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Ringo Vinda and what came after...

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Ringo Vinda.

A world so far away from Coruscant and from the people making most of the decisions in the war. Still, there, only there - a decisive battle was taking place. It was more about the control of the Perlemian Trade Route than the far away planet itself but still, this was the decisive battle that would change the course of the war.

Admiral Trench, from the Confederacy of Independent Systems, was resisting the 501st Legion, led by Anakin Skywalker, in a massive space station that encircled the planet.  With a tactical mind that made him feared by the Republic forces, and also with enough droids to stop even the famous 501st and their fearsome general, he had resisted offensive after offensive, no matter how well thought the attack plans had been. Several rotations later, with neither side gaining any ground, the 501st finally received reinforcements - the twin Jedi Masters Tiplar and Tiplee, and a contingent of clones. Together, they mounted an offensive that the Separatist forces couldn’t resist, progressing within the station at a pace that gave Skywalker a feral smile.

Yes, that day, the battle should have been won by the 501st and their reinforcements, but fate decided against it. A trap sprung too soon in a poor man. A chip started to dysfunction, a chip that could have been the downfall of the Jedi Order and the masterpiece of the Sith. Tup - brother, vod, friend, good soldier - killed a Jedi Master. Murdered a Jedi Master in cold blood would be more accurate, shooting her at point-blank range.

Some things are strange, like the esoteric power of the Jedi, and all the fantastic possibilities that the Force gave them. But with just the movement of a finger, Jedi Master Tiplar was no more. Her history of service - two Padawans raised successfully to knighthood, negotiating exploits in stopping what could have been a genocide on Circapous V, impossible victories in the name of the galaxy and the light side of the Force - in an instant, all of this was nothing more than a memory for her dear sister Tiplee, and a mystery for Knight Skywalker, Captain Rex, and Fives, Tup’s best friend.

“Good soldiers follow orders,” was the only thing poor Tup had seemed able to say. A mantra repeated again and again, ad nauseam, until those words were the only thing existing behind his eyes.

“Kamino,” Kix said, with the grim expression of a medic faced with a challenge he couldn't win. Tup was drugged up to the eyeballs on a medical bed, but every now and then, he trembled. Every test was negative and Kix had tested everything that was logical, from rare Outer-rims poisons causing a surge of paranoia to parasites in the brain, and a few illogical ideas, too. In fact, Kix had searched for everything, anything with no positive result. Tup seemed to be in perfect form. Still, that same Tup had tried to murder Tiplee herself three times since he had taken her sister’s life, and at every question, he had answered, again, “Good soldiers follow orders,”.

Kix had even asked General Skywalker to probe his brother in the Force.

“What am I supposed to search for?” Skywalker had asked, lips thin, as they had observed the prone form of Tup.

“I don’t know, Sir, to be honest. Something abnormal? I can’t quite guide you in Force matters.”

 

And in the Force, too, Tup felt normal, like every other day since Skywalker had met him for the first time.

“Like every other clone?” Fives had asked.

“Every sentient is different in the Force. And you, your brothers, every one of you, too,” Tiplee explained to Kix. “We can’t say if something is wrong with your brother in comparing the two of you in the Force, because you always have felt different.”

“Kamino then,” Kix repeated, “because I can't help him here and every passing hour he gets worse. His only hope is for the Kaminoans to find what I can't.”

“Will he be terminated?” Fives asked, his voice quiet, his expression as grim as his brother's.

“If it's some sort of virus, a prion...” Kix saw Fives’s face curl in confusion. “A self-propagating protein responsible for a number of brain diseases, a nasty thing, and since it’s rarer than the diseases caused by virus or genetic predisposition, the research is still ongoing,” the medic explained.

Fives seemed so overwhelmed by that answer that Kix tried to reassure him.“If it’s something they can heal, he has a chance. But he will die if he stays here.”

On the whole, this was a terrible day at the end of a terrible month in a terrible year in this Sith-damned war.

And for all their courage and efforts that day, the results weren’t exactly encouraging.

A dead Jedi Master, when their ranks were getting thinner every battle, from physical death or  from their minds cracking under pressure, giving way to insanity or to even more Fallen running around in the galaxy, wreaking havoc in an universe that really, really didn’t need it.

A half-crazy, half-dying clone. But clone or not, this was a life, a unique human being that was now on the verge of oblivion. Tup was way more than the flesh the Republic was feeding to its war machine. He had the potential that every sentient possessed, and that potential was in danger of dying without the chance to know what it could be.

