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Most of the time Rex thought he and General Skywalker got along fine, even well. Very occasionally the general would say or do something that left Rex thinking that the general had it in for him, all personal-like.

This was one of those times.

"A Senate function," Rex repeated. "You hate those."

"That's why you're going and I'm not," General Skywalker said.

"I'm just a captain."

"Oh, they want a clone, so Rex, buddy, tonight's your night!" The general, grinning wide enough to eat an entire planet, clapped Rex on the shoulder.

"They want a clone. Why?" Then the rest of it caught up with Rex. "Tonight?!"

The general shrugged. "I don't know. You weren't doing anything tonight, were you, Rex?"

"No, sir." They were probably going to eat him alive -- and not in the fun way.

Rex arrived at 500 Republica feeling distinctly out of place. When he'd set off, having his armour be as battle-worn as possible had seemed like a great idea to stick it to the general, but now he felt like a gundark in a nest of convors.

Not that this was necessarily a bad thing -- the Senators wanted a clone, did they? They'd get a clone and if that meant they'd get the war dragged right into their fancy parties, then so be it.

Rex hadn't even made it in that people were already talking to him. There was really no way he was going to get through the evening simply by glaring at everyone, then.

"Captain Rex! I am grateful for your presence." It was the tiny blue Senator from the planet with all the ice.

"Senator Chuchi," Rex said.

"Please, you must call me Riyo." She beamed at him and held out a hand, palm up.

He wasn't doing that. It was all well and good when it was the general called Senator Amidala 'Padmé', but Rex was just a trooper. "Why am I here?"

"For the same reason I am. Didn't General Skywalker brief you?"

"No," Rex said. "No, he did not."

Senator Chuchi blinked. "Oh."

Yeah, Rex thought bitterly, oh.

"In this case, you will have to follow my lead," she said. She reached out further with her still outstretched hand. He nodded and she took his arm.

With her hand on his armour, he could tell her skin was a few shades lighter than the blue of the 501rst. She only came up to her shoulder, but she was the only one who knew why he was here and she'd been kind to him on Orto Plutonia, so he let her guide him into the building.

"Do not tell them your number. I have hope they will not, but do not it, even if they ask," she said. "You are Rex and only Rex."

That was one order he'd be happy to obey.

Senator Chuchi led Rex through a roomful of Senators, each time introducing him as "Captain Rex, who was instrumental in securing peace between Pantora and the Talz of Orto Plutonia" which wasn't how Rex remembered it. He remembered spears thrown at his face and failing to protect the Chairman. All of which seemed like the wrong thing to say, so mostly he stayed silent.

Occasionally, she would squeeze his arm, but since he could not feel it through the armour, he only noticed when he was looking at it.

There was a lull in the conversation and she sighed. Softly, she said, "This isn't working. Captain Rex, if you would be so kind as to remove your helmet, it would be most appreciated."

Rex took a moment to compose his expression into a neutral one. He couldn't very well take off his helmet to reveal he'd been making silly faces at the entire galactic Senate behind his visor.

Now, Rex. He could hear the general say it in his head. General Skywalker was a good man, but not a patient one.

But Senator Chuchi said nothing, neither with words nor otherwise. She simply waited for him to act, as if it was actual choice he had -- would that it were true. He took off his helmet.

Senator Chuchi made an approving noise in the back of her throat. It made Rex's hackles go up as much as it made him want to preen.

"For this you have my thanks," she said.

Rex spent the rest of the evening with his helmet under his arm, still being ferried from important political person to galactic Senator to power player of the Republic by Senator Chuchi. It was all going well, for a value of 'well' that included 'direct interaction with politicians', until Senator Chuchi froze at his side.

"Duchess Satine. I did not expect you to be here." The Senator held out the tiny blue hand that wasn't holding on to Rex towards the Duchess of Mandalore.

Rex re-evaluated his definition of 'well' to 'cancel everything and murder General Skywalker on the way out'.

"I was not invited," the Duchess said. There was no accusation in her voice, but she didn't take the Senator's hand.

"On the contrary, you most certainly were. I owe you my deepest apologies for not following up on the invitation." Senator Chuchi bent her knees and lowered her head without letting go of Rex, the grace of her movement belied by the discordant sound of her hair ornaments clicking together.

The Duchess bowed her head slightly in response. "No matter. I am here now and all is forgiven."

Rex held perfectly still. Maybe if he didn't move at all the Duchess would just... not see him?

The Duchess turned to face him.

"Trooper."

Rex snapped to attention. He was pretty sure everyone in the room outranked him, especially the Duchess. Even if not, she was still the Duchess of Mandalore.

"Captain Rex is here as my personal guest." Senator Chuchi stepped between Rex and the Duchess.

The Duchesse looked past Senator Chuchi to stare at Rex. "Have we met before?"

Rex very nearly burst out 'I just have one of those faces'. It was a very bad idea, it wasn't even that funny and in point of fact, they had met before. He nodded.

The Duchess waited for him to elaborate; he refused to do so. If she couldn't remember offering her condolences for the clones who had died in the Tal Merrik 'incident' -- brothers who had died protecting her -- then... Something. He wasn't sure what, but something. In fairness, it wasn't as if people treating clones as interchangeable was a surprise, but she was the Duchess of Mandalore and he had foolishly expected better of her.

It made him feel better to pretend her disdain was because she was a pacifist and he a soldier. It was a lie and he knew it, but if he left it alone it almost sounded like it could be true.

The Duchess looked down at Rex's helmet. "Thank you for saving my life."

"Thank General Kenobi," Rex said and regretted it instantly. That the Duchess might not have recognised him without his helmet was no excuse to be cruel.

"Farewell," the Duchess said. "Other business is calling me."

Rex's desultory reply was covered by the Senator's. It was a good thing that the party was winding down anyway, as Rex just wanted to go and have a heart attack in peace somewhere quiet. He let Senator Chuchi take him to see a few more people, but soon they were the only two left.

The Senator opened the door at the back of the room. Behind the door was her office, with desk, paperwork and potted plants. She let him have the comfy chair behind the desk.

"That could have gone better," Senator Chuchi said. Rex wasn't going to dignify that with an answer, but she didn't give him the chance. She continued, "I'm really sorry about Duchess Satine's presence. I can assure you I did not invite her."

Rex shrugged. He wanted to forget the incident had ever happened.

The Senator sat down opposite him and started undoing her hair. It took less time than he had expected it would -- the hair ornaments were not actually included in the hair style, more like set down on it -- and within minutes the Senator's hair was free and falling down her shoulders in soft waves. Rex was a man who could value expediency. "I expect you want to know what that was all about."

"Yeah," Rex said. "That'd be nice."

She nodded and braided her hair loosely, giving herself time to answer and putting Rex ever more on edge as said time passed. Finally, the Senator said, "I intend to put forward a senatorial motion to recognise clone troopers as legal and entire citizens of the Galactic Republic."

Rex took a moment to translate what she'd said from Politician to Basic. He couldn't afford to misunderstand. "Entire?"

"If the clones are old enough and competent enough to die for this Republic, they are old enough and competent enough to be granted rights equal to mine or those of any adult citizen of the Republic," the Senator said. It was a good counter-argument, except for the fact that it was countering a point Rex hadn't argued.

"Thank you," Rex said. It seemed like the right thing to say. "I just don't understand what it means."

"Oh." She'd dropped her half-finished braid during her earlier tirade and now she picked it up again, fingers moving more slowly. "It's used as a legal term to differentiate between individuals granted full rights and others who are not, such as children. Chronologically, even the oldest of clones has not reached legal adulthood." She gestured at Rex, dropping her braid again. "Yet you are clearly a man full-grown."

"That I am." He smiled at her.

Rex had never seen a Pantoran blush before. It didn't quite suit the Senator; with her hair unbound, her gaze avoidant and her face flushed, she looked like a different person. She went around the desk to open the drawer to Rex's left and take out a sheet of flimsi. She looked him in the eyes again as she handed it to him. "Here. This the current draft of the motion. I cannot guarantee it'll remain unchanged, but it should not be modified drastically."

"I'm no politician," Rex said, but took it from her anyway. "I'm sure it's fine."

"Maybe not, but you are among those who would be affected by it. I would be remiss if I did not seek your feedback." She went back to braiding her hair.

Rex read. Apparently, a motion couldn't be put forward by one Senator; it needed the support of several. "Who have you got supporting the motion?"

"It rather depends on how tonight went, along with other factors." She sat on the desk and finished braiding her hair. She reached for a hair tie in the open drawer.

Rex got a hair tie from the drawer and gave it to her. He waved the flimsi. "Mind if I take this?"

"Please, go ahead," Senator Chuchi said. She tied off her braid. It fell heavily over her shoulder when she launched herself off the desk.

She offered him her arm again and he took it. She walked him back to the platform he'd arrived at.

Rex took the flimsi back with him to the barracks, but didn't go to his bunk right away. He settled down in the mess to read through the entire thing, first. Then he read it again. And again. Eventually he fell asleep, armour still on, head on his arms, arms over the flimsi.

"Up too late getting lucky with the Senator?" General Skywalker was much too happy about waking Rex up.

"No, sir, that's your job," Rex said. He liked things to make sense when he woke up; General Skywalker did not. If he'd had time to think or finish waking, he wouldn't have said anything.

"What."

"What?" If there was one thing being his second-in-command had taught Rex it was that one should never show weakness to the general.

"Whatever," General Skywalker finally said. "Have you looked at the news?"

"No," Rex said. The general had woken him up. He still had the texture of his gauntlet engraved on his face.

General Skywalker shoved Rex to the side and sat down next to him. "You really need to. Here."

Rex was on the news. There was no mistaking him: his face was bare, but he was carrying his helmet. It was a slightly grainy picture of him and Senator Chuchi, arm in arm, facing the Duchess of Mandalore. The caption implied going-ons between him and the Senator that had simply not been going on.

Rex's comm beeped. His message count went up from seventeen to eighteen and from zero when he'd gone to sleep. The newest one was from Cody -- "What did the Duchess say?" -- and the oldest was from Senator Chuchi.

"I need to take this," Rex said. He looked pointedly at the general. The general didn't care or even notice, so Rex added, "Alone. Privately, even." At which point it became clear that if Rex wanted privacy, he'd have to be the one getting up.

So he did. He went and locked himself into one of the stalls in the bathroom. Once there, he dropped his head into his hands. He'd never expected to land himself all over the news -- it had started as a tabloid exclusive but was no longer exclusive to tabloids -- but they could at least have gotten his good side.

He answered his messages in reverse chronological order, except for Cody's. The Duchess hadn't been there, neither had Rex and nobody could prove otherwise. Rex was halfway through his backlog when someone knocked on the door.

"Fuck off!" Rex replied.

"Not a maintenance issue, then," said General Kenobi.

Today was not Rex's day. Yesterday had landed him in the news. Tomorrow... Tomorrow wasn't there yet; there was no point worrying about it.

Rex continued answering messages until he was left with Cody's and Senator Chuchi's. He wasn't going to answer Cody's, so he'd run out of excuses not to look at the Senator's. It was text ran than holo, a discretion for which he was grateful. It warned him of his face being on the news -- his life was currently a special brand of hell -- and if he'd been awake to receive it, it might even have been advance warning. It also explained that Senator Chuchi had gotten his private comm number from Commander Tano. If Rex had ever known they were friends, he'd forgotten before this. Nobody ever told him anything.

The last thing Senator Chuchi's message said was a request for him to meet with her at his convenience.

Rex looked at the backlog of messages that had piled up on his comm while he'd read Senator Chuchi's message. He was going to get nothing done today, at this rate. Besides, it was probably a good idea to be incommunicado before anyone higher up the command chain than General Skywalker decided to have a word with him over the fact that he was on the morning news, so Rex decided his convenience was now and went to meet with Senator Chuchi.

Senator Chuchi was waiting for him in the lower hallway of 500 Republica when he got there. At least he hoped she was waiting for him. It'd be a bit embarrassing if she wasn't.

"Commander Rex! Just the man I wanted to see," she said.

"Senator Chuchi." Rex snapped a salute.

"Please," she said. "There's really no need."

Rex relaxed his stance and followed her into the bowels of 500 Republica. If they were going to her office, they were taking a different, much less travelled and further from windows route. If she was planning to shoot him in the back of the head for the trouble he'd caused her, it was perfect.

If she'd been Senator Amidala, he would have known what to expect. But she wasn't and there was the reason he kept his helmet on and his hands on his blasters.

A gesture that proved meaningless when they arrived in her office. The blinds were closed and lights on low. Rex could still see that the carpeting was quite nice and he doubted the Senator wanted to get blood all over it.

She gestured for him to sit -- not in the comfy chair behind the desk this time, but in one of the chairs in front of the desk. They were still comfy chairs though or at least Rex's was. The Senator moved to get to the other side of the desk, then seemed to think better of it and sat down in the chair next to him.

What a pair they made. He was still wearing the same thing as the night before, she had changed into something simpler. He was in battle armour and had his helmet on, she was wearing a beautiful dress and elaborate hair piece.

She fit in the quiet majesty of their surroundings. He did not.

"You are welcome to take off your helmet if you so wish," Senator Chuchi said. "Would you like a drink?"

A drink sounded nice, but Rex just took off his helmet and held it awkwardly. "Thanks. I'm good."

"You are," she replied. She sighed and stretched out her legs. "I have to say I'm grateful I don't have to get up again now that I've finally sat down."

"Long day?" Rex asked and winced, because yes, Rex, obviously.

She waved a hand, ruffling the leaves of a nearby plant. "Dodging the press is always exhausting, but less so than dealing with the press."

"I'm sorry," Rex said. He traced one of the score marks on his helmet with the tip of a finger. Senator Chuchi was a good person, it wasn't fair that she was in trouble because of him.

"The fault is mine. I should know better." He looked up to meet her eyes briefly before she looked away. In her lap, her knuckles were palest blue against the purple brocade of her dress. "The status of the clones has long been a politicised issue -- perhaps the fact that it is now publicised can be helpful."

"Useful." Rex couldn't even muster up the energy to make it into a question. Of course he'd have to make himself useful at some point.

Of course Senator Chuchi wasn't doing this out of the goodness of her heart. He was a clone; things like that didn't happen to people like him.

The Senator grabbed a terminal from the desk, turned it on and pushed it towards him wordlessly. The page first loaded that infernal picture. Rex bristled at the sight of it.

The page then loaded further. Fuck me, I ship it was written right below the picture. In the comments someone said Peeps! Peeps, if her bill passes they'll be able to get married! and Oh look, they're colour-coordinated already. Kill me now., the latter of which sparked a fifty posts derail on whether or not the blue of her skin matched the blue of his armour. Rex found himself on the losing side of that argument. He read through the rest of the thread unsure why the Senator was making him read this. People were busy 'shipping' him and Senator Chuchi. Whatever 'shipping' was.

And then he reached the other long subthread. ...I never realised the clones were people before now. and below that Yeah, same. Like. He's just a dude? There are fifty gazillion people with his face, but he's just a dude. A dude who goes on dates. and every comment below that was in that vein.

Rex finished scrolling down the holonet page. He looked at Senator Chuchi over the top of it. She was waiting for him to speak. He thought about what he'd read just then. She crossed her legs, fabric rustling and drawing his eye as she moved. He thought about what the tabloid had said about them.

"I'm just a dude," Rex said. He licked his lips. "A dude who goes on dates."

She startled, then her expression grew mischievous when she recognised the quote. "Are you, now?"

"Indeed." Rex paused. "In fact, I have today off and I quite fancy a stroll through a public park." He didn't technically have today -- or any day -- off, but he also hadn't been ordered on duty so it wasn't disobedience of a direct order.

"What a coincidence. So do I."

The Senator stood. She began fiddling with the clasps of her sleeves and suddenly there was a sigh of fabric as her dress started coming off.

"Whoa!" Rex shoved his helmet back on. Backwards. He coughed. "I don't want you to get the wrong idea, Senator. It's just that if all it takes for the citizens of the Republic to recognise clones as people is them thinking there are going-ons between us..." He trailed off, unsure how to end that sentence.

"I am well aware, Captain. It's simply that this coat is unsuitable for a gallant walk in the park." She sounded faintly offended; Rex wasn't quite sure what by, since there were too many options.

He turned his helmet the right way around. She was still dressed and was indeed holding what he'd thought was her dress but was in fact her coat. Her actual dress wasn't even a dress, but a shirt and pants in soft shades of purple. He said, "Right. Still. A word of warning next time you start undressing around me would be nice."

"Are you expecting me to undress around you often?" Her eyebrow was raised, but she was smiling.

Rex decided not to answer that. Instead he knocked on his helmet. "This old bucket is unsuitable for a gallant walk in the park too."

"Quite," the Senator said. She hung her coat on the back of her chair and walked over to him, stepping between his legs. She put a hand on top of helmet and one on his chin, then a hand on each side and finally one hand on the back of his head and the other against the mouth plate. "I have a safe. Your helmet should fit within."

"Great," Rex said and meant it. That helmet was his face just as much as Fett's. He handed it to her. "Armour?"

"It is not that big a safe." She put the helmet down on the desk. The safe was within the desk and the helmet did fit inside. "Besides, I do not suppose you brought a change of clothes."

"Maybe next time."

The Senator took his arm again and lead him to a hangar. Rex could feel everyone they passed staring at them, but she simply smiled and walked on as if she was doing nothing wrong nor had anything to be ashamed of. She didn't, strictly speaking, and yet he had a feeling in the pit of his stomach that felt uncomfortably like she should. It didn't get any better once they'd gotten onto her ship. She did let him drive, which made him feel better. She gave directions. He drove too fast.

