Actions

Work Header

Guilty

Chapter Text

"Guilty. "

The word echoed from the holofeed. The room around Rex exploded into sound. He sat in the middle of the storm of protests and cursing from his men. 

"She's innocent!"

"She'd never do it!"

"What the kriff are they on?"

Rex stood up. A few of the men closest to him stopped their shouting to stare at him. They were waiting for his reaction. They wouldn't get one. The turmoil ripping his insides apart was his alone. 

Rex made himself walk out of the room. He just needed to get to the small room the boys called his office. He passed other clones as he walked through the barracks, all talking about the verdict. Some called out to him. He couldn't stop. If he opened his mouth he would break. He just needed to make it to his office. 

As soon as the door slid shut behind him, he jabbed the lock in place.

Rex leaned on his desk and squeezed his eyes shut. 

He was part of this. Part of the guilt was on him. He had called the APB even though he had known it wasn't her. 

Fox would have called it if you hadn't. A logical voice inside of him said.

But then I wouldn't have been the one to betray her. He argued back. 

A scream was building up inside of him. He scrambled for his helmet, made sure the comm was off. As soon as he was safe, he let out the raw sound that he had been holding back. He clutched at the side of the desk like it was his blaster against a platoon of clankers.

Thoughts ran in circles in his head.

She was caught because of you. 

She's alone because of you. 

She's going to die because of you. 

Rex's breathing became ragged. He suddenly couldn't stand to have his helmet over his face. He ripped it off. He couldn't breathe, he couldn't breathe. His heart thudded, a punch to the chest with every beat.

The logical part of his mind told him he was having a panic attack, something he hadn't had since he was a shiny. 

He grasped at the thought and forced himself to take deep breaths. Slowly his heart slowed, his breathing became normal, and he pushed the thoughts away as best he could.

Someone banged at the door. Kriff, couldn't they leave him alone? 

He quickly dismissed the thought. His men needed him. She was their Commander too. He had to call on all of his training to straighten up, push away the tears gathering at his eyes, and walk calmly to the door.

It was Fives. He was angry.

"What are we gonna do, Captain?" He asked without preamble.

Rex shook his head.

"There's nothing we can do." 

He hated the slight tremble in his voice that he knew Fives could hear.

"There's nothing legal we can do." Fives corrected.

Rex stared at him.

"You're not suggesting-" 

"That's exactly what I'm suggesting." Fives said. "How many times has the Commander stuck her neck out for us? How many times has she gone back for us? How many of us would be dead if it weren't for her?"

Rex looked away at the ARC trooper's words. Fives pushed on.

"General Skywalker would have us do it. You know she isn't guilty!"

"We would be breaking the law , Fives!" Rex said. "This isn't just not following orders. We'd be as guilty as they think she is."

Fives grabbed Rex's shoulders.

"They are going to kill her, Rex." Fives hissed. "Just like Krell was going to kill me and Jesse."

Images came flooding unbidden into Rex's mind. His brothers pressed against the wall, hands bound, and waiting for their vod'e to kill them for doing the right thing. Rex hadn't done enough then. He could have done more, but he didn't. He'd been a coward. It was the bravery of their brothers that had saved Fives and Jesse. 

Something inside Rex broke. This would not be Umbara.

A flame of hope for his commander flickered into life.

"I can't ask the men to do this." Rex said. "It'd just be me and you, Fives."

"And us!" 

Rex and Fives turned around to see Jesse, Kix, and Tup standing just outside the room.

"Didn't anyone tell you that it's rude to eavesdrop?" Fives said, but he sounded more amused than angry.

"We figured you'd get the Captain to do something like this." Jesse said. "We want in. She's our Commander too."

"Five still doesn't give us great odds." Tup muttered. 

"We've dealt with worse." Fives said bracingly. "Now, we need a plan."

"We might just be able to do it without being caught." Kix said.

"It's gonna be obvious we did it, Kix." Jesse said with a roll of his eyes. "Armor on or off. The place is covered in cameras."

Rex caught on to Kix's line of thinking.

"But will they know which clones did it?" He mused. 

"Yeah, they will." Jesse said. "I don't know if you noticed, Captain, but I've got an enormous GAR symbol on my kriffing head."

"We won't be using our armor." Rex said. "And we won't be going bare. We've got those spare sets of shiny armor."

Fives laughed. 

"No one can tell us apart in those, not even us!" 

"We'll still need getaway ships." Tup said. 

"At least two." Jesse put in. "One for us and one for her."

"I can get those." Rex said. "General Skywalker has a few, er, unlicensed ships he keeps holed up in a, um, less reputable shipyard."

His men stared at him.

"Why doesn't that surprise me?" Kix muttered.

"Would he be okay with us using them?" Jesse asked.

"We're saving his kriffing apprentice!" Fives scoffed. "Of course he'd let us use them!"

"I'll get the ships. Kix, you're with me." Rex told them. "Tup, go get the armor. Fives, work with Jesse on what we'll be doing once we get there."

He was met with a chorus of "Sir yes sirs!"

"Good men. Make sure no one else knows about this. I'd trust each of the men with this mission, but the fewer people who know about it, the fewer people who can slip up."

They nodded and Rex jogged out into the barracks. His mind was racing with what he knew of the GAR facility Ahsoka was being held at. It felt so good to be doing something about it, he could nearly forget how massively traitorous this operation was.

"Rex!" 

Rex jolted to a halt as he exited the barracks.

Six clones were hurrying towards him, Cody at the lead.

"Cody!" Rex said nervously. "What do you need?"

He was confused as he realized Wolffe was right behind Cody. He recognized the other four: Boil, Wooley, Boost, and Sinker.

It was Wolffe who spoke.

"General Plo and Kenobi sent us." He growled. "Said to help you break Commander Tano out."

What ?

Rex stared at them.

"How did they know?" He stammered.

Cody grinned.

"General Plo said something about knowing you'd do the right thing."

There was a stab of guilt at the thought that Rex nearly hadn’t done the right thing. 

"Fives and Jesse are in my office. They'll fill you in." Rex said.

Cody nodded and the six headed into the barracks. 

Rex watched them go. The plan might actually work. 

 

It was as Rex was flying one of the dilapidated crafts back to the rendezvous that his comm chirped. He hesistated, but recognized General Skywalker's frequency.

"Rex here." He said.

"Rex, I just heard the verdict." The General's voice was a grating blend of anxious, furious, and urgent. "I'm on the tail of the real culprit. You need to ge Ahsoka out, now! That's an order!"

Rex swallowed. If it was discovered that General Skywalker had ordered them to break thr Commander out, things could go very poorly for all of them.

"Yes, sir." Rex said.

"Good. Be careful. Skywalker out."

 

A few hours later, the eleven clones were gathered in front of two ramshackle transports. 

"Remember, everything on stun." Rex said. "They are still vod'e . (Brothers)"

"They won't be giving us the same courtesy." Wolffe said. 

"The Coruscant guard can't hit the broad side of a Hutt." Fives scoffed. 

Rex gave him a look.

"Any injury we get can be used to identify us." He went on. "So be on your guard."

"And don't speak." Wolffe supplied. "We communicate through hand signals."

The others looked at him. 

"We all have the same voice, vod (brother) ." Cody said.

"Speech patterns." Wolffe grunted. "Even the slightest clue might give us away."

"Better safe than sorry." Rex agreed. "Probably shouldn't use comms, either."

Fives rolled his eyes, but Wolffe nodded approvingly. 

"Are we ready?" Rex asked. 

They all nodded. Rex was struck with how ridiculous this was. They were going to attack a highly secure facility with eleven clones. No Jedi, no back up, and barely a plan. 

Commander Tano was worth it.

"Helmets on." 

Almost in unison they pulled on their unmarked helmets. They looked at each other. They were identical. Good. 

The flight was odd without the usual pre mission wisecracks. Rex had a brief moment again of the sheer insanity of what they were doing. Of course, one could say that turning on your Jedi general was pure insanity, and they had pulled that off. As well as half of the missions the 501st and 212nd went on. Normally, however, they had General Skywalker.

They docked on the exit pipe of pipelines near the facility. Rex grimaced at the grimy water stagnating at the bottom of the tunnel.

He tried not to remember the last time he was there. 

This was the easy, if not dirty, part. They never patrolled these pipes. Ahsoka had been one of the first to try and escape through them. 

Rex peeked his head through their exit, the same way Ahsoka had come in. There were no patrols nearby. He signalled the others and they all scrambled out. They moved together through the gathering darkness. The spotlights were easy enough to dodge. 

It was when they saw their first guard Rex got nervous. He stopped the others with a hand and took aim. This shot, and there was no going back. Rex pulled the trigger.

And missed.

Kriff kriff kriff !

The startled guard whirled around and was met with a stun to the face. Rex turned to see one of his companions, maybe Fives, with a raised blaster. The trooper made a motion with his arms that clearly said, 'what was that?' Definitely Fives.

Rex jerked the blaster in his hands at Fives. There was a reason he used his DCs instead of the standard issue pieces of scrap. 

He let Fives take the lead after that. He hated to admit it, but the ARC trooper was a better shot with the average blaster. They only encountered a few guards patrolling the outside. Each was expertly taken out by Fives. It seemed they expected the Commander to break out, but not for anyone to break in

Once they knew they were in sight of the entrance cameras, they all straightened up and walked as casually as they could through the doors. No one came to stop them. They arrived at the detention area. The guards at the control desk barely had time to look up before they were stunned.

Rex and two of his companions he assumed to be Wolffe and Cody rushed to the monitors. A few taps brought up the prisoner list. 

Cell B12. 

Rex nodded to his brothers. They saluted and broke off. Each was followed by four of the others. They charged into the halls of the detention center and split off. 

Rex waited a moment. They needed time to secure the surrounding hallways and draw away the guards.

Finally he let himself get moving. The diversion had worked. He could hear shots and shouts from nearby, but his path was nearly clear.

 Then, as he turned the corner, he plowed into two troopers. His blaster jolted from his hands from the sudden impact and he heard two more clatters. Rex didn't think as he grabbed the nearest clone.

Sorry, vod. He thought as rammed the guard into the wall. The other got to his feet and grabbed Rex from behind. Rex threw himself backwards into the opposite wall, but the trooper held on. Rex slammed himself back again and this time there was a sickening crack against the wall. The guard dropped. The other had grabbed a blaster. Rex tackled him and forced the gun down. He tried to tear it out of the guard's hand.

The blaster went off.

The guard screamed and collapsed.

For a horrifying moment Rex thought the shot had killed the trooper. Then he saw the smoking hole in the guard's thigh armor. Painful, but nowhere near lethal. Rex picked up his own blaster and stunned both guards for good measure. Then he set off again.

He rounded the final corner and skidded to a halt in front of cell B12. 

Ahsoka was curled in a corner of the cell, face buried in her arms. She didn't look up when he approached, which worried him. She wasn't scanning with the Force like she normally was.

He tapped the lock and the shield buzzed off. She snapped her head up. Her eyes were wide with fear.

"It's-it's time?" She whispered. 

Rex had never heard her sound so broken.

She thought he had come to execute her. The thought made him sick. Rex noticed her pupils were dilated. He'd seen something similar with troopers Kix treated on the field. He frowned. Was she drugged

She seemed to have noticed the lack of red paint on his armor because her brow scrunched in confusion.

"Who-?" 

Rex jerked his head to the side. We have to go . Ahsoka didn't move. He felt a presence nudge against his mind. She was trying to see who he was. It felt odd. Ahsoka had reached for his mind before, but it had been quick, precise. Now the only way he could describe her mental touch was fumbling and sloppy, like she was knocking against his head. He tried to let himself be as open as he could to let her know he was on her side.

He jerked his head again and held out his hand to her. She stumbled to her feet, took a staggering step, and rushed into his arms.

Rex stood stunned as she buried her face into his chest. Her arms clutched at his back so tightly he thought his armor would crack.

For a moment he let himself return the hug. Kriff, if she didn't need it. He realized with a jolt that she was hanging off of him, using him as a support.

She was definitely drugged. Rex felt a surge of anger, but quickly quelled it. There was nothing he could do about it now.

He took one of her arms and slung it over his shoulder. He gestured to the hallway.

"Right." She said.

He was pleased to see her attempt to stand a little taller, eyes a little more focused. But she still wasn't in good shape. Whatever they had given her  seemed to have dulled both her mind and body. They needed to get her out before any real complications happened.

Rex helped her back the way he had come. She jolted to a halt in front of one of the fallen troopers. 

"They're not-"

Rex shook his head hard. He made the hand signal they used for stunned. Ahsoka relaxed somewhat.

"Good."

They turned the corner and froze. A red clad trooper stood in the middle of the hallway with his blaster trained on them.

Fox.

 

Chapter Text

" Aruetti ." Fox snarled.

Rex didn't flinch at the accusation. Dread ran down his back as he realized Fox's gun was pointed directly at Ahsoka. Rex felt Ahsoka tense next to him. He tried to position himself slowly to put himself between her and Fox.

"Surrender or she dies now." Fox said. 

Rex scoffed inside his helmet. So you can kill her later ? He thought with a snarl.

He simply shook his head. His mind raced. Rex didn't have his blaster aimed; Fox did. In any case, Fox was probably a better shot with the standard blaster and Rex had his Commander hanging off of him. And whatever was in Ahsoka's system wasn't going to let her dodge a blaster bolt.

"Why her?" Fox asked. "She's killed vod'e !"

I told you, Rex thought angrily. I know her. She would never.

Again, the only thing he did was shake his head.

Even from a distance, Rex could see Fox's rage. He understood, at least in part, his brother's anger. His mind flashed back to Krell. To have someone that was supposed to lead you kill your brothers; it was one of the worst things Rex had felt. 

But he knew Ahsoka. He knew how much she loved her men and how much their lives mattered to her. That was worth protecting.

So he lifted his chin defiantly at Fox. He needed to provoke a shot made out of anger. So he said a single word, in the most monotone tone he could muster.

" Shabuir. "

It worked.

Several things happened at once. Fox pulled the trigger. Rex threw Ahsoka behind him. Fox stiffened as a stun blast hit him in the back.

Fox's bolt rammed into Rex's shoulder. He let out a grunt of pain and fell to one knee. Ahsoka crawled to his side.

He managed to look up to see five unmarked clones standing over Fox's prone body. The one who had taken the shot moved forward and roughly hoisted Rex to his feet.

Rex gave a hiss at the harsh treatment. Whoever it was was furious and not afraid to show it. It could be Cody, Wolffe, or Fives, angry that he had given himself away, or it could be Kix, angry that he had gotten himself hurt.

No, Kix was the one kneeling in front of the Commander, making sure she was unhurt. Fives was probably the one miming banging his head against the wall.

"I'm fine." Ahsoka said. Her voice was slurred. "I think he needs help though."

She gestured to Rex. Kix looked at his captain and Rex could swear he could hear the medic’s thoughts. It’s the di’kut’s own fault.

Kix helped Ahsoka to her feet and turned to Rex. Rex waved him away. They didn’t have time. They’d probably treat him on Kamino before they reconditioned him because he was a kriffing idiot . Better yet, they might just have him executed, negating the need for treatment. There was no escaping this now. Rex was marked and could be identified.

Now wasn’t the time to drown in self-pity. He knew the risks when he decided to rescue the Commander. Just the sight of his men surrounding her helped set his mind at ease. 

He nodded to the others and they moved . Kix had Ahsoka hanging off of him. He could have sworn one of them purposefully stepped on Fox. They reached the entrance to find the other five waiting.

Their leader, through hand motions, communicated that they had neutralized all hostiles, but reinforcements were on their way. Rex nodded and signalled for them to get moving. The eight troopers surrounded him, Kix, and Ahsoka in a tight circle.

They encountered only a few stragglers that didn't stand a chance. Once they were outside, they could hear the troopers coming, shouting to one another. 

Ahsoka squeaked as Kix hoisted her over his shoulder. Rex was glad he did. Their speed was doubled without her limping along. Rex grimaced at the throbbing pain in his shoulder. It was something that always annoyed him. Why create an army of cannon fodder soldiers and give them the ability to feel pain?

Focus , he told himself. The pain was causing his mind to wander. They could see the lights of the searching troopers. They hadn't gotten the massiffs yet. That was good. The guard had little chance of finding them without the animals. Even with the massiffs, Rex hoped the overwhelming clone scent would confuse the animals a little. 

Rex's stomach dropped as they approached the pipes. Their getaway hole was surrounded by troopers. So they had learned something. The others stopped in unison in the dark, unseen by the guards. 

Rex's mind raced. Ahsoka didn't have her lightsabers, so the old standby wasn't an option. Then he realized one of his troopers was holding something up. Detonators.

Rex was caught between laughing, rolling his eyes, and sighing with relief. He'd guess the trooper was Wolffe. The commander was too paranoid for his own good. Always had to have a back up plan. Rex didn’t quite know when Wolffe had set the explosions, but he was thankful he had. 

Wolffe led them further down the pipe. He pressed his detonator and two explosions rang out. One was small, right next to their position. The other was enormous and farther along the pipe. There were shouts and Rex could make out the troopers guarding the original entrance moving to investigate. 

The first explosion had opened up a hole just large enough to get into.

Rex wasn't quite sure where in the system they were, but one of the troopers confidently took the lead. Rex hoped it wasn't Fives.

They could hear echoed splashing and shouting from the distant pipes, but they didn't seem to be getting much closer. They themselves kept to the sides, on the dry edges. 

They didn't dare light their way through the dark pipes. Their leader seemed to know what he was doing. They managed to reach the crossroads that split the way between the two ships. They stopped and looked at each other. Ahsoka was in no condition to go by herself. One of them would have to go with her.

Without warning, Kix walked over to Rex, lightly set Ahsoka on her feet, and dragged Rex over. Rex found himself supporting his commander and Kix stepped back.

Rex looked at the men. He didn't want to leave them, even if he was practically caught already. One made a shooing motion. Rex nodded. 

"Thank you." Ahsoka said. Her voice was tight with emotion. "All of you."

They all snapped to attention and gave her a salute. Even in the low light Rex could see Ahsoka's almost shocked expression. She managed a salute back.

Rex tugged her along and they stumbled off together. 

Rex could hear the others start to move away. He prayed they'd make it. 

He and Ahsoka were moving far slower than he would have liked. He couldn't help but notice that she was shaking and hanging on to him a little too tightly. Luckily they weren't far from the ship. Right as they boarded, Rex heard shouts of the guard.

The second the ship's door closed he tore off his helmet.

"Sir, hold on tight." He told her.

His arm was going numb, but he'd have to push through it. 

He was scared for a second as she stared at him blankly before she nodded and headed for the co pilot's seat. 

Rex followed her and turned on the engine. Mostly one handed, he steered the ship into the scattering of transports already in the air. His hand was shaking as he let their ship slowly sink with the others. 

Rex caught sight of the Guard gathered in several exit pipes. Relief washed over him. They were looking around, scanning for any suspicious ships. They hadn't been seen.

Rex collapsed with a groan back into the seat. Kriff, he really needed to get something for his shoulder.

"Here," He managed and leaned forward. "I know a place we can lie low."

He tapped in the location, an old shipyard that was filled with beat up old ships, and set the ship to autopilot. 

The ship changed course.

Rex cast a sidelong glance at Ahsoka. She was rigid in her seat, hands clenched. Her eyes were still not quite right.

"You should get some rest." He told her. "There's a bunk back there."

"Y-yeah." She said.

She stood up shakily, took two steps, and collapsed to her knees.

Rex leapt to his feet, ignoring the burst of pain. 

"Commander!"

He knelt by her side.

"Are you hurt?" He wouldn't put it past her to hide an injury from Kix. In any case, he shouldn't have let her try to move by herself. 

She shook her head and placed a hand on her forehead. 

Kriff, was she crying?

Commander Tano didn't cry. She had been in countless battles, been buried alive, enslaved, kidnapped, infected by a lethal virus, and endured a war for over two years. She had never cracked, at least not in front of Rex or the men.

But here she was with her face wet with tears and shoulders shaking with sobs. He supposed part of it could be whatever was in her system, but even then, it was a shock.

Rex didn't know what to do at first. He had dealt with breakdowns before, but they were always vod'e , not his Jedi Commander.

His mind flashed back to the time after Umbara. She had been with him then, the only one besides Cody to see him break. She had just been there. No words. Rex hoped that that's what she needed now.

He settled himself down next to her. 

He moved without thinking, stretching his arm out to place around her shoulders. He froze. What was he doing? Rex couldn't just touch her without permission. It just wouldn't be right. He slowly drew his hand back. 

Ahsoka noticed the movement. She grabbed his hand. He stiffened. She held it for a moment before pulling herself into his arms.

She pressed her face into his uninjured shoulder. There was no hesitation now as he put his arms around her. 

They sat there for a long time, Rex just holding her, until her shaking sobs subsided. 

Ahsoka still didn't let go. Neither did Rex.

"Thank you." She finally whispered in a trembling voice. "I was so alone."

Rex gently shifted her back until he could look her in the eyes.

"Sir, as long as we are alive, you will never be alone."

It was as much a promise to himself as it was to her. He would never hesitate again.

She closed her eyes and leaned into him again.

"You really should get some rest, Commander." He told her. 

"That's what I'm doing." She murmured.

"Not on me, sir."

She grumbled a little, but didn't resist much when he helped her to her feet. She still swayed, and Rex nearly had to carry her to the bunk. 

She kept staring at him as he got her settled, as if she still couldn’t quite believe he was real. She tugged at his hand as he turned to go. 

“Your shoulder.” She muttered.

Rex eased his hand out of hers.

“I’ll be okay, Commander.” He said. “Don’t worry.”

He could see she was still worried, but he couldn’t do much about that. He went back to the controls of the ship and watched as they made their way to their destination. They were in the undercity now, grimy and dark. He didn’t exactly like being down here, but it was far easier to disappear. He had worked with the Coruscant Guard enough to know that. The ship jolted as it landed. 

Rex winced as he stood up again. He really needed to get something for his blaster wound. He checked on his commander. She had fallen asleep, curled up in a ball. Rex went about searching the ship’s containers. It was old, yes, but that didn’t mean there weren’t a few useful things lying about. He was lucky. There were some old blankets, a few very old ration bars, and an ancient med pack. 

Rex threw two of the blankets over the Commander. The rations he set aside. He determined that they'd have to be very desperate to give them a try after the clunking noise they made when tapped against the wall.

Finally he cracked open the dusty pack. Bandages, a few unlabeled syringes, pain pills. Beyond hope he pulled out an albeit old bacta patch. He wasn't sure how effective it would be with how old it seemed, but it was better than nothing. 

He took the patch and the remaining blanket and headed back to the front. He had to get his armor and blacks top off before he could properly stick the patch on. As soon as it was secure Rex hurriedly pulled his blacks top back on. The commander was asleep, but he didn't want to take any chances. He finally settled himself down in the pilot's chair to keep watch. He wasn't sure what they'd do now.

 

Fives drummed his fingers against the durasteel table in front of him. Jesse was besides him, trying desperately to hold up the ‘scared trooper’ façade. Fives had given that up. He’d gotten too bored and irritated. 

He glanced up at Fox, who was standing silent sentinel in the corner of the windowless room.

“You gonna tell us why we’re here?” He asked for the thousandth time.

Fox just stared at the opposite wall. Fives rolled his eyes and studied his bound hands in front of him. He of course knew the reason he and Jesse were here.

The Guard had come for them a few hours after the Captain and Commander had escaped. What had confused Fives is that they came for only Fives and Jesse. Tup and Kix were left alone, and Fives was pretty sure none of the 212th or Wolf Pack were taken into custody. The Guard had said nothing to them after the initial arrest, and they had been waiting in this kriffing room for over an hour. If they were going to execute them, or torture them, or whatever, they could at least be prompt about it.

The door slid open and Fox stood up straighter. Fives felt an interesting mix of revulsion, distress, and loathing at the sight of the person who entered the room.

Admiral Tarkin.

The hut’uun that Echo had died trying to help save. The greying admiral eyed them with equal parts disdain and disgust. A part of Fives was glad his hands were secured. He might have attacked Tarkin. He might try regardless. 

“ARC-5555, CT-5597.” He said.

Great. The numbers. Fives stole a glance at Fox. He could tell even the commander was uncomfortable with the dehumanizing way Tarkin addressed them.”

“So do we get to know why we were arrested now?” Jesse asked. 

Tarkin narrowed his eyes.

“Ahsoka Tano was aided in escaping late last night by a number of clones.”
Fives let a grin fall on his face.

“That’s great news!” He said. 

Tarkin’s mouth drew into a tight line. 

“Wait a minute, you think we helped break her out?" Jesse said. 

Fives was impressed with how shocked Jesse sounded. He sounded as if he hadn't wrestled a member of the guard down in the facility the Commander had been held at only a few hours before. 

Tarkin just stared at Jesse.

"Where's Rex?" Jesse asked. "I'm not saying anything until the Captain's here."

"CT-7567 is suspected to be with Tano." Tarkin said in a clipped voice. 

Jesse's eyes widened and Fives did his best to copy him. 

"Then I want General Skywalker." Jesse said. 

Tarkin's mouth tightened further.

"If you will confess, you will be sentenced to reconditioning, rather than death."

Fives couldn't help but give a derisive laugh at that. Instead of death, they'd give them a fate worse than death. What a deal. 

"I'm not saying anything until General Skywalker is here." Jesse said. 

Tarkin glared at him. Finally he turned to Fox and nodded. Fox left the room. 

"You are being rather quiet, CT-5555." Tarkin remarked after a moment. "This is quite different from what I have been informed of you."

Fives met his gaze easily.

"It's because I hate you."

He wasn't afraid of saying that. It was the truth, or at least part of it. Tarkin didn't need to know about the fact that Fives was a terrible liar and under orders from Jesse to keep his mouth shut in any and all situations that required lying. Of course that rule was normally in place for when they were trying to keep something dumb from the Captain, not trying to save lives.

Tarkin raised an eyebrow. 

“How interesting, considering I cannot recall speaking to you at the Citadel.” 

Fives couldn’t keep himself from speaking.

“My brother died to try and get you out of that hell-hole.” He snarled. Jesse elbowed him to shut up, but Fives didn’t care. “Can you tell me any of the names of the clones that died for you?” 

Tarkin looked annoyed.

“I fail to see-”

“And let’s not forget that Commander Tano herself personally saved your pathetic life!” Fives interrupted. “But that didn’t stop you from trying to get her executed.” 

“It was her duty.” Tarkin said coldly. “As it was mine to attempt to bring justice to a criminal.”

Fives opened his mouth to make a biting reply when the door slid open again. Fox stepped in.

“Sir, I’m sorry, he was here already-” He muttered to Tarkin.

“What do you-”
General Kenobi walked in.

“Admiral Tarkin.” He acknowledged before turning to Fives and Jesse. “Fives, Jesse. Are you all right?”

“Yes, sir.” Jesse responded. “Where’s General Skywalker?”

“Anakin is currently in pursuit of Commander Offee.” General Kenobi said. “It was discovered she was involved with the bombings. She escaped off-world.” 

Fives blinked and tried to remember anything about the Mirialan padawan. He had only seen her once or twice. She had been friends with Commander Tano, he knew that at least.

“Now, I would like to know why these troopers are being held.” Kenobi said to Tarkin. “As far as I knew, we had no leads on who was involved in Ahsoka’s escape.”

Tarkin cleared his throat.

“ARC-5555 and CT-5597 have a history of treason.” Tarkin said coolly.

Five jerked his head, ready to counter Tarkin when General Kenobi gave him a ‘look.’

“If you are referring to Umbara, I believe they were cleared of all charges when it was revealed that General Krell was himself a traitor.” Kenobi replied in an equally chilly tone.

“It is enough to place them under suspicion.” 

“Fortunately, I am able to absolve them of such.” Kenobi said. “Jesse and Fives were at a meeting with me during Ahsoka’s escape.”

Fives blinked again. He had just witnessed General Obi Wan Kenobi, Jedi Master, tell a bald faced lie.

Tarkin’s mouth tightened further.

“Can anyone confirm this?” He asked.

“Certainly. General Plo was there, as well as Commander Wolffe and Commander Cody.” Kenobi almost sounded bored. “We had some questions regarding one of their previous missions that would affect our own upcoming ones.” 

“And why did they not inform us of this?"

Kenobi's lips twitched into a small smile. 

"Need to know basis, Admiral." He said. "You of course understand."

Tarkin's lips were so tightly pressed together they were white.

Fives was overjoyed to see a crack in the facade. The admiral was clearly furious.

Tarkin turned around.

"I am hesitant to take you at your word, General Kenobi." He said. "You, as well as General Plo Koon, are well known to be biased towards Tano and your men."

Fives scowled. Biased towards their men? Did he mean that the Generals actually cared about their troops?

Kenobi stroked his beard.

"Perhaps." He said. "But I believe you are biased against her and anyone you believe would give her help."

Kenobi stared Tarkin right in the eye.

"Why is it you are so determined to believe she is guilty, Admiral?" He asked. "Why did you push so hard for her execution?"

Tarkin had regained his haughty air. 

"She is a danger to the Republic." He said. "The fact that she manipulated those clones into helping her escape is troubling. We may lose control of the others."

Fives nearly burst out of his chair. Manipulated ? Lose control ? The decision to rescue the Commander had been theirs . No one had told them to do it. Tarkin seemed to understand the clones just as well as Krell had.

" Gar motir juann ibic aruetii? Gar ne'motir juann gar vod'e?

Fives directed the words at Fox. The red clad commander stiffened.

"Was that a confession?" Tarkin asked. 

"No, sir." Fox said. "He said-"

"If it was not an admission of guilt, it was mostly likely an insult. I do not care to hear it." Tarkin interrupted.

"I have given you their alibi." Kenobi said. "Do you have any other reason to continue holding them?"

Tarkin's eyes were flashing.

"I will speak to you privately, Kenobi."

Kenobi stood and gestured out the door.

"After you, Admiral."

The two men left them alone with Fox.

Fives realized they were right where they had started fifteen minutes ago. Then Fox spoke. 

"We have a duty to the Republic." He said. "Not to the Jedi. You'd best remember that."

"We've got a duty to our brothers too." Fives replied. "Umbara proved that."

Fives ignored the exasperated groan from Jesse. 

"This isn't about brothers!" Fox snapped. "Tano isn't one of us!"

"She might as well be!" Fives retorted. "And we trust vod'e ! "

"She killed vod'e!" Fox's voice was strained. "She killed my men!"