And Ringo Vinda, the space station they were supposed to be occupying, was still in Separatist grasp.

But strangely enough, that was the day the Sith started losing. The war. Their power. The galaxy. And at the end, their lives.

And perhaps, it was right there, in that moment after Ringo Vinda, that everything shifted from darkness to light. The precise moment when the cranial tentacles of Tiplee went from blood-red to rusty. The moment when she received new orders from above, put her datapad down after reading them, and decided to disobey those orders.

“Another mission has already be given to us,” her poor clone commander, Nytro, tried to object, when he saw the Jedi Master on the ramp of the ship taking Tup back to Kamino, instead of the ship she was supposed to be on - the one taking her battalion back to Christophsis.

But Nytro did not protest too much. He had been with the sisters since the beginning of the war, and his loyalty was already decided - it laid with the twin Jedi Masters that fought like enraged storms to save their men. He wanted answers, too. Nytro hadn’t met Tup before the battle of Ringo Vinda, but this was a brother, one of them, and nothing here made sense.

“Tell them I will come back as soon as my questions are answered, Commander, and take care of the vods for me. If they try to move you before I come back, go with Skywalker,” Tiplee advised, something like an apology in her tone.

And then she knelt on the floor, just out of Tup’s view in case he woke up, and tried to attain meditation to purge her pain into the Force. She always had reached it without trouble, even under the racket of shelling, but the memory of her sister’s body hitting the floor was more difficult to let go of than anything had ever been.

She was still trying when the medical ship left hyperspace for the first time and was attacked. The CIS droids boarding them made an unsuccessful attempt to kidnap Tup. It was a difficult moment for the small team of clones and Jedi. The droids probably could have killed the clones guarding their brother, but they didn't account for a saber-wielding Mikkian adept at Ataru. Tiplee didn’t keep a single droid intact to interrogate it.

“This is insane and I don’t understand what they wanted to do. The Separatists are a lot of things, but I don’t put stupid on the list,” Skywalker confessed later to his fellow Jedi, when Tiplee’s ship, its motors dead after the attack, had been rescued by his Ventor-class Destroyer.

Behind the glass of a little room in the infirmary designed for quarantine, Tup was sleeping the sleep of the heavily sedated, Fives seated beside him because not even his general could convince him to let his brother alone. Not that Skywalker had tried very hard.

“This proves that taking him back to Kamino is more crucial than ever.,” Tiplee whispered, her voice quiet in that place of healing. “The droids, and those giving those orders, wanted him, and him specifically. And there were more there than would have been logical to subdue only a medical transport. Whatever this is, it is vital for them.”

“Thank the Force, you were there. My men would probably be dead and Tup in the hands of their mad scientists,” Anakin answered before bowing to her formally. He had always balked under the protocol of the Order and accepted signs of respect more than he gave them, but for this? Anakin Skywalker was many things, some of them problematic, but he was not ungrateful. The lives of his men were something for which he would bow, and be happy about it.

A new ship was then chosen, something more discreet, more heavily armed, and this time Rex and Fives asked to be part of the clone’s escort. Skywalker implemented an impromptu training exercise, hiding the ship’s departure in the others’ drill. Just before the end of the day, Tup, Tiplee, and their escort were on route for Kamino again

 

***************************************************

From Ringo Vinda to their destination, they used only minor routes, programming jumps in the opposite direction once or twice, to be sure they weren’t followed. It took them thirty long, stressful hours, and the whole time they were waiting for a signal alerting them to the presence of an enemy ship. It was pitch black and raining like the Force was trying to drown the city when Captain Rex, Tiplee, Fives and a still-sedated Tup touched down on Kamino. Only when the triple-sealed blast doors of Tapioca City, a novelty due to the war, closed between them and the rest of the galaxy, did Tiplee sense the first row of her tentacles calm a little.

“Perhaps we could share a meditation?” Shaak Ti offered, with great tact. Non-human species always made more effort than humans to understand the tell-tale signs of stress or joy in other species, and Shaak Ti probably hadn't missed the elevated positions of the secondary row of Tiplee’s cranial tentacles, but what could the Mikkian do? Something unsavory was creeping in the Force, had been for months, perhaps years, and Tiplee felt it shifting. Whatever had happened to poor Tup to make him her sister’s murderer, this was a tipping point in the war. If Mace Windu had been there, he would probably would have had difficulties discerning Tup’s small tattoos from all the shatterpoints she was certain were present in the Force.

