Rex was exhausted. They had just come back from a confrontation with the Seppies that had left huge gaps in the 501st and they were, to a brother, beat down. It didn't matter that they had won the engagement. The 212th had joined them and the tide had turned and the enemy had retreated, but Rex didn't care.
He had checked in with every sergeant in his company, seeing how they and their men were doing, paying special attention to the Shinies who were seeing their first actual combat. Kix was furious, but Rex had directed Jesse toward the medic with a bottle of alcohol he'd confiscated last cycle and let them figure themselves out.
He palmed the door to his bunk open and stumbled inside, pulling his helmet off and setting it aside. He closed the door and started pulling off his armor, just wanting to crawl into bed and pull the covers over his head.
Except that when he went to do so, he found his bed occupied.
It took him a moment to process that yes, he was in the right room and that yes, that was his bed. It just had someone else in it. Rex frowned and poked the person, who also had his pillow pulled over their head so he couldn't see who it was.
"Go find your own bunk," he said.
The person moved, tugging the pillow down, and Rex rocked back on his heels in shock. "These things suck," Red muttered. "How the hell do you people sleep? Rocks are more comfortable."
The redhead gave a sleepy smile and reached out, tugging on Rex's hand. "There's room, c'mon."
Rex let himself be pulled into the bed, not sure he wasn't dreaming, as the other curled up around him. Both the bed and Red were warm from sleep and Rex wrapped his arms around him, wanting that warmth for himself. Red hummed, nosing against Rex's jaw, and let himself be manhandled. There was something painfully intimate about how they were wrapped around each other in the single bunk, but Rex didn't care.
"You're okay," he said, holding Red.
"Haven't killed Qui-Gon yet," Red agreed, giving a tiny hum of contentment. "Cody is wonderful. Drags me into sparring matches when my temper gets the better of me."
Rex couldn't help the way he clutched Red just the tiniest bit tighter. "No one told us what had happened after the Maverick was destroyed."
Red twitched, pulling away a little so he could look at Rex. "Wait, what?"
"It's been a long six months," Rex said.
Red slithered out of Rex's arms and somehow--Rex's brain was a fog at this point--ended up straddling his lap with Rex on his back. Red leaned down, their noses just brushing, eyes very green.
"You didn't get any of my comms?" Red asked. Rex shook his head, hands hesitantly settling on Red's hips. "Cody thought it was odd that you weren't responding to him either."
"Haven't heard from him either," Rex said. "Only knew the 212th was okay because of the GAR gossip network."
"I just thought you were ignoring me," Red said, sitting up, hands on Rex's chest. He looked a little embarrassed. "It's why I snuck in here, but you took longer getting back than I expected and I was tired."
"You are always welcome in my bed," Rex said without thinking.
Red arched a brow and grinned wickedly at him. "Oh?"
"I, I mean, if you, to rest, and" Rex stumbled over himself, starting to sit up, only to have Red push him down.
"Rex," Red said slowly, leaning down again so their faces were close. "Is there something you want to tell me?"
"No?" Rex whispered.
"That sounded like a question," Red said, smiling. "Do you want to say something but are instead letting honor get in your way?"
"Honor?" Rex asked, hands tightening on Red's hips. Their positions were not lost on him and dammit, Red was barely wearing clothes right now, just a pair of leggings he'd seen Jedi train in and a sleeveless shirt. Rex wanted to roll them over and examine him, peel him out of those clothes and--
Red shifted and made a tiny noise in the back of his throat that. No. That was interest. Rex knew that kind of noise. He stared at Red and there was a flush there, on those pale cheeks, and he was biting his lip and smiling.
"You're, shit, what's the term Jinn uses. Projecting," Red said, voice unsteady. His hands moved over Rex's chest, almost stroking, and Rex tried not to arch into it.
No. Bad thoughts. He was trying to do this right, and this wasn't right. This was him being tired and missing Red and--
Red's hands moved from his chest to his face, cupping his cheeks as he leaned in and kissed him. Rex froze for a moment before kissing him back, trying to find the best angle, best anything, because he didn't want this to end. It took a moment, both of them too eager, noses bumping and teeth catching, as they moved together. Red slid to the side and Rex rolled with him, pulling each other in, their legs twining together, bodies pressed close.
Rex cupped the back of Red's head, cradling him, careful--so careful--as they kissed. There were tongues touching and mouths opening and soft moans. And nothing could be more perfect than they were in this one moment.
Qui-Gon was frustrated and it had everything to do with trying to find his former apprentice.
Anakin was avoiding him.
Ever since he had taken Red as his student Anakin had cut all communication with him. The 501st would report to the Council, but any private comms between the 212th, Qui-Gon, Red and Anakin's battalion would go unanswered. The Council was aware of the issue and found it unsettling, especially in light of Red's information of the Sith Lord's interest in Anakin, and had finally sent Qui-Gon to deal with the issue.
He could not do so, however, if he could not find Anakin.
Releasing his frustration into the Force, he tapped the training bond he and Red had recently established--much to the other's reluctance--since he was a much better tracker. However, all he got back was a burst of annoyance and a distinct "busy, go away" feeling. Qui-Gon tried not to laugh and smiled instead; it was about time Red had something to smile about. He was far too serious.
For the moment, he supposed, he would leave his search of Anakin for another time. They were in hyperspace now. There were very few places his former apprentice could go that Qui-Gon could not find him.
Rex traced gentle fingers along a deep scar along Red's ribs, kissing his shoulder as he did so. "This one?" he asked.
Red twisted against Rex's sheets, trying to look. "Maul," he said. "Not long after the Sith bought me at auction."
Rex leaned up and kissed Red, wanting to erase the scar and the past, but knowing he couldn't. Red smiled into the kiss, a gentle hum of pleasure, and broke it off to nuzzle and press more kisses along Rex's jaw.
"Maul had been with him for years," Red said. "He hated me and I didn't know what I had gotten myself into. Didn't take me long to figure it out, of course, when Maul attacked me and the Sith just watched. Those first few years it was a constant battle between the two of us--every meal, every scrap of information, anything we needed to survive we had to fight the other for while he watched."
"What changed?" Rex asked, running fingers along Red's scarred torso. He knew the stories, now, for many of these marks. Not all, but many. One day he wanted to know them all.
Red shrugged, "Maul could never kill me. Either I was just that good at staying alive or Maul couldn't actually do it, but then I couldn't kill him either. There was something almost comforting knowing that there was someone else trapped in that hell with you. So the Sith changed the rules and kept us both."
Rex chased Red's face, grinning as the other teasingly avoided him, but finally managed to capture his lips. Red scraped his nails through Rex's hair and pressed closer as they kissed, savoring the feel of each other. Kissing was all Rex wanted at that moment as he gathered Red in his arms. Everything else could wait.
They broke apart, breathing heavy, and Red had the briefest flash of annoyance on his face before he kissed the tip of Rex's nose.
"What?" Rex asked.
Rex reached out to smooth a thumb over Red's forehead. "You looked upset."
"Oh," Red said. He dragged his nails teasingly along Rex's chest, a smile that he was beginning to learn meant trouble gracing his face. "Qui-Gon wanted my attention and I told him to fuck off."
"Do you need--?"
"No," Red said, avoiding his eyes. "I don't need anything. I want you."
He shook his head and kissed Rex again. There was a moment when Rex didn't know if he should push or not but he let it go, Red would tell him if became important, and relaxed into the other's touch. After the long months of silence and the engagement from hell, this was a balm to his soul that he needed.
Red was still braiding his hair back--he really just needed to cut it at some point, mid-back was really too long for his tastes--when he joined Qui-Gon the next morning for meditation. The older man was kneeling on a pillow, eyes closed, incense burning--oh, that was a low-blow. Qui-Gon knew how much Red hated that stinky stuff. So he was a little late, big deal, he didn't have to be a pain about it.