"I'm sorry about your men, Fox. I am." Fives said. "But we know Commander Tano. She wouldn't ever."

"That's what your captain said." Fox muttered. "And now look where he is: a deserter."

"Because he did what he thought was right." Fives said. "Have you ever done that, Fox? Done something not because it was orders, but because it was right ?"

Fox turned away. Fives couldn't tell if it was from frustration or shame. He could tell that Jesse was annoyed. It felt a long time before the door slid open. 

"Please remove their binders, Fox." Kenobi said pleasantly.

Fox looked to Tarkin, who nodded curtly. The commander yanked Fives' hands over. Fives raised his eyebrows at the rough treatment. Kriff, he'd gotten under Fox's skin more than he realized. 

Fives rubbed his raw wrists as Fox moved to Jesse. 

"Come along, you two. I'm in charge of the 501st while Anakin, Ahsoka, and Rex are away. I'll need your help." Kenobi spoke as if the three highest ranking members of the legion were on shore leave. Tarkin bristled. 

"Yes, sir!" Fives chorused with Jesse.

They left a seething Tarkin and quickly exited the facility. 

"I am very sorry about that." Kenobi said once they were out of range of any surveillance devices. "Though we are extremely fortunate that you were only under suspicion. Overall, you and the others did exceptionally well."

"Thank you, sir." Fives said. "Any news on them?" 

Kenobi shook his head. 

"The Guard have no leads. Apparently nobody saw their escape vehicle. All they are able to do is scour the undercity."

Jesse barked out a laugh.

"I wish them luck!"

"Indeed." Kenobi said.

They'd reached the General's speeder and he motioned them in.

"Cody is going to attempt to contact them once we return." The General went on. "Currently the Guard has tightened out of planet security, so we will have to plan accordingly."

There was a moment of silence as General Kenobi maneuvered the Coruscant traffic.

"Has there been any word from General Skywalker?" Fives asked.

"He is aware of what you have done. I was able to speak with him briefly before he left the planet." Kenobi said. He looked back at them with a twinkle in his eye. "I do believe if he had more time, he'd have come and promoted you all to Commander."

Jesse and Fives laughed.

"What about Cody and Wolffe?" Jesse asked. 

"We would have had our first clone generals." 

Kenobi's mood was lighter than Fives had seen since the whole temple bombing fiasco started.

"Is it true? Was Commander Offee really involved in the bombing?" He found the courage to ask. 

"Yes." Kenobi's voice was somber. "It would seem she framed Ahsoka as well." 

Jesse and Fives glanced at each other, aghast. Fives couldn't wrap his head around it.

"But they were friends!" Jesse protested.

"Not everyone has the loyalty of clones, Jesse." Kenobi said gently. 

"But why?" Fives interrupted. "Why betray the Republic?"

"Hopefully Anakin will be able to find her and ask."

 

Chapter Text

Rex snapped awake to the sound of a comm chirping. He jolted up from his slumped position in the pilot's chair. Damn. He had not intended to fall asleep. His shoulder still ached, but the bacta seemed to have done some good. His wrist comm was still going off.

Rex stared at it. Anyone would have been stupid to think he'd answer his comm while on the run. Then he noticed it wasn't his usual frequency. It was one he and Cody had made specifically to exchange information on their Generals. For missions.

He hesitated, finger hovering over the button. No one else knew the frequency, so no one would be looking for it to trace. And Cody was the only one who knew about it.

Rex swallowed and answered the comm.

"Rex?"

It was Cody. Rex heaved a sigh of relief.

"I'm here, Cody." He replied.

"What's your status?"

"Lying low for now. I think we're going to try and make it off-planet later." Rex glanced back towards the cots.

"That's a negative." Cody said. "They've tightened security, checking every ship leaving orbit. We're working on that, so hang tight."

They talked for a few minutes more. Cody filled Rex in on the happenings topside and assured him that everyone came out all right. It was a relief. No, it was a miracle that Rex was the only real casualty of the mission.

"How's Commander Tano?" Cody asked.

Rex again took a glance in her direction. He could barely make her out under the blankets.

"She had a rough time of it last night." Rex said carefully. "She was drugged. She's still sleeping it off, I think."

"Yeah, that's what I thought. We'll check in once we've got you a way off the planet."

"Thanks, vod."

"Just stay safe."

The comm shut off and Rex leaned back in the chair. He supposed he should be angry that Commander Offee had framed his commander, but he was just relieved that there was an explanation for everything. He just hoped General Skywalker could find her soon.

Rex didn't look forward to telling Ahsoka what her friend had done.

He got up and stretched. He'd slept in worse conditions, but his neck was still stiff. His shoulder was much better on closer inspection. The wound was mostly closed.

Rex moved down the ship to the bunks.

Commander Tano was still asleep, curled up in the same way Rex had seen her sleep on battlefields. The blankets rose and fell with her steady breathing. Her face was relaxed, a stark contrast to her expression the night before.

"Commander." He whispered.

She didn't stir. Rex resisted the urge to call her louder. She normally was easy to rouse, something to do with the Force. She clearly needed the sleep.

Kriff, she'd been through so much. He was glad to let her sleep a little longer. Without thinking he lifted his hand and rested it next to her face. Not touching. Never touching, not without her permission or a life or death situation.

Rex was suddenly exhausted. It was all too much, too many people to keep alive. The Generals, his men, his commander. He was keeping Ahsoka safe now, but he felt like he had left his men exposed.

He pressed his hand over his eyes to fight the tears of exhaustion. He allowed himself exactly a minute of weakness. Then he straightened up, plastered on his soldier's face, and strode to the front to strap on his armor. He had just finished getting the lower pieces on when he looked up through the view and felt his heart drop.

A thin, helmeted figure was standing amidst the other ships, shrouded in the haze that filled the undercity. It seemed to be studying their ship with an intensity that made Rex's heart pound. It cocked its head before reaching up and removing the helmet, revealing a pale, bald head.

Ventress?

Kriff kriff kriff!

Rex clutched the edge of the console until his knuckles turned white. Ventress was close enough for him to see her smirk. She knew exactly who was in the ship.

Rex whirled around and charged through the ship. He snatched up his blaster and ran down the opening runway. He would die before Ventress got her hands on his commander. Unfortunately, he couldn't see any other way this would turn out.

The assassin hadn't moved by the time Rex had gotten within a dozen yards of her.

"The guard dog." Ventress' cool voice rang out in the still air.

"Don't come any closer!" Rex snarled and trained his weapon on her.

She gave an exaggerated roll of her eyes.

"Please."

She flicked her hand and Rex's blaster went skidding across the ground.

"I'd rather not have to deal with your test tube loyalty today, little clone." She sounded bored.

Rex grit his teeth. He was the only thing standing between Ahsoka and this creature, and he was an unarmed, half armored, wounded clone.

"What do you want?" He spat.

"Want? Nothing." Ventress said. "I was just curious. I had heard your little commander had been captured. In fact, I heard it straight from Skywalker himself."

Rex caught his breath.

"You saw the General?"

"Yes, and he was rather rude about the whole thing, considering how helpful I was. He'd never have found out who had betrayed his apprentice if not for me."

"You helped him?" Rex's mind was whirling.

"I did. I helped her as well." Ventress inclined her head at the ship behind Rex. "I won't lie, the moment she was captured I gave her up as dead. Imagine my surprise when I felt her presence all the way down here."

Rex glanced back at the ship as well.

"She's projecting in her sleep." Ventress went on. "You may want to wake her before every force user on Coruscant is at your door."

"Projecting?"

Ventress rolled her eyes.

"Clones." She muttered. "Listen, I don't know what happened to your little Jedi, but it was bad enough for her to lose control of her mental shields. She's letting her Force signature blare out from her mind. Projecting while asleep is something untrained younglings do."

Rex swallowed. Was Ventress giving him advice?

"They drugged her." He said.

Ventress nodded.

"That would do it." She said. "I've heard the Republic has drugs they developed specifically for weakening a force user's control."

She turned around and started walking away.

"Well done on getting her out. Like I said, get her up before the entire Jedi Council is down here, or something worse."

Rex stared at her retreating back.

"Did you find us just to tell us that?" He burst out.

Ventress turned her head back towards him.

"I found you because I was curious." She said. "You should get back to her. I doubt she'd react well to waking up without her Captain."

The way Ventress spoke the words, dripping with condescension, made Rex shiver.

"What do you mean?" He hadn't meant to ask the words aloud.

Ventress laughed, a high, cold sound.

"Don't tell me you don't know!" She jeered. "Loyal, brave, and you just saved her life."

She turned around to face him.

"And really, you clones are quite the specimens."

Ventress's eyes traveled up Rex's body and he suddenly wished he had finished putting his armor on.

A wry smile twisted her lips.

"She's dreaming of you, you know."

Rex clenched his fists. He shouldn't be hearing this.

"Her faithful Captain Rex, always by her side."

These were the Commander's feelings, they were hers, he wasn't supposed to know.

"You were curious. Now you know what happened." Rex growled.

Those feelings were Ahsoka's and he didn't deserve them.

Ventress laughed again.

"I'll leave, Captain. Remind your commander of her promise."

Rex felt another jolt. What promise?

"And when you see dear Kenobi, tell him I said hello."

Rex gave his own dry laugh at that.

"I think you're more likely to see him before we do."

"Oh, I don't know about that. Tano's name will be cleared soon." Ventress said airily. "Skywalker's on the warpath. I dread to think what will happen to that little Jedi when he catches her."

Rex shivered at her words. She was right. When the General was angry, when anyone threatened Ahsoka, Senator Amidala, or even his men, he was one of the few things that truly frightened Rex.

This time Ventress didn't stop walking away. Rex kept his eyes on her until she disappeared into the smog. He had an odd feeling that she wouldn't give them up, but they should move just in case. He retrieved the blaster and hurried back into the ship.

Ahsoka was still sleeping. Rex hesitated before moving past her into the cockpit. She could sleep a little longer. Then they'd leave.

He pulled on the rest of his armor. He felt a lot better when it was all in place. He missed his pauldron and katas though. He somehow didn't feel as protected without them.

He gave himself a minute to dismiss and shove down Ventress' words about the Commander. They went with all the other thoughts he wasn't supposed to have. Thoughts that if they ever came to light, he'd be guilty of treason.

He sat down and listened to his stomach growl. He'd be fine, of course. He did hope Cody would find a way to get them a few rations before Rex was desperate enough to try the old bars he'd found.

It was another hour before he heard the Commander stir.

He got to his feet and moved to the bunks.

When she first opened her eyes they were wide and confused. Then she saw Rex and she relaxed.

"Good morning Commander." Rex said.

"Is it morning?" She peered out the window. "Where are we?"

"An old shipyard in the undercity." He told her. "How're you feeling?"

She grimaced.

"Better than last night."

"Do you know what they gave you?" He asked.

Rex could suddenly see a darkened room with a few, blazing bright lights. His arms were tied down, he couldn't move. A masked figure stood over him, wielding a syringe. It plunged the needle into his arm. A burning, sickening pain spread up the limb and into the rest of his body. A scream in a voice familiar, but not his own, burst from his lips. Through the pain he recognized a figure watching him, the leering expression so different from the one they normally wore. Chancellor Palpatine?

"Rex!" Ahsoka's voice cut through the vision and he was back with her on the ship. He had fallen to his knees and she had started to get up.

"What happened?" She asked.

"Did you-" He heaved a few breaths. "Did you mean to do that?"

"Do what?" She was confused.

He explained the scene between gasps. She was pale when he finished.

"That's what happened to me after my sentence." She said. "They took me away to that room. But I didn't mean to show you that."

"Did you mean to show me anything?" Rex asked.

Ahsoka shook her head.

"No. I just remembered it." Her eyes widened slightly. "That means-"

She didn't finish her sentence but General Skywalker's face flashed through his mind. The words force bond echoed through Rex's head. Whatever it was, she seemed to have one with the General.

"I think you did it again." He said, placing a hand to his head. "What's a force bond?"

Ahsoka didn't look at him.

"It's- we don't know for sure if that's what it is." She was almost babbling now. "I can ask Anakin or- but until then-"

She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. Rex got himself up and settled on the opposite bunk.

"I'll make sure it won't happen again." She muttered. "Kriff. You're not even Force sensitive."

"It might have something to do with what they gave you." Rex suggested. "While you were asleep we had, er, a visitor."

Ahsoka looked at him and he quickly explained Ventress' sudden appearance, Ahsoka's projecting, and the rumor about the drugs.

Ahsoka looked pensieve.

"That makes sense." She said. "From what they said, it sounded like they were experimenting on me."

Rex internally recoiled at the idea.

"What exactly happened?" He asked.

What had they done to her?

"Like I said, they took me there right away. I thought they were going to execute me immediately. You know, lethal injection."

Rex nodded. While he wasn't getting complete memories, there were flashes of emotions that weren't his.

"They strapped me down like you saw." She said. "Palpatine came in. He said something about if they were ready for the experiment. They injected whatever that was."

Rex got a sense of extreme pain again, a contrast to the matter-of-fact way she was speaking.

"It was like I was- stronger in the Force somehow." Ahsoka went on. "I could feel it in me, but I couldn't control it. I couldn't focus. There were only three people in the room but their minds were suddenly screaming. And I felt-"

Ahsoka looked into Rex's eyes.

"I think I felt something Dark."

Rex furrowed his brow.

"Like a Sith." He said.

Ahsoka nodded. She sat brooding for a moment.

"Anyway, they said something about a second, final treatment. I think they were going to kill me after that." Her hand went to one of her bracers and Rex frowned.

"That's what I thought you were there to do." She finished.

"Commander, is your arm all right?" Rex asked.

She looked up at him, surprised.

"Yeah, it's fine."

Any other situation he'd be pretty sure she'd be lying. Now, somehow, he was certain.

"Commander."

She looked down and undid her right bracer, the same arm that had been injected. She peeled it away to reveal a swollen, red and yellow lump, with black veins running from the center.

Rex caught his breath. He had the wild urge to rip his blacks top off to get to the bacta patch and give it to her. Rex looked sharply at her.

"Why didn't you say anything?"

"It's much better than it was yesterday." She said with a weak smile.

"Better?"

"Listen, I wasn't exactly thinking straight." She countered. "Besides, Kix would have insisted on treating me right there."

She glanced at Rex again.

"That was Kix, right?"

He nodded absently, still staring at her arm.

"You said the swelling's gone down?" He asked her.

She nodded.

"I'll just have to ask Cody if he can get us some bacta." Rex said, dragging his hand down his face.

"Cody's in on this?"

Rex got a flash of surprise. He nodded again.

"Does it hurt?"

"No-"

But again, he could see the lie and gave her a look.

She narrowed her eyes.

"That's going to be annoying. Okay, fine. It hurts like a son-of-a-hutt. Happy?"

He got up and retrieved the medical pack.

"I used the only bacta patch. I'm sorry, sir." He admitted as he rifled through.

"Don't apologize." Ahsoka said. "You were just as hurt as I am."

Rex winced.

"No, sir." He muttered. "It's my job to put your well being above my own."

Ahsoka rolled her eyes.

"I'm not a commander anymore. I don't know if you've noticed, but you've deserted." She told him. "So I say we're the same."

Rex frowned as he settled down on the other bunk again. He didn't think he'd ever be able to put his needs on the same level as hers. He handed her some of the pain pills. She dry swallowed them with a wince.

"I'm pretty sure this is an antibacterial salve." Rex said, I

holding up a tube he'd found in the pack. "Though if you'd rather not risk it-"

"Give it." Ahsoka said.

He handed it over and she squeezed half the tube on her arm. She took the bandages he proffered and started to bind up the injection point.

"Have you heard from anyone?" She asked.

"Cody contacted me about an hour ago, before Ventress showed up." Rex informed her.

He paused. This was what he had been dreading.

"We've got news from General Skywalker."

Ahsoka raised an eyebrow.

"And?"

"He's pursuing Commander Offee. She was the one involved in the Temple bombing."

There was a soft thud as the bandage roll hit the floor. Rex braced himself as a new wave of emotions and memories hit him. He found he could push past them now he knew where they were coming from.

"Barriss?" Ahsoka croaked. "But that means-".

"I'm sorry, Commander." Rex said quietly.

Ahsoka bowed her head.

"Why?" She whispered. "We were friends, I trusted her!"

Rex shook his head.

"I don't know, sir."

Her feelings of betrayal and grief bubbled in the back of his mind. He needed to do something to distract himself from it. He picked up the roll of bandages from the floor.

"I'm going to finish bandaging your arm. Is that all right, Commander?" He asked.

She tilted her head forward in a tiny nod. He lifted her arm and began wrapping the bandage around the injured skin. As he finished he felt her memories ebb from his mind. She was getting control again.

"We should move." He said, standing. "We shouldn't stay anywhere for long."

She gave another small nod. He hesitated at her expression. Even though she'd controlled her emotions enough to not spill into his head, the distress he'd felt from her was etched in his mind.

Rex wanted to say something, anything, but what could be said? If he was honest, the last time he was betrayed he had personally gone to execute the traitor. Of course, he hadn't been the one to pull the trigger, but the sentiment had been there. He and his men were able to act against Krell; Ahsoka had no such solace.

"It'll be all right, Commander." He finally managed.

She continued to stare ahead. He grit his teeth and turned back to the controls.

There was a sudden flash of emotion from his commander. She didn't want him to go. He frowned. This definitely would take some getting used to.

"I'll just be in the cockpit, sir." He told her.

She looked up at him, surprised.

"I didn't mean to-" Her voice had taken a frustrated tone. "You're right, we do need to move."

She was trying to be brave. Rex didn't have her thoughts and emotions leaking into his head, but he found that he could go the other way. With a little bit of concentration he could probe into her head. He retreated almost immediately. It was an invasion of her privacy. Before he cut himself off he got an image of himself, holding her the night before.

Rex had sensed she had wanted something like that with her first flash of distress about Barriss. This was far more clear. Well, he wasn't about to gather her into his arms again. Last night had been an exception. It really hadn't been appropriate, but she had been in such a bad state that he had allowed it. He wasn't going to shove a crying and drugged Commander off of him just in the name of regs. Even right now, he could do something.

He found himself sitting on the bunk next to her. She glanced at him with a question in her eyes. He shrugged.

"We can wait a few more minutes."

He paused again and took a deep breath before he put his arm around her shoulders. He kept his eyes fixed on the bunk across. She relaxed a little. A sense of gratitude seeped into his mind. This time it felt purposeful, like she wanted to let him know.

After a few moments Ahsoka began to speak.

"I just can't believe Barriss would do something like this." She whispered.

Rex stared ahead.

"Did I ever tell you about Slick?" Rex said slowly.

He felt her shake her head.

"I've heard of him, but not from you."

"You probably haven't heard many of the details, then."

She shook her head again.

Ahsoka listened quietly as Rex told Slick's story.

"He said he did it for us." Rex finished. "That he loved his brothers and wanted to see them be free."

He trailed off. He had dismissed Slick's words at the time. He had thought it an excuse for whatever real reason Slick had for betraying them. Then Kadavo had happened and amongst the pain, horror, and humiliation, there had been a familiarity to the enslavement. Rex had finally understood Slick. Then he had shoved those feelings down so deep they should have never been able to come to light again. He had to. Otherwise he would have had to make a choice. But that choice would affect not just himself, but his brothers.

"I believe Slick truly thought what he was doing was right." Rex continued. "Maybe that's why Commander Offee did what she did. She thought she was doing what was right."

Ahsoka snorted.

"She blew up the temple, killing a bunch of people, and then tried to get me killed. How is that in any way right?"

Rex shrugged.

"How was giving us up to Ventress in any way right?"

Ahsoka leaned her head against his shoulder.

"I guess." She said. "It's still hard."

"I know." Rex replied. "You don't want to believe it."

She nodded.

"What happened to Slick in the end? Reconditioning?"

He almost flinched at the mention of the fate most clones considered worse than haran.

"No." Rex said. "He was executed."

It had been Cody who had received the orders to do it. Rex's ori'vod was quiet for a week after. For a moment Rex wondered if Slick had spoken up like Fives had done. Had he tried to convince Cody it was wrong?

"If Anakin catches her, they'll execute her." Ahsoka spoke as if just realizing something. "They might even try the same experiments they did on me."

A few wisps of fear and sick slipped from Ahsoka.

"If they have anything after the General's done with her."

It had been meant somewhat as a dark joke, but Rex knew the moment he said it it was too much.

Ahsoka tensed under his arm. They were both very familiar with how General Skywalker dealt with people who hurt those he cared about. Rex had been both horrified and somewhat touched in an odd way when the General had violently threatened a man who had shouted a slur at Rex.

"He won't kill her." Rex said in an attempt to assure his commander. "We need her to confess."

Ahsoka looked at him.

"No, but they'll kill her anyway."

Rex knew how she felt. He hadn't wanted Slick to die. He hadn't even wanted Dogma to be reconditioned.

"Commander, I'll be honest. If you'll pardon my Ryl, it's a piece of osik situation." He said. "But if I had to pick between the two, I would save your life over hers every time."

She frowned at that.

"We shouldn't have to decide which life has more worth."

"But we do right now." Rex asserted. "It comes down to this. She did something wrong. You didn't."

A ghost of a smile twitched Ahsoka's lips.

"I did break out of jail and steal a clone."

Rex smiled a little.

"With all due respect, sir, I stole you."

He thought she might laugh at that. Instead she closed her eyes and leaned again on his shoulder.

He let her sit there. He supposed she knew what she needed. And there was a part of him that drew comfort in the weight on his shoulder.

Finally she sat up with a sigh.

"I'm going to try and meditate now." She told him.

Rex nodded and stood.

"Let's see if we can find another hiding place."

He left her cross-legged on the bunk with her eyes closed. He felt better once they were up in the air. A ship moving through the traffic lanes was a lot less suspicious than it sitting somewhere for hours with no sign of anyone leaving it. He joined the other dingy crafts of the undercity on their day to day movements.

Rex found himself studying the new connection he had with Ahsoka. It was now a constant presence in the back of his mind. It felt like her. There was no other way to describe it. It was bright, but not harsh, and full of energy. His commander had a bit of herself planted in his mind. He wasn't feeling any emotions from her at the moment. The meditation must have been helping. He refused to try and probe her mind again. It would be wrong. It wasn't his place.

On a whim, he performed what he could call a tug on the connection.

"Do you need something?" Ahsoka's voice floated into the cockpit.

Rex jumped, swerving a little.

"Er- no sir. My apologies, sir."

"We can test this later." She said, a smile in her voice. "But not while I'm meditating, all right?"

"Of course, sir. Sorry again, sir."

Chapter Text

Rex tried to ignore the connection as he flew. It got easier as the traffic got more chaotic. Rex wasn't too familiar with the undercity, though he realized that was to their advantage. He twisted through the labyrinth of buildings and speeders. The further they got into this mess, the harder it would be for the Guard to find them. 

He’d gotten to the point where there were few ships around and the lighting was poor. He had no idea where they were.

Beeping started from the console.

"Kriff." He muttered as he searched for the source of the alarm.

"Kriff what?"

Rex startled at Ahsoka's voice. She had come up behind him and put a hand on his chair.

"We’re running out of fuel, sir." Rex told her.

Ahsoka looked down at the console.

“We have enough for another hour, at least.” She declared.

She was completely calm now. Her shoulders were relaxed and she was leaning nonchalantly on his chair.

She noticed his stare and raised an eyebrow.

"Rex?"

"That meditation must be some powerful stuff."

She raised an eyebrow.

"The Force is some powerful stuff." She corrected.

"I knew that." He allowed himself a smile. "In any case, an hour isn’t much. We’ll need to get some more if we’re going to make it off planet.”

Ahsoka raised an eyebrow.

“Do you have any credits?”
Rex frowned. That was not something he had considered. To the clones, credits were for drinking and little things. Fuel, food, and lodging were never a consideration.

“No.” He admitted.

Ahsoka twisted her mouth into a thoughtful shape.

“We could steal some.”

“No.” Rex shut her down.

“We’re already on the run!” 

“For a crime you’re not guilty of!” He shot back. “If we steal fuel, we’d be guilty of an actual crime. When General Skywalker gets back, I don’t want the Republic to have any reason to detain you.”

She was touched, but a little frustrated. She had let that much come through.

“All right. We won’t steal any. Then what do we do?”

He was ready with that answer.

“We’ll talk to Cody when he calls again. In the meantime, we should land and preserve our fuel.”

She nodded and pointed out the window. 

"See that landing pad? Seems pretty deserted." 

Rex immediately turned the ship to the unlit surface. 

The ship landed with the sigh of hydraulics that Rex knew so well. Ahsoka walked towards the back of the ship. 

"Where are you going?" Rex called. 

"To have a look around!" She responded.

Rex pushed himself out of his seat, his shoulder protesting. 

"I don't think that's a good idea, sir." He said as he caught up with her.

"Why not?"

Rex swallowed a sigh of exasperation.

"Sir. We are two injured fugitives in an area crawling with bounty hunters!"

Ahsoka crossed her arms. 

"How else are we supposed to figure out where we are?"

Rex opened his mouth to respond when his comm chirped.

"It's Cody." Rex assured Ahsoka at her nervous glance. 

"Rex here."

It wasn't Cody's voice that crackled out. 

"Captain Rex." General Plo Koon said. "I trust things are going well?"

Ahsoka froze. Kriff. Rex had forgotten to tell her the role General Kenobi and Plo had played in her rescue. 

"All fine, sir." Rex responded. He conjured up the memory of Cody and Wolffe outside the 501st barracks and Wolffe's words. General Plo and Kenobi sent us. Said to help you break Commander Tano out. He pushed the memory and words into their connection. Ahsoka jerked her head to look at him. The pleasure that his attempt had worked was counteracted by the confusion she sent back.

"Is Ahsoka there?" General Plo asked. 

"I'm here." Ahsoka's voice was flat.

There was a silence. 

"'Soka." 

Ahsoka looked down. Rex got a confused jumble of emotions from her. General Plo's voice was quiet as he continued. 

"Forgive me."

There were tears in her eyes.

"The council was wrong. Master Kenobi and I should have fought harder for you." 

"You didn't vote to expel me?" Her voice held only a portion of the relief Rex could feel overflowing from her. 

"No, little 'Soka. Master Kenobi and I never believed it of you."

Rex removed the comm from his wrist, placed it in Ahsoka's hands, and silently retreated into the back of the ship. This was not a conversation he should be a part of. She had sent him the equivalent of a confused look as he left.

He leaned on the door as he listened to their indistinct voices. She wasn't trying to hide her emotions, whether on purpose or not, he couldn't tell. With an effort, he blocked them off. There was a reason he'd left them alone. He closed his eyes and tilted his head back. His shoulder still ached, but leaning on the other lessened the pain.

"Rex?" 

He snapped his head up. Had he dozed off? Kriff, he was far more off-balanced than he thought.

"Cody wants to talk to us. Both of us." Ahsoka's voice sounded rough. 

"Yes, sir." Rex scrambled back up to the front. Ahsoka's eyes were a little red. Rex pretended he didn't see.

"I'm here, Cody." Rex said.

"I’ve got good news." Cody's voice said. "I've pulled a few favors and we've got you a way off planet."

Rex let out a sigh of relief.

"Thanks, vod. "

"I just need your position. My team will be there to help soon."

Rex shared a look with Ahsoka.

"We're, uh, not sure where exactly we are. Our GPS is down. "

Not that it'd been up in the first place. 

There was silence on the comm. Rex thought he heard a snicker. Then Cody sighed.

"At least you're still on Coruscant. Give me a minute, I'll trace your comm signal."

"Right."

Rex was glad that it was only Cody, and possibly General Plo, that was on the other end. 

"Remind me to never let you lead the way again, Captain." Fives' voice said.

Ahsoka snorted and Rex put a hand on his head.

"How many of you are there?" He asked.

"Oh, I think I'll leave that to your imagination."

"Shut up, Fives!" Cody's voice was suddenly harsh. "Rex, you need to be careful. There’s been Pyke activity in that area very recently."

Rex swallowed. That wasn’t good news.

“Noted.”

He could almost see Cody’s disapproving frown.

“Take this seriously, Rex. Is there anything else you need?”

“Credits and fuel. We’re short on both.” Rex said, then glanced at Ahsoka. “And bacta.”

“And food.” Ahsoka said with a smile.

“We’ve already thought of that, especially the bacta. Somebody got themselves shot in the kriffing shoulder. My team’s bringing supplies.”

Rex felt a weight lift off his shoulders. General Plo’s voice rumbled in the background.

“Why did no one inform me Captain Rex was injured?”

“What did we do to deserve you, vod? ” Rex said.

“The Commander’s saved our lives countless times.” Fives said with an air of dismissal. “For you, kriff if I know.”

Ahsoka laughed.

“Speaking of which.” Fives went on. “Commander, the 501st sends their love, and want to let you know that we were always on your side.”

Rex glanced at Ahsoka after the surge of emotion. She was smiling, but there were tears in her eyes again.

“Thank you Fives. Tell them I send my love too, and that they are not to enact any revenge on the Coruscant Guard.”

There was silence.

“Yes sir.” Fives said dully.

Ahsoka laughed and Rex couldn’t help but smile too.

“We need to go.” Cody said. “Good luck.”

“Thank you, Cody. I’ll see you all soon.” Ahsoka said.

There was a chorus of goodbyes and the comm clicked off.

“I guess we wait.” Ahsoka said, and sat down in the copilot chair. They sat together in silence for a while. 

“Can we talk about this?” Rex finally voiced his thoughts and gestured to his head.

Ahsoka froze and a trickle of nervousness came through said bond.

“A force bond connects minds.” She said slowly. “You’ve probably noticed, but we can feel each other’s emotions and even thoughts.”

“You’ve been feeling my emotions?” Rex felt foolish to not make that connection. It was obviously two way.

Ahsoka frowned.

“Not really. You’ve got excellent mental control.” She admitted.

That wasn’t a surprise to him. He’d been pushing down memories and shoving aside emotions since he was a cadet.

“So, what does this mean? How did it happen?” Rex pressed.

Ahsoka started fiddling with her lekku,

“A Force bond usually happens between two Force users that are very close.” Ahsoka said. “Again, usually it’s only between a master and student. I have three. Four, now.”

She looked up at him.

“Rex, these usually develop in a matter of weeks. It took Master and I months. But you and I formed a bond that’s as strong as the others overnight.”