Tiplee bowed, exhaling sharply, banishing her turmoil. She turned to the second clone at her side.

“Captain Rex?”

“Sir?”

“I know General Skywalker is waiting for you, but with my Commander and my men staying with him, he can forgo your help for a few days. We will go back to our postings together and spare Kamino the second ship I would need. The Kaminoans shouldn’t need more than a few hours to help your friend and give us those long-awaited answers.”

How those words were poorly chosen.

Terminating Tup to autopsy him was the first thing the Kaminoan scientists proposed, waiting only a few hours to make it look less deliberate. They wanted to know why the protocol that would be the end of the Jedi had activated without order, but his brothers only took that as a new proof of the Kaminoans’ disdain for clones lives. 

 

Perhaps this was a second shifting point. Fives. Fives would have tried to help Tup alone with only a little medical droid as his ally. He would have tried so hard, would have found the chip, lost his brother, found his own chip, and finally died, nobody the wiser about the terrible things about to happen. He would never have thought to search for Shaak Ti's help.

But Rex? Captain Rex had a more tactical mind, or perhaps he better understood their mystical generals, having worked closer with them than Fives, and went straight to the Jedi the second he suspected something suspicious was going on. Shaak Ti herself took the chip out.

“You’re the one with the scientific background,” had remarked Tiplee to her fellow Jedi, observing the chip, “but my inexpert opinion is that this thing is very much not the virus Nala Se is pretending to be the reason for my sister’s murder.”

Was it the Force? Was it the bad feeling she had had since Tiplee and the clones had come? Shaak Ti examined the chip once more, and then checked her chrono. It was the night cycle and they still had four hours before the Kaminoans would ask themselves where the two Jedi and those brothers were.

“Captain Rex?”

“Sir?” answered the blond clone, still busy bandaging Tup’s head.

“I won’t make it an order, but I would appreciate your permission to open your skull, too.”

There was a chip. Of course there was a chip. And when Shaak Ti asked the same permission of Fives and performed the same operation….

“I have a bad feeling,” grimaced Tiplee, giving a sour look to the three chips arranged in a small line on a gleaming metal tray.

 

They had found something that might tip the war, but nothing was certain here nor did they know exactly what it meant.

In another universe, Tup would have died from the deteriorating chip, his brain already too damaged to survive when the droid found by Fives would have taken it out- he would have been free but dead, and Fives would have been running for his life, a target for the Sith because of his knowledge of the chips. In this universe, however, it all ended with scandals, explosions, and horrified senators and other people, too accustomed to their peaceful life to understand that sometimes, making things explode is the only way, no matter how expensive.

They fled, leaving a trail of bodies behind them, brothers they couldn’t avoid or stupid Kaminoan scientists that tried to poison the three brothers when the two Force-sensitives were just behind the door.

They fled, and a few days after, the holonews squawked about the billions in credits of damage to Kamino’s aircraft hangars, and the two Jedi traitors that had stolen a ship from Kamino, and run away with clones’ traitors.

Eight days. From Kamino, you could touch down on Coruscant in five days with a good ship, but the first time they switched from one hyperroute to another, two bounty hunters tried to gun them down. The second time, a raging Rex was forced to shoot down a fighter, probably manned by a brother, to give Shaak Ti the time to program another jump. After that, they took their time, and the long road. And now, somewhere deep, very deep in the parts of Coruscant that the sun never touches, Tiplee was using all her powers in the Force and all her knowledge in the Jedi healing arts to stop Tup from dying. During their too long trip in a broken ship, a ship that almost didn’t make it, Shaak Ti and she had taken turns, Tup’s head on their laps, pouring into him all they could, but it wasn’t enough. He needed more, he needed the Temple, the therapeutic crystals and an entire team of Jedi healers. The defective chip was out but the damage to his brain was still killing him, and they could only slow the deterioration.

“You need to sleep,” Fives said to Tiplee. There was an undercurrent of authority in his tone, something he certainly wouldn’t have done before with a Jedi. But after days on a little ship, just the five of them, he had learned to discern the tell-tale signs of exhaustion in her and Shaak Ti just before they went too far and fainted. The twitch of a montrail, the changing colours of a cranial tentacle.If he survived this mess, he would find an officer and insist that a course about alien biology be included in the clones’ training. The clues were all there, but no brother knew how to read an alien the way they knew how to interpret a human smile or a frown.

“I’m pretty sure bossing around a commanding officer is bad manners in your culture,” responded Tiplee

“Yes well, I took a lesson from General Skywalker and decided not to follow protocol.”