Red settled onto the other pillow once he was done with his braid and closed his eyes.
"Have fun last night?" Qui-Gon asked.
Red opened his eyes to glare at his teacher. "Really? You want to start with that?" The man was grinning at him, blue eyes dancing in a way that meant he was teasing, and Red gave up. "You're awful. Hurry up and get it over with so you can continue to tell me how much I suck at meditating."
"You're doing very well for someone who has taught themselves," Qui-Gon said. "However, before we begin for the morning, I do have a serious question for you in regards to your affections for Captain Rex."
Red tilted his head to the side and waited. Dealing with Qui-Gon Jinn was the ultimate test of his patience.
"What was your relationship with Jango Fett?" Qui-Gon asked.
Red froze, staring at him. "Excuse me?"
"I am very glad you are forming healthy relationships with others," Qui-Gon said, "both friendships with Commander Cody, Quinlan Vos and other Jedi, and now with Captain Rex. You have not shared your entire past with me, not that I expect you to, but from what you have shared leads me to believe that it was not pleasant. Many people took advantage of your trust and your willingness to believe the best in people and twisted that."
Red looked away, a slow curl of shame burning in his chest. "What does this have to do with Jango?"
"I want to make sure you are seeing Rex for who he is and not as a substitute. It would not be fair to him, nor to the memory of--"
Red couldn't repress the laugh fast enough. "By all the gods, no!" he gasped out around a giggle, slapping a hand over his mouth. "Oh ew, no. Jango was family, Jinn, never anything more. He named me, gave me a home, a purpose. He was the first one who saw me as a person after being Verath." He felt the humor fade. "Even after all that, and he wouldn't listen to me when I told him not to get involved."
"Mace is sorry," Qui-Gon said. "He let the battle get the better of him."
"Sorry doesn't bring back the dead," Red said. He rubbed at his eyes. "Back to your point, no. I am not confusing Rex and Jango. No one can replace Jango."
Qui-Gon nodded and reached out to take one of Red's hands. Red let him; usually Qui-Gon respected his desire for personal space and the fierce desire to not be touched without consent. This was different, though, in a way. They were growing accustomed to each other's presence and moods and attitudes. This was the touch of another human comforting another, and Red was aware enough to recognize it.
"Now, since I doubt anyone has actually had this conversation with you," Qui-Gon said, serious in voice and expression. "Do we need to talk about being safe?"
Red stared at him, eyes widening, and grabbed the pillow from under his butt to fling at Qui-Gon and then hit him with it. "You're the worst!" he shouted as the other man laughed. "You! I! No!!"
"Are you sure?" Qui-Gon laughed, sprawling back on the floor and letting Red smack him with the pillow. Honestly, the man was horrible. "I only have your best interests in mind."
Red flushed and smacked Qui-Gon in the face with the pillow one last time before retreating to the other side of the room. "I hate you," he said, crossing his arms over his chest. Screw meditating, he wanted to go hit something now. "Completely the worst."
Qui-Gon was still chuckling as he sat up, setting the meditation pillow aside. "I do want to make sure your relationships are healthy, no matter what form they take."
Red rolled his eyes. What did Qui-Gon think had happened last night? "I'm not dumb," he said quietly. "We're going slow. I'm not keen on getting my heart broken any more than it already is, and I know how likely that is with Rex fighting on the front lines."
Qui-Gon nodded. "As you are not a Jedi, I cannot advise you on matters of the heart or about attachment--"
"I'd call you a hypocrite anyway," Red said. "Skywalker's marriage is the worst secret among the troops."
"Yes, but the Council does not know," Qui-Gon said, "and I would like to keep it that way."
"Like I care what happens to Skywalker," Red muttered.
Qui-Gon arched a brow.
"I don't!" Red protested.
"Red," Qui-Gon said, voice gentle. "It's okay to care about people, or to even want to save them from your fate. These feelings and wants are valid."
"I am not a child, do not treat me like one," Red said, stomping on his temper. No, no, do not lose the temper on a ship in the middle of hyperspace. Losing said temper was generally...explosive. "We are here, with the 501st and your blasted student, because he is an idiot, because the demonspawn is an idiot, because the whole Council is made up of idiotic beings from across the galaxy."
"You like Plo," Qui-Gon pointed out.
Red glared at him. "Plo is acceptable."
"Behold, progress," Qui-Gon said, gently teasing. "Shall we attempt meditation later?"
"And do what instead?" Red asked, leery of Qui-Gon's suddenly giving mood.
"I'm sure any number of men from the 501st or 212th would be more than willing to spar," Qui-Gon said. "And before you ask, no, I am still not giving you back your lightsabers. When the time comes, you will craft new ones."
Red rolled his eyes as he got to his feet. "I want those ones, not new ones. But you're right. I'm sure I could find plenty of willing victims."
"Unless Cody has warned them all away," Qui-Gon said.
"Then he has to play with me," Red grinned, trying not to take too much enjoyment at the idea of battle. Balance in all things, or so Qui-Gon was trying to teach him. Enjoy the thrill of battle and the hunt, but do not let it consume everything--that was the way of the Sith and the path to Verath.
"And I'm sure somewhere, somehow, our dear Commander shudders in fear," Qui-Gon said.
Red huffed and Force-tossed the pillow at Qui-Gon again. So very much the worst.
Before hunting up someone to fight, Red checked in on their newest acquisition. He had stashed the young Togruta female in a cabin all to herself before he had decided to stalk down Rex last night...and might have forgotten to go back. She could take care of herself, though, he didn't doubt that. She was mouthy and not afraid of him, which was refreshing.
There were a lot of Jedi who were afraid of him.
One of their first fights had been over his mask and goggles--Red wanted them back, Qui-Gon had been opposed to them--and ultimately Qui-Gon had won because of Logic. If Red was going to stop running, stop hiding, the first step had to be getting rid of the mask. Not that he had to like it.
Not that Qui-Gon had to know he still had the mask, goggles, and vocoder stashed away somewhere...just in case.
"Hey, kid," Red said, popping his head into the Padawan's room. "I'm about to go spar with some of the troops, want to tag along?"
Ahsoka looked up from where she was doing her own meditations. "There's this amazing invention called knocking," she said.
"Sparring?" Red asked.
Red blinked. "You want to eat before you spar? Do you like throwing up on people?"
Ahsoka slouched, huffing. "No, you. I meant, I would prefer breakfast over fighting."
"Boring," Red said, stepping into the room and tugging her to her feet. "Food after fighting. Besides, don't you want to see if we'll run into your new teacher?"
"You can call him 'Master', you know," Ahsoka said.
"Nope," Red said. "And if he makes you call him 'Master'? Kick him. He doesn't even call Qui-Gon that."
"You are so weird," Ahsoka groaned, reaching for her lightsaber.
"Nope!" Red said again, cheerfully. "Batons."
Ahsoka turned and glared at him. "Master Jinn needs to let you build new blades," she said finally. "If only so I can actually spar with someone properly."
"You can fight with Qui-Gon," Red pointed out as he tugged Ahsoka out of the room. She didn't fight him, just gave him that teenager attitude he found delightful, and followed him as he directed them toward the gym. "He still has his 'saber."
Ahsoka shrugged as they entered the gym. "I'll just get my new Master to train with me."
Red rolled his eyes. "Ahsoka, really, check with him before you start calling him 'Master', all right? He might not like it."
"Who might not like what?" Skywalker said from behind them. "And who's the kid?"
Red froze, clamping down hard on every instinct that screamed at him to attack, and instead turned. Skywalker looked perfectly fine, normal, smiling and brilliant as he and Ahsoka introduced themselves. Red could tell, though, that the corruption had gotten worse. There was something slinking just out of sight along Skywalker's Force signature, like a film of oil covering him and blotting out what normally should be nearly incandescent. Red knew what it was, could intimately remember what it felt like, and the sight of it on someone else made him want to scream.
