painfully long (oh so long) eulogy of names together. The stars and tides only knew that Ahsoka deserved what little comfort she could find for herself, especially after the emotional catharsis (it was cathartic, wasn’t it?) of last night. This was nothing he wouldn’t do for any of his brothers (ha – yeah right, not like this), and had nothing to do with just how brilliantly blue her eyes were or the breathless dichotomy of her softness and strength or how stunningly colorful and fiery she was in every way: a veritable starburst against the dull monochrome of his painfully short, gruesomely dark life, and -

    - he wasn’t moving, Rex finally closed his eyes to admit in all honesty, because he didn’t want to. And if that was setting himself up for pain and heartbreak for if – when – they moved on from clinging to each other like ports in a storm, then so be it. He was built to survive, to take the blows and keep on enduring, keep on fighting. Even if this had the potential to hurt him like nothing he’d ever faced before – filling him with a dread the likes of which he hadn’t felt when he was pinned by Grievous or facing the madness of Krell or enduring the slave rings of Kadavo – it didn’t matter. Instead, he held himself still and even gave into the temptation he had to lightly trace the pads of his fingers up and down her back, only just daring to touch her. Her fluttering little sighs in return sounded happy to his ears, and they deepened with the more confidence he gained. Her central head-tail twitched, and, summoning a courage he’d never had to search for before, he only just dared to run the backs of his knuckles over the side of her lek. Her poreless skin was sleek and subtly textured in an alien, wonderful way – dangerously so. Rex didn’t think he could ever get tired of touching her, and he could admit that he wanted to learn – explore – more of her then, wanted to touching every dip and curve and gorgeous marking decorating her body with his hands before relearning those same paths with his mouth -

    - it was only then that his hand stilled, as guilt flushed through him along with mortification. He closed his eyes as she loosed a throaty, unhappy grumble – the same as she had the morning before, and he struggled to ignore the sudden wanting he felt, erupting across his senses and igniting his nerve-endings with all the same (better) painful intensity of being jabbed with an electro-pike. There had been a moment yesterday – more than one, at that – when he thought that she looked at him the same way. Though he had no idea what he was doing with this – any of this – he knew that she had wanted him to kiss her. He had wanted to kiss her, and if he was anyone else – any more comfortable with the thought of being a sentient being in every sense of the word, with wants and desires of his own, as he’d never been allowed to admit to, let alone indulge in before – he would have. But then, all of the previous day felt clouded in a surreal sort of haze. He had been too content (happy, even), and she was going to move on, drawn by the Force she served to do great things (amazing things), and she didn’t deserve to have a broken old soldier holding her back and slowing her down when -

    - he promptly forgot every reason why this was something he couldn’t have when he felt Ahsoka drowsily stir in his arms. “Don’ have to stop, Rexter,” she muttered into his skin. He could feel the movement of her lips and the hot warmth of her breath through the thin material of his shirt, searing him like a brand. “Feels good.”

    For a moment, Rex promptly forgot how to breathe as she shifted against him. She rubbed her face against his chest, and her lekku pulsed from where they were draped across him in a way he could only describe as affectionate – absolutely wonderful as that sensation was. Her arms tightened around him before she exhaled, and then her soft, snoring trills resumed again.

    She’s not awake, Rex forced himself to exhale through the sudden vice gripping his lungs. His heart was hammering out a marching beat, and his hands tensed as if in want for battle. Kriffing get a hold on yourself, trooper.

    Thankfully, before he could debate the merits of politely extracting himself from his dozing partner verses tracing the line of every elongating chevron on her lekku, the universe saw fit to intervene again. Rex couldn’t decide between gratitude and annoyance for the interruption, and merely exhaled in frustration for both.

    “Oh, they must have fallen asleep out here,” he heard Suu’s hushed voice first, keeping to a whisper that was nonetheless loud to his artificially enhanced senses. Her steps whispered as she skirted around them, but Rex could feel her shadow as it interrupted the sunlight. “They can’t be comfortable like that.”

    “I don’t know,” came Cut’s voice next, sounding for all the worlds like a loth-cat grinning at a pinned scurrier. "They look downright cozy to me." He didn’t bother modulating his tone in the slightest, and, if Rex wasn’t stalwartly pretending to be asleep, he would have had a flipped his brother a rude gesture to let him know exactly where he could shove his opinion.

    Evidently of a similar mind, Suu muttered in Ryl before swatting her husband, Rex interpreted that dull thwap of sound. “Don’t tease them,” she chided, even over her own amusement. “Remember how patient I was with you, after all?”

    Cut snorted. “No way I was that oblivious, cyar’ika; they take the ever loving uj.”

    “I don’t know,” Suu’s tone turned wry – and distant, Rex thought. She was by the eopie stalls now, he guessed from the happy whinnies the animals gave in greeting. “Some things, you and I remember very differently. Goddess, but you were hopeless. Thankfully, though, I have always prided myself on being a patient woman.”

    “Which you know I count my blessings for, every day.”

    “Charmer,” Suu teased, but there was a tenderness in her voice that was almost tangible enough to touch. For a moment there was silence but for a whispered shuffling that Rex wasn’t going to think about too closely, all before the restless rustling of the eopies in their stalls turned to outright snorting and stomping as they protested the delay in their breakfast.

    “You’re far too distracting for your own good,” Suu said on a contented drawl, with her already distinct accent thickening her syllables even further. Rex heard as she swatted at Cut again, no doubt to playfully push him away. “Come now, the day’s wasting.”

    “Copy that, ma’am,” Cut replied. Suu huffed for his cheek, fond and exasperated all at once, before Rex could feel their attention turn to them again. Cut sighed, and his timbre dropped to a more serious tone. “I’d wake them, but . . .”

    A brother knew to be careful waking another brother – they were too well trained, and had a tendency to snap to awareness with both fists swinging. Rex had almost broken Kix’s nose that way, once, and their medic was used to that battle reflex in his patients, at that. A moment passed, before: “You won’t need to,” Suu finally decided. “I’m surprised they slept as long as they have, and they’ll wake up on their own soon enough. Goddess knows they must need – and deserve – their rest.”

    With that, the couple went about their morning routine with the animals just the same as usual. Instead of waking them directly, hooves clapped; the yearlings bleated while the mares snorted more patiently behind their young; stall doors banged; the water pump groaned, before -

    - blearily, Ahsoka opened her eyes for the disturbance. She frowned to adjust to her surroundings, and he watched as her thick black lashes whispered against the brilliant blue of her irises – so much larger than any Human’s, and deep enough to drown in. The white diamond markings on her brow furrowed, and he felt as her hands braced against his chest, shifting but not quite pushing away.

    “Hey there,” he greeted as she blinked into awareness. His voice was still raspy with sleep, and maybe the slightest bit awkward with uncertainty. But: here they were. He was still holding her; he hadn’t let her go. And she . . . she didn’t immediately move away from him, either.

    “Good morning,” Ahsoka returned on a throaty rumble of her own. He could feel as the pulsing of her lekku turned even more pronounced. The blue of her stripes had darkened to a nearly night-shade of indigo, while the silvery-white of her markings flushed with warm vermillion. His heartbeat was hammering in his chest; she had to be able to feel as much from where she was still pressed against him.

    Yet, inexplicably – stars and tides, but this has to be a dream – her eyes dropped to his mouth, and her gaze turned heavy and yearning. He understood that look; he felt something inside of him want to answer and match every single unspoken cue of her body, at that. She stared at him, and he wanted so very badly to sweep forward and kiss her, to cradle her face in his hands and finally give into that pulsing thread of needwantohplease burning between them, as strong and inescapable as a Kaminoan undertow, before -

    - her eyes flew wide in realization, and she sat up from him with a mortified squeak of sound. “Force, but I completely pinned you!” she apologized, scooting back from him in a brief tangle of lekku and limbs. She rested on her knees, with a carefully respectful distance between them that suddenly felt like a chasm, gaping and cold. “I’m so sorry,” she buried her face in her hands to moan, refusing to meet his eyes. “I promise it won’t happen again.” The blue of her stripes had lost their dark flush, and instead took on a loud, embarrassed shade of cobalt that he didn’t want to see on her at all . . . not for this.

    “Don’t worry about it,” Rex fought to keep his voice light and easy, just the same as their banter usually was. No sense in dwelling on his disappointment . . . or regret. She’d seemingly taken his ease and contentment away with her, and he felt strangely bereft as he sat up from the ground. “I’ve been used to you using me as a pillow for years now,” he tried for a note of humor, hoping to dispel the sudden awkwardness between them. “Nothing’s changed there.”

    “Yeah,” Ahsoka echoed to agree. Still, her levity felt forced as she peeked over to meet his eyes again, “just like old times.”

    Except that it wasn’t the same, wasn't it? He knew as much, and thought that maybe, just maybe, she did too.

    But Ahsoka was a soldier, first and foremost. She regrouped quickly, and stalwartly pressed on forward. With a last, rueful shake of her head, she found her feet. “So much for making sure you got a good night sleep,” she grumbled. “If my back hates me, then I know yours does.” She twisted her neck to the right and left before rolling her shoulders with an audible popping sound. Humming, she arched her arms over the crest of her montrals to work away the worst of the stiffness from her shoulders and spine, her every movement fluid and graceful.

    Watching her stretch was . . . distracting, in its own way. The baggy shirt she'd slept in rucked up, revealing a swath of orange-sienna skin over the deep curve in her waist – mesmerizing to him now in a way she’d never been before. More white markings had bloomed across her body with age – he’d gotten an eyeful of that yesterday at the springs – and he fought the urge he had to gawk like a nerf-brained shiny who'd never seen a nat-born woman before. With an iron force of will, he snapped his eyes away before the fabric fell back in place again.

    “I did, though,” it took him a second, but he found his voice to assure her. “Have a good night’s sleep, that is.” Better than he could remember in a . . . well, in a very long time, actually.

    Ahsoka snorted, clearly not believing him. “It's nice of you to say so, Rexter, but you don’t have to lie. I was all over you like a Felucian vine-sloth. You couldn’t have been comfortable, trapped like that. I promise I’ll keep my hands to myself next time.”

    If he was any other man, Rex imagined that it would be easy to smile a slow smile and drawl: but what if I don’t want you to? Instead, he ducked his head and nodded with the awkwardness of his true age then rearing its ugly head. He had no idea what he was doing – what they were doing – and for all that he could march on unfamiliar terrain when need be, he never liked hunting blind. He was used to feeling certain in his purpose, of knowing exactly who he was and what he lived for and what was expected of him day in and day out. Yet, now . . .

    . . . everything had changed, and would continue to change. The galaxy was suddenly open before him in a way that was terrifying in all of its implied possibility. He felt the same as he would before a mid-atmo drop, anticipating the rush and the plummet before his boots touched the ground. This was, he tried to tell himself, not much different. It wasn’t. Falling back on his training, he just had to recon, review his intel to form a battle strategy, and then he could attack.

    Or maybe this was more like enduring a siege, Rex admitted as he watched Ahsoka walk out of the barn ahead of him, her lekku a gorgeous length and sway about her as she tilted her face up to the sky. What would happen to those walls, he finally pushed his thoughts aside to focus on the day, was anyone’s guess.

    Ahsoka went inside to take her turn in the 'fresher first, and Rex was slow to follow. He'd just finished stretching his own stiff shoulders, enjoying the last of the sunrise, when Cut came up beside him. He had a bag of feed slung over each shoulder, and the eopies eagerly followed him from the opposite side of the paddock fence. But his work didn't stop him from pausing, an expectant look on his face that preemptively had Rex scowling, even before he spoke a word. Sometimes, he couldn’t believe they were all the same at a genetic level – especially as Cut grinned like a hunting cackle, a mischievous spark in his eyes that was far and beyond any expression Rex would ever see on his own face in a mirror. When his scowl deepened to a glare, Cut couldn't help himself: “So . . . how’d you sleep, vod?”

    Rex did flip him that rude gesture then, and Cut’s laughter was loud and delighted in reply. Brothers, Rex thought as Cut let himself into the paddock to finish his work, still all too pleased with himself. Couldn’t live with them; couldn’t live without them.

    Inside the farmhouse, Suu already had breakfast going. After taking his own turn washing up and dressing for the day, Rex sat down at the table with the children and Ahsoka. Rather than rushing straight to work, he gladly helped himself to a portion of fried nuna eggs and Corellian sausage. By that time, Cut had finished with the eopies, and the whole family ate breakfast together. Even when his plate was cleared, he lingered with a good strong cup of caf, and, this time, when Ahsoka couldn’t seem to meet his eyes over the rim of her own mug Rex felt dangerously close to smiling. He felt . . . good, then. Happy, even. As he hadn’t been in longer than he cared to remember.

    After breakfast, he propped the busted drill up on the work-bench inside the barn to see about repairs. They just had a final day left of digging posts, and he didn't want their work to fall behind if he could help it. Over the next week or so, the harvest before Eventide was going to keep them plenty busy enough as it was. Yet, despite his initial hopes. the drill was well and truly slagged – the motor had burned out completely, and there would be no repairing it with what he had on hand. He would have to go into town buy a replacement part, or order a new motor completely from Jinpo. That last prospect wasn’t one he wholly minded. If he just so happened to show the crystals he’d found to the Pantoran for a second opinion while he was there, then maybe he could see about getting them polished and spruced up for Ahsoka – to give her for Eventide, he was already jumping ahead to count his nunas before they hatched, with a giddy feeling of anticipation that wasn't unlike the rush that accompanied the opening salvo in a battle, yet more like sunshine and sweetness and such bubbling effervescence as he couldn't wholly describe. Not in any words he knew.

    He had only just told Cut and Suu where he was going, when -

    “ - you know, Ahsoka mentioned wanting to go into town today,” Suu said. “I was going to go with her later, but if she went with you, now, that would be even better.”

    Rex had to hand it to her – Suu had a sabacc face straight from Canto Bright, but there was a twinkle to her eyes that was impossible to miss. In some ways, she was just as bad as her husband. Still, Rex hesitated. It wasn’t that he didn’t want Ahsoka to come along so much as he wanted to speak to Jinpo with her unaware that he was doing so. He cycled through his options, rapid-firing from tactic to tactic and wondering how he could successfully juggle his two objectives simultaneously, when -

    “ - it’s okay if you don’t want the company,” Ahsoka gave a lopsided sort of grin to assure him. “I can find my own way later.” But, her smile didn’t wholly really reach her eyes, and her lekku were taut and stiff over her shoulders. To some extent, Rex knew she had been keeping herself at a distance from him, and while even just a day ago he would have said that was because she was preparing for the day when she’d inevitably go her own way and was kindly trying to tell him that she didn’t need him, didn’t want him, now -

    “ - I’d never not want your company,” Rex found himself saying before he think better of his words. That really was the truth, in its own way, as honestly as he could express it.

    “It’s a date, then,” Suu clapped her hands together to declare, even as Ahsoka’s markings flushed for the Twi’lek’s choice of words. But, his commander was never one to back down from a challenge, and Ahsoka instead tilted her chin up to meet his eyes. She didn’t blink as she flashed her teeth to agree: “Yeah, I guess it is.”

    And Rex was not going to dwell on how his heart felt much too big for his chest then, he wasn’t.

    “And,” Suu drew the word out to suggest, “I’m sure that Cut wouldn’t mind if you took the bike. No sense fiddling with the cart if you don’t have to. Please, have some fun instead.”

    The bike was a reclaimed Phase I CK-4 repulsorlift swoop that Cut had salvaged from the wreck of the Prevailer. Since then, Cut had tinkered with the engine and made a few modifications so that it had a bit more of a . . . kick to it than the initial parameters the GAR had commissioned. You could, Rex had thought when Cut first showed him the speeder-bike with no small amounts of pride and affection, take a brother from the front-lines, but not the front-lines from a brother. In some ways, they were all just Fetts at heart.

    Rex fought not to look too excited for the prospect, even as Ahsoka’s eyes lit up to agree. His commander had taken to the war like a fledgling aihwa to the water, and not just because of her prowess with a lightsaber: she was just as much a sucker for speed and adrenaline as he was.

    What he didn’t first consider, however, was logistics. A swoop was little more than a seat attached to an engine in the first place, and they definitely weren’t designed for riding double. Inwardly, he frowned as he walked the bike out from its place of honor in the barn, his mind racing as he attached the busted drill to the repurposed weapon's rack by the saddle-bags. Ahsoka, for her part, didn’t hesitate to hop on with an eager trill. She scooted as far back as she could on the seat, and patted the saddle in welcome with a sharply fanged grin. “C’mon, Rexter!” she beckoned him when he didn’t immediately follow (he was too busy imprinting that image into his thankfully eidetic memory). “What are you waiting for? Let’s go!”

    You know what? Kriff it, Rex finally decided to throw his hesitation and second-guessing to the wind. If his Jedi was comfortable, then so was he. It was, he tried to tell himself, really just that simple. He mounted the bike in front of her, and did his best not to focus too much on the feel of her as she scooted forward and pressed up against his back, her thighs bracketing his own as she wound her arms around his waist for stability.

    “Ready when you are!” she chirped, her breath warm against his ear to be heard over the growl of the engine. Her nose brushed against his shoulder, and he could feel her grin. Her lekku rippled in giddy excitement as he revved the bike. Shakily, Rex exhaled.

    “Hold on,” he warned.

    “Really?” he could hear her roll her eyes, even as she huffed, “I know - ”

    - but the rest of her words were swallowed by the roar of the engine as Rex floored the accelerator. Her whoop of excitement was lost to the wind as they sped out of the barnyard in a spray of gravel and angry squawking from the disturbed brood of nuna. The farmhouse was quick to fall away as they turned onto the lane, and there Rex opened the throttle and let the bike reach its top speeds with a thrill racing through his veins. The fields passed them by in a whirl of pale golds and silvery greens, with the fronds of the alim trees and the groves of violet-needled koili and wispy limbed smoke-oak blurring in a muted bokeh of color to his eyes. Hills bisected the crater from rim to rim, with their crests jutting up in rugged formations of rusty-red and purple-grey stone. Here, there were only a scarce few farms and fields. Instead, there was a scatterings of orchards, with stone-fruit trees and sun-apple groves and clusters of zoochberries vines threading across the hills. There was even a vineyard or two, growing hardy high-desert grapes in winding rows for the region’s trademark wines. The vines were thick and fat with fruit this close to the harvest, and the air was faintly sweet as it whipped past them in a roar.

    Ahsoka started out holding onto him for balance, she didn’t stay that way for long. Instead, her hands skated up from his waist to rest lightly on his shoulders before she raised her arms completely to better enjoy the rush of the wind. Rex felt her thighs flex as she relied on the grip of her legs and the strength of her core to keep herself from flying backwards. Crazy as his Jedi was, she could, and Rex chased her joyful trills as he left the lane behind to find their own path over and around the bluffs and gorges and arches of stone off-road. It was exhilarating, pushing his reflexes and exercising hard-won skills he hadn’t used in months now – and never for just the sheer joy of doing so. (The split second he spared to imagine Kami Ra’s horrified expression, his huge fish-eyes slowly blinking and the long stalk of his neck tilting in outrage, was a satisfying thrill all its own for its abject defiance.) Rex may have went went a little too fast to be deemed completely safe, and every near brush with the rockface and sweeping fall down a ridge-line before the swoop’s repulsors canceled out the pull of gravity had his heartbeat spiking and racing to match.