They made it to the garden 'in record time'. It was absurdly pretty. Rex had never been in a garden before, unless one counted the hydroponics lab on Kamino, but he'd seen some in holos. This one was very intricate, every plant more sculpted than grown. There was a fountain of clear glass that sent water up to sparkle in the setting sun.

"Please wait here one moment," the Senator said. She let go of his arm.

He leaned against the fountain's basin and nodded.

She stepped away and walked off towards one of sculpture-trees. It was full of flowers; their blue was the blue of the 501rst. The Senator picked a flower delicately, came back and stood on tip-toes to tuck it behind his ear.

Rex winced and the flower fell off. He caught it.

Senator Chuchi sighed. "Too much?"

"I don't know," Rex said and he really didn't. Was this a normal thing people did on dates? He reached out and tried to put the flower behind her ear.

Her hair got in the way. He was making a mess of things. She pulled the flower from the knot in her hair.

"Here. Keep it," she said. She took his hand, put the flower in his palm and folded his fingers over it. Her hand lingered against his.

When the Senator let go of his hand, Rex found an empty blaster charge to keep the flower in. His fingers felt too big and clumsy for a task that delicate, especially with the gloves on.

He set the flower and the empty charge on the edge of the fountain. He undid the clasps on his vambraces to pull off his gloves.

The Senator stopped him, her fingertips on the back of his wrist. "It hardly seems fair that I would have to warn you if I undress and you do not."

"Oh. Right." Rex felt himself blush. He waved his free hand. "Can I --?"

"You may proceed." She smiled at him. A strand of her hair had come loose and was curling around the tattoo on her cheek. His fingers itched to brush it away.

Rex took off his glove. He packed the flower securely in the empty charge, then reached out with his bare hand towards her face. "You have hair."

"Yes? Humans and Pantorans are similar this way," she said.

She went to lean next to him against the fountain. The side with the hair stuck to her cheek was on the opposite from him. He found he missed it; from this side she looked every inch the Senator and as untouchable as a statue. With the hair she'd looked less perfect and more real.

"I meant you had hair clinging to your face," he said. He picked up his glove.

"Oh." She returned to standing in front of him. "Will you get it for me, please?"

Rex brushed the Senator's hair behind her ear. Her skin was colder than a human's; his felt like it was burning. The brief contact had no right to be that intimate, but he wrote that up to barely ever being in contact skin to skin with anyone.

When he pulled away after what felt like far too long, she said, "That's enough for our friends in the papers, I think."

"I don't want to go back," Rex said.

"You don't have to go back," she told him. Rex pretended she was right. Just this once the war wasn't waiting for him among the stars or beneath his skin. She continued, "I'll show you around the garden."

And she did.

Senator Chuchi took his arm and guided him through the garden. It was a traditional Pantoran garden, the only proper one of its kind on Coruscant, apparently. Rex couldn't quite see the point of it. It was beautiful and it was clever -- the shape of it was an anamorphosis the Senator explained and looked different depending on where you were -- but it didn't have a point. Not that the Senator cared as she introduced Rex to every plant the same way she'd introduced him to every Senator at her party.

The Senator stopped, frozen at his side. She stared at the plant in front of her -- some kind of tree. "Duchess Pompuran. I did not expect you to be here."

Rex laughed and laughed and laughed. It wasn't the funniest joke, but the Senator had taken such care to set it up. The fruits of the tree even looked a bit like the Duchess of Mandalore's hair ornaments.

"So you can laugh," Senator Chuchi said when he had settled down. She was smiling and that might have been the most beautiful sight in the garden.

"I can do anything a normal man can do and more." He was pricklier about this than he should be, but he was more than just a soldier, could do me than fight.

She looked up at him beneath her eyelashes. "I think I'd like to see that."

Rex shrugged and began walking again. The Senator followed at this side, surprisingly silent for a civilian. She was no longer touching him. He told himself he didn't miss it. How could he? He hadn't even felt her touch through the armour.

The sun was setting, cresting what passed for the horizon on Coruscant. Rex had been from the barracks much longer than he'd thought. He turned to leave.

There was a sound like blaster fire and he -- was back a week ago in Umbara's endless twilight, his brothers' dying screams in his ears -- tripped.

Rex's knees hit the ground with a loud -- too loud, they'll hear, gotta hide -- thud and the edges of his armour dug into his flesh through the under-suit. His helmet was -- lost, he was gonna get shot -- gone. He flattened himself on the ground, put his arms over his head and tried to think his way out of this mess.

His breathing was -- giving his position away it was so loud -- shallow and too fast. Blaster fire rang again and he -- screamed.

A blast of cold water hit him. It slithered its way into his armour and he sputtered in indignation.

He sat up. "What was that for?"

"Rex," Senator Chuchi said. She was keeling next to him in the dirt of the garden on Coruscant. The mud of this unlikely place that not Umbara was staining her clothing; she did not seem to care. "Rex, you were screaming."

"I'm fine," Rex said. He was lying and she wasn't buying it.

She leaned forward, making sure he could see her coming, and kissed the side of his forehead, quick and chaste right below his hairline. "Of course. I do know an excellent doctor should you --"

"I've got a doctor," Rex snapped. He stood up and stumbled, knees weak. "His name's Kix."

The Senator stood as well. Her movements were slow but remained graceful and sure. When she offered him her arm, he took it. He was grateful for the support and he let her walk him out of the park then drive him back to barracks. They spent the whole drive in utter silence, Rex carefully lining up the rhythm of his breathing on hers until he half-dozed off for a little while.

When they arrived at the barracks, everyone stared as the Senator opened the door for him and helped him out. The staring only got worse when she said, "Go see Kix. And Rex? You are fine."

"Don't see why I gotta see a medic if I'm fine," Rex mumbled. He headed towards the barracks anyway. He did need to see Kix though, if only so Kix would give him the nutrient packs Rex had earned himself by not eating anything all day.

Those things tasted even worse than normal rations and that was saying something. Clone metabolism being what it was, Rex needed the fuel, like a clanker needed a charger pack.

Cody was waiting for Rex in the infirmary. He looked like hell and smelled like cheap alcohol. Rex sat down on the bed opposite him. Correction. Cody smelled like free alcohol, specifically the burn-your-throat hooch from Boil's still.

"You look like shit," Cody said. "Hope you didn't look like that in front of Her Grace."

"Next time, you talk to the Duchess of Mandalore," Rex said. Maybe that'd stop Cody from trying to me more Mandalorian than the Mandalorians. No one in the galaxy was ever going to consider them Mandalorian -- even just having them be considered Human seemed a stretch for most people.

"Wish that I would," Cody said. It was painful to hear the yearning in his voice -- Fives said that because Cody had missed out on being in the First Battle of Geonosis with the rest of his squad, he was trying desperately to belong to something, anything, and Mandalore just happened to be convenient. Rex thought Fives was full of shit. Cody was just Cody.

And Cody being Cody meant Rex had no idea how to reply to that.

At which point Kix stabbed Rex in the neck with a needle. "The hell, man?"

Kix shrugged. Cody made himself scarce, the traitor. Kix kicked Rex's bed. He grabbed the blood sample and shoved it in the analyser, which he then kicked for good measure. His back to Rex, he said, "You put me on a firing squad! You had me point a blaster at my brothers and you told me to shoot."

"Dogma gave the order." Rex had barely finished speaking that Kix had punched him.

"And that makes it all right?" Kix punched Rex again.

Rex let himself be punched. It didn't make it right -- and Kix was a medic and what kind of sick fuck put a medic on a firing squad? "I knew you wouldn't shoot."

"You couldn't have known that! I didn't know that! I would have murdered my brothers in cold blood!" Kix had backed Rex up against the wall, now, and was accompanying every exclamation mark by a punch to the ribs.

"It wouldn't have been murder, because legally we're not people!" Rex shouted. It wasn't the right thing to say and he didn't care.

Kix started screaming and punching him and punching him and punching him and Rex just stood there and took it. He deserved this. He should have done something about Krell sooner. All the blood of Umbara was on his hands.

Cody was back. He'd brought Harbinger with him and between the two of them they managed to pry Kix off Rex before Kix punched him again. Kix was screaming incoherently. Rex was being even more incoherent. Fives showed up like this was a party and put himself between the other two.

"What do you mean, legally we're not people?" Fives asked. He wasn't quite facing Rex, because that would have meant turning his back on Kix -- and it might have been Rex who'd put the firing squad together and Dogma who gave the order, but it'd been Kix holding the blaster and Fives on the other end of it.

"What the fuck do you think I mean?" Rex said. "We're not people, we're fucking property."

"We are people," Fives said, like he thought Rex was slow on the uptake and hadn't noticed.

"Not legally. We're under 'inventory', not 'personnel' when it comes to expenses. Like fucking clankers!" Rex pushed himself off the wall. He dug under his chest plate and took out the flimsi, slamming it into Fives' hand. "Here. That's the law that may never pass that might make us into people."

Fives' fingers twitched around the flimsi, but he took his time reading it. If he recognised Senator Chuchi's name as the author of the bill, he said nothing.

When Fives was finished reading, Kix and Harbinger straining to read over his shoulders, Rex said, "Do you get it now? Krell was right."

At which point it was Fives' turn to punch him.

"Fives!" It was Commander Tano's voice.

Every clone snapped to attention. Except Harbinger -- Harbinger had a death wish, it was well known, but that was no reason for being rude.

"Fives, why are you punching Rex?" Commander Tano sounded confused, more than anything, but there was an edge of steel to her question anyway.

Fives looked at Rex who looked at Cody who looked at Harbinger who looked at Kix who looked at Fives. The clones weren't telepathic, but they didn't need to be. Commander Tano was not General Krell, but she was still a Jedi and she wouldn't understand. No one who hadn't been on Umbara could understand. Commander Tano had not been there -- not there in the mud and blood and pointless slaughter -- everyone else in the room had.

"Rex is dating the Senator I want to date," Fives said.

"Rex is dating a Senator?" Commander Tano tilted her head. "Rex is dating?"

"Very funny, sir," Rex said. "There's nothing between Senator Chuchi and I."

Harbinger turned on the news -- and there Rex was on the news again. Being on the evening news wasn't any more pleasant than being on the morning news.

At least the picture was new. Instead of him and the Senator facing the Duchess, it was a picture of the Senator tucking a flower behind his ear. His face was in shadows behind her hand, but he had the most recognisable profile in the galaxy and even without the helmet the armour was distinctive.

The look Commander Tano gave him was 110% disbelief.

"I can't believe neither of you told me you were dating," Commander Tano said. She sounded hurt. Rex felt bad, because it was his job to make sure Commander Tano didn't get hurt.

"She asked you for my comm number," Rex said.

"I guess." Commander Tano looked away. She walked away, then changed her mind and stepped in the middle of the clones to pat Rex on the shoulder. "Take care of her, Rex. Riyo's a good person."

Rex thought about the law Fives was holding. He thought about Senator Chuchi taking his arm to support him. He thought about the Duchess of Mandalore not being invited.

"Yes," he said. "I know."

The conversation then drifted away from the Senator and her non-existent relationship with Rex, much to his relief. Kix even relinquished the power bars after some pointed comments from Fives and Commander Tano, although he did serve Harbinger first. Harbinger, to nobody's great surprise, was a rude, silent fuck in reply. Rex said thank you. Kix even accepted his thanks, possibly Rex's greatest victory since Umbara.

Cody waited until Commander Tano left to ask, "Rex, where's your helmet?"

"Where's yours?" Fives shot back.

"Emergency reception flask for Boil's still," Cody said. It was technically illegal for troopers to make -- or even drink -- alcohol and they might be bio-engineered, but they were still soldiers. Somebody somewhere was going to make alcohol, supreme was going to overlook it and everybody was going to drink it.

Rex's helmet was with Senator Chuchi. Oh fucking hell.

Rex needed to get his helmet back before he got sent back on duty which was -- his comm beeped -- tomorrow. Very well. Tomorrow it was, back to war and death on the edges of the galaxy.

And he couldn't show up on the battlefield looking like a damn shiny. Cody and Fives would never let him hear the end of it.

Once he'd cleared by for duty by Kix, he went to the hangar. He grabbed a helmet off the rack and one of the bikes -- the one he usually used wasn't there. That really got to him, but since troopers couldn't own property, it wasn't like someone had stolen it from him.

He made it back to 500 Republica easily and to Senator Chuchi's office less easily, but he made it. The door wasn't locked, which he really had to warn her about --

All thought flew out of his head, because the person standing in front of him was himself, Jaig eyes and all.

He was staring.

That was his helmet. That was his face.

Then the helmet came off and Dogma was staring back at Rex. He had a mulish look on his face. He stuck out his chin. Rex kept staring and kept his hands on his blasters. What the fuck was going on?

"Captain Rex!" That was the Senator. Rex threw a glance at her through the corner of his eye.

"Yo," said Fives, who was walking in behind the Senator. What the fuck. What the fuck.

"What the fuck," Rex said, finally voicing the thought.

"Admiral Tarkin was going to put Dogma to a firing squad," Senator Chuchi said. Her face was politician blank and she was standing equally distant from all three clones. Her clothing was more formal than it'd been previously, which struck Rex as odd -- it was usually the other way around, people dressed down when they were off-duty, not up. Hell, the Senator dressed down, he'd seen her do it.

"No brother should have to die like that," Fives said.

And he should know, because the last time a brother had been about to die like that, it had been Fives, with Dogma giving the order.

"Fine," Rex said. "Fine. You want to save him, save him. You weren't here, I didn't see you and I couldn't have stopped you, but I'm not going to help you, either."

The Senator's face remained carefully blank, but she stepped away from Rex. Admittedly she was stepping away from him to fetch something so maybe he was only imagining her disapproval.

He wasn't imagining Fives' disapproval, though. It might as well have been tattooed on his face or light up in lights on his armour. Even though Dogma would have gladly shot Fives himself ten days ago, Fives was now risking life and limb to commit treason and get him off Coruscant and somehow expecting Rex to not only be on board with said treason, but actively join in.

"He tried to have you killed," Rex said.

"Yeah," Fives said, calm as anything. "So if I say he's worth saving you should listen."

Rex mulled this over as time clicked away. Fives' face hardened. "And besides, it was you put the firing squad together."

Rex's weight went to bear entirely on his heels, but he managed to hold his ground.

He had put the firing squad together and he might have known none of his brothers would shoot -- who puts a medic on a firing squad -- but he'd still gone along with Krell's farce of justice. He'd taken the decision that should have been his and left it to his men to take it. They'd all been bred to be good soldiers instead of good men and good soldiers follow orders.

"I did," Rex said. No apology would ever be enough, so he didn't try. "Nobody'll think you're me, not if you dress like a shiny."

In the following stunned silence, he tossed his blaster belt to Fives. "Those are called 'return to Rex faster than possible'."

Fives' salute dripped with sarcasm.

Rex started stripping off his armour in earnest, after that. He tossed each piece indiscriminately in Fives and Dogma's direction. Fives caught most of them, but occasionally Dogma would make a tiny noise of surprise as he undressed.

Fives was doing it on purpose. For once Rex approved of Fives being a little shit.

Rex was down to his under-suit. first. Would they need to switch that too? It would certainly fit both of them -- one size fits all, hardy har har -- but no.

If anyone noticed Dogma's under-suit. didn't have a Republic symbol on its chest, they had bigger issues.

"I was not gone ten minutes," the Senator said and Rex realised how they had to look, two clones as close to naked as clones could be without being actually naked, in the middle of her office.

"I can explain," Rex said.

At the same time, she said, "Don't stop on my account."

"No, we were done anyway."

The Senator nodded and gave Fives the keys to her speeder. "I've set up off-world transportation. Coordinates are in the speeder."

Fives snapped a salute in response. They waited awkwardly for Dogma to finish dressing up as Rex.

"Don't kill each other," Fives said and left with Dogma-as-Rex in tow, leaving Rex and the Senator alone together, the Senator in formal dress, Rex in his under-suit.

"How could you," Rex said. His voice was flat and he knew there was murder in his eyes. She'd taken his face, his identity and used it for her own ends -- if he hadn't walked in halfway through, would he ever have found out?

"How could I what? Make my own decisions? Contrary to what most of the galaxy seems to believe, I am quite capable of doing so." She straightened, pulled back her shoulders and lifted her chin. "I choose to stand for what is right. And neither you nor anyone else can stop me."

"You used my face," Rex said and he might have spat. "You may choose to stand for what you want but you cannot make that choice for me. It's my face. It should have been my choice and you took it from me. I have a right to make my own choices."

He expected ridicule -- he had no legal rights and she of all people would know that much. Instead she took a step back and turned away to stand at her window.

The night was peppered with the artificial light of the Coruscant nightlife, but it was still dark enough that he could see her face reflected in the window. She looked sad. She splayed one hand against the transparisteel and touched the markings on her face with the other.

"I am sorry," she said. "Not for the decision I made but for involving you without your consent."

Rex stayed silent and waited for her to continue.

"I am sorry. Truly I am -- I did not stop to think that to the man of a million faces individuality can be external." She turned around and pressed both her hands to the symbols on her cheeks. "And yet I am Pantoran. Our markings show our true selves; if there are any who should have known the worth of a trooper's helmet, it is one of us. More, I have told you that I believe you to be a person, yet my actions betray me. I could have stopped to think. I should have and I did not. For this I am sorry."

That was a lot more apology than Rex expected. It was sincere, he decided. Granted she was a politician, but she'd only been trying to get back in his good graces -- whatever for? It was not as though he was the ones with the power in this relationship -- she would have apologised for the whole thing, not simply the unauthorised use of his face.

"Your true selves?" he asked.

She dropped her hands and looked away. "My romantic streak got the best of me, I'm afraid. It's nothing quite that absolute."

Rex sat in the nearest chair. It was even more comfortable without his armour on. "What do they mean, then?"