What was worse was that Skywalker had snuck up on him. Somehow Red hadn't sensed him. That was very unsettling. Was Sidious helping Skywalker somehow? Red couldn't test another Jedi's shields without being obvious, not with his own control so shaky, but he could mention it to Qui-Gon.
"Hm?" Red asked, realizing the others were speaking to him.
"Ahsoka mentioned you were going to spar?" Skywalker said, blue eyes watching him sharply.
"Actually, I just remembered something I have to do," Red said. "I'm sure she'll be much happier to fight with you. I still haven't gotten my lightsabers back so you and her can go a round!" He sketched a quick bow, gave Ahsoka an exaggerated wink, and walked off with a wave.
He needed to know where, exactly, in the Galaxy they were. Maybe he could talk Qui-Gon or the Admirals into making a quick stop at a system if it wasn't too out of the way.
"You want us to go where?" Qui-Gon asked. Both he and Admiral Yularen looked highly suspicious, but Red hadn't been able to get to Qui-Gon anywhere except on the bridge, and gave up on the idea of discretion. Cody was there as well and, oh. He was also looking at Red like he was insane.
"Look, we're already on our way to Tatooine," Red said. "Which, by the way, you need to tell Skywalker. I suggest you do that while we detour to the Dufilvian sector and you let me go to Ord Pardron. I need something down there and it will help with the, uh, current situation."
"Situation?" Yularen asked, looking incredibly unimpressed.
Red hated military men. They liked their protocol too much. He turned to look at Qui-Gon, mind racing, and felt the mental nudge. Oh, right. Training bond.
It's worse, he said. The hold I saw before is worse now. Let me go to Ord Pardron and I think I can--not break it--but dampen it.
Qui-Gon walked over to the map of the galaxy, examining their position. Is it Dark?
The spell? Red asked, trying to remember it. He also wanted to pick up some other supplies he no longer had but… No, not at the heart. It has been twisted over the centuries but--
"Red, might I have a word?" Qui-Gon asked, gesturing them off the bridge.
Hesitating for a moment, Red glanced at Cody who gave him a raised brow and a smile, and sighed. Oh fine, his grave, he got it. He followed Qui-Gon off the bridge and to an empty conference room.
"How bad?" Qui-Gon asked quietly.
"I think the whole reason we couldn't contact the Resolute was because Skywalker did something," Red said. "You said that the Council could get through and no one else?"
"The Chancellor," Qui-Gon added.
Red barely hid his shudder. "Rex said that he only knew the 212th was okay because of the gossip network," he said. "That would be refueling stations, maybe other channels the Jedi don't know about. The clones have their own methods of communicating with their brothers."
"Anakin wouldn't willingly hamstring his own troops," Qui-Gon said.
"I'm telling you that I don't think he's in control," Red said, then paused. "No, that's not right." He tugged on the end of his braid, thinking on how to explain the situation. "Do you know what coercion is, what it does to a person?"
"There are many types of coercion," Qui-Gon said, sitting down at the table.
Red shook his head, "Not like this. This is, what he does? It's distinct." He bit his lip and looked down, away from Qui-Gon, trying not to focus on the shame, anger, hate surging through him.
"Accept the feelings, Red," Qui-Gon said gently. "What happened to you happened, but you survived. These feelings are valid. You are allowed to feel them, but you should release them so they do not own you."
"You don't understand," he whispered. "Sometimes you want to hold onto them so you remember to never get caught in such a stupid trap again."
"There are other ways of remembering such a lesson."
"You don't know how it starts," Red said softly. "You never know. One day you're fighting with everything you have because you know what he is, that he is Sith and that you should be doing everything you can to kill him, and the next thing you know you are kneeling at his feet." His throat worked, trying to swallow down the memories, and he squeezed his eyes closed. He could still remember what his touch felt like. "You can be trying to kill him in one moment and then next he, he…"
"Red," Qui-Gon said, getting to his feet.
"No," Red said, drawing back and pressing up against the wall. He couldn't do this, couldn't think. He could only feel, could only remember that oily touch across his mind, those cool fingers that gripped his hip, that smug voice.
Qui-Gon was in front of him, reaching out, fingers brushing against his wrist. He didn't see Qui-Gon, though, he saw Sidious with that false smile and those eyes that could go from kind to enraged in a heartbeat.
"Don't touch me," he hissed out, feeling his eyes burn. Rage. All he felt was rage. He wanted to destroy, to carve a bloody path back to Coruscant until he had Sidious in his path, until he could force the other to feel as much pain as he had inflicted on Red. Until he could rip him to shreds like he had ripped Red to shreds.
Qui-Gon drew back slowly. "Obi-Wan," the other said gently. "Red. Focus on the here and now."
"I--I can't," he wailed, trying to think about anything else. No, his mind was tripping along the dark lines instead, remember rooms draped in silks and--
He heard the door swish open and he turned, pulling a knife from his boot as he did. The Competition. He, he had to eliminate the Competition. It would please his Master if he did so, if he proved that he was the strongest.
"Qui-Gon!" the Competition shouted.
"Anakin, leave," the obstacle in front of him said.
Yes, a voice purred across his mind. Rage for me, my Wrath. My Anger.
"No!" he shouted, clapping his hands over his ears. "Get out of my head!"
Did you really think I'd leave you alone? Foolish Apprentice.
There was shouting, someone else trying to reach his mind, but he didn't care. No, no, he couldn't do this again. He had gotten away! He was free from him!
Connection, there was a connection, somehow a connection had been built and he needed to break it. His mind babbled frantically as someone grabbed him, tried to take his knife away. His mind couldn't process faces, too locked in fear and panic, but it knew what he had to do.
"Medic," he managed to say as he brought the knife down hard on his thigh, cutting deep.
Pain exploded throughout his system and the connection broke. He collapsed to the floor, still clutching the hilt of the blade, eyes sliding closed. Oh, fuck, that...really hurt.
"Red?" Qui-Gon asked.
"This really hurts," Red said as he started to fall to the side, opening his eyes. Qui-Gon darted in, propping him up, a glowing hand hovering over the knife wound. His head flopped against Qui-Gon's shoulder and he swore. Did he hit the artery? He tried to look and yeah, that was a disturbingly large amount of blood.
"Talk to me," Qui-Gon ordered as he poured Force-energy into the wound. "Captain Rex went to get Kix. They're on their way."
"He was in my head," Red said softly. "I don't know how. He shouldn't have been able to."
"Who?" Skywalker asked, looking pale with...some emotion. Weird. Did he actually care?
"Sidious," Red said. He reached up and cupped Skywalker's cheek with a smile. "Little whispers. You hear him. Don't listen. Not worth it. Don't be me."
"Stop it," Qui-Gon said. "You have good aim, Red, I'll give you that, but you didn't obliterate the artery. Just nicked it from what I can see. You've earned Kix's wrath and bacta, nothing more."
"No," Red moaned. "No bacta."
"Yes, bacta," Qui-Gon said. "You'll need to be in perfect shape in we're to land on Ord Pardron."
"What?" Skywalker asked. "Why are we going there?"
"Stuff," Red said. "All the stuff."
"Kriffing hells," Kix said as he and Rex came into the room. He shoved the Jedi aside and knelt next to Red, not caring about the blood smearing his armor. "Don't you have enough scars, ori'vod?"
Red smiled, starting to have problems focusing on things. "Ahh, but scars are so cool, vod'ika."
Kix glared at him and yanked the knife out, tossing it aside before tying a pressure bandage on. "Bacta for you," he said. "All the bacta. Hours of it. And you're going to shut up and like it."