There was a moment’s pause.

“….By the Force, was that an imitation of Kenobi?” giggled Tiplee, and it was good, so good, the sound of laugher in that moment.

“Sorry, Sir,” said Fives, oscillating between feeling ashamed for making fun of an officer, and proud for making Tiplee laugh like that.

“No, no, Fives, that was pretty good. He can be pretty insufferable when he plays the handsome rogue, no? And he’s always pretending it’s his late Master’s influence, or his former Padawan, when he’s almost worse than both of them!”

“Commander Cody always packs extra blaster charges when he’s like that, sir,” confessed Fives, with a small smirk.

“And to think he was such an obedient teenager. A defiant and angry youngling and Initiate, but as a teenager…I knew one or two Masters jealous of Jinn to have such an obedient, capable, smart Padawan.” She had a distant look, her mind far away, in a happier time.

“What was he like back then?”

“Kenobi?” asked Tiplee, and there was something curious in the way she looked at Fives, like he was asking another question.

“Yeah. We’re taught nothing about Jedi shinies. And I can’t sleep right now.” Fives had coloured a little, blood going to his face under her gaze. It was not exactly strange that he could imitate Kenobi so well - the red hair, the grin, that strange blend of sarcasm and seriousness…yes, the handsome rogue persona that Kenobi wore on difficult missions certainly worked for him. But he also appreciated the man for the long hours spent in the infirmary, when he was visiting soldiers and putting his Force powers to use to reinforce medications and bacta. Or when a grieving brother always found with him compassion, warm tea, or the moonshine that Kenobi officially didn’t know about and didn’t have access to, but somehow always had on hand. Kenobi spent his free time teaching the brothers raised for war about the wonders of the galaxy. Fives really liked when they had joint missions with Kenobi’s men, and in that dark room, when he was almost sure he wouldn’t see the man again, and that they probably would die horrifically the next day, he didn’t have a problem confessing it.

After all, in the strange Jedi way, Tiplee was one of Kenobi’s sisters, different species or not. Or one of Kenobi’s aunts. Fives wasn’t very clear about the exact level of their relationship and the way it worked between the Jedi.

Fives and Tiplee looked to the other part of the room, where Rex was sleeping beside Tup, sharing his body heat to help their brother, his growing blond beard doing nothing to hide the signs of exhaustion on his face. Shaak Ti was out searching for food and intel before they tried going upside. They had no communicators left, their frequencies were hijacked, and nobody was naïve enough to think half the security forces of the planet weren’t between them and the Temple, the only safe place left. 

“I think you should call me Tiplee,” the Mikkian Jedi suggested. And then she told him stories of a happier time, when she was raising her second Padawan, a Nautolaan named Archa who had died on Genosis at the start of the war. Stories of a little ginger Padawan running on Qui-Gon Jinn’s heels when the galaxy wasn’t so dark and desperate.

The night after, Rex went to a bar and made contact with Kix, a contact that resulted in General Skywalker meeting them. They had played it safe and prepared a trap, just in case - a ray shield that was supposed to stop Skywalker  from immediately apprehending them, to give them time to explain. It was a smart move -  Skywalker didn’t believe them, shouting at them that they were idiots and that conspiracies were a thing for cheap holonews channels, just before Commander Fox and his men, as well as the Coruscant Guard, raided the place and tried to kill the fugitives. That was probably one of the most difficult moments in Rex’s life, a life that was already hard and colossally dangerous - a moment that pitted brothers against brothers. 

The only good thing was that it had shut up Skywalker pretty fast. In the melee, he gave Fives coordinates while blaster fire was raining around them, the whole thing mad, clones against Jedi and clones. And their brothers…their brothers were shooting to kill, of that, Fives was sure. Rex would have died that night, without Shaak Ti’s quick reflexes and that fact was perhaps the only one that convinced Anakin that something was actually suspicious and this wasn’t only paranoia from two soldiers and two Jedi with too many battles behind them. Because of that, the blood on the floor, and Rex’s shout of pain, he covered them, giving them the chance to escape death, delaying the guards until the fugitives had escaped into the night as if they had never existed.

They needed three days to find the meeting place. Tup was not exactly getting better and taking him from street levels to street levels, every time higher, was complicated and done only with precaution. Rex was only limping when he probably should have lost a kneecap, which had been healed partially by Shaak Ti, but everybody was exhausted and feeling a bit paranoid, even the two Jedi.