"It depends on the Pantoran. Mine..." She sat on the steps leading to the window. She was silent for a moment, then pulled her knees to her chest and continued, "There is a disputed archipelago between Pantora's two biggest continents. Both claim the Liruk archipelago belongs to them, over the ongoing protests of the archipelago's inhabitants. The archipelago officially belongs to Chairman Chi Cho's continent, not Baron Papanoida's." She pulled her knees closer and rested her chin on top of them. "My markings are the traditional markings of the Liruk."

There was a high keening sound and Rex was on his feet before it was over. The Senator reached her feet more slowly. She put a hand on his arm, where he'd reached for his blaster and pushed it down. Rex let her.

"It is only the samovar," she said. "Would you like some tea?"

Rex wasn't much of a tea person -- that was really more Kix's thing -- but it seemed churlish of him to refuse. He nodded.

She went over to the corner with the climbing flowering vine stretching towards the ceiling and an intricate metalworking beneath it. She had her back to him. He watched the way she went through the motions confidently, expertly and the way her hair curled softly at the back of her neck on the slice of skin visible over the top of her collar. She half turned around, a tray with two cups in one hand. She touched the samovar with the tips of her other hand and said, "My grandmother made this. The Liruk are a poor people. The land is harsh and the sea more so. And Pantora is no galactic powerhouse. In the grand scale of things my people are a forgotten lot on a wind battered rock on an Outer Rim backwater."

"It's beautiful," Rex said. When she came closer he took one of the cups and sat back down. The tea's heat burned his hands through the ceramic.

She tipped her head in thanks and opened the shutters on the main window before folding herself in the seat opposite his.

Rex turned the cup in his hands. He wondered what it was like to have not just a grandmother, but a people as well, to be able to say my people are poor and our sea is harsh; the clones were poor and Kamino's seas were unkind, but that was different.

"Thank you. I will tell her you said so." Senator Chuchi leaned over to grab the other cup and sat back. "Following the Autonomous Regions Bills, the Liruk were recently granted the right to their own represent ant in the Pantoran Assembly. It is a life office, as are most political offices on Pantora." She drank, but not before Rex saw the twisted grimace her mouth had become at the words.

Rex drank as well. The tea burned his tongue and he could not tell if it was bitter or sweet.

"I was chosen for the office by Chairman Chi Cho," she said. She dropped the words like a death sentence.

"Thought you were the Senator of Pantora," Rex said.

She laughed bitterly at that and he had to look up from his cup to make sure she hadn't become someone else while he wasn't looking. She hadn't. The person in front of him with a laugh like a funeral knell was still Senator Chuchi.

"Oh, I am and it's also a life office. Chairman Chi Cho made sure of that. He chose a Liruk because Galactic Senators are not allowed to interfere in the internal affairs of their planet and he chose me because he thought, rightly, that I would be unable to oppose him in matters of Galactic diplomacy." She set down her cup. "As long as I live, my people have no voice in the Pantoran Assembly."

"You can't speak up for your people so you're speaking up for clones?" Rex was oddly touched.

She blinked. "I had not... I had not thought of it that way. I saw simply that there was an injustice and sought to correct it." She touched her fingers to the back of Rex's hand. They were much colder than he expected. "Your brothers and you are brave men, Rex, but even if were not so you would deserve better than how the Republic treats you. By virtue of being alive, of being a person, you deserve better."

She was a naive idealist, but he still took her hand in his and pressed a kiss to her fingertips.

She snatched her hand away like she'd been burned. The thought that he could have hurt her made his heart clench painfully.

"I thought, our friends in the news..." Rex let the sentence trail off, no longer sure why he'd taken her hand in the first place. It had been extremely forward of him and how moved he'd felt was no excuse.

"Of course. Yes." Her voice was hesitant, but instead of giving Rex back her hand, she went to sit next to him on the chair. There was enough space for her to not be in his lap, but it was still a close enough fit that all of her side was pressed against his arm.

She smelled nice.

The Senator grabbed her cup of tea again and leaned into his side to rest her head against his shoulder. Without his armour, Rex felt terribly vulnerable. He was maybe twice her weight and had twenty centimetres and a lifetime -- short though it may have been -- of warfare on her, but that didn't stop the material of his under-suit. from feeling too thin and like not enough protection.

The silence was... Comfortable, or intended to be so, Rex supposed. He was a soldier. The only calm he knew was the calm before the storm and storms, eventually, must break.

"I ship off to war in the morning," he said to the top of Senator Chuchi's head.

He could feel her breathe against him -- neither his under-suit. nor her layers of clothing were thick enough to muffle the rise and fall of her chest -- so when she sighed it was a great wracking exhale that travelled through her ribs and into his bones. Her next breath was deep and slow and she said, "I know."

No doubt Fives had told her, or else Dogma and the thought of said traitorous brother talking to the Senator made Rex's blood boil. She had a blaster, in the small of her back, hidden within folds of clothing. She knew how to handle herself; if not, he would have to teach her.

"War waits for no one," Senator Chuchi said, sounding as if she was quoting something, "but you've earned this one moment of peace."

There were many things Rex could say to that -- if he'd earned one moment of peace, he'd earned many more and all his brothers too -- but before he could think of which one to use, Fives said, "Now I feel bad."

The Senator sat up and Rex turned to look at Fives, who was carrying Rex's armour (Dogma-free). Fives tossed Rex his helmet over the Senator's head. Rex caught it, one-handed with arm outstretched.

Fives dropped Rex's armour to the floor as Rex stood and went over to put it on. It was the work of minutes and if he expected to feel less vulnerable facing the Senator in full armour, he was sorely disappointed.

She put a hand on his chest plate and looked up at time. "I wish you well, my good captain. Return safe and your brothers too."

Rex wasn't much for long goodbyes, so that was pretty much the end of that.

The next morning Rex went off to Kadavo. The less said about that fiasco, the better.


It was a testament to how fucked up Kadavo had been that when Kenobi offered him tea, Rex said yes. Just this once, protocol be damned. The tea was far too sweet, more honey-like in consistency than anything calling itself a liquid had any right to be, but Rex said nothing. For a long moment he sipped his tea silently at Kenobi's side both of them enjoying the simple creature comfort of tea with a friend.

When his taste buds returned from their sugar induced coma, Rex asked, "Is that Senator Chuchi's tea?"

"I take it the Senator followed my recommendation," Kenobi said. He swirled his tea around in its cup. "I don't care what Bail and Yoda say, there's only one proper purveyor of Rylothean tea on Coruscant and it's not Yer Shaan."

Kenobi's hands tightened around the cup. Rex had seen this before, brothers who would focus on the smaller annoyances to avoid the greater despairs, but it wasn't his place to say anything, not to a Jedi.

The silence rapidly became awkward. There wasn't anything Rex could say and even if there had been all he wanted to do was forget everything about Kadavo, forget about the new scars from the slave pits. Kix had done his best, but at the very least Rex would have to keep the scar curving across his ribs. It was an ugly scar, all burned skin and uneven stitching -- the electric whip had broken the skin, blood had boiled...

Rex slammed his tea cup on the table.

Rex breathed out. He was no longer on Kadavo. He was as free now as he'd been before -- and if that was not quite as free as all that, it was still better than Kadavo.

Anything was better than Kadavo. Umbara had been better than Kadavo -- except sometimes he would wake screaming in the night and those times Umbara was worse.

On Umbara he'd been a pawn of Krell. On Kadavo he'd been leverage on Kenobi. Out here in the wider galaxy he was nothing more than a number.

CT-7567.

He took another breath. He had a name. His name was Rex. He was a person, not just a clone, not just a slave, not just a tiny gear in the greatest war machine in the history of the Republic. A person.

He looked up and there was Kenobi. Rex stood and left, before he was tempted to do something regrettable.

He stomped his armour boots against the durasteel floor of the hallway so he wouldn't have to hear himself think. He'd been wearing his armour since his return. It made him feel better, that thin white line between his self and the nightmares.

Rex squared his shoulders. He was a soldier. He was going to -- his comm buzzed.

It was Fives. "We had a threesome and you didn't tell me?"

"First of all, we didn't have a threesome, second of all, if we had you wouldn't need me to tell you and last of all -- and I know I'm going to regret asking -- what are you even talking about?" The hallway was deserted but that didn't mean Rex wanted to have a conversation about a completely fictional threesome between him, Fives and a mysterious third party right in the middle of it. He ducked into the first doorway he saw; power converter storage would have to do.

"It's in the news," Fives said, "not Front Page but Page Three."

Rex doubted that; Page Three had yet to publish any topless clones -- although he supposed that if it were to publish a topless clone, it would probably be Fives.

Rex dutifully looked up Page Three's holosite. One of the first picture -- but thankfully not the very first one -- he saw was one of him, Fives and Senator Chuchi. It had clearly been taken from a great distance the night before the 501rst had left for Kadavo. It just as clearly showed Rex putting his armour back on. The content of the article that went with the picture was exactly what Rex had feared given Fives' comment.

Rex painstakingly copy pasted the link with one hand while trying to hang up with the other. As a result, he ended up sending the link to both Senator Chuchi and Fives instead of just Senator Chuchi. Fives laughed at him; Rex hang up in his face.

It took a few minutes, but Rex's comm buzzed again. The message was from Senator Chuchi and addressed to both him and Fives. It wasn't a reply to his message, but a whole new conversation; Rex got the distinct feeling he was being mocked.

Rex opened the message. Much like his, it contained nothing but a single link. He followed it.

Music started blaring, echoing hollowly against the durasteel walls. Rex scrambled for the mute. He managed to shut it off before anyone noticed him, but didn't manage to stop the extraordinarily catchy tune from embedding itself firmly into his brain.

Rex then received another message from Senator Chuchi. It read "I have heard from Ahsoka what happened in Kadavo. I am deeply sorry."

He wrote back. "Not your fault but thanks."

Her next messages read "Do you want to be distracted or left alone?"

Rex considered the question. His initial instinct was both, but that was contradictory. It needed some form of explanation.

"I would like to be left alone to distract myself," he wrote.

Senator Chuchi made good on her word and left Rex alone that day.

A week later he messaged her via holo from a quiet place in the mess.

"Hello, Captain," she said. It was odd to see her entirely in shades of blue; even the blue of her skin seemed off.

"Hey."

Their conversation wasn't very long, but it didn't need to be. It just needed to be visible from the journo crew doing a showcase on General Skywalker.

He told her about how the new greaves didn't quite fit with the old boots and pinched right below the knee. She told him about the progress of the bill in the Senate. He told her about the new cook and how much the food had improved.

The journos left.

She told him about the upcoming Pantoran Chairman's birthday. He told her about the ongoing bet between Fives and Commander Tano.

"Speaking of Fives," she said. She flicked two fingers in Rex's direction and a holosite page loaded in place of her face.

He recognised the holosite from the beginning of this charade. There weren't any pictures this time, just another link. He didn't follow it. Beneath, the comment read WHICH ONE OF YOU DID THIS?. This time Rex did follow the link.

He couldn't quite make sense of the header -- it involved him, Senator Chuchi and Fives, he was pretty sure -- so he bravely soldiered on and kept reading. At first the text made no more sense than the header had. Then Rex's face was burning. That was a very very graphic description of something that had never happened.

Rex went back to the holopage Senator Chuchi had sent him. She'd exited the conversation soon after, which he was now grateful for.

It wasn't me. I'd have put it under RPF read the first reply. That wasn't a filing system Rex was familiar with and neither was the next replier, apparently. Oh really? Why?

The reply to that was the complete non-sequitur of Because clones are people, fuckface.

Rex agreed with the sentiment, but the aggression was seemingly unrelated and so unexpected and overblown. Several of the participants had replied to the nonsensical tangent. No one objected to the nonsense, but plenty to the aggression -- some because it was too much, some because it was wrong, some because it was not enough.

There were two raging arguments, one on the personhood of clones -- majority opinion seemed to be pro, by a slim margin -- and deservedness of the aggression. Rex read through both. The personhood argument was cut short by repeated posting, in various subthread of a comment consisting of a link and ^Mods have spoken.

The reply to that was I'll be damned if I let the mods of a fanfic archive (of all things!) decide if clones are people. The comment also read, in a different font, This comment is frozen because of the No Politics Rule. Whether this fic is RPF is a fannish question and can stay on main meme, whether clones are people is a political question and goes in the politics post.

Rex went to the linked comment. The mods of the fanfic archive had apparently decided that the fic was RPF because Senator Chuchi was a person -- whatever any of that meant -- and somebody was complaining about someone named shortshortshortlong -- OH FOR FUCK'S SAKE. I love the guy, but he's never met a fight he didn't pick.

Following the link in the comment, Rex got to scroll through an entire barrage of unknown terms until he reached the comments; he scrolled until he reached shortshortshortlong's, a picture of the number five preceding Put up your dukes. I'm writing some clone/clone fic.

The alarm blared, jarring Rex out of his excursion down a wormhole of Holonet weirdness. He grabbed his helmet, put it on and made his way to Command in double-time.

He arrived after Cody and General Skywalker, but before General Kenobi and Commander Tano.

Fives was late to the meeting, but it didn't matter. General Plo Koon and Wolffe's men had dropped in from hyperspace by then and driven off the clankers. Rex was looking forward to seeing Wolffe.

The joint relief mission was almost no trouble. It was all fine until one of the mineshafts collapsed, trapping Rex, Wolffe and several members of the local Chiss minority inside the cave.

There was another tremor. Everything went dark.

Kenobi's voice came in through the helmet's inner comm, all sputtery and staticky. "I'm afraid we are unable to rescue you at this time as the mine has collapsed over several miles. May the Force be with you."

The older of the two women -- although it was hard to tell with Chiss, she looked like she had a decade of clone ageing on the other two -- said, "A tremor like that will have hit the city centre. We can't count on your Jedi having time for us any time soon."

Rex nodded.

"Any exit down there?" Wolffe shot the light on his helmet at one of the tunnels.

"The infected reservoir is down that way." The younger woman pointed at the corridor. "The old pipes might still be useable as exits."

"The reservoir with the algae? We're gonna stink for days!" The male Chiss was very attractive, even with his face twisted in disgust.

"For fuck's sake, you dolt!" The younger woman -- Yweck, her name-tag read -- took off towards the reservoir. Rex and Wolffe followed.

"Well excuse me for worrying about the flesh-eating algae --"

"We fixed that years ago! Which you'd know if you ever got off your high horse --"

The argument kept going back and forth and back and forth. Rex felt like a spectator at a sports match or like he'd been dropped head first into a decades old argument.

"Kids, kids!" The elder Chiss said. "You're both stupid. Escape first, blame game later."

Over the clone-only comm channel, Wolffe said, "I thought they'd never shut up."

The two younger Chiss walked on ahead. The remaining Chiss stayed behind with Rex and Wolffe. She sighed and shook her head. "Kids. Am I right?"

"I wouldn't know," Rex said. "I never had a childhood."

"You'll see what I mean when you have children of your own," she said, slapping his shoulder.

Rex and Wolffe stopped walking at the same time. It took the Chiss a few steps to realise they weren't following. She turned around.

"I can't have children," Rex said. He could shield Wolffe from this -- Wolffe wanted children, wanted a family, a pack of his very own, like he wanted nothing else.

"They're not that bad," she said. "And besides, you'd have the Senator to help you. You're her gentleman caller, aren't you? I recognised the armour."

"Clones are sterile," Rex said. There was no reason to sugar-coat it, except sparing Wolffe's feelings -- and Wolffe had already adopted half a dozen people, at last count -- and those feelings would be less hurt the shorter this conversation was.

"What? Why? Even slaves can have children, why not you?"

Rex had never thought about it. Clones couldn't father children, that was just how it was.

"Copyright infringement," Wolffe said. He was looking at his nails, which was to say he'd taken off both his helmet and his glove in order to be properly dramatic.

She blinked. "Is that how copyright works? Never mind, it's not fair. You people should be able to have kids."

Wolffe bristled at 'you people', but Rex launched into a speech; it was Senator Chuchi's speech on how to bring about change from the ground up and it finished on 'contact your Senator'.

"This is the Outer Rim. Nobody has a Senator."

"Let me give you Senator Chuchi's personal comm number," Rex said. He touched his vambrace to the Chiss' wristband. "Tell her your problems; she'll want to help."

The Chiss waited until the transfer finished before pulling back her arm. "How can you be sure she'll want to help?"

"Of course she'll want to help you. She wants to help clones."

"Can't argue with that," she said. She took off down the corridor.

Rex and Wolffe followed. It was dark, most of the light coming from the lights on the clones' helmets, but as they marched on, orange bioluminescent moss on the walls began providing light. Rex had first thought it was damp; in the better light he could tell that the rivulet on the walls were just discolouration. If there had been water here, it had long since dried up.

"Don't know that the Senator will appreciate you giving her comm number to just anyone," Wolffe said.

"She'll want to help," Rex said. "If she can, she will."

"Not what I asked," Wolffe said.

"Best answer I've got," Rex said.

"Huh-huh."

They caught up with the Chiss, who had stopped at the end of the tunnel. The young woman pointed down. Rex looked over her shoulder to see Separatist battle droids.

His radio crackled to life. General Plo Koon's deep bass wasn't understandable under the static.

Wolffe took off his helmet, put his fingers to his mouth and whistled loudly.

The same sort of high-pitched whistling came out of Wolffe's comm. Down below, the droids remained inert. Recon was needed.

Rex drew both blasters, shouldered past the Chiss and jumped down into the reservoir.

Halfway down he remembered the male Chiss' comment about flesh-eating bacteria in the reservoir.

Rex activated the air cycling and space-worthy sealing on his armour. He hit the water with a splash.

The nearest droid keeled over. There was a form of green algae growing on the droids -- growing in the droids, clogging their mechanisms, eating their power sources.