"Have a bucket standing by," Red said faintly. "And those...meds."
"How much blood has he lost?" Skywalker asked, sounding alarmed.
"Considering how much we're sitting in? Just enough to start passing out," Kix said. Red tried to laugh but oh, that was his head spinning and the nice blackness calling.
"I know you like him, Qui-Gon," Anakin said, "but that was dangerous. He lost control!"
"No, he didn't," Qui-Gon said as they approached the bridge and the comm unit. He was not looking forward to reporting this latest slip. "He did not attack anyone except himself, he did not damage to the ship, and I had the situation under control. I am not sure the exact cause of his flashback, but they do happen and will continue to happen. Red is a trauma victim, Anakin. Trauma does not just go away once you open yourself up to the Light side of the Force."
"His eyes," Anakin said, sounding disturbed as Qui-Gon input the Council's frequency. "They… How can you teach him?"
"Yes, Anakin, for a moment he slipped and touched the Dark," Qui-Gon said. "He let his fear and anger get the better of him and it caused his eyes to go yellow." He mulled over Anakin's question, giving it the thought it deserved, that both his students deserved. "I can teach him because, in part, I am at fault for the path he chose and because I am best suited to help him back toward the Light."
He would have replied but three holographic figures appeared--Mace, Yoda, and…
"Chancellor," Qui-Gon said, bowing. Ankain echoed his greeting happily and did the same.
"Something to report, you have?" Yoda asked.
"There was an incident with Red earlier," Qui-Gon said. "We were discussing a topic of his past and it triggered a bad reaction--"
"He Sithed out," Anakin cut in.
"Oh, my," the Chancellor said. "I do question the wisdom of trying to rehabilitate this man. Wouldn't it just be better to lock him up?"
"No," Mace said, glancing at the Chancellor. "Qui-Gon, what happened?"
"I made a mistake," Qui-Gon said, tired. He should have known better, especially with knowing that touch was almost an automatic trigger with his student. "I didn't realize he was flashing back until I touched him and then it was too late. It pushed him further into whatever memory he was caught up in and." Qui-Gon frowned, unable to say with any certainty what had actually happened next. "He stopped recognizing his environment and the people in it, but not for long, less than a couple of minutes."
"Better, he is," Yoda said, ears lifting.
"The disturbing part," Qui-Gon said, "is that he buried a knife in his thigh and nearly severed the big artery there before we could dump him in bacta."
"Do we know why?" Mace asked.
"He said the Sith Lord was in his head," Qui-Gon said.
"This is not good news," Mace said, cupping his chin and frowning. "How long will he be in bacta for?"
"Not long, a few hours," Qui-Gon said.
"Even more reason," the Chancellor said, "to remove him from the front lines. He is obviously a risk to security. If this Sith Lord can get inside his head then our military plans are at risk!"
"All due respect, Chancellor," Qui-Gon said with a smile. "Red has no interest in the military."
"That's not true," Anakin said. "He cares about the clones."
Qui-Gon wanted to roll his eyes. "All right, to be more specific--Red has no interest in the battles and maneuvers we run. When I can get him to sit still long enough to talk tactics, he's utterly brilliant at them, but he sees the conflict between the Republic and Separatists as." Qui-Gon paused, trying to remember the wording Red had used. "He called it superficial cover, unimportant in the grand scheme, that we were still missing it, whatever it was."
The Chancellor smiled. "I would very much like to meet this 'Red' of yours, Master Jinn."
"Unfortunately, Chancellor, they do not come to Coruscant," Mace said. "Thank you, Qui-Gon. Keep us updated on his condition, and anything else that might crop up."
"Ah, meet Ahsoka, have you, Skywalker?" Yoda asked.
"Yes?" Anakin said.
"Excellent. Your new Padawan, she is. Teach her well, you shall," Yoda said, and cut the comm.
Qui-Gon gave in and started laughing; oh, nicely played, Master Yoda.
"What?" Anakin whispered.
"You've been assigned a Padawan," Qui-Gon chuckled. "I do hope you like her, I can't teach two students."
"But?" Qui-Gon asked, still chuckling.
"How am I supposed to know what to teach her? I mean, Qui-Gon, I don't know how!" Anakin protested.
"None of us ever do," Qui-Gon said, clasping Anakin's shoulders and smiling at him. He hoped Red was wrong, that he wasn't about to lose Anakin to the Sith Lord. "But that is why you ask for help. I am here, as is Master Yoda, your friends, and every other Jedi. We are all here for you, Anakin. All you need to do is ask."
Red snuck out of the med bay the moment Kix stopped terrorizing him. Yes, yes, so he stabbed himself with a large knife. He was fine. Bacta was awesome, yes, he just had bad reactions to the stuff. Nothing to make a fuss over.
Though, apparently, Kix was more upset that they--the whole of the 501st--hadn't know what had become of him. The medic had been more stabby with the hypos and sassier than Red remembered, apparently because he was concerned? Red wasn't sure what to make of that, not yet, but he needed to see Rex first. He'd deal with the problem of the 501st later.
He found an unoccupied corner and leaned against the metal of the ship and let his senses drift, looking for Rex in the Force. Every clone was different, millions of sparkling lights and brilliant dancing waves, but Rex called to him in a way he hadn't known until recently. He hadn't been paying attention to the Force when they first met, but now? There was something about the man's presence that soothed and warmed him, the way he glowed in the Force, it was the exact kind of balm Red needed.
Red pushed away from the bit of wall he was holding up and followed the path to a room where Rex, Cody, Gregor, and two other 501st were.
Red tried not to deflate as they all stood and while Cody and Gregor treated him like any other schlub, the 501st saluted.
"Okay, first off," Red said, pointing at them--including Rex. "I'm not a Jedi, so knock that shit off."
"General Jinn is training you, isn't he, sir?" one of the 501st said.
"And?" Red asked, grabbing a chair and spinning it to straddle it backwards. "I don't know any of you. Who are you?"
"Jesse," a clone with a giant Galactic Republic tattoo on his face said.
"Hardcase," another said, this one with another tattoo that began under his right eye and went over his head.
Red nodded. "Nice to meet you, I'm Red. No other titles or bullshit." The clones grinned. "Qui-Gon is training me because the Jedi Council thinks it's better I'm on their side."
"Why's that?" Hardcase asked.
Red grinned at Cody. "What's the thing we did? That we're not allowed to try again? Qui-Gon shouted at me for hours over it, it was great."
Cody snorted and grabbed the bottle in the middle of the table, pouring himself a very generous drink. "You are a crazy bastard," he said, tossing the drink back. "Let's navigate into an asteroid field and play 'what's more powerful, this spell I just found or a Venator-class Destroyer's turbolasers?'"
Rex stared at Red. "You didn't."
He smiled innocently. "To be fair, I knew the spell and how to use it, I had just never cast it before."
Cody rolled his eyes. "Yeah, that's so much better. I thought the General was going to die of a heart attack when he came on the bridge and saw what you were doing."
Red was trying very hard not to grin. "Better to ask for forgiveness than permission?"
"Can we keep him, Captain?" Hardcase asked, eyes wide.
"Uh, yeah, we...need to keep you," Jesse said. "You'd fit in so much better with the 501st. What are you doing with the 212th?"
"Kriff you," Gregor said, stealing the bottle from Cody. "The 212th is where the action is."
"Certainly is now," Cody said, looking pointedly at Red. "And what's this about you stabbing yourself? Don't you have enough scars?"
"Eh, Sith mindfuckery," Red said, waving a hand. Great, the gossip chain was in overdrive. He was going to be drowning in his overprotective brothers if he didn't get Rex away soon. "It's dealt with."
Cody muttered under his breath. "We need more liquor. Rex, why don't you and Red go get more? We can play sabaac when you get back."