The patrols searching for them weren't helping. In those three days, the collateral damages included, but weren't limited to, one public transport aero-bus (which had been hijacked without passengers and which finally crashed in to a water tower), twenty street-cleaning droids (because Fives had not exactly shown a great deal of originality in his approach to the subject of distracting the enemy), and one arson occurrence in a closed shop (Tiplee had kept the address for the Jedi Order to cover the cost if they survived). There were also multiple occurrences of engagement in serious disorder, violence, damage, and planning or assisting others to engage in similar activities.

To put it simply, only their survival and the continued life of the Republic would save them from Master Windu’s fury when the Jedi were forced to pay for the many damages to public property.

Explosion after explosion, ambush after ambush - still, they survived, and progressed.

“I sometimes fear the Republic we defend has become what we swore to destroy,” Shaak Ti would confess to Rex when they stopped to sleep a little. The Captain had revealed himself as way more than a programmed soldier in those dangers - quick on his feet, smart, compassionate, and if only one of the five of them would survive…was it attachment to wish he would? Fives was a good person, Tiplee was her sister in the Force, and if the galaxy was fair, Tup should survive after all of that - survive and thrive. But Rex? How he had grown since he was a young soldier on Kamino! She hopelessly wished for him to have a chance to see how much more he could evolve. Every clone was different in the Force, every one of them could do great things, and Rex’s trials in the war seemed to have made him so much more than what the Kaminoans thought he could be…

Every moment, they were asking themselves if Skywalker would give them to the other clones searching for them, to the conspirators that they didn’t dare name but…how high up were their enemies when every soldier in the Republic was now against them?

The coordinates led them to a small and greasy diner in Cocotown, manned by a Besalisk that already had a hiding place ready for them in the storage spot. He opened his door the second he saw them, and gave them food, warm drinks, and shelter.

 They had arrived just in time.  Shaak Ti spent all night, Tup’s head on her lap, again pouring all she could of herself in to healing him. Rex stood guard close to them as Fives and Tiplee attempted to sleep, without much success. She had tried to teach the clone meditation, but it was a difficult art to master when a small part of your attention was searching for signs of approaching brothers’ patrols or murderous clankers.

“It’s gonna end awfully, no?” Fives asked quietly, when they had stopped pretending and retreated in the kitchen, warming his hands on the bluest soup he had ever seen. Blue, but good, and he knew to take his food when he could.

“Why are you thinking that?” With someone else, he would have feared the question to be a trap but after all these days together, Fives and Tiplee had finally understood that they were honestly curious about their different worlds.

“All the Republic is against us.” And how that tasted sour in poor Fives’s mouth.

“The path of the Light is not the quicker, or the easier one, but in the end, it will prevail.”

“Yes, but we will be terminated before that. It’s strange…now that my chip is out, I feel…I don’t want to betray the Republic, but…but I want more.”

Silence. He didn’t say anything more and when General Skywalker came to them, three days later, he followed without a word. Perhaps they would all die, but he couldn’t imagine running to the Outer Rim to live as a smuggler or a farmer, abandoning his brothers. The Republic? Every day that passed, he was feeling less inclined to die for it. But for a chance of freedom for his brothers? Freedom from that thing in their brain?

Yes, for that Fives could die.

“I’m sure this is just a misunderstanding.” General Skywalker insisted, nursing a hot drink, kneeling with them on the hard floor of the storage spot. He had brought clothes for them, dark and discreet, the sort middle-class Coruscanti accountants would wear, and some kind of make-up that apparently the Jedi used on covert missions. He was now busy trying to convince Dex, who had apparently known him since his teens, to not call his former Master. It was not easy convincing someone you’re a war general competent in your job when that person called you “Ani" and offered you the sugary treat you adored as a child.

Trying his best to not snigger, Fives helped Tiplee with covering the cranial tentacles she couldn’t reach.

“Not in green,” she only said, her voice faraway. He suddenly remembered poor General Tiplar. With all that had happened, Fives had totally forgotten how they had begun - with the murder of Tiplee’s sister. What a friend he was.  It wasn’t even a month ago, but in a way, it had happened several lifetimes before.

“What other colours are there in your species?” he asked, exploring the makeup pack. They could forego the prosthesis designed to make one species pass for another - it would only be a dangerous hindrance in a fight. But if they survived, he wanted to at least try the fake lekku. Or the Wookiee mask.

“Light purple and deep grey.” Tiplee began “Try the grey, it will be more discreet. And Skywalker found me a little hairpiece that will make my cranial tentacles look shorter. It’s always useful to look younger - people are less wary of you.”