"All clear," Rex called to Wolffe on the comm. "Wouldn't touch the water, though."

They made it out of the reservoir. It probably said a lot about Rex's life that being trapped in a mine by an earthquake was the calmest mission this month.

From there it was straight back to Coruscant for resupplying.

Rex should not have been surprised to see Senator Chuchi waiting on the platform when the ship landed. He wasn't, not really, but he was surprised by how glad he was to see her. Even if she was there for Commander Tano, it was good to see her.

Senator Chuchi was wearing black, white and blue. Rex realised what the cut of her clothing reminded him off when he saw her boots; they could not have been more trooper-like without being genuine trooper boots.

"Senator," Rex said.

"Captain." She held out a hand. He took it and she pulled him close, standing on her toes to hug him properly and say, "I've missed you."

The hug made the helmet cumbersome and when Senator Chuchi stepped away, she had had the shape of Rex's bucket pressed into her cheek. He traced it, glove against skin, tried to make it disappear.

She bent her head into his touch. Closed her eyes.

"I've missed you too," Rex said. It sounded so impersonal, through the helmet. Or perhaps it was the annoying buzz of the holoscoop digicams -- how long had those been there?

"Are you on leave soon?" She asked. She reached out to take his hand away from her face and between her own.

"No. We don't get any leave."

"I thought --" There was raw, naked hope in her voice.

"Supply run," Rex said. He took off his helmet. "We leave in a week."

She reached out to touch his hair; he hadn't shaved or dyed it this morning and his roots were starting to show. Her fingers brushed against his temple. "If you do not ever get leave, may you at least join me this evening?"

"I have to do inventory," Rex said. "We lost several brothers out there."

He thought about Tema, who'd started telling anyone who would listen that she was a girl as soon as she'd understood what that meant and who was floating in a bacta tank missing half her limbs after she'd jumped on a grenade to save a family of nine, and he thought about how easily that "brothers" could have become "siblings". He thought about none of the generals, except General Plo Koon, had yet figured out what 'doing inventory' meant.

Senator Chuchi nodded gravely and said, "I'm sorry for your loss."

"Thank you," Rex said. "I'll join you after."

"I look forward to it." Senator Chuchi tapped the centre of his chest plate. "You know where to find me, handsome."

"Aw, thanks, Senator," Fives said from over to the side. Rex had never wanted to punch him more.

"My address is a matter of public record, I suppose," Senator Chuchi said. She smiled at Fives. "This conversation is not."

Fives etched a bow. "I take my leave, gentle lady."

"We do have the same face," Rex said, because he never could leave well enough alone.

"But you are not the same man." She touched Rex's forehead. On Fives she would have touched his tattoo, but on Rex her fingers met bare skin.

He pulled her fingers away. She caught his hand in hers and brought it to her lips. She kissed the palm of his glove. She let go, reluctantly.

Senator Amidala touched Chuchi's shoulder to pull her away. "Riyo, you need to go --"

Rex spun on his heel, parade perfect, and left.

As soon as Rex made it past the door, Fives cornered him. "Did she take the bait? Did she say the line?" Fives sighed in the face of Rex's confusion. "Rex, did she explicitly say we weren't the same person?"

Rex nodded. Had it been Fives with the Senator in this charade instead of him, he would probably have half the galaxy naming their hypothetical children by now. Selfishly, Rex was glad it was not. That was why Fives was the ARC trooper and not Rex.

Cody rounded the hallway. He grabbed Rex. Rex tried to shake his arm free before Cody pulled him down the corridor and Cody's grip tightened.

Rex freed himself. Cody banged his chest plate.

"They're voting now! Please tell she's going to make it," Cody said while behind him Harbinger made 'more or less' hand gestures and air quotes.

"Voting on what? Where? Who?" Rex asked. Cody wasn't making much sense and Harbinger's hand gestures weren't helping.

Cody brought up the holonews.

"-- nator Chuchi's Clone Personhood Bill, known colloquially as the Bucket-head Bill, has been brought forward in the senatorial agenda by Chancellorial fiat. Senator Chuchi is currently nowhere to be seen --"

"What are we watching?" Tag asked from somewhere over Harbinger's shoulder.

Fives shushed him and pulled him and Bly into the circle. All six of them huddled over Cody's shaky news holo, heartbeats too fast and synchronised, as they watched history get made, one way or the other.

"-- ah, Senators Amidala and Chuchi are joining Senator Organa at the tribune. Several vocal proponents of the Clone Personhood Bill are still missing from this emergency session; Senator Mothma will be debating from Chandrila via holo, with everything that entails --"

Chuchi and Amidala had both changed their hair since Rex had seen them last, not ten minutes ago. Their new hairstyle was halfway between both their earlier ones and somehow rigidly military too; it was a show of unity, not just with each other, but with troopers as well.

The debate began.

It was a very long debate and a very boring one. Harbinger left first, then Tag and Bly. Fives yawned and dowsed off halfway through Senator Mothma's speech before shaking himself off and going to get caf.

Rex and Cody remained standing and staring at the tiny blue figures in the space between them.

Fives returned right before Chuchi's speech. Galaxy's longest caf run. He gave a caf to Rex and another to Cody. The caf was boiling hot, even through Rex's gloves, and smelled like engine oil.

Before Chuchi had a chance to start speaking, she was accused of personal bias. The Ryloth Senator had too calculating a smile and too calm a tone for so crass a wording.

Chuchi had taken a step back, but now she was setting her jaw and straightening her spine. "Whether I love him or not, is this man not worthy of love? Are they not all worthy of love, of the care the Republic affords its citizens?"

She continued along that vein. It was a good speech, Rex thought, but she had shown weakness and there was blood in the water.

Chuchi tried her best. It was obvious, even for those who didn't know her, not just from the painfully earnest idealism in her voice but also from the way she started crying when Palpatine gave the results of the vote. She let out a sound that was more hiccup than sob. Amidala wrapped her arms around her, making a shield of her body for her friend. It was not enough to hide Chuchi's tears.

After that, the Senate rolled on to something else, another bill, another law, legislation or enactment, clause or amendment. In a way that was worse than the verdict itself. Rex and his brothers had been declared not people and it didn't matter. They didn't matter. They never had.

Rex straightened. He left Fives and Cody alone with the holo. He had inventory to do.

Rex found the inventory room easily. He didn't need to look at where he was going, not anymore. His feet knew the way on their own. The room in the Coruscant barracks was the biggest, but there was one on every ship and every one was the same. Each of them held the faces of the dead. An inventory of soldiers born to die who had done their duty.

Rex grabbed a helmet, shiny white, and some paint, 501rst blue. He sat next to Foxtrot who was painting one design, 212th yellow, over two helmets; Sugar and Spice had been twins even by clone standards, born from the same pod.

Rex stared at the helmet. He wasn't an artist. Scrape had been an artist. He'd done the nose art for half the fighters this side of the Deep Core. He had liked to paint tiny, absurdly intricate landscapes on the inside of empty blaster charges. A view of Alderaan under the moonlight had circled his helmet. He'd taped a vibroknife to the end of his blaster. He'd been shot in the back of the head by a droid from two miles away. Kid never had a chance.

Rex took a deep breath and began to paint. He was not awful at it, but he was not good at it, either. Scrape deserved a real artist. When Foxtrot asked if he needed help, Rex nodded. Between the two of them they managed a halfway decent approximation of Scrape's Requiem for a toy soldier. It'd been Scrape's face until General Yoda had him change it.

Now the original was on display in the House of Wren on Mandalore.

Scrape had loved that -- "on display, Rex! Like a real artist!" -- and he had loved even more learning that the child of the house had finger-painted all over it. Scrape had started keeping watch for news of the girl becoming an artist. Now he would never know if she did.

Rex waited for the final coat of paint to dry, then got up and set Scrape's face among the rest of the 501rst dead.

He took the time to pay his respects to all of them before he left. He owed his brothers this much, not for how they'd died, but for how they'd lived, in service of the Republic and justice for all.

When Rex left the room, Foxtrot was lounging against the opposite wall. "Hey, Rex, tell the Senator thanks for me. It's nice knowing someone thinks we're people."

Rex nodded. Foxtrot offered him the shimmer-crush he was smoking. Rex refused it. He was an officer. He could turn a blind eye out of compassion, but he could not partake, out of duty.

He made his way to the hangar, avoiding as many people as he could, and grabbed the first speeder. He drove out.

Once he was far enough away that no one would see him, he stopped the speeder and screamed wordlessly. Primal rage, pain, grief. He took a deep breath. Shouted insults at everyone involved. The Chancellor. The entire Galactic Senate. Senator Chuchi. General Skywalker. Himself.

He punched the dashboard. Insulted himself, again, for being such a Force-forsaken fool and daring to hope.

He restarted the speeder and drove towards 500 Republica.

The halls of 500 Republica echoed emptily, ominously. Rex glared at the decor and if anyone had spoken to him, he might have done something ill-advised, but he met no one.

When he reached Chuchi's door, he took off his helmet. He took a deep breath and knocked. There was no answer. He called her name. Still no answer. He put his helmet back on and opened a private channel to her comm. The helmet's sensors picked up buzzing from inside.

The door was unlocked and he entered.

Chuchi was at her desk, head resting on one arm. She kept tracing the label of a bottle of fancy Anaurna wine. Pantorans being notorious for being the one humanoid race that couldn't get drunk, there was something profoundly pathetic about it.

Scattered across the desk were also several datapads, most of them showing clone-related data and one mining equipment schematics. There was an empty bag from the cheapest burger place Rex knew and he could feel his arteries closing just looking at the greasy wrapper.

It would not pair well with Anapurna wine. It would not pair well with anything.

"I am sorry." Chuchi raised her head. The bottle rolled off the table. "There are no words to express my sorrow, but it must be nothing compared to yours."

Rex picked up the bottle. Empty. Pantorans could not physically get drunk, but she'd certainly given it her best shot. He'd have liked to give it a shot too. He sat down on the other side of the desk as he put the bottle back on the table.

"Foxtrot says thank you for seeing us as people." He took off his helmet.

"It was the least I could do. It was, apparently, not enough. I wish it had been," she said. "I could make excuses, but it is pointless. I have failed, and that is that."

"It can't be the first time someone's accused you of personal bias," Rex said. He drummed his fingers on the side of his helmet as he waited for her to speak.

"Not in such a way or so public a manner." The Senator had sat up in her chair, spine straight. Her hair was still up, in all its braids and plaits, and she was still wearing what she had worn at the Senate. Were it not for the tear tracks on her face, she would have looked every inch the dignified Senator she usually was. "Do you hate me, Captain Rex?"

"You did the best you could." Rex paused. She nodded and he continued, "I can ask no more."

"That's not..." She brought her hand to her lips and choked back a sound almost like a sob. She stood, walked away to look out the window. "That's not what I asked. I know I have no right to ask anything of you, but you have ever held for me a shred of respect, a spark of trust, I beg you to answer. Do you hate me, Captain?"

Rex shook his head. He walked up to stand behind her, looking her reflection in the eyes. "No. I do not hate you." He pressed a kiss to the top of her hair. "I trust you, I respect you and I am furious that you failed with the galaxy and the Senate, but I do not hate you."

She leaned back against him. Closed her eyes against the setting sun.

"You are too kind," she said, her eyes still closed.

"No. I'm a soldier." He touched the back of her hands, his armoured gloves against her skin. "These are not kind hands."

She turned around to face him. She took both his hands in hers. "Soldier or not, these hands can be kind; kindness is a choice given to all."

"I was never given a choice," Rex said.

"You are not wearing this armour by choice? Do you fear for your safety, captain?" She tapped a finger in the middle of his chest plate and looked up at him from beneath her lashes.

"I haven't got anything else to wear." He took a step back and stood to attention. "Especially not in such illustrious company. Senator."

She reached out for his hand, pulled it up and started slowly undoing the clasps of his vambrace. "You do not have to stand on ceremony with me, Rex; I've told you before to call me Riyo."

Rex let the Senator undo his vambrace in silence. When she was done, she set the glove on her desk and tangled her fingers in his. Her skin was soft and cool. With her free hand she took his and turned it over to expose the inside of his armoured wrist. She brought it to her lips. She kissed the gap in the outer armour between plates that exposed the under-suit at his wrist. She never once broke eye contact.

Someone cleared their throat. "I have a cake here for one R. Chuchi?"

"That's me." She stepped away from Rex, reluctantly, letting her fingers trail out of his.

She took the delivery box from the delivery boy, a particularly gangly Etti who took the credits she passed him without saying thank you but did say goodbye when he left. Senator Chuchi turned back to Rex and opened the box. As far as Rex was concerned that was far too much cake for any one person to eat.

"I must confess that somewhere between the halfway mark and the end of my bottle I became convinced you would not join me this evening, and so resigned myself to a night of cake and the Holonet." She smiled faintly. "It's not very romantic, but I would be honoured if you would join me still."

Rex nodded. They were past romance now -- and oh how he would miss her when it truly was over -- but that did not mean he could not enjoy cake, the Holonet and her presence for a night.

The Senator went over to the samovar and got a plate from the piece of furniture it was resting on. From the top drawer she took cutlery. Then she fetched another plate. "My apologies. I am unused to company. Please, make yourself at home."

Rex began taking off his armour. He set each piece down as if waiting for inspection. He stopped when he was in his under-suit and his boots.

"Here." The Senator had a plate of cake in each hand and was looking Rex up and down as if he were cake too. "No boots with cake." Rex looked down at her feet, noticing for the first time she was barefoot, toes curling against the carpet.

Rex sat on the edge of the sofa. He took off his boots and set them to the side according to regulations. The carpet felt fluffy and warm against his feet. Pantoran carpets were traditionally handmade; it was probably the most expensive thing he had ever touched. It was perhaps more expensive than he was.

The Senator sat next to him, knocking her hip against his so he would give her space to sit, and offered him his plate of cake. Between the two of them they'd made a severe dent into the cake, but there was still half left. The Senator started eating her cake -- inhaling described her speed more accurately. She rose to get another piece.

Rex took a bite of cake. It was really good. Someone like Tag or Boil might have been able to describe what made it good -- "the meringue marries perfectly with the chocolate" or something -- but all Rex knew was that in was light years ahead of rations.

When the Senator returned, she had brought him an extra plate of cake. She took her time with her second piece, but she was still finished before he was. Rex was having trouble processing the cake's flavour, to be honest. It felt too rich, too overwhelming, and became almost nauseating towards the end, but he persevered.

"Thank you for the cake," he said stiffly, suddenly acutely aware of the Senator leaning against his side.

"You are very welcome," she said. She bit her lip and blushed. She looked away. "Would you stay a while longer?"

By way of an answer, Rex leaned back into the sofa and pulled her against him so her head rested against his shoulder. She took up her datapad and made sure he could see it before beginning to browse the Holonet, including the site that had started them down this path. The more she browsed, the tenser she became. Rex could feel her pulling in on herself, her movements becoming more awkward.

"Are you alright?" he asked.

"I'm fine and this hairstyle is perfectly comfortable," she said. She was not a very good liar. Her free hand went to her hair and she began pulling at a hairpin.

The angle was easier for Rex to reach, so he covered her hand with his and pulled out the hairpin for her. He pulled out the next hairpin and the next and the next until he was done and her hair tumbled free. He ran his fingers through the silky soft waves of her hair to undo her braid.

He continued running his hands in her hair, loving both the feel of it and the way she melted against him as he did.

Rex kept combing his fingers through Chuchi's hair. He would start near her skull and pull his arm out until her hair slithered out of his grasp, at which point he could catch her hand, bring it to his lips to kiss the back of it and begin all over again once she pulled her hand back.

He focused most of his attention on that simple, soothing motion.

Chuchi jerked in his arms. He looked over her shoulder; the datapad contained the following comment: Poor Chuchi. I've fucked up romantically before but I've never fucked up so badly that I ended up criminalising fucking my boyfriend.

Chuchi began typing out a response, her fingers moving with the same kind of speed and efficiency as a trooper stripping a blaster. Rex continued reading the holosite -- he was becoming increasingly convinced that there were only five different people in the entire holonet -- and an embedded image caught his eye.

It was a picture of him and Chuchi, lying on her couch with Rex combing her hair.

There was a gigantic argument below that was updating too fast for Rex to follow. Then the picture was removed because The call is coming from inside the house and we don't out tinies. This sparked another vigorous round of debate. Rex wasn't surprised. He was surprised by the amount of enthusiasm shown towards the idea of Chuchi being a tiny. Yes, she was tiny, but that was hardly news.

The mystery was resolved by Given that she's one of us, I think we should do something nice for her. Peeps, it is a time-honoured tradition that we take care of our own, so I'm going to write her a fic. Anyone know what she ships?

Chuchi remained focused on her answer, seemingly oblivious to people now knowing she was a tiny. As far as Rex could tell, she was now quoting Constitutional by-laws with attributing footnotes.

Chuchi tried posting her comment. The screen greyed out behind it and above appeared Thread frozen, followed, in a different font, by Big fan of your work, but be careful about not outing yourself.

Chuchi shut down the datapad and sat up.

Rex followed her up, his fingers still in her hair. Her hair fell from his grasp. It fell like a curtain of silk, but did nothing to hide the tension in her shoulders.

"Can I help?" Rex asked. He was tempted to press a kiss to her temple, but he did not.

"You've done enough." She shook her head, as if to wipe away the sharp tone of her voice. "You do not have to keep being solicitous. The time for courtship is over. I should not have dragged you into this charade and I am sorry that I did."

Rex brushed the back of his fingers against her cheek. "I'm not."

"Thank you," she said. She stood. It was odd looking up at her, for once, but Rex found he liked it. "Again, I am sorry that I did not achieve what I set out to do. You have played your role admirably and the fault for it rests with me alone."

"No. You weren't the only one to vote on us not being people."

