take what you can get.
it’s what was tattooed on the back of mixer’s neck, before he was killed by assassin probes. ever since his name was added to the roster that rex lists out every night, he thinks of that saying. they only had the opportunity to live so much; they were born to die, plain and simple. there was only so much of life they were ever going to experience. wasn’t it for the best that they fought hard for those few good moments, for those minutes of extra time?
it’s what he’d done for dogma. bought just a little more time.
( no one on the council or on kamino cared enough to argue as vehemently as he did for dogma; in that regard, they had always been doomed to lose. they thought of dogma as a flawed asset, where rex thought of him as a brother. the entire 501st, in turns, took the stand, from kix’s calm narration to fives, heated and raising his voice at the impassive long-necks. )
( it felt a bit like selling your soul, sometimes. the kaminoans agreed to keep ct-5385 in torrent company, under probation: if dogma slipped up again, there wouldn’t be a trial of any sort. and under the agreement that when ( rex had flinched at that, the reality of not if but when ) dogma died, his body would be sent back to kamino for a complete autopsy, to see if they could find the deficiency. )
he looked so small, in his blacks, with the defeated slump of his shoulders and head hanging, even when they took off his binders and told him he was to rejoin torrent company. he looked like a deer caught in headlights when rex met his eyes, handing him his armor back - rex knew, with a settling heaviness on his chest, that dogma hadn’t expected to see another daylight, much less be back in the barracks, strapping on his armor again.
he doesn’t talk for the first three, four days he’s back, and barely eats, looking at the rest of the group in the same way shinies do commanders, like there’s a possibility they could swallow him whole.
you shouldn’t have, he tells rex, on the fourth night, his voice dull. if they wanted to decommission me, i should have - i was a traitor, sir, i shouldn’t be - i shouldn’t still be here -
rex rests a firm hand on his shoulder, feels him shiver. as your commanding officer, i have a duty to you and to the rest of my men, as much as i do the republic. i have a duty to keep you alive, dogma. and i’m not going to abandon that job.
it’s in terms of duty and honor that dogma can understand, and finally, he nods - he doesn’t look convinced, but if rex can’t keep dogma alive for his own sake, he’s not above talking his brother into staying alive for him. maybe it’s selfish. but they’ve lost enough vode already.
take what you can get.
dogma will live for rex’s duty, and not because he should by all rights get the chance to. and there’s something inherently wrong about that that curls in rex’s chest, as if someone were compressing his armor to shatter his ribcage. but he will live.
( he talks to five and comes back with a new tattoo around his wrist and relief evident on his face, something like a smile there for the first time in days. he talks to jesse, and there’s no relief there, but there is acceptance. forgiveness will not come easily from everyone, but they open up to having him back. )
he’s a reckless fighter, now. rex wouldn’t have expected it from dogma, of all people, but he can’t say he’s surprised. if you’re living on borrowed time, anyway, what’s the point in trying to prolong it? dogma says as much to rex, once, in the medbay for an arm broken in three places. i should have died weeks ago. it doesn’t really matter too much to me if i do, now.
rex shakes his head, and feels despair well in his throat, but anger, too. not at dogma, but the system that had let him down. you have to move on, vod’ika. you didn’t die then; you weren’t meant to. live now.
it’s easier said than done.
take what you can get.
maybe he shouldn’t have been surprised when it happened, a few weeks later; they were infiltrating some base on another one of general skywalker’s half-mad plans, splitting up with each of them heading in different directions. it sounded all well and good, until they started hitting the traps.
( he’d heard over the comms that three of the new members of torrent were already dead, as well as nex and lunn, who had been with them since the second battle on geonosis. general skywalker didn’t say anything for them except to change the plan slightly to deal with the missing troopers. )
it was dogma who heard it first, the telltale beep - beep - beep of charges about to go off, and it was dogma who managed to act on it, jumping on rex and jesse to get them out of the blast zone and cover them.
it’s always a bad moment, in the field, when you shake off the confusion of an explosion and your head cracking the plastisteel of your helmet, to realize that there’s blood soaking through the cracks in your armor, and it’s always made even worse when you have to find out if it’s your own, or your brothers’. rex moved his legs, sat up, experimentally - it wasn’t his. he might be concussed, and his ears were ringing like hell, but he’d missed the worst of it.
the worst moment is the second you register that one of your brothers is going to die, and there’s nothing you can do about it. ( hevy, calling over the comms before the base blew. echo, in the second before the blasts hit the fuel tanks of the shuttle. charger, falling, his arms reaching upwards. ridge, his fingers slipping and his desperate scream as he was sucked out into the vacuum of space. )
( dogma, lying on his front and gasping for each shallow breath, explosion and shrapnel tearing through most of his side, white-and-blue armor stained red. )
he knows what’s going to happen. what always happens, but he still hurries to turn dogma onto his back, jesse helping him pull off dogma’s helmet.
dogma is laughing.
painfully so, by the looks of it ( rex is no medic, but by dogma’s wheezing, he’d guess a punctured lung ), but he’s still grinning like a child on their name day, shoulders shaking, and his hand reaches out for rex, who takes it. you’re shaking, captain. he thanks whatever force there may be: his hands aren’t trembling now.
i did it, he says, and rex - wants to shake him and ask what that means, and at the same time, he has the terrible feeling that he knows. sir, i - i did something right, this - this time. rex realizes that he doesn’t think he’s seen dogma smile before, not like this: genuinely happy in himself for once. i was - good.
rex wants to shake him back into a standing position, wants to tell him he was always good, and get him back on the field, but he knows, for all his damned experience, that dogma won’t walk away from this. so he just squeezes his hand. you did good, dogma. i’m proud of you.
tell them - i’m sorry. it’s quiet, but insistent, and rex sighs. even jesse had forgiven dogma for umbara, long ago, but dogma’s eyes are golden and pleading, and - i will. don’t worry about it, dogma.
he swears he’s not crazy; he’s almost certain he sees dogma try to snap a salute, and that almost pulls a burst of confused laughter from his chest. leave it to dogma to do that even now. thank you. rex knows what he means. for the promise to pass on his words, but - mostly, for the extra time, however short it was.
general skywalker’s voice comes through the comms, loud and clear, and in a few seconds, jesse and rex go to meet him.