    By the time the town was in sight, and he had to cut their speed to return to the now populated lane, Ahsoka was breathless from exhilaration. Her hands had returned to rest on his shoulders, not needing to hold onto him but letting him support her anyway. “On the way back,” she declared, leaning in close again, “you’ve gotta let me pilot.”

    “I don’t know if I’d survive that,” the habitual sir felt close to his mouth to finish, and yet never so far away all at once. “You’re a fiend on a swoop, and I know better.”

    “C’mon, Rexter, sometimes you’ve gotta let go and live dangerously.” He could feel her smile as much as he could hear it in her words. “Don’t you trust me?”

    “Always,” he found it reflexive as breathing to answer. Realizing how that sounded, though, he recovered himself and amended: “Just not so much on a swoop.”

    “You wound me, you know that?”

    “Hey, I didn’t say that I wouldn’t – just that I know what I’m risking.” And, stars and tides take it all, but that didn’t sound much better, now did it? He could have kicked himself.

    “I can work with that,” Ahsoka all but purred in response. Though he told himself that she was only teasing – keeping up their banter then the same as she ever did, Rex felt a shiver that had to be from the whipping of the wind.

    Thankfully, crossing the town line put an end to . . . whatever that had been between them. (Flirting, vod, it's called flirting, a voice he couldn’t tell for Cut or Cody or Fives in his mind dryly offered its unwelcome opinion.) Rex powered down to an idle before parking next to a dual-rider swoop in front of Dhakpa’s General Store. He loosed a whistle to see the shiny black dura-chrome plated bike, with stark white accents highlighting its sleek aerodynamic design. Distantly, he figured that one of the more prosperous farmers from the vineyards must have been in town. Such wasn’t too uncommon, this close to the harvest and Eventide.

    “Nice ride,” Ahsoka dismounted, and circled around the black swoop to agree. She traced a hand over its glossy engine cowl in appreciation. “Even if I’m still partial to ours,” she flashed him a wink. “I bet we’re faster.”

    “You’d like to find out, wouldn’t you?”

    “My Master trained me well, what can I say?” Ahsoka put her hands together and bowed, mock-sagacity dripping from her tone in the same way General Skywalker once would have mimicked General Kenobi. But, then, remembering his lost general wasn’t quite the blade to the chest it normally was. For the sad smile Ahsoka flashed to follow her words, he imagined she felt similarly.

    Alright then, Rex shook his head to clear it. Enough of that.

    “So, what did you need to come in town for?” he asked, as much to distract them from their ghosts as he was practically soldiering on ahead. He needed to plan this carefully, after all.

    “Oh, this and that,” Ahsoka waved a vague hand to say. She jabbed a thumb over her shoulder to the beauty parlor across the street. “Azalae should be in town today, and there’s something I need to talk to her about.”

    Rex furrowed his brow for that, puzzled, but if Ahsoka didn’t want to say what she was up to then he didn’t need to know. He shrugged, but as that fit his plans anyhow it was all for the best. “Alright, then,” he let her keep her secrets. “I’ll check in here,” he gestured to the lone droid repair shop behind them – in absence of even a mechanic’s garage, that was his best bet, “and if I can’t find what I need, I’ll head over to Jinpo's to order in the part.”

    “Got it,” Ahsoka nodded sharply, “I’ll meet you there when I’m done.”

    He nodded his own affirmative, and they went their separate ways. He made quick work of talking to the droidsmith – a kindly old Bith with cybernetic implants named Yugol – and, upon deducing that the shop didn’t have what he needed, he made his way over to the general store. Glancing across the street, he was glad when he didn't see Ahsoka yet. His heart skipped in his chest as his hand fell to his pocket, where he had the crystals safely tucked away. He had so many questions he wanted to ask, and his mind raced to consider them. Are these what I think they are? and how are they even here in the first place? first among them. The Jedi had a vast and varied history; they'd touched so much of the galaxy over the last millennia, and, as such, it wasn’t too far fetched to imagine that these crystals had made it as far as Saleucami. But for him to stumble across them buried in the ground, when the odds stacked against such a serendipitous find were all but infinite . . .

    Or, Rex could wryly admit, maybe not so serendipitously. This was no fluke of chance, he didn't think. The Force had a funny way of seeing its will done, for better or worse. If these crystals were meant for Ahsoka, they’d find their way to her. He, for his part, was all too happy to play the role of currier for the incomprehensible entity, if this was what he thought it meant for his Jedi. Now, he just had to find out.

    Rex would later blame his preoccupation – his distraction and daydreams, unforgivable as dropping his guard may have been – for not scanning the interior of the store as thoroughly as he usually would upon entering. Nothing was immediately amiss to his eyes, but the way Jinpo – hunched over behind the counter and clearly searching for something – looked up and did a double take before his golden eyes widened told him otherwise. Jinpo's surprise bordered on horror, and a concern that was intense enough to put Rex instantly on edge. Somehow, he knew without knowing, there was danger here, and he’d unwittingly walked right into it. His hands fell to the blasters he no longer carried, stupid as his complacency was, as he cast an eye about his surroundings again.

    “Rex, my boy,” Jinpo breathed – his voice a whisper that was no less thick with feeling for being so scarcely uttered, “by the moon herself, but you should not be here. Not now.”

    That was the only warning he had before Jinpo darted out from behind the counter, his speed and strength a surprise as he pushed him behind the nearest row of shelves. “Keep your head down! Whatever else, do not let them see your face,” he hissed. "Do not let them see your face!" Rex immediately dropped, as much in reflex for instinct as it was obedience for the force of the Pantoran’s order. He ducked behind the shelf of canned goods, lamenting the pitiable cover for what it was all the while. He was bottle-necked in, unable to retreat back out through the front door without passing whoever it was that Jinpo didn’t want him to see. Or, rather . . . whoever it was that Jinpo didn’t want to see him.

    But, the small glance he gained was all he needed to understand his sudden predicament. In that fraction of a second he caught sight of the short corridor that led to the back rooms behind the counter, where Jinpo kept his office. There, sitting in front of his desk was a Human woman – a striking Human woman dressed in deep wine-red, with pale skin and dark brown hair, twisted back away from her head in an elegant coil of braids. (For a breathless, painful moment, she reminded him of Senator Amidala before he pushed the likeness aside.) But it was not the woman who captured his notice, and held it. No. It was the man standing guard at her side; standing at attention. Though he wasn’t wearing the bastardized white armor of a stormtrooper – but, rather, an unfamiliar ensemble of blue and bronze-gold plated armor in a design that was neither Imperial or GAR in origin, or, at least, not that Rex could recognize – and his back was to him, Rex didn’t need to see his face to know the line of his shoulders and the militant precision of his stance. There was familiarity in the cut of his deep black hair, in the tanned shade of his skin, and when he turned, his eyes

    - Rex saw a ghost of his own reflection, with the once universally comforting face of a brother (one of his brothers), now promising nothing but threat and danger for everything he still had left to lose.



    ~ MJ @};-
     
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2021
    ViariSkywalker and Findswoman like this.
  3. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha 2 Truths 1 Lie Host star 8 VIP - Game Host

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Superbly yummy as they grapple with unfamiliar feelings [face_mischief] and a great ending there ramping up the plot tension =D=
     
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  4. Findswoman

    Findswoman Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Feb 27, 2014
    Ooh, ooh, so much ramping up in this new chapter, in a couple of very different ways! First, those warm, cozy, fiery but completely unwitting cuddles from Ahsoka--fierier than she knows! Oh yes, thanks to your amazing, evocative prose, I can just about feel them burning through dear Rex like a blowtorch, and all he's going through in figuring out how to process this amazing feeling--part of him wanting to bask in it as long and as intensely as he can, part of him being completely confused. From her sleeptalking, I am certain Ahsoka is imagining something very pleasurable, too--something that contradicts all her self-consciousness and apologies when she wakes up! Ooh, what a delicious "so close yet so far away" scene that was; I have to say I felt a little sorry for Rex there, though not too. :p

    Though at the same time I have to agree with the Lawquanes about his obliviousness... a herd of banthas could troop by wearing banners reading "SHE LOVES YOU, YOU DOOFUS" and he would probably still not :p As an experienced couple, they definitely know What's Up (especially Suu, once again), and they know that Rex and Ahsoka need to take their own time in figuring out What's Up--but that doesn't mean that they (Cut and Suu) can't enjoy "eating the popcorn" along the way! And oh, are they ever! :D

    But oh my gosh, what exactly is this that's going down at Jinpo's shop? :eek: This sounds potentially very bad for Rex, especially if it involves... well, if I have it right, a fellow clone trooper who is wearing some very... unconventional kind of armor, and serving... who? I have a very bad feeling about this--especially if the Wrong People get wind of what Rex found while digging that one day! [face_nail_biting] It looks like this story is about to take a very unexpected turn--can't wait to see where it will lead! Wonderful job, as always, and do keep it coming! =D=
     
  5. Cowgirl Jedi 1701

    Cowgirl Jedi 1701 Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Registered:
    Dec 21, 2016
    Although I would very much like for them to Just Kiss Already, legit Rexsoka flirting pleases me.

    And that moment at the end is like, "wut?"
     
  6. ViariSkywalker

    ViariSkywalker Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Aug 9, 2002
    My gosh, I could read introspection and growth and development and personal relationships and conversations during the quiet moments ALL DAY. I love the action stuff, too, and I will always be there for a killer lightsaber duel or an amazing space battle – but I still crave all of that deep, personal stuff. Thank goodness we’re fanfic writers!

    Cannot overstate the power of a good slow burn. And with how you've written Rex and Ahsoka's relationship so far, I have confidence that the payoff will be worth the build-up! :D

    Okay, I’m going to need to read everything in that universe because I love Anakin making better life choices, lol. (There’s a reason I’m writing EtF, after all ;) ) But I definitely agree that sometimes (most times? [face_whistling]) the angst has to be free to angst. I am an unrepentant angst-monger, so this speaks to me. [face_mischief]

    Oh, agreed, 100%. There’s so much of that novel that has stayed with me over the years, clearly. [face_love] All things die, Anakin Skywalker… And then later, his thoughts as he realized he would be stuck in that armor forever, and the enormity of what he’d done, and… it was so perfect, I can’t even. I feel like I’ve been on a real Matthew Stover SW kick lately. Can he come back and write more SW stories? [face_praying]

    I never did get around to reading those books and wasn’t the biggest fan of Mandalorians back in the day, I think mainly because they didn’t spark my interest the way the Jedi did. [face_thinking] But I did enjoy seeing them in the KOTOR games, and I’ve always thought their design was cool. I’m not very knowledgeable about all the canon discrepancies created by Lucas when he started on TCW. BUT, the clones in TCW? LOVE them. And I honestly never thought I would care much for a live-action Mandalorian show, but now it’s one of my favorite things in the new canon!

    I can definitely see how that would have fanned the shipping flames, lol. ;) And agreed about Rex and Zeb. Such wasted potential! At least we have fanfic. :D

    Saltiness is definitely good fuel for the muse, lol! I’m glad to benefit from it with this lovely story! (And thank you, again, for your kind comments on TLotD [:D]) Fanfic writers really do have it good. Don’t like canon? Write your own! Craving some good introspection and heartfelt conversations? Write it! I sometimes wonder how people who don’t write are able to deal with canon disappointing them? I don’t know what I’d do without my AUs. :p

    It is so satisfying to see Rex learning how to live his life on his terms, the way he wants to. Be it going for a swim or working on the farm or being with his Jedi. [face_love] Not that it isn’t also important for Ahsoka to also learn to live her life, but there’s definitely something special about watching a clone – someone who was intended to be known only as a number – find a new life that he chooses.

    That really sums up the story and their relationship, doesn’t it? Instead of resigning themselves to lonely lives of guilt and sacrifice, they need to stay together and heal together.

    =((

    This was just a lovely description of how Rex sees Ahsoka. Especially that last line about her being a starburst in his monochrome life. The whole section that follows, with Rex realizing how much he wants, was very well done. =D=

    Also, I love Cut and Suu.

    Rex is so dang endearing, I can’t even. Love the comment about the awkwardness of his true age. Poor guy.

    I LOLed. I’m not exactly sure why, but I love when brothers are depicted this way, throwing rude gestures and such. I only have one brother, so I never saw this in action growing up; but I do have three little boys, so I expect one day I’ll get a glimpse into this world. :p

    Nice save, Rex. :p

    Aw, Padmé. :( (And I do wonder who this woman is?)

    :eek: What’s this now?? I love this development, by the way. Couldn’t make things too easy for Rex and Ahsoka. [face_mischief] Another excellent chapter!
     
    Last edited: Nov 30, 2020
  7. Mira_Jade

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

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    Oh my goodness, but you guys are just too awesome for words! Thank-you so much for the wonderful feedback! [:D]


    Ain't that just it in a nutshell! :p But yay! for the yummy stamp of approval from our very own resident Queen of Mush! ;) [face_love] [:D]


    Ha! That's really how I felt writing that scene. Sorry for Rex - and Ahsoka too, the poor flummoxed dear [face_tee_hee] - but not too much. It's a trick, writing two characters who have been living adult lives for so long, risking their lives and staring death in the face on a daily basis, but emotions like attraction and desire and romantic love are all new things! They're so endearingly awkward that it's honestly a joy to write! [face_love]

    Right??? I laughed out loud to for the herd of banthas, I really did! Yep, denial ain't just a river in Egypt here, that's for certain! :p And in many ways I feel like Cut and Suu are just reflecting what I - and I'm certain my readers - feel about the whole awkward song and dance. They're definitely "eating popcorn" to watch Rex and Ahsoka struggle to figure it out all the while! [face_laugh]

    Yep: TEH PLOT has arrived! You've got it right as to who, and as for your trademark bad feeling - well, I'll have answers for you soon. [face_whistling]

    As always, I can't thank you enough for reading! I always appreciate and value your kind words so very much. [:D]


    [face_laugh] [face_mischief]

    I feel a tad bit like a mean and evil writer here, I'm not gonna lie. I head Kiss the Girl playing in my head the whole time while writing this, even if I couldn't bring myself to make it quite that easy for Rex and Ahsoka. So I had to sprinkle on a little bit of flirting to make it slightly better. I'm glad you enjoyed!

    Eeeexcellent! Then I have achieved my goal as an author. [face_mischief] [face_devil]

    Answers - or, some of them, at least - will be coming up soon! Thanks so much for reading, as always! [:D]



    First off, I have to thank you so very much for the awesome feedback! Wow! I appreciated every word! [:D]

    Then, right??? Introspection and growth and development and all of those small day to day moments? Mm hmm, that's the good stuff right there - especially when it's punctuated by a good action scene or two. Thank goodness we're fanfic writers, indeed! We get the best of every world. [face_love]


    Whew, because I have my fingers crossed, lemme tell you! Thanks so much for the vote of confidence, though!


    Anything in my Song!verse - which I really should make a primer and an index for one of these days. It's grown to have bits and pieces of story snippets all over the place. 8-} For now though, I'd love to send you links if you're interested. No pressure of course - I more than understand juggling time between RL and fan fiction. ;)

    But yes! I'm torn between indulging in angsty canon here, and writing fix-it stories there. Both are dear to me, and I love being a fanfic author who gets to have it all. :p (I'm LOVING your Anakin voice in EtF so far, by the way. It's making me itch to write from his POV now something fierce!}

    Oooh, yes! I'd be over the moon for another Stover book. I'm due a RoTS reread, myself, that said. It's been years! Your TLotD even made me want to give Traitor another try. Maybe my adult self will find more to appreciate than I did as a teenager. :p

    Oh my goodness, but my shipping flames were fanned, lemme tell you. I remember that I read that interview while I was finally showing my sister TCW - literally on a pause between episodes - and she came back into the room and all I had to say was: he fights Order 66 for her, and we both broke down squeeing and coming up with headcanons right there on the spot. Aaah, but the family that fangirls together, right?

    RIGHT????? THIS!!!!!!!

    I remember walking out of the theater for Ep. VII - needless to say I'm not much of a ST fan - and my sister just turned to me and said: that's okay, you'll fix it, right? Because that's just what we fanfic writers do. [face_laugh]

    Exactly, exactly!! That's half the draw of the clones for me in the first place, and letting Rex figure out who he is and who he wants to be here? Gah, but it's all sorts of satisfying as an author. [face_love]

    Thank-you! I was so proud of that paragraph, and that line in particular.

    Amen to that! :p

    Right??? I just love this ridiculously adorable character so much. It's hard enough figuring out attraction and desire and love anyway, let alone having sped through your developmental years and never having figured out how feelings and relationships work. Rex has never allowed to exist as a human being. Instead, he was expected to live an ugly, short life fighting and then dying like the tool he essentially was. It's a lot of change to adjust to in a relatively short time, to say the least. But he's is getting there. Slowly but surely. :p

    Aw, three little boys! You most certainly will, then! [face_laugh] [face_love]

    I only have sisters, myself, but we're a close, goofy family - and my youngest sister is totally a sarcastic snot. This pretty much wrote like a scene from RL for me. I just love it when siblings are written like siblings. Sure we love each other, but we can also tease and get on each other's nerves like no one else can! [face_laugh]

    I know, that hurt to write. :(

    And, as for the woman . . . [face_whistling] [face_mischief]

    Aw, thanks! I'll admit that the idea for the further reaching plot at hand just smacked into me and wouldn't let me go. I am so excited to share exactly what I have in mind, and glad that you're enjoying the new development. I was half worried at first that it was going to be too jarring a change of pace!

    Again, I can't thank you enough for reading and taking the time to leave your thoughts! I hope you continue to enjoy the story as it goes. [:D]




    Alrighty, then! I have the next update written; it just needs a little bit more editing with fresh eyes, and then I hope to have it up sometime tomorrow. As another housekeeping note, my outline for this story has grown, again, and I'm now thinking that there will be twelve chapters total . . . maybe thirteen. Really, I should just stop guessing and bump that novella status over to novel, officially. Heck, I already have ideas for a sequel too. I know, no one is surprised. :p

    But, that said, I just thank you guys so much for reading, again! I'll be back with more soon. :D [:D]
     
  8. Mira_Jade

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

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    Part VIII

    Ahsoka crossed the street to Turning Heads, Phorra the Besalisk’s species-of-all-sentience beauty parlor and salon, with a jaunt in her step and a smile beaming from her face. She didn’t even try to soften her joy or keep her happiness from showing – mostly because she was happy. The previous day felt almost surreal to her, filled with the contentment of a dream, with only the stinging catharsis of the night before assuring her that Rex and she had, indeed, managed to reestablish some of their former equilibrium. She’d since had a great morning after recovering from how absolutely mortifying (perfectrightohsowarm) it had been to wake up plastered to Rex like a Nautulan sucker-squid, and her pulse was still a skip and a spark in her veins from the thrill of their ride into town. With the silvery sunshine glowing overhead and the heat of summer teasing on the air, so many things felt bright and possible again.