"Well..." She sighed. "That's part of what the vote was supposed to be about, but not quite what it ended up being. It was a vote on whether or not you deserved to be citizens of the Galactic Republic -- whether or not you are legally people was not voted on and so remains an open question."

"For the vast majority of the Republic's history, being considered a person and being a Republic citizen were de facto the same thing," Senator Chuchi continued. "However, they have never been the same de jure and there's the rub."

"Is this Basic?" Rex asked. It didn't sound like Basic.

She flashed him a smile. "For the most part. To phrase this without jargon: the Senate could not, for jurisdiction issues, vote on whether you are a person, but it could -- and did -- work on whether you should be a citizen of the Galactic Republic. Had the vote been successful, you would have been a citizen and a person, as one cannot be the former without being the later."

"Whether you are a person is a matter of civil law, not Senatorial law and, as established by last year's Os-Lac'h murder trial, the Republic will recognise the personhood of non-citizens and afford them all rights and privileges, save to those pertaining to the state," Chuchi said. "Is this clearer?"

"So what you're saying is --" Rex paused and reviewed both what she had just said and his own reasoning -- "if you kill me, my brothers will be free?"

Chuchi looked horrified. "No! ...Yes. Possibly? It would depend on how the court ruled." She stepped closer, until her knees bumped into his. She took his face in her hands and bent her head until their foreheads touched. "I hope it will not come to this; the galaxy would be a darker place without you in it, my good captain."

"Lots of clones can do what I do." Rex took her hands away from his face.

"But none of them are you." She brushed her lips against his.

"I... Thank you." Rex felt his face heat up. He dropped his hands in his lap and looked away.

She put a finger on his chin and turned his head back towards her. "Rex. If I overstepped, you must tell me."

"It's fine, Senator. Really, it is."

"I see." She drew herself up and stepped away so she was no longer touching him. "I must confess I had hoped for better than 'fine', but I will take what I can get and will not keep you." She held out a hand to pull him to his feet.

Rex took her hand and pulled her close until she fell against him, her knees on either side of his hips. She looked down at him, surprised but delighted. He braced his hands against the curve of her waist so he could sit up and kiss her fiercely.

Her hair fell over her shoulder like a curtain, cutting off the light from the window. She broke the kiss to tuck her hair behind her ear. Rex watched the Coruscant nightlife neon lights and half shadows chase themselves across her face.

He traced the markings on her cheek, remembering what she'd said about what they meant. Her skin was soft. His fingers drifted to her lips.

"Kiss me again," she said.

"Yes, Senator."

She laughed. It had an uncomfortable edge to it. "Rex. Please. Don't call me that, not now."

"As you wish." He took a deep breath. "Riyo." Her name sounded odd on his tongue. It was worth it to see her smile.

She leaned forward to kiss him. He pulled her flush against him, her breasts against his chest and the curve of her hips beneath his hands.

"Riyo, I appreciate what you're doing --" she raised an eyebrow at Rex's words "-- but my life is not worth more than my brothers' freedom."

"I did not think my kissing technique had deteriorated to the point where people would rather die than be subjected to more of it," Chuchi said. Her hand slid off his shoulder to rest in the hollow of his throat and her weight shifted backwards.

"That's not what I meant," Rex said.

"Wasn't it?" She looked brittle. He had both his hands loosely wrapped around her waist; if he held her tighter, would she shatter?

Rex hugged her carefully to his chest and pressed a kiss against her neck, at the edge of her shirt. He took the blaster in the small of her back, leaned back and placed it in her hands.

She checked the safety was still on. She rose on her knees to lean above him and drop the blaster to the floor over the top of the sofa.

"You are not helping your case," Chuchi said.

"If you kill me my brothers will be free," Rex repeated like a mantra. It was worth it. She had to see that.

"Oh, Rex." She kissed the top of his head. "There are alternatives."

"Which ones?" Rex asked. He didn't want to die, it was just necessary.

Chuchi stood. She stepped behind the low table, grabbed a hairpin and twisted her hair up at the nape of her neck -- just like that the Senator was back, in her posture and the cast of her face. "What do you see when you look at me?"

"I see you. Riyo Chuchi."

"That's sweet --" she smiled "-- but that's wrong. Outside, in the Senate, I am more than my flimsy self. I stand for Pantora. I stand for the Republic. People look at me and that's what they see, things much bigger than myself. My duty rather than me. In many ways, I am a symbol more than I am a person."

It sounded lonely, Rex thought.

"It is because we represent our entire planet that Galactic Senators cannot interfere in internal planetary affairs or get married. We cannot be biased. We must serve all the people to the best of our ability. We have a duty. We serve the Republic," she finished, tucking a loose wisp of hair behind her ear. The markings on her cheeks stood up sharply against the flushed blue of her skin.

"I'm not seeing much alternative," Rex said, mostly to see how she would react.

She let out a breath and the fire went out of her. "I can only think of one at present, truth be told. Perhaps in the light of day I will think of more."

"I want to hear it," Rex said. When she hesitated, he said, "You say you serve the Republic and you stand for your people. Allow me the courtesy of letting me do the same."

"Very well. You remember what I was accused of, at the debate?"

Rex nodded. He'd be lying if he said he hadn't thought about it, hadn't wondered if she had markings in places other than her face, hadn't wanted to unbutton her shirt and run his hands on her skin. He had wanted to do many things, but he had sense enough not to say any of this.

"To force the court to decide whether you are a person, the existence of a crime must depend on your status as such." She came to stand in front of him again. "If I kill you and you are a person, it is murder; if you are not, it is not. In a similar way, if we are to meet in sexual congress it is a crime if you are not a person; it is not if you are and you consent."

"I consent," Rex said.

She put a finger against his lips. "Don't be so hasty. I have not finished telling you the facts. For the court to be forced to decide, it must be impossible for anyone to deny that what is said to have happened happened."

"I understand," Rex said, once she had removed her finger.

"Are you quite sure?" she asked.

"If I didn't know better, I'd think you we you were trying to make me say no." He couldn't interpret the emotions rampaging across her face with any precision, but he still got the general gist. "Senator. Riyo. If you don't want to do this, just say so. But don't act as if I don't know what I'm doing. I do. Being a person means having the freedom to make choices. I choose this. Because of my brothers, yes, but I would do it anyway. If you were willing."

"You are a good man, captain Rex, and I am a hypocrite. I argue you are a person, but I do not let you make your own decisions. Perhaps this is a mistake, but freedom of choice is also the freedom to make mistakes and that is one mistake I'll make gladly," she said, coming closer to kiss him again and run her hands against his chest.

Rex found the buttons of her shirt and began undoing them while she started taking care of his under-suit. He hissed through his teeth when she brushed against the scar across his ribs.

She pulled back. Her shirt was half-open, baring her shoulders and the top of her breasts. Her hands hovered above his skin.

He nodded.

She touched him again, slowly, carefully, as if he'd break. Nobody had ever touched Rex like that before. He was a genetically engineered clone soldier; breakable was the last thing he was.

A ship passed outside, throwing better lighting on her face. She looked sad, so he kissed her again. When he pulled back she was smiling.


Rex woke up when Riyo tried to shimmy her way out of his grasp. He pulled her closer and kissed the spot where her shoulder met her neck, burying his face against her skin. She smelled nice; even the smell of her cold sweat had a certain charm.

"If you eat all of me now there won't be anything left for later," she said. She sounded like she was smiling.

He shifted again to let her go, but kept holding her hand. "There'll be a later, then?"

"Oh, Rex. Of course there will be, if you want it." She knelt to kiss him.

He propped himself up to meet her halfway.

She kissed him, then pushed him back down. "Go back to sleep, my good captain. Just this once, let there be rest for the weary."

Rex tangled his fingers with hers, brown interlacing with blue, and brought her hand to his face to kiss each fingertip, one by one. He let go.

She left and he went back to sleep surrounded by the smell of her.

Rex woke up when the sun got in his eyes. He pulled the cover up, turned around and curled into the warmth. He went back to sleep.

He woke up later, when it was dark again.

Fives was looming over him. "I am never covering your shift ever again. I honestly don't know which is worse, Skywalker or -- fucking hell man why are you naked?"

"Nothing you haven't seen before."

"Nothing I want to see again, either." Fives tossed Rex his discarded under-suit. "Please put on some pants, the galaxy has seen far too much of you lately."

"How long was I asleep?" Rex asked as he dressed.

"All day," Fives said. "This isn't like you. Why did you sleep so much?"

"She told me to go back to sleep." Rex finished snapping his armour in place. "Good soldiers follow orders."

A shudder ran through Fives. "Yeah, well --"

"Riyo?" That was Commander Tano's voice.

Rex snapped to attention.

"Rex." Commander Tano seemed unsurprised to see him here. "Is Riyo here?"

"I just woke up. Why?"

"She's not home" -- the thought of course this isn't her home what were you thinking lanced through Rex's chest so painfully he almost didn't hear the rest of what Commander Tano was saying -- "and if she's not here, I don't know where she is. The Security Force is looking for her."

"Are you here to help them or to help her?" Fives asked.

Commander Tano hesitated. "I... I don't know."

Rex finished waking up and remembered the night before the morning after. He fixed the wall a foot above Commander Tano's head.

"Senator Chuchi didn't do anything wrong."

"And she did a lot of things right," Fives said. He was aiming for pan-galactic champion in eyebrow waggling.

"Don't talk about Senator Chuchi like that," Rex snapped.

Fives raised an eyebrow. He picked up a datapad and showed Rex the holosite that had started this whole charade. It was currently titled Save a Bantha, Ride a Clone.

One of the first comments asked what the title referred to. It had been answered by quantities of pictures of Riyo and Rex that showed exactly what "Ride a Clone" meant.

Commander Tano made a choking noise.

Rex's face was on fire and he was trying very very hard to become one with the Force and never have to deal with any of this ever again.

A breaking news banner began scrolling across the bottom of the holo. It said Senator Chuchi was under arrest.

Fives shut off the datapad. He put a hand on Rex's shoulder and patted him awkwardly.

Rex didn't know how to feel.

It was one thing to know how events would theoretically unfold -- and to be entirely honest he'd had other things on his mind at the time -- but another entirely to know he was responsible for a good woman being in a jail cell. Being a Republic Senator imprisoned in the Republic he doubted Riyo's experience with chains was half as bad as Kadavo had been, but it was still worse than she deserved. And it was all his fault.

"I need to see her," Rex said.

"Okay," Commander Tano said.

Rex expected to have trouble locating Riyo or even be unable to visit her, but Commander Tano was a Jedi Padawan. That, apparently, opened a lot of doors.

Fives had left to run interference with Generals Kenobi and Skywalker. That left Rex and Commander Tano alone as they waited until Riyo's current visitor left. Then it'd be their turn.

The door opened. Out walked a humanoid dressed all in black. The clone in charge let them reclaim their personal effects then presented the now-empty bucket to Rex and Commander Tano. The humanoid left with a vague, awkward wave. Rex hesitated in getting rid of his blasters. He'd just gotten the grips smoothed out nice, too.

In her cell, Riyo sat, back rigidly straight. Her clothing was rumpled and her hair was dishevelled. She looked up at them from combing out the waves of her hair with her fingers. Her smile lit up the room. "Ahsoka." Her voice went soft. "Rex."

"Riyo!" Commander Tano rushed to the bars. "Are you okay?"

Rex remained standing at the door, helmet in his hands. He had wanted to see her and now he had seen her.

"I am unharmed," Riyo said. She had risen and come to stand behind the bars, facing Commander Tano. She looked at Rex. He held her gaze. Remained at the door. She looked away and closed her eyes. Took a deep breath.

He wanted to kiss her, he realised with surprise. Kiss her, hold her, tell her it would all be okay, smell the scent of her hair and hear her heart beating in her chest.

As if he had any right to any of that. She deserved better than a broken, half-grown half-dead soldier. She deserved someone who could love her the way she deserved to be loved, bright and free. She deserved a person.

It struck Rex when she looked up at him, eyes gold and clear, how foolish that thought had been. He was a person. He was not a good one -- what kind of sick fuck put a medic on a firing squad -- but he was still a person.

She did not deserve him. His hands had had the blood of his brothers on them and he wondered if he had left marks on her skin when he had touched her.

"My good captain," Riyo said. "Thank you for coming."

Rex shrugged. "Couldn't not come."

It occurred to him, suddenly, in the following silence, that it was a good thing Fives wasn't here. There were so many bawdy comments he would have said.

Rex stepped closer to the bars. He dug in his pocket. He took out the empty blaster charge with the flower inside.

"You kept it." A smile uncurled on Riyo's face like the sun rising at dawn.

"Should I not have?" Rex asked.

"You're a free man," Riyo said. "You can do whatever you want."

Would that it were true, he thought. He said nothing. He didn't want to break her heart.

"It reminds me of you." Out loud the words sounded small and the reason foolish. "You're worth remembering," Rex added awkwardly.

"That's very sweet," Riyo said. She sounded like she meant it.

Rex held out the blaster charge. The flower's blue had faded a little. What had been 501rst blue now matched the colour of her skin. She laid a hand against the forcefield between the bars. Rex pulled back the flower.

"I'm sorry," he said. Sorry for any of it, sorry for all of it.

He put his hand against the forcefield on top of hers.

"Do you remember what I told you, that first time?" Riyo asked.

Rex thought back to Orto Plutonia. "'I am making tea. Do you want some?'."

"You did not accept." She was smiling faintly.

"I'd never liked tea before and I wasn't cold," Rex said. At the time it had not occurred to him that the other was genuinely meant; he had only realised that when peace with the Talz had been brokered and by then it had been too late.

"That was not the first time I meant." With her free hand she knocked on the forcefield, level with his helmet.

"The first time we met face to face," Riyo clarified.

Rex thought back to the party. She told him to use his name, not his number -- to take off his helmet -- to show himself to be a person in the eyes of those who did not see him as one.

His grip tightened on his helmet. She was Pantoran, she wore her markings on her skin. He was a clone. To remove his helmet was to lose his markings. In becoming a person, he stopped being an individual -- she'd said it herself: "to the man of a million faces individuality can be external". By taking off his armour he would lose his hard earned Jaig eyes, he would lose the blue of the 501rst and his brothers. He did not think she understood the sacrifice she was asking of him.

"Visit's over," the guard said.

Riyo hastily pulled back her hand from the forcefield; Rex did not. His hand went numb when the forcefield was re-electrified. He tried to shake feeling back into it.

"Serves you right for landing Riyo in jail," Commander Tano said.

"Ahsoka!" Riyo took a deep breath. "Rex did not 'land me in jail'. The Republic has no place in the intimate affairs of consenting adults."

"He's half your age!"

Rex did quick calculations about Riyo's age. She was really young for a Senator, though not as young as Senator Amidala had been when she'd started. It didn't matter that he was half Riyo's age, anyway; clones aged twice as fast as regular humans.

"I said visit's over," the guard repeated. "You all seem like good people, but I'm gonna get in trouble if you don't leave."

Riyo waved at Commander Tano and blew Rex a kiss.

Once outside, Commander Tano said, "Sorry. It's just that I asked you to tags take care of her and now..."

"She knows what she's doing," Rex said, putting a hand on her shoulder.

"If you say so." Commander Tano sighed. "But you. You are okay?"

He patted her shoulder. She would take it as reassurance and it would stop him from lying. Umbara, almost, had broken him and Kadavo had compounded it, such that sometimes he found himself wondering if who he'd been had died, if the man he had thought he was had indeed ever been, if he'd ever been a person at all.

His armour was heavy on his shoulders.

Commander Tano pulled back her hand. "You should talk to someone. My friend Barriss is a healer."

"Is that an order?" Rex asked.

"Yes." Commander Tano was kind. She pulled him into a hug. She'd grown again -- she was growing almost as fast as a clone these days.

Commander Tano pulled back her hand. "You should talk to someone. My friend Barriss is a healer."

"Is that an order?" Rex asked.

"Yes." Commander Tano was kind. She pulled him into a hug. She'd grown again -- she was growing almost as fast as a clone these days.

Rex returned to the barracks and made his way to the roof. He lied down on the floor, helmet off. The colours of the sky danced slowly above him. He should have felt at least a semblance of peace. Instead, he felt full of thrumming, high-pitched energy.

Someone else stepped on the roof. He sat up and turned towards them.

"Hello," she said. "I am Barriss Offee."

Rex sat up. Offee was a Mirialan with a scattering of tattoos over her nose like freckles.

"I'm Rex," he said and did not even think of giving her his number and rank.

Silence fell.

Offee was first to speak. "I was on Umbara as well. Not with Krell, not until after..."

She trailed off, uncertain and ashamed.

Rex remembered. On Umbara, after Krell, once he'd managed to get hold of Cody, there'd been healers sent to the front lines. It had gotten ugly, the first Jedi after Krell -- it didn't matter if they didn't have their lightsabres with them, somehow the clones always knew, awareness in the dark of their brain buzzing like a saw against bone. It had taken the medics shooting everyone full of anaesthetic -- and hadn't that been a laugh and a half, clones shooting clones -- what kind of sick fuck put a medic on a firing squad --

"Rex." Offee had put two fingers against the back of his wrist. "You must not blame yourself."

"Who should I blame instead?" Rex asked.

"The Jedi."

"Krell?" Rex laced his fingers together to stop them from shaking.

"Him too." Offee's voice was emotionless, but the light in her eyes reminded Rex of Slick. It was the kind of light that said the ends justified the means; Rex had been seeing in more and more in the eyes of the Jedi.

It fell oddly on her, like a cloak too big and for her shoulders. Maybe she because she was a healer, maybe because she was Commander Tano's friend. Rex swallowed. "How old are you?"

"My age does not matter," Offee said. "Clones on battlefields the galaxy over are younger than me. That's wrong."