Rex furrowed his brow. Somehow he thought the higher ups would not be happy to hear of a clone and Jedi having such a strong bond.

Ahsoka snapped her head to the side.

“Someone’s coming.” She said. 

Rex felt a flash of panic; whether it was his own or Ahsoka's, he didn't know. Rex rushed to the view. A troop of the scrawny Pykes were slipping out of the shadows, surrounding Rex and Ahsoka's vessel. They were armed.

Ahsoka let out a string of swearing more colorful than the combined paint jobs of the GAR. 

Rex ran through their options.

They couldn't just fly off. It would provoke the Pykes to attack. This ship was old and definitely couldn't handle much blaster fire. Fighting was an option, but Rex could already count over a dozen just from his viewpoint. He and Ahsoka were both injured with one blaster between them.

Ahsoka looked at Rex.

"What's the plan?" She asked.

Plan? Plan? He took a deep breath.

"We can't surrender." Rex said in a low voice. "They'll find out who we are and turn us over to the Republic."

"We don’t even know what they want." Ahsoka said.

Rex paused.

“I’ll go out. See if I can’t get us away.” He said.

“If it goes wrong, we’ll have to fight our way out.”

"I’ll be fighting our way out." Rex corrected.

Ahsoka narrowed her eyes.

"You, by yourself, are going to face off an entire group of Pykes." 

Rex grit his teeth. He had not risked his brothers and ruined his own life to lose his Jedi to her own stubbornness.

"Listen. Your face has been broadcasted everywhere for the  last few days. They will know who you are the second you step out of this ship." Rex had to try very hard to pretend he was talking to a petulant shiny in order to get the words out. "They'll take you and keep you until the Republic pays the right price. Then you'll be where we found you yesterday!"

Rex thought the only reason he was getting this far was because of the shock Ahsoka was radiating.

"I'm going to go out there and hold them off until Cody's friends can get here." Rex went on before she recovered. "If I go down, hide . They might assume I was by myself."

"Are you giving me orders, Captain?" She snapped. 

Rex's frustration forced a smirk out of him. 

"Like you said, I've deserted. We're equal. "

She squared her shoulders.

"Rex, they'll be looking for you too, and you stand out a lot for a clone. Your bounty will be just as high as mine."

"With all due respect sir, my life is far less important than yours."

Ahsoka's eyes widened and she opened her mouth to argue with him.

"I'm a dead man anyway, Commander." Rex cut her off. "It's the best chance we've got."

Ahsoka's jaw was set and her eyes were hard. 

" Fine ." She snarled. "But I will back you up. You're not dying today. You need to explain what that little comment about being a dead man means first."

Rex held back a relieved sigh. 

"Right, sir." 

He shoved on his bucket and grabbed the blaster. Ahsoka watched him as he hurried past. The door creaked open and Rex found himself facing a swarm of small faced ge'hutuun.

"At last!" Their leader said. "Welcome friend-"

He paused as he recognized Rex as a clone. Rex raised his hands up slowly.

“I think there’s been a mistake.” Rex said.

He scanned the area and quickly counted the Pykes. Over two dozen hostiles, all armed. They had brought a case with them. Spice, most likely. This must be a regular dealing spot for them. 

“I lost my way and was running low on fuel.” Most of the truth would have to do. “I just landed to get my bearings. I didn’t mean to get in your way.”

Some of the guards were already raising their blasters. Their leader raised a hand. 

“Normally we don’t deal with clones.” He said in his tinny voice. “But you seem a- reasonable sort.” 

Rex’s desperation must have come across.

“I’m sure we could come to an agreement.” The leader went on.

Rex nodded. Another Pyke edged up to the leader and muttered something. The leader looked at Rex, eyes suddenly glittering. Rex didn’t need Ahsoka’s mental shout to know that they knew.

“You said you were low on fuel, friend?” He purred. "It's a long way from the GAR prisons, isn't it?"

He was interrupted by Rex's blaster bolt punching a hole through his tiny mug. 

Immediately Rex ducked the several lasers thrown his way. He took out another Pyke in two shots. Two down, two dozen to go. He set his jaw and jumped off the ramp, shooting rapidly into the crowd. He heard a few more bodies drop as he scrambled under the ramp. It wouldn't be good cover for long. He shot at the first Pyke to round the corner and it crumpled. Two more took its place. Rex shot behind him as he darted from under the ramp and dashed across the landing pad. He dodged between blaster bolts and dove behind a pile of crates. He let himself take one breath before he shoved himself up to shoot over the top. He had only downed half a dozen. There were still at least ten, and one was speaking into a comm. Calling for back up. 

They were closing in. Suddenly a force blindsided Rex. One of them had kriffing tackled him. He bit back a cry as he hit the ground on his bad shoulder. The Pyke grappled with him for a moment. Rex was surprised to feel his helmet being yanked free.

"It's him!" The Pyke screamed.

Rex twisted around and shot the offending Pyke. The others had gotten closer.

And then Ahsoka was there. The Pykes whirled around to see her standing at the top of the ramp. She stood tall, illuminated by the ship’s lights. Rex blinked. He could swear there was something surrounding her, wreathing around her body. She lifted a hand and Rex could feel the push, though it didn’t touch him. Many of the remaining Pykes were launched through the air. Several fell over the edge of the platform and the others slammed into the wall. The very few left were backing up.

Then, to Rex’s horror, Ahsoka collapsed. 

A flash of intense pain flooded over him.

“Ahsoka!” He roared and made a run for her. He stopped short when a dozen more Pykes stormed from the alleyway. He was in the middle of the platform, no cover. His Commander was on the ground, not moving. Was he going to lose her to this ?

A rain of blaster fire thundered from above. Most of the Pykes dropped. Rex whirled around to see four figures land, having jumped from one of the buildings above. Were they clones ? Their armor was definitely similar, and two of them were the right height, but one other seemed a few inches short while another was the size of a Lasat.

“Crosshair.” one said, nodding at the retreating Pykes.

“On it.” The skinniest of them ran past Rex to the alley.

By their voices, he knew they were clones. Normally Rex would have been elated to receive the backup, but now dread coursed through him. The apparent leader turned, making as if to go to Ahsoka. Rex raised his blaster.

“Stay away from her.” He snarled.

“Stand down, Captain.” The clone said. He lifted his helmet off, revealing a tattooed face with hair that was surely not regulation. “Didn’t Cody say we were coming?”

Cody’s team. Rex couldn’t quite let the tension leave his shoulders. His eyes flicked to the Commander. He made a split second decision. He would have to trust Cody on this. 

Without a word he rushed to his Commander’s side. 

She was awake. He knelt down next to her. 

“Rex.” She said as he leaned over her. Her voice was tight with pain. He fitted an arm under her head. 

"Commander." He said. "Can you stand?" 

She gave a tiny shake of her head. 

It was the Force.

Her voice echoed in his mind

I tried to use it and it overwhelmed me.

"Was it the drug?" He asked. 

I think so. Behind you. 

Rex glanced back. The leader of Cody's team had approached. 

"I'm Hunter." The clone said. "We're special forces, Clone Force 99."

"The Bad Batch!" The big clone shouted.

"That's Wrecker and Tech." Hunter said with a gesture. "Crosshair is taking care of the stragglers."

Rex nodded. 

"Rex." He said. "Though I'm sure Cody already told you."

"He did." Hunter said. He glanced down at Ahsoka, who had closed her eyes.

"Is she okay?" He asked.

I'm fine. Just need some rest, I think.

"She needs rest." Rex repeated. 

"We don't have much time for that; we have to get you off planet." Hunter said. 

"Then I better get her in the ship then." Rex said. "Give her as much time as we can."

Hunter frowned but reached forward. 

"Let me-"

"No." Rex cut across the offer.

He ignored the screaming of his shoulder and lifted Ahsoka. He hated how limp she was. It reminded him too strongly of brothers he had held on the battlefield. He carried her past Hunter and up into the ship.

I'm starting to get sick of not being able to move properly. Ahsoka's voice said in his mind. 

He snorted.

"You're alive." He told her. "That's what I care about."

You're not the one who can't move.

He set her down on the bunk. Rex realized Hunter and Tech had followed him.

"Cody said you had bacta." Rex said. 

"Yes." Tech said. His voice was stiff and clipped. "Commander Cody informed us of your incident."

It was clear the oddly short clone thought he was a di'kut for getting hurt. Rex was inclined to agree.

"It's not me." Rex said. "Commander, may I?"

Go for it .

He took her arm and unwrapped the bandages. 

It looked worse than before and Rex swallowed panic.

Hunter had caught his breath.

"Do not let Wrecker see that." He muttered. 

Tech seemed unperturbed.

"Commander Cody mentioned that she was drugged. That is the injection point?" 

Rex nodded.

"Fascinating." Tech began rummaging through a pack. "I will need a urine sample."

"What?" Rex's voice was echoed by Ahsoka's croak.

"Tech." Hunter said. "No."

Tech looked up. 

"We need to do research on the drug." He said simply. "I assumed she would not want her blood drawn so-"

"Just take my blood." Ahsoka muttered.

"But-"

"Do it, Tech." Hunter sounded tired. 

After Tech had gotten a blood sample, during which Ahsoka had tried and failed to keep her panic from Rex, he applied bacta.

"Just give me the patches." Rex told Tech as the clone turned to him. "I'll put them on later."

Tech frowned.

"You will need to apply them now." He said. "You will not have a chance later."

"What do you mean?" Rex said, narrowing his eyes.

Hunter laughed and clapped a hand on Rex's shoulder. 

"You'll see."

Chapter Text

Rex stumbled forward, disorientated. His vision was blurred. Where was he?

"Steady there."

A hand gripped his shoulder.

"Hey, are you gonna puke?" Another voice asked. "Cause I don't really do well with gross stuff."

"Nausea is not a symptom of hibernation sickness.'" A third voice said.

Rex's vision started to clear. Three out of the four Bad Batch were peering at him.

"Where's the commander?" Rex slurred.

"Still in the carbonite." Hunter said. "We'll get her out in a minute."

Hunter helped Rex down and onto a seat. They were on a ship. From the feel of the engine, they were in hyperspace. Tech handed him a canteen.

"One is usually dehydrated after being frozen in carbonite." He told Rex.

"Thanks." Rex mumbled.

His mouth did feel like the sands of Geonosis. He looked around. It was an unpleasant shock to see the slab of carbonite that held his commander. Why had they been in carbonite?

Memories soon came in patches. It had taken a call to Cody for Rex to accept the ludicrous plan the Batch had given him. Tech had insisted it was the easiest way to get them off. No extra life signs and carbonite slabs under the ship's panels would allow the Batch to leave without suspicion.

"What's our next move?" Rex asked.

"Naboo." Hunter said. He was studying Rex with his arms folded. "Your Commander's got friends in high places; the Senator has a ship waiting for you."

How had Ahsoka ever thought she was alone?

"I've run a few tests on the blood sample." Tech piped up. "The results are concerning."

Rex frowned and waited for Tech to continue.

"There were a number of mutated midichlorians." Tech went on. "I say mutated, even though there has never been any record of such a thing."

Rex didn't like the tone Tech had, one of a curious academic rather than a concerned medic.

"The number was rather low, and they seem to expire after a period of time."

"So they aren't permanent." Rex said, relieved.

"No. " Tech said. "I do think we need to send these results to the Jedi council."

"You'll have to wait until the Commander's name is cleared." Rex interrupted.

Tech twisted his mouth into a frown.

"And how long do you expect that to take?" He asked.

"Not long. General Skywalker is bound to prove her innocence soon." Rex said, trying to assure himself as much as Tech.

"You sure about that, vod?" Crosshair had come in. The term of endearment sounded like the opposite coming from him. "Who says she can be proven innocent?"

Crosshair's words were a lit match under Rex's already frayed rope of nerves.

"Choose your next words carefully, vod." Rex said.

"Crosshair, please." Hunter said.

"I'm just saying, we don't have any evidence she didn't kill those troopers. Maybe she didn't do the bombing, but how'd she get out the first time?"

Rex could swear Crosshair smirked as Rex drove his elbow into the smug shabuir's nose."

Wrecker gave a shout, though it wasn't angry, as Crosshair rammed his fist into Rex's stomach. Rex was about to knee him in the 'nades when a strong hand jerked him backwards.

"That's enough!" Wrecker sounded cheerful as he dragged Rex away.

Hunter had grabbed Crosshair.

"Would you stop picking a fight with everyone?" The Bad Batch leader snapped.

Rex missed Crosshair's response due to Wrecker loudly smacking Tech on the back.

"That's 20 credits!" Wrecker declared.

Tech gave him a dirty look before reaching into one of his bags.

"You could have started with a punch." The smaller clone grumbled.

"What- did you bet on that?" Rex asked.

"Crosshair gets into so many fights, me and Tech bet on the move the other guy uses to start." Wrecker said, accepting a handful of credits from Tech.

Tech gave Rex a glare.

"Statistically, you should have started with a punch."

"Me, I like the underdogs, like elbows or headbutts." Wrecker put in. "Or biting!"

"That happened once and it was a loth cat. " Tech said.

"That was a good fight." Wrecker said dreamily.

"Against a loth cat?" Rex asked.

"Yeah!" Wrecker said. "Cause we actually got to watch him fight it instead of breaking it up!"

The mental image of Crosshair trying to brawl with a screeching ball of fur made Rex feel a lot better. As did the sight of Crosshair's bloody nose. Their eyes met and Crosshair gave a mocking smile.

"If he says anything to the Commander, he won't be getting into any more fights." Rex growled.

Wrecker and Tech exchanged looks.

"He might not say anything. She is a Jedi." Wrecker ventured.

"Perhaps." Tech didn't sound so sure.

"Come on, let's wake her up. She'll need time to recover before we arrive." Hunter said.

Rex was anxious to get her out. Currently their bond felt heavy and the silence from it made Rex uncomfortable. It was odd how used he was to it already.

Ahsoka had been so unsteady when they had gone in the carbonite. Rex was prepared to catch her limp body as Tech hit a few buttons. Instead she stepped forward and only needed his shoulder.

"Rex?" She mumbled. "What's going on?"

"Sit down, you'll remember in a minute."

Rex guided her to his chair. She seemed much better than she had been when she had gone in, if not disorientated. She kept blinking up at Rex, confused. Rex stayed by her side, giving Crosshair pointed looks. Crosshair stayed back, but his eyes glowed with an unpleasant look.

Rex felt her head clear before she said anything.

"We're going to Naboo. Senator Amidala has a ship waiting for us." He told her before she could ask.

She blinked at him again.

"How did she know?"

"Probably Cody and General Kenobi." Rex said with a shrug. "If anyone could be counted on to help you, it's her."

Tech approached her.

"I would like to take another blood sample." He said without preamble.

Ahsoka frowned.

"Why?"

Tech explained his findings and Ahsoka grew more disturbed.

"Fine. I'll give you access to the Jedi archives so you can do better research." Ahsoka said. "Or, since they've probably revoked my codes, ask Obi-Wan."

"Oh yeah, let's just ask General Kenobi." Crosshair said.

Ahsoka ignored him, which Rex found impressive. Crosshair's voice had a way of getting under his skin.

Tech took another sample and bustled off to do more research.

Ahsoka turned to Hunter.

"Thank you," She said. "For your help."

Hunter shrugged.

"We owed Cody a favor."

"Smuggling two high profile criminals off planet?" Ahsoka said, folding her arms. "Some favor."

Hunter rubbed the back of his head.

"Well-"

"We don't like it when people get treated unfairly." Wrecker boomed. "'Specially if it's not their fault."

Ahsoka grinned up at Wrecker.

"Well, I'm grateful for that."


"I liked them." Ahsoka said.

She was gazing out their new ship's window into space. Captain Tycho had been waiting for them on Naboo with the much nicer, though still inconspicuous, ship. There had been an invitation to stay as well, but Rex had said he had a plan. Besides, Naboo was too populated, too close to the Republic.

"So did I, mostly." Rex admitted.

"Mostly?"

"Crosshair."

"Ah."

She returned her gaze to the stars outside.

"Wrecker reminded me of Hardcase." She said quietly.

She felt a soft sadness from their bond. He had seen it too.

"And it was nice of Tech to get me these." She touched one of the pseudo-lightsabers Tech had presented her with. The modified electro-staffs were perfectly balanced.

"I dunno how he managed to make them with the time restraint." Rex said. His eyes were still on the console.

"I got the feeling he'd been working on them a long time. He just now had a reason to give them to somebody."

Rex just grunted in reply. There was a pause.

"Hunter's a good man." He said.

Ahsoka placed a hand on his shoulder.

"Like a certain Captain I know."

Rex cleared his throat and studied the controls closer.

"Where are we going, then?" Ahsoka said.

She enjoyed teasing her Captain, but she knew when to change the subject.

"Saleucami." Rex said. "I have-a friend there."

"A friend." Ahsoka repeated. Just like how he was now able to see her lies more clearly, she could now identify his half-truths just as easily.

"It's hard to explain, Commander." Rex said. There was a note of pleading in his voice. "Please, just wait until we get there."

"You trust them?"

"With your life."


The Force was screaming. She screamed with it. The Force had connected her to others before, but never this many lifeforms. Millions of minds bore down on her and she lost which one was hers. Memories that weren't hers, feelings that weren't hers, souls that weren't hers flooded her senses. The occasional drop in the ocean seemed familiar to her. Some shone with blinding light, a few were steeped in numbing darkness. On the edge of her mind, she was aware of her physical body burning.

Suddenly four minds, pulled along by threads of light drew close to hers. Two were shining bright and a third pulsed with power. The fourth was dim in comparison, but was warm and steady.

They pulled her mind down and shielded it from the galaxy. She resisted. She could tell it caused them pain, especially the fourth mind. It did not have the strength to do this for her.

The four presences held her until the universe began to shrink. Three of them became faint again. The fourth stayed close, drenched in fear. Soon it was only the two of them.

She was Ahsoka again and she hurt. Her arm was blazing with white hot pain. It radiated to the rest of her and she couldn't help but cry out. She clenched her hand and found it clutching something. She forced open her eye a crack. Someone was gripping her hand with both of their own. A corner of her fevered mind knew this person. They would keep her safe.

The hands held hers until the pain faded enough for her to slip into unconsciousness.

Ahsoka faded in and out of wakefulness. Sometimes she thought she'd said something, but she was never quite sure. Someone certainly talked to her. She couldn't make out the words but the cadance and tone soothed her. Sometimes hands would lift her and help her drink. Her arm throbbed throughout.

Ahsoka woke fully for the first time feeling like absolute osik. Her arm still burned and she barely had the strength to turn her head.

Rex sat hunched at her bedside with his head in his hands.

"Rex?" She croaked.

His head snapped up.

"Commander!" He gasped.

Their bond was flooded with relief. He jumped up and hurried off.

"How long have I been out?" She asked as he came back with a canteen.

"It's been over a standard day." He said. He ran a bruised hand over his head. "For the first while you were just in pain. Then you started acting like you were drugged again, only worse than you were before."

Ahsoka noticed the shadows under his eyes. He looked between her and the canteen.

"Can't move very well." She told him.

He helped her into a sitting position and steadied the canteen.

"You had a pretty bad fever; it only broke an hour ago." He said as he lowered her back down.

His relief had given way to exhaustion. Though the memory of her experience was fuzzy, she knew the efforts he went through to try and help her.

"Rex, you need to sleep." She said.

He shook his head.

"No, sir." He muttered.

"That's an order." She tried to sound firm, though she didn't know if she pulled it off.

He frowned.

"Sir, you've been very ill." He said. "I can't just leave you. "

"I'm sure our bond will wake you if anything goes too badly." Ahsoka said.

He still looked unconvinced.

"Sleep, Rex." She said.

It was a mistake. A flash of pain hit her head and the Force suggestion was suddenly Force mind control. Rex's eyes immediately rolled into the back of his head and he fell forward. Luckily he was still sitting and his head fell onto the mattress.

Ahsoka was scared, though she tried to reign it in as to not wake Rex. What strength she had woken up with was gone. Whatever Palpatine had done to her wasn't going away, whatever Tech said. She wouldn't be able to use the Force anymore. The repercussions were crippling.


Rex was awake and agitated when Ahsoka woke up again.

"Please never do that again." His voice was tight and he was studying her bandaged arm rather than her face.

Ahsoka winced.

"It wasn't supposed to be that strong." She admitted. "I'm sorry."

He looked away.

"How are you feeling?" He finally asked.

"A lot better." She said. "How about you?"

Rex simply shrugged and glanced at her arm again. She held it up. They both recoiled at what was under the bandages and bacta. The injection point was swollen again and the black veins were spreading.

Rex stood up.

"We're going back to Naboo."

"We can't." Ahsoka said. "I'm pretty sure only a Jedi healer will be able to help whatever's happening to me."

"We can't just do nothing!" He protested. "What if it gets bad again?"

"Then we'll wait it out." She said. "It doesn't seem designed to kill me."

She sat up and touched his arm.

"Anakin will find Barriss soon. Don't worry."

He met her gaze and his shoulders dropped.

"We're almost to Saleucami." He said.


Ahsoka was relieved if only for Rex's sake when they stepped out onto the marshy planet.

"This looks like the middle of nowhere, Rex." She told him.

"Because it is. It'll be a bit of a hike." Rex said. Ahsoka pulled her pack up around her shoulders. Rex had initially planned to go alone to find his friend, but Ahsoka didn't like the idea of him going without backup.

"You know where we're going, right?" Ahsoka asked.

Rex frowned.

"Commander, I really think you should stay here." He said. "You're still recovering."

"I can walk." Ahsoka said.

Rex's mouth tightened but he turned to the horizon. He scrutinized the landscape.

"This way." He sounded less than certain.

"Are you sure?"

"Sure enough. I know for a fact it's in this sector. We'll find it eventually." He said.

He glanced back at her.

"You could stay with the ship."

"Just lead the way." Ahsoka grumbled.

It was an hour before Ahsoka started to regret her stubbornness. Her arm started to throb painfully and she was getting short of breath. And the landscape looked kriffing the same. She was getting tired of slightly muddy ground beneath her feet.

"Let's take a rest." Rex said.

His worried tone meant he knew how she was faring. Kriff. Either she was failing miserably at mentally shielding or he was getting very good at seeing past her defenses. She normally was an expert at hiding exhaustion. She kept it from Anakin all the time.

She nonetheless sank gratefully onto the ground. Rex settled down next to her.

"I think I recognize that ridge." He pointed out a knoll a little ways away. "Might be where I got shot, actually. Shouldn't be too far now."

Ahsoka grunted and sipped at her canteen.

They rested a lot longer than Ahsoka knew Rex usually allowed. She hated to admit that she was glad that they had. Finally he got to his feet and helped her up.

"Let me take that, Commander." He said as she made to put her pack on. When she handed it over without a word, she got a spike of worry from him.

"Just a bit further." Rex promised.

"Not if you're going in that direction." An oddly familiar voice said.

Rex and Ahsoka whirled around, which made Ahsoka's head spin.

To Ahsoka's utter shock, a lanky clone with reddish long hair to rival Tup's had appeared. Ahsoka didn't know whether or not to lower her guard. Rex, however, relaxed.

"If you were looking for my farm, it's thataway." The clone nodded off in a direction.

Though his face was relaxed, his eyes gave them a shrewd examination. He smirked.

"It's not what you're thinking, Cut." Rex said.

"Too bad. Would've been a lot more interesting if it was."

"Commander, this is Cut Lawquane. He was the one who took care of me after I was shot."

A last name? And what was he doing all the way out here by himself?

Then it clicked.

"You're a deserter." The idea didn't revolt her as she knew it did many of the clones.

Cut spread his arms wide.

"Guilty as charged."

Rex's discomfort with the subject trickled into Ahsoka's mind.

"Cut, this is my Jedi Commander, Commander Tano." Rex said. "We need your help."

Cut raised an eyebrow.

"I guessed as much. What sort of trouble are you in?"

"We're on the run from the Republic." Ahsoka supplied. "We need somewhere to lie low."

Cut blinked.

"Not exactly what I was expecting." He said. "Come on, you can tell me all about it at my place."

Chapter Text

"No, you don't need to call Emdy, Cody." Obi Wan said, waving his concerned Commander off of him. "I'm perfectly all right."

Ahsoka might not be. He thought. If the experience had momentarily overwhelmed him, he dreaded to think what it had done to his grandpadawan.

At least it was only Cody here with him outside the barracks. It wouldn't do to have half a battalion fussing over him.

"Obi Wan."

Obi Wan looked up to see Plo Koon, who was hurrying towards him with a confused looking Wolffe.

"We need to discuss what has just happened." Plo said without preamble.

"Yes." Obi Wan said. "Quite the fascinating experience."

Plo stared at Obi Wan.

"I would hardly describe that as fascinating."

"On the contrary," Obi Wan replied. "It was horrifying, concerning, and quite fascinating."

I have to focus on the fact that it's fascinating. Obi Wan thought. Or I'd be out of my mind with worry.

"Begging your pardon, sirs, but what happened?" Cody asked. "One moment you're telling me about our next deployment and the next you're in some sort of trance!"

"I'd like the answer to that myself." Wolffe growled.

Obi Wan's holo transmitter went off. It was Anakin. Obi Wan grit his teeth and answered it.

"Obi Wan!" Anakin shouted, looking to be in his Jedi fighter. "What the hell just happened? Ahsoka-"

Anakin suddenly swore and Obi Wan could swear he could hear blaster fire."

"Anakin!" Obi Wan said, aghast. "Are you in a fight?"

"Just a skirmish-" Anakin said. "Barriss is giving me a struggle but that doesn't matter. What's happening to Ahsoka?"

"I have never felt a presence so large in the Force." Plo said. "But one thing is clear: she was in distress."

"There's something wrong with Commander Tano?" Wolffe asked, his brow furrowed.

"Unfortunately that seems to be the case." Obi Wan said, stroking his beard.

"What do we do?" Anakin demanded.

"I did not sense her life to be in danger yet." Plo said. "Our focus should be on capturing Offee. Then Ahsoka can return to us and we can help her."

"I'm working on it!" Anakin said testily. "Dammit! R2, calculate the trajectory, she's landed on the planet!"

Obi Wan's heart sank.

"Pursue as quickly as you can." He instructed.

"You think I'm not?" Came Anakin's sharp reply and the holo clicked off.

Obi Wan and Plo looked at one another. Plo cleared his throat.

"Was I mistaken, or could you sense Captain Rex as well?"

"I could." Obi Wan said. "Even if for whatever reason Rex has bonded with Ahsoka, the fact that we were able to feel him so closely through her-"

"Could you feel the other minds?" Plo asked.

Cody and Wolffe looked from one General to the other, clearly confused.

"Sirs, what exactly happened?" Cody asked. "What's happened to Rex?"

Obi Wan looked at his commander.

"My apologies, Cody. Something has happened to Ahsoka. Her presence in the Force became larger than any I've felt and it seemed she was connecting to thousands of minds at once. I've never heard of any Jedi being able to do so." Obi Wan tried to explain. "Rex was one of the closest minds, and he was able to help us assist her."

Cody's brow furrowed.

"Are they all right, sir?"

Obi Wan sighed and put a hand to his head.

"They are alive." He said. "And that will have to suffice for now."


The pink Twi Lek who Cut had introduced as his wife placed a cup of tea in front of Ahsoka.

"Thank you." Ahsoka said.

Suu smiled and turned her attention back to Rex and Cut. Rex was explaining their circumstances while Cut listened with a frown.

"Kriff." Cut said when Rex finished. "Kriff."

He looked over at Ahsoka and shook his head.

"You're welcome to stay as long as you need." He said. "I can only offer the barn though."

"Thank you, Cut." Rex said. "That will be just fine."

There was a chatter of young voices and two Twi Lek children burst into the kitchen from outside. The girl and boy froze at the sight of Rex. Then the boy whooped and the girl squealed.

"Uncle Rex is here!" The boy shouted.

Ahsoka blinked in confusion. Her puzzlement was reflected in Rex's eyes.

"Er, hello, Shaeeah. Hello, Jek." He said before glancing at Cut.

Cut grinned.

"We're brothers, aren't we?" He said. "Besides, you're their hero after what happened with the clankers."

"Are you gonna fight more droids?" Jek asked eagerly.

"I hope not." Rex said with a small smile.

There was a look in his eye that Ahsoka had never seen in him before. It was matched with a strange feeling leaking into her mind from his. It was affection for the children, yes, but it was paired with an emotion that made things bittersweet. Longing.

Jek pouted impressively and then caught sight of Ahsoka. Immediately both kids focused their attention on her.

"Who are you?" Shaeeah asked.

"What's wrong with your head?" Jek added.

"Jek!" Suu said sharply while Cut roared with laughter. Rex seemed caught between amusement and embarrassment.

"My name is Ahsoka." Ahsoka told them. "I'm Rex's friend."

"So why do you got an extra lek?" Jek asked.

"All right, you two." Suu said. "Stop pestering our guests."

She looked up at Rex and Ahsoka.

"Commander, Rex, why don't you go and get settled in the barn. I'll bring something by in a bit." She continued.

The barn was small. Cut's eopies took up most of the space, with barely room for a hard looking wooden bench.

"I'll take the floor." Rex said immediately.

Ahsoka was too tired to give her usual and completely futile protests. Meeting Cut and his family had given her some energy, but now she was ready to curl up and sleep for a rotation. Rex quickly unpacked one of their blankets and handed it to her.

"Get some rest, sir." He said.

"You sound like a broken holo." She said, though she sat down on the bench with the blanket wrapped around her.

Suu came in a few minutes later with a few more pieces of bedding, including Cut's old GAR bedroll.

"I'll bring you dinner once Cut gets around to making it." She said with a wink.

"I forgot this is what they were like." Rex said as he laid out the bedroll. "Did we really manage to sleep on these? This old design is terrible."

Ahsoka watched him. He had relaxed a lot since they'd arrived. His shoulders were loose and his expression not quite so grim. Sparks of anxiety were no longer flying from his mind.

He settled on the floor with their blaster and started to go over it. His movements were smooth and methodical. Ahsoka found herself content just watching him.

She didn't know when she fell asleep, but the smell of food snapped her awake. She lifted her head from a folded blanket that she was pretty sure wasn't there before. Cut had come in, bearing two plates.

"Sorry that took so long." Cut said cheerfully. "The kids wanted to help."