    Now, she had a purpose and a mission, and for that purpose needed assistance – assistance, she fortunately knew right where to find. Every third Taungsday of the month there was a gathering of ladies from all around the crater, and even a few of the neighboring ones, at the salon. Phorra and Echelle, her Twi’lek stylist, put out caf and sweet treats while they trimmed and glossed and exfoliated (depending on the species) for their circle of close friends. While waiting for their turn with Phorra and Echelle, the ladies stayed busy in what Ahsoka could only describe as an arts and crafts circle, chatting and laughing to share ideas and gossip and encouragement all the while.

    Though Ahsoka didn’t necessarily have any artistic talent to speak of – not unless you counted her skill with a lightsaber – she’d accompanied Suu to these gatherings a time or two before. She appreciated the easy camaraderie, but had mostly observed in silence while she tried to fill in the gaps where her own clan of the heart used to be. Though they hadn’t planned to come today, not with everything there was still to do at the farm before Eventide, once she shared her idea with Suu, she'd insisted that she go on without her anyway. Now, here she was.

    The door to the salon swished open, and she was greeted by the sharp-sweet scent of dyes and styling mist and floral conditioners and lotions. A dryer hummed in Phorra’s expert hands, while Echelle ran a whirling buffer over the now gleaming skull-dome of Ouga the Bith. The noisy whine of the tool didn’t hold them back from carrying on a conversation with the rest of the group, and the ladies had no problem raising their voices to make sure everyone was included. The small space was joyfully loud and buzzing with energy and unapologetically feminine all at once – in a way Ahsoka hadn’t known how to take at first, but now quite relished.

    Besides, after finally giving into Echelle’s cajoling to step up to the chair herself, she’d quickly decided that she never wanted to see to her own ecdysis again. It was so much better to let a professional handle that tedious task, and just accept and enjoy the pampering for the treat it was.

    “Ahsoka, dear!” came a throaty, booming voice from further back in the salon. “What a pleasant surprise this is!”

    Sitting next to Azalae – whose charcoal grey hair was newly trimmed and styled, and her horn nubs gleaming with fresh black gloss – Duana Truthng was a stocky, mottled orange and yellow skinned Drovian woman who managed the Dhakpa’s distillery. However, her true passion was millinery, and she made all sorts of headpieces that catered to a wide variety of species – one of which she was working on now. Suu herself had a hand-tooled bantha-leather harness that she only wore on special occasions, decorated with star-bursts and spirals of constellations to match the markings on her lekku – that was a Duana original. Duana was just as gregarious and irreverent as Azalea, and she laughed deeply and easily from the barrel of her lungs in a way that was contagious. When Duana laughed, everyone laughed along. What little bit of hair she did have atop her head was wrapped in curlers, then, and her claws were freshly enameled with bright, cheerful pink polish.

    Ahsoka smiled at Duana’s greeting, and made her way back through the salon to where she and Azalae sat at the head of the gathering. They were just who she wanted to see.

    Also joining them that day, she stopped to greet everyone she could as she passed, was Raelka the Er’kit, who was a poet. Usually, Raelka assisted at the town’s clinic – which was a medic center and dentist office and pharmacy all in one, and the tiny woman was quiet and reserved in demeanor. Mostly, she just sat back to observe the goings on around her, her stylus always moving over her journal of verses. Then, there was Kimoke the painter, a mixed near-human with opalescent skin and spikey blue hair, and Neeta the Rodian, who was also an artist, but who favored dry media. Rounding out the group were Gizesst and Gizassp, a pair of young Omwati sisters who waitressed at the Blind Acklay Pub. On top of composing music, which they sang live at the pub every other Benduday night, they were apprentice luthier to their mother, and hoped to open up their own shop in the capital someday. They were currently hunched over flimsi-sheets of music, with Gizesst humming softly while Gizassp plucked out a tune on a small stringed instrument. Both of them smiled brightly to see her, and Ahsoka sincerely returned their welcome. Being so close in age had instantly won her companions in the sisters, even when she hadn’t necessarily been looking to cultivate friendships here on Saleucami at first. Yet, here she was.

    “Little huntress!” Azalae happily echoed Duana’s welcome. “What a surprise this is! I did not expect for you to join us today, not with all there is to be done at the farm before Eventide.”

    “Suu was able to spare me for a few hours,” Ahsoka stepped forward to accept the kiss on her cheeks that Azalae put down her embroidery hoop to stand and greet her with. “But, only for something important, of course.”

    “Oooh, I sense intrigue,” Duana chortled, catching Azalae’s eye as the Devanorian sat back down and gestured for her to do the same. “Please, do tell,” she invited.

    Ahsoka was thrumming with eagerness and anticipation, but she took a second to accept the cup of caf that Raelka had kindly poured for her. She took in a breath over the steaming rim of the mug, and said, “I was wondering if I could have your help, actually? You know . . . with a gift.”

    Just like that – no matter the noise from the stylists and the previous chatter from the various conversations going on at once – she had the full attention of all the women in the shop. Eventide was the day of days on Saleucami, Ahsoka had quickly learned, and they took everything the celebration stood for and represented close to heart, both as a community and in their individual relationships.

    “A gift for your mate?” Azalae’s grin widened to guess, while, by her side, Duana clapped her broad hands together in glee. “How wonderful!” she crowed.

    “Yeah . . . for Rex.” And Ahsoka was most certainly not blushing then – she wasn’t. Instead, she proudly tilted her crest, and met the stares of both women without hesitation.

    “Of course, of course, pashkat!” Azalae happily assured her. She moved her chair closer, and leaning forward in eager expectation. “Any help that we may offer is yours. What is it that you have in mind?”

    Alright then, here it goes . . .

    Ahsoka exhaled, and took a folded scrap of flimsi from the pocket of her coveralls. She’d made a sketch of her idea, and while it wasn’t a masterpiece, she thought that she’d clearly conveyed just what it was, exactly, she wanted to make. “I’m no artist,” she admitted ruefully, “especially when we have Kimoke and Neeta here,” she gestured back to the two woman who were leaning over her shoulders to better see her design, “but this is kinda what I had in mind.”

    Azalae hummed as she looked over the flimsi, and then she passed it to Duana, who carefully handled the delicate sheet with the sharp points of her polished claws.

    In her sketch, Ahsoka had worked out a design for a pair of vambraces she wanted to commission for Rex. The gift was just as much for practicality’s sake as it was to honor the memory of where they’d come from. Clones, she knew, traded armor as a sign of affection – which she dearly wanted this to be. On his old armor, which he'd had to leave behind during their earliest days on the run, Rex had added blue paint to one of Cody’s designs on his right arm, just as Fives had one of Echo’s vambraces, and Kix had Jesse’s too. It was all that they had to give to each other, just as much as it was . . . fitting, to have a part of themselves protecting their brothers. Ahsoka bit her lip, hoping that Rex would see the gift for all that she intended it to be: a token of everything they’d left behind, yes, but also a promise of their path going forward – one that she wanted to take with him, together.

    “Hmm,” Azalae hummed thoughtfully. "You have designed armor?"

    “Yeah . . . kinda,” Ahsoka didn't want to give too much away, but confirmed her words all the same.

    For her reply, Azalae looked up from the sketch to meet her eyes. “You have come from violence, we know,” she gentled her voice to say – summing her circumstances up so succinctly that Ahsoka started. “There is no shame to be found in your past. You are not the only one here seeking refuge – searching for peace, at that.”

    That much, Ahsoka knew was true, even as a hum of agreement rippled through the gathering of women. Echelle was an ex-slave, she'd since learned, who'd bought her own freedom with Phorra’s help, while Gizesst and Gizassp’s mother had left Omwat to protect her daughters from the Summits of Knowledge that either broke or molded young Omwati minds into the high thinkers their world was known for. Duana too had fled from the inner-warring between her own people, while Raelka and her family had been displaced by the Outer Rim sieges in the Clone Wars. There was so much darkness in the galaxy – overwhelmingly so; in their own way, everyone here was just trying their best to find a bit of light to rest beneath.

    Still, Ahsoka could only nod in wordless reply. She didn't have the words to share what she was running from, not with everything she couldn’t say, and she had no desire to lie to her new friends. So, she held her silence.

    “Someday, when – if – you are ready to tell your story, I look forward to hearing it,” in her own way, Azalae understood. Gracefully, she accepted her secrets. “Until then, come now! We will speak of joy and good things! Let the past cast its shadow behind you.” For the matron's strong words, the mood lifted, and eagerness and excitement returned to thrum through the group like a live current. “These markings, here?” Azalae focused on the sketch to ask. “They are significant?”

    They were. On the top plate of each vambrace, Ahsoka had sketched a pair of jaig eyes, just the same as used to be on the brow of Rex’s helmet. From here forward, he could start marking his tallies again, if he wanted. She wasn’t sure exactly how or what he’d mark them for – she didn’t see them liberating entire worlds again anytime soon, after all – but the option for a new beginning was there if he wanted to take it.

    “This part is the most important to me. I . . . I’d like to make the marks myself,” she looked to Duana with a hesitant smile. “If you can help show me how, that is?”

    A clone’s armor was a personal thing, she knew – even if every battalion usually had a single man who was more inclined to artistic pursuits than his brothers to oversee the more ornate designs. Jesse had that honored position in the 501st, Ahsoka remembered his constant scribbling and drawing on any surface he could with a bittersweet pang, before gently pushing the memory aside. She would have loved to have come to him for this instead, in any other time and place.

    Duana tapped the sketch with a thoughtful claw, and traded a glance with Azalae. “I can stitch up the main bulk of this – reinforced lethris, I’m thinking? Something thick and sturdy, but supple. And I already know just who can fabricate the plates – do you think we can get this to your Uncle Leepo in time?" she glanced to Neeta, who replied with an affirmative.

    "Kimoke?" Azalae looked back over her shoulder to find the artist, but didn't have to voice her question before Kimoke replied, "I've got the color handled; leave it to me."

    Duana nodded, satisfied. "If you come back here the Tuangday before Eventide," her attention returned to her to say, "I’ll be more than happy to guide you through the process when it comes time for detail.”

    Wow . . . that was so much more than she was expecting. She'd only thought that they'd steer her towards the right fabricators in the crater, and she'd go from there on her own. Not . . . not this. She fought down the lump she could feel swelling in her throat, with her heart seemingly rising up from her chest to steal her breath. Her eyes burned, even though she had told herself so many times that she was through with tears.

    “Thank-you,” Ahsoka finally said, looking from Azalae and Duana and then back to Kimoke and Neeta with as sincere a smile as she could manage. They smiled just as widely in return, and Ahsoka could feel the amity around her, echoing in her montrals from all of the excited heartbeats and rippling across her skin as something almost tangible. From there, they spent more time discussing materials and construction and color, and then the conversation turned to more general things – asking her about Suu and the children and the preparations for the upcoming Scorch Season and the harvest. Ahsoka even let Echelle talk her into taking a turn in the chair, and was more than happy to let the talented beautician see to a full exfoliation for her montrals and lekku. Force, but that was just divine.

    Finally, she knew that she couldn’t stay any longer. She had to meet back up with Rex, and there was plenty to be done back at the farm to bring in the harvest. Ahsoka said her goodbyes with a happy trill, and then headed for the door.

    She stepped out into the sunshine again, and reflexively cast a glance over her surroundings. Looking both ways up and down the lane, she had to do a double-take when she noticed the black swoop from earlier as its engine started with a low, purring hum of sound. There, sitting on its dual seats, she saw -

    It was instinct more so than premonition that had her stepping back into the shadow cast by the awning of the salon. She kept herself hidden and out of view – oh Force, but at least she hoped she did in that scant cover the awning provided – as the swoop turned down the lane and then accelerated once they cleared the town-line. A moment passed, and then they disappeared completely from view. But there . . . that woman in red . . . Ahsoka had seen her face, and she had known . . .

    It can’t be, her mind balked to process what her eyes and every one of her senses screamed to tell her was true. No; the chances are too slim to even be possible.

    Yet . . . were they? Were they really?

    Waiting just a minute longer to make sure the swoop was well and truly out of sight, she darted across the street to the general store – and Rex – her thoughts spinning and her pulse racing as the Force pressed against her in waves of warningpossibilityexpectation. And she knew then – she knew – that somehow, between one moment and the next, everything had changed.



    .

    .

    Though it wasn’t the most dignified thing he’d ever done, here he was: a veteran soldier of war and a genetically enhanced copy of one of the fiercest Mandalorian warriors to plague the known galaxy in recent history . . . and he was crouched down to hide between rows of canned goods and flimsiplast sealed food-stuffs the same as if he was manning a dug out trench. The ridiculousness of his situation wasn’t lost on him as he gestured at a surprised Duros woman who was filling her shopping basket to please ignore him and move on. It chaffed at him on a deeply intrinsic level, just standing down and doing nothing when all he wanted was to march out and engage the threat suddenly facing him head-on. But, thoughts of Ahsoka – and even of Cut and his family – held him back, and kept him still.

    Jinpo hadn’t had any more time to spare without raising questions, and he’d returned to his meeting with the strangers as quickly as he could, leaving Rex to awkwardly keep himself hidden until they were through. He’d so far garnered more than a few odd looks from a patron or two, but thankfully not enough to cause too much of a stir. Eventually – what felt like hours later, but was really only minutes in actuality – Jinpo stood, and showed his guests to the door.

    “You’ll consider my offer, then?” the woman asked in parting, and Rex started to hear her speak. He knew that voice; recognition teased at his memory, tantalizingly just out of reach. He didn’t dare risk showing himself to get a clear look at her face, though, and she didn’t say anything more. Instead: “I will, my lady,” Jinpo’s voice was grave to answer. “Most carefully, I can assure you.”

    With that, the woman and the man departed, and Rex released the painful breath he’d been holding all the while. He relaxed his hands from fists, telling himself that the threat had passed; he could stand down now. Yet his tension still remained, banding his shoulders and coiling in every one of his muscles in preparation for movement, in want for war.

    Jinpo waited – waited until the rumbling sound of an engine sounded from outside of the shop and then sped away, presumably out of town. Then, and only then, Rex heard him sigh.

    “They're gone now,” was all he said, and Rex cautiously stood to his full height again.

    “Who were they?” he didn't waste any time to ask as he fell into step with Jinpo, heading back to his office and the privacy it offered. His voice had sharpened into the same tone he’d demand a sitrep from his men in, with the urge to take control and command warring with his long-conditioned sense of deference to a Republic citizen. He was only supposed to speak to a natural-born when spoken to, after all, and he was never to presume to give orders.

    But there was danger now – a threat to himself and his brother and his Jedi, all. The instinct to protect and defend, at all costs, was then strong enough to override every other protocol he’d once been expected to obey.

    Jinpo waited until they were out of earshot from anyone else in the shop to answer. His usually smiling countenance was somber then, and his golden eyes were troubled. “They came to extend a business offer,” he finally said. “An investment opportunity for myself – and I believe for a few others in the region who are of like mind.”

    What? Rex's mind raced. How does that fit in?

    “A business offer?” Rex repeated, his brow furrowing. Others of like mind? something within him heard, and identified as important, as crucial. That voice was one he'd well learned to trust over the years.

    “Yes,” Jinpo was lost in thought, and still not answering him clearly. “So they said.”

    Okay, then. The same as he would to coax an answer out of a shell-shocked shiny, Rex switched tactics and simplified his line of questioning: “Who are they, exactly?

    “She . . . she called herself Amidala,” it took Jinpo a long moment to reply. His voice strengthened, and he said more firmly: “Lady Amidala.”

    Lady Amidala.

    The name hit him with all the force of a droid popper detonating right in front of his eyes. Amidala . . . Padmé, he felt something pained twist deep inside of him in memory of the late senator. Ahsoka and he had considered Padmé as an option to turn to in those first, turbulent days following the carnage of Order 66. Learning of her death had been another cruel, shocking blow to compound many such blows back then. Hers was another name he now listed in his remembrances at night, and he'd truly mourned her passing. She . . . she'd been a good woman, a beacon shining for peace and justice and tolerance in a galaxy that was now sorely devoid of such light. He’d known just how much she’d meant to his General on a personal level, at that – in every forbidden way. Losing them both was still a grief that he had yet to fully process.

    “Padmé?” he dumbly gaped, even as another memory prodded at him. "Lady Padmé Amidala?"

    Yet, if he wasn’t so close to the situation, and thinking clearly, he would have instead known, he would have recognized -

    “ - Sabé,” Ahsoka’s voice sounded from behind him as she entered the office. He turned for her arrival, surprised to see her and yet not. Her voice was just as thick with a matching incredulity to repeat: “Rex, did you see her? That was Sabé.”

    Jinpo blinked to process this new information. “You know her, then?” curiously, he glanced between them.

    “I . . . I do,” Ahsoka hesitated to answer. She walked further into the office, and came to stand by his side. Concern pinched at her features, and the usually vibrant blue of her chevrons was muted. “Or, I did, at least.”

    Once, Sabé had been one of Senator Amidala’s handmaidens, her bodyguard and double and confidant, who'd sworn a life-vow back during Padmé's reign as Naboo’s child-queen. She, like Padmé, would have renounced her birth-name to adopt the ceremonial Amidala that the people chose for her instead; of course she would still keep that name in memory of her mistress. For the clear role of protector she'd played, Rex had respected her from the first – had thought to know a kindred spirit in her, even. She was an elegant weapon, holstered in plain sight, and she had dedicated her life to protect and defend, just as he had.

    Yet, now . . .

    “What is she doing here? Saleucami is a long way from Naboo,” Rex finally said, giving voice to the question that Ahsoka was no doubt wondering herself. It was such a massive galaxy, he tried to make sense of this new development in his mind. What were the chances – the odds – of their paths crossing in such a small town as Pachunagara in the Outer Rim? They were minuscule enough to be well beyond consideration.

    They’re about the same as you finding not one, but two kyber crystals, just randomly digging in the earth, that same voice from earlier whispered. How is this any different? After all, Rex’s prior introspection smacked into him anew, filling him with a sudden sense of apprehension, the Force did not work in coincidences.

    Ahsoka frowned, clearly just as perplexed as he was. It was Jinpo who answered, “She introduced herself as an envoy of Senator Riyo Chuchi, who is onworld with her delegation from Pantora for Eventide.”

    Well . . . there was the connection to Saleucami, in a way. Saleucami was still a Pantoran controlled world – though for how long the Empire would let that stand was anyone’s guess – and, as Pantora’s senator . . .

    With that, memories from the war came flooding back. Rex remembered Senator Chuchi clearly: such a deceivingly delicate woman, who nonetheless had the courage of a being ten times her size and a tongue sharper than any vibro-blade when she had a cause to lift her voice to. She had been one of the few natural-borns who looked him in the eye from the first. She had asked him for his name, and had even privately expressed her condolences for the men he’d lost, protecting the interests of Pantora on Orto Plutonia. That had been during the earliest days of the Secession Crisis, and Rex hadn’t known how to take her soft sincerity then. She had truly mourned the lives who’d been so senselessly wasted against the Talz – the sentient lives lost; not merely discharged ordnance – and her grief was sincere.