Rex stood and nodded. "Yeah, we can do that."
Red was going to kiss Cody, whether the bastard liked it or not! He got to his feet and smiled at the others. "I love sabaac. Haven't played since, what, Longshot and Oddball tried to convince me strip sabaac was a thing?"
Gregor started laughing. "That was a good night!"
Rex tilted his head in the direction of the door and Red followed as the others started debating the rules of strip sabaac. Though, he could have sworn he heard Gregor tell Cody to pay up. When Rex moved in the opposite direction of the crew quarters, Red shook his head, grabbed Rex's hand, and led him where he wanted. If anyone saw? He didn't care. He wasn't a Jedi, he was outside the GAR's chain of command. There was literally nothing they could do to Rex, or to him, and he would challenge anyone who tried to hurt either of them.
The moment the door closed behind them, Rex grabbed him and pulled him into a tight hug. Red smiled and hugged him back, breathing him in. Yes, this was what he had wanted. Maybe not with the armor, but still, he wanted Rex's arms around him.
Strange how fast he had come to crave the feeling.
"You're okay," Rex said, a wealth of emotion in those words.
"I'm sorry," Red said, the words just falling from his lips. He didn't know why he said them, he hadn't even apologized to Qui-Gon, but he was to Rex. Interesting.
"I'd say don't do it again, but I know better," Rex said, slowly letting go. "You can't help but be you."
Red stared at him and pulled Rex into a kiss, needing so much to just. No. He needed. He couldn't think of words and tried instead to say everything instead with the kiss, pressing close, eyes closed, holding Rex's face to his. The blond made a startled noise but kissed back, hands on his waist, not restraining at all.
How? How did he know? How was he so utterly perfect?
Red wanted to climb inside Rex's skin and live there, safe, because that's what Rex made him feel. The man never pushed, always seemed to know, and just accepted Red in a way that he didn't know what to do. A tiny part of him didn't feel worthy, wanted to run from this, to get away from Rex before he hurt the other man--because he knew eventually he was going to hurt him, somehow, he would.
"Whatever you're thinking, stop," Rex murmured against his lips.
Red laughed. "You're perfect."
"Could make a joke about engineering," Rex said.
Red shook his head. "No," he said. "Not like that. You know...you know how to deal with me." He kissed Rex again, brief, before nuzzling at his jaw, just wanting that closeness. Human touch, intimacy, things he had denied himself and long thought gone from his life. "You get me."
Rex coughed, still holding him. "I, uh, cheated?" he admitted.
Red drew back enough to see Rex's face, frowning. "Cheated?" he asked.
"I didn't know if I was going to see you again," Rex said, "but I hoped? And if I did, I wanted to make sure I didn't do anything wrong. So I looked for books."
"Books," Red repeated.
Rex looked embarrassed. "Some of them were complete ossik, even I could see that. A few actually made sense, and had good tips on dealing with some of my Shinies too, and just with trauma overall."
Red blinked, feeling oddly...pleased. "For six months you had no idea what had happened to me, if I was locked up or if the Jedi had killed me, and yet you still read up on how to deal with trauma survivors, just in case?"
Rex rubbed the back of his neck. "Sounds dumb when you say it like that."
Red smiled and kissed him. "Take off your armor, soldier."
"Any particular reason?" Rex asked, reaching up to start undoing the snaps.
"Because it's more comfortable on your bed, I'm still tired from the bacta, and I like kissing you," Red said. "All of these things mean--"
"Yeah, I get it, armor bruises are no fun," Rex said.
"Also, Kix might go for your head if he sees me bruised," Red said, sitting on Rex's bed. "Wow but I forgot how snippy he is."
Rex chuckled, hanging the armor on the stand in the corner. "He likes you. There's not a lot of people Kix likes, and he's told some of the others about you so they're going to want to meet you too."
"Even more overprotective brothers," Red said as Rex joined him on the bed. Those blacks really were fun, he decided, didn't leave a lot to the imagination. "Just what I need. The 212th has decided that I need all the babysitters and I am incapable of looking after myself."
"I'm sure that is definitely not Cody's fault," Rex said as they stretched out together.
"Oh, it's completely Cody's fault," Red said, scooting close and snagging Rex's hand with his. Their fingers tangled and Red examined their fingers, curious. "Cody's a complete jerk when he wants to be. Good friend, total jerk."
Rex's hands were rough, not that Red's were any better, both nicked with tiny scars here and there, his thicker and blunter where Red's were… well. His hands had gotten him his first job on that merchant ship. It's why Captain Ramnel had kept him on the ship instead of spacing him when he'd left the Temple. Tiny fingers are better at repairing things on a big ship than an adult's big hands. Even after he'd grown fully, his hands had stayed in a decent enough shape that he could wiggle them into the annoying crevices on a ship and engine that needed repairs.
Rex brought their clasped hands up to Red's face, tilting his chin up so he could kiss him. Red smiled into the kiss. Brilliant man.
"What happened?" Rex asked. When Red frown, Rex kissed him again. "Before. With the knife."
Red drew back. Oh. "You mean why?"
Rex nodded. "You don't have to tell me if you don't want to."
He thought about it, about telling Rex, but the words died in his throat. He shook his head and pressed closer. He could talk about anything else that had happened to him--probably--but Sidious? He didn't know if he would ever be ready to talk about that. All he could think to do was to protect against similar attacks in the future, both Skywalker and himself.
Rex held him, arms snaking around him, pressing kisses to his face and head, murmuring nonsense. Red closed his eyes and clutched at Rex's arms.
"When we land," Red said, after a moment, "on Ord Pardron. I want you to come with me. You and Cody, Kix too. Just in case things go badly."
"Anyone else?" Rex asked.
Red reached for the Force, listening. "Maybe. I'll let you and Cody decide. I don't think there will be trouble, but just in case."
Rex nodded and kissed him, smiling. "We're good when it comes to trouble."
"Hopefully you're good at causing a little of your own too?" Red said, letting his hands move from Rex's arms to his waist, teasing. Rex looked at him and Red rolled his eyes. He wanted to get his hands on whatever Rex had read now; what did those books say? "Slow is good, but I want your shirt off."
"Any particular reason why?" Rex asked, pulling away enough to do what Red had asked.
Red grinned, tugging his own shirt off and tossing it over his shoulder somewhere. "Because you're nice to look at? And we weren't done talking about scars last night. We fell asleep."
Rex nodded, leaning over to kiss a jagged scar on Red's shoulder. "Fair enough. Why don't we start with this one?"
Red ran his hands over Rex's skin as he talked, getting used to the feel of someone against him, and relaxed.
"Are you sure you don't want me to go with you?" Qui-Gon asked quietly.
Red shook his head though he wasn't really looking at Qui-Gon. Skywalker was there, with Ahsoka, and Red was watching them more than anything else. Qui-Gon snapped his fingers in front of Red's face and Red looked at him, scowling.
"Focus," his teacher said. "I've let you avoid me two days because I know you needed it. We still need to talk about what happened."
"After this," Red said.
"That's fine," Qui-Gon said.
"Watch them," Red said, nodding at the other Jedi. "I have a bad feeling about this."
"Do you?" Qui-Gon asked, looking startled.
"Not about Ord Pardron," Red said, shaking his head. "About them."
"You do like Ahsoka," Qui-Gon said.
Red ignored the comment. "We have comms and we'll be armed. It'd be better if I had my 'sabers?"
Qui-Gon was trying not to smiled. "You have your blasters and your knives, and I know you have a baton."
"Still not my lightsabers," Red said as he crossed his arms. "When are you going to give them back?"
"As I said, you will craft new ones," Qui-Gon said.
Red narrowed his eyes. "The only way to make new ones is on Coruscant."
"Not the only way," Qui-Gon said. "There are other Temples. After this business with Jabba we will make a stop at Corellia."