Ahsoka blinked away the sleep and accepted the food he offered. Cut must have had some idea about Togruta biology, because the plate consisted mostly of meat.

"Thanks, Cut." Rex said. "If you need any help around the farm-"

"I'll let you know if anything needs doing." Cut said. "Just shout if you need anything."

Rex nodded and Cut left them alone again. The food tasted amazing to Ahsoka, though anything would after a few days of ration bars. Rex accepted her few vegetables without complaint. It was a habit they had formed when they'd been invited to a feast by the grateful inhabitants of a planet.

They'd just cleared the Separatists off of the almost primitive people's planet. Their host's culture found it extremely offensive to leave any food on a plate after a meal. That, and the fact the idea of a sentient carnivore was somehow outside their comprehension, had left a 14 year old Ahsoka terrified of ruining the Republic's relationship with these people. She could technically eat vegetables; it wouldn't kill her. Too many left her queasy and after a certain point they just refused to stay down. Ahsoka had eaten as many as she dared, but it hadn't been enough. She had also been far too proud to signal her Master for help and Master Obi-Wan had been elsewhere. Ahsoka had been near tears when Rex had silently speared a few from her plate. For the rest of the meal, he had surreptitiously snuck the vegetables away until both their plates were empty. He'd seemed pretty uncomfortable for the rest of the evening but had promised her he'd take care of any food she couldn't eat.

Apparently that was still true three years later.

Now, with her stomach comfortably full and her arm only aching, Ahsoka curled up on the bench. Rex took off his armor and settled down on his bedroll. The light had faded from the barn while they ate. Starlight filtered through the cracks in the ceiling. She could hear voices from the house. The children were laughing and shouting.

"Rex?"

"Yes, sir?" He already sounded half asleep.

"Do all the clones want a family?"

He didn't respond immediately.

"We have a family, sir." He said.

Ahsoka rolled her eyes, even though he couldn't see it.

"You know what I mean. A family like Cut's."

There was an even longer moment of silence.

"We've all thought about it." He said slowly. "Though many will deny it."

Ahsoka could feel him struggle to find the right words.

"Some of us want it more than others." He went on. "A few don't want it at all, but most of us-"

He fell silent. There were only the sounds of chirping bugs now.

"It doesn't matter anyway." He finally said. "We're soldiers. That life's not for us."

Even without the bond Ahsoka could hear the regret shade his voice.

"The war can't last forever." Ahsoka said.

"No." Rex agreed.

The unspoken question of what would happen to the clones after the war was over hung between them.

"Good night, sir."

The conversation was over. Ahsoka settled back and closed her eyes. She hadn't gotten to ask her true question. Did Rex want a family?

She already knew the answer. She'd seen it in his eyes when he talked to the kids. For some reason, she wanted desperately for him to say it aloud. Maybe because she had never heard him express any selfish wish. Sure, he wanted his brothers safe, his Generals and Commander to keep out of trouble, for civilian casualties to be low. Never had he wished for anything for himself. And for some reason, Ahsoka needed him to express this selfish, deep desire that she was suddenly aware of.

Yes.

Ahsoka's eyes snapped open. She must not have shielded her thoughts properly. Rex's response was small and hesitant, but firm in its resolve. Ahsoka glanced down at Rex. He was facing away from her, arm under his head. She didn't know if he had even meant to let her hear the answer.

He'd tightened his end of the bond; nothing else was coming through.

Ahsoka focused on making sure her own mind was closed. She was too used to being able to relax around Rex. She pulled up more shields around the warm emotions that had come to the front when he had rescued her. She wouldn't put that burden on him.


Rex woke up to sunlight streaming into the barn and whispered voices.

"They awake?"

"I dunno yet! Be patient!"

Part of Rex was a little annoyed at the children's intrusion. What if they woke the Commander? But he was mostly amused as he caught sight of a little head peeking from behind the door. When Jek made eye contact with Rex, Rex put a finger to his lips. Jek giggled, nodded, and ducked away.

Rex put his armor on as quietly as he could. He didn't know why he did; it just felt wrong if he didn't. He met Jek and Shaeeah outside in the bright sunlight. By the sun, it was still fairly early. Rex faced the kids and folded his arms.

"Did Cut send you?" Rex asked.

The kids shared guilty looks.

"No." Shaeeah admitted. "He told us to leave you alone."

Rex raised an eyebrow at them.

"Sorry." Jek muttered.

Rex shrugged.

"I should be up anyway." He said.

"Mom's making breakfast." Shaeeah piped up. "You should come eat with us!"

Rex smiled a little as he remembered his first visit and the protests he'd made.

"All right." He said.

Both kids grinned up at him and went running back to the house. Rex watched them go. He probably needed to get the commander up.

I'm awake.

Rex started. He hadn't noticed that the dreams that had been trickling into his mind, and he'd been pointedly ignoring, had stopped.

What's going on?

Rex concentrated hard to send the one word answer. Words were much harder than emotions or even memories.

Breakfast.

He got the impression of a grin.

I'll be right out.

He waited for her and relished the sunlight. He didn't often get to just stand and enjoy the sun. She joined him only a few minutes later.

"Good morning, Commander." Rex said.

Ahsoka smiled at him.

"Good morning, Captain."

He matched her pace to the house.

"Yes, I rested well. I'm feeling better than yesterday." She told him.

He blinked, then smiled.

"This saves a lot of breath." He said.

Ahsoka laughed.

"Or maybe you're getting predictable."

Cut was giving a sheepish Shaeeah and Jek a lecture when they came in.

"They've been through a lot the last couple of days, the last thing they need is you two waking them up."

"We've been through a lot the whole war." Ahsoka said mildly. "And we've been woken up in far less pleasant ways. It's fine."

Cut just shook his head.

"Have a seat." He told them. "Suu's almost got breakfast done."

"It would come faster if somebody came and helped!" Suu's slightly terse voice came from the kitchen.

Ahsoka took a step towards the kitchen but Cut raised a hand.

"That was meant for me, Ahsoka." Cut said

Rex frowned. Hearing his Commander's name in that voice felt very wrong. His men, and the men of the Wolf Pack and 212th, all called her Commander. It didn't matter how close they were with her. Their love and respect for her wouldn't allow anything different.

"You two just sit down. And you two-" Cut shot a glance at his kids. "Try not to talk their ears off."

"She doesn't have ears!" Jek protested as Cut went into the kitchen.

The kids' attentions snapped onto Ahsoka once their father was gone. Rex was shunted to the side as they assaulted her with questions in whispers. Who was she? Why did she know Rex? Why was she orange? Why were her teeth pointy?

Ahsoka answered their questions with an amused air. Rex was glad she wasn't annoyed. He didn't know if he could stop the questions if he needed to.

Eventually Cut and Suu came out with breakfast and the kids were forced to stop asking questions. Their mouths were too full and there were a lot of pointed looks from their parents.

"Chores." Cut announced as the last bites of food disappeared. Jek and Shaeeah both looked ready to protest, but their mouths snapped shut at a glance from their mother. They drooped and scooted away from the table.

The two waved to Rex and Ahsoka as they scurried out. Ahsoka returned the gesture with a grin. Rex gave his own tentative wave.

"It's looking like I'll need your help today, Rex." Cut said as soon as the kids were gone.

Rex nodded. He was glad, grateful to have something to do.

"And you won't be able to wear that." Cut nodded to the grimy armor Rex wore. "I have a change of my clothes here."

He tossed a bundle at Rex, who caught it.

"Thank you." Rex said.

He gathered up the clothes and stepped towards the door.

"Don't leave on my account." Suu said as Cut handed her the dirty dishes. "I've seen your chest plenty of times."

Rex froze as Cut started laughing, hard. He appreciated the fact that the Commander was not laughing, though he could sense she really wanted to.

Rex found farm work almost enjoyable. Sure, he was awkward with the farming tools at first, but it felt good to work in the sun. Ahsoka was busy too; Cut had some farm equipment that was acting up. After she had fixed those, she wormed her way into helping in the fields. It was hard work, with the sun beating down or raining thrumming on their heads. Rex was worried, but he had to trust his commander.

He was right to. She took far more breaks than she normally would and would spend part of the day watching the eopies with the kids. Rex and Ahsoka spent most of the day practicing with their bond. At least, Rex practiced while she patiently received his clumsy messages.

She was getting better. Rex started to let himself become hopeful about her recovery.

Until the third day.

Rex had been working side by side with Cut and Ahsoka had been helping herd the eopies back to the barn.

Rex.

Rex snapped his head up. He met Ahsoka's eyes from across the field.

The hoe dropped to the earth as Rex bolted towards her. Ahsoka stood frozen. She offered no resistance as Rex scooped her into his arms. It was happening again. Whatever it was was happening again. He didn't quite understand what happened to her mind during these episodes. Already he reached through their bond, instinctually pulling like he did before. It hurt, but he knew without it she would hurt more. Rex could deal with the pain. He began running for the barn.

"Rex!" Cut yelled, but Rex couldn't respond.

He was running on instinct and that instinct told him to get Ahsoka to shelter. She wasn't lucid by the time Rex slammed the barn door behind them. He knelt with her. Most of his attention was on whatever he was doing through their bond, but he was aware of her thrashing. Rex clamped his arms around her so she couldn't hurt herself. Then he poured every part of his mind into helping her.

A quiet, familiar voice echoed from somewhere.

"Rex, you can let go. We have her."

It was General Kenobi's voice.

"No!" Rex managed to send the strangled thought. He couldn't let go, if he could help his commander just a little bit.

Rex thought he could hear his own voice calling his name, asking what was wrong, but he shut it out. Ahsoka was still yelling in his arms. He bent low over her, willing whatever it was to stop.

And then it did. Suddenly she quieted, her breathing becoming less ragged. He felt something change through their bond. He slowly let go. She lay limp in his arms, still breathing, he reassured himself. Rex became aware of someone's hand on his shoulder. He looked up to see Cut crouched down in front of him. Concern was etched across his face.

"What was that, vod?" He asked quietly.

"I don't know." Rex's voice was trembling and rough, and he hated it. He was so tired. "It's happened once before, since we broke her out."

Cut's brow furrowed.

"You mean the Republic did this to her?" He hissed.

Rex could only nod.

"Those bastards." Cut growled.

There was another presence near Rex. He flinched.

"Cut," Suu's voice was quiet. "Go take care of the children."

Cut reluctantly moved away and Suu took his place.

"Rex," She said. "What can I get for you?"

Rex placed a hand over Ahsoka's forehead. As he expected, she was feverish.

"Do you have anything for fevers?" He asked. The medical supplies from the Bad Batch had been mostly bacta.

Suu nodded.

"Come, take her to our bedroom. She can rest there."

Rex stood, lifting Ahsoka. His legs trembled, but he tried to keep his stride strong as he followed Suu out of the barn and into the house.

"She'll be like this," Rex said. "For at least a day. She'll be weak after she wakes up."

Rex helped Suu settle Ahsoka down in the large bed. Rex pulled over a chair and sat down next to her. He took up her hand. Her glazed eyes seemed to focus on him before closing.

"Rex, what are you doing?" Suu asked.

"I have to stay with her." Rex mumbled. "I can't leave her alone."

His mind was so tired. The only clear thing he knew was that Ahsoka couldn't be alone.

"Rex, I can do that." Suu said gently. "You need to rest too. You were there for almost two hours."

Rex tried to focus on her. Had it been that long?

"I have to-"

"I will stay with her." Suu cut across him. "And if I grow tired, Cut can take my place. It will be all right, Captain. You don't have to do it alone."

"Alright." He muttered. "But please, if anything changes-"

"I will get you." Suu assured him, with a hand on his shoulder. "Go and rest. We will take care of her."

Rex nodded, head bowed.

"Thank you." He said.

He stayed in the chair; he would be nearby no matter what. He closed his eyes, and his exhausted mind and body drifted off.

It took even longer this time for his commander to wake fully. It was easier on him in a way, with Cut and Suu helping him watch over her. It was also harder, because he had no idea if she would wake again. When she finally looked at him with seeing eyes instead of ones glassy with pain and fever, he nearly cried out with relief.

"It happened again." She said quietly.

"Yes." He said. "It's getting worse."

He studied her pale face.

"Is there any way we can get you help?" He asked.

"Anakin has almost found Barriss, I can feel it." Ahsoka insisted.

She squeezed his hand.

"I just need to hold on a little bit longer."

He lowered his head. He was so tired.

"All right." He muttered.

That night Ahsoka felt strong enough to join them at the dinner table. Jek and Shaeeah were unusually quiet, as they had been during Ahsoka's fits. They seemed scared of her now, watching her as if she was going to collapse at any moment. Rex didn't know if they were wrong to. Regardless, Rex was in high enough spirits at Ahsoka's recovery that he accepted Cut's challenge to a game of dejarik after dinner and the kids went out to play. Suu and Ahsoka gave advice and encouragement for their respective sides.

At one point Shaeeah wandered back in.

"Something wrong, sweetheart?" Cut asked.

"Just getting a drink." His daughter replied. "Jek runs too much and I got thirsty."

Shaeeah came over to look at the board after she got her drink. She studied it, then whispered in Cut's ear. Cut grinned and made a very good move. Rex scowled at him.

"That's cheating!" Ahsoka protested.

Shaeeah giggled and Cut laughed.

"Just taking advantage of the resident master." Cut said.

Shaeeah's eyes gleamed at her father's praise.

"You have to help me if you're going to help your father." Rex said.

Shaeeah whirled to face Rex, eyes suddenly ablaze.

"Daddy's not my father!" She shouted.

Then she tore back outside. Cut stood up and followed her. Rex stared after them for a moment. What was that about?

Rex and Ahsoka turned to look at Suu, who was stiff. She met their stares and their unspoken questions with her own steely gaze.

"The father is dead." Suu said.

"I'm sorry." Ahsoka said.

"Don't be. I was the one who killed him." Suu's voice was flat.

Rex felt his surprise mirrored in the bond.

"What happened?" Ahsoka sounded like she was scared of the answer.

Suu looked at Ahsoka carefully.

"I am sure you have seen what has happened to my people, how they are taken advantage of throughout the galaxy." Suu said. "My family was taken by Zygerrians when I was six."

Scars on Rex's neck and back prickled at her words. His fists clenched. Ahsoka had shifted closer, putting a hand on his back.

Suu gave him a curious look.

"You have experience with the Zygerrians?"

"Yes." Rex muttered.

Sweltering heat, the screams of the Togrutan colonists, the biting pain of the electrowhips on his own back. Rex screwed his eyes shut against the memories. For a second they threatened to overwhelm him. There was a reason he never spoke of the mission, avoided all mentions of that dar'yaim. There had been few missions that had even come close to the hell of Umbara. Kadavo was the front of that list. A mental touch that was distinctly his commander's soothed the images, shutting them down. When Rex looked up, he could see scars matching his own on Suu's neck.

"Yes." Rex said again. "I've experienced them."

Suu nodded.

"They sold me to the father of my children when I was fourteen." Her eyes were cold and distant. "He allowed Shaeeah's birth. I believe it was because she was a girl. But when Jek was born-"

Suu's hand clenched on the table.

"He was going to kill my son. I would not allow him to." She said. "After he was dead, I escaped here."

"Where did this happen?" Ahsoka asked. "We can send troops there and put a stop to it."

Suu looked at Rex and Ahsoka.

"This was on Coruscant."

Rex lay awake for a long time after that conversation. The Zygerrian's influence spread even to the heart of the Republic. Part of him itched to return to Coruscant to find and wipe out any trace of the shabuir he could find. He hovered between wakefulness and sleep, knowing what the latter would bring him.


Ahsoka woke to the sound of a comm chirping. For a moment she was confused. Her head was not resting on a folded blanket on a hard bench. Whatever was beneath her was warm, firm, and moved.

Oh kriff.

She pulled her head up off of Rex's shoulders.

She remembered now. Rex had woken her with his nightmares early in the night. There was no way she could have continued sleeping with the sounds of whips, feelings of spasming muscles, and the sights of dozens of Togrutan slaves with her face, trickling into her mind. So she had sat by his side, soothing what she could. He must have eventually moved past the nightmares, for now he was breathing deeply and only vague emotions oozed into their bond.

The comm chirped again and Ahsoka eased herself away from Rex. She picked up their comm and stepped outside. Rex didn't ever get enough sleep and she wouldn't wake him.

She clicked the comm on.

"Rex? Ahsoka?" The voice crackled through.

Ahsoka put a hand to her mouth, trembling.

"Master?" She choked out.

She sometimes felt she would never hear that voice again.

"Snips!" Anakin said. "Force, it's good to hear you."

He sounded as emotional as she felt.

"Are you okay? How are you feeling?" He went on.

"I'm-" Ahsoka was very aware of the aching in her arm and her weariness. "I'm fine, Master."

"Ahsoka." Anakin said. "I've felt what's been happening to you."

Ahsoka faltered.

"Rex takes care of me. It won't kill me." She finally said.

"Ahsoka-" Anakin started.

"Trust me, Master." Ahsoka cut him off. "I'll be fine. What did you call for?"

"Barriss is in custody. She's confessed." Anakin said. "Your name has been cleared."

Chapter Text

Padme watched as the Temple Guards led Barriss Offee away. Anakin stood alone in the center of the courtroom, his part played. He had insisted on being the one to escort the padawan to court along with the Temple Guards.

A twinge of sympathy plucked Padme's heart for the young woman. She in part understood her motivations. The Republic nor the Jedi were the shining example of peace and justice they presented themselves as. Padme herself felt that there was more that could be done to end this war sooner.

But to sacrifice the lives of innocents to achieve it: no motivation could justify that. Then to frame a person that Barriss had called a friend? For it to be Ahsoka: a Jedi who did have pure intentions and someone Padme loved as a sister. Padme rarely was vindictive but there was a certain satisfaction in seeing Barriss be brought to justice.

"It seems the matter is closed." Palpatine said with an air of weariness.

"Not quite, your Excellency." Padme spoke up. "We must discuss the sentence of Ahsoka Tano."

Palpatine turned his pale gaze to Padme and she shivered. No matter how much her husband respected and admired the Chancellor, Padme was now finding the man to be unsettling.

"Ah, yes." Palpatine said.

"Now that the crimes Ahsoka Tano was accused of have been determined to be the actions of Barriss Offee, Tano's sentence should be overturned." Padme said.

Perhaps she was being overly cautious, but after everything, Padme wanted the words said. There would be no doubt that Ahsoka could go free.

"This is highly unusual." Palpatine said. "The accused is not present."

Padme frowned. He was dithering more than usual about this.

"The law does not require the accused to be in attendance for alterations to their sentence." Padme said.

"Alterations, yes, but this is overturning the entire sentence-" Palpatine fussed.

"I would think the court would be eager to rectify their mistake in condemning Ahsoka Tano." Padme said coolly.

Palpatine met her eyes again and for just a moment, Padme felt hatred in his gaze. Cold, potent loathing. She was taken aback. Then his eyes softened. It had only lasted a second. Perhaps she had imagined it?

"You are correct, of course." Palpatine said. "I hereby declare Ahsoka Tano's sentence of death to be overturned. She is cleared of all charges."

Padme watched her husband sag with relief. Her own chest felt hollow without the constant weight of anxiety over Ahsoka's fate.

The ending proceedings dragged on. Palpatine twisted words until it seemed like it wasn't the Republic's fault they had condemned Ahsoka. It was almost an hour later before Padme was hurrying to Anakin in the hallway.

Padme wanted to sink into his embrace, but the highly public building was no place for that.

"We did it!" Anakin breathed. "Kriff, it's over!"

"You did it, you mean." Padme said. "I wasn't much help in the initial trial. It was you capturing Barriss that did the trick."

"You did great." Anakin protested. "It wasn't your fault Barriss did everything to frame Ahsoka."

Padme smiled at him. He was absolutely glowing with joy. It was getting very difficult now to not kiss the silly grin off his face.

"Congratulations." A cold voice said. "It seems your apprentice was not guilty after all."

Tarkin was striding towards them. His words were empty and he scanned them with a contemptuous gaze.

"I told you she wasn't!" Anakin said.

Padme was impressed that he was keeping a somewhat civil tone. Tarkin gave no reaction as he continued to stare at Anakin.

"It is a pity you will have to be involved with another trial so soon after." He said.

"What are you talking about?" Anakin asked.

"Regarding the clone." Tarkin said.

"Clone?" Anakin asked. "You mean Rex?"

"CT-7567, yes." Tarkin said.

Padme frowned. The way he said it made it seem he was correcting Anakin's use of Rex's name.

"'What trial?" Anakin demanded.

"I suppose lawsuit would be the more appropriate term." Tarkin said. "The clone has acted in such a way that we have never seen before. There are elements in the Senate that have decided to take legal action against the Kaminoans. They clearly have falsely advertised their product."

"What does that have to do with Rex?" Anakin asked.

Tarkin regarded him with contempt and something similar to pity.

"The clone disobeyed orders." He said slowly. "All clones are under a standing order to obey the laws of Coruscant. The Kaminoans told us that the clones are completely obedient. Clearly this is not true. In any case, the clone must be examined in court, to prove its defectiveness. The Senate has asked me to be their representative in the case."

The pit reformed in Padme's stomach. Oh, no.

"In court? Defective?" Anakin asked. "But Ahsoka was cleared!"

Tarkin's lip twitched in a facsimile of a smile.

"A pity indeed." He said. "Congratulations again."

The admiral turned on his heel and strode away. Padme watched him go, her insides twisting.

"Rex, being defective? What a load of bantha poodoo." Anakin said as Tarkin disappeared from view. "He must be angry he was proved wrong."

"Ani." Padme said softly. "He's right. Rex broke the law."

Anakin frowned at her.

"Ahsoka was proven innocent!" He said. "He was right to break her out!"

Padme repressed a sigh. As much as her husband was a tactical and combat genius, he could be a bit dense in other matters.

"Ani, it doesn't matter that she was innocent." Padme said. "Breaking someone out of jail, regardless of their guilt, is illegal. And to the Kaminoans, breaking the law means he's defective."

Anakin stared at her with wide, confused blue eyes. Understanding dawned in them and he paled.

"They can't!" He said, anger now underscoring his words. "They can't take him after everything he's done!"

"Take him?" Padme said. "Anakin, what happens to defective clones?"

She cursed herself for not doing the research.

"It's a death sentence." Anakin's voice was deadly calm and it scared her. "They're decommissioned if they're lucky. Reconditioned if they're not. Padme, if they decide Rex is defective, we lose him. ".

Padme stared at him with dismay. Anakin put a hand to his head.

"I can't- I can't lose Rex." He said.

He looked up to Padme.

"I'll go to the Chancellor." He said. "He'll listen to me. He can pardon Rex."

"Ani-"

"He will!" Anakin said. He was in one of his moods where he acted exactly as stubborn as an eopie. It would be easier for him to listen to her if he had plugged his ears and sang loudly.

"All right." She said.

She couldn't do much but appear to agree with him when he was like this. Internally, Padme was already making plans. She agreed with Anakin on that point. Tarkin would not have Rex.


Anakin waited as patiently as he could outside Chancellor Palpatine's office.

He paced up and down the room. The Chancellor had asked him to wait for 'just a few moments.' It had been an hour since then. Anakin liked the Chancellor very much but even he had to admit that the man had the politician's habit of keeping people waiting. The Coruscant Guard around him were cold and silent sentinels. The door finally slid open and Anakin whirled around. There was the Chancellor walking out and- and Tarkin.

"Yes, Admiral, you are correct." Chancellor Palpatine was saying. "I will ensure it."

"Thank you, Chancellor." Tarkin said. He caught sight of Anakin and his eyes narrowed. There was an unpleasant gleam in them. "Skywalker."

Anakin ignored him and turned eagerly to the Chancellor.

"We will meet tomorrow to discuss the other matters you mentioned, Admiral." Chancellor Palpatine said. "Anakin, my boy, come in."

Anakin hurried in after the Chancellor as Tarkin walked away.

"Sit, my boy." Chancellor Palpatine said cheerfully. "Shall I have refreshments ordered?"

"No, thank you." Anakin said. He remained on his feet.

"What can I do for you?" The Chancellor said as he sat at his desk. He peered at Anakin over laced fingers. Anakin hesitated. The Chancellor was one of the few people Anakin felt he needed to consider carefully what he said.

"Chancellor, I came to ask for a pardon for my Captain, Rex." Anakin said.

Chancellor Palpatine's brows knit together.

"This is the clone who is suspected to be with Tano?" He asked. "As well as being involved with her escape?"

Anakin nodded.

"Oh dear." The Chancellor said with a sigh. "This is indeed unfortunate."

He looked back up to Anakin.

"I'm afraid I cannot, my boy." He said.

Anakin's stomach plummeted.

"Your Excellency, you don't understand." He said. "Rex was only trying to protect his Commander-"

"It is not that I am unwilling." Chancellor Palpatine said. "I am unable. The clones are not sentients, and therefore cannot be pardoned. The law is quite clear."

Anakin stared at the Chancellor. Emotions boiled in his core.

"Rex- Rex is my right hand." Anakin said. "He's one of the reasons the 501st is so successful- the army needs him!"

"I'm sure a replacement can be found." Chancellor Palpatine said gently. "I'm sorry, Anakin, but it is impossible."

A flash of anger flared in Anakin's chest. He quickly reigned it in. There were some people you simply did not get angry at. Anakin instead struggled to find the right words.

"Your Excellency, you know I trust your judgment, but you don't understand the clones."

"The matter is closed, Anakin!" For a moment Anakin caught sight of that coldness that lurked behind the Chancellor's eyes. It made Anakin feel small, like he was a slave on Tatooine again. He resisted the urge to recoil. Then the man's warmth and sympathy returned and Anakin relaxed.

"I truly am sorry, my boy." Chancellor Palpatine said. "If only the Jedi had taken more care with the investigation. Perhaps this would not have had to happen."

"It was Tarkin who-" Anakin protested.

"The good Admiral took over the investigation because he believed the Jedi would not be willing to be thorough." Chancellor Palpatine said. "A mistake, perhaps, but one with good intentions."

Anakin doubted that. The Chancellor was right, however. The Jedi should have been more careful with the investigation. If they had done it correctly from the start, none of this would have happened.

Rex.

Anakin's insides burned. They had saved Ahsoka, but it seemed Rex would fall instead.

No.

Anakin clenched his fists. Rex would not be punished for others' mistakes. Anakin would go to Padme, and Obi Wan. They would make a plan.

"Thank you for your time, your Excellency." Anakin mumbled, giving a bow. "I must be going now."

Chancellor Palpatine inclined his head.

"I understand." He said. "You have my deepest condolences."

"Thank you." Anakin said. Then he stopped. An idea had struck him. Perhaps they could prove Rex not defective after all.


A burst of emotions filled Ahsoka's chest at the news. Relief, hurt at Barriss' betrayal, and a twinge of anxiety at the tone in Anakin's voice. The emotions kept any words from forming.

"Snips?" Anakin said. "There's more."

"Go ahead, Master." She was surprised with how even her voice was.

"Rex can't come home yet." Anakin said. "Tarkin's trying to prove him defective."

Ahsoka's insides twisted. Of course. Rex had made a fool of Tarkin by snatching the Admiral's prey from under his nose.

"We're working on getting him off." Anakin went on. "But it'll take time, Snips, and we need a solid case before he can come back. Otherwise-"

"We won't come until he's safe." Ahsoka said.

"Ahsoka-" Anakin said, his voice worried. "You should come home. What's happening to you is-"

"How am I supposed to come home without him?" Ahsoka responded shortly. "I can't fly a ship right now. And I swear, it's not going to kill me."

There was a long silence on the other end.

"Where is he? He should know." Anakin finally said.

"Sleeping." Ahsoka said. "I'm not waking him up."

"I'll call back later then." Anakin said.

"No." Ahsoka said. "He can't know. He'd make us come back immediately, regardless of what they'd do to him."

Silence on the other end.

"You're right." Anakin admitted. "This should take a few weeks, maybe longer. You're somewhere safe?"

"Yes, Master." Ahsoka replied. "Thank you."

"I'll see you soon." Anakin said.

Then the comm clicked off. Ahsoka stared at it in her hand for a while longer, the cool night breeze caressing her montrals. Then she returned inside.

Rex was stirring as she entered. Ahsoka frowned and knelt by his side. She put a hand on his head.

"Sleep." She whispered, calling on as little of the Force as she could. He went limp again and her head blossomed with a blistering headache.

It was worth it. Ahsoka knew that even here, Rex didn't sleep much. Combined with his already fitful night, he needed a few more hours of uninterrupted rest.

Ahsoka studied his face in the near darkness. First the Republic wanted her dead; now they wanted Rex. Her deep relief was poisoned by the prospect. Rex had done nothing to earn that sentence. Ahsoka wouldn't lay this new evil on his already troubled mind.

Only in sleep, and only sometimes then, was Ahsoka aware of his face losing all of its lines of worry.

No, she would not let them take this man. He had been willing to die for her, and she was very willing to risk her life for him.


Ahsoka was acting very oddly. The anxiety she'd been feeling had changed somehow. Rex couldn't pinpoint it exactly, but things were different.

She hadn't even protested when Rex begged her to keep resting.

She now sat bundled in a blanket, watching from the porch of the house as Rex helped Cut.

I feel like an invalid. She told him.

So you've said. He sent back.

Ahsoka opened the bond a bit more so he could feel exactly how bored and frustrated she was.

Have you tried meditating? He suggested.

There's only so much meditating one person can take.

General Kenobi seems to like it. Rex replied.

There's something wrong with Obi Wan. She shot back. And I'm pretty sure he's just napping when he meditates.

You should tell Cody that. It'd take a load off his mind. He always thinks General Kenobi isn't getting enough sleep. Rex said.

He's right, Obi Wan doesn't. Honestly, who is getting enough sleep in the army?

Jesse. He's always late to roll call. And General Skywalker, at least when we're on Coruscant. Rex said after a moment's thought.

Oh no he doesn't. Ahsoka said.

He spends all his time in Senator Amidala's bedroom. Rex protested.

Rex, they're not sleeping when he's in there.

Rex frowned and felt his face warming.

Rex, did you honestly think they were just sleeping in there?

I would like to change the subject.

Rex glanced up in time to see Ahsoka laughing so hard she was doubled over. He couldn't help but smile.

"I'm glad to see you found something besides your programmed loyalty to the Republic."

Cut's spoken words startled Rex. Rex looked over at Cut, who jerked his head towards Ahsoka.