    Padmé had considered Riyo a personal friend, just as much as she was a professional colleague of like mind in the Senate, which could explain the connection to Sabé . . . Ahsoka had called Riyo her friend, at that. And, sure enough, when Rex glanced over, Ahsoka’s eyes were bright and gleaming, undoubtedly cycling through the same memories as he was.

    Yet, Rex felt a note of trepidation rise from deep within. He couldn’t immediately share her joy.

    “And, the man?” he asked. The one who looks just like me? He felt a cold prickle run up and down his spine to have it confirmed that Jinpo knew – that he had known – who and what he was. But, while Jinpo knew that he was a clone trooper, he’d endeavored to hide him rather than give him away. It was a gesture of friendship that Rex still didn’t exactly know how to process, no matter how grateful he was for the Pantoran’s discretion.

    For that, Jinpo turned to meet his eyes. “The man introduced himself as captain of the senator’s guard – though how he came by that position, I do not know. He was escorting Lady Amidala, but did not give me his name. Nor did he say much of anything, at that. Yet I know who . . . and what he is.”

    “He was one of my brothers,” Rex explained to Ahsoka, and her eyes grew large as she rounded on Jinpo with a suddenly wary expression. She tensed, and Jinpo held his hands out in a placating gesture, seeing as her concern sharpened and poised on the edge of danger. A Togruta moved to defend – a Jedi stirred to protect – was not a threat to be taken lightly, after all.

    “Yes, I know – I have long known,” Jinpo’s voice dropped to whisper. Still, he kept his words carefully vague, as if the very air around them had ears to listen. “I do not know the whole of your story, not exactly, but I do know this: the both of you have escaped to forge a path in life that you should not have been free to take for your own. I respect that – I admire that, even, and I will do everything I can to ensure that you remain on the path of your choosing. Pantora, so far, is doing its best to stay in stride with the new Imperial Order; though the Moon herself only knows for how long that will last before the Emperor’s taxations and brutalities force the Houses of Assembly to cede ties. The Empire is trying to force us out of our trade lanes, to seize control of our Ports of Welcome and claim entire sister-worlds we've had to our name for generations, since the earliest days of the Old Republic. Eventually, Pantora will have a choice to make. Eventually, we all will have a choice to make.”

    His voice remained hushed to speak words that had such veiled meaning – dangerous words; words that had weight and promise and intended to fight.

    . . . those of like mind, Jinpo had said, and Rex flushed cold with sudden understanding. After all, he knew Senator Chuchi – who, like Senator Amidala, would not stand for the totalitarianism of the Emperor’s new regime, not if she had any option to the contrary to push back, to resist. Sabé, for her part, would only serve as an agent for someone who was of like mind with her former mistress. And, Padmé, certainly, would not have accepted the Empire's dark rot festering on the galaxy she'd once dedicated her life to serve. Whatever she was doing here, Sabé undoubtedly served Padmé's memory still.

    Perhaps, like Jinpo’s hushed whisper suggested, he thought to know, she too is here to fight.

    Yet, the clone trooper, the captain of Senator Chuchi’s guard . . . Rex frowned, troubled for that unexplained variable. The edicts of Order 66 still stood, and Ahsoka was a traitor whose life was forfeit on sight of any Imperial officer. He himself was a deserter, at best – who was guilty of absconding with Republic property and aiding and abetting a known fugitive, was more likely how the charges against him would read if he was ever apprehended. Even if this one of his brothers somehow had a new commission – how was that even possible? – and had escaped the ranks of mindless drones that now made up the bulk of the stormtrooper corp, that didn’t necessarily mean that he was a friend to him, and certainly not to Ahsoka.

    Yet . . .

    “Did you recognize him?” Ahsoka asked.

    “Negative,” Rex answered, his shoulders twitching in a shrug. “No tattoos; regulation hair-cut; foreign armor. Your guess is as good as mine.”

    Even the vod’e themselves sometimes stumbled over who was who outside of their close circle of brothers – especially over comms, when every identical voice bled one into the next. There was just too many of them otherwise – especially for the unmarked shinies who’d neither earned their paint nor chosen a name for themselves beyond their CID number. Somewhat ironically, Ahsoka often had a better grasp on identifying her men than he did through the way they felt to her in the Force. General Skywalker, too – who made it a point to tell his troopers apart more so than any other Jedi Rex knew.

    Ahsoka nodded, not terribly surprised by his answer. But, it was worth a shot. “Will they be coming back?” finally, she asked next.

    “Yes; for my answer, the day following Eventide,” Jinpo replied. He cut a considering look at Ahsoka, undoubtedly watching – as Rex did – how her thoughts spun. “When they return,” he slowly suggested, “perhaps it would be best if you are not here.”

    “I thank you for your concern,” Ahsoka said – yet she did not say that she would, she did not say that she agreed. And, Rex, who was used to chasing after his Jedi when they did something reckless and insanely stupid, had a very bad feeling about whatever course of action she was then considering.

    “What you are running from haunts your steps,” in lieu with Rex’s thinking, Jinpo found it necessary to offer his advice. “Caution is imperative when there is ice beneath the snow that could break. Please, make sure you know where you place your feet before you take a step.” The old Pantoran adage echoed along with Rex’s own thoughts on the matter, and he inclined his head in agreement.

    Yet Ahsoka merely smiled a soft smile and said, “Of course we will, Jinpo. Thank-you, for everything.” Then, much to the Pantoran’s surprise, she stepped forward and warmly clasped his hands in her own. She kissed one of his cheeks and then the next, just as he usually would to them in greeting and farewell, and then said her goodbyes. There was nothing more left for them than that.

    Rex hesitated before following her out of the shop, mindful of the kyber crystals he still carried in his pocket. He watched Ahsoka leave, knowing that he only had a moment or two, if he was careful. But he had to take this chance, and seize his opportunity – especially if there was danger on the horizon. They had to be prepared.

    So.

    He turned to Jinpo, and lowered his voice to ask: “If I gave something to you, could you see about finding out, exactly, what they are? And maybe help me get them cleaned up and polished. You know . . . for . . .” but he fumbled over his words, unsure why it was so hard to say a gift for Ahsoka and Eventide all at once. “It’s actually what I was first here to talk to you about,” he recovered to finish. Even so, he felt as the tips of his ears burned.

    But Jinpo was canny, and his troubled expression lightened in favor of a wily smile when Rex passed the two crystals over in as nonchalant a gesture as he could manage. “Of course,” he understood, glancing over his shoulder to keep a careful eye out for Ahsoka. “It would be a privilege and an honor.”

    And, with that, he was out of time. Rex offered a small smile of gratitude, inclined his head, and then turned out of the shop to follow his Jedi.

    When he walked outside, though, he didn’t have to worry about Ahsoka wondering for his brief delay. Instead, she was standing still on the walkway . . . and looking at where the black swoop had been parked, just when they arrived. She then looked pensively – pointedly, at Cut's bike.

    Immediately, Rex understood: there was Cut’s bike . . . Cut’s salvaged and repurposed GAR speeder-bike, which any clone trooper worth his armor would easily recognize for exactly what it was. They would know what . . . and then, they would wonder who.

    Though he knew it was a futile gesture, he looked up and down the lane, taking in the handful of locals going about their day, unaware that anything was amiss. He felt exposed, standing there in the street, and he wanted nothing more than to take up a defensible position for cover. All their ghosts suddenly felt close enough to share their shadows, and he flushed cold, no matter the growing warmth of the day.

    “Well,” Ahsoka remarked, her voice level, “whatever they’re up to, they know that we – or someone like us, anyway – are here.” She stared down the lane and then up to the distant crater rim, rising like the impression of mountains from so far away. Her expression was serene, and her stance poised as the breeze ruffled her lekku. She looked, Rex thought with an emotion he couldn't immediately name, very much like a Jedi then. “They know," she muttered, "that they’re not alone.”

    Just as we're no longer alone,
    Rex heard the unspoken, and squared his jaw.

    Yet he exhaled, and pushed his thoughts aside in favor of movement. “Let’s get going,” he suggested. “I don’t like being out in the open if we don’t have to be.”

    Ahsoka nodded, and, with none of the sparking heat or carefree exhilaration from earlier, they both took their place on the swoop. Their closeness was simply born of necessity again, and they were both too focused on the further-reaching implications of their unexpected encounter for anything else. For better or worse, Rex felt as the choices they had to make for the future suddenly pressed in on their here and now, everything had changed.




    So, whew! But the plot got heavy here, didn't it?

    For those of you who are not familiar with TCW, I have to take a moment to introduce a wonderful character, and explain a little bit more about her to help this newest development make better sense:

    Riyo Chuchi: Riyo is the senator for Pantora. She's a young senator, and new to her position at the beginning of the series. The first time we met her onscreen was when the GAR's base on Orto Plutonia - the planet the moon of Pantora orbits - ceased communications with Republic command. A party was sent to investigate, fronted by Anakin and Obi-Wan. Riyo, and the Chairman of the Assembly for her people, accompanied the Jedi. It was soon discovered that Orto Plutonia was inhabited, unlike they first thought, by the Talz. The Talz had attacked and destroyed the GAR base. The Chairman did not want peace with the Talz, and refused to recognize their sovereignty over their home-planet and renounce Pantora's claim. His decisions, based in bigotry and fear, led to violence. He was a bully, and used Riyo as his mouthpiece to see his will done. During the episode, Riyo had to find her courage and her voice to stand up to the Chairmen, and worked with her government to recant his authority and instead grant her permission to establish peaceful relations with the Talz. She eventually talked to the Talz chief one on one for a cease-fire, ending the fighting and laying the groundwork for a treaty between their peoples. It was an awesome episode, and Riyo automatically endeared herself to me. [face_love]

    Here's a brief clip from that episode, if you want to get a better feel for her character. It's one of my favorite scenes of the entire show:



    (Just: her and Obi-Wan's final words there??? You can't tell me Riyo wasn't a part of the Rebellion at its inception after that. No siree, you can't. [face_love] I just have hearts in my eyes for this amazing woman, and I'm happy to include her as I can in my story here.)

    From this episode, we meet Riyo on and off again throughout the series. On Coruscant, she worked with Padmé and Bail Organa against the Enhanced Privacy Invasion Bill. She had enough of a bond with Anakin and Padmé that when Anakin was injured during the Senate Hostage Crisis, she looked after Anakin while Padmé tried to negotiate. Later, when the Trade Federation boycotted Pantora, and kidnapped the new Chairman's daughters to hold as leverage, Padmé was able to offer advice and condolences from a very personal point of view. That same episode, Ahsoka - acting unofficially as a Jedi, who couldn't get involved in the affair, but instead as Riyo's friend - helped Riyo find and free the girls, all the while blackmailing the Trade Federation to force them to end their blockade without having to capitulate and join the Separatists - which were the previous terms to end the blockade. Between blackmailing the Trade Federation, and using her senatorial position to lie about her intentions to get aboard the Trade Federation flagship in the first place - both of which are technically ethical no-no's - she's already proven that she doesn't mind bending the rules if it means serving the good of the many. Though canon doesn't say what happens to Riyo after RotS, I like to imagine that she was one of the founding members of the Rebel Alliance along with Bail Organa and Mon Mothma. Aaaand, as Saleucami is a Pantoran world, and Ahsoka already has a prior friendship with Riyo . . . well, one thing just led to another, and all the pieces for my plot just fell into place. [face_mischief]

    Wait, but who's the clone?? - I will have more notes about that after the next chapter. ;) [face_whistling]

    And somehow Sabé is here too??? - Yep! When I saw the handmaidens still kicking butt and taking names in the Darth Vader comics, I knew I wanted to carry on with the popular fanon of Sabé being an agent for the Rebellion, especially in the early days. With her background and connections, it would be easy for her to be included in a senatorial delegation - especially for one of Padmé's former friends. According to canon, we know that Sabé isn't her actual birth-name, but the name she adopted for herself as a handmaiden. It's my fanon that the name Amidala is symbolic too. As Amidala, Padmé and her ladies belong to the Nabooian people, and to each other, first and foremost before their families of blood. Or, at least, so says me as the holder of the pen. :p

    For more about what and whys of their dealings with Jinpo - and what that could possibly mean for Rex and Ahsoka - well, that too will wait for the next chapter. [face_mischief]


    Alright then! That was a lot, I know! Are you guys still with me? I tried my best to set things up clearly in the chapter without resorting to too much info-dumping - which can be quite the trick! Especially with my tendency to ramble. If I didn't succeed, and you have questions, please feel free to ask. I always love to chat about this world and these characters. :)

    [:D]




    ~ MJ @};-
     
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2020
  9. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha 2 Truths 1 Lie Host star 8 VIP - Game Host

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Superb as Ahsoka continues to bask; the scene in the salon was so warm and congenial. The ladies all sound wonderful and like they each have a fascinating back-story.

    The arrival of Sabe was well done. The connection to Pantora and the convergence of those who are seeking potential Rebels with those who are seeking sanctuary/refuge was bound to happen eventually. [face_thinking]
     
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  10. ViariSkywalker

    ViariSkywalker Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Aug 9, 2002
    Sabé!!

    Will be back with more coherent feedback, but that was a twist I did not see coming!

    (Also, yes, send me all the links to the Song!verse, I need more happy Skywalkers in my life!)
     
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  11. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha 2 Truths 1 Lie Host star 8 VIP - Game Host

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
  12. Findswoman

    Findswoman Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Feb 27, 2014
    A new chapter, hooray! :D And also one that really packs it in, in so many ways. I was stoked to see Ahsoka asking this wonderful circle of crafty ladies (squee!) forthrightly and specifically about a gift for Rex--that seems like a very good sign that she's moving toward coming to terms with her real feelings about him. <3 (I have to say I also love that all the ladies all coming from places of brokenness and exile in their own ways... you know how I love that kind of dynamic in an ensemble cast. @};- ) And ooh, what a perfect gift it is that she has in mind--those vambraces sound not only magnificent but so meaningful, and Ahsoka's insistence on painting the jaig eyes herself will make them all the more so. I totally understand her embarrassment about Duana and Kimoke's offers to help her with the design in a more hands-on way, but at the same time, she could not ask for better helpers! :cool:

    And ohmigosh, Sabé! :eek: That was a twist I didn't anticipate either! I have a bit of a guess about what she, Riyo Chuchi, and the clone are trying to do and about where the "like-minded" side of things fits in, and I think it's the same guess Ahsoka and Rex have. [face_thinking] Their objective is not necessarily a bad or malicious one, but I could see where it could still spell trouble for Rex and Ahsoka if they are found out--and the borrowed, repurposed bike might well have given them ideas. I have a feeling that a potentially difficult meeting is in the offing, and I am curious about Jinpo's response, too; whatever the proposition involves, it is clearly something he needs to think further about at best, or is uncertain about at worst. Things to continue to thicken up in so many exciting ways, and because this is you and the SongVerse we're talking about, I know the buildup will not be in vain! Bravissima once again, and I can't wait to see what will go down on Eventide itself! =D=
     
  13. ViariSkywalker

    ViariSkywalker Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Aug 9, 2002
    Too lazy to edit my last post, so here's a new one! :p

    [:D] You’re welcome, as always! And QFT!

    ;)

    Thank you, thank you for the links! So looking forward to reading more! :D

    I get the feeling this is going to be me as well pretty soon, writing one ‘verse with all the angst and another with all the happy, fix-it stories – both stemming from EtF, lol. :p (And I’m so glad you’re enjoying my take on Anakin! From what I’ve seen of your fics, you have an excellent take on him as well, so you should definitely write more! [face_batting])

    Hey, you never know! I would definitely recommend the prologue and first chapter or so, just to get you in the mindset, plus there were things there that I directly and indirectly referenced in TLotD… hmm, I might have to flip through the book again and send you some notes on things I enjoyed, if you’re game. ;) No pressure, really!

    I LOVE those family fangirl moments! My sister and I were together for the most recent Mandalorian episode, and omigosh we were fangirling HARD. [face_laugh] I also had quite the capslock-y, hour-long text exchange with Gabri_Jade that evening, whoa boy. It was a great day. [face_dancing]

    I will probably be forever salty about the ST. :p (I had a whole ST rant typed up, but maybe I’ll send that in PM sometime so I don’t derail this thread even more, haha.)

    This really speaks to me. [face_love]

    At risk of derailing these comments even more… I’m thinking the EtF sequel might be right up your alley? Maybe? [face_whistling][face_mischief] (She says before she’s even finished the original story *facepalm*)

    Sibling/family dynamics and relationships are one of the main reasons I love SW so much, and I love writing them and seeing them written so well!

    Not jarring at all! And that really does seem to be how the best plots happen – they just smack you upside the head, and you have to go with it!

    I love this description of the salon! As much as I LOVE Star Wars, there is so little in it that is unapologetically feminine. It’s nice to see Ahsoka – who spent a significant portion of her adolescence in mixed or predominantly male company – getting to have this time with other women. [face_love]

    Isn’t this the truth?! [face_laugh]

    There’s just so much here, not just in this section but in the surrounding paragraphs as well. I really like how so many of the people in this town have come here seeking a new life, and though they might not know the particulars of Ahsoka’s situation, there’s understanding there because war and violence have touched all their lives. And I love that they don’t pry or push for details, yet they are able to offer support and acceptance.

    Jesse =((

    As always, really good reflection on how the clones were all individuals. It’s fascinating to think of all the differences between them, stemming from a single set of DNA. Maybe that’s part of the allure of a good AU? Knowing just how different a person could be in a different set of circumstances, yet still recognizable as that person. The clone brotherhood is a great way of exploring that kind of thing in-universe.

    Well, if that wasn’t just a punch in the gut. :(

    Sabé! [face_dancing] I’ve had a soft spot for the handmaidens going all the way back to my earliest days on these boards. I confess I don’t know anything about what new canon has done with them, but I’m excited to see Sabé show up!

    Isn’t it great how you can be writing a story and throw in little details here and there… and then all of a sudden, you start realizing how perfectly all those details are aligning to tell an even better, more complex story? Can’t wait to see where this all goes!

    I am really curious to know more about this particular clone and how he ended up at Sabé’s side. [face_thinking]

    Again, I like this idea of some of the people, like Jinpo, knowing much more about Rex and Ahsoka than they’ve let on. And a really great job of showing how much of an impact the Empire is already having on the galaxy.

    I got chills.