"Would it change anything if we were older?" Rex asked, looking down at his clasped hands in his lap.

She recoiled as if struck.

"That is not what I meant," Offee said.

"But it is what you said." Rex wondered when Riyo had rubbed off on him so much that he was talking like a politician now.

"It is. I suppose it would be better if the Jedi's enslaved army was simply an army of slave soldiers rather than an army of slave child soldiers, but there is a point where gradations in horror become ludicrous and counterproductive." She took a dee breath. "The Jedi have a slave army. Whether they are children or men full-grown, that is wrong and must be stopped."

"How do you propose doing that?" Rex asked. He was too tired to be angry. His fury and his wrath were out of reach behind his exhaustion and weariness as surely as Riyo had been out of reach on the other side of her prison cell wall.

Offee looked at him, eyes burning. Like General Skywalker. Like Krell.

Rex sighed. He let himself fall back until he was lying on the roof again. The sky remained unchanged. He threw his arm over his eyes. He sighed again. "Who would you be if you were not a Jedi? What would you do?"

"I would be a painter-farmer on one of Mirial's moons, in all likelihood. I do not believe I have ever conceived of having a life outside the Jedi Order." From the way he breathing grew short before she took a deep, he could tell she had come to the same conclusion he had, hearing those words.

The clones were not the only slave soldiers the Jedi had.

There was a rustle of fabric as Offee prepared to leave. "It was nice talking to you, Rex. I hope I was as helpful to you as you were to me; you have given me much to think about."

"You should talk to Riyo," Rex said, but Rex was smart, but he was not politician smart and Offee's were political thoughts. He caught himself. "I mean Senator Chuchi."

"Perhaps I should," Offee replied.

She left. Rex remained alone, staring at the Coruscant sky. He watched the troop transport depart for the war and wondered how many of his brothers were leaving and how many would come back.

That was how General Skywalker found him.

General Skywalker looked the way he always did when he had something to say and didn't know to say it. He looked like a child lost in skin too big for him. Eventually he said, "The trial is starting tomorrow. Chuchi's trial. Have courage."

Courage Rex had and so did Riyo. What they needed was help.

"Thank you," Rex said. He didn't move. He didn't intend to move until Cody came and fetched him.

"Do you have anything to wear?" General Skywalker asked.

"Why?"

"Only the Senate guards are allowed armour on Senate grounds." Skywalker drew his sabre and tossed it from one hand to the other. "Even Jedi are not exempt. Supposedly."

"Why would I need something to wear? The trial is held with no audience," Rex clarified.

"You're supposed to be there. Padmé says they're trying to make you a witness." General Skywalker did not seem to have realised he'd used Senator Amidala's given name.

"No, I don't have anything to wear." They only provided you with a parade uniform when you were Commander. Rex was pretty sure Cody had lost his that time Ventress had attacked the gala, but he had had one, at some point, and it'd been the only one Rex had ever seen.

"C'mon," General Skywalker said, pulling on Rex's hand. "I'll get you one of my robes."

Senator Amidala was waiting for General Skywalker when he and Rex got out. Rex had thought they were still doing the secret relationship charade.

"Ani!" Then, in a completely different tone of voice -- which Rex was quite happy about -- she continued, "Rex. Do you have a favourite colour?"

"I like blue?" Rex couldn't stop the statement from becoming a question. No one had ever asked him that before.

"We can work with that," she said.

She took one of his arms and stared at General Skywalker until he took the other. The two of them marched Rex right to her Senatorial speeder. The three of them sat in the back seat.

The speeder flew off before Rex had time to object. It was the nicest kidnapping he'd ever had.

Senator Amidala had a clone. That was the first thing that came to Rex's mind, seeing the two identical women side by side.

"Sabé, this is Rex. Rex, Sabé," Senator Amidala said.

Rex snapped a salute. As a Senator's clone she probably outranked him and even more so if they were twins.

"Nice to meet you," Sabé said. "Heard a lot about you."

Rex dropped the salute.

Senator Amidala patted him on the upper arm. "You'll never find a better clothing designer than Sabé. Trust me."

"Aw, shucks," Sabé said.

Senator Amidala repeated her compliment. Sabé pulled out a tape measure and told Rex to take off his armour. General Skywalker nodded. Rex obeyed. Sabé started taking measurements as Senior Amidala and General Skywalker left.

Sabé became a whirlwind of activity, never stopping -- not even when she took a call from her wife -- taking measures, holding coloured cloth to Rex's face and poking him with pins. Poking him with too many pins. "Why so many pins?"

"We don't have time to make you something from scratch, so I'm modifying something, so pins," Sabé said.

She made him try on something else. It was too small by an order of magnitude. The next thing he tried was too big and out came the pins again. It was white with a high collar. Sabé tried different ways of many the fabric drape. There was something Pantoran about the lines of the draping, but the cloth itself was shiny-white, with Sabé pinning stripes of 501rst blue to his sleeves.

When Sabé pulled back, Rex was wearing something that was half 501rst trooper armour, half Pantoran formal dress and half Republic parade uniform. That was a lot of halves, but Sabé managed.

"What do you think?" she asked.

"The only problem is the amount of pins." Rex had a sneaking suspicion he was utterly unable to judge the style of anything that wasn't clone armour, so he decided to trust the professional.

Sabé rolled her eyes at him and started taking down the pins. She stopped, motioned for him to take it off and began fixing the clothing in shape.

"Thank you," Rex said.

She shrugged. "Just doing my duty towards a fellow citizen of our glorious Galactic Republic."

"Thank you," Rex repeated. The sarcasm dripping off Sabé's words hadn't hidden the sincerity beneath; she thought him a person as much as she was.

"If you cry on this you'll ruin the weave," Sabé said. She held the clothing in front of her at arm's length, frowned and started correcting some invisible mistake. "You thought about what you're saying?"

Rex had not. Was it even really his place to argue his own personhood? That seemed awfully biased.

"You haven't thought about it?" Sabé had stabbed a pin in her thumb and was bleeding against the cloth. She didn't seem to have noticed.

"What would you say?" Rex asked. "If someone asked you to prove you were a person how would you do it? What would you say?"

Sabé was silent for a time. She plucked the pin from her thumb and cleaned the cloth as best she could.

"That," she said, pointing her bloody thumb at him. "I'd lead with that, make them question what right they have to call themselves a person or to call anyone else not one."

It had to be nice, being that confident in your own right to be a person, to be so sure you were one.

"Why don't you use it?" It was Senator Amidala, behind Sabé in the doorway. "We need anyone and everyone willing to speak."

"Anyone? Even me? You must be desperate," Sabé said.

"Oh, hush. But yes. We are desperate. Palpatine's made it clear where he stood on this -- unofficially, of course -- and he is the Chancellor. Those who would stand against him are few and far between," Senator Amidala said.

"I'll do it," Sabé said. "Can't say I expected him to declare some people are not, but I'm not surprised. Never liked him."

Rex realised Sabé had known Palpatine longer than he'd been alive.

The rest of the conversation washed over Rex's head, almost lulling him to sleep. He had an easier time telling his clone brothers apart than Sabé from Senator Amidala. Their voices merged into one and he fell asleep to dream he was Queen of Naboo.

General Skywalker was the one to wake him. "Hey, Rex."

"Hello, sir," Rex said. Was there caf? There had better be caf. While the silence dragged on, Rex managed to awaken enough to make words. Well. One word. "Caf?"

"Here." It was General Kenobi, with Senator Amidala on his arm and none of this was Rex's business.

Rex took the cup presented to him and drank, burning his throat. It was worth it; he needed to be awake for this. "Thank you, sir."

"Sabé testifies this afternoon," Senator Amidala said.

Rex finished his caf. "Already?"

"Matters concerning Senators are given priority in court, these days," Senator Amidala said. Her voice was unreadable. "Riyo will be at the audience. You're welcome there as my guest."

Rex looked down at the cup in his hands. It reminded him of Riyo. The porcelain was black with red flowers painted along the sides, nothing like Riyo's soft blue, but he was acutely aware of easily both could now break because of him.

He set the cup down.

"I don't know if I want to be there, but I think I need to be," he finally said.

And so he was.

He knew for a fact the clothing he was wearing was perfectly tailored and yet the collar felt too tight, the sleeves too itchy. Rex clasped his hands behind his back.

The audience chamber was empty. There was a screen showing the live broadcast on Legal Coruscant Programming holonet channel. Rex didn't know anyone who watched LCP -- maybe Riyo did, he'd never asked.

He couldn't see the jury from where he was, but he knew they were there. Artoo bumped into his leg and beeped. Rex went to sit where he was told to sit; Artoo stayed by his side. If Riyo was here he couldn't see her.

The trial began.

Senator Amidala was defending Riyo -- and, by extension, Rex's personhood and clone rights. Captain Tarkin was arguing for the other side. They should have left him at the Citadel, if that was how he was going to repay them.

Tarkin interrogating Sabé was interesting, if frustrating. She refused to be intimidated but was forced to answer truthfully and Tarkin knew just what questions to ask. Rex fancied he could almost hear her jaw grind from where he sat.

Eventually, she snapped, "What I want to know is why I'm a person and he's not. Because he looks like other people?"

Senator Amidala stepped forward, into the light, to stand at Sabé's side.

"So do I!" Sabé continued. "Because he was born in a pod? Neither of my fathers could bear children, so I too was born in a pod. What makes us different, under the law?"

"You are not genetically identical to Senator Amidala," Tarkin said.

"You don't know that," Sabé said. "What if I do? Does that mean that in every pair of twins, every set of triplets or more, there is only one who is a person? Or are none of them people?"

"I propose a motion to compare the DNA of Senator Amidala to that of --"

Sabé cut Tarkin off. "I refuse. Go ahead and make me; I'm a decorated war hero, see how that plays out with the press and the Chancellor."

So that was what happened to war heroes when their war was over, Rex thought. They became clothing designers and fought for other people's rights.

It sounded nice.

Tarkin had enough sense to realise pushing the issue would be a very bad idea; if Sabé was a war hero, it was because the Naboo Senator of the time of the Theed Trade Dispute had named her so and that had been Sheev Palpatine.

There was a beat of silence. One of Tarkin's assistant counsels rushed over and whispered in his ear.

Rex had a bad feeling about this.

"As a handmaiden of a former Queen of Naboo, your genetics are a matter of royal record on Naboo. I'm sure the Chancellor would approve of opening said record for this," Tarkin told Sabé.

Rex braced himself. Tarkin's smugness was not due to this alone.

"I believe it would be in the best interest of the court and its esteemed Jedi guests to adjourn presently," Tarkin continued. Now that he mentioned it, Rex noticed that all the Jedi were tense, humming like a blaster bolt the very instant before the trigger is pulled.

The trial was brought to a close for the day. The Jedi left, all at once, less like individuals than one thought across multiple bodies. Rex stayed behind.

So did General Skywalker.

He was staring at his hand -- the prosthetic one -- and talking to himself. "I didn't know you could do that."

"You can just leave," General Skywalker continued. "I can just leave. If I want to."

Rex turned to Artoo and mouthed 'what' at the droid. The droid broadcasted the daily news; the top item was Barriss Offee's resignation from the Jedi Order, with her former master's approval and effective immediately. The broadcast was live.

"I cannot remain inactive when good men are dying," Offee was saying. "The Jedi cannot testify in court or interfere in political matters, so I will no longer be a Jedi, that I may say, as my own self and independent of the Order: Clones are people."

Offee continued, "I wish I could say I leave the Order with a heavy heart and reluctantly. It is not so. The Jedi Order is not what it once was. The shining beacon of hope I grew up with has become corrupted. Has gone Dark. We were peacekeepers, we have become soldiers. Krell is not an aberration, merely the most visible of our mistakes. We sacrifice lives in an endless war, saying it is necessary, saying it's for the greater good. Saying it doesn't matter because they're not people. What good can be born of this?"

"Is the greater good worth our souls?" She paused. "It is not worth mine."

Later, when Rex checked Riyo's little corner of the holonet, it was pandemonium. There were arguments about clone personhood -- no surprise there --, the Jedi Order as an institution, the legitimacy of the continued war, the Jedi Order as generals, the price of a soul -- 21 credits was the consensus, apparently --, the Force as a concept... The only people who didn't seem to be arguing were the RPF people, whoever they were.

I can't believe there's fic already.

YASSSSSSS

I'm betting a soul's worth of credits that the Purity Police TM focuses on the Evils of RPF TM over the enslavement of millions of clones. {FROZEN: freezing the entire subthread because NO POLITICS ON MAIN MEME}

Your obsession with "the Purity Police TM" is creepy. {FROZEN: freezing the entire subthread because NO POLITICS ON MAIN MEME}

It's not slavery if they're not people. {FROZEN: freezing the entire subthread because NO POLITICS ON MAIN MEME}

What I can't believe is that the fic's Chuchi & Offee gen. Where are the clone orgies? Where's the dirtybadwrong femslash? CATER TO ME, HOLONET.

That reminds me, did shortshortshortlong ever write that Clone/Clone fic?

Urgh, shortshortshortlong.

CAN. WE. NOT. Just this once, please.

Now there'll be wank for sure, good job.

Oh, it's you.

*makes popcorn*

On second thoughts, maybe they were also arguing. It was hard to tell.

"Here," Fives said, interrupting Rex's thoughts by handing him a drink with a straw in it. He sat next to Rex.

Rex took the drink. It smelled like Boil's illegal, barely not lethal booze, but the disturbing thing was the question of where Fives had gotten the straws. Rex drank anyway.

"It was brave, what Offee did," Fives said. He swung his feet like he was still three.

Rex didn't answer. The booze burned his throat, but that was par for the course. He couldn't quite tell if the straw improved the experience or not.

"I hear they might take Waxer out of the 5-B tank and put him in a regular bacta tank soon," Fives eventually said. He began blowing bubbles through his straw.

"That's great!" Rex's joy didn't reach his heart. So many had died on Umbara; what difference did one life make?

Fives looked at Rex with a raised eyebrow and slurped his drink in a disbelieving way. He kicked his feet.

Rex sighed. "I'm glad Waxer's improving," Rex said, voicing his thought, "but considering Umbara, I'm not sure what difference it makes."

"Makes a difference to Waxer."

Fives started counting on his fingers. "Makes a difference to Boil. Makes a difference to me, that's one less brother I lost. Makes a diff--"

"That's enough. I get it," Rex said, cutting him off. He stood. For a moment he looked down down down and wondered... He breathed in deep and stepped away from the edge. He sighed.

He really wanted to see Riyo, hold her, kiss her, ground himself in her presence and the smell of her hair, the touch of her skin. He wanted to share this sunset and the way it set the sky on fire with her. Wanted to bring her the plant in her office so she'd have something to do.

Yes.

He could do that. He could bring her the plant.

It took Rex a while to get to Riyo's office. Out of habit, he knocked. He was cursing himself -- of course no one would answer, Riyo was in jail for his sake -- when some one said, "It's open."

Rex entered. In front of him, in robes shiny white, stood Senator Mon Mothma of Chandrila.

Rex snapped Senator Mothma a salute.

She waved a hand. "There's no need for that."

"Why are you here?" Rex asked. "Senator."

"The work does not stop simply because Riyo is in jail." Senator Mothma gathered sheets of flimsi as she spoke. "If the Senate stopped session every time a Senator was under trial, nothing would ever happen."

"As opposed to now," Rex said.

Senator Mothma's lips narrowed and her brow furrowed. "Senatorial apathy has been an issue for centuries and most of the Chancellor's attempts to curtail it have been gross overreaching of his mandate."

"Never thought about the Chancellor's mandate before," Rex said. Overreaching was never good, however.

"I assume Riyo gave you the speech about a citizen's duty to be informed. She's quite good at that one," Senator Mothma said. "Do you know where she kept her Bill drafts?"

"Top drawer," Rex said.

Senator Mothma opened it and flipped through its contents. She took several stacks of flimsis, then scribbled on a blank sheet that she handed to Rex. "When you see Riyo today, please give her this for me."

"Yes sir." Rex snapped a saluted again.

"Relax." There was the ghost of a smile on her lips. "Why did you come here?"

Rex walked over to the plant -- the small one by the samovar. The earth was damp. He grabbed the pot carefully; it was glazed clay and looked so very fragile in his armoured gloves.

"Will they let me give it to her?" Rex asked.

"Most likely, but I would not risk it with that tree," Senator Mothma said. "It's a chenungere bonsai. Those are extremely rare."

Rex looked at the plant. It did look a bit like a very tiny tree, now that the Senator mentioned it. Rex put it back carefully where he'd found it.

It was the only plant in Riyo office that could be transported easily. Rex asked, "Do you know where I can get a plant?"

"Riyo is the plant expert, I'm afraid." Senator Mothma paused. "I believe there is a florist on 300 Demokratia who sells live flowers."

Rex calculated the route to 300 Demokratia and how long it'd take from there to the prison. If he hurried he might be able to make it.

Rex saluted Senator Mothma and began to leave.

"Wait," she said. "Wait."

Rex waited.

Senator Mothma walked over to him. She reached in some hidden fold of her robe and took out a chit-card. "Here. Clones don't get paid, so I assume you don't have money. Buy Riyo something nice; bill it to expenses."

"Is that legal?" Rex asked.

"Believe it or not, it is. It's one of those odd financial loopholes that have been cropping up in galactic law since Palpatine's election to Chancellor," Senator Mothma said, her face furrowing into a frown.

She sighed. "I won't bore you with the details of the legislation and its long-term implications on sovereign tax law and planetary governance -- even Bail and Riyo would find it boring and you're out of time. Suffice to say that you'll need to comm me on a secure channel to verify the transaction."

Rex nodded and held out his vambrace. She inputted her comm code.