"Not just her." Rex said. "My general, and our brothers. They're why I fight now."

Cut nodded thoughtfully.

"When she's cleared, you're welcome to stay here as long as you like."

"I'm going with her." Rex said.

Cut gave him a sharp look.

"Rex, they'll court martial you, or send you back to Kamino."

"I know." Rex said.

"Why go back, then?"

"She needs me to get her home. She can't go by herself." Rex said.

"Let me take her, or Suu, or have your General come get her!"

"I'm not like the Commander." Rex said. "I wasn't falsely accused. What they want me for, I did."

"What you did was right." Cut protested. "You're going to let them condemn you because they kriffed up?"

"I'm not going to run from the consequences of my actions." Rex said.

"It's an honor thing, isn't it?" Cut said. "Kriff, Rex! I thought you were over your blind allegiance to the Republic!"

"I'm not going back for them!" Rex said. "This is for our brothers!"

"How is it for them? How can you help them if you're gone?" Cut asked.

"If I stay, what will the Republic do to them?" Rex asked. "What if they are punished in my stead?"

"You don't know that would happen. And what about her?" Cut jabbed a finger in Ahsoka's direction. "Have you thought what it'd do to her?"

Rex swallowed. He had thought about what it would do to Ahsoka. It was the reason he'd never brought it up with her.

"She'd want me to do what I think is right." He finally mumbled.

"Wrong. That girl would do anything at this point to keep you safe and you know it." Cut said in a low voice. "If you go back, and the Republic kills you, it's going to destroy her. She'll blame herself."

"She's stronger than that." Rex replied.

"Why risk it?" Cut asked.

Rex looked Cut in the face.

"I follow my code, same as you."

"Fine." Cut muttered. "I can see you're determined. But know that your nobility is going to do a lot more harm than good."

Chapter Text

"Where is the proof?" Padme asked of the full courtroom. "Where is the proof that Captain Rex was part of the team that assisted in the prison break?"

"CT-7567 went missing the very night Ahsoka Tano was unlawfully re-located." Tarkin said. "The trooper injured in the escape attempt is also nowhere to be found. CT-7567 was obviously the one injured and escaped with Tano."

"Circumstantial evidence." Padme retorted. "I'm sure the court remembers the last time it made a decision based only on such evidence."

There was a swell of mutters from around them.

"Furthermore," Padme said. "We also have only circumstantial evidence that the individuals who committed the crime were clones. Or even that Tano has a clone with her."

"It is highly unlikely that Tano was able to leave the facility by herself." Tarkin said.

"And why is that?" Padme asked.

For once Tarkin looked not fearful, but apprehensive about his answer.

"Tano had proven herself to be a flight risk." He said. "We had to take necessary precautions to ensure it did not happen again."

"How so?" Padme asked. "Any physical restraint could be removed by her rescuers."

Tarkin remained silent.

"Did you use altering substances in order to restrain Ahsoka Tano?" Padme asked. "Did you drug her?"

The gallery exploded into noise. Padme suppressed a smile of triumph. The drugging of a prisoner, while unfortunately common, was not something the citizens of Coruscant liked to be reminded of. Padme wanted every point of sympathy on her side. They would need it.

"It was necessary." Tarkin said.

"Disregarding the moral questionableness of that action, the abilities of a Force user often make them resistant to such substances." Padme said. "Had the drug been tested on a Force user before?"

Even from here Padme could see Tarkin's clenched jaw.

"No." He said.

"Then it is possible that Tano overcame the effects of the substance and escaped under her own power?"

"Yes." Came Tarkin's clipped reply."

"Let us look at what we know." Padme said. "Ahsoka Tano was assisted in escaping the GAR facility by a group of individuals that wore clone armor. One was injured. A drugged Ahsoka Tano and the individuals left the facility. Later that night, Captain Rex was discovered to be missing."

Padme paused and stared at Tarkin as she continued.

"Now let us look at what we do not know." Padme said. "We do not know the identities of the individuals involved or if they were indeed clones. We do not know if Ahsoka Tano was incapacitated by the drug to the point she could not leave under her own power. We do not know if any of the individuals accompanied her. And we do not know for sure under what circumstances Captain Rex disappeared."

Padme looked up to Palaptine.

"I rest my case, your Excellency."

Palpatine nodded.

"We will hear Admiral Tarkin's evidence after a short recess." He announced.

"You are a marvel, Padme!" Anakin said as he and Masters Plo and Kenobi met her in a small side chamber.

"I'm inclined to agree." Master Kenobi said. "You almost have me convinced."

"Thank you." Padme said. "Though much of it is how clever your men were in the operation."

"Indeed." Master Plo said. He sounded extremely proud of the troopers. "Though there is still an issue."

"Yes." Master Kenobi said. "How are we to keep the facade when Rex returns?"

"I've got the answer for that." Anakin said. "All we need to do is hire a bounty hunter, have Rex be 'kidnapped' by them, and then have the bounty hunter contact us with a ransom!"

Padme blinked.

"Very illegal, but it should work." She said.

"Well, I think we have all given up on doing this legally." Master Kenobi said.

The court resumed a few minutes later.

"Your Excellency, I have only one piece of evidence to show." Tarkin said.

Padme didn't like the tone in his voice.

"This footage was provided to us by an outside source." Tarkin announced.

A large holo screen flickered to life. It showed a dingy landing pad in the undercity. A ragged ship landed. After a few moments, Pykes came into view. By an outside source, Tarkin clearly meant the crime syndicate. Padme let out a small gasp as a figure in white plastoid armor exited the ship. It had a blackened mark on the shoulder, where the injured trooper had been reportedly shot. It had to be Rex.

This doesn't prove anything. She told herself. His helmet isn't off and Ahsoka is nowhere.

She watched the firefight between the trooper and the Pykes. Rex took down a fair amount of them before he was tackled by one. The Pyke ripped off his helmet. A blonde head with familiar features became visible.

Padme felt sick. For once she wished the clones remained as uniform as they were supposed to be.

Ahsoka still isn't here. She again said to herself. We can work with this.

Then Ahsoka left the ship. The footage crackled and shut off.

Padme clenched her hands and turned to stare at Tarkin's smug face.

"As you can see-" Tarkin said, waving at the screen. A still from the video of Rex's face appeared alongside an official headshot of the trooper. "This trooper is clearly CT-7567 and can be seen to be travelling with former fugitive Ahsoka Tano.

Padme had no response. She could almost feel Anakin's dismay mixing with her own.

"The evidence is irrefutable." Palpatine announced. "Senator Amidala's request is denied. When the trooper CT-7567 is recovered, the lawsuit will proceed as planned."

"This isn't the end, Ani." Padme tried to comfort her husband. "We have options!"

Anakin paced in the small room. His anger and panic shrouded him more than his actual cloak.

"We could go to the Jedi council." Obi Wan said. "They have the power to grant Rex amnesty."

"A rare occurrence." Plo commented. "But worth an attempt."

The comment seemed to make Anakin angrier.

"It's the council's fault Rex had to save Ahsoka in the first place!" He snapped. "If they hadn't turned Ahsoka over to Tarkin, or even if they hadn't bungled the bombing investigation in the first place-"

"They could save him as well." Obi Wan said. "Please, let us try to make it right."

Anakin looked away.

"Fine." He said.


Ahsoka didn't fully recover from her fit before the next one hit. Her weakened body reacted even worse to the experience. When Rex came out of the trance he entered when attempting to help her mind, they had been sitting in a pool of her vomit.

What almost disturbed him more was what he had seen in her mind during the experience. General Skywalker had contacted her. She could go home.

She wasn't going to, because of Rex. It didn't hurt him that she hadn't told him; he'd probably do the same. The problem was that she was dying, no matter what she said.

Once again Cut and Suu gave up their bed as Ahsoka suffered through the fevers. Rex mulled this over as he held her hand as she muttered feverishly. How much time did they have? Rex didn't particularly want to be decommissioned, so if General Skywalker could find a way to clear him, that would be preferable. But how much time would it take? What good would Rex's life be if his Commander died in exchange for it?

He listened to Ahsoka's ragged breathing. It was almost funny, how determined they both were to keep the other alive. It was starting to look like it wouldn't be possible for both of them to succeed.

The moonlit room was suddenly silent. The sound of his breathing was alone. Rex felt his blood run cold. How long had it been since she last took a breath? Rex launched himself out of his chair and dug his finger under her lekku. Even as he found her pulse, it faded.

"Cut!" Rex roared before placing his hands over Ahsoka's chest. He thanked the Force for his emergency med training as he pressed down. He counted down in his mind. Sixteen. No, no, no. Fifteen. Please. He unconsciously began to pull on their bond. It was barely there, a trickle instead of the river it had been. Once he hit zero he bent over her and clamped his mouth over hers. The action was needed. It would save her life.

Cut burst in as Rex started his second round of compressions.

"Keep on that, I'll be right back!" Cut said.

Rex couldn't reply; he was breathing for her again. Two breaths, then back to compressions. He grit his teeth as he felt her ribs cracking beneath his hands. He established a rhythm of compressions, breathing, and cracked ribs. He knew he couldn't take the time to check if she was breathing between steps. He begged her in their bond to return. He could not lose her to this after everything. A shape loomed over them. Cut was back. He tried to push Rex off of Ahsoka. Rex for an instant resisted and tried to bat Cut away. Realization hit him and he let himself be usurped. Cut leaned over Ahsoka and jabbed a hypo into her chest.

Ahsoka gasped loudly and sucked in a few breaths, letting out a soft cry of pain. Her pulse thudded under Rex's fingers when he checked. Rex let out a choked noise and pressed his forehead to hers, an action usually reserved for the closest of vod'e.

Kriff, he'd lost people before, but to get them back- that was overwhelming.

He managed to compose himself, pulled Ahsoka into the recovery position, and turned to face Cut.

"What was that?" Rex asked.

Cut held up the hypo.

"Stim from an old med pack I saved." He said. "The medics of my battalion had certain ones that could give the heart a jump start."

Rex nodded and sat down to watch her. A strange calmness and certainty had come over him.

"Can you watch her? There's something I need to do." Rex asked after a few minutes.

Cut gave him a knowing look but agreed.

Rex walked down the stairs, but was stopped by Suu.

"Rex." She took his arm. "What happened? Is everything all right?"

"Her heart stopped." Rex said in a raspy voice. "We got it going again with some stims Cut had."

Suu's eyes widened and rushed past him up the stairs. Rex made his way to the barn, finding his comm. He entered General Skywalker's frequency.

"Skywalker here."

It was a relief to hear his General's voice again.

"Sir, it's Rex."

"Rex? Is there something wrong?" General Skywalker's voice took on a worried tone.

"General, you are going to contact us tomorrow and you are going to tell Commander Tano that my name is cleared." Rex said.

"What? How did you- Never mind. Rex, I still need time on that. Be patient." General Skywalker said.

"She's dying." Rex said. "We don't have any time."

The General was quiet for a long time.

"Rex-"

"I understand the consequences, sir." Rex said. "My priority is her safety."

Silence again.

"I'm not going to let them take you, Rex." General Skywalker said. "I promise. I'll comm you tomorrow."

Rex smiled wryly.

"Thank you, sir."

Seeing as the General now had only a few days to get his name cleared, Rex doubted that he had much of a chance. Tarkin would probably want Rex done away with as quickly as possible. Rex did appreciate his General's concern and efforts.

Rex was almost afraid of what he would find when he returned upstairs. Ahsoka still breathed when he entered the room. There was the acrid smell of vomit in the air. Cut and Suu were speaking quietly in the corner. They looked up at him.

"Rex, " Cut said quietly. "She can't stay here. We don't have the means to help her. She'll die without better help."

"I know. We're going back to Coruscant tomorrow." Rex said.

"They still think she's guilty-" Cut started.

"No, she's cleared." Rex said wearily. "I just contacted my General."

Cut looked down at Ahsoka.

"Did she know?" Cut asked.

"Yes. She opted not to tell me." Rex said.

"Nearly kriffing killed her." Cut commented.

Rex didn't sleep that night. For one, he had to make sure Ahsoka kept breathing. And when one faced his impending decommissioning, it tended to chase rest away.

Cut would tell him it was his own fault. There were choices to hide and run away. Not for Rex. There were few choices in his life and one that he cherished was his honor. That was worth his life.

That didn't mean he looked forward to the event. Would they allow him the dignity of a firing squad, like the one that had nearly taken Fives and Jesse? To stand and face his death like the man they didn't see him as? Of course, it could be that he would be just sent back to Kamino. There it would end in bright lights, white walls, and the prick of a needle.

Somehow, Rex thought it would be the latter.

He thought maybe his brothers would understand. Cody would, at least. He wouldn't like it, but he'd understand. He would move on, as would all his brothers, shedding their resentment and simply adding his name to those to be remembered.

General Skywalker on the other hand, would not. Even now, agreeing with the plan that would almost certainly end in Rex's death, the General did not understand. The General was selfish in an odd way. He would not let Rex go until the blaster bolt went through Rex's heart. Perhaps not even then.

What of Ahsoka? He knew she would fight his decision tooth and nail until it got her killed, but would she understand in the end? Would she be able to see his death as his choice? She would hate him for it, especially with the deception.

Well, she'd be alive, and his honor would be intact, so she could hate him all she wanted.

The thought immediately made him feel worse.

Rex was relieved to feel her wake up in a mostly cognizant state.

"Don't move." He told her as soon as she was awake. "Your ribs are broken."

Her brow furrowed.

"Thanks, I didn't notice." She said in a weak voice. "What happened?"

Rex hesitated before showing her what happened the night before. It was a lot easier than trying to explain it, but he was careful to edit certain conversations from the memory. She was quiet for a long time.

"Better keep those stims handy." She finally said.

Rex grit his teeth. She was being as stubborn about this as, well, he was. He thanked the Force that he'd thought to contact General Skywalker the night before.

The comm beeped around noon. General Skywalker was very convincing, telling them that Rex had been sentenced only to a few months in the brig. The joy radiating through their bond was enough to let Rex know that Ahsoka had no clue of the deception. He clamped down his own dread and grim resignation and focused on the relief and happiness that Ahsoka was cleared and could get help.

Ahsoka still picked up that something was off with him.

"What's wrong?" She asked when General Skywalker hung up.

Rex shrugged.

"It's a long time in the brig." He said.

"It's better than dying." Ahsoka retorted.

Rex forced a smile.

"I don't do well with nothing to do." He said.

"Fair." Ahsoka admitted.

"We should get going." Rex said. "The sooner we can get you treatment, the better."

"I guess we don't have a reason to stick around anymore." Ahsoka said with a grin.

It took less than an hour to pack up their things and get the ship ready to go. Rex found Cut waiting for him as he returned to the farm.

"Ahsoka told me what happened." Cut said. "I'm assuming you asked Skywalker to lie."

Rex nodded.

"Still planning to go through with it?" Cut asked.

Rex nodded again.

"To each their own." Cut said bitterly.

"I'm glad I met you." Rex said and held out his hand. "Vor entye- for everything."

Cut grasped it.

"Anything for a brother." He said. "Ret'urcye mhi."

"Ret'urcye mhi, ner vod." Rex returned the phrase quietly.

Suu and the kids were saying their goodbyes to Ahsoka in the bedroom.

"Everything's ready, sir." Rex announced.

"Thank you again, Suu." Ahsoka said. "And good luck."

"You as well, Ahsoka. It has been a pleasure." Suu replied.

Rex felt a tug on his hand. He looked down to Jek, who held out a large piece of paper.

"This is for you." Jek announced. "So you remember us."

Rex took the paper. It was a drawing of what he assumed to be himself and Cut, standing triumphant on a pile of dead droids.

"Thank you." Rex said. "It's-it's great."

He hesitated before reaching out and placing a hand on Jek's head. The boy beamed up at him.

"Will you come and visit again?" Shaeeah asked.

"We'll see." Rex managed.

"Remember what I told you?" Cut said. "It could be dangerous for Rex to come back."

The kids wilted. Shaeeah rushed forward and wrapped her arms around Rex's legs. Rex put his other hand on her head as well.

"You listen to your buir, okay?" He said.

"Okay!" They chorused.

Suu reached out and put her arms around Rex's neck. Rex stiffened. Suu laughed.

"Goodbye, Rex." She said. "Take care of her, won't you?"

"Of course." Rex said as she let go. "Commander, are you ready?"

Ahsoka had just finished shaking hands with Cut and she nodded.

Rex reached out and carefully picked her up. She winced, but Rex knew it'd be harder for her to walk.

"Thank you again." Rex said. "Take care of yourselves."

The Lawquanes stood outside and waved as Rex carried Ahsoka into the ship. She waved too, until the ship door creaked shut.


"Suu's pregnant." Ahsoka said.

Rex jerked his head up. It was a few hours after they had taken off. Rex sat next to Ahsoka as she rested in the bunk. He knew she preferred that he was there.

"What?" Rex asked. "When did she tell you?"

Ahsoka shook her head.

"She didn't. I could feel the baby's Force signature." She said.

Envy curdled in Rex's stomach. Cut had everything, didn't he? A family, his freedom, and now his own child.

For a brief moment Rex regretted his choice.

Then he smothered those emotions as quickly as he could. Cut might have those dreams fulfilled, but he didn't have his brothers. Rex would do anything to prevent any harm to his vod'e. Even if it meant going back to be humiliated and eventually killed.

He managed to dispel the feelings well enough for actual goodwill for Cut to manifest.

"I'm happy for them." Rex said truthfully.

Ahsoka reached out to touch Rex's arm.

"The war will be over eventually." She told him.

Kriff. He hadn't hidden his resentment well enough.

"Yes, sir." Was all Rex said.

He hoped that she would read his disbelief as mere doubt about the clones' fate.

"You might as well get some sleep, sir." Rex told her. "It'll make the time go by faster."

Ahsoka rolled her eyes.

"I've practically done nothing but sleep lately." She said, but Rex knew she was exhausted. "Fine. Only if you sleep."

Rex frowned.

"One of us has to-"

"The ship's on autopilot." Ahsoka said. "And don't pretend you slept at all last night. Please."

If only to please her, Rex removed his armor and settled on the opposite berth. He had no intention of sleeping; he doubted he could.

Chapter Text

Obi Wan watched his former apprentice fidget before the Council. He knew Anakin never really liked facing the Jedi Council, usually because he was in trouble, but his anxiety this time was far greater than Obi Wan had felt before. Obi Wan himself was anxious. This was one of their last hopes for saving Captain Rex.

Obi Wan was just as eager as Anakin to save the Captain's life. For one, Anakin and Ahsoka relied on the Captain. Obi Wan didn't know what they would do without his steady presence. He himself would have more to worry about if Rex wasn't there to keep an eye on them. Then there was the fact that he was an exceptional soldier. The GAR would sorely miss his strategies and battlefield skill if he was other clones were another reason. Rex was a rock for many clones, Cody included.

And Obi Wan just liked Rex. Rex was a good man and Obi Wan was discovering a lack of those in the galaxy. Deep down, Obi Wan also knew he shared a deep bond with the Captain. The horrors of Kadavo had forged something between them that Obi Wan had difficulty describing. And how could they have created such a bond if Rex was not sentient?

That was the only reason needed to save Rex's life.

All of these excellent reasons why Rex should go free and the Republic needed only one to condemn him.

Obi Wan fixed his attention back on Anakin.

"What is the reason you requested to meet with us, Skywalker?" Master Windu said.

"I have a request, Masters." Anakin said slowly.

Good. He was being respectful. That was not always a given with Anakin. Master Windu inclined his head for Anakin to continue.

"As you know, my Captain, Rex, is returning with Ahsoka in the next few days." Anakin went on. "The Senate has plans to prove him defective when he returns."

The council stayed silent. Obi Wan shared a glance with Master Plo.

"I know that in the past the Jedi Council has granted amnesty to individuals they wished to protect from the law." Anakin said. "I request the council do the same for Rex."

Obi Wan suspected that Padme had helped him with the wording.

"This has not been done in many years." Master Windu said. "And to individuals with no favor with any Jedi."

Anakin stiffened. Obi Wan grit his teeth. Master Windu could at least have the decency to outright accuse Anakin of being attached to Rex.

Remain calm, Anakin. Obi Wan sent.

He got a vague agreement in reply. Obi Wan suspected that Anakin was working hard at holding his tongue. His former apprentice's nerves were more frayed than they'd ever been. Come to think of it, so were Obi Wan's. Whatever happened to Ahsoka in the last few days, when her presence through their bonds had nearly winked out, had disturbed them all.

It was a few seconds before Anakin seemed to reign himself in.

"Masters, this would be for the good of the Republic." Anakin said. "Rex is one of our best. It would be a huge blow to the army if we lost him."

Obi Wan was exceptionally proud of his apprentice at that moment.

"We will discuss this matter among ourselves." Master Windu said.

Obi Wan got a flash of annoyance from Anakin at the dismissal. However, Anakin merely bowed and retreated from the room.

"It is clear we must grant Captain Rex amnesty." Obi Wan said as soon as Anakin was gone.

"I'm not sure." Master Windu said. "The clone did commit a serious crime."

"And in doing so rectified the council's own grave mistake." Master Plo interjected. "I believe we owe Captain Rex this at the very least."

Windu stroked his chin.

"I worry this comes not from a desire for justice, but from attachment to the clones." He said.

"There is a difference between attachment and concern for a sentient's life." Plo said.

His tone was mild, and yet behind his words was a sharpness Obi Wan didn't think possible for the Kel Dor.

"I agree with Masters Kenobi and Plo." Master Shaak Ti said from her flickering hologram.

"As do I." Master Kit Fisto said.

Obi Wan was elated as one by one each member of the council agreed to provide Rex amnesty. Even Masters Mundi and Windu gave their approval without prodding. Well, much prodding.

"Agreed the council is." Yoda announced.

"It's decided then." Master Windu said. "Summon Skywalker."

He was interrupted by a chirping. Each member turned to the holo transmitter in the center of the room. With a flick of a talon, Master Yoda turned it on.

A tall-necked pale creature flickered into view.

"Greetings, Masters Jedi." The Kaminoan said.

"Nala Se." Master Ti said. She wore a frown. "What business is there that you did not approach me first?"

Nala Se turned her gaze to the Togruta master.

"This matter is of extreme importance." She said. "It concerns the clone CT-7567."

"Captain Rex?" Obi Wan asked.

"It has been brought to our attention that efforts have been made to prevent its sentencing." Nala Se said. "The clone has acted in a way we have not seen before. It is imperative that the process of determining its status as defective be unhampered."

Obi Wan's insides felt riddled with blaster fire. How did they know?

"We have just made the decision to grant Captain Rex amnesty." Master Windu said in a chilly tone.

The only sign of displeasure in the Kaminoan's face was a slight contraction of her pupil. Even that could have been a trick of the holo.

"The actions of this clone have put into question its functionality. It is of the utmost importance we continue with the process."

Nala Se paused, passing her eerie gaze over many of the council members.

"If you do not comply, we will consider it a breach of contract. The contract will be considered null, and we will reclaim our assets."

The Force tightened with the Jedi's suddenly tense nerves.

"On what grounds?" Obi Wan managed to ask.

Nala Se looked at him and blinked slowly.

"We require your absolute cooperation in any matter regarding the functionality of the clones." She said. "In keeping the clone from us, you are hindering our attempts to keep the army in working order."

The room was silent.

"Comply, we will." Master Yoda said. "An obstacle to you, we will not be."

"Master Yoda!" Obi Wan protested, then cursed himself for the outburst.

Yoda turned tired eyes to Obi Wan.

"The life of one clone, we cannot choose, over the entire army." He said.

Nala Se bowed her head and the holo clicked off.

It was silent again.

"Perhaps you could tell Skywalker, Master Kenobi." Master Windu said. "He would take it better from you."

Obi Wan fixed Windu with cold eyes.

"No." The council for once deserved Anakin's anger.

Windu sighed.

"Bring him in."


The trip passed with Ahsoka sleeping through most of it and Rex trying and failing to keep his mind off his fate.

Then the time came. Coruscant loomed in their viewport. Rex guided their craft to the instructed landing pad. Out the front he could see two groups. One, troopers dressed in red, were obviously for him. The other was far more welcome to him. Generals Skywalker, Kenobi, and Plo, Senator Amidala, and a group of clones Rex realized was the rescue team.

Rex helped Ahsoka onto her feet. She leaned heavily on him, but they had agreed that him carrying her out wouldn't be appropriate.

She looked up at him. He managed a smile for her. Then she reached up and touched his face. The weakness of her touch worried him.

"Thank you for everything, Rex." She said.

I'm sorry. Please understand. He thought behind mental shields. He reached up and took her hand in both his own.

"Always, Commander." Rex said. He hesitated. This could be the last time he saw her. "I am proud to say that you outrank me."

Confusion flitted across her face and their bond.

"Rex?" She asked.

Rex looked away.

"We shouldn't keep them waiting."

He let go and opened the ship's door. There was a burst of cheering from the clones involved with the rescue. Kix and General Skywalker hurried forward to take Ahsoka from Rex. Rex met the General's eyes. He looked exhausted and he quickly broke Rex's gaze. Rex swallowed. So that was it. But right now he needed to pass information on.

"She experienced cardiac arrest a few nights ago." Rex told Kix in an undertone.

The medic froze, horrified. Rex quickly explained the rest of her symptoms as best he could. The Coruscant Guard was coming closer, led by Fox.

"CT-7567, you are under arrest for the unlawful entry of a GAR building, attacking GAR personnel, and the releasing and harboring of a GAR prisoner." Fox announced.

Rex closed his eyes. This was it.

"I understand." He said and held out his wrists. One of the troopers put him in binders. Fox turned to Ahsoka.

"Commander Tano." He said stiffly. "I would like to apologize on behalf of the Coruscant Guard for your erroneous arrest and imprisonment."

Ahsoka blinked, but gave Fox a nod. He nodded back and turned back to Rex. Fox took Rex's arm and led him towards a waiting GAR speeder. Rex looked back. The welcoming party and Ahsoka were all staring at him. Then Fives saluted, and the rest of the clones followed suit. The Generals and Senator Amidala bowed. Ahsoka just met his gaze and smiled encouragingly.

The ride to the GAR Headquarters was silent. Fox had never been talkative and he was probably still angry at Rex.

They arrived and Rex was marched to the detention level and into a small room. Thire was the only person in the room and the door closed behind Rex.

"Your armor, vod." Thire said.

Rex took a deep breath and with trembling hands began to undo the straps. He managed to get most of it off and place it on the ground. His hands were shaking so bad when he got to his breastplate it slipped. The white armor clattered to the ground. Rex leaned against the wall with one hand.

"Rex?" Thire asked.

"I-" Rex swallowed and struggled to find his voice. "When is it going to happen?"

"I don't know." Thire said quietly. "We're waiting on word from the Kaminoans."

Rex squeezed his eyes shut. He felt Thire place his hands on Rex's shoulders.

"Udesiivod." Thire said. "Your General's deadset on seeing you safe."

Rex let a shaky snort.

"I'm sure he is." He muttered. "I knew I was a dead man the second we stunned the first trooper."


It wasn't often that Anakin had reason to be in the Halls of Healing, at least not lately. He'd been there plenty of times as an apprentice, a few of those times to visit his master. These days he just got his medics to patch him up. He never thought he'd be at all pleased to be here.

Yet here he was, holding his apprentice's hand, and able to focus on a spark of happiness. Ahsoka had been in surgery, a healing trance, and being treated for over eight hours. Now she slept in one of the soft beds. She was still pale and though Master Che had promised Anakin that she was in little danger, he watched her carefully.

The head healer was currently off studying the strange, miniscule device the surgeons had found in Ahsoka's arm. They theorized that it was the cause of Ahsoka's 'fits', as Rex had called them. Master Plo and Obi Wan would have been there, but they had been called before the council to be reprimanded for their actions to save Ahsoka. It was all for show, Anakin knew. The council was very pleased to have Ahsoka return and be cleared of all charges. It still rankled Anakin that they felt they needed to. Most of what the council had done lately rankled him. Of course, it was nothing compared to their most recent betrayal.

Anakin grit his teeth.

Thanks to them, Rex was sitting in solitary confinement, waiting for the humiliation of a trial. Anakin had tried to visit his Captain after the medics had pronounced Ahsoka out of danger. He'd been denied.

The simmer of rage in his stomach from the last few days boiled up again. The whole council were cowards. One half hearted threat from the Kaminoans and they fell apart. They had abandoned one of their most loyal men.

And Anakin couldn't do anything about it. Padme had begged Anakin to give her more time. She was sure she could find a way. So Anakin was forced to wait.

Ahsoka stirred in her sleep and Anakin anchored his focus on her. He could feel her mind coming closer to wakefulness. Emotions began filtering through their bond. Anakin frowned. Even in her sleep, Ahsoka usually had enough control to keep her emotions and thoughts to herself. Anakin became more worried as he felt how distressed she was. He was tempted to wake her from whatever nightmare she was going through, but Master Che had told him to let her wake up naturally. So he settled down to wait.


Ahsoka crawled her way to wakefulness. It was difficult, like swimming through the Namana custard from Dex's that Anakin liked so much. She wanted to give up and stay asleep. But there was something wrong. She could feel it in her stomach: deep, cold dread, almost eclipsing the pain scrabbling at her skin. As she became closer and closer to consciousness, she realized the dread wasn't her own.

A familiar face grinned at her as she opened her eyes.

"Hey Snips." Anakin said.

"Master?"

The dark feelings weren't his. He was worried, and frustrated, with a shallow skin of happiness, but not dreading anything. Her muddled mind tried to connect the feelings to the bond they were oozing from. Not Obi Wan. Not Plo.

Rex.

Those were not the feelings of a man merely consigned to a prison stay.

"Master." She croaked. Speaking hurt her ribs. "Master, where's Rex?"

He didn't meet her eyes as he responded.

"GAR headquarters." He said. "They settled him in last night."

That was the truth, but Ahsoka could sense there was more.

"There's something else, isn't there? What's happening?" She asked.

"Nothing, Snips." Anakin said. "They're keeping him there until his sentence is up."

"No! Something's wrong!" Ahsoka said. Her own dread festered with Rex's. "Anakin. What is happening?"

Anakin fully looked away.

"He's being held at the GAR headquarters until they try to prove he's defective in court in a few days"

Ahsoka felt her face blaze with panic. She tried to suck in a deep breath only to be stopped by pain in her ribs.