    So true. Dammit, Anakin, why??? =((


    I love the uncertainty here. Even though it seems likely that Sabé and her clone companion are here for a noble purpose, that’s still a purpose that could disrupt the peace that Rex and Ahsoka have been trying to carve out for themselves, as well as put them and their entire found-family in danger. Really great stuff! Another excellent update! =D=
     
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  14. Mira_Jade

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

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    Oh my goodness, but you guys are just the best! Thank you so much for all of the wonderful feedback! As always, I appreciate and value every word more than I can say. [face_love] [:D]

    So! I have a few replies, and then onwards with the update! :D

    Thank-you! I'll admit that I had a blast writing that part, and I have so many head-canons about each lady that I may someday have to dive into just a wee bit further. [face_mischief] There can never be enough awesome ladies being awesome together. [face_love]

    Thank-you! You know I was worried about pulling that off in a believable manner, but, in the end, all of the pieces were there to fall into place, and the Force is bound to beckon Ahsoka forward sooner rather than later . . . [face_mischief]

    As always, I appreciate your support and encouragement! [:D]


    You know, I had another much adored ensemble of ladies in mind when I wrote this particular scene. [face_mischief] But, really, like I said to Nyota, there can never be enough awesome ladies being awesome in fiction - especially in science fiction, where, sadly, such ensembles are few and far between. The galaxy is in a state of turmoil, and has been for so long, it only makes sense that there are small communities like this that are just trying to live in what peace they can. It really kind of adds to that 'old western frontier' feel you get for a lot of Outer Rim worlds, and I enjoyed putting all of these various stories together in what a brief glimpse I could here. [face_love]

    Thank-you! It's hard to beat kyber crystals as a gift, but, to Rex, armor means just as much as her lightsabers do to Ahsoka. I love the symbolism of them both being able to give back part of each other as a gift. It just seemed all too fitting! (Plus, we're totally upgrading Rex's design from Rebels here, which isn't all that hard to do. [face_laugh] :p)

    Thank-you so much! At first I was kinda flummoxed as to how to potentially bring Ahsoka and Rex back into the thick of things from here, and then as soon as I read Saleucami's wook page and learned that it was a Pantoran controlled trading hub I then of course thought of Ahsoka's friendship with Riyo and the rest was history. Everything just fell into place from there! [face_love]

    Then, adding Sabé was honestly a throw-back to the old heydey of the boards. Handmaiden fic was all the rage way back when, and it was pretty much accepted as all but canon that Sabé would be one of the earliest agents of the Rebellion. I was all too happy to carry on that tradition here, and look forward to exploring the idea more to come! :D (Plus, imagining more Kiera Knightley kicking shebs in this GFFA is just all sorts of pleasing. [face_mischief])

    As always, I thank you so very much for your kind words! It really means a lot to me to have you along for this story, and I hope that you continue to enjoy it as it goes. [:D]



    Yep, it's SABÉ!!! :D

    You know, there's quite a bit of the NJO that I wouldn't mind giving a reread in general. I really enjoyed the premise, and the potential of the series. Plus, it gave me J/J, and Ben. [face_love] You know, before the profic authors made some downright ridiculous decisions, and then it was just a mess from TJK on out, in many ways. I glean the little bits I like, and throw out all the rest. Which, don't we all? :p

    But, YES! I wouldn't mind that at all for Traitor. Again, I'm really intrigued to see how my tastes and perceptions as a reader have changed over the last ten years. It's bound to be interesting.

    You and me both! The last three episodes now have just been peak fangirl service. There have been so many squees between me and my sisters. And all the caps lock text messages, too. Ah, what a time to be a PT fan, right? :D [face_dancing] [face_love]

    My middle sister literally just called me after The Jedi and screamed THRAWN!!! in my ear. It was kinda the best phone call ever. [face_laugh]

    Eugh, right? o_O The ST just isn't my Star Wars, thanks but no thanks. (And, honestly, I betcha I have much of the same rants in mind that, you're right, I probably shouldn't get into too much here. So I'll refrain . . . mostly. [face_mischief])

    Ha! From everything I've gleaned about it so far, I think you might be right. Don't worry, though. The time you'll spend finishing the original story just gives me time to catch up. [face_laugh] ;)

    That's EXACTLY how this one happened. I was looking at my notebook and scratching my head, wondering how I would get Ahsoka and Rex from Saleucami back into the thick of things, and then Saleucami's wook page said that it was a Pantoran controlled world and one connection lit another in my mind and my plot just grew from there!

    It really is a great feeling though, sewing little seeds and clues all throughout the text and then watching them all bloom! Gah, but I just love being a writer. [face_love]

    Thank-you! I was thinking along similar lines myself. In SW, and science fiction fiction in general, really, there isn't much that's unapologetically feminine, or even female centric, unless the plot caters specifically to women as a target audience. You can write essays on that subject, but here for Ahsoka in particular, you're too right! Her life for the majority thus far has been spent in mixed or predominantly male company, and I loved being able to include this close-knit circle of women in her story. [face_love]

    Right? :D I'm the odd one out in my family that I don't really enjoy pampering in a beauty salon. But my mother was a cosmetologist - she wanted to go into special effects make-up before RL changed her plans, and she still loves character and creature design - and my sisters like nothing better than to treat themselves to a salon day. So I can understand and appreciate the draw from afar. :p

    Thank-you! I was so proud of this entire scene for all of the reasons you mentioned. The galaxy, especially out in the Outer Rin, can be a hard place to live in, and yet there has to be quiet communities like this where people are just trying to live peacefully from day to day. Like I was saying to Finds, I really appreciate that 'old western, frontier town' kinda feel that we see in a lot of settings in the Outer Rim, and tried to capture that a bit as I could here.

    And, beyond that, being able to write this for Ahsoka just felt soooo good. She deserves this kind of support and acceptance from others, and it can only help her move on and heal. That's why she left the Jedi Order in the first place, really, when they didn't believe in her as she did in them. But here, she's found a community that has welcomed her with open arms. Even if it's just a temporary respite in her journey, it's an important one.

    And that's one of the things that just hurt about seeing Ahsoka in Mandalorian. She's still living a lonely existence, all these years later. I won't say she's adrift - she clearly has a purpose in mind that she's fighting whole heartedly. But she's still that solitary warrior - call it a lone ranger or the wandering samurai tropes that the episode so wonderfully encapsulated - who puts a life of service before herself. She was just so softly sad - which I really credit to Rosario Dawson's performance. I just want her to find peace and a happy ending and a place to belong when everything is said and done. Maybe I'm asking too much, I know - so I'll just keep on writing in my Home 'verse here. :p

    Jesse. =((

    (In the infanite happy endings of the Song!verse, I have to add, Jesse just may settle down on Alderaan after the war where he's a successful artist with a gallery and a sweetheart of an awesome artist girlfriend named Amily - who he meets in a caf house, to carry on with fandom favorite tropes, again. He's there with Kix, who's going to medical school to become a fully fledged trauma surgeon, because these dear boys deserve all the good things. So, watch me make it happen. [face_mischief] [face_whistling])

    I soooo agree with this. It's amazing how many different personalities - with their own likes and dislikes and unique talents - came from one set of DNA, and I love exploring that as much as I can in my writing. It really is like an in-universe line-up of infinitely possible AUs. I loved that. :D

    . . . yeah. =(( :_|

    Oh my goodness, right? Handmaiden fanfiction was the thing way back in the day, and I've always had such a soft spot for Sabé in particular. She deserves to be kicking all of the Imperial shebs she can, and, by golly, but I'm going to give her ample opportunity to do so here. :p [face_mischief]

    Right??? Again, I was just so happy to build up to this, and I can't wait to share the rest of the story. :D [face_dancing]

    Which I will happily reveal just about now. [face_mischief]

    I figured that, for having a GAR presence on Saleucami for the last few years, someone would have had to guess what's really what by now. Maybe most of the residents of Pachunagara are really out of the greater galactic scheme of things, but Jinpo has his eyes open and he's a smart cookie. But, he loves the Lawquane family, and Rex and Ahsoka by extension. So of course he's going to be an ally.

    And, yeah, the Empire sure didn't waste any time impacting the galaxy for the worse, that's for sure. [face_plain]

    Yay! I was so proud of those few lines. [face_love]

    This trash king, you know? Just breaking all our hearts . . . =((

    Thank-you! Rex and Ahsoka are certainly coming up to a crossroads, and the possible rewards versus the risks will have to be carefully considered before they make any decision going forward. Which we will most certainly delve into to explore in full. ;)

    As always, I thank you so very much for reading, and for leaving such awesome feedback! I hope you continue to enjoy the story as it goes! [:D]



    Alrighty, then! I have to do a last little bit of editing, and then I'll have the next chapter up in a jiffy. [face_dancing]



    ~MJ
    @};-



     
  15. Mira_Jade

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

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    Author's Notes: For this update, we are going to take a break and switch POVs to glimpse a little bit of what's going on with Senator Chuchi and her allies. You can call this little interlude my story within a story. ;) (And, once more, I have TCW notes included at the end, though I tried to include all of the necessary context in the chapter itself.)

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





    Part IX: Interlude

    Light spilled in from the stained glass windows of the Pantoran Shrine of First Welcome in a breathtaking display of prismatic color. Fragmented hues of rich scarlet and magenta-violet and deep-water blue kaliedescoped against bursts of pink-gold and simmering orange, fracturing and variegating to reveal ever shifting mosaics as the sun rose and fell in the sky beyond. The spires that formed the summit of the shrine reached up to seemingly pierce the heavens, and their spiraling edifices bent to invite the light to shine down on the shadowed naves below. Vaulted ceilings ribbed in gold, tall clustered columns, and windows lined with sparkling granite traceries only added to the immensity of the design. It was, he felt, a place that couldn’t help but turn your thoughts to the infinite and divine.

    He’d been awe-struck to enter the shrine for the first, thinking that it was one of the most beautiful buildings he’d ever seen. Riyo had only smiled a sad smile to say that this quickly assembled reproduction was only a pale reflection of the shrine’s former glory. The original Shrine of First Welcome – built on the exact spot where the initial Pantoran explorers had touched down on Saleucami, so many centuries ago – had since been claimed by the new Imperial governor for his mansion. Though she had graciously accepted Governor Rosh’s hospitality – and had even agreed to a tour of his residence, politely listening and favorably remarking over the repurposed Aisles of Knowledge and Baths of Cleansing and Arcades of Reflection – he knew better. He’d seen the hard edge of her expression, just barely hidden underneath her otherwise pleasant mask of tranquility. She’d bit her tongue to extend her compliments, keeping to the script expected of an Imperial Senator towards one of the Emperor’s favored underlings. Still, even her practiced diplomacy failed her when they were shown into the lavish ballroom that now stood where the grand facade of Unity and Welcome had once been.

    "Glorious, isn’t it?" Governor Roth had exhaled in pride to boast, and Riyo had sucked in a breath, her small hands clenching and her slight shoulders held tighter than the line of a spear for the man's flagrant, unapologetic sacrilege. He’d wished, oh he’d wished that he could have stepped forward and taken her hand to comfort her – or, better yet, taken a swing at Governor Roth’s bloated, self-important smirk in her name. Yet, years of practice in deference served him well then, and he kept to his place just to her right and behind her, offering her his support in every silent way he otherwise could.

    When they were at last shown to the guest suites – a gaudy confection of rooms that now broke up and distorted the prior beauty of the Halls of Sharing – Riyo briefed and then dismissed her staff for the evening. Her mask held until her last aide departed before crumpling completely. She’d wilted, then, dropping her face into her hands and shaking from the strength of her emotions, torn as she was between rage and tears. She wanted – needed – to scream, he’d thought, to rend and tear and war, but instead she merely exhaled, long and slow. When she looked up again her eyes were dry, and the gold of her irises burned. He hadn’t thought twice before stepping forward to wrap her in an embrace, and she’d clung to him.

    Since then, Riyo spent as much time away from the governor’s residence as she could, usually in the smaller, newly built Shrine of First Welcome where she could mingle with the local populace – Pantoran citizens and adopted immigrants from the Outer Rim, all – as Governor Roth considered beneath his dignity to do. Such was part piety and respect to her position as a public servant as much as it was an inoffensive way to avoid their Imperial host as much as possible. It was, also, a place where they could meet and speak without fear of listening ears and prying eyes.

    It had been a productive day, after all, and he had much to report.

    So, he walked down the main hall that bisected the dome of the nave, passing underneath the soaring arches and gilded ribbings to where Riyo knelt before the effigies of the Moon goddess in all of her chosen forms. Father Sun caught the light from the stained glass windows, and refracted the rays to illuminate her from one metamorphosis to the next, while Brother Winter and Sister Spring basked, alternately cool and warm, underneath the celestial display from their parents above. Riyo had her head bowed to the Moon Mother in her first phase, he noticed, where she was almost full dark but for the faint glow setting the side of her face ablaze in a promise of vivification yet to come. Her choice, he knew, was a deliberate one.

    He paused just behind her, holding himself at attention and content to wait until she finished her prayers. He didn’t kneel, but he did incline his head out of respect for her beliefs and the inherent holiness that the shrine inspired. As a clone trooper, he’d never much understood the urge to put faith in a higher power himself. He knew his creators up close and personally, after all, and he’d bow his head in reverence to one of the long-necks when Kamino’s oceans turned shriveled and dry and the stars burned out. He believed in the strength of his own hands, in the unbreakable bonds that connected him to his brothers, and in Riyo . . . Riyo. If he ever prayed for anything, it would be to thank the universe for the gift of her.

    Watching her, he took the opportunity he had to leisurely trace how the dappled light caught in the dusky pink of her hair and danced over the cerulean blue of her skin. He still couldn’t believe that he was here with her; that she had chosen him, just as he was now free to choose her in return. It seemed like so long ago, now, their first meeting on the Senate Commons, back near the beginning of the war. He’d caught sight of her from the corner of his HUD – the information scrolling across his screen identifying her name and rank and basic data as his eyes locked, suddenly transfixed. He hadn’t been able to focus on Thorn’s sudden teasing in his internal-comms when his commander picked up on the source of his distraction, or even notice that he was about to walk straight into -

    - of course it had to be Senator Orn Free Taa that he smacked full up against, even as an instinct deeply ingrained in his muscle memory had him snapping back and recovering his balance before he could make any more a fool of himself. The ones who marched on help him, but why did it have to be Senator Orn Free Taa? The likes of Amidala or Organa or Mothma would have considered his immediate, sincere apologies as unnecessary and waved the mishap away – or, they would have just stepped aside to avoid him in the first place. But, the obese Twi’lek had opinions about those who served (slaves), and he would never deign to alter his course for one he viewed as lesser (for someone who was bought and owned). Instead, he worked himself up into quite the rage to denigrate him as useless and malfunctioning, like a droid with a bad motivator. He'd had to grit his teeth and take every word as the senator worked himself up into a full rage, gathering a growing circle of onlookers for his vehemence all the while. He was not allowed to argue a natural-born citizen, he had to repeat the protocol to himself, and especially not a senator who had the very real power to report his inadequacy, where penalties like reconditioning and even recycling awaited clone troopers who failed to meet the parameters they were purchased to fulfill. Stars and tides, but while the idea of dying in battle was one he had long since accepted as inevitable, to lose himself in Kami Ra’s lab because some soft nat-born hut’tuun was momentarily inconvenienced -

    - he'd drawn in on himself for the horror of the thought, trying his best to swallow his nauseous rise of dread the same as he would channel his combat-adrenaline into cold, ruthless efficiency during battle. He’d only been marginally successful when back-up manifested itself from an unexpected source.

    There you are, Commander!” Riyo – Senator Chuchi; the same woman who’d distracted him in the first-place – walked up to diffuse the situation. “I’ve been looking for you.” He’d been surprised, then, that she’d properly read the rank on his armor. What was more than that, she looked straight into the view-plate of his helmet, meeting his eyes with a pointed awareness that he’d rarely ever encountered outside of his brothers before. Hidden from sight, he’s stared; gobsmacked.

    My apologies, Senator Free Taa,” Riyo had cut in between them like a shield, holding a soothing hand out to interrupt the Twi'lek's vehement tirade. Yet, behind the soft gold of her eyes, he’d thought to glimpse something as hard as durasteel. “You see, I had called out to the commander and distracted him, which led to this unfortunate mishap. He has been assigned by Chancellor Palpatine to be my escort through the duration of the summit, and I was late to meet him. I do hope that my tardiness won’t be mentioned in his report,” she smiled a rueful smile – playing on her relative youth and deceivingly delicate appearance to mollify the more seasoned politician, he knew a feint when he saw one. “Keeping the Marshal Commander of the Coruscant Guard waiting certainly wasn’t putting my best foot forward now, was it?”

    For his part, he couldn’t help but gape. She knew who he was – or, at least, she’d read the scarlet paint proudly splashed across his armor correctly – and had used his singular status of being the only clone trooper who personally spoke to the Chancellor to her advantage – to his advantage. That was, if you could count the hasty twenty minutes he spent at the end of every five-day giving his reports to Chancellor Palpatine – who liked to keep a close eye on everything going on in the capital – having any sort of personal relationship with the leader of the free worlds. But, that, Senator Free Taa didn’t have to know. (And, as always, there were those blurry, hard to define memories tracing here and there like an itch he couldn’t quite scratch – the ones that felt like dreams, but not, of a hooded man in black with burning eyes, saying: You’ve done well, Commander – now, wouldn’t you like to forget any of this ever happened? before he blinked and it was gone - )

    Senator Free Taa opened his mouth before clearly thinking the better of whatever he’d first planned to say. Instead, he gave an empty chuckle for Riyo’s words, his fleshy lekku rippling from the vibration of his swollen jowls as he glanced between them with his black, beady little eyes. “But yes, of course,” nonetheless, he allowed Riyo to placate him in a magnanimous show of indulgence. “I suppose I can forgive the Marshal Commander of the Coruscant Guard this once. After all, we – and the entirety of the Republic – are so very grateful for your service.”

    Yeah right: and he was a Hutt’s uncle. But, he knew better than to look a gift-fathier in the mouth. Instead, he inclined his helmet and said, “I thank you for your understanding, Senator.” Each word felt like swallowing a hot ember, but he spoke them anyway.

    With that, Senator Free Taa turned to continue on his way without sparing him another glance, his delegation fanning out behind him like the colorful plumage of a Surakkean rainbow-hen. Riyo watched until he disappeared from view, swallowed by the crowds milling across the commons, before her expression melted into one of distaste.

    “Odious, hateful man,” she hissed underneath her breath, and he’d turned to her, taken aback by her vitriol – her vitriol on his behalf. When she smiled up at him, though, he stupidly found himself thinking of the one time he’d seen blue sky break through the perpetual grey of Kamino’s atmosphere as a cadet. He remembered how singularly beautiful the sight had been, and striking. This, he thought, was much the same.

    “I’m Riyo Chuchi, Senator for Pantora,” she held out her hand to introduce herself. “I know your rank, but not your name, I’m afraid. Whom do I have the pleasure of speaking to?”

    She was inviting him to touch her, he’d panicked to understand – she wanted to know his name. He didn’t have a SOP to fall back on for this, and he'd faltered, too shocked to find his voice. In his internal-comms, Thorn and Stone – who’d gone so terribly quiet during the whole of Senator Free Taa’s tirade – were now laughing and hooting like a pair of demented Dathomiri banshees at his expense. He blinked a command to silence his brothers with a rude click of static, and turned all of his attention to the senator standing expectantly before him.

    Uh, my name is . . . it’s Commander,” he took her proffered hand and gave it a single, jarring shake that he knew was awkward. (He’d seen of the smuggled romance holos that Hound liked to watch, once, where the hero kissed the back of the heroine’s hand, and had the strangest urge to do the same – even if he couldn’t with his bucket, and did nat-borns really act like that anyway? He’d never noticed any similar such behavior on his patrols.)