Red nodded, "All right. I like Corellia." He gave Qui-Gon a smug look. "The Gold Beaches and Coronet City are wonderful."
"Red," Qui-Gon chidded. "We do not have leisure time."
"Down time is good for everyone, you taught me that," Red said, poking Qui-Gon in the chest.
"Red, we're good to go when you are," Cody said.
"I mean it," Red said. "Watch them? Him especially."
"I will. Be careful?" Qui-Gon said.
Red waved Qui-Gon off and followed Cody to a gunship. Cody and Rex had chosen Kix, Jesse, Boil, and Waxer. He waited until the ship had sealed itself before he fished his vocoder, masked, and goggles out of his pocket. Cody started laughing.
"The General is going to be so mad," Cody said. "He thought he got all of them."
Red slapped the vocoder on his throat and made a face. It was weird to be wearing it again. "I've been to Ord Pardron before," he said. "As Verath, not as Red. Just in case we run into any of the locals who dealt with me before, it's better they don't make the connection."
Red pulled on the mask and then the goggles. "I'm not 'sir', Jesse. I told you, it's Red."
"Or ori'vod," Kix said.
"Or 'hey, asshole'," Waxer said.
"Yeah, that works too," Red grinned. "I don't really care about protocol and titles and all that shit. I leave that to the Jedi."
"What are we looking for?" Rex asked.
Red hummed softly, thinking about how much to reveal about what he was planning. "Certain spells require physical aspects to complete it."
"Aren't spells...Sith things?" Jesse asked.
Red shrugged, grabbing onto a handle as the ship bumped through the planet's thin atmosphere. "It depends upon your point of view?" he said. "I'm rather fond of the arcane aspects of the Force. The origins are in the Dark side, yes, but it doesn't mean that the results have to be Dark."
"And this would be why the Jedi Council is letting you live free," Cody said.
"And I help with information, adding it to Vos'," Red said. Not that he turned over everything he knew. He knew how to stay useful to the Jedi, how to keep himself free. But he liked Quinlan and had no problem working with the other Jedi. "But the Council likes to think they hold my leash."
Boil was laughing. "No disrespect meant, but are they nuts? You do what you want!"
"Eh, the Council can think what they want," Red said as they landed. "It'll only blow up in their faces if they push."
"What can we expect here?" Kix asked.
"Low grav, temperate," Red said, trying to remember. "Not much past that. We're heading to one of the main markets. There are certain minerals and herbs that can only be found here." He wondered if the old woman with the candles was still there. She had fascinated him before and he wondered what she might make of him now.
"Sounds...fun?" Waxer said.
"Fun with Red," Boil said. "Should pack extra ammo."
Red grabbed an extra charge pack and threw it at Boil's customized helmet, hitting the upside-down red triangle and black symbol. Boil rocked back, catching it, and laughed. Cody clapped his brother on the shoulder.
"What the kriff has the 212th been getting up to?" Jesse asked.
"Wouldn't believe us if we told you," Waxer said as the gunship doors opened.
"I've been having fun rubbing Qui-Gon's nose in how fucked up the Galaxy is," Red said, stepping out onto the rocky soil. "He's been trying to teach me Jedi lessons I would have learned years ago. Lots of fun."
"Running, shooting, fighting," Waxer said.
"Not a lot of Seppies," Boil said. "Lot of other stuff though. Lot of nastiness."
Red shook his head. "I've told you, this whole war is a scheme."
"And I think you're mental," Waxer said.
Red shrugged. Some in the 212th had listened to him, some hadn't. Some had walked away from him looking concerned, others angry. He understood why--their brothers in other battalions were dying in large numbers for no reasons whatsoever, and if this whole war was for nothing? Then what were they dying for?
He desperately wished someone, anyone, was there to help him figure out what to do to help them. But there was no one else, just him.
"How far is the market?" Rex asked.
Red pointed in the direction of the market, "Not too far that way."
The troopers nodded and Red lead them toward the stalls he could just begin to see. These goggles were better than his original ones, modded with enhanced vision and recordings. There were other features but they were little HUDs and he was thrilled with them.
The market, when they did arrive, was thriving. It looked like it was market day--livestock were in pens and locals were talking in trading languages rapidly as credits exchanged hands. Red loved the energy he could feel, watching the different people he could see, even the pickpockets.
"Watch yourselves," he warned, sidestepping one of the urchins. "They don't discriminate here."
"No kidding," Boil said, slapping a kid's hand away from belt.
Afterwards, Red decided, he'd come back with whatever he had left and give out his credits. He remembered what it was like to be hungry and not know where your next meal or bed would be. But first, he needed--
"The Moirai are watching, Wrath."
Red stopped and turned, his heart pounding.
A blind woman sat on a yellow woven blanket, several different lit candles spread around her, as she tossed several small bones from hand to hand. She was just as he remembered all those years ago--a young face with salt-and-pepper hair puffed up around her face, hands weathered and wrinkled with yellowing nails, a body hunched as she jangled the bones in those hands.
"What the?" one of the clones said. Red stopped being able to focus on anything but the woman.
He sat down at the edge of her blanket. "Pythia," he greeted her, bowing at the waist, hands out to her palms upturned.
She chuckled. "That is not my name."
Red straightened, smiling. "Wrath is not my name."
"But it will be again," she said.
Red's smile faded, feeling his heart in his throat. "No."
"Clotho is spinning, always spinning, Wrath. Lachesis already measured you, you cannot change that, and Atropos comes swiftly."
"I am not afraid of death," Red said.
The blind woman trickled the bones from hand to hand, slowly. "No, never afraid to die. You yearn for it at times, begged for it, but never feared it."
Red was silent.
"Erebus is rising, Wrath. As he does, all of Ophion perishes. This you must stop."
Red grit his teeth. "You told me to run, before."
"You did not listen. You will listen now."
Red felt his eyes burn and turned his head to look away. Curse her.
"Do not curse me, I have been cursed enough," the woman said, voice sad. "Would you like your bones read?"
"No," Red said.
"You will find what you are looking for here," the woman said. "But beware, what you do will have far reaching consequences."
Red got to his feet. "It needs to be done."
"He named you wrong, Wrath," the woman said, jangling the bones again. "Keres, I name you."
Red snorted. "I am not a woman."
"A death-spirit has no gender," the woman said, looking at him with those empty sockets. "Violent death and destruction is what you bring to those around you. Beware."
Red fished out a credit and tossed it in her bowl before bowing to her, formal and stiff. "I thank you for your wisdom," he said. "May the gods bless you, wise woman."
"Walk without fear, Keres," the woman said. "You have much to do before Atropos cuts your thread."
Red turned away from her and walked away, not looking to see if the others followed. He needed to get away. Oh, fuck. He had asked for this, hadn't he? He had wanted to know what she would make of him this time around, to know if--but no. Of course not.
"Red," Cody said, stopping him with his voice. The troopers knew better than to grab him. "What was that?"
"The Jedi like to think they're the only ones who use the Force," Red said, bitter. "They're wrong. There are sects all over the Galaxy who use the Force, in big ways and small. I don't know who she is or how she fits into the fabric of the Force, but she's a reader. I called her an oracle the first time I met her and she nearly kicked my ass, blind and weaponless she still managed to floor me. She… It doesn't matter. Whatever she said, it doesn't matter."
"You sure?" Cody asked, taking his helmet off. "Because you look spooked as hell."
Red growled. "I'm--"
"Body language," Cody said. "I've gotten good at reading yours."
"Let's get what we came for and get off this rock," Red said.
"Rex is trying to talk Jesse and Kix out of beating up the old lady, for what it's worth," Cody said, putting his helmet back on.
Red sighed as they rejoined the others. Kix and Jesse did indeed look furious, buckets off and hissing words at Rex, who was hiding behind his own helmet.