"What? No, you told me it was just a prison stay!" Ahsoka managed.

Anakin still wouldn't look at her.

"You lied to me." She whispered.

"I had to!" Anakin burst out. "Rex made me-"

"Made you?" Ahsoka could hear her voice rising in fear. "Since when do you take orders from him?"

"He was right, Ahsoka!" Anakin said. "You were dying! The healers say that if we had waited even a few more days, you'd be dead!"

"And so will Rex if they find him guilty!" Ahsoka snapped.

"Rex knew the consequences-"

"So did I! Is my life worth more than his?" Ahsoka demanded.

She saw the truth in the way he looked away.

"Anakin." Ahsoka whispered.

"He would agree." Anakin said, still looking away. "We will always put your life above his."

"Why?" Ahsoka asked, trying to sit up. "I hate it! I hate that Rex thinks he's not worth as much as I am! That all of them think that! And you- you-"

Anakin thought so too.

But the words wouldn't, couldn't come. Suddenly she was very aware of the pain still stitched across her body. And it was getting worse. Her chest constricted, her ribs burned, and she suddenly couldn't breathe.

"Ahsoka!" Anakin said, standing.

Ahsoka gasped for breath. It was happening again-it was happening again-they hadn't fixed it-Rex-where was Rex- she needed Rex-

A cool hand touched her head. The jagged edges of pain were rounded into something bearable. The blackness faded from the edges of her vision and she saw a healer removing his hand from her. The healer turned to Anakin.

"Knight Skywalker, you are distressing my patient!" The tall Pantoran man scolded. "She is still in a delicate state. I must ask you to leave if you continue to upset her."

"I'm sorry." Anakin said. "It won't happen again."

The healer narrowed his eyes.

"I want him to leave." Ahsoka rasped.

Both men looked back down at her. Anakin's face reflected the hurt in their bond. The healer raised an eyebrow.

"As you wish." He said. "Knight Skywalker, this way."

Anakin didn't move.

"Ahsoka?" He asked.

She didn't want him there. Her head was hazy again and resentment twisted cold in her stomach.

"Ahsoka, we're working on it!" Anakin said in a pleading tone. "Padme, Obi Wan, Plo, we're all trying to get him out!"

"Then why are you here?" Each word was difficult to speak. "Get out and save him."


Padme was at her desk, head in hand. She was exhausted. Anakin had given her evidence that could potentially save Rex's life. And there was no place to put it. The Kaminoans had no legal counsel as of yet, and Padme doubted the lawyer they chose would be particularly eager to help Rex. They'd probably be focused on having the Kaminoans save face.

Anakin was asleep in the chair next to her. He hadn't gone to bed since Ahsoka and Rex came back. He was either at Ahsoka's side, where Ahsoka would barely speak to him, or fretting with Padme. Padme sighed and tried to wake him. He merely muttered something about 'sand' and continued to snore softly.

Padme's comm beeped. She frowned at it. Anyone comming at this hour must have business of extreme importance. Extreme, or mildly illegal importance.

Padme answered the comm.

"This is Senator Amidala." She said, then blinked.

Maybe the person comming had forgotten the time difference between planets.

"Senator Amidala." The Kaminoan said in a musical tone. "I am Administrator Taun We. I am contacting you on behalf of Prime Minister Lama Su."

Padme straightened up and tried a little harder to look like she hadn't been awake for nearly seventy-two hours.

"What can I help you with?" She asked.

"We would like you to represent Kamino in the upcoming lawsuit." Taun We said. "We need to prove that CT-7567 is not defective."

Padme felt her jaw drop.

"I see." She finally managed. "I was unaware that this was a matter of such importance to the Kaminoan government."

"It is." Taun We said. "While there are some factions within the scientists that wish to study the unit, the majority of the leadership on Kamino have determined that it would be in our best interest for the clone to be determined functional."

Padme's thoughts raced. Of course the Kaminoan government would want Rex to be cleared. It wouldn't be good for their image if their clones were determined to be faulty. For once, politicking was on her side.

"I would be honored to represent you, Administrator We." Padme said.


Padme marched down the halls of the GAR Headquarters. She had no guard. Why would she? The men she would have called on to accompany her would have come from this very facility.

She made a point to smile, or give a greeting, or nod to each trooper she passed. Many were used to her; they nodded back. There were a few troopers who gave a double take at her friendliness. One even stopped in his tracks and stared. Padme didn't mind. Either the troopers were very shiny or had had the displeasure of only working with more unpleasant politicians.

As confident as she wanted to seem, after about fifteen minutes she had to admit she was lost.

"Trooper." She approached the nearest guard. "What is your name?"

The fact that the clone stared at her for a moment and that his voice was almost fearful as he responded marked him as young.

"Flip, ma'am." He stammered.

"Flip, can you show me to the detention level?"

He hesitated, but nodded.

"This way, ma'am."

It was the complete opposite way she had been going. Padme regretted not glancing at a map of the place, but she'd been in a hurry. Rex's trial was the next day.

Stone was manning the detention level operations desk. Padme was glad. Fox was too rigid, Thorn a tad too patriotic. Stone and Thire were both easier to 'work' with. Stone looked up as Padme thanked Flip and the young trooper retreated.

"Hello, Senator Amidala." Stone said. "What can I do for you?"

"I'm here as the Kaminoan counsel." Padme said. "I'd like to see Captain Rex, please."

Stone likely knew as well as she did that clones in solitary confinement did not have the luxury of any visitors, regardless of the reason. He didn't react as he opened the door to the cell block.

"Cell C15." Stone drawled. "Do you want an escort?"

"No thank you." Padme said. "I trust Rex."

Stone nodded.

"It's a shame, all of this." He said as Padme passed. "If you wouldn't mind, ma'am letting us know what happens in there? Our surveillance equipment has been spotty lately."

Padme glanced back at the commander. His helmet was fixed forward. Maybe Padme wouldn't have to use the silencing device Anakin had provided her.

The cell block was mostly empty, save for a few guards. They nodded to her, stances confused.

Cell C15 was unlike the other cells in the place. Instead of an open, ray shielded front, there was only a durasteel door into the cell. A single trooper guarded the door. Oddly, it was Thire. Padme thought the Commanders too high ranking to perform something like guard duty.

Thire didn't question her as she approached.

"Ma'am." He said with a nod and tapped the door's panel.

The door slid open and Padme made to go in. Thire inclined his head and spoke in a whisper.

"We haven't been able to talk to him." He said in a hurried tone. "Please, make sure he's alright?"

Padme tilted her head in a tiny nod and entered the small cell.

Rex was sitting on the slab they called a bed. He lifted his bowed head to look at Padme as she stepped down into the room.

"Senator?" He croaked.

Before Padme could respond, Rex spoke again.

"Is the Commander all right?" He said urgently.

"She's not in danger anymore." Padme said. "And the healers say with some time she'll make a full recovery."

Rex closed his eyes and lowered his head again.

"Thank the Force." He mumbled.

Padme waited for him to ask why she was there, or say anything else for that matter. He remained silent.

"How are you feeling?" Padme finally asked.

He looked up to stare at her for a moment more.

"I'd prefer not to answer that, ma'am."

He didn't have to answer for her to know how he was; he looked terrible. The dark shadows under his eyes told her he hadn't been sleeping. He had a few days of scruff on his face and his hair was no longer shaved to the skull. Either they weren't letting him take care of himself, or he didn't care to. Neither boded well for his mental state.

They'd taken his armor, leaving him in his blacks. His shoulders were hunched and now he was avoiding her eyes.

It was wrong.

The most time Padme had ever spent with the Captain was in an underground bunker, slowly dying from the blue shadow virus, and the subsequent time recovering. Padme felt she knew him well from that time. Rex was a dignified and honorable soldier. He cared deeply for those in his charge. He performed his duty and far beyond it, in Padme's opinion. He deserved more than being shoved away in a dark room, waiting for punishment.

"Can I sit?" Padme asked.

"Yes, ma'am." Rex said quietly.

Padme settled herself next to Rex. She fingered the device in her pocket. He didn't look her way. A red light glowing near the ceiling flickered out. Padme relaxed her grip on the device.

"Senator, why haven't they taken me?" He asked. "What are they waiting for?"

He sounded lost and afraid.

Padme's heart twisted more. Had they not told him?

"The Senate has sued the Kaminoans over your lack of obedience when you broke Ahsoka out." Padme said. "The trial is tomorrow. They're proving whether or not you're defective. You're- part of the evidence."

Rex stayed silent.

"Rex, we have a plan to prove you innocent tomorrow." Padme said in a low tone, just in case.

"I'm not innocent." Rex said.

That wasn't the response Padme was expecting, but she plowed on anyway.

"Rex, this is about proving you 'defective.'" Padme said. "They don't care much that you broke the law. It's the fact that you broke the law without orders to do so."

Padme had found traces of evidence of a commando squad that had broken dozens of laws for a covert mission. They hadn't been prosecuted, as the actions had all been under orders.

Rex made no response to her declaration, so Padme continued.

"If we can provide evidence that Anakin gave you orders to break Ahsoka out, the case will have to be thrown out." Padme went on. "We can stop this farce."

Rex continued to stare forward. He had shown no sign he had heard her.

"Rex?" She asked.

"General Skywalker did not give me orders to rescue Commander Tano." He said.

Padme repressed a sigh of frustration. It was good she had acted on her instincts. If Rex denied that he'd been given orders in court, things would go very badly.

"Rex, Anakin told me he did. We have the recordings." Padme said gently.

Rex turned his head slowly to look at her. His eyes were dull, so different from their usual bright attentiveness.

"He did not." He said. "If he had, we wouldn't know the consequences would be for General Skywalker."

"But we do know what they will do to you." Padme said. "Rex, they're not going to execute Anakin."

"But they could take him away from the 501st." Rex said. "General Skywalker protects my men. They need him more than they need me."

Padme closed her eyes. Why did he have to be so blasted noble?

"We don't think they'll expel him or remove him from command, either." Padme assured him. "The 501st is one of the best because of Anakin and they know that."

Rex looked away from her again and fixed his gaze forward.

"I-I don't want a false hope, ma'am." He said. "I know what the Kaminoan scientists are like. I doubt there's anything even you could do to convince them."

Padme reached out and gently laid a hand on Rex's shoulder. He tensed beneath her touch.

"We have evidence, Rex." Padme murmured. "I promise, there is a chance. A good one."

"Thank you." Rex said in barely a whisper.

She let him sit quietly for a moment. To her surprise, he spoke again.

"If it doesn't work-" He said. "Please, tell General Skywalker to not do anything drastic."

Padme smiled slightly and squeezed his shoulder.

"I'll try."

After a few moments Padme stood.

"I'll be with you." She told him.

He nodded.

"Thank you." He said again.

Padme gave him a reassuring smile. She hated to leave him alone once more.

Chapter Text

Rex was nowhere to be seen. The trial was moments from starting and one of the primary players wasn't present.

Padme was furious. During her research for the trial, she had discovered that Rex was unable to be called as a witness, as he was not considered sentient. Anakin's witness and the recording of the orders would have to be enough.

Tarkin stood across from her in the prosecutor's stand, hands behind his back and not a greying hair out of place. Force, she had come to hate that man. His arrogance and vindication now had hurt two people Padme cared about. Nix Card sat next to him, as the leader of the Senators who wanted the trial.

A shimmering holo of a placid Taun We sat in the defendant's place. She was another obstacle. Padme just wanted to present the case solely as Rex's, but she had to consider what the Kaminoans wanted: to prove Rex 'functional.' Padme hated that word.

The witness bench, set between the defense and prosecution stands held only a few people. Anakin was there as well as Plo Koon and Obi Wan. A holo of Shaak Ti sat next to them.

Anakin was fidgeting while the other three Master Jedi seemed as cool as Hoth.

"All rise." Mas Amedda announced.

Padme stood with Taun We, as Tarkin and Card did the same.

The room, filled with chatter, fell silent as Chancellor Palpatine entered his box.

"Good afternoon." Palpatine said. "Please be seated."

Padme took her seat, thinking that Palpatine sounded far too cheerful for the stakes of this case.

"Are we ready to proceed? He asked.

"Yes, your Excellency." Tarkin said.

"Yes, Chancellor." Padme echoed.

"We will hear the prosecution's opening statement." Palpatine said.

Tarkin stood up again with an imperious air.

"Your Excellency, this is a case about a broken contract and a violation of trust. With the galaxy in the state that it is, we must trust our allies and partners to deliver what they have promised. If they do not, it is up to us to hold them to their word."

Tarkin's eyes moved to the holo of Taun We and held her gaze.

"Jedi Master Sifo Dyas signed a contract with the Kaminoan cloners. This contract detailed the creation of a clone army. The Kaminoans provided quality assurance. There were five guarantees. One, that all clones would be completely obedient. Two, all clones would be of a certain physical and mental capability. Three, all clones would be completely identical. Four, that any clones that did not meet the above standards would be declared defective. Five, any and all defective clones would be removed from the army before the unit was deployed."

Tarkin began slowly pacing as he spoke.

"On the eve of Ahsoka Tano's sentencing, CT-7567, along with ten other unidentified clones, broke into the Grand Army of the Republic headquarters, assaulted several guards, damaged property surrounding the headquarters, unlawfully freed the prisoner Ahsoka Tano, and aided and abetted her escape."

Padme was calm outwardly as she listened, but a deep anger burned in her stomach.

"The actions of the clone have proved it defective. The quality control process is failing." Tarkin continued, a hand on his chin. "All clones are under the explicit standing order to never break the law. CT-7567 disobeyed this order."

He turned to Palpatine, who was watching with a calm expression.

"I ask that you consider the threat this imposes on the GAR. I ask you to have CT-7567 sent back to Kamino for further testing and have the Republic play a more active role in the quality control of our army. Thank you, your Excellency."

He sat down. Palpatine looked to Padme.

"Does the defense have an opening statement?"

Padme stood, her skirts swishing.

"Today, I officially represent the government of Kamino. I also represent Captain Rex of the 501st-"

"Senator Amidala," Palpatine interrupted. "I'm afraid I must ask you to use the clone's number in all references to it. For clarification."

Padme gritted her teeth and gave a curt nod. She was afraid of that. It didn't have much impact on her case, but she hated using the clones' numbers.

"I also represent CT-7567 of the 501st." Padme restated. "This trial is one of looking for truth. General Anakin Skywalker ordered CT-7567, and the other clones, to perform the jailbreak. He returned of his own free will to certain punishment. CT-7567 has proven his obedience and loyalty. He is not defective."

Padme caught Taun We's eye, then continued.

"CT-7567's record is immaculate. If we are looking for examples of failure of the Kaminoan quality control process, CT-7567 is not that place to look."

Padme hated the implications of the quality control process, but unfortunately it was a very good piece of evidence for her case.

"I ask for understanding of CT-7567's situation. I ask that the charges be dropped from Kamino and CT-7567's position be restored within the 501st."

Padme let out a breath and sat down.

"Thank you, Senator Amidala." Palpatine said. "Admiral Tarkin, you may begin calling witnesses and presenting evidence."

Tarkin rose.

He began his case proving once again that Rex was involved with the heist, showing the incriminating video with the Pykes as well as new footage of Rex disembarking with Ahsoka when they returned.

He then pulled up several lines of the contract, pointing out where it described the qualities of the clones and the quality control process.

"The Kaminoans have promised obedient soldiers on flimsi." Tarkin said. "I call General Obi Wan Kenobi to the stand."

Obi Wan looked resigned as he rose and made his way to the witness stand.

"The witness must now swear in." Mas Amedda announced.

"I swear by the Force that the evidence I shall give shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth." Obi Wan said in a bland tone.

"General Kenobi, you were the first Jedi to have contact with the Kaminoans after Master Sifo Dyas?" Tarkin asked.

"I was. We of course had no idea until then." Obi Wan said.

"How did the Kaminoans describe the army to you?" Tarkin asked.

Obi Wan frowned and rubbed at his beard.

"Oh, it was over three years ago. I'm not sure I can recall word for word."

"Just tell us what you remember." Tarkin said, a hint of annoyance slipping into his voice.

"I was told the clones were superior to droids." Obi Wan said slowly. "Capable of independent thought and action. Both proved to be true, of course."

"Anything else?" Tarkin prompted.

"They were less independent than the original, Jango Fett." Obi Wan continued. "Totally obedient and would follow orders exactly."

"Have you found that to be true?" Tarkin asked.

"I encourage my men to think for themselves." Obi Wan said. "I ask their opinion and I expect them to speak up if they find fault in my orders."

"You are not answering the question." Tarkin said.

Obi Wan held up a finger.

"However, when I do give them orders, once we agree on them and determine we have minimized casualties while maximizing objectives taken, that they follow the orders to the letter."

"A yes or no would suffice, Master Jedi." Palpatine said.

Padme wondered if Tarkin regretted calling Obi Wan to the stand, if only because of his long winded responses.

"What of CT-2088?" Tarkin asked.

"Sergeant Slick?" Obi Wan said. "One clone out of thousands under my care. And I suppose I never gave him the express order to not leak information to the enemy."

Tarkin stared at Obi Wan.

"Loyalty to the Republic was one of the promised attributes." He said flatly. "Treason would make a clone defective, would it not?"

"From a certain point of view." Obi Wan said. "If a clone felt that somehow a perceived treasonous act could somehow help the Republic or its citizens-"

"That is quite enough, General Kenobi." Tarkin said. "Thank you. I have no further questions."

"Does the defense wish to question the witness?" Palpatine asked.

"Not at this time." Padme said.

In typical Kenobi fashion, Obi Wan had twisted Tarkin's questions into a defense of the clones.

"I call General Shaak Ti to the stand." Tarkin said.

Instead of walking, the holoimage merely transferred to the witness stand. Shaak Ti swore in and Tarkin began again.

"General Ti, you serve on Kamino, correct?"

"Yes." Master Ti said. "I oversee much of their training."

"I see." Tarkin said. "I understand that you have opposed and occasionally overturned the failing of certain clones. Is this true?"

"Yes." Shaak Ti said. She seemed proud of the fact. "I find many clones just need some patience in order to succeed."

"These clones would have been decommissioned or prevented from being deployed if you had not intervened, correct?" Tarkin asked.

Shaak Ti looked at him.

"I know what you are trying to accomplish, Admiral." She said. "Yes, I have changed the fate of many clones. Some were deployed instead of being placed on custodial or maintenance crews. Some were placed on those crews instead of decommissioning."

Shaak Ti stood taller and looked down at Tarkin.

"But you will find that no clone I interceded for was found to be lacking. Not once was a clone I helped sent back for reassignment or reconditioning." She said. "If you are looking for defects, Admiral, you may wish to look elsewhere."

"I am aware of the fate of the clones you interfered with." Tarkin replied. "What you have not mentioned are the ones that are destroyed in their first few battles. Have you considered that it was possible defects that you overlooked that caused their deaths?"

Shaak Ti said nothing.

"Please answer the question, General." Tarkin said.

"Yes." Shaak Ti said. "It- weighs heavily on me."

"So they were not fit for battle?" Tarkin said.

"It is- possible." Shaak Ti said with reluctance.

"And the Kaminoans allowed these interferences?" Tarkin went on.

"They were- resistant." Shaak Ti said. "Often I was denied. But yes."

"I see." Tarkin said. "Thank you General. I have no further questions."

Padme once again denied the chance to question Shaak Ti. There wasn't much more the Togruta master could say.

"We can see the Kaminoans are allowing outside influences to affect the quality control process. Let us have a close look at the process itself. I call Administrator Taun We to the stand." Tarkin said.

The flickering holo switched from Shaak Ti's image to Taun We's.

She calmly swore in, omitting the Force from her words.

Tarkin asked a few questions about the quality control process and the standards. Taun We answered easily.

"You seem to think there is nothing wrong with the process." Tarkin said.

"The process is quite thorough." Taun We replied.

"I would like to present exhibit A of the Kaminoan's neglect of the quality control process." Tarkin said.

He opened a comm.

"Bring it in." He ordered.

A door opened and two Coruscant Guards marched Rex into the room.

He looked much the same as Padme had seen him the day before: unshaven, armorless, and exhausted. His hands were bound, as if Rex of all people would attempt to flee.

Unlike yesterday, his head was up and his back straight. Padme felt sick. Seeing his quiet dignity returned as he was presented as an object made her heart ache. How did so few of the Republic see him as something more than just a tool to be used and discarded?

Rex's eyes flicked to Padme, then to Anakin. A tired attempt at a smile flitted across his lips.

Padme tried to smile back and give him some reassurance, but Tarkin's next words drained the expression from her face.

"CT-7567 bears an obvious defect in the coloring of its hair. Yet it passed this 'thorough' quality process." Tarkin said, gesturing to Rex.

The effect was immediate on Rex. He had been staring unashamedly at Palpatine, standing at attention. At Tarkin's declaration Rex's eyes widened ever so slightly before being cast downward. His posture shifted to one of discomfort, nearing shame.

"Objection!" Padme cried as she stood. "A physical difference does not make a clone defective! Most clones can be differentiated by their physical appearance."

"Those physical alterations were performed by the clones themselves." Tarkin said. "CT-7567 was decanted with this mutation. The contract states all clones would be identical on deployment."

"Objection overruled." Palpatine said mildly.

Padme clenched her jaw but sat down.

"Taun We, why was this clone allowed to be deployed?" Tarkin asked.

"When it comes to physical mutations that do not hamper a clone's performance, such as eye or hair color, the clones in question are monitored very closely. In most cases they are found to be below average and decommissioned. CT-7567 was found to have above average intelligence and judgement. It would have been inefficient to destroy a clone with its scores." Taun We said.

"Yet in the contract it specifically says the clones will be identical on deployment." Tarkin said.

"We assumed the Republic would prioritize performance." Taun We said.

"We have no record of any Kaminoan contacting us and asking whether or not we would prefer this." Tarkin said.

Padme took a deep breath. It was typical lawyer speak, and it infuriated her.

"I have no further need of the evidence." Tarkin said. "I would however like to suggest it be moved to a secure location, due to its security risks."

"A fair point. And one I agree with." Palpatine said. "Senator Amidala, would you like to say anything about the evidence before it is transferred?"

Padme stood.

"It is a disgrace that you are referring to him as evidence." Padme said. "Captain Rex is a man and should be treated as such."

Palpatine gave a long suffering sigh and Tarkin smirked. Rex himself gave Padme a look of gratitude. Padme's stomach lurched. He looked a little surprised that she had stood up for him.

"Your comment is noted." Palpatine said.

Was it? Padme thought. If he'd noted it, that'd mean he'd actually listened to her, which she doubted.

Rex was marched back out, not before he shot Padme another grateful glance. She managed a smile this time.

There were a few more process questions before Tarkin dismissed Taun We. Padme had no questions for the administrator.

"I would like to present my next piece of evidence." Tarkin said.

A holo of a list of clone numbers was displayed in the air. It slowly began to scroll, showing dozens of numbers.

"This is a list of clones determined to be defective by General Pong Krell." Tarkin said.

"Objection!" Padme called. "Pong Krell was a traitor!"

"We do not know when General Krell betrayed the Republic." Tarkin said. "We can assume he was originally loyal, due to his impressive record of victories."

"Objection overruled." Palpatine said again.

Padme tightened a fist and sat back down.

"We can see from the beginning of the war, General Krell found many clones to be defective and had them sent back to Kamino." Tarkin said. "His numbers are the highest of the Jedi Generals. If you look at the numbers of clones deemed defective by the Admirals of the Republic Navy,"

He gestured and another holo appeared with more numbers.

"You will see it is nearly the same amount."

He began slowly pacing again.

"Most Jedi do not report the defects when they appear. But there are defective clones being sent back."

"May I say something regarding this evidence, Chancellor?" Padme interjected.

"You may." Palpatine said.

"If you look at the dates, you will see that less than one percent of clones are sent back within the first six months of deployment." Padme said. "Their 'defects' not manifesting until months of war."

"Your point?" Tarkin asked with a raised eyebrow.

"I will elaborate when I speak to my witnesses." Padme said.

"Regardless, I rest my case." Tarkin said.

"The defense may begin to present evidence." Palpatine said.

Padme remained standing.

"CT-7567 has been accused of disobeying orders. I have proof that he indeed was ordered to perform the prison break." She said.

She gestured to the witness bench.

"I call General Anakin Skywalker to the stand." She said.

Anakin stood up, shot Tarkin an angry glance, and stalked up to the stand. Padme had been purposefully avoiding looking at Anakin, but she was sure he had been seething the whole time. He spat out the words of the swearing in, biting the ends off.

"General Skywalker, did you order CT-7567 to break Ahsoka Tano out of prison?" Padme asked.

"Of course I did!" Anakin said.

"Has he ever disobeyed an order?"

"Never." Anakin said. "Rex is the best kriffing soldier in GAR."

"Have any of your soldiers disobeyed an order?" Padme asked.

"No. And none of them are defective either." Anakin said.

"What of CT-4157, Dogma?" Padme asked.

"What?" Genuine confusion shone in his eyes. "He- he wasn't defective. He was protecting Republic interests!"

Padme felt bad that she hadn't had time to warn Anakin of her plan.

"Let us consider that he was defective." Padme said. "Did he show any signs of it before hand?"

"Dogma was one of the most rule abiding troopers I've ever known." Anakin said.

"So any defects he possessed only came to light after the months he spent in the 501st? Perhaps because of your influence?"

Anakin's eyes sparked with understanding.

"I would say that." Anakin said. "I was definitely a bad influence on Dogma."

"Thank you." Padme said. "I have no further questions."

Tarkin was giving her a cold stare. He had certainly planned on bringing up Dogma. He turned down the opportunity to question Anakin.

"My next piece of evidence."

Padme said, gesturing.

The recording of Rex and Anakin's conversation began to play.

Rex here.

Rex, I just heard the verdict. I'm on the tail of the real culprit. You need to get Ahsoka out, now! That's an order!

Yes, sir.

Good. Be careful. Skywalker out.

"Clearly," Padme said. "CT-7567 was given orders to do what he did. He acted as any soldier should have. He followed orders."

"I have a question." Tarkin said. "What order should be obeyed: the order from a General, or an order from the Commander-in-Chief?"

Padme closed her eyes. She was afraid of this.

"The order to obey the law technically comes from the Supreme Chancellor himself." Tarkin went on. "If the clone was truly following orders, it would have reported those erroneous orders to a higher up."

Padme swallowed.

"Rex had a choice." She finally said. She was tired of dehumanizing him. "He made one. Either way, Rex would have disobeyed somebody'orders."

Padme met Tarkin's steely gaze.

"You would condemn him either way." She accused.

"And you would defend it either way." Tarkin retorted. "In any case it is up to the Chancellor to decide."

The words burned Padme. It was up to Palpatine. If it was a jury, Padme felt she might have a better chance. But convincing Palpatine? The man who sent men like Rex to their deaths with wanton carelessness? A man whose ear Tarkin had?

The thought felt like a blaster bolt to the chest. Had she failed again? Had there been any hope in the first place?

Padme took a breath and looked back at Tarkin despite her hope tarnishing.

"Yes." She said. "The Chancellor will decide."

Feeling like a protocol droid, she called Master Plo Koon to the stand. She managed to ask the planned questions.

"Have you found your clones' differences to be exacerbated over time? Have they developed traits they didn't show when first deployed? Do you encourage behavior that could be considered undesirable by Kaminoans?"

Master Plo answered quietly and surely, proving Padme's case for the Kaminoans. As if it mattered now. It was merely a facade for Padme's true goal of saving Rex. Now that she saw that goal crumbling away, it seemed so inconsequential to help the Kaminoans save face.

"It seems that clones will develop 'undesirable' traits in the field, regardless of status upon leaving Kamino. This makes it impossible for the Kamioans to predict whether a clone will become erratic or not. I rest my case." Padme managed to finish.

She purposefully tuned out Tarkin's closing remarks. She didn't need to hear his arrogant conclusions. She also avoided Anakin's worried and earnest gaze.

It was her turn to speak. She would give one last try. Perhaps if she could turn the crowds to Rex's plight, Palpatine might be pressured into letting Rex go. She turned to the boxes of spectators.

"I will not speak of the Kaminoans' quality control; the evidence speaks for itself. I do wish to speak one last time concerning CT-7567: Captain Rex." Padme said. "This is not about whether or not a tool works. Captain Rex is a man. A man who was given difficult orders. Captain Rex acted out of duty and out of concern for his commander. Captain Rex, at risk to his own life and career, kept an innocent woman safe until her name was cleared. Captain Rex returned willingly to face the consequences of his actions."

She stared into the faces of the crowd, trying to make eye contact..

"I want to make it clear: if Rex is declared defective, he will die. A man who has done nothing but serve the Republic, will die." Padme said. "He represents the best of the Republic and we should be ashamed to even consider abandoning him."

Padme sat down amidst mutterings from the spectators. She was sick of it. She wanted a better world for the people of the galaxy, and in order to accomplish that she was forced into a world of games, agendas, and the twisting of words and intentions.

A world where a good man would die because Tarkin had a chip on his shoulder.

She was done playing the game.

"I must have time to deliberate." Palpatine announced once the muttering had died down some. "We will return shortly."

The room filled with chatter and Obi Wan, Plo, and Anakin made their way to meet her.

"I'm afraid there isn't much hope." Obi Wan said heavily. "Tarkin was correct: Rex theoretically should have reported Anakin's orders."

"This is distressing indeed." Plo mumbled. "Must justice be so blind?"

Anakin was pale and silent.

"Anakin?" Padme asked.

"I'm going to speak to the Chancellor." Anakin muttered. "I'll make him see."

"Anakin, you can't!" Padme protested. "No one is supposed to speak to the deciding authorities while they consider the trial!"

"He'll talk to me!" Anakin said with fierce determination. "I am not losing Rex!"

He spun on his heel and stormed away.

Obi Wan and Plo watched with helpless concern, but Padme followed him.

She caught up to him as he approached the chamber where Palpatine would be. Two Coruscant Guards stood on either side of the door.

"I need to see the Chancellor." Anakin said.

"Sir, no one is to disturb the Chancellor-" the Guard said before the door opened a crack.

"Is that Anakin?" Palpatine's voice said. "Send him in."

The Guards shared a glance before standing aside to let Anakin and Padme through.

Palpatine was sitting at a desk alone in the room.

"Anakin! And Senator Amidala!" He said. His voice was warm, and it chilled Padme. "I suppose you wish to speak about the trial?"