    Just ‘Commander’?” Riyo’s grin had widened to tease. Her hand was soft, he thought, even to the dull tactile sensors of his gloves; he imagined that her skin was warm, too. Curiously, he shivered.

    Uh, no. I . . . I’m Fox,” he finally muttered, ignoring the instinct to snap to attention and recite: CC-1010 at your service, ma’am! like he’d so long been trained to do. “My brothers, they call me Fox.”

    Fox, then,” her eyes warmed to a shade that was more sunlight than gold, dazzling him. In that moment, he hadn’t been able to look away for anything in the galaxy – not even if General Grievous lit all four lightsabers just on the other side of the green and screamed out a challenge. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

    She’d accompanied him on his rounds, then – for pretense, she explained, to back up her claim to Senator Free Taa – but in the months to follow, she often met him on his patrols. They talked about anything and everything, and, through her, he learned so much of the galaxy beyond the limited scope of his commission. She was careful, of course – letting herself be seen with him enough to be considered a bit of an oddity by her peers, but not scandalously so, and he found himself looking forward to the days he’d meet her with an anticipation he’d never known in his dull, short existence before.

    Eventually, she became the height and depth of his best days, and she was who he wanted to turn to on his bad ones – days when the shadowed voice inside of his head whispered and he had trouble telling reality from nightmare and that didn’t really happen, now, did it? She was with him when Order 66 went out – his memory of ARC-27-5555 and his mad, unbelievable accusations searing through him like a brand, screaming that this was wrong, that this was all wrong. He’d killed his brother – his brother – at the Chancellor’s command, only to later find out that he was right . . . he’d been right all along. Rather than falling in line to march on the Temple (no, no; please they couldn’t – only the elderly and the injured and the children of the Jedi Order remained here onworld), he’d instead fought the command screaming in his head long enough for Riyo to understand that something was so very not right. She’d then, apparently – though he was too lost to himself to remember anything that followed clearly – bullied and threatened a medical droid to override its protocols to deface Republic property in order to have his chip removed. When he’d come to again, the voice in his head had been silent – finally, blessedly silent – even as everything else around him had changed so irrevocably.

    In the days following the fall of the Republic, Riyo had sought an audience with Chancellor Palpatine – no, Emperor Palpatine, now – and made an offer (plea) to purchase his commission. For her protection, she’d explained; she’d grown used to the CG seeing to her safety in the capitol, and she wished to invest in a captain for personal guard with the turmoil gripping the galaxy then. Fox had thought the whole idea ludicrous, and hadn’t let himself put hope in the idea that he could be free just as easy as that – even as something deep inside of him knew that he was no longer needed in the role he'd once unwittingly served. After all, the grotesque shadow who called himself Vader was now there to answer at Palpatine’s beck and call and do his dirty work. As their newly self-proclaimed Emperor, Palpatine no longer needed a covert police force when he had his stormtroopers to deploy in full view of all. Even so, he’d been shocked, there kneeling by Riyo’s side, when Palpatine named his price. For a truly ridiculous sum of credits – how was he possibly worth that much? - his commission was sold, just as easily as that. He no longer belonged to the Republic – to the Empire – but to her. He’d scarce been able to breathe as the contract was signed, torn between elation and stupefied confusion and an old familiar numbness to be so plainly bartered like an object rather than a sentient being with a mind of his own.

    Enjoy your purchase, my dear,” the Emperor’s burning eyes (those eyes!) had gleamed with malicious pleasure to form his words. (And Fox had wanted Riyo to take the entire offer back for knowing that this . . . this creature now had something to hold over her – of course it behooved Palpatine to have such a loud, respected voice in the Senate indebted to him.) “I hope it meets to your . . . satisfaction.”

    Riyo had bowed even lower, then, but not quickly enough to hide the fury simmering in her gaze. If Fox could feel her anger, erupting from her like a solar flare, he knew that the Emperor could too. “Your Excellency is most gracious,” she had said aloud, even so, with not a trace of her true emotions detectible in her tone. “I thank-you for your kindness.”

    And, with that, they’d left together.

    They’d both been silent as they made their way across the Senate Commons. The vast open space was now scarcely occupied as the galaxy was left reeling on its axis. There was a curfew now in place while order was being restored, and the once teaming walkways of the Legislative District were deserted as the sun set over the jagged line of the horizon. Fox grappled to find his words, and suspected that Riyo did too as they walked the now familiar route to her nearby residence. Yet, this wasn’t at all like the times he’d escorted her home after a long day of legislation and debate before. This time, he didn’t have to leave her at the threshold.

    Even so, Riyo paused before the doorway. When she looked up at him – stars, but she was so small, how was she possibly so small in stature, when her strength was so breathtakingly immense in every other way? – there were tears in her eyes. She wasn’t happy, he’d been concerned to see. Instead, her gaze was shadowed, and her expression was openly troubled. She didn’t hide from him as her thoughts spilled across her face, one after another, so fast that he had a hard time interpreting a single fleeting emotion before the next one formed.

    You don’t belong to me; you know that, right? Please tell me you know that,” she had said – her voice breaking with misery, but so, so fierce to insist. “You belong to no one but yourself, just as you ever should have. If you wish to leave and find your own way, then I will happily stand aside and provide you with the means to - ”

    - but the first thing he did as himself, then, was sweep forward and kiss her. He’d had to hunch his spine at a low angle, and the motion was awkward and unpracticed but perfect when she threw her arms around him and with a single hop had her legs wrapped around him as well. That solved the momentary conundrum of the difference in their heights; her weight was nothing to him, and he was all too happy to hold her up as she cupped his face in her hands and returned his kiss with a passion and urgency all her own. Everything was then sultry heat and burning pleasure and such wondrous, awestruck elation as Riyo clumsily reached behind them to palm open the door and welcome him inside. He was hers, he was hers, he was hers; his heart thundered out with every impassioned beat. This was where he belonged, and where he would ever choose to be.

    That memory, perhaps, now served as his genesis in place of whatever holy inception other sentients chose to put their faith in. Riyo bowed for her beliefs, and, behind her, Fox inclined his head for his.

    She muttered a last few words in her native language, and then turned to glance at him over her shoulder. Her smile was soft in welcome, and only then did he step forward to kneel by her side. If anyone came across them, they would only see two penitents engaged in prayer. They could speak quietly here, where only Riyo’s silent gods had ears to listen.

    “Commander,” even though her hands were still clasped before her, she moved close enough so that the side of her sleeve brushed his own. He could feel the glancing contact of her elbow – a whispered touch that reminded him of back when she joined him on his patrols and would just barely brush against his armor, every move seemingly innocuous to anyone looking but so very deliberate in its unspoken affection otherwise.

    “Senator,” he returned, catching as she flicked a single, impish glance his way before looking up at the Moon Mother again. She inhaled deeply, and exhaled; a prayer without words that he felt he could echo in his own way.

    Then: “Did your search bear fruit?” she asked.

    “Possibly,” he affirmed with the barest twitch of his shoulders. “We made contact with a few potential investors in Antaghara and Dhanyanor; there’s one in Pachunagara that’s promising, as well. He only needs more time to think our offer through.”

    Even though they were relatively able to speak freely, he carefully chose his words so that they wouldn’t be too amiss if overheard. If Riyo sought to expand the Assembly of Chuchi’s personal trade routes while she was on Saleucami, that would be far from unusual – her doing so would be expected, even. But, for what she was hoping to accomplish with others of like mind in the Senate, they would need to establish supply lines as their alliance grew. Food and clothing and medical supplies and fuel and weapons would have to be stockpiled – all of which passed through Saleucami’s trading ports, day in and day out. Gleaning a little here and there from various sources, on this world and several others, could then be woven into a supply chain to support their nascent cells that wouldn’t be so easily traced in the years to come. They would start small and lay their groundwork now, and then careful expand their networks as time went on.

    “That is good,” Riyo hummed thoughtfully, looking to the next phase of the Moon. “I’m pleased to hear it.”

    “They know they have until after Eventide to consider,” he continued. “By then, you'll have an answer to give your colleagues.”

    It would be much more difficult to move goods and supplies through the Inner Core. There was only so much help, in this regard, that Alderaan and Chandrilla could reasonably extend otherwise. Instead, it would primarily be to the Pantorans and the Mon Calamari underneath Senator Tills to flesh out their network in the Mid and Outer Rims. This was a duty Riyo had since devoted her all to. A single snowflake could be the start of a mighty avalanche, or so the old Pantoran adage went, and every ally and friend they could garner to their cause was poised to make the difference between victory and defeat in the time to come.

    For his part, Fox was simply grateful for a worthwhile cause to fight for – as he’d been created to do, in every literal sense of the word. This wasn’t being sidelined on Coruscant as part of the Chancellor’s personal police force when there was a war that his brothers were dying to wage far beyond the petty squabbles and ruthless politics of the capitol. This wasn’t even the same as fighting the empty battles that the Clone Wars had since proven to be as a whole. No: this was fighting for the memory of the Republic he once thought himself sworn to serve, for freedom from tyranny and to demand justice and recompense for the Emperor’s many crimes as the ruthless scythe of Imperial might swept through the once universal rights of all sentients and the individual sovereignty of star-systems the galaxy wide.

    This was even, he quietly reflected, justice for his brothers – for every one of them who were lost to themselves, whom he couldn’t save, even as far back as ARC-trooper Fives who had known, had known that this was coming. Fives had been right . . . and yet, Fox had pulled the trigger in duty to the Chancellor, whom he was sworn to defend at all costs. He still couldn’t think about that without bile rising in his throat; couldn’t understand why he was somehow free to fight and love and live, while . . .

    . . . but he inhaled deeply, and exhaled slowly. With a battered force of will, he let his dead march on.

    “There was,” he muttered next, “one possible variable we encountered.”

    “Oh?” Riyo still locked eyes with the Moon.

    “We may have ran into some old friends, out in Pachunagara,” he chose his words carefully. “There was a GAR swoop parked on the streets. Phase I mech, but in good order, it looked.”

    Riyo frowned, puzzled. “General Allie was stationed here,” she finally offered the most logical conclusion she could think of. “The GAR maintained its presence in Taleucema until . . . until the end.” Until her clone troopers had shot their Jedi general down in cold blood, Fox felt a wave of nausea roll through him to hear every word she didn't say. “It’s possible that the swoop was salvaged and repurposed.”

    “It’s possible,” Fox agreed. It made sense; the simplest explanation often times was the correct one. And, yet . . . “Sabé, though,” he continued, “thought she saw a Togruta woman, leaving one of the shops just as we left.”

    For that, Riyo turned to fully face him, her eyes wide and her brow furrowed with an old, barely-healed pain. Togruta . . . well, they were few and far between beyond their home-world of Shili. They preferred their own ways and ancient traditions, and had limited contact with outsiders. Even the few Togrutan colonies who wished to live more in line with the modern galactic norm, rather than as nomadic, grassland hunters, tended to keep to themselves. Togruta were deeply clan minded, and almost never traveled alone. Even when stationed on as diverse an ecumenopolis as Coruscant, Fox had only known two Togruta himself; he’d never even seen another in passing. There was General Ti, who oversaw operations on Kamino, and then there was . . .

    For memory of Commander Tano, Fox felt his jaw clench. Her arrest and subsequent trial was one of the few times he and Riyo had ever openly disagreed and argued outright over anything. Riyo had believed in Tano's innocence from the first, and had tried to convince the jury she was part of to deliver a verdict of not guilty. Fox, for his part, had wanted justice for his dead brothers – for those who’d died in the Temple bombing, and the three Tano had killed during her escape, and even those who had fallen at the hands of Ventress from the 104th – whom Tano had been caught working red-handed with. Those were hard and cold facts to his eyes, and he’d seethed when Riyo had insisted that there had to be something more going on. She refused to think anything else of someone she had so long considered to be her friend.

    He still narrowed his eyes to remember chasing after the Padawan when she escaped the CG's custody and tried to run – another clear sign of her guilt, obviously. He had three men who were dead by her hand, and when he gave permission for a kill shot, he’d been stunned when a voice crackled over his comms to argue his order.

    “Stun bolts only!”
    he’d been immediately countermanded. “We need to get her back alive so that she can explain this mess.” His HUD had lit up to reveal the speaker as CT-7567 of the 501st battalion. What, a reg? A generic line trooper? Jumping the chain of command to contradict his order over open comms?

    I’m approving lethal force,” he’d repeated, incensed to have to explain himself in the middle of an active pursuit. “She’s killed three of my men, and I’ll not risk anyone else trying to get close enough for a stun bolt. Stand down, trooper, and clear the line.”

    I’m seconding my captain and belaying your order, Commander,” a nat-born voice then snapped to interrupt – General Skywalker, he’d burned to see flash across the screen of his HUD. “Non-lethals only, do you hear me? I want her back alive, at all costs.”

    Sir yes sir,” Fox conceded to his superior officer, even as his teeth grit together in hardly banked fury.

    It had only barely helped when Tano had been cleared of all charges against her – his men had fallen at Padawan Offee’s hands, instead, it’d turned out. He’d caught Captain Rex’s – how a reg, a mutated reg had earned himself an active command on the front-lines while he was stuck far from engaging the enemy had rankled in its own way – stare following her trial, his jaig eyes glaring out from his bucket, and hadn’t flinched to return his glower measure for measure. He still held to the belief that he’d made the right decision in the heat of the moment. Tano had resisted arrest and fled; she’d partnered up with the likes of Ventress, and had swept through Wolffe’s men as if they were rag dolls. None of that had been Padawan Offee’s doing. Rex would have been able to understand that if he could manage to pull his head out of his Jetii’s shebs far enough to see the sunlight.

    Then, when Rex had filed an official complaint against him following ARC-trooper Fives’ death, saying that he subverted protocol and used deadly force where non-lethals were SOP . . . well, Rex’s man had threatened Chancellor Palpatine himself, and had to be put down. He was a danger to himself and others if left unchecked, holding a blaster and spouting such madness, all before -

    - Fox exhaled deeply. He still couldn’t remember the moment he’d switched his weapon from stun. He couldn’t even consciously remember pulling the trigger. There was just that shadow over his eyes and that voice in his head insisting: do it, commander, do it now!

    . . . and so, he had.

    He hadn’t been able to stay as his men moved in to form a circle around their fallen brother, torn between shock and regret. He took one final look at Rex, cradling his ARC even after he bled out and breathed his last, and then stumbled out into the alleyway. He’d only just managed to unseal his helmet in time to vomit up the contents of his stomach, heaving until he had nothing left to give. Shaking, he’d tried to process what he’d done, telling himself that he had to, he had to . . .

    Good soldiers followed orders, after all, and he’d been ordered . . . he hadn’t had any choice.

    Such an unfortunate tragedy,” Chancellor Palpatine had later commended him for his valor in defending his life. “Yet I applaud you for your decisive reaction, Commander. The Republic has been kept safe from yet another threat that attempted to tear her apart, all thanks to you. You have my gratitude.”

    If he’d hardly been able to process his actions then, he certainly couldn’t now. Fives had been right, after all – he’d been right. Yet, Fox had silenced him, and the whole of his brothers now suffered as a result, lost to themselves and enslaved by that monster that was truly pulling their strings all along.

    If, once, the thought of Captain Rex would have been enough to make him grind his teeth, he just felt tired and empty now. Rex despised everything about him that Fox himself couldn’t even tolerate. And Rex was right. He’d failed his brother all because he hadn’t been strong enough to fight that . . . that thing whispering in his mind. And now, somehow, he had his freedom and his happiness and his everything in Riyo, while, his brothers had . . .

    It was a guilt he still didn’t know how to quantify with words. His tortured feelings on the matter were far from resolved. So, as he did with all of his ghosts, he simply exhaled and focused again on the present.

    “You don’t think it could be . . . ” Riyo muttered. Her hands were tightly clasped, her eyes shining as she stared up at the faces of her gods. “Could that even be possible?”

    “I don’t know,” Fox answered. “But, she was always resourceful.” That, he knew better than most. “If anyone could have survived . . . well, I’ve seen stranger things in my days.”

    “Haven’t we all?” Riyo ruefully agreed before falling silent again. He knew how much she’d respected and appreciated the Jedi – she credited General Kenobi with helping her find her voice in the earliest days of her stewardship for Pantora, and Commander Tano she’d called her friend. Seeing the latter listed in the names of the fallen, even though Kenobi himself was still at large . . . it had gutted her. He hoped, for her sake, at least, that Sabé had truly seen what she thought she saw.

    For his part, however, Fox merely sighed. He had so many names to speak at night now, more so than he had the time or breath for. Their memories, then, were heavy.

    “I find it hard to believe that a coincidence like this is merely circumstantial,” after a long moment spent in consideration, Riyo said. “If it really was her, and she’s meant to find us, then she will. Perhaps,” she added thoughtfully, “I shall go with you to Pachunagara, after Eventide. Then, we will see what we can see.”

    “Affirmative,” he figured that she’d say as much, and he was ready. He'd support her, in this and any decision she made.

    “It's settled then,” with a last look at the Moon Mother, Riyo rose. “I do believe that I have enough information to return Senator Organa’s call with now. We have much to discuss, it seems.”

    Fox offered her his arm as they turned to leave the shrine, and, together, they stepped out into the sunlight.



    Whew! So, I tried to clearly explain anything you needed to know from TCW in the text, but for anything I may have missed, here's a rundown in short:

    Commander Fox: Commander Fox is the head of the Coruscant Guard. The CG is the home defense for the capitol, and they function as the military police for the GAR as well. Yet, Palpatine ended up using them more and more in place of the Senate Guard and the natural-born Coruscant Police Force throughout the war, so much so that the Republic citizens started calling them stormtroopers when they were sent out on raids and riot control. Rather than dealing with Fox through his aides, Palpatine chose to met one-on-one with him to hear his reports and give orders in return. The character guide for TCW had an interesting footnote that mentions that Fox suffers from what you can call 'Sithly radiation sickness' as a result, and has memories he can't quite place from Palpatine using him on 'unofficial assignments.' Yeah; the poor guy is a mess. On top of that, the clones of the CG are the only ones in the GAR who deal with nat-born civilians on a day to day basis. To a greater degree than clones on the front-lines, they are baldly faced with the truth of their existence when dealing with people who see them as the face of the war and less than sentient in every way. It's a very dehumanizing stationing for a clone trooper, and an interesting dynamic to explore in fic.

    Then, we usually see Fox as a antagonist for our heroes. Needless to say, he's not Rex's favorite brother and Fox doesn't much care for Rex, either. :p He led the search to capture Ahsoka when she was on the run following her being framed for the Temple bombing. He was also the clone who pulled the trigger on Fives, at Palpatine's command, when he discovered the truth of the chips. For both of those actions, he's gained a bit of fandom hate, which I honestly don't understand. He's a victim, just as much so and if not more than all the clones are victims. I was able to give him a moment to process Palpatine's crimes against him in An Old Song Re-Sung, but wanted to do even better than that here. Because his canon death at Vader's hands really is just an ouch of an end. Yikes. [face_plain]

    And, that leads me to . . .