Rex was helping Shaak Ti, painting her facial marks, covering some and extending others, shading in a darker blue on her montrails to suggest she spent a lot of time on desert worlds, and not on Kamino.

“You don’t look like you anymore,” Fives heard. He did his best to focus on shaving his own head. The way Shaak Ti painted the fake animalistic tattoo on Rex’s bare skull seemed too intimate for him to watch.

“This beast is an Akul. A predator of my native world,” Fives heard, and he saw the gesture of Rex, the way his hand took the hand of Shaak Ti, still holding the airbrush, saw the caress of a thumb on a palm.

Meanwhile, Skywalker had won his fight about Kenobi, lost the one about the cake, and was now briefing them with his mouth full. “I’ve asked for an audience with the Chancellor tomorrow, first thing in the morning. I have…I have a friend that lives in the same building as him. She’s not there on Coruscant right now, but I have the entrance code of the door. We’ll go there in the cover of the night, and in the morning, meet the Chancellor in his private apartment.”

“I continue to think we should go to the Temple first,” Tiplee insisted.

“Well, that would be complicated. The Chancellor seems to think Tup or Rex’ll try to murder Jedi, even though they have been around you for days and you’re perfectly well. He ordered protective measures for the Order. No Jedi is supposed to be outside the Temple on Coruscant right now and the Temple is under guard. And the military advisors of the Chancellor apparently think you’re some sort of super-soldiers because all your brothers on planet right now have been assigned to this mission,” Skywalker said, scrunching his face in thought, the moment Mace Windu had understood the Jedi were prisoner in their own Temple clear in his memory.

“The Council protested about the garrisons being deployed around the Temple, of course, but I don’t know why the Chancellor seems to think…even Master Yoda couldn’t convince him. He’s a sage man, you know, Chancellor Palpatine. He’ll listen to you. You just need a chance to explain yourselves to him and he will help you, you’ll see.”

Using the cover of rush hour in the evening, they left Dex’s diner in two small groups, -Skywalker with Tup and Shaak Ti, and then Fives, Rex and Tiplee. Taking different routes, they arrived to the Senate neighborhood.

Of course, nobody had foreseen that the first thing they would find in Senator Amidala’s rooms would be Master Kenobi, sipping tea and glaring at them like he was hoping they would suddenly combust.

There was an awkward moment where everybody pretended to not understand what Skywalker was saying when he accused the older man to be the secret lover of his wife, before Kenobi shot him down.

“Do you really think I didn’t know?”, he demanded, his voice sounding like a curse.

“You didn’t say anything!” defended Skywalker.

“Because I still hoped against the compelling evidence that my friends would come clear and stop lying to me, perhaps? That my friend Padme would confess to marrying my pupil without his tutor’s permission, entering a scandalous and illegal marriage? That my best friend and ex-Padawan would admit taking me for an idiot for years and…”

“Gentlemen! Is this really the time? Obi-Wan, how did you find us?” Shaak Ti asked.  Fives could see her hands on her pack, even as she was talking, just on the pocket where he knew her saber was. Would she really? Against her fellow Jedi? Only the clones had tried to stop them before.

“When I heard Anakin had been reprimanded for helping you escape, I knew he would hide you here, it was only a matter of time. Handmaiden Dorme gave me the codes,” said Obi-wan.

“She always preferred you to me. I’m sure she wishes Padme had married you,” Skywalker grumbled.

“Or perhaps she wished Padme hadn’t chosen a course of actions that could make her career crash and burn,” his ex-Master spat.

“Gentlemen!” And then they told Kenobi everything. Fives told him about Tup, Tiplee told him about the first attack of the droids in the medical transport, Rex told him of the Kaminoan trying to terminate Tup, and finally Shaak Ti told him about the attempted murders, on Kamino and on Coruscant.

Obi-Wan blanched, chewed his lips, frowned, but he never interrupted, and whatever he was projecting in the Force, Fives saw Shaak Ti take her hand off her weapon. “I’m coming with you,” Kenobi finally said, his tone grim. Then he continued, “Everybody should try to sleep. I’m comming Dorme. She and the other handmaidens will come take care of Tup when we are with the Chancellor.”

There was nothing more to do that night. Nothing but to wait. It was only supposed to be a meeting with the Chancellor but Fives had felt less tension on the nights before battles with far more desperate odds. Could they really go to the Chancellor without getting caught? Would they be forced to kill brothers to reach the man? And if he didn’t believe them? Did they have a chance to fight their way off the planet? What would become of them after that?