"I appreciate it," Red said. "But if you tried to go back to her now, she wouldn't be there." All six clones turned to look at him. "She is only ever where you need her to be at that time, never anywhere else at any other point."
"That's kriffed," Jesse said, staring at him.
Red shrugged. "As I've heard Cody put it once? Force hoodoo."
"Erhm, you...weren't supposed to hear that," Cody said.
"It's a good explanation!" Red said. He tilted his head in the direction of the corner of the market they needed. "This way."
They made their way through the crowds, Rex and Cody coming up to bracket him between them, and Red let them without protest. He knew they were probably on a private channel between all of them, talking about him and what they heard, but he didn't care. It didn't matter anymore. What mattered was removing, or blocking, whatever compulsion Sidious had on Skywalker. Then Red would turn his attention to himself and burning out whatever paths were left open between them.
He stopped at one booth when he saw the drying herbs hanging from top of the stall. He gently bumped his fist to an open palm in front of his chest and bowed to the merchant behind the booth. "Do you trade or accept credits?" he asked.
"Credits are fine," the merchant--a male Jenet--said. "What do you seek?"
"Wormwood," Red said, letting his hands fall to his sides. "Mandrake."
The Jenet nodded. "Nasty plants."
"I need them in decent quantities," Red said. "Less quantities of Acacia, Ground Ash, and Rue. If you have a bundle of White Sage, I will take that as well."
The Jenet looked at him, startled. "Sorcerer," he said, voice hushed.
"No," Red said, shaking his head.
"Yes," the Jenet said, whiskers trembling.
Red rubbed at the bridge of his nose under his goggles. "I also need stones, two of each. Amber, Amethyst, Bloodstone, Malachite, Selenite, and Tourmaline."
The Jenet gathered everything quickly, putting the items together in a bag, before shoving it at Red. "Take. Take and leave."
The Jenet knew who he was, that was the only explanation. He took the bag and dropped several credits on the stall's counter. The Jenet reared back, not touching the money.
"Dirty," he said. "Unclean."
Red sighed and picked the credits back up. More for the urchins then.
"How dare you," Kix hissed.
"Relax, vod'ika," Red said, turning to put a hand on Kix's shoulder guard. "To many, what I do is against the natural order. It is their right." And at least they weren't rioting. Granted, if they remembered Verath, they wouldn't dare.
"Are we done?" Rex asked.
Red nodded. "I just want to give the rest of the credits to the kids," he said. "So they can spread it around and eat a decent meal."
Cody held out his hand. "Why don't you head to the ship? Waxer and I will do it."
Red hesitated but nodded, handing over his credit pouch. Cody had a point. Between the woman and the Jenet, if anyone else made him as Verath they might have trouble. Kix stuck close to his side, muttering unhappy things, as they boarded the gunship. Red bumped shoulders with him, smiling.
It was nice to know that, no matter what, he always had the clones on his side.
Rex was not expecting to be cornered by men from the 212th and the 501st. That's not to say he was surprised, not with the way Gregor was grinning and distributing credits amongst some of their brothers, but honestly.
"What do you di'kut want?" he asked.
"It's been brought to our attention, Captain," Hardcase said. "That you've got a boyfriend."
Rex turned and bellowed, "CODY, YOU TRAITOR!"
All of them, to a brother, started laughing.
"He's the ori'vod, right?" someone in 501st blue asked.
"Yep," Kix said. "He's ours."
"Not in the chain of command, either," one of the 212th said. "You try to call him 'sir' and he will utterly destroy you. Especially in the gym!"
"He's gotten better," Cody said, pushing his way forward and handing Rex a cup of some sort of alcohol. Rex arched a brow at Cody, questioning. "He used to be a lot twitchier, especially in the beginning. He's relaxed a lot more now. You saw that with Jesse and Hardcase."
Rex nodded and took a sip, then swore. "What the kriff?!"
"Tup brewed that up special," Slick said. "This is a good day! You've been hung up on Red since the beginning, though now we know who it is."
"Yeah, Captain," Appo chimed in. "You haven't been interested in bedding anyone in six months. That's a long time to go without letting off a little steam."
Rex leaned against Cody. "I can't space my own men, right?"
"Nope," Cody said, grinning.
"Hey, you better be thinking about riduurok if you're going to touch our Red!" one of the 212th said. Rex couldn't see who it was.
"Crys!" Cody snapped. "Knock that ossik off."
"I am not drunk enough for this," Rex announced, draining his cup, wincing as it burned its way down. He held it out to Cody for a refill. "All right, go on, let's get this over with."
His brothers cheered again and the questions started up again. Rex shook his head and gave up. He wouldn't answer anything personal, or invasive, but he gave the bastards enough to keep them gossiping for months.
Qui-Gon looked up as Ahsoka knocked on his door. "Hello, young one. How can I help you?"
She looked nervous, rubbing one of her arms and biting her lip. "Master Jinn, may I speak to you about something?"
"Of course," Qui-Gon said, frowning and pushing away from his desk. "You can talk to me about anything."
She stepped inside and the door swished closed. "It's about Master Skywalker."
Qui-Gon got up, yielding the desk chair to her and sitting on his bed. "Whatever it is, I'm sure we can--"
"I don't want him to be my Master," Ahsoka blurted out as she sat, hugging herself. "I'd rather go back to the creche."
Qui-Gon's eyebrows flew up. "Ahsoka?"
Ahsoka looked at her knees, tugging on her skirt. "Red kept saying that I should check with Master Skywalker, because of his past, that maybe he wouldn't want to be called 'Master'."
"It's a touchy word with him," Qui-Gon said. "He doesn't like to use it."
"I didn't bring it up, he did," Ahsoka said. "He told me that he was my Master now and that I would address him as such at all times. There were all these, these rules that he started listing that made no sense, and nothing I've ever heard of being necessary for learning to be a Jedi."
Qui-Gon let out a deep sigh. "Oh, Ahsoka. I am so sorry. Would you be willing to give him another chance if I spoke to him?"
Ahsoka looked at him, frowning. "What good will talking do?"
Qui-Gon chuckled. "You two are very similar, and I think you would make an excellent team. Anakin is currently going through a...rough patch. Red is going to attempt to help him but until then, I would suggest avoiding him or playing along."
Ahsoka shook her head, montrals swaying. "I don't understand."
"We will explain, Red and I, once we can. For the moment, I would work on your studies or stay with the clones. Cody or Rex, or any of their commanders, will be sufficient."
Ahsoka stood but hesitated. "If, after all that, we still don't match well?"
"Then we will find you a new Master," Qui-Gon promised. "Maybe Master Plo will have some suggestions?"
Ahsoka brightened and nodded. "Thank you, Master Qui-Gon." She bowed and bid him good night before leaving.
Qui-Gon sighed, stretching out on the bed and reached out to Red.
Busy, Red sent.
Are you almost ready for the spell? Qui-Gon asked.
Moments, Red said. Go away, preparing. Keep people away from my room.
Should I have Kix or Sawbones on stand-by?
No blood needed. And then Red's very distinct door-slamming on the bond and Qui-Gon sighed. Please, let this work.
Red knelt in a pair of loose black pants, humming softly under his breath, as he lit the white candles he had found on the ship. He had set them in a circle and placed the stones between them, a bowl in front of him.
The bowl was old, etched with ancient symbols that were neither Sith or Jedi in origin, but made of a shiny black stone that Red had never found anywhere else. He knew where it had likely come from but he was not going to go looking for more such items, no matter how much they fascinated him. He held out his hand and conjured fire in the bowl.
In the other hand he held a lock of Skywalker's hair, having cut it earlier that afternoon when the younger man had snarled something at him.