    Fox/Riyo: What even is this crack!pairing, you may wonder? Sadly, I can't claim credit for this. There is a wonderful niche of authors over at AO3 who have championed this ship, and it's steadily gaining in popularity - enough so that it's totally my own accepted fanon now. :p It's based on nothing more than these two characters generally being in the same place at the same time throughout the series. She is awesome and brilliant, and deserves a strong, wide-eyed man who just adores her as the goddess she is. He, meanwhile, has been dealt an awful hand in life, and deserves a breathtaking woman who sees him as the hero he doesn't see himself as. In short: they both deserve to be happy, so why not together? That's it; that's the ship. [face_love] I may have stretched believability a bit with Fox's being de-chipped and freed, but, you know what? Sometimes good things happen to good people. So, here I am, making those good things happen. :p

    Plus, it's going to give me an interesting angle to play with coming up - needless to say, out of all of his brothers, Fox is not the one Rex is going to be happiest to see. And Fox still has a bit of a stink eye for Rex and Ahsoka, at that. So . . . yeah. Stay tuned. ;)

    If you have any further questions about anything I may have missed, please don't hesitate to ask! I am always all too happy to chat about this world and these characters. [face_love]

    [:D]




    ~MJ @};-
     
    Last edited: Dec 18, 2020
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  16. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha 2 Truths 1 Lie Host star 8 VIP - Game Host

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Exquisite interlude, the setting and the warmth between Riyo & Fox. :) You write "clone as more" so superbly! =D= They have their voice and personality clearly etched.
     
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  17. ViariSkywalker

    ViariSkywalker Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Aug 9, 2002
    Welp, you got me. I ship it. :p

    Be back soon with more comprehensive feedback, but I really enjoyed this interlude!

    EDIT: I’m back! I put some of my non-fic-related replies in a PM so that I don’t completely derail your thread, but here are all my fic-related comments!

    This was just a really beautiful description. The colors, the light, the structure… I could see it all!

    I really like Fox’s reflection here, especially his lack of respect for his creators juxtaposed with his reverence for Riyo.

    Aw. [face_love]

    Also, everything about Fox’s thoughts re: arguing with natural born citizens and the threat of reconditioning and recycling was just horrifying.

    That’s a frightening thought, not quite being able to trust your own mind. And as you’ve said elsewhere, while the other clones all have to deal with the fallout of having been controlled by their chips, Fox also has to deal with the consequences of being directly in Palpatine’s orbit, being used and controlled by him and having his memories tampered with, on top of the chip horribleness. So sad. :(

    Poetic in much the same way as Rex reflecting on Ahsoka as a starburst in his monochrome life. I love it. [face_love] These boys, ugh.

    Yep, there it is. That’s the moment I went from “I like the dynamic here, this is the type of thing I would normally go for” to “I ship it, I don’t even really know these characters but I ship it!”

    And I also think it’s interesting showing the differences between Fox/Riyo and Rex/Ahsoka. Even though Fox and Rex are literally cast from the same mold, they are different people. Their experiences have shaped them as much as their genetics, and it’s interesting seeing how both have reacted to the possibility of love and romantic relationships. (And I suppose while slow burns are amazing, sometimes it’s nice to see two people know what they want and admit that quickly and not beat around the bush. Not that I’m complaining about the slow burn, mind you. ;)) I also think Fox/Riyo might hew a little closer to the type of couples I tend to ship in general. [face_thinking]

    Really powerful stuff here. This section gives such insight into Fox’s character, his history and guilt and pain.

    There’s our Rex. [face_love] His reunion with Fox will definitely be interesting.

    I really, really feel for Fox here. =(( Poor guy has been through some serious trauma. Everything leading up to this part was really done well, btw. I feel like I know Fox every bit as well as Rex, honestly. =D=

    Really an excellent interlude. I was just as invested in these characters as I am in the main storyline, and I look forward to seeing how they converge! :D
     
    Last edited: Dec 20, 2020
  18. Findswoman

    Findswoman Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Feb 27, 2014
    Intriguing and beautiful interlude here! Such stunning details of the light and decor of the shrine, all the deities and Riyo’s devotions (you know what a sucker I am for that kind of thing :D )! I have to say, even with as little as I know about these characters (and thank you for providing the background here), I think I could be convinced to ship it, too… you’ve painted a very tender bond between him and Riyo here, and I’d say he definitely deserves that kind of love after all he’s been through. (Because wow, those flashbacks about Fives were really something! :eek: ) And I see, too, that this interlude fills in a very important puzzle piece from the main body of the story: we now know that Fox was the mysterious clone trooper accompanying Sabé in Pachunagara, and given the history between him and Rex, the inevitable meeting between the two of them is not going to be an easy one. [face_worried] And yet, in a way, they have an important commonality, being two vode who who have been through a lot and deserve happiness. Whatever may happen next in the story, I hope something will develop that will help them both come to see that much, at least! Rex, Ahsoka, Fox, Riyo: I’m looking forward to see how it will all come together come Eventide! Wonderful work as always, and do keep it coming. =D=
     
  19. Gabri_Jade

    Gabri_Jade Fan Fiction Archive Editor Emeritus star 5 VIP

    Registered:
    Nov 9, 2002
    This is simply exceptional writing, Mira. Normally I'd do the quote thing, but having read the whole story pretty much in one fell swoop, my head is too full right now. The descriptive writing stands out for sure: you have so many descriptive details, but it never drags the narrative down. Description of physical surroundings is something I personally am very bad at most of the time, so I'm kind of awed by your skill with it. The introspection on everyone's parts is seriously great, I'm a sucker for introspection and character studies, so definitely enjoying that. I'm also very impressed by all the details you have about various alien species and just how they work, like the sensations and perceptions Ahsoka gains through her montrals and lekku, or the fact that they and Twi'leks run cooler than humans, or the various customs and cultures they all embrace. An awful lot of that is stuff I just plain hadn't thought about, and it's fascinating to see all those details. Plus, seriously, the quality of the writing. This is pro-level, easy. Just super impressive stuff. I've really never shipped Rex and Ahsoka, but Vi kept telling me I should read this anyway, and she was right; it's a shining gem of a story. Definitely looking forward to more :D

    lol, so much capslock was had that evening :p
     
  20. jedi113

    jedi113 Jedi Youngling

    Registered:
    Mar 28, 2021
    Is this something that you’ll continue? This has me utterly and completely hooked and I have a strong desire to see the slow burn come to fruition. Regardless, fantastic work here, I am very passionate about Star Wars, especially the characters and their relationships, and this is some of the best storytelling that I could ever hope for. :)
     
  21. Mechalich

    Mechalich Jedi Master star 4

    Registered:
    Feb 2, 2010
    So this is very good. In particular I appreciate the attention to detail regarding traits such as Ahsoka's Togruta biology. You've taken considerable pains to emphasize how she's not just a human in costume and I feel like that's not done nearly enough in Star Wars. You've done something similar to with Saleucami, too often terrestrial planets are simply Earth-exps, but this world clearly has its own traits.

    On a personal note, it's interesting to see Suu Lawquane in a story, since once, long ago, I wrote a story with her as the protag as part of a contest here. Not really a character I expected to run across again. I feel you've handled her very well. I suspect there probably are a lot of couples similar to the Lawquanes spreading across the galaxy during the dark times, Cut just got a few years head start on his brothers.
     
  22. Destiny975

    Destiny975 Jedi Knight star 3

    Registered:
    Jan 18, 2021
    This story is brilliant! I love how you wrote about Riyo, she's one of my favourites. I'm not the biggest fan of Fox, but he and Riyo are good together.
     
  23. jayjay

    jayjay Jedi Youngling

    Registered:
    May 31, 2021
    Same for me. I keep stalking this story to check for updates. Hope Mira_Jade is able to continue.
     
    Mira_Jade likes this.
  24. Mira_Jade

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

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    Hello, dear readers! Has it really been six months since the last chapter?? I don't have any excuse for the hiatus except to blame my muse, as we all do. ;) We're reaching the final plot-arc of the story, and, I know this is going to sound silly, but I was really stressing for my writing being equal to the build-up in quality from here on out. I don't want to disappoint anyone (even myself!) in the denouement. This story is special to me, and I was a hundred percent psyching myself out wanting it to continue being special, which led to a nice case of there being no words at all. :p Clearly, I needed to tell myself to knock it off and just enjoy writing again, which is exactly what I am now trying to do. Hopefully there will be no more mega delays between updates from here on out, and I'll still be able to tell this story just as well as I want to tell it!

    That said, I really do have to express all of my gratitude for you guys. If it wasn't for your encouragement I probably would have fretted about this for forever and a day without ever updating again. Thank-you. So now it's time to stop being so hard on myself and just have all the fun with this. Because that's how the entire story started in the first place: as me telling the story I wanted to read. I just have to remember that. [face_love]


    To that end, here I am with a few very belated replies, and then I hope to have the next chapter posted tomorrow morning. It's all written. It just needs a little more editing. Pesky typos. :p [face_mischief]


    [:D]




    Aw, thanks! That really means a lot to me - especially to be able to give each of these dear boys an individual voice and personality as distinct from each other as I can. I really appreciate your saying so, just as much as I appreciate your encouragement and kind words, as always. [face_love] [:D]



    SUCCESS!!! ;) [face_laugh] [:D]

    It really is a bit of sci-fi horror, isn't it, the clone army and their treatment? [face_plain] Which made it all sorts of interesting, juxtaposing that with Fox's thoughts on Riyo and her faith and his faith in her. This passage really just wrote itself from there! [face_love]

    Right??? I always pitied Fox in canon, and never really hated him for the awful choices he had no choice but to make. Even if I'm not making everything better for him here a la my Song!verse, I am at least going to have him cope with and handle his guilt and self-loathing as best he can. (Which we will really get into when he meets Rex again. :p) In the meantime, of course, there's Riyo. Who is just one of my favorite characters ever; so it was lovely just to give both of them a little bit of happiness together. [face_love]

    Viiiiiiii, I just died writing that line. I died. It's up there as one of my favorites, along with Ahsoka being a starburst, so I am so happy you pointed that out. These dear, smitten boys, all! [face_love]

    Excellent. ;) My brilliant plan has worked.

    And from a writing standpoint, it's so interesting - like you said, writing Fox in love as opposed to Rex, or even Bly in SFT. They're all the same at a genetic level, true, but their experiences have shaped them so differently, as are things different with each of their ladies in question. Fox has had no control for so long, but he's used to being in control, and Riyo isn't exactly a commanding officer to make a further mess of things. She explicitly gives him back himself, and, well then, the choice is his and he's going to take it. [face_love] As much as I love slow burns, it has been painful writing this story at times, so it was refreshing just to say and then they kissed! [face_laugh] 8-}

    I just love exploring all of these dynamics and nuances in character so much it hurts. :p

    This meant a lot to me, thank-you so much! [:D]

    I will be on the Fox defense squad for forever, basically. ;)

    Oh so interesting. [face_whistling]

    Yay! I really worried about introducing a minor character from TCW and dedicating an entire chapter from his POV, but then I couldn't resist and now I'm so happy I did. [face_love]

    As always, I can't thank you enough for your kind words and wonderful feedback! I appreciate it more than words can say. [:D]



    Honest to goodness, but your writing was fresh in my mind all throughout writing this scene! So that means all the more to me to know that you enjoyed the spiritual aspects of this interlude, in particular. [:D]

    Yay! Just like I was saying to Vi, that is so, so good to know. I was worried about introducing a minor character from a show that I know now all of my readers have watched in the first place. But Fox deserves some love, and so does Riyo - just as much as they are an interesting foil to Rex/Ahsoka and a catalyst for their eventually joining the Rebellion. [face_thinking]

    You know, I just love it when a plan comes together! [face_laugh]

    And I thank-you, as always, for your wonderful feedback! It's always such a pleasure to have you as a reader, and I hope that you enjoy this story from here on out. [:D]



    Aw, thanks! Welcome to the madness! It's wonderful to have you along. [:D]

    This means so much to me. More than once I've worried that I slowed this story down too much with introspection and superfluous description. Yet, in the end, I just couldn't resist and now here we are. [face_love]

    I LOVE writing all those details. What's the fun with dabbling in a sci-fi fandom if you can't play around with the more sci-fi aspects? World-building for Togruta, in particular - and even Twi'leks - has been so interesting during my years of writing for this part of the fandom! So I am glad that you enjoyed those details, in particular.

    Honest to goodness, but I have reread your review more than once when I've doubted the quality of my writing in future chapters. (Especially from our former Archives editor!) So, just . . . thank-you. This really means a lot to me, and I hope that you continue to enjoy the story as it goes. [face_love] [:D]



    Hello! I am so, so sorry it has taken me so long to reply to this. I did not intend for this story to have the hiatus it took, to say the least. But your comment completely made my day when I first received it, and it still means a lot to me even still. I am most definitely going to finish this story, and I hope that you continue to enjoy it as it goes. [:D]



    Thank-you so much! Especially coming from someone who is so deft with non-human characterizations and world-building, this comment really made my day. Thank-you. [face_love]

    I love the entire Lawquane family to pieces, so I am so happy to see another fan! in you. It's true: Cut just has a few years on his brothers. The rest will catch up. [face_laugh]

    I thank you for taking the time to read this story, and for leaving such a wonderful review. [:D]



    Thanks! I too love Riyo - and Fox :p - so it was all sorts of interesting to write them together. It's awesome to see a new face drop in here, that said. I really appreciated your comment, and hope you enjoy the rest of the story. [:D]



    I have to thank you so very much for this kind comment, as well! You guys are all just the best with your support and encouragement. Yes, I am definitely going to continue this story, and I hope that you continue to enjoy the rest of it as it goes. [:D]



    Again: thank-you so much, everyone who has been so patiently waiting for more of this story. I will see you all tomorrow with a brand new chapter. [face_love] [:D]



    ~ MJ @};-
     
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2021
  25. Mira_Jade

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

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    X.​

    They didn’t speak about their unexpected encounter with Jinpo and his guests on their way back to the farm, nor did they when they returned. Instead, they put the swoop back in its place and then went back to work. Rex didn't try to bring up everything they'd learned and the choices they now had to make, and neither did she.

    The days they had left before Eventide were dwindling and there was still much to be done, Ahsoka told herself as she watched him walk away. After the solar nets were in place there was mealgrain to reap and thresh and sift and mill. The plots of vines were heavy with ripe fruit, and even Jek and Shaeeah did their share to help with picking zoochberries and carrying baskets of meliroon from the orchards up to the house. Suu had started the day tending to the animals before going back inside with the children to work on turning their produce into practical wares as jams and butters and cheeses – both for their own stockpiles to last them through the Scorch Season, and to ready for sale at the farmer’s market that accompanied the Eventide festivities. Everything on the farm was a whirl and a clamor of productivity, leaving little time or opportunity for much else.

    For her own part, Ahsoka didn’t know what she would say – what she could say, even if she did venture the subject with Rex. Her thoughts were spinning much too quickly for her to hold onto any one definite line of reasoning for too long, and she doubted herself. She could hardly put together an answer when Suu asked how her visit to the salon went, even. Where, just hours ago, her gift had felt meaningful and right, now she couldn’t help but wince for the idea of offering Rex armor, just to so quickly ask that he don that same armor for a cause again.

    Ahsoka paused, gnawing her lip as she thought to know (she knew) what course she was poised to take.

    Yet, no matter her attempts for raw honesty within her own mind, she frowned. The truth of the matter – the bitter, aching truth – was that she was tired of fighting. In her eighteen years of life she’d seen more violence and destruction than most sentient beings would in several lifetimes. She didn’t want to pick up a weapon and set her feet to march again; she was hesitant to bow her shoulders with the yoke of life and death, balancing those she saved by all those she couldn’t as the price that victory demanded ran its total in the good men who had no choice but to fight and die at her command. She didn’t want to return to the path that, in many ways, she never should’ve walked to begin with.

    Instead, she knew that she wanted this: the simple beauties and the common joys of the tranquil, lived-in world around her. Deep in her heart, but nonetheless still a dream that she couldn’t voice aloud for fear of fracturing its fragile reality, she knew that she wanted to keep this haven of belonging and idyllic contentment for herself. She wanted the serenity of a home; she wanted to ground herself like a tree in a storm by putting down roots and staying to watch them flower and grow.

    For a moment she indulged in the idea of finding a plot of land, maybe somewhere nearby in Pachunagara, and building a small house. She hadn’t had a fixed place to dwell since her childhood at the Temple, and even that wasn’t quite the same as the casual domesticity that she knew here with the Lawquanes. Her imagination continued to spiral as she indulged the idea of maybe starting a greenhouse, where she could coax all sorts of seedlings to grow tall and strong from such tiny beginnings. Or maybe she could invest in a few good fathier mares, and try her hand and raising stock. She’d learned to ride at the Dhakpas, and she had a talent with the animals, or so their tack-master said. She could even herd eopies like the Lawquanes did. She closed her eyes to better envision sleeping under the stars on the trails to the autumn pastures, content with the small triumphs and humble delights that came with living, day in and day out.

    Even more hesitantly, she imagined sharing that life with Rex by her side. No matter what course she considered he’d become a constant variable to her thoughts, a fixed mark and steady axis that the rest of her uncertain future suddenly anchored against and orbited around. She could picture him as clearly as she could herself: hands deep in the rich soil next to hers or patting the flank of a skittish fathier, with the animal taking as much comfort in the low, warm rasp of his voice as she herself did. Whatever sort of house she imagined was a home with the idea of them working together in the kitchen (or with Rex patiently trying to impart the culinary basics with her, at least), and drinking caf together as the sun came up. A silly part of her went even further, diving into more and more fanciful details to dream up a porch with a swing where they could sit and listen to the rain. Rex loved the rain, and after a childhood spent with Coruscant’s artificial climate, Ahsoka found that she did too. She imagined curling up against him and swaying back and forth while the world was hushed around them and thunder rumbled in the distance.

    Even more intangible, and yet more difficult to imagine in any vivid detail, was the wanting she still knew she felt. Once admitted, she couldn’t ignore her attraction and go back to the way they were before. Instead, her awareness was a steady, constant simmer in her blood. A part of her recognized him as her equal, as her match and completion. To her senses as a Togruta it was already a foregone conclusion that he belonged to her just as thoroughly as she belonged to him; he was her chosen hunter and the mate of her heart; there would never be anyone else that she’d want by her side as she wanted him. What was first a primal instinct that she could at least rationalize away as a being who answered to her own higher logic was even more terrifying when her mind whispered words like affection and devotion and love. Love . . . could it really be? She thought it was; if she was honest she knew it was. She felt like she was staring down a precipice to admit as much to herself, let alone aloud to him, and the hesitation she felt for taking that leap felt like the most terrifying, thrilling thing she’d done yet in her life.

    Yet . . . there was also the Jedi Code she’d so long followed as closely as she could in both deed and thought. She’d so long accepted its absolute right to dictate her every decision, and in many ways she honored it still. Could she so easily cast its strictures against attachments aside? She thought she could. She could admit that, in some ways, the tenets of the Jedi had felt further and further away from her as the years passed and the Clone Wars raged on. Now, here at the end of everything, it was her attachments that kept her grounded and steady in a galaxy that was suddenly toppling and spinning so madly away from any stable equilibrium. The Lawquanes and the community here in Pachunagara and Rex . . . Rex was her balance, and she liked to think that, in some small way, she was his too.