The eve of the battle is the strangest moment. You can’t sleep and you should. Every little moment that led you to that hour dances in your mind. What could have been different? What could have been better? Is it my last night? Who will remember me? Is there something after death? Will I ever see again the people I love?

Fives had seen Shaak Ti and Rex disappear in the darkness of the apartment after the decision to let Kenobi come with them was reached, and he wished them the best, no matter what they were doing, whether they were busy talking, or whether one of them had taken a risk and said or done something. He hoped that one of them had made the first gesture. He knew Rex had not looked at anyone since the death of that Correlian encryption natural-born specialist who had served on the Resolute, and he wished happiness to his brother.

Skywalker was sleeping in Amidala’s bedroom and Kenobi was kneeling, alone in the living-room, and Fives…Fives was nothing but courage.

“Sir?” He took his chance. After all, it was probably his last night in the galaxy - he could be terminated as defective in the morning if the Chancellor didn’t believe them. What was the risk, if only a moment of shame?

And the reward for courage was the sweetest of fruit. The reward was a smile, the touch of fingers against his jaw. The reward was a low voice and words only for his ears. The reward was his first kiss that wasn’t from a curious brother to another, lips on his face, the scratching of a beard against his hand, of that red hair that had attracted him at first. The reward was warm skin after days on the run, a shy exploration, a moment of perfect happiness.

The reward was sweet and sour at the same time, because when Fives woke up, before the sun, a heartbeat under his ear, he knew this could be the only time they had that and wished they had been unmindful of the sleep they needed and explored more.

“We will have other nights, if the Force wills it,” said a voice still rough from sleep. He didn’t answer and searched for Kenobi’s mouth, putting in the kiss everything he hoped.

A chance to explore together what they could be.

A chance to see the galaxy in peace.

A chance.

Later, when they had snuck into the Senate, and knocked out two of their brothers standing guard in the corridors to "borrow" their armour, he saw, carefully wrapped around Rex's wrist, the tooth headdress of Shaak Ti.

Fives wasn’t religious, but at that moment he wished he was, to ask the Force for that chance, for all of them.

And that chance, it almost was refused.

He would never remember everything in that day.  The middle of the fight, when he had sustained a grave wound on the left side of his head that required a two weeks in the halls of healing, his memories of that battle ones that would never return. He couldn’t return with the details that he was sure couldn’t have happened, like the halo that he had seen for a second on Skywalker, just before the young Jedi had dealt the killing blow, ending the line of Bane.

But he would remember enough. The cackling of a madman. The scent of ozone. The yells of the guards, outside the door, trying to open it probably thinking they were trying to murder the Chancellor when it was exactly the opposite. The fire of the lightning on his skin. The dance of lightsabers, beautiful but deadly, the expression on the four generals’ faces - fierce, predatory.

Gone was Tiplee, the friend that had joked with Fives despite the grave situation, who had taught him a few poems in Mikkian. Gone was the lover that was warmth and pleasure against Rex’s side. Gone was the sometimes goofy General that had taught the vod Huttese curses. Gone was the man that had kissed Fives’ jaw and marveled at their chance to find each other.

Four Jedi were battling the Sith, answering the call of their Order, that most ancient and precious oath, generations after generations, warriors of the Light standing against the ever-hungry darkness. They moved fast, but Palpatine was faster. Perhaps it was the head wound, but Fives could have sworn he saw some sort of glowing silhouettes moving at the same time, just behind the Jedi, some sort of darkness spreading in every corner each time Palpatine - no, Sidious - moved. Rex and Fives had taken the chance of a few shots at the beginning, but with no results except a hole in Sidious’s robe and the near-death of Kenobi when the Sith had reflected one of the blaster shots. Rex was guarding his fallen brother, expression savage, blaster raised, but the fight was too quick for him to shoot the monster in the back. Then Tiplee had lost a leg, Kenobi had gone down, impaled in the pelvis, and Skywalker had started to move even faster, becoming only a blur, faster, faster, with Shaak Ti guarding his left. Rex was trying to find a way to cross the room-turned-battlefield to the two fallen Jedi when General Skywalker had finally put his saber in his opponent’s body. Palpatine didn’t try to plead for his life, he didn’t have the time. With a yell the young man had pushed, with the horrible noise of burning flesh, his saber all the way to the Sith’s heart.