"Yes, your Excellency." Anakin said earnestly. "Please, Rex was only following my orders."

"But it disobeyed mine." Palpatine said with a sigh. "That is something very difficult to overlook."

"It's my fault." Anakin said. "He wouldn't have done it if it weren't for me."

"I'm afraid we don't know that." Palpatine said. "I can see Admiral Tarkin's point, this clone really could be dangerous."

Padme could feel Anakin's frustration boiling over.

"He's not." Anakin said through grit teeth. "I swear."

"Really, Anakin, you cannot possibly be able to know-"

"Dammit, why can't you see?" Anakin burst out.

Padme froze. Her husband had a temper, yes, but she had never seen it unleashed on Palpatine. Palpatine merely looked at Anakin and Anakin recoiled.

"I'm sorry-" He stammered.

For a horrifying moment Padme thought Anakin was going to say 'Master.'

"But please, Rex did it for me and Ahsoka. He's loyal and one of our best. Please." Anakin mumbled with his head bowed.

Palpatine stared at Anakin for a moment.

"This is truly important to you, isn't it?" Palpatine said.

Anakin nodded.

"Then I will consider it." Palpatine declared. "Now please, leave me to my considerations."

"Yes, your Excellency." Anakin murmured.

He stepped back out with Padme. His shoulders relaxed, relieved. Padme wasn't so sure. If Palpatine was so convinced of the threat posed by Rex, why even listen to Anakin? Why give so much importance to Anakin's feelings? This was what Padme wanted, wasn't it? Then why did she feel so uneasy?

It came down to one thing. Rex's fate lay in the hands of a man she didn't trust.


Palpatine stared at the door for a while after Anakin had left. The boy was so attached to the clone. For the last few days Palpatine had heard nothing but 'Rex this, Rex that' from the boy. It tended to get on one's nerves.

Anakin's all consuming concern for his loved ones had that effect on Palpatine. But the boy was so powerful, so easy to guide, that Palpatine was willing to overlook it.

He studied the notes of the trial before him. Senator Amidala, like her husband, also irritated Palpatine. The girl's idealism had no place in the Senate, no place in the Empire Palpatine was incubating.

It would reflect very poorly on Palpatine if he sent the clone to the Kaminoans.

This plan was not going as he expected at all. First that fool girl Offee was discovered. Then his experiments on Tano were interrupted by those defective clones. Not only were the results snatched away from him, but the girl somehow still lived. And then those foolish Senators, thinking it would help his plans, challenged the Kaminoans. If it weren't for their lawsuit, the clone captain would have been quickly disposed of.

Palpatine sighed. He had recovered from such setbacks before. He would again.

Ten minutes later he stood again before the court.

"I have come to a decision." He announced.

Anakin's eager face was turned upwards to him.

"I have concluded that the Kaminoans have not been negligent in their quality control process and that they have had the best interests at heart for the Republic."

Tarkin was looking at him now, only the slight quirk of an eyebrow betraying his confusion.

"It seems most 'defects' are merely undesirable traits encouraged by the Jedi." Palpatine went on. "And cannot be attributed to their origin."

Taun We's holo bowed its head to him.

"Concerning the matter of CT-7567," Palpatine paused.

He had to get this just right.

"The clone, while disobeying my orders, rectified a grave mistake made by the Republic." Palpatine said. "Its loyalty to its General and Commander must be commended."

Anakin's eyes gleamed with hope.

"Due to the circumstances, I declare the clone not defective." Palpatine said.

He could feel the saccharine relief pouring off Anakin. The boy grinned up at him and Palpatine allowed a small smile back.

He had regained the boy's trust. But still, there was the matter concerning the clone. Tarkin had been correct. It had shown a worrying amount of initiative and loyalty. If Anakin was to fall, the clone had to as well.

Chapter Text

Rex stared blankly across his holding cell. He clutched at the piece of crumpled flimsi in his hand. Thorn had shoved it into his hands as they took him to the trial.

"From all of us." He'd said.

It bore jaig eyes, his eyes. Rex knew they had meant it kindly, as a comfort. For him it was a shameful reminder. How proud he had been when his Mandalorian trainer had painted those marks on his helmet. And now, being held in disgrace.

How the mighty have fallen. Rex thought bitterly.

It had been- difficult to be paraded in front of a court as mere evidence. And it only cemented the fact that his general and Senator Amidala were in the minority.

The way Chancellor Palpatine had looked at him, like he was less than dust, made Rex feel the way the Kaminoans wanted him to feel. And that man was one who held the fates of many of Rex's brothers in his hands.

Still, he kept the flimsi in his hand. He'd keep it as long as he could.

"Come on, trooper."

Rex looked up at the sound of a brother's voice. Three Coruscant Guards stood in front of his holding cell. He stood.

"Where are we going?" He asked.

His heart thudded as he waited for the reply. To Kamino, back to the GAR headquarters, to the next room over to be shot. All were possibilities.

"Back to headquarters." There was a smile in the trooper's voice. "You've been cleared. Just got to take you back and wait for your General to pick you up."

Rex stared at the trooper before his brother's words sunk in. His legs shook and he placed a hand against the wall.

"Congratulations, Captain." The trooper said. "Now, let's get you out of here."

They had to put binders on him; he wasn't officially released yet. Rex was willing to endure it for a while longer. He focused on his bond with Ahsoka. The distance made it impossible for words, but he could send feelings. Unfortunately, she was sleeping at the moment and he didn't have the heart to wake her. She would find out soon enough.

"That's odd." One of the troopers said. "Shiv, you sure these are the right orders?"

"I dunno, '96 got them."

"I got them straight from the Admiral, Lieutenant Deck, sir." '96 said. "Though I did think they were odd too."

Deck looked over to Rex.

"You've been assigned to the same transport as some other chakaar'e." He said. "Their court dates are today, but even still, I'd expect them to send you in different transports."

Rex felt his stomach twist at the news. Deck looked down at his data pad and then patted Rex on the shoulder.

"Don't worry, vod. You can ride up front with me."

"Sir, the orders say all prisoners are to stay in the holding area during transport." '96 said.

"Well, twisting a few rules won't hurt anybody." Deck said

Rex smirked. General Skywalker would like this one.

"Sir." '96 said hesitantly. "We've been in enough trouble lately as is. Are you sure it's a good idea?"

Deck sighed and rubbed at his helmet. He glanced at the orders again and just shrugged.

"Sorry, vod." Deck said.

Rex's stomach dropped even lower. He couldn't shake the feeling he was being targeted. He wished whoever it was would just get someone to shoot him instead of all this cloak and vibrodagger nonsense.

"We'll be careful." Deck said cheerfully. "We won't let you out of our sight. They'll be in binders. It'll be fine."

It sounded like he was trying to convince himself.


Rex stared into the beady eyes of a large Karkarodan man. The predator had been staring at Rex hungrily for the entirety of the transport ride and ignoring every single one of the dozen other prisoners. Rex had been shoved, pushed against a bulkhead, cursed at, and nearly elbowed in the face before he managed to find a seat. Then he'd noticed the Karkarodan. Rex stared back, as if eye contact with the creature would keep it from lunging at him.

It seemed to work. The Karkarodan man hadn't moved a muscle even as '96 announced they were prepping to land.

Rex thought maybe through sheer luck, he'd made it out.

The Trandoshan, who Rex had ignored in favor of his larger companion, moved, drawing Rex's eyes. The lizard was holding something.

Rex narrowed his eyes and opened his mouth to alert 96' and Shiv. Something slammed into Rex. The Karkarodan smashed Rex into the wall and Rex felt his ribs crack. He could hear Shiv and '96 shouting, but the door wasn't opening. The other prisoners scrambled back.

The Karkarodan clamped down on Rex's shoulder. The initial pain was overwhelmed by more potent agony when the Karkarodan began shaking its head, tearing teeth through flesh. Rex yelled, forced down by his attacker's weight. Gasping, Rex jerked his hands up to claw at the Karkaradon's jaws. The Karkarodan loosened its grip, then lunged forward and bore down again. This time, Rex's fingers were caught.

Rex's pained roar mingled with the yells of the guards trying to get in and the jeers of the prisoners.

Rex rammed his head against the Karkarodan's. Its grip weakened slightly, so Rex threw his head back to do it again. Claws raked across Rex's face, carving lines deep into the flesh. Rex gasped.

"None of that, meatdroid." The Trandoshan hissed. "Torq, I'll keep it pinned. Do some real damage."

Rex's hands were free but immediately the Trandoshan forced Rex to the ground, claws tearing his blacks away and digging into his chest to hold him down. Rex struggled, but with each jerk he was getting weaker. On instinct he yanked on his bond with Ahsoka. Almost immediately she was focused and questioning.

The Karkarodan ripped into his thigh and the only response Rex could give was a scream.


"General!"

Anakin blinked as Fives and Tup hurried up to him. The ARC trooper had an excited gleam in his eye.

"We've gotten the information you requested." Fives went on. "The Captain's shuttle lands in fifteen minutes, platform 17."

"Thanks, Fives, Tup." Anakin said.

He wanted to meet Rex exactly when he landed. His Captain wouldn't spend a moment longer in captivity than necessary.

Fives shifted in front of him.

"What's up, Fives?"

"Permission to meet him with you, sir?" Fives said.

Anakin grinned. The men hadn't seen their Captain in a few weeks. He could at least give two of them a glimpse.

"Come on, you two. Let's go get him."

Fives snapped a grinning salute and Tup followed suit.

Nearly fifteen minutes later Anakin waited with his troopers on the windy landing platform. Fives was practically bouncing as they saw a prison transport heading towards them. Anakin couldn't help but grin. Finally.

Master! Ahsoka's voice echoed in Anakin's mind. Where's Rex?

Anakin frowned. She must be concentrating hard to get words across this distance. What bothered him more was the fear lacing her words.

He's on his prison transport. I can see it right now. What's wrong?

Master, he's in pain! He's suffering-

Snips, how in the galaxy do you know?

We-we bonded-"

Anakin looked past her hesitant confession to the feelings raging in her mind. Among Ahsoka's fear and Rex's pain was a deeper feeling than either. One Anakin knew all too well. Kriff, how long had Ahsoka been in love with Rex?

No, he could think about that later. For now he had to worry about the absolute agony Rex was in. Anakin concentrated on the ever nearing transport. The thing was absolutely drenched in pain, fear, and a twisted, horrifying pleasure. He could almost hear Rex's screams.

"Oh, hell." Anakin muttered. "Tup, go to the headquarters, contact Kix and get him here. Bring back whatever medical supplies you can. Run." Anakin ordered.

Tup took off sprinting down the platform.

"Fives. Be prepared for hostiles. I can sense at least fifteen people on board. One's Rex, we'll have to assume the rest are the enemy."

Fives didn't question anything. He simply nodded and pulled out his blaster.

Anakin stood tense as the transport landed and opened its doors. A single trooper in red armor came bolting down the ramp. He skidded to halt at the sight of them.

"Sir?" He asked, staring at Anakin. "How did you- nevermind. We need medical assistance, now."

The trooper whirled around and Anakin and Fives followed him at a run.

Rex's strangled cries were the first thing Anakin was aware of. They echoed down the hallway. Suddenly Rex screamed what sounded like a name, and then fell silent. Anakin forced himself to go faster.

They reached the cell and Anakin wasn't prepared for the sight that awaited him.

Blood was everywhere, spattered on the walls and pooling on the floor. In the middle of the mess was Rex, blood soaked and flat on his back. A Karkarodan's jaws were clamped around Rex's thigh. The large predator's eyes were glassy and its back was riddled with blaster holes. One trooper faced a group of stunned prisoners, keeping watch. Another was struggling, trying to pry the teeth free from Rex's leg. Rex's chest heaved rapidly, though thankfully he seemed unconscious.

"Don't!" Fives ordered the trooper, kneeling down. "If you get that thing off him, he'll bleed out in seconds."

The trooper looked up, obviously bewildered despite the helmet.

"Help your brother." Fives said. "We'll take care of this."

The trooper scrambled away and pulled out his blaster.

Despite Fives' calm words, Anakin could see the panic in his eyes. The ARC was right. The Karkarodan's death grip was the only thing keeping Rex's leg together. It seemed to have ruptured his artery.

Rex might bleed out anyway. Blood still flowed from his shoulder and oozed out his chest. His face was ashen.

First things first. They couldn't move Rex with a 300 pound weight hanging off his leg. Anakin drew his lightsaber and quickly decapitated the corpse. Fives barely blinked before pushing the headless body away from Rex.

Rex began to convulse. Fives looked up, helpless. Rex was losing too much blood, even with the teeth still in place.

Anakin made a decision.

"I'm sorry, Rex." He muttered.

Anakin ignited his lightsaber again and swung. The blade sheared through flesh and bone. The scent of burned skin choked the air. Rex's leg was severed just above the Karkarodan's head. Most importantly, the bleeding had stopped.

Anakin looked to Fives, who stared back in horror. Then the ARC turned back to Rex and began to attempt to treat the remaining wounds. He tore Rex's blacks and began wrapping Rex's hands in strips of the cloth. Anakin's stomach lurched as he realized Rex was missing fingers.

Anakin, stood helpless as Fives kept working. After he was done with Rex's hands, the ARC moved to the Captain's shredded shoulder, using Rex's tattered blacks to stem the bleeding.

Voices caught Anakin's attention. He realized the two Coruscant Guard troopers were no longer in the cell.

Gesturing for Fives to continue, Anakin followed the voices to the cockpit.

"You were not authorized to use lethal force with the prisoners." That was Tarkin's voice.

"Sir, I believe that we always have authorization to use lethal force if we deem necessary." The trooper's voice was fearful.

"The prisoner Torq Shupul had vital information concerning the Pyke movements on Coruscant." Tarkin said.

"We understand, sir, but Shupul was attacking another prisoner, Cap- CT-7567."

"And you deemed the life of a clone to be more important than vital information to the Republic."

"Sir, he's our brother. We couldn't stand by and let him die." A new trooper spoke with a trembling voice.

"Silence." Tarkin's voice was harsh. "You have blundered your orders for the last time. You shall be-"

"Transferred to the 501st!" Anakin said, stepping into the cockpit.

A holo of Tarkin stood like a judge in front of the three Coruscant Guard troopers. They jumped when Anakin came in. Tarkin merely met Anakin's stare.

"Effective immediately." Anakin said.

"Skywalker." Tarkin said in a dull tone.

"What are your names, troopers?" Anakin asked. "Names, not numbers."

"Lieutenant Deck, sir." One said after a moment.

"Shiv, sir." Another piped up.

"I don't have a name, sir. I'm CT-8896."

"Deck, Shiv, '96, tell me what happened here." Anakin said.

Obi Wan would've been proud of his even tone.

"Do not answer him." Tarkin said.

"As your new General, I order you to tell me!" Anakin let some of the fire he'd been holding back slip through.

The three troopers looked from Anakin, to Tarkin, and then each other.

"We received orders from Admiral Tarkin about the transportation of CT-7567." Deck said carefully.

"His name is Captain Rex." Anakin interjected.

"Er, yes. We were to move Captain Rex with a group of criminals, including Torq Shupul and Zid Mander. They were arrested for violence against clones. We found out later they had Pyke connections."

Anakin furrowed his brow as Deck continued.

"Their court date was today, so I suppose it made sense. But we were also ordered to keep all prisoners in the cell and like the Admiral said, we were on our last chance."

"Nothing happened until just before we landed." Shiv interjected. "Suddenly Shupul, the Karkarodan, just attacked Captain Rex."

The trooper's voice was low.

"We tried to get in, but Mander had some sort of device, we have no idea how he got it, but it locked the cell door. We had to blast it open. We stunned all the prisoners. We tried to stun Shupul, but it didn't work. We had to switch to kill, but even then we couldn't get him off of the Captain. That's about when you got here."

"We're sorry, sir." '96 said quietly. "We should have-"

"It doesn't matter now." Anakin said. "You did well in saving him. Go to the cell, and watch those prisoners."

The three saluted and hurried from the room.

"Bastard." Anakin snarled.

Tarkin just appraised him.

"The only order I gave was to have the clone transported at the same time as the other prisoners." He said.

"You knew they'd attack Rex!" Anakin accused. "And how did they manage to lock the door?"

"I have no idea." Tarkin said blandly. "Though it would have been best if that clone had died. It is dangerous. Its erratic behavior could influence others and we could lose control of the entire army." Tarkin said.

Anakin's hands were shaking. How dare he?

"Who put you up to this?" Anakin asked.

Tarkin remained silent.

"I said who?" Anakin bellowed.

He stretched out a clawed hand. Tarkin reached a hand to his throat. Fear shone in his bulging eyes; the first emotion besides contempt he had shown. Anakin tightened the invisible fingers.

Tarkin's mouth moved and Anakin relaxed the grip enough for the man to speak.

"Palpatine."

What?

"Liar!" Anakin said, though he had already released Tarkin. The admiral fell to his knees, coughing.

"Believe me or not, the Chancellor agreed with me." Tarkin said between gasps. "Your little Captain is a danger. I would keep a closer eye on your troops in the future, Skywalker."

The holo fizzed off.

Anakin swore and stood there for a moment. Tarkin had to be lying. Even if he wasn't, it was just an order about what prisoners were to be transferred. The Chancellor had supported them in proving Rex's innocence. He had let Rex go. He knew what Rex meant to Anakin. No. Anakin would find the truth later. Right now Rex needed him.

Tup had returned when Anakin reentered the cell. A troupe of new troopers were moving the prisoners out. Anakin's three new troopers stood to the side, silent. Fives still was working on Rex with the new supplies. He glanced up at Anakin. "Sir, I'm no medic. We should contact a GAR-"

"We're taking him to the Jedi Temple. Kix is on his way." Anakin said. "Tarkin wants Rex dead. It's the only place he'll be safe."

Anakin stood over Rex for what seemed like an eternity before Kix finally arrived with a hover stretcher. The medic took one look at Rex and pushed Fives to the side.

"How much longer until we can move him?" Anakin asked.

"Soon." Kix said shortly. "Fives did well. He's lost a lot of blood, though. I don't know how much of a chance he has."

Anakin swallowed at the pronouncement. Kix continued working, until finally he gestured to Fives. The two carefully moved the unconscious Rex onto the hover stretcher.

"That's as good as I can get him for now." Kix said. "Fives said we're taking him to the Jedi Temple?"

"Yes." Anakin said. "Fives, take those three back to the barracks. Kix, I'm with you."

They made their way off the shuttle. Anakin looked behind them to see bloody footprints trailing behind. He was suddenly aware of his boots, soaked in blood. Rex's blood.

Whoever had decided that Rex needed to die would pay.


Ahsoka lay curled on her side, though it hurt her ribs. She was trying desperately to keep her mind on herself, rather than two of her bonds. Master Plo had his hand on her shoulder. Obi Wan paced beyond.

Ahsoka nearly shot up in her bed, but Plo gently held her down. Anakin and Rex had come close enough that Ahsoka could send words through their bonds.

Master! She sent.

Rex's mind was too pain filled for her to be able to send anything.

He's alive. Came Anakin's tense reply.

Master-

Not now, Ahsoka. I'll come to you soon.

Ahsoka clenched her jaw as Anakin closed his end of the bond.

"He's alive." She said aloud.

Plo squeezed her shoulder and Obi Wan sighed.

"Anything else?" Obi Wan asked.

Ahsoka shook her head.

"I can feel he's still in a lot of pain." She supplied.

Neither Plo or Obi Wan had said anything about her new bond with Rex.

Now that Rex was closer, Ahsoka had a hard time distinguishing her own pain from his. Her aches flared into sharp jabs of agony and she huddled down. She was so tired of hurting.

Plo stood and sat on her bed. He carefully lifted her hand between his talons. Ahsoka closed her eyes and clung to the soothing sensation. She struggled upright and leaned into his shoulder.

"Do not despair, 'Soka." He rumbled. "He is being treated by our best."

Ahsoka nodded into his shoulder. His presence was reassuring. She once again wondered if this was what having a father was like.

It was another ten minutes before Anakin came in, rubbing at his face.

"They stabilized him at the prison." He told them before Ahsoka could say anything. "They're working on him now."

"How is he, Master?" Ahsoka asked.

Anakin had reached the bedside. He met her gaze carefully.

"It doesn't look good." He said quietly. "Ahsoka, it's a miracle we got him here alive. Even if he makes it-"

Anakin looked down and Ahsoka felt sick.

"He'll have to spend a long time in recovery." Anakin finished. "We're talking weeks in bacta, and bedrest beyond that. It could be months before he can return to duty. If it all."

Ahsoka was so tired of being strong. She wanted to just bury her head into Plo's shoulder and hide from the painful news. Instead she straightened a little.

"Do you know what happened?" She asked.

"We're not talking about that now." Anakin said. "You're going to rest."

"I believe we all would like to know." Obi Wan finally spoke up. "And I also believe we are all very weary of waiting."

Anakin rubbed his face again.

"Tarkin." He said. "Ordered Rex to be transported on a ship with clone haters."

Ahsoka nodded. Yes, that made sense. Anakin paused, obviously hesitant to continue.

"Master?" Ahsoka prompted.

"He said the Chancellor was involved."

Plo let out a long breath and Obi Wan resumed pacing. Ahsoka herself felt numb. First the experiment. Now this. What was Palpatine doing?

"Of course he was lying." Anakin spat.

"Anakin-" Obi Wan started.

"It's a lie!" Anakin shouted.

Once Ahsoka would have flinched at his outburst, but being Anakin's apprentice made one used to such yelling. She simply tugged softly on their bond. He turned to her.

"Master, I need to show you something." Ahsoka said. "I need to show all of you."

She sent the memory of a dark room, masked figures, and Palpatine leering over it all. Anakin paled. Obi Wan stopped in his tracks. Plo tightened his grip on Ahsoka.

"It can't be." Anakin said. "That can't be true."

"Are you saying you don't believe me?" Ahsoka couldn't keep the anger from her voice.

"Of course not!" Anakin said hurriedly. "But- Ahsoka you know the Chancellor would never- you must have been mistaken."

"I have never been more sure in my life." Ahsoka said quietly. "He poisoned me and nearly killed me. If he was willing to do something like that to a Jedi, what would he be willing to do to a clone?

Anakin just stared at her.

"No-" He said.

"Anakin." Obi Wan said gently. "The Chancellor is a clever man. I have long suspected he has been- purposefully influencing you in his favor."

Anakin sank down on the edge of a bed.

"Why?" He asked. "Why would he hurt you? Why would he hurt Rex?"

"I don't know." Ahsoka admitted. "But Anakin-"

"I need- I need to think about this." Anakin said.

Ahsoka could feel anger mix with Anakin's shock and horror.

"Anakin, you cannot act against the Chancellor." Obi Wan said. "Whatever he has done, we must plan carefully how to act."

Anakin was sitting stiff. His clenched fists trembled at his side. Ahsoka was suddenly frightened that Anakin would ignore Obi Wan and do something rash.

"I know." Anakin finally said.

His fists still shook.

Chapter Text

Rex could feel Ahsoka's eyes on him. She'd been watching him almost constantly since they'd taken him out of the bacta a few days ago. Even now, talking with Senator Amidala, Ahsoka kept an eye his direction. He continued to feign sleep. He didn't feel much like talking. Wasn't easy to either, with healing ribs and a million other aches and pains running up and down his body.

Apparently they'd had to take him out of the bacta early. After three weeks he had been in danger of slipping into a coma.

Ahsoka had been with him most of the time. More often than not when he opened his eyes, her shadowy montrals were visible through the blue substance. She helped keep some of the flashbacks at bay.

A healer approached him. Rex had to open his eyes and focus on the Twi'lek woman. Master Che herself had come to do his daily examination.

"If you could sit up, please, Captain." She said.

She watched, disapproving, as Rex struggled upright. Rex insisted on doing as many things as he could by himself. It was a short list. Sitting up, eating, and drinking. Anything that required getting out of his bed needed at least one healer. It rankled him badly that he needed help dressing or using the fresher.

When he was finally upright Rex began to remove the loose tunic they'd dressed him in. He hated the thing. It was only cloth and offered absolutely no protection. Like his blacks. Blacks that had been torn away from his body as teeth ripped into his leg-

Rex caught himself and forced himself to breathe. It took a minute for the images to fade.

He appreciated that Ahsoka and Senator Amidala pointedly looked away as Master Che began her examination. Rex endured this without much trouble. It was easier today. The gash across his face and puncture wounds on his chest were healing well. His hands and shoulder were still infected. Apparently, like humans, the bite of a Karkarodon always became infected. Master Che had lamented the fact after he'd been removed from the bacta and his wounds were still oozing and red.

"This will sting, Captain." Master Che said.

It did sting, but Rex gritted his teeth and bore it. What was one more pain?

His ribs still ached, but Master Che applied a bacta shot that she said should help. Still, even her gentle touch made him want to lash out and get away.

"Lie back down, Captain." Master Che said gently.

She didn't try to press him down. She must have heard of the difficulty the healers had the day before. Perhaps that was why she was here today.

Rex lowered himself and another healer approached. Rex winced as he saw the dark bruise on the Pantoran man's cheek.

This was the hard part for Rex.

He was able to keep still as the pair of healers finished undressing him, which was better than yesterday.

He kept his eyes fixed on the ceiling as they examined the mild, but infected bite marks above his stump.

"I am sorry, Captain, but we must keep you still while we apply the antibiotics." Master Che said.

Rex set his jaw as the Pantoran healer placed a gentle, but firm hand on Rex's chest.

The memories of being held down were coming back. Rex's chest began to heave.

A tender mental touch suddenly surged, pushing the memories away. Rex realized it had been there the entire examination, keeping his panic down.

Rex stole a glance at Ahsoka. She was still chatting with Senator Amidala. Was she doing it unconsciously?

Then Master Che moved on to his missing leg. Despite Ahsoka's help, Rex clutched the side of his bed and pulled his head away as the examination was done.

Finally it was over and the Pantoran healer began to help Rex dress again. Master Che went over her data pad and made notes.

"We will have to wait on your prosthesis based on how well the infection heals."

Rex nodded and both healers retreated. He leaned back into the too soft pillows and stared at the ceiling.

He looked over at a soft clinking noise. Senator Amidala had set a vase holding a bunch of blue and white flowers on his bedside table.

"From the 501st." She said with a smile. "They say to get better soon."

Rex glanced past her to see Ahsoka had one too, except much larger and more gaudy than his. He looked back to Senator Amidala and tried to smile and nod.

She seemed to understand, smiling again.

"I'll see you both tomorrow." She said, before leaving them alone in the quiet room.

There was a moment of silence during which Rex studied the flowers. An interesting choice. Perhaps it was traditional?

Ahsoka got up from her bed and cautiously made her way to his bedside. She sat down and took his hand. She'd taken up the same position every time they'd been alone.

How are you?

Rex didn't jump at Ahsoka's mental question. In fact, he wondered what took her so long. He sent back the equivalent of a mental shrug. She frowned at him.

What's the matter? She asked.

The Kaminoans will be coming for me. He said. Once they learn what happened.

What? No, we-

I'm damaged goods, Commander. Bitterness leaked into his thoughts and he turned to stare at the ceiling once more. Once a tool is broken, you get rid of it.

You're not a tool! She protested.

That's what the Kaminoans see. Clones hurt this bad are always decommissioned.

We're not going to let that happen. You'll get your leg and-

Why?

What?

Why do get to live? Why do you fight so hard for me?

Because you did the right thing, Rex. Because we care-

Then why didn't you fight for Dogma? He did the right thing.

Rex, by the time we knew, it was too late-

And what about all of my brothers who've lost limbs? Clones don't get cybernetics. Clones like me die.

Rex-

I had a squadmate- he didn't even have a name yet. There was an accident, he got his leg shattered. They could have helped him, given him a new leg, but it wasn't worth it to them.

Ahsoka didn't respond, but Rex wasn't done.

Do you know what they called me as they tried to kill me in there? Meatdroid. And that's what we are, at least to everyone else. If I weren't the favorite pet of someone important, I would have died in there. I should have died in there, because every single one of my brothers would have.

Angry tears were forming in his eyes and he turned completely away from her, tugging his hand from her grip.

When the Kaminoans find out, let them take me. You'd let them take any other clone.

Rex curled in tighter on himself and quickly shut down their bond. He didn't want her reaction. It would make the guilt already creeping up even worse. He waited for her to get up and return to her bed.

Instead, she put her hand on his shoulder. For a moment he was overwhelmed by her touch but she soon soothed away the panic.

"I'm sorry." Ahsoka whispered aloud. "You're right. Every clone deserves the chance you get."

She squeezed his shoulder tighter.

"None of it is fair. I don't have the power to change much. But I promise I'll stay with our men and I'll do what I can to protect them."

Rex slowly relaxed and some of the anger drained away.

"Thank you." He mumbled, though it hurt. "I'm sorry. It's not your fault."

He was still facing away from her, but he reached his hand over and touched hers. She took his hand again.

"I hope you know," She said quietly. "I would fight for any clone, if I had the chance."

Rex looked at her. Her eyes were serious.

"I know, Commander." He said. And he did.

"I want you to promise me something."

Rex met her gaze, an odd sense of apprehension falling over him.

"Promise me you won't give up." She said. "You'll do everything in your power to come back to us."

Rex hesitated and Ahsoka immediately squeezed his hand.

"Promise me." She said.

Rex swallowed.

"I promise."

He wondered if she knew how difficult it was to say it.


"Some of the council have come to see you." Master Che told Ahsoka. "Do you feel well enough to meet with them?"

"Yes." Ahsoka said.

It had been a few days since Rex's outburst and Ahsoka had been thinking long and hard about the promise she had made to him. The Jedi Council was key to whether or not she could keep it.

A few moments later a small group crowded into the room. Master Yoda was there of course, as well as Master Windu, Master Mundi, and Master Tiin. Ahsoka was pleased to see Master Obi Wan and Master Plo there as well. They would make things easier.

"Padawan Tano, it is good to see you recovered." Master Windu said.

"Should you be calling me that?" Ahsoka asked.

Master Windu seemed taken aback by her challenge.

"We wish to discuss with you the matter of your place in the Jedi Order." He continued as if she hadn't said anything. "We would have come to you before, but we wished for you to have time to recover."

Ahsoka suppressed a snort. Some of the council wanted to talk to her since day one. It had been Master Che, Master Plo, and Master Obi Wan who had absolutely put their foot down. Master Che especially had told them that she would decide when her patient was able to meet with them, not them.