"Thank you, Senator Mothma," Rex said. Simply calling her 'Senator' would have felt wrong.

"You're welcome," she replied. "If Riyo asks, tell her I put you up to it and it serves the issue of Moff transparency and oversight."

"I will." Rex left.

Rex made it to the plant shop as it was closing. The person manually rolling down the metal curtain turned towards him as they heard his speeder stop. They were the humanoid who had visited Riyo in prison.

"Oh," the humanoid said. "Did you want something?"

"I'd like a plant," Rex said.

"Any specific plant?" they asked and that was the problem, wasn't it?

The humanoid seemed to sense Rex's distress and asked. "What do you need the plant for?"

"A gift," Rex said. "For Senator Chuchi."

"Riyo! Don't tell anyone, but she's my favourite costumer."

"Really?"

"No, I say that about all my costumers." Rex couldn't tell if they were joking. They began talking to themselves as they rolled up the curtain. "Riyo likes plants that remind her of home, but not too much. Plants that are purely ornamental -- 'nothing needs a purpose to deserve life' -- but not finicky, in case the Senate meetings last forever..." They browsed plants as they talked, discarding several as ones Riyo already had -- "she's a collector, she is" -- or for other reasons.

One of the plants hanging from the ceiling had wrapped itself around Rex's monocular sight. He tried to pull it off and found his glove stuck to the vine.

"Oh no no no, don't do that," they said, rushing to Rex's side and begin to disentangle the plant.

Rex stopped what he was doing.

"Not talking to you."

They managed to untangled the plant. It hissed at them. Rex's glove had deep grooves in it. What was that thing?

"Free plant and this never happened?" They were smiling but it didn't sound like a joke. It didn't reach the panic in their eyes, either.

Rex nodded.

Rex was handed a potted vine wrapped around a metal rod. It was a deep red colour, bordering on purple. It reached over his head when he held it.

"That's a grenote fruit vine. Makes fruit when it's in season. Is not in season. Water it when it starts going blue. Change the earth when the steam goes white. Medium-high cross-pollination index, but not interfertile with anything she already has. Other than that, it's like the Pantoran aptalen -- not the Pantoran Continental aptalen, the Pantoran Liruk aptalen."

When they paused for breath Rex asked if he could record them, just to make sure he didn't forget or misremember anything -- was "change the earth" even a thing? -- and they gladly agreed and repeated themself.

Rex made it to the jail before closing. They wouldn't let him take the plant in without testing so he left it in the speeder and went to see Riyo. She looked frazzled, hair a hastily combed mess, clothing askew and a bruise blooming over her left cheekbone.

"Riyo!" He rushed to the forcefield.

She met him there but would not meet his eyes. "I attempted to defend your honour and personhood."

"Are you hurt?" Rex asked.

"Only my pride. I did not expect Fett's temper," Riyo said.

"Boba Fett?" Rex asked.

"Yes. He is a clone of Jango Fett, just as you are. I would have thought he had a vested interest in the outcome of the trial."

Rex felt his face darken.

"My good captain, please. He is a child," Riyo said.

"We're the same age," Rex protested, even though Fett was -- barely -- older than he was and even though thirteen years to a clone like Rex was nothing like fifteen years to a boy like Fett.

Riyo shook her head. "I asked if he would be willing to testify. He demanded to know why I was trying to jeopardise his personhood --" Rex somehow doubted that was how Fett had phrased it "-- I countered that his personhood was worth as much as yours." She touched the bruise on her face. "And now here we are."

And now here they were. Rex traced the shape of her bruise against the forcefield.

"Visit's over," the guard said. She wasn't a clone, which was odd enough that Rex triple-checked that she wasn't an officer. No. She was rank-and-file. He hadn't known there were still non-clones at that level of the hierarchy.

Riyo blew him a kiss. She followed her guards out and back into prison. Rex waited until the door closed behind her to leave.

It was only outside that he realised he was still cradling the plant against his chest.

Rex got back to the barracks. The Coruscant barracks were always overfull and at this time he'd never find a bed to sleep in. There was a bunch of hammocks strung on the 35th between the hydrocarburator and the mist filter unit. A few of them were still empty. Rex picked the one closed to the floor -- hammocks gave him vertigo -- and settled the plant against his chest as best he could before going to sleep.

Rex woke up because somebody was stealing his plant. It was Fives. The traitor. Rex punched him.

Fives let go of the plant and said, "You missed breakfast."

Rex shrugged. Even non-clone humans could miss breakfast and live. He stood, hugging the plant close to his chest, just in case Fives still wanted to steal it.

"Are you -- are you keeping the plant?" Fives asked. He poked the plant.

Rex nodded. He needed to change; there was dirt all up everywhere, as invading as sand. He wiped what he could off himself and back into the pot.

Rex found a suit of armour in 501rst blue. Fives found him a helmet and painted Jaig eyes on it as Rex dressed. Every clone had dreamed of Jaig eyes as a cadet and gone through a phase of painting them on everything. Rex had once seen Shuffle draw them in his protein meal paste. The Kaminoans had not liked that.

Rex made his way to the trial, having left the plant to Kix with strict instructions not to let Fives anywhere near it. There weren't any seats left -- it was Offee's turn to testify and the Jedi had come to bear witness -- so Rex leaned on the back wall and crossed his arms. With the helmet on no one could see his frown; the new boots pinched behind the knee.

Offee was wearing white. It was brighter than even shiny white. It drained the colour out of her skin, tattoos like bruises on her cheeks.

She looked more like a Human corpse than a Mirialan. The green of her skin had become ashen grey in the stark light, her head veil a Naboo funeral shroud.

She started talking.

"The fact that we are having a debate on the personhood of sapient beings proves how broken, how corrupted the Republic has become," Offee began. "Look at this war. Look at those who fight it. They bleed, suffer and die for our sakes without choice nor consent while we remain safe in our gleaming towers. We have become Zygerrians and the Sith Lords of old, slavers, one and all."

Rex bit the inside of his cheek against the automatic response 'There's no slavery in the Republic'.

"There's no slavery in the Republic, we say and we hide behind false truths. There is no slavery because only people can be enslaved. The letter of the law is thus turned against the spirit and we betray both. Listen! We have bought ourselves good conscience by closing our hearts to the truth. The Dark does not become less Dark if you embrace it and call it necessary," she continued.

The Jedi's reaction to being called Dark was, to use a technical term, a shitshow.

Several of them were on their feet, shouting at Offee or the trial officers. Those still seating vibrated anger. The wall behind Rex was shaking. General Skywalker's face had drained of all colour and he remained seated, unmoving, the air feeling like lead around him, even from Rex's side of the room.

Master Yoda hit the floor with his stick. The wall rippled.

Silence fell.

An invisible storm seemed to gather within the courtroom, making the hair on Rex's arms stand on end. Offee was cowering in her seat. The assembled Jedi sat or bowed in respect. The light, already harsh, had shifted to a colder hue, leeching colour out of the world until all that remained was order.

Rex found his eyes drawn to General Skywalker. The man was hunched in his seat, face in shadow, eyes burning, fury in every line of him. Skywalker had been a slave, a long time ago.

"Incorrect, Former Padawan Offee is," Master Yoda said. "On trial, the Jedi are not."

Distantly, Rex heard Skywalker, an edge of lightning to his voice, say, "Maybe they should be."

"No."

The single word was enough to leave Skywalker an empty, broken shell of a man. Rex winced. Master Yoda had done what few could and drove dread into the Hero Without Fear.

"It was the Jedi who started the war," Offee said. "It was the Jedi who ordered themselves an army of toy soldiers. What does it say about the Jedi that no one questioned this?"

Tarkin jumped on the occasion to imply that Offee was complicit in the Jedi's actions. He went on to use the Jedi's use of the clones as foot soldiers and cannon fodder of the war as support of the fact that clones weren't people. Everyone knew the upstanding moral character of the Jedi. They wouldn't leave innocent beings in slavery, would they?

If Rex hadn't been on the other side of the room, he would have gone to Skywalker then. The man was weeping, silently.

Commander Tano showed comfort by holding his mechanical hand.

It seemed like Offee couldn't to let go of the question of the Jedi's culpability, even once in was Senator Amidala's turn to ask her question. Worse, it seemed like Offee couldn't decide whether the Jedi were culpable or not. Senator Amidala had had her talk about their innocence, reluctantly, but the more the talks went on, the more Offee returned true to form and accused the idea.

Against his will, Rex had to admit she had a point. It was the Jedi that send them to their deaths, just as it had been Krell on Umbara -- and it said lot that a traitor had been considered a hero.

When the trial was over for the day, Rex tried to go over to General Skywalker. He was on the wrong side of the room, though, and the Jedi were closing in on him and each other. Soon, Rex couldn't even differentiate anyone in the mass of brown robes.

Rex got out to find Kix waiting for him in a speeder.

"Check the holonet," Kix said. "Everything is on fire."

Rex booted his holonet access. It opened on Riyo's little corner of the holonet.

WHO THE FUCK DOES OFFEE THINK SHE IS was the first comment Rex read.

She has a point, but she didn't have to put it like that. was the first reply. The reply to that was No. She has zero points. I didn't vote for the Jedi, I didn't vote for Palpatine and I sure as hell didn't vote for clones. I have nothing to do with this fuckery and they can die forever in their endless war for all I care. Fuck all of them.

Rex's heart sank as he kept reading through the replies. The majority opinion seemed to be -- besides I'd like to fuck me a clone, if you know what I mean. -- that Offee had NONE POINTS WITH LEFT SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS.

It was as if the form of the message had offended people enough for them to ignore or reject its content.

Clones are people and I'm modcalling this shit because no politics on main meme was posted right before Rex's eyes. Within seconds the thread was frozen. Within seconds of that someone was complaining about the freezing.

Rex kept reading as Kix drove him to the jail. He was going to tell Riyo all the hot gossip. But, first, someone was wrong on the holonet.

Rex was still arguing with people over the holonet when they got to the prison.

The guard was the same guard as last time. The non-clone.

Rex realised, while he was waiting for the guards to get Riyo, that he'd forgotten her plant. He hoped news of the holonet would be enough.

Riyo arrived smiling. The bruise on her face was beginning to fade and her hair was swept up -- it was braided and the braid tied into a knot. He wondered if she'd done this alone.

"Hey," Riyo said softly.

"Hey yourself," Rex replied. He was aiming for casual; unlike with blasters his aim was off.

"It did not go as planned," Rex began. It was only halfway through his description of the events that he realised he was giving her a military report, not telling her about his day. He faltered.

"Offee is righteous," Riyo said. "When perceived as self-righteous -- which it will be, when accusations are made, however justifiably -- this gets people defensive."

"The best defence is a good offence," Rex said.

"I will not try to convince you of the innate good of sentient beings," Riyo said. She puts her hand against the forcefield. "It would be inconsiderate of me. You are a soldier, I am a civilian. I do not know war as you know war, but you do not know peace as I know peace."

Rex had never known peace. He was a clone; born and bred to die in the Republic's war.

"When it is safe, it is easy to be kind. It is easy to be cruel when that sense of safety is damaged." She pulled back her hand. "They feel under attack from Offee's words. I can only hope they come to their senses soon."

"You believe people are good?" Rex asked.

Riyo's smile was sad. "Someone has to."

"Does it have to be you?" Rex asked.

Riyo looked at him as if she were seeing him for the first time. "Are you volunteering?"

"Convince me."

"There is a belief, among my people," Riyo began, "that in the entire galaxy, there are only 36 people that the gods judge us all by. They are righteous, they are humble and they are kind. They embody the best of us."

"Are you one of them?" Rex asked. It seemed an innocent enough thing to ask, but Riyo recoiled as if struck.

"No! No, I'm not worthy. These are holy people. They're not called the hidden saints for nothing. No one knows who they are, not even themselves," Riyo replied.

She paused and shook her head. "No, I meant only that the galaxy still exists so they are out there, our righteous, and anyone you or I ever meet or hear could be one of them and should be treated as if they are."

Rex didn't know if he could believe in the innate good of the galaxy -- he was a soldier and above all he was not stupid -- but he thought he could believe in 36 good people.

"I understand," Rex said.

Riyo looked away, biting her lip.

There was a long moment of silent before Rex asked, "How's Fett?"

"He has received no visits -- I think he is lonely, though he will not admit it. I have taken to giving him what company I can," Riyo said. "He has been watching the debate. He has not expressed an opinion."

Rex wondered how Fett felt, watching the debate. He wondered how Riyo felt.

"I see you have a plant," Riyo said, a subject change so blatant Rex wondered if she'd been possessed by a Geonosian brain worm.

Rex nodded. "I got it from the shop at 300 Demokratia. For you." He held out the plant. "I got it for you."

Riyo's face broke into a smile. She touched her cheeks and looked away, as if to hide her blushing.

"It's lovely," Riyo said. "Will you take care of it for me?"

"I thought..." Rex held the plant out further.

She shook her head. "Not since Cad Bane's escape two weeks ago."

Rex looked at the plant. It remained as immobile and inoffensive as ever. He asked, "Cad Bane's escape?"

Riyo launched herself into a grand retelling of the event. It was an entertaining tale that, yes, involved a crucial plant. Rex only paid half attention to the story, though. He watched the way Riyo's hands danced in the air, the way her eyes shone. Thought about how much he missed her.

He leaned his forehead against the forcefield.

Riyo stood on her toes and leaned against the forcefield. She kissed it. Rex bent over so he could kiss the forcefield over her lips.

Riyo pulled back. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be," Rex said. He held up the plant. "I can take care of one plant."

"I do not doubt it, but that is not what I meant. I am sorry that the galaxy is a place such as this, that it is taking a trial to determine your personhood." She paused. Her hands flashed out and struck the forcefield with a speed and force he'd never seen from her before. "Promise me," she said. "Promise me that whatever is decided, you will never forget that you are a person. Promise me."

He knows he should answer right away, but Rex still takes the time to think about it. "What good would it do for me think myself a person if I am not?"

"Rex, oh Rex, my good captain, no," Riyo said, sounding mike she was about to cry. "Your personhood is not external. You cannot let others tell you who to be, what to do, what to think."

"I'm a soldier," Rex said. "Good soldiers follow orders."

Riyo broke down crying. She didn't cry pretty, but she cried silent. Rex would have given anything to wipe her tears away.

Instead she had to do it herself with the back of her sleeves. "I'm sorry, I'm tired -- it doesn't matter. Please don't say things like that. You're a person, you and all your brothers are people."

Rex bit back his answer -- are we?

"You are tired?" Rex asked.

"Yes." Riyo smiled weakly. "The Senate is a cut-throat environment, but not quite so literally. Don't change the subject!"

"I'll protect you," Rex said. Against what he wasn't sure -- anything, everything -- but he would.

"And who will protect you? I'm no fighter, I'm no healer and if I cannot convince you you are a person, I'm no diplomat," Riyo said. She put a hand against the forcefield. "My good captain, I am sorry that I failed you."

He put his hand over hers. "You haven't failed me. You haven't failed any of us."

She pulled her hand back and remained silent.

There was silence. It fell oddly around them, not comfortable, but not uncomfortable either, a vibroknife edge of uncertainty.

"I miss you," Rex said. It was no less true for feeling foolish. How could he miss her when she was right there, behind the forcefield? "I miss touching you."

"As do I." Riyo looked up at him through her eyelashes and Rex was suddenly very aware of being naked inside his under-suit.

"Please don't flirt," the guard said. "It's really awkward for me."

Rex wasn't sure whether he should apologise or not, so he just nodded. The guard nodded back.

"Senator Mothma sends her regards," Rex said.

"How is Mon?" Riyo asked. She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.

"She seemed fine," Rex said. "She's still working on the Bills the two of you were working on."

"Oh, good. I was afraid the new mining safety regulations would be delayed."

They continued talking for a little while, Riyo asking Rex about the progress of specific legislations. There was one she didn't mention, and it hung heavy in the air, a surer obstacle between them than the forcefield. Rex didn't bring it up, either.

When the visit was over, Rex returned to the barracks. He found as nice a place to put the plant as he could. What did plants like?

Rex played the recording of the flower seller. Water he could, soil he had. Sun, however might be on short supply on Coruscant.

The barracks had a section of hydroponics, the dregs of which Boil used to make his booze. The hydroponics had sunlight lamps, but Rex felt bad bringing his portable plant next to other, much-less-free hydroponics plants.

Boil could get him a sun lamp.

Rex went to find Boil and got a sunlamp from him. Waxer even helped him set it up in the dorm so it wouldn't bug anyone. Rex fell asleep the lamp's light on him and the plant on his chest.

Rex woke up curled around the plant, before first light. He got to the mess before anyone else woke up. In what felt like the galaxy's greatest gesture of trust, he left the plant behind.

There was one other person in the mess, a blue male Twi'lek civilian who looked lost.

"Hello. Can I help you?" Rex asked.

"Hi. Have you seen Wulf?" The civilian shook his head. "Admiral Yularen, I mean. I'm his husband. He was supposed to be back by now."

Rex nodded and pulled up the latest news on the Gaetuli -- he'd heard from Tango, who'd heard from Echo who was onboard the ship that Admiral Yularen was also on board. "There was a void storm off the heliosphere of Chergui, so they had to cut comms and take a detour. Should be back soon."

"Thank you," the civilian said, almost imploding from relief.

The man sat and started talking in a hushed, frenzied whisper. "It's just... I worry, you know? I hate this war, what it's doing to him. Sometimes I feel like, well, he's not the man I fell in love with anymore? Like some part of him was killed by this war and I wasn't even there for him when it happened. I have no idea why I think that. He loves me, I know that. He blew off Thrawn to come to my holo expo the other day! But actually it's the not knowing that gets to me. What has he done that he won't tell me? It's all well and good to say he's fighting droids, but you're people and you're dying for him and he won't talk to me and I don't know what's happening to him!"