He fed it to the fire, whispering ancient words of power, before reaching for the first herb. First, the wormwood, to protect and banish, and then the mandrake, to break possession. He tossed in a garlic bulb he had filched from the kitchens, watching it sizzle, sketching a warding symbol in the smoke of the bowl.
He heard someone pounding on his door and shouting, but he kept working. He pinched off a bit of the rue and threw it in, chanting other words now, words to protect. He added the ground ash and some of the acacia, knowing he needed to save the rest for himself, but Skywalker was the priority.
The pounding stopped.
He held his hands over the bowl and the fire went out. He gathered up the ashes and the stones he had used, tucking everything into a tiny, black silk bag stitched with ancient runes that matched his bowl.
He opened the door to see Skywalker, Qui-Gon, Rex, and Cody.
"Take this," he said, handing the bag to Skywalker. "Do not lose it. Keep it on your body at all times."
Skywalker was pale as he took it. "What…?"
"You have spent a very large amount of time in the company of the Sith Lord," Red said, hoping Qui-Gon or Skywalker understood what he was saying. He could not name Sidious and this was as close as he could get to it. Take this clue and understand, he wanted to beg, please! "He had had you under a very power compulsion spell and, when you met my artifact, the two spells did not interact nicely. They are both gone now."
"Then why do I need this?" Skywalker asked, looking down at the bag.
"Because there is nothing stopping the Sith Lord from casting the spell again," Red said, voice flat. "He is good. I am better."
"Red," Qui-Gon said quietly. "Who is he?"
Red shook his head. "I told you before, Jinn, do not ask me things I cannot tell you." He turned and shut the door on them all.
There was an attack on the Temple the next day.
Qui-Gon stared at the assembled members of the Council through the comm. "What?" he asked.
"Return to Coruscant," Mace said. "We need you, and Red, here."
"No," Red growled.
"The Temple was bombed," Mace said. "We're sending another team to rescue Jabba's son, but we need Red here, in the Temple."
"Why the fuck--"
"Maul was freed from the cells," Plo Koon said.
Red swore viciously under his breath in Mando'a. The communications clones nearby gave him an appreciative look. They were all fools, him included. Sidious had retaliated in the best way he knew how.
"Was Maul's freedom their only goal?" Qui-Gon asked.
Red did not like the silence and the glances. He was immediately on alert, mind spinning, trying to think as the Council decided what to tell them.
"No," Mace said. "Several of the items Red turned over from his ship are missing as well."
"The ones I took from him," Red said. "The ones he left are the ones I obtained on my own."
"So sure are you," Yoda said.
"It's what I would do," Red muttered, looking away.
"Return to Coruscant," Mace ordered. "We need you to investigate how the Temple was breached."
Red shook his head and walked off the bridge as the Jedi kept talking. He already knew how the Temple had been breached. He knew exactly how Sidious had done what he had done because he had made the plan years ago. He just never thought the man would use it.
And Coruscant? He had to go back there? Now? When he knew, without a doubt, that Sidious could still access his mind? And he had freed Maul. He wouldn't do that to kill the Zabrak, oh no, he'd fix Maul's legs.
Red's power lay in the arcane but Sidious excelled in alchemy. Red chewed on his thumb, mind whirling as he paused in the hallway, shuffling off the side and leaning against the wall. Maul most likely already had a new set of legs and would likely be waiting for them to land.
He needed to think like the enemy, not...whatever he was now.
Funny. He had asked Rex, months ago, who he was and he still didn't have an answer. If anything, he was even more lost. Things were clearer, in a way, when he had been running. All you cared about was eating and sleeping and where your fuel was coming from. Now he had to deal with politics on top of everything else. He had Rex, though, and he had his clone brothers. That was a positive.
"Red?" Skywalker asked.
Red turned, frowning, not expecting the blond to come looking for him. Qui-Gon, Rex, or Cody--yes--but not Skywalker. "Yeah?"
"Are you all right?" he asked.
"What do you think?" Red said.
Skywalker tried to smile but it fell flat. "No. I don't think you're okay. I'm not okay, either."
"Go cry to Jinn about it," Red said.
"He's trying to fight them on it," Skywalker said. "He wants to protect you."
"He blames himself for what happened to me," Red said, noticing Skywalker's surprise. "You don't know the story, I take it?" Skywalker shook his head. "I was the oldest initiate in the creche at the time. Me and another boy, Bruck Chun, were always fighting. He was a bully and I hated that, usually let my temper get the best of me with him."
"Bruck Chun?" Skywalker asked, frowning. "I don't know that name."
Red grinned, wicked. "Oh, you wouldn't. He's long dead now. He got taken as a Padawan eventually, and he had his issues, but he ran into Verath not long after the Sith Lord unleashed me on the Galaxy to cause a little chaos. I have killed a lot of people, Skywalker, never doubt that, but Bruck? I will never deny enjoying that one."
"W-what happened with Qui-Gon?" Skywalker asked.
Red shrugged. "We fought, Bruck and I, and the Temple decided to throw me out. Yoda fought them to let Bruck and I fight for Jinn to decide if he was going to take either of us to be his Padawan. I won, but Jinn was dismissive, cold, cruel. I begged him, told him he was my last and only chance to be a Jedi, and he told me that it was better I not be one before walking away."
Skywalker's mouth had dropped open in shock.
Red shrugged. "I had my orders--go be a farmer. I couldn't do it, though. Why support an Order that let it's initiates be bullied, that believed might was right, that had Masters like Jinn? So I got on a different ship." Red shook his head. "Maybe if Jinn had said something else, had put it a different way? If Bruck hadn't done what he had? Maybe things would have turned out differently. But they didn't and here we are."
"You're calling him Jinn, not Qui-Gon," Skywalker said.
Red paused. He was, wasn't he?
"You're not going to stay when we land, are you?" Skywalker asked. "Once we get near the Irredeemable, you're going to grab it and go."
Red tried to find the words. "Magic...is sometimes all about finding the right words, the right motions, the right herbs and crystals, but all about the will. Without the will there is nothing. It's all just things. I broke the spell on you because I wanted to, because you deserve to live free."
"So do you," Skywalker pointed out.
Red shook his head, looking away. "You don't understand. None of you do."
"Have you tried to make any of us?" Skywalker asked.
"What's the worst thing you've done?" Red asked, glaring at Skywalker. "The very worst?"
Skywalker lowered his eyes. "Murdered an entire tribe of Tusken Raiders after they tortured my mother to death."
Red nodded. "Have you told Jinn?"
"You should. It's going to eat you to pieces until you do," Red said. "The guilt of having done something in a rage, the memory of what they look like falling under your blade, their screams as they died."
Skywalker flinched. "Stop."
"Vaylara," Red whispered.
Skywalker looked at him. "What?"
"Outer Rim," Red said. "Small, moderately populated. No exports of note, not on any of the hyperspace lanes. A green planet, it sang in the Force. Beautiful forests, valleys full of flowers and life."
"Their ruler, I don't even know if I was told her name beyond 'Protectorate'," Red said. "I don't remember how many sentients were on that planet. My mind gets fuzzy on the details. I just know I was sent there to make a point."
"Oh, Force, you--"
"All of them," Red said, feeling detached from the conversation. "Crippled the ports in a day, wiped out the government, slaughtered every last breathing creature on Vaylara. I don't remember most of it, just the aftermath. Flowers drenched in blood, corpses everywhere, and me standing there screaming."
Skywalker looked ill.
"Thing is," Red said. "I don't know if that's the worst thing I've done or not. It's the worse thing I can remember, but that doesn't mean the Sith Lord didn't use me some other way."
"Red," someone whispered behind him.
No. No, no, no. He couldn't deal with Qui-Gon Jinn right now, but that didn't stop him from turning and looking.
Qui-Gon was pale with shock, and Rex… Cody…
Red turned and ran.