At first, the Sith just died, but soon after he exploded in a pyrotechnic effect that would have made Fives jealous, if he wasn’t busy thinking that this was their end. Shaak Ti had pushed an exhausted Skywalker to the floor, trying to protect him with her body. A good part of the ceiling collapsed on them and Fives knew no more.

People should warn you about this sort of thing.

The uproar over the death of the Chancellor was gigantic. The Republic faltered and for a time, it seemed it wouldn’t survive the crisis, that it would break into pieces, systems against systems. Fives wasn’t awake at the time but his brothers would later describe to him the riots on different worlds, the Senators screeching for their heads in the Senate, the death of Depa Bilaba, succumbing to her injuries after killing Dooku, and the infamous end of Grievous, by the saber of Yoda on Utapau…

But, good things came to them, too. Ahsoka Tano came back to the Temple, her need to see her Master alive enough to send her back to the place she had once sworn off. She hadn’t begun training again, but everyone could see that it would be soon, and that she would be a changing force in the Order.

Kenobi, waiting in the hover chair that would be his for a few months of rehabilitation, was there when Fives had woken. A shy smile, his hand searching for Fives’, not caring in the slightest about the Healers. The Arc trooper had never gone back to the barracks. That gave him more time to help his lover and his friend with their rehabilitation, and neither Obi-Wan nor Tiplee were exactly model patients. The Mikkian was building a new lightsaber, her last one gone in the explosion, and she had melted her sister’s headdress to form the handle. Fives was fascinated by the process, but also proud of the honour she had given him, in asking for his presence in that sacred time.

Tup was getting better, day after day. He was also visited every day by handmaiden Dorme, baffling his friend and brother. He was in a coma, the first time they met, what could he have done that was so irresistible?

Rex and Shaak Ti…well, Fives didn’t know exactly how that worked, since they had gone back to Kamino to supervise the de-chipping of every soldier, legions after legions called back, but his brother was definitely smiling too much in his reports, so…

According to the prediction of Kenobi, it seemed the political career of Padme Amidala wouldn’t survive the revelation of her secret and illegal marriage, but she hadn’t gone back to Naboo, choosing to live in the Temple with her husband, and to help the Jedi with their program of aid to the refugees, the millions of poor souls who had fled war and its sister, poverty, having come to Coruscant in hope of a better life. .

Everyone seemed to hold their breath, watching the other inhabitants of the Temple, looking for where the protests would come from. But nothing came.

All planetary systems seemed to await a seemingly inevitable resumption of the war, looking for who would fire the first shot, or for new planetary systems in the Republic to declare their independence. But nothing came.

At the end, Queen Breha arrived, descending on Coruscant like a soul of steel dressed in silk. Her husband had already tried, unsuccessfully, to reason with his fellow Senators. The bickering needed to stop and they needed to elect someone new. Perhaps he had acted too soon. Perhaps his words were waiting in the form of seeds in the souls, awaiting the intervention of Breha, who would make them germinate.

At the end of that day, there was a delegation ready to meet the Separatists for peace talks and the poor queen that had wanted to go back to Alderaan the next week was now Chancellor. It may have been the first time a newly elected Chancellor answered, “Oh Kriff, no,” when learning the good news.

There was work to do, and watching the ship of the delegation leaving the dock, Fives was feeling excited about it. Whatever the choices the galaxy would make now, it would be the sum of thousands of people’s decisions and no more the machinations of a puppeteer. Whatever choices he would make now, they would be his - his mistakes and his victories - the chip only a bad memory.

“Fives?” Tiplee was waiting for him.

“I’m meeting Skywalker and his wife at Dex's in one hour. Perhaps you and Obi-Wan could come?”

“He’s busy with the Council - said he would come back very late. But I’m ready for something greasy. And if we can’t convince Skywalker to talk with him again tonight, we lock them tomorrow in a room together. They can’t spend the rest of their days furious with each other about General Skywalker’s wedding. Especially when Obi-Wan and Senator Amidala are already friends again.”

“I’m pretty sure your lover wouldn’t like it, and his first decision outside of that closet would to ban you to the couch” chipped Tiplee, smiling. “And locking people together isn’t exactly a classic negotiation tactic when you must reconcile belligerent parties.”

“Well…” a pause, a smile answering to hers, and Fives continued, “I took a lesson from General Skywalker and decided not to follow protocol. Ever again.”

“By the Force, your imitation is getting more insufferable every day. You need to stop that.”

“Nobody understands my humour,” lamented the Arc Trooper.

And, bickering like a pair of vods, they left the dock.