There was a pause. Rex shuffled awkwardly from foot to foot.

"I love him," Admiral Yularen's husband said. His tone of voice made it clear that was the end of that.

There wasn't anything Rex could say to that. He hadn't even known Admiral Yularen had a husband before now. He poured the man a glass of water and gave it to him.

"I'm sorry for the babbling," the man said. "Thank you for the water. I'll go now."

"You can stay," Rex said. "We can have cake." It was a bit of a wild shot, but cake was good. Cake made people feel better, Rex still had Senator Mothma's testing-the-Moff-regulation credits and he remembered the logo of Riyo's cake place. They could have cake, if they wanted.

Rex kind of really wanted cake now.

Yularen's husband didn't say anything, but he also didn't leave, so Rex took that as a 'yes'. Ordering cake was more complicated that Riyo had made it look like and by the time Rex got off the call to Senator Mothma he'd acquired something of an audience.

"I want cake too," Fives said.

Rex nodded. Senator Mothma had told him to order "all of the cake, Captain Rex, as you must make up for lost time". That was a lot of cake to eat, even with help.

"Are we having cake? Awesome! I've never had cake." That was Tag. The sentiment was soon echoed by everyone present -- except Harbinger, who remained stubbornly silent. Rex ordered him cake anyway.

Rex, in fact, ordered all the cake. Senator Mothma had commanded him to.

By the time the cake showed up, it didn't feel like they were having cake or even cake for breakfast, so much as both celebrating their future legal personhood or mourning any hope of it in some sort of -- as Ashes said -- "last hurrah party for sort-of-free clones". With cake.

Word of the party spread. Even cake-less clones were partying. Rex wondered when was the last time any of them had looked this -- childlike. Not just happy, but innocent as well. Like nothing mattered except the moment. Like they weren't clones born and bred to kill and die for the Republic, but citizens of any world in the wide galaxy, sharing if not cake or booze then the idea of them with friends and family.

Rex suddenly felt very old. He wondered if he had ever been that young, that carefree.

He wondered if he ever would.

Rex grabbed a piece of cake and made his way to the infirmary. Tema sat up when she saw him. She was out of the bacta tank, but her right arm was still in the B3 splint proto. Her other limbs were skeletons of wires. Her right leg had ceramic plating on the upper thigh. A crude drawing of the skyline outside the window was unfinished on it.

"Hey," Tema said. Her face was different, less like his, more like her own. CT-1776 had gotten in trouble for it. Cody had had a fit and the trouble had disappeared.

"Got you cake," Rex said. He placed it on the bed, near her free hand.

Tema broke off a piece of the cake with the spoon and ate it. She made a face. "This is too sweet for me."

"Oh. Sorry," Rex said. He reached for it.

"I didn't say I wasn't gonna eat it."

Tema ate the cake slowly, in tiny forkfuls that had more to with the size of the fork than anything else. "It's very sweet but you get used to it. Like your Senator."

Rex put his burning face in his hands. She patted the top of his head as she laughed.

Tema's laugh faded. Her hand slid down Rex's head, exposed wiring catching lightly on his hair. "Sorry," she said. "And thank you."

"It's only cake," Rex replied.

"No, it's not."

"I met your Senator," Tema said. She tapped her knuckles on her leg, metal against ceramic. "It was a while back. A good long while. She wanted to make sure we would want to be free. I thought that was kind of stupid."

"What did you tell her?"

"I can't be a woman if I'm not a person."

Rex nodded. It was a fair point, well-made.

Someone knocked on the door frame. It was Yularen's husband. He said, "Today's trial is opening early."

Tema made shooing motions at Rex. Rex ruffled her hair as he left. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her make a face at him.

"I'll drive you," Yularen's husband said. "I'm Priscus, by the way. I don't think I've said."

He hadn't. Rex put on his helmet. "I'm Rex."

Priscus' vehicle was... Rex had no idea what it was. It looked like someone had tried to build a speeder without having either seen or even heard of speeders. Yet when they got inside the rumble of the engine was bigger than for a ship thrice the size.

"I made this speeder," Priscus said and Rex could tell another tirade was incoming. "I build, collect and race speeders as a hobby. Well. More like speeder. I only have this little lady but she is my pride and joy. I came in third in the Lower West Coruscant derby last month! Did terrible things to the paint job, though. I wish paint was as easy as holos to get right. I'm a professional holotaker -- weddings, birthdays, all that, you know -- well, I guess not..."

Rex let the words wash over him. The sky was grey and low, the skyline a bare shadow against it. It weighed on him like the galaxy on his shoulders.

The building looker bigger, like it would swallow him whole. Rex tried and failed to resist a shiver inside the armour. Priscus still hadn't stopped talking.

Priscus stopped the speeder far enough from the building that Rex would have to arrive alone but close enough that it didn't look like that was what he was doing. Rex got out. He began to walk, hands carefully not in fists inside his armoured gloves.

"Wait for me!" Priscus shouted after him.

Rex stopped. When he was a few steps away, Priscus made a 'go ahead' motion with his hands. Rex went ahead.

The walk to the room seemed to take forever. Once he was there the only thing Rex could see was Riyo.

Rex was halfway across the room before he'd taken off his helmet. A couple more steps and Riyo was in his arms, the metal of her shackles digging in the back of his neck.

She smelled stress-sour and her hair was soaked with cold sweat, but he didn't care.

She kissed the spot where his jaw met his neck. "Please put me down, my good captain. I am unused to such heights."

Rex put her down slowly, carefully, as if she'd shatter at his touch. He bent so she could pull her shackled hands over his head. The tired, stretched arc of her body relaxed when her heels touched the floor once more.

"I missed you," Rex said, as if it hadn't been obvious from every line of his body when he had held her.

"And I you," Riyo said. She stood on tip-toes to briefly press her lips against his.

Rex smiled into the kiss.

And just like that the moment was over. Riyo was escorted one way, Rex another, fingers trailing out of each other's hands. Rex held the moment and the memory of the feel of her inside himself, guarding it more preciously than a Jedi a lightsabre.

Rex sat next to Commander Tano. Shed gave him a discreet thumbs-up and he nodded in acknowledgement. On her other side was Offee. The next nearest Jedi was three rows away.

The trial began.

It took Rex a moment to recognise the woman on the stand. The mining overseer looked like a different person under the tribunal's harsh light, small, scared and dressed in ungrimy clothes -- Sabé's handiwork, if Rex wasn't mistaken.

The Chiss pulled her shawl tighter around her, for comfort. "H-hello."

"I... I wanted to thank Captain Rex for saving my life," the Chiss said. It had been a routine rescue mission, Rex remembered. If any life-saving had happened, it had been on General Kenobi's side of things.

"Ah, yes," Tarkin said. "General Kenobi's rescue mission on --"

"No." The Chiss paled. "I mean, yes, but that's not what I wanted to thank him for."

She pulled away her shawl, revealing her prosthetic arm. Rex hadn't noticed during the rescue, but the technology was not just crude, it was downright archaic.

"I lost my arm in a mining collapse when I was seventeen. I was lucky or the Dimwald was with me, because nineteen people died." She shrugged. "That's the mine for you. When there's a big blowout the galaxy goes 'oh how terrible' while you're having to build your own replacement arm. Two weeks later there's another collapse. Round and round it goes."

She took a deep breath. "We haven't had a collapse in months thanks to Mister Rex."

Rex had no memory of this. He knew nothing about mining and had no idea what she was talking about.

"When Mister Rex was rescuing us, he said clones were sterile to avoid copyright infringement. I said that was fuc--" The Chiss paused, clearly editing what she'd been about to say "-- stupid. He told me to contact a Senator with my issues and gave me Senator Chuchi's private comm. Now we have the No Boom -- the Chuchi Mine Scaffolding Bill. So I wanted to say thank you."

"Also." She stood up and leaned forward on her arms so she could be as close to the mike as possible. "It's really fucking fucked up that they're slaves."

"There is no slavery in the Republic, by law," Tarkin said.

Rex had a scar across his ribs that said otherwise. He pressed a hand against his side and the phantom pain.

The Chiss bristled. "Open your fucking eyes!"

"Just because you say they're not people doesn't make it not slavery," the Chiss said. She continued, right over Tarkin, "How are they not slaves?"

Rex was curious to see how Tarkin would answer that.

"Slaves are property," Tarkin said. "They can be bought and sold at will. Clones cannot."

The Chiss stared at Tarkin, waiting for him to continue, as did Rex and the rest of the audience. But Tarkin, seemingly, was done.

The Chiss scrunched up her face. "They're not slaves because you can't use your money to pay for one?"

"A slave is a person treated as property," Tarkin said. "If, for the sake of argument, I agree that clones are people, the fact still remains that they are not treated as property. Therefore, even if they were people -- which, let me remind you, they are not -- clones would not be slaves."

Hearing Tarkin say he agreed clones were people gave Rex hope. Even with the caveats, even if Tarkin immediately walked it back.

In a complete non-sequitur, the Chiss asked, "Do you pay taxes?"

"I fail to see the relevance, but yes," Tarkin replied. Rex also failed to see the relevance.

"I," the Chiss said, smiling slow and almost cruel, "have some bad news for you."

"It's your money that pays for the clones," the Chiss said. She held up a sheet of flimsi full of handwritten calculations. "I did the math. Given the GAR budget, the price of clone batches and other publicly available information, 0.35 of every tax credit goes to buying clones."

It had never occurred to Rex to wonder where the money to buy clones came from. Everyone, on every world, was the answer. He felt like throwing up.

The Chiss was still talking. "Offee was right when she said we'd all become slavers." A pause. A blink. "Well, you lot; I'm too poor to pay taxes."

There was a shout from up in the gallery. Rex turned to look. A Rhodian was up there, hands covering his mouth. A gaggle of children surrounded him.

"I'm not a slaver," the Rhodian said. His voice carried surprisingly far in the sudden silence. "I can't be! I'm a good person! A law-abiding citizen. I pay taxes! I'm a school teacher, I'm doing my best --" He broke down.

The children began panicking.

The Rhodian pulled himself together visibly, through sheer force of will. "Okay, kids, let's calm down and get back to the school, yes?"

As the children arranged themselves into a line, he looked at Rex and mouthed 'Sorry'.

Rex turned his attention back to Tarkin and the Chiss. The Chiss was leaned back, jaw set, knuckles white around her flimsi. Tarkin was unfazed, but his assistant kept looking between their notes, the Chiss and the door.

Over on her side of the room, Riyo was looking down at her hands in her lap. The line of her shoulders was rigidly straight and unmoving.

There should have been silence and, indeed, for a moment, Rex thought there was. Then he realised there was a soft, organic sound like swishing fabric that the buzzing of the holoscoops didn't cover. The entire room was whispering to one another -- even Commander Tano and Offee were talking. Both of Offee's hands were gripped talisman-like around Commander Tano's, whose other hand was on Rex's vambrace.

Tarkin's assistant said, their voice cutting through the murmurs, "No."

Tarkin turned towards them. "You have something to say, Ensign?"

The way he said the word, there was something twisted about it, something hard and cold and cruel. Rex hadn't known you could do that; 'clone' got twisted into an insult like this, but this was different, this was addressed to a person.

The ensign shrank back, shaking their head. They stopped mid-shake, looking right at Rex, and turned into a nod.

"I can't do this," the Ensign said. They swallowed. "I will not. It's wrong."

They paused. Closed their eyes. Whether to escape Tarkin's withering stare or to gather their thoughts, Rex couldn't tell.

They opened their eyes. They stepped away from Tarkin. "I won't follow orders into being a slaver. Because this is what this is, isn't it? If we say clones aren't people because we need slaves to win the war then... Then we don't deserve to win. We can't lose our souls like this. We have to be better than this or else what's the point?"

Senator Amidala stood, alone in the silence. She said, "I move for this trial to become open jury."

Rex looked at the current jurors, typing away at their holopads.

"Motion passed."

The entire audience, excepting Rex himself and the Jedi, got out their holopads. Offee handed hers to Commander Tano, who passed it on to Rex.

Rex looked at the screen. He looked again. The words remained the same. He had to -- or rather, Offee had to, as this was her holopad, her being addressed, her being asked to do her duty by the Republic -- choose whether Senator Riyo Chuchi of Pantora (suspended) was guilty. Choose whether clones were people.

Guilty. Innocent. No answer.

Rex's fingers hovered over the screen. Blood roared in his ears; he felt very small and unable to take such a decision.

If he looked at it simply from the point of view of whether Riyo had done anything wrong, the answer was simple. She hadn't. Add in the question of clone personhood, however, and Rex didn't know what to do.

He looked up and saw the assistant and the Chiss looking at him. He saw the crowd, faceless, nameless, distant in the glow of dozens of holopads and thought of millions, billions more, out in the wider reaches of the Galactic Republic.

Rex thought about Krell, dead except in his nightmares. He thought about Offee, giving up the only life she'd ever known. He thought about Master Yoda, starting a war and not caring about the cost.

He thought about General Skywalker and Commander Tano.

He thought about Riyo. He thought about her hidden righteous. He thought about their charade, the holonet and Because clones are people, fuckface.

He thought about Boba Fett. He thought about Jango.

He thought about his siblings. Fives, Tema, Kix, Cody, Wolffe, Harbinger, Dogma -- even him --, Tag, Scrape and all the rest of them, known and unknown, dying even now in the Republic's war.

Rex took a deep breath. In the end, he had only one choice.

Innocent.

Rex breathed out. Shakily, afraid he'd drop it with the trembling in his hands, he handed the holopad back to Offee. Commander Tano held his hand as they waited for the results to come in.

The room wasn't silent but Rex couldn't make out anything over the beating of his heart. He could hear the beat of each individual ventricle and feel all his blood flow, every vein and artery, to the lungs and back, to the brain and limbs and back again, over and over and over, making him aware of his body like never before outside of the battlefield. His all too human body.

Commander Tano stiffened next to him. Rex followed her gaze. The ensign was staring down Tarkin.

They grabbed the rank insignia on their shoulder and ripped it off. It joined its twin on the floor. Rex hadn't realised quitting the army like this was something people did in this day and age.

Sabé stepped out of Senator Amidala's shadow to hand the ensign a holopad.

Tarkin touched the stripes with his boot. "You realise this has no value, not even dramatic. It will be court martial if you do this."

Rex thought the gesture had had plenty of dramatic value, but a part of him couldn't help but be glad actions this archaic had no legal value. It pained him to agree with Tarkin on anything, however faintly.

"Bring it," the Ensign said and took the holopad from Sabé's hand.

Rex waited. Riyo was fidgeting with her hair, endlessly braiding and unbraiding it in ever different styles. It seemed to give her some comfort and Rex regretted that his hair was too short to do the same.

Next to him, Commander Tano and Offee were breathing in time with each other. Rex tried to match his breathing to theirs as well. All it did was make him jittery; his leg bounced up and down without his say-so.

Time sped up and slowed at the same time. Rex leaned all his weight on his leg to stop the bouncing, to no avail.

Offee leaned over and put a hand on his knee. The bouncing stopped. She pulled back.

The room was half empty now. Evidently people could come and go while the open jury was in session. Rex remained seated and waited for the clock to run out.

War was 90% waiting. So, it seemed, was justice.

Sabé approached with food. It smelled like... Rex had no idea, but he hadn't eaten in far too long and now found himself hungry enough to eat an entire bantha. Sabé had food for him and Commander Tano -- Offee had left a little earlier to see her former master.

They ate. They waited. Rex half-slept, even, for a while.

The countdown on the holoscreens neared zero. Rex's heart was vibrating more than it was beating. He locked eyes with Riyo, her hands laced together with knuckles white.

"Back to your seats. The court will reopen formal proceedings."

Rex hadn't even known they'd closed.

Rex sat, staring transfixed at the screen. Zero. The wait was over.

The details of the results began being announced. Billions had voted one way, billions the other. Billions more had expressed indifference. The numbers were big, too big, he needed to see them written down to understand them properly.

"-- votes so a majority of 12.33251%, Senator Riyo Chuchi of Pantora has been declared innocent by the galactic public."

Rex rocked back in his seat. He barely felt the air leave his body, he was so numb. From very far away he heard someone call his name.

Commander Tano threw an arm around his shoulders. Rex fell against her. She turned the sideways embrace into a hug.

Rex returned the hug. The beat of Commander Tano's heart pulsated through her montrals, echoing against his cheeks. He closed his eyes and relaxed, as best he could.

Commander Tano broke the hug. "Rex. Rex, look."

Rex followed her gaze to the other side of the room. The Ensign was taking Riyo's shackles off. Riyo looked up; when she saw Rex, her smile lit up like a plant blooming in the sun.

Rex stood, took a step forward and stopped. Riyo's smile was still there, but it had faded around the edges. They were both equally unsure, equally hesitant.

Riyo walked towards Rex. In came Fives, from the left at full speed. He picked her up, twirled her around and set her back down, all while singing her praises. Literal singing, consisting entirely of the words "you're the best" repeated on a loop. Rex winced; Fives couldn't find a tune with a map, exact coordinates and a reconnaissance squad.

Fives went over to the Ensign to waltz them off their feet, still singing.

Riyo was blushing and hiding her smile behind her hand. Rex crossed the distance between them.

Riyo took Rex's hands in hers, interlacing their fingers.

"You are free," she told him. "You are free, you are free." She let him go.

He was. He was free and every single of his clone siblings with him, from Fett to Tema to Fives. Free. Free. They were all free, every last one of them. Down here on the ground, out there in the stars, all free, all free, all free.

Free to live and die for anything or nothing or everything.

Rex fell over Riyo to wrap her into a hug and hide his tears in her hair.

Riyo laughed softly. She was crying. Rex felt her tears against his skin. He started smiling.

They were free.