    That simple truth thrummed through her in a giddy rush that she could feel tingle from the tips of her montrals to her toes. With every other consideration ignored and put aside, she just wanted Rex. She wanted to give into the pull between them and finally kiss him just because she could. With an honesty that she still flushed to consider – and it wasn’t lost on her that at eighteen she’d both taken life and had lives taken from her, just as she’d been ready to sacrifice her own, yet she’d never really kissed a boy she liked – she knew that she wanted to do a lot more than just kiss Rex. What was more than that, she thought – no, she knew, that he wanted to kiss her too.

    Now, though, after days of dancing around the matter – weeks, months, longer? – she could finally admit that she wanted to touch and be touched and even more. Though a part of her had no idea what she was doing with this, with any of this, that was . . . that was okay. She was pretty sure that Rex didn’t have any idea either. They’d figure it out as they did everything else, together. She wanted . . . she just wanted so much.

    Exhaling a suddenly impatient breath, she baldly admitted that she wanted a simple life here to be enough. It could be enough, she grit her teeth to stubbornly insist . . . couldn’t it?

    Yet, even as that thought ghosted across her mind, she knew with a certainty that was as sure as the sun rising every morning and falling every evening: in time, her guilt would eat her alive. Eventually, she knew, it would tear her apart.

    For that, she scowled, and attacked the butter she was churning even more aggressively with the paddle. What did she have to feel guilty for? she grit her teeth to challenge her intrinsic sense of duty. She’d done her time serving the Republic that now no longer existed. She’d fought, she’d commanded – in a war that was now pointless in every way, with even their victories tarnished in light of the Sith Lord who'd been pulling the strings from the beginning. She’d spent her formative years fighting in the war that had culminated in the destruction of the Republic, in the genocide of her people and the ultimate subjugation of her men – the very same men who had no choice but to fight as she too was ordered to fight. In a way, the lucky ones had died; now, the rest continued to mechanically follow orders as soulless shells of the unique, vibrant personalities they’d once been, while she -

    Ahsoka gripped the paddle, and had to pause as her rage rose, thick and cloying in her throat. For a moment she couldn’t breathe, couldn’t see, couldn’t think past her fury and wounded sense of justice, and she struggled to give her darker emotions over to the Force. Only, she just had so much to give and give and give. The incredulity of her wrath was a furnace at the core of her, feeding her like hydrogen in the heart a star. If she emptied herself, what would remain?

    At least her anger was righteous, simmering on behalf of those who no longer had a voice to defend themselves. Her anger was rooted in the need to demand equity and seek amends, to right what was now so terribly wrong and restore balance. Once, she could’ve imagined nothing more than a life of service: to the Force, to the Jedi, to the Republic. If she was needed, it was a foregone conclusion that she would fight as her duty called and demanded that she fight. But now . . . was the Force beckoning her again? She’d served as its sword and battled in its name once before, thinking that she stood for what was right. Could she ignore its call now, if that was what was truly at work?

    Ahsoka knew the answer to that, little though she may have liked that already foregone conclusion in her mind.

    Closing her eyes, she imagined her cozy little home with its golden fields and all the small, simple joys it promised . . . and exhaled to let the dream of it go.

    She felt empty, in some ways, following her decision, but also grounded. Certain. If there was a chance that there was any sort of resistance forming against the tyranny of the Empire, then she knew that she had to join the fight. She could never turn aside from her duty – from lifting her sword for those who needed a knight to champion the fights that they themselves could not fight. In this way, her fate was ever fixed.

    Still . . . what about Rex? she felt cold to consider next. Would he come with her? Could he come with her? Could she even ask him to pick up arms and march again, when he'd had no choice but to do only that for the entirety of his existence? No . . . no. She knew that she couldn’t ask him for fear of her invitation sounding like an order he'd then feel bound to obey. She was no longer his superior officer; he was no longer her captain. From here on out he had every right to choose the future he wanted for himself. And, if anyone deserved to keep to the peace and the small joys they’d found here on Saleucami, it was Rex. He was finally free to live his life his own way, to make whatever decisions he chose to make, and she wouldn’t – couldn’t – take that away from him.

    With a sigh, Ahsoka admitted to the duality of her heart. She wanted Rex to come with her; she wanted to stay here with him. She wanted to keep this life and hold fast to the peace and belonging they’d found. Yet she also wanted to resist, to fight back and trumpet out a challenge to the Dark that now draped its pall over everything she’d once dedicated her life in service to defend.

    Her desires were tumbling down two wildly spinning paths; they could never intersect.

    So: which course would she walk?

    She . . . she couldn’t answer that question; not then; not yet. So she grit her teeth to focus on the present. There here and now had need of her, and there was still much work to be done before Eventide.

    It proved to be a long day for the entire family. Cut and Rex didn’t return from the fields for dinner, and they weren’t expected to – instead, they labored well past when the sun went down underneath work lamps. Suu kept busy too, and Ahsoka sat down with the children for a quick meal before taking over in the kitchen while Suu saw them off to bed. Then, it was back to work. The next two weeks until Eventide would continue this way, Ahsoka suspected. Everything was a whirl and a clamor of activity, and, in its own way, that was a balm to her mind, distracting her from everything she couldn't yet put a voice to.

    Finally, they did all they could for that day, and Ahsoka climbed up to the attic feeling bone-weary but not at all ready for sleep. She heard Cut come in sometime later, his voice low as he and Suu spoke to catch up on the day, before even that quieted and the house went dark.

    Time passed, and when Rex didn’t join her Ahsoka finally went outside to find him the same as she had the night before. He wasn’t in the barn, she looked to see, and the eopies huffed at her for disturbing their rest before she followed that little spark of knowing that always drew her towards him. She found him at the boundary of the furthest pasture, right before the fields of mealgrain began. He was sitting on one of the ruddy sandstone boulders that lined an irrigation channel that was now dry this close to the Scorch Season. A massive smoke-oak cast its wispy limps over the boulders, dancing to throw the starlight above them into fractured patterns of light and dark against the ground. A warm breeze swept in from over the rim of the crater, dry and hot as it danced with the ripe stalks of grain even in the relative coolness of the night.

    Ahsoka was quiet with her step, and the shadows were thick and dark from the faint glow of the sickle moons overhead. Still: “I was coming up,” Rex said, even before he could see her.

    “Were you?” she asked, pulling herself up to sit on the boulder next to him. He had a small lamp lit, and was fiddling with a project in his hands. The motivator for one of the harvester droids, she looked over and suspected.

    “I’m just not tired yet,” Rex answered in his own way. He looked down again, the line of his shoulders heavy. “I don’t think I could sleep if I tried.”

    A heartbeat passed. “Neither can I,” Ahsoka admitted on a whisper. This felt too much like the lull in a storm; the hush before battle, and her instincts wouldn’t let her rest.

    And yet . . . she bit her lip, knowing that they had an opportunity to talk now. It would be best if they figured out their course sooner, rather than later. “Should we . . .” she started, and yet couldn’t find her words. How could she, when she was still terrified to hear his answer?

    “Yeah, we should,” even so, Rex agreed after a moment’s pause. He didn’t pretend not to understand her, and yet he didn’t say anything more than that.

    In the end, Ahsoka found that she couldn’t either. Instead, she scooted closer to him, and then tentatively even closer still. Maybe it was a selfish thing, to lean the side of her crest against his shoulder, but she couldn’t seem to hold herself back. Not then. She curled up against him, needing the certainty of him then more than she could find the words to express aloud. For a moment he sucked in a breath and held it. She could feel the tension in his body, like a rip-cord pulled taut. But then he exhaled, and slowly – just as slowly as she had moved – he wrapped his arm around her shoulders in return, slipping underneath her central lek to tuck her in close against him. He didn’t push her away, she closed her eyes in relief; he didn’t push her away. Instead, she could feel the hesitant touch of the back of his knuckles against the side of her right lek. She fought to keep all three of her lekku from rippling at the touch, and swallowed back a throaty sigh of contentment. He was offering her comfort and companionship, she knew, and she was determined to accept it as such.

    Together, they sat in silence as the shadows held sway, and looked up to watch the stars.


    .

    .


    Later that night, she dreamed.

    She dreamed of so many old friends, now long gone. She dreamed of her crèche-clan; of Garwlie the Wookie and Cibeth and Laish, who’d been her first friends at the Temple. Laish had been assigned as a Padawan Commander just before her, and yet hadn’t survived the war; his lightsaber had been one of Grievous' trophies taken during the Burning of Machtooine. She still thought about Garwlie and Cibeth – who’d both had Temple duties as a healer and a guardian, respectively, and yet who she knew were counted among the fallen. She didn’t even entertain the thought that they'd survived Order 66; they were at the center of it all when the GAR raided the Temple and executed the young, the wounded, and the old. She saw them stare at her with their sad, luminous eyes in the Force, asking her what she would do next with the life she had to live while they did not. They were all so young, too young, Ahsoka tossed and turned for the cruelty of it all. Yet war did not stay its hand for the tenderness of youth, and the Empire, she knew, was even more barbarous in its lack of mercy.

    In her mind’s eye the Force showed her a room with slate grey walls, where children from infants to toddlers were brought before a hooded figure in black – not unlike the Sith's lair with its captives Anakin and her had once found during the war. The Sith Lord himself, Sidious, looked down on a tiny, red-headed little baby one of the nurse droids presented to him and said, she will do. A part of Ahsoka shied away from feeling the tethers that sank deep into the little girl – like her training bond with Anakin but different, twisted and unnatural and demanding rather than anchoring and sharing everything that was good and necessary and bright.

    As they did so many nights, her dreams shied away from the Dark and tried to reach out towards those twin flames burning in the night – only to be softly, but firmly showed away from her search by an unseen hand. She thought about the red-headed baby and closed her eyes to the Force to ask that these two, at least, remain shielded and safe from harm.

    Her ghosts seemed to march by in quick succession after that – specters of Master Ti and Master Plo and Master Secura and Master Kenobi and everyone else she’d so dearly loved. Her memories of the dead tormented her, and, inexplicably, she remembered back to the one time she had been able to make Barriss laugh outright – an honest to goodness, full-bellied and girlish laugh. How pleased she had been in her small triumph then. In that moment, watching Barriss' eyes light up, she’d felt as if there was no victory that could ever be out of reach. Her friend had always been so solemn, so sad, and she carried the cost the war demanded in sentient lives close to her heart. She was too much a healer to also be a warrior, Ahsoka had long since thought, and then . . . she flinched when her dreams showed Barriss in her cell at the Temple, kneeling on the floor before a figure in black, who barely held back from swinging the crimson lightsaber in his hand. Ahsoka could feel his rage like a rot on her soul, cloying and thick. “Your Master has other plans for me, does he not?” Barriss was fearless to say, not even opening her eyes to look up from her meditative stance. In answer, the figure in black only growled before turning away and gesturing for her to follow.

    Ahsoka didn’t know what to make of this turn in her dream. She wasn’t sure if she saw a wanting or a warning, and she knew better than to look too closely at premonitions, at that. They were seldom what they seemed.

    Anakin, she thought then, had dreams of the future, and thos dreams were seldom kind. She wondered what he saw in his dreams now. Because, somehow, she knew – she knew, that he still dreamed.

    Fast on the wings of that thought, the figure in black turned. He wasn’t there in the Temple with Barriss then, but on the luminous plane of the intangible with her. She recoiled from the inhuman mask of the hulking, menacing specter whose unnatural breathing echoed in the once hallowed halls that his very presence now profaned. She held herself still, seizing up like prey, and told herself that this was a dream a dream a dream. He couldn’t actually sense her; he couldn’t actually see her. Yet, in her mind -

    - the Dark reached out its searching hand, and she instinctively flung herself as far back in the Force as she could. All the while, she was still lost in the dream, the vision, and she was confused as to what was real and what was not. Strangely, her dormant bond with Anakin burned then; it burned like the searing inferno of a formerly immense red star, a solid crystal mass that had already collapsed underneath its own massive weight and now gave off a dead light in a shadow of its former glory. She turned in on herself trying to make herself small and smaller and then even smaller still, until -

    - she opened her eyes with a gasp, struggling to breathe as if she’d been too long submerged underwater, and awakened.

    For a long moment she tried to steady her racing heartbeat and calm her mind from the vehemence of her dreams. Her lekku twitched; her every muscle trembled with the urge to fight – to turn and run so far away – and confront the shadow and take back when had been lost – to flee before it could ever find and hurt her again – and demand reparations for the wound the dark had torn across the galaxy with its outstretched hand.

    A shiver wracked through her to remember the impossible figure in black, and she drew her knees up to her chest. Deeply she inhaled, swallowing a sob, before she let her breath out slow.

    Absently, when she felt that she had some control over her body again, she turned into the cold space of the pallet next to hers. Rex was already gone, she knew even before her tactile senses confirmed his loss. Rubbing at her bleary eyes, she tried to fight the pang she felt, deep down inside. There was work to be done, she told herself, and he'd undoubtedly already risen for the day. There was nothing for her to do but to follow his lead.

    It was only just before sunrise when she came down from the attic. She didn’t go out for her run and morning meditation – though she certainly could have used it then more so than ever. Instead, she scarfed down a quick breakfast and a scalding cup of caf with Suu before heading outside.

    The day passed just as it had before: from the fields to the paddocks to the barn to the kitchen and back again. Then another day and yet another, with Ahsoka only really seeing Rex when she collapsed to sleep at night and distantly feeling him as her dreams threatened to consume her over and over again. One night passed, then a second and a third, until -

    - by that fourth day, Ahsoka felt as if she’d just gone a month planet-side on campaign, fighting and fighting with no respite. This felt like Andomeer, she thought without a smile for the memory, when, every time she hooked her lightsaber to her belt to bow her head in a stolen moment of rest, she was called back to the battle again. There was no peace to be found for her or her soldiers, just the mission and the Republic and her Master seething at her side for the injustice of everything, when -

    - finally, she caught up with Rex when he was emptying the latest load of reaped grain from the harvester droid. It was high noon by then, with Saleucami's yellow-white sun hot in the sky overhead, heating the land below in a promise of the Scorch Season soon to come. Even Cut and Suu had taken a moment to pause, resting inside the shadow of the barn to break for lunch with cold drinks and a light meal to keep them going through the heat.

    Rex though, did not stop. He maintained up his stubborn pace and kept himself in motion; he never stopped marching. Ahsoka understood his need for motion – oh she understood, but, just like she had on Andomeer, she was ready to leap out of her skin and she had to do something to take a stand.

    “Heya, Rexter,” she greeted, trying to inject a brightness into her voice that she didn't quite feel. She knelt in the shadow that Rex cast, and her words felt heavier than she wanted them to when she cut off any preamble they might have stalled them in favor of jumping right to the point: “Do you have a minute?" she scuttled her fear to ask. "We need to talk.”

    Rex did not look up from his work to acknowledge her. His hands stayed busy, but she watched as a muscle leapt high in his throat. “Can it wait? This has to be done,” he gestured at the ripe field waiting just beyond him.

    “I know it does, and it will be,” Ahsoka agreed. “It's just . . . this is important, and it’s been days already. Please, I need to talk about this sooner rather than later.”

    “Ahsoka,” she heard the sir he choked before giving it a voice, even as he sighed. For some reason her heart started to race as if she was preparing to lead a charge on the front-lines, and she took in a deep breath to summon her courage.

    “I want to know what you are thinking,” stubbornly, she pushed forward. She spoke quickly, too quickly, with one word bleeding into the next in her haste to get them over and done with. “If this is what I think it is, then, what does that mean?” What does that mean for us? she wanted to say, but swallowed the end of her sentence at the last moment. The words got tangled on her tongue and stuck in her throat, and she wanted to bare her teeth in frustration for how her fear held her back. She couldn't afford to be timid about this, not when it mattered so much.

    Yet, neither could she force the issue.

    “Are you asking what we should do?” There was something heavy about the way Rex shaped his words, like a grey sky heavy with rain before a deluge. Her heart leapt to confirm yes, we even as she heard the tension in his voice, and hesitated.

    So, carefully – oh so carefully – she returned: “I think that there are many paths going forward.” It was the truth, and yet not what she wanted to say – to ask for – in its entirety. But how could she ever ask him to fight again? And yet, how could she leave him behind if that’s what he decided he wanted? “I want to take the right course.”

    There, that was painless and neutral, right? It was carefully singular, even. She didn’t say that she wanted a path away from him, nor did she ask him to come with her. She didn’t say that she wanted to stay, she didn’t say that she wanted to go, and yet -

    “ - the droid’s ready, and the day is wasting,” almost abruptly, Rex turned away from her as he stood. Somehow she knew that she hadn’t said the right thing – but what was the right thing to say? Rex’s voice was awfully toneless to her montrals, dry and cold even, no matter the warmth of the day. “I have to get back to work.”

    For some reason, his insistence – his attempting to avoid her and everything about them and their future – irritated her. She flashed her fangs without consciously realizing that she did so. “Come on, Rex,” she huffed. “This is just as important as the harvest. The fields can wait. We need to talk, so we’re going to talk.”

    Rex, for his part, stood very, very still. She knew that she had his complete attention, and yet, for once, there was no ease to be found in that knowledge as he turned to her.

    “Sit down,” she growled. She stared Rex down without blinking, wanting to have this fixed between them now. “We’re going to figure out exactly how we’re going to - ”

    “ - is that an order, sir?”

    For his words, she felt her head snap back as if she’d been slapped. Dumbly, she gaped at him, reeling even as she rushed to replay the last few seconds back in her mind’s eye. How . . . how she could be so grossly misunderstood as that?

    “What?”
    was all that she could stammer as her irritation bled to shock before completely dissolving into frustration. For a moment she was overwhelmed by such a wave of exhaustion that she felt tapped enough to match the drying earth underfoot. “No, Rex, of course not. How could you even think that?”

    She saw his gaze flicker for the hurt in his tone, but that wasn't enough. Not that time. “Then,” he coolly asked, “do I have permission to be dismissed?

    “Rex.” the only answer she could manage was his name on a pained exhale. That wasn’t . . . she hadn’t meant . . . she didn’t know what to say to fix this; to fix everything. He wanted to leave, and yet letting him go suddenly felt like taking a step back from her very soul. She didn't want to let things to end like this between them, even for a pause.

    Yet, Rex ignored her. Instead of waiting for the permission he'd asked for, he powered the harvester droid up and was greeted with a soft whirl of binary. The sensors flashed green as the plow rattled in its cowl, and then Rex turned his back on her completely. He turned his back on her . . . and walked away.

    Ahsoka watched him go without daring to call after him, unable to explain the gulf suddenly stretching so deep and wide between them, even to herself. She didn’t ask him to stay – she couldn’t ask him to stay – and he didn’t look behind at her again as he guided the harvester into the field.



    ~MJ
    @};-
     
    Last edited: Jun 5, 2021