Master Windu paused, glancing Rex's direction. Rex was curiously watching them.

"These are Jedi matters." Master Windu said. "Perhaps the clone-"

"I'd like Rex to stay." Ahsoka said.

Master Windu and Master Mundi shared a glance but said nothing more about it.

"You have been through a difficult ordeal, little 'Soka." Master Plo said. He had moved to the side of her bed with Obi Wan."You have our humblest apologies. It was the fault of the council that you have suffered."

Ahsoka looked up into his face. They both tried to hide it, but Ahsoka knew their inaction still deeply hurt Obi Wan and Plo.

"Thank you, Master." Ahsoka said softly.

"You have shown such great strength and resilience in your struggle to prove your innocence." Master Tiin said.

"This is the true sign of a Jedi Knight." Master Mundi added.

"This was actually your great trial. Now we see that." Master Windu said. "We understand that the Force works in mysterious ways, and because of this trial, you have become a greater Jedi than you would have otherwise."

Master Windu's words felt like a slap to the face. Ahsoka blinked, stunned. The Force worked in mysterious ways?

"Back into the Order, you may come." Master Yoda said.

Ahsoka stared at her folded hands on the blanket. She was angry. Master Windu in one blow had shed all responsibility from the Order. She was very tempted to tell them all to kark off, but Ahsoka had a promise to keep.

"I will be honest, Masters." She said slowly. "The council failed me. You abandoned me based on circumstantial evidence."

The group was quiet, so she continued.

"I have one priority now." She looked past the members of the council to Rex and met his eyes. "My men. And I will make whatever choice I need to in order to stay with them."

She looked back to the council.

"But know this. If my only choice is to rejoin the Jedi Order, I do so with the intention of leaving again after the war is over and my men are safe."

"Why would we allow you to return knowing this?" Master Mundi exclaimed.

Anger flared again and Ahsoka only just managed to keep her temper in check. Mostly.

"Because the council owes me a great debt." Ahsoka said. "You would have allowed my death without lifting a finger."

"Clearly attachment to the clones has clouded your judgement." Master Windu said.

His placid face belied the cold anger Ahsoka could hear in his voice.

"My men's attachment to me is what saved me!" Ahsoka said. "Attachment is what prevented innocent blood from being on your hands!"

"Perhaps it was well that you were removed from the Jedi Order." Master Mundi said. "If you see attachment in such a way."

Plo and Obi Wan stiffened with Ahsoka. Even Master Tiin and Windu looked a little uncomfortable with the comment.

"Then make me a civilian officer." Ahsoka said. "The Navy has them, why not the GAR?"

"Those officers have a history in the military." Master Windu said.

"And Ahsoka does not?" Obi Wan interjected. "Has she not proven herself an excellent Commander thus far? I fail to see how her status as a Jedi changes that."

"If we deny 'Soka her request, we will be weakening ourselves." Plo said. "The men of the 501st would be demoralized and we would lose both her tactical and battlefield abilities."

Master Windu frowned, but looked as if he were considering their points.

"Support Padawan Tano's proposal, I do." Yoda declared. "Lose her skills, we cannot."

"I agree." Master Windu said. "We will speak to the Supreme Chancellor about reinstating you to the rank of Commander."

"Thank you, Masters." Ahsoka said, giving a bow of her head.

She received a few reluctant bows back, before most of the council excused themselves. Masters Plo and Obi Wan remained.

"You have done a very brave thing, Little 'Soka." Plo said. "We will miss you, but if you feel you can no longer be a Jedi, I would not wish to force you."

"Indeed." Obi Wan said. "Anakin will be disappointed, but at least you'll be staying close."

"Thank you again, Masters." Ahsoka said.

She didn't want to think about how Anakin would react.


Master Che gave her a clean bill of health a few days later, at least physically. Ahsoka still was having trouble with certain aspects of the Force. So now she was being sent off to another Jedi Master, Bas Gek, who specialized in Force ailments. It wouldn't be for a few days; Ahsoka would have time to spend with the men.

Ahsoka approached Rex's bed. He looked up at her. He still didn't talk much out loud. He'd be shipped off to the Kaliida Shoals Medical Center in the Outer Rim in a few days for his recovery. Anakin had suggested it, as far away as Rex could get from Tarkin's influence. The Kaminoans were surprisingly compliant in their requests regarding Rex. Ahsoka figured that Rex, as both an ARC and a Captain, was easier to fix than replace. It didn't hurt that Padme, now in good standings with the Kaminoan government, had personally asked for their help.

"I'm off." She told him. "I'm good to go, then we're going to Kaladin IV to meet with Master Gek."

He nodded.

Thank you for staying with the men. He replied.

"I promised I would." She said. "And someone needs to look after them with you laid up."

He smiled a little.

Take care of them. And yourself.

"Of course." Ahsoka said.

They looked at each other. There was so much Ahsoka wanted to say. Words weren't enough. Gently she took his hand. She leaned down and pressed her lips against his head.

He squeezed her hand.

Ret'urcye mhi, Ahsoka.

He understood.

"I don't like that phrase." She told him. "We will meet again."

The Force had bonded them, and it had a way of bringing those it connected back together.

Chapter Text

"Commander!" Ahsoka recognized Vaughn's voice and it became a chorus filling the barracks.

"Commander Tano!"

"It's the Commander!"

"She's back!"

Ahsoka was swarmed with a mass of blue and white armor, sparkling brown eyes, and mostly identical grins. Gloved hands reached out and Ahsoka tried to grasp them all. She was laughing and crying at the same time.

She was home.

Fives fought to the front, grabbed her around the waist and lifted her up. Ahsoka laughed harder, pushing against his shoulders. He laughed too, giving them a spin.

"It's good to have you back, Commander!" Fives said.

He set her down and embraced her normally.

"Vor entye." She said the traditional Mandalorian thanks and pressed a kiss to his cheek.

He squeezed her tighter.

"Ne'entye." He muttered back.

She blinked at the response. No debt.

Finally he let go, but he'd set the precedent. Every clone wanted a hug now. Ahsoka was glad to oblige them. And for Kix, Jesse, and Tup, she had an extra squeeze, a whispered 'vor entye', and a kiss on the cheek.

How odd it was that she had always felt more at home here than in the Jedi temple. Maybe she was never meant to be a Jedi.

She stayed that night in the barracks, though she didn't have much choice. Before she could insist that she was fine just taking one of the empty beds, a group consisting of Jump-up, Kickback, Whip, Rud, and Spin managed to break one of the bunks in half. They shoved the bottom piece into Rex's office, where it barely fit.

Ahsoka couldn't say no after their heartfelt, if over eager, display of wanting to help.

She didn't spend most of the night there anyway. The men wanted to hear of her and Rex's escapades. She told them everything she could, though she merely named Cut as the farmer that had helped Rex so long ago. They were sufficiently horrified at her description of what happened to her with every fit.

"And then Rex had the gall to lie to me about what was happening." Ahsoka told her audience.

"Well, he was right to." Kix piped up. "Since, you know, your heart kriffing stopped."

The room burst into noise and confusion at that. It took a while to calm everyone down, especially a younger trooper, Quirk, who had burst into tears at the news.

They all stared at her with solemn eyes as she told them about her conversation with the Jedi Council.

"You're not a Jedi anymore?" Kix finally asked.

"No." Ahsoka told him. "I wasn't going to stick around after they were going to let me die."

"But what are you still doing here?" Fives exploded. "You can get out! You don't have to be in this kriffing war anymore!"

He stood up and made as if to grab her arm and drag her up.

"Fives!" Ahsoka protested. "Where would I go if I didn't stay?"

"Somewhere where you're not almost dying every other day." Fives shot back. "You're a kid, Commander. You should have never been in the war in the first place."

"And you aren't?" Ahsoka retorted. "What are you, Fives, twelve?"

"We were made for this." Fives said. "And it's not like we have much of a choice."

"I do, and I choose to stay with you." Ahsoka said. "If I leave, more of you will die."

Fives blinked.

"You're staying for us?" He asked.

Murmurs fluttered through the crowd.

"What did you think I was staying for?" Ahsoka asked.

"It's the only life you've known." Fives said, still looking at her in amazement. "I thought- you just didn't know what else to do."

Ahsoka put a hand on his shoulder.

"I can't leave you. Not after what you've done for me." She said. "You're my family. All of you."

Fives continued to stare at her, joined by most of the others.

"Well, in that case, you need to get yourself a tattoo!" Jesse suddenly called.

Several others cheered in agreement.

"What does that have to do with anything?" Ahsoka asked.

"We have been asking General Skywalker for months." Jesse said. "Nearly every trooper in the 501st has one. Even Rex. But the General was always saying 'she's a Jedi, we don't get tattoos unless it has cultural significance.'"

He spoke in a mocking but fairly accurate impression of Anakin. Ahsoka laughed.

"If he doesn't have a tattoo of Senator Amidala on his right sheb, I'll get it myself." Fives muttered.

"But you're not a Jedi any more!" Jesse said brightly. "And you're one of us!"

Ahsoka raised an eyebrow at him, considering. She had known it was a bit of a rite of passage to get one's first tattoo in the 501st. She had no idea the boys had wanted to include her.

"Okay." She said.

The men cheered and laughed.

"But where are we gonna go that's open this late?" She asked. "Especially one that serves clones?"

"Don't worry about that." Fives said with a dismissive wave of his hand. "There's one right next to 79's."

"I'm sure you're all very sober when you go." Ahsoka said with a smirk.

"You ever wonder why Jesse has a GAR symbol on his face?" Fives replied.

"Shut up, Fives." Jesse said with an eyeroll. "I was sober when I got this."

"See, I tell people you were drunk because you don't look insane that way." Fives said with a playful push of his brother.

More clones laughed.

"You are not all coming." Ahsoka told them to a chorus of complaints.

So Ahsoka left Appo in charge and ended up traipsing across Coruscant with only five troopers. Fives and Jesse, along with the three new 501st troopers: Deck, Shiv, and the newly named Aran. Jesse had taken the three under his wing and had encouraged them to come get tattoos as well. Ahsoka was glad to welcome them along. They'd done everything they could to save Rex.

"What'll you have?" The heavily inked Duros asked as Ahsoka sat down in the chair. The tattoo place was surprisingly nice. It was clean and well lit. Everywhere holos flickered with pictures of all sorts of beings and their tattoos. Not a few were of clones. Music with a heavy beat played in the background.

Ahsoka glanced at Fives and Jesse who grinned encouragingly.

"I want two." She said. "One here," She put her hand on her right shoulder. "With the numbers '501'. And one here," She traced the area on her forearm where she'd been injected.

"Same design?" The Duros, apparently named Rotu, asked.

Ahsoka shook her head.

"Know what jaig eyes are?" She asked.

Fives shot her a look, though Jesse was too busy looking through tattoo catalogues with the newbies to notice. Rotu raised an eyebrow.

"Yeah, I know 'em." He said. "Mandalorians will come in and ask for 'em. Actually gave 'em to a blonde trooper a while back."

Ahsoka nodded. She'd seen Rex's shoulder tattoo when he was dressed in Cut's sleeveless clothing.

"I want the eyes in blue, numbers in white." She said.

"Got it." Rotu said. "Let's get started."

He pulled out his tools, including a blaster shaped device ending in a large needle. Ahsoka felt a twinge of anxiety.

"You all right?" Rotu asked.

"Not the biggest fan of needles." Ahsoka admitted.

"It won't take long." Rotu promised.

He sketched out a few versions of her requests. Ahsoka selected the standard, blocky font for the 501st, and tried to choose the eyes that looked most like Rex's.

Ahsoka winced as the needle touched her skin for the first time. It pricked and stung, but she quickly became used to it as Rotu worked. She grinned at Deck, who was in the other chair having a lanky Rodian female work on him.

He blinked at her, then glanced at Jesse as if to ask what to do. Jesse rolled his eyes.

"You can smilevod." He said. "You'll find the 501st is a lot more relaxed than the Guard."

"I don't bite." Ahsoka said, then grinned wider, showing off her pointed canines. Deck's eyes widened slightly. Jesse and Fives laughed.

"Begging your pardon, ma'am," Deck said. "But I'm still not quite sure we're 501st material. We're grateful to General Skywalker for transferring us, but the 501st is the best."

"You don't think you're cut out for the job?" Ahsoka asked.

Deck shook his head.

"To use our sargeant's description of us, we're screw-ups-"

"Shut up, Deck." Shiv suddenly growled. "You know that Sarge was talking about me."

Ahsoka gave the waiting trooper a questioning look.

"Deck here is a great soldier." Shiv said. "He just had the shabla luck to be my batchmate."

"Language!" Deck said.

"Commander Tano can swear in three and a half different languages." Fives scoffed. "And she will."

Deck and Aran looked horrified, while Shiv looked fairly impressed.

"Point is," Shiv went on. "This di'kut keeps taking the blame for my mistakes. He refuses to let us be separated and makes enough small mistakes to ensure it. And this idiot-"

Shiv gestured to Aran who ducked his head.

"Somehow thinks we're both the greatest thing since uj cake and does the same thing!" Shiv said and folded his arms. "So if anyone's not fit for the 501st, it's me."

Ahsoka looked at him.

"Can you shoot straight?" She asked.

Shiv looked offended.

"Of course!"

"Do you care about your brothers?"

"What sane clone doesn't?"

"Can you follow orders?"

Shiv immediately glanced to the side.

"If they're not shabla stupid." He muttered. "Which is only sometimes."

Ahsoka grinned.

"You'll find that Fives thinks the same. I think you three will fit in just fine."

Shiv blinked at her, while Aran flushed. Deck merely straightened in his chair.

"We'll do our best, ma'am." Deck said.

"Done." Rotu said, leaning back. "Who's next?"

Shiv claimed the chair next, and began describing a harsh, dagger-like pattern he wanted on his face.

Fives and Jesse crowded around Ahsoka, Aran peeping from behind.

"Interesting choice, Commander." Jesse said, examining the jaig eyes.

"Who gave you jaig eyes?" Aran piped up. "What did you do to earn them?"

"I didn't earn them." Ahsoka said. "Captain Rex did. I'm just borrowing his."

"And just rubbing it in that Rex is her favorite." Fives said.

Ahsoka gave him a sharp look.

"I'm just saying, Commander. I got you out too and you didn't get a five inked on somewhere." Fives said, a teasing gleam in his eye.

"Yes I did!" Ahsoka said, gesturing to her shoulder.

Jesse snorted.

"You know what I mean." Fives said. "I'm not blaming you. You two have always been close and now that he's kissed you-"

Aran's jaw dropped. Ahsoka smacked Fives' arm.

"He was giving me mouth to mouth resuscitation!" Ahsoka said.

"If that's what you want to call it." Fives said with a wink.

"Oh, shut up." Ahsoka said. "Aran, don't ever listen to him, okay?"

It took just a little while longer at the tattoo place. Aran wanted a simple design that didn't take too much time. The shy younger trooper had surprised them with the outline of a shield on his face. Deck had gotten a subtler tattoo, one of a serpent geometrically twisting around his bicep.

"Thanks Rotu, Jils." Fives said as he ushered everyone out. "See you next time I'm blackout drunk."

"Don't we pay?" Ahsoka asked.

"Nah. The Republic pays that place a flat monthly fee to take care of all the GAR tattoo needs." Fives said. "It's to make sure we don't get ourselves into trouble with shadier places."

Ahsoka nodded and went to touch her new jaig eyes.

"Don't." Fives said. "It's best you touch it as little as possible before it heals."

"Right." Ahsoka said, though she kept her fingers hovering over it.

"He'll be all right, Commander." Jesse said quietly.

Ahsoka thought of Rex's quiet distress, still present in the back of her mind.

"I hope so." She said.


The troops were in fairly good spirits the next morning, despite having not slept half the night. Fives and Jesse helped Ahsoka do Rex's job of getting everyone up and prepared for deployment. Luckily, the 501st knew the procedure, and it went smoothly. The barracks were empty within hours, leaving Ahsoka, Jesse and Fives doing last minute checks. Ahsoka had found Rex's armor and was thinking of how to get it to him when a voice spoke.

"Commander Tano." The voice was familiar, but different to the cadence of the clones closest to her.

Ahsoka turned, holding Rex's helmet, to see Commander Fox standing at the far end of the barracks. Fives and Jesse were immediately at Ahsoka's side, glaring at Fox.

"What do you want, Fox?" Fives snapped.

Fox didn't react to the aggression.

"I would like to speak to Commander Tano." He said.

"What makes you think she wants to talk to you?" Jesse growled.

"Jesse, Fives." Ahsoka said. "It's okay."

"Commander, you don't have to talk to him." Fives spat. "After everything he's done."

Fox stood quietly in face of Fives and Jesse's hostility.

"I don't mind talking to him." Ahsoka insisted. "You two go ahead and catch up with the rest of the men."

They both looked down at her.

"Commander-" Jesse started.

"I wasn't asking." Ahsoka said.

Fives and Jesse shared a glance before slowly making their way out. They both shot Fox dirty looks as they passed.

There was a moment of silence where Fox and Ahsoka stared at each other.

"You can take your helmet off, Fox." Ahsoka prompted.

Fox hesitated before slowly lifting his bucket and holding it gingerly under his arm. He was, as the clones called it, 'standard issue:' no changes to the regulation haircut and no visible tattoos. Nothing to differentiate himself from his brothers, except what looked like a burn scar spattered across his face and the greying of his temples. No, there was one other thing. Most clones had very distinct smile lines. Even Rex, one of the more stoic clones Ahsoka knew, wore them. Fox had only the barest trace. Did this man ever smile?

"I came to apologize, Commander Tano." Fox said.

"You did already." Ahsoka said, confused.

"That was for the Guard." Fox said. "This is- a personal apology."

He raised his hand as Ahsoka attempted to speak.

"I apologize for believing you would harm my men." He said. "I apologize for hindering your escape."

He stared at a spot above Ahsoka's head as he spoke.

"I apologize for what happened to Captain Rex." He said.

"That wasn't-" Ahsoka began.

"I played a part." Fox interrupted. "And I apologize."

A moment passed.

"I forgive you." Ahsoka said.

Fox didn't react save for him finally meeting her eyes. Something told her that this wasn't the reaction he was expecting.

"Thank you." He finally said.

Ahsoka nodded. She expected him to pull his helmet on and march away. Instead Fox looked at her, stiff and awkward.

"Is there anything else?" Ahsoka prompted.

"Your ARC trooper, Fives, said something when we had him in for interrogation." Fox said hesitantly.

Ahsoka raised an eyebrow. Fox fiddled with his helmet before continuing.

"He asked me if I ever did anything because it was right and not because it was ordered." He said. "I thought he was making excuses. Orders are what's right."

He spoke haltingly, as if he'd never voiced thoughts like this before. Ahsoka wondered if the man had anyone to talk to.

"But you were innocent. My orders were wrong." Fox continued.

He trailed off. Ahsoka felt a pang of sympathy for the clone. His entire life was built on following orders. Now he found that those orders were fallible.

"Fox, did you ever hear what happened on Umbara?" Ahsoka asked.

Fox's brow furrowed slightly.

"I heard rumors. I only know for sure that Krell ended up dead."

"He was a traitor. He had the 212th and 501st attack each other." Ahsoka said.

Fox stiffened.

"So the rumors were true." He said.

Ahsoka nodded.

"Before that, Fives, Jesse, and Hardcase took Umbaran fighters against orders and destroyed the Umbaran supply ship. They almost single handedly won the battle." Ahsoka said. "Hardcase didn't make it. Do you know what Krell tried to ordered after that?"

Fox frowned.

"I only know the rumors." He said.

"He ordered Fives and Jesse executed." Ahsoka said. "Tell me, was that right?"

Fox hesitated.

"No." He said finally. "They may have disobeyed orders, but they saved lives and gained an advantage. Execution was too far."

"That's what the rest of the men thought. They refused to carry out the sentence." Ahsoka said. "I know you've come to rely on orders, Fox. But you've seen they're not always right. I trust my men to make the correct choice. I think you can trust yourself as well."

Fox stood quietly for a moment.

"Thank you." He said.

He brought his hand up in a salute. Ahsoka returned it. He turned to leave.

"Wait!" Ahsoka said.

Fox paused.

"Could you make sure Rex gets this before he leaves for the Medical Center in a few days?" She asked and held out Rex's helmet.

For the first time something resembling a smile flitted across Fox's face.

"I will." He said. "Good luck, Commander Tano."

He took the helmet from her and placed his own back on. He retreated from the room. Ahsoka watched him go. He was a strange one, but Ahsoka felt at his core, he was a good man. Like all clones.

She straightened and took one last sweep of the room. Then she took a deep breath. It was back to the war.

Chapter Text

Ahsoka stepped off the Twilight into a torrent of rain. Kaladin IV was known for its raging storms and rocky jungles. She could barely make out the buildings of the compound where Master Gek lived.

"Just like home." Fives commented as he followed her with Tup and Kix. "I hope this Jedi Master doesn't have a leaky roof."

"I dunno." Tup said. "He might struggle with an attachment to dryness."

The other two laughed and Ahsoka bit her lip to keep from joining in. Could she laugh? She wasn't part of the Jedi Order anymore. She settled on a smirk and led the three troopers towards the closest building.

The smirk evaporated when the door opened to reveal a hulking Trandoshan.

The dark green Trandoshan grunted. Cream colored markings swooped across its scales.

"Tano, I assume." He muttered. "And some of the Republic's lackeys. Well, you might as well come in."

He stepped back to let them in. Ahsoka didn't move. An alarm was screaming in the back of her head. Trandoshan. Hunters. Wasskah. Kalifa-

The panic was slammed down by a mental touch with the subtlety of a rancor.

"A little prejudiced, aren't you?" The Trandoshan said testily. "You better get over that quickly if we're to work together. Now get in here before you drown."

It was Fives' hand on her shoulder that propelled her into the building.

The troopers stayed close to Ahsoka as they entered. Fives kept his hand on her shoulder. He'd been there after Wasskah, as had Kix. They knew how being hunted like an animal had affected her.

The room was warm and homey. The furniture looked worn and comfortable. Datapads, stacks of flimsi, and old tomes were cluttered about. The Trandoshan had retreated to the middle of the room, staring at them with violet eyes. His tall, muscular build seemed out of place in the bookish environment.

"Master Gek?" Ahsoka finally asked.

"I dunno about 'Master.'" The Trandoshan muttered. "The Council probably revoked the title at some point."

He looked up at the four of them, huddled and dripping on the doorstep. Ahsoka was still tense. Master Gek had stopped her panic but hadn't stopped her anxiety and apprehension.

"Stop that." He growled. "Something obviously happened between you and others of my kind but you need to get over it if we're going to work together."

"You don't know what happened!" Fives snapped.

Master Gek turned slowly and stalked up to them. Panic rose like bile in Ahsoka's throat. Fives and Kix immediately stepped in front of her. If she wasn't about to throw up, she would have protested.

"Let me guess." Master Gek said. "She got kidnapped and hunted like prey. Watched people die, struggled to stay alive for a few days, and miraculously escaped after brutally murdering the Trandoshans who took you."

He stared down Ahsoka through Fives and Kix, towering over even the clones.

"If my master could train me after going through that, you can deal with me for a few days." He said. "Your trauma does not give you permission to punish others."

He backed off and Ahsoka let go of the breath she'd been holding. Still, she was shaking from the encounter.

Master Gek sighed and ran a claw over his snout.

"We're clearly not going to get anything done tonight." He said. "The guest house is right next to this one. The door's open. Take the night to get a hold of yourself."

He scooped up a few books and stalked from the room.

Ahsoka and the other three didn't say anything for a while.

"We don't have to do this." Fives finally said. "We can just go back to the Twilight and get off this rock."

"They won't let me lead unless this guy determines me fit for combat." Ahsoka said. "He's an expert in Force anomalies. If anyone can figure me out, it's him."

She sighed and rubbed at her tattoo.

"He's probably right, too. I can't go around being terrified of every Trandoshan I meet."

"Well, let's get some rest." Kix said. "It was a bit of a shock. I'm sure it'll be better in the morning."

Ahsoka swallowed and nodded. Hopefully the medic was right.


Ahsoka didn't feel rested the next morning. She had dreamed of Wasskah again and kept waking with a start. Finally grey morning light filtered into the small building. Ahsoka decided to not wake the three troopers tangled together in the other bed. It wasn't often they got to sleep in, and even more rare that they got to sleep in a comfortable bed. Ahsoka smiled as she recalled Fives' face as he'd tested the bed and then declared that all three troopers would share it as 'it would be a crime for any one of us to miss out on this.'

Ahsoka would have thought it uncomfortable if she hadn't been part of a 'clone pile' multiple times after a hard battle. Somehow the clones had mastered the art of fitting themselves together as tightly as possible in a comfortable manner.

Right now was no different. Fives had his arms wrapped around Kix's arm, Tup's hair was in Fives' face, and Kix was using Tup's calf as a pillow. Yet their faces were the picture of contentment.

Ahsoka smiled again before peering out the window. The rain had stopped, though the sky was still grey.

Ahsoka pulled on her boots and stepped outside. The air was cool and humid, but not uncomfortable. She took a deep breath. The air smelled of rain and of wet plants. Birds chirped brightly despite the overcast skies. Ahsoka walked a ways on a pathway through some cultivated trees until she came upon an old stone courtyard.

The Force was calm here.

Ahsoka let it fill her body before falling into practiced stances. She hadn't had the chance to practice her katas for a long time, at least since Cut's farm. Her muscles strained pleasantly as she pulled them into positions they had not forgotten.

Master Gek was approaching. Ahsoka let the peace of the place overwhelm her instincts of fear and paranoia. Master Gek stood watching her for a moment before joining her.

Ahsoka finished her set and turned to face the Trandoshan Jedi.

"Good morning Master." She said.

Master Gek cocked an eyeridge at her.

"They told me you left the Order." He said. "But you still act like a Jedi."

"I've been a Jedi most of my life." Ahsoka replied. "The habits are hard to break."

"You'd be surprised." Master Gek said. "I've met a few ex-Jedi and some will do everything they can to separate themselves from their old lives."

He studied her for a moment longer before turning towards the main bungalow.

"Come on, let's get something to eat." He said.

There was a moment's silence as they walked, then-

"Why did you leave the Order?" Gek asked.

"Didn't they tell you?" Ahsoka asked.

"Something about attachment problems, which I assumed to be bantha fodder." Gek said with a shrug of his powerful shoulders.

"I left because they turned me over to the military based on circumstantial evidence." Ahsoka said flatly. "Knowing full well I could be executed."

Gek's expression didn't change but Ahsoka could feel a slight twinge of surprise from him.

"Sounds like quite the story." He said, curiosity evident in his voice.

So Ahsoka told him what happened, from the temple bombing, to Rex and the other clones' rescue. She gave the bare bones, and even then she found it hard to relate some of the events.

"Let me guess, they said it was the 'will of the Force.'" Gek said.

"They made it seem they didn't do anything wrong. Well, except Master Obi Wan and Plo." Ahsoka told him.

"They told my master the same thing when he'd been kidnapped by my family." Gek said with a snort. "Told him that he was supposed to be taken because he found me in the process. Forget that he lost an eye during the experience."

Ahsoka winced.

"In any case, you ran into the attachment conundrum." Gek went on. "The Council's so obsessed with proving they weren't attached to you they forgot to be compassionate. In my opinion, that's the more important thing."

Ahsoka nodded slowly.

"I'll be honest, attachment did play a part." She confessed.

They had come in sight of the buildings again. Fives, Tup, and Kix were waiting outside the guest house. All three lit up when they saw her. Ahsoka couldn't help but grin back and wave at them.

"Ah." Gek said. "I see."

"When you're put in charge of men who would risk anything for you, how do you not become attached?" Ahsoka murmured as the men started making their way towards them. "Men that are so good and kind despite everything?"

She could feel Gek's eyes on her, but she kept her gaze on her men.

"So what's the plan for today?" Fives asked as they drew near. "Meditation? Communing with the Force? Mind melding?"

"Breakfast." Gek grunted. "I assume you tube gremlins eat?"

Four pairs of eyebrows shot up.

"That's a new one." Kix muttered.

"Seeing as we are organic beings based on a human template, we do." Fives said.

"You can never be certain with cloners." Gek replied as he pushed past. "You could photosynthesize or the like."

"If you'd been to Kamino, you'd know we'd be dead if that were the case." Five said.

Breakfast was unsurprisingly meat based. Ahsoka was pleased and the clones were happy with anything not rations, despite there being no caf.

"You'll have to actually sleep here, Kix." Ahsoka told him.

"So." Gek said, pushing back his plate. "Let's get started. I've been monitoring your Force signature since you got here."

"And?" Ahsoka asked.

"There's something wrong." Gek said. "It's subtle, but the Force is strange around you. Nothing Dark, but strange."

Ahsoka felt her stomach drop a little. She'd hoped whatever it was had worn off.

"I want to do some tests, obviously." Gek said. "First, I'll need a blood sample."

Ahsoka sighed and proffered an arm. Gek pulled over a small case from which he withdrew a syringe. He quickly drew the blood. /kix hovered

"There's someone else who's studying what's happening to me." Ahsoka said. "A special forces clone. I can try and get into contact with him."

Gek grunted.

"Could be useful. I also want you to actively use the Force for me." Gek looked at the troopers. "Good thing we've got us some test subjects."

"You don't have to do anything if you don't want to." Ahsoka said to them quickly.

"Do you want us to?" Tup asked.

Ahsoka hesitated.

"It would be useful, if I'm working with Force suggestions." She admitted. "But please, if you don't want to-"

Fives put his hand on her shoulder.

"We trust you." He said.

Ahsoka found herself in the courtyard again, facing Tup and Fives. Kix had been excused from being a test subject, in case there was an accident.

"All right." Gek said. "Lift them."

"What?" Ahsoka said. "I thought we were suggesting-"

"Living beings, especially sentients are more difficult to lift." Gek said with folded arms. "This will test how strong your abilities have become."

"But if I can't maintain it, and they fall-" Ahsoka protested.

"I'll catch them." Gek said. "I don't want to deal with your complaining if I let them drop."

Ahsoka hesitated and glanced to Kix, who shrugged.

"We'll have to trust the lizard." He said.

"Are you ready?" She asked Tup and Fives.

"Yes, ma'am." Tup said, while Fives gave her a thumbs up.

"Okay." Ahsoka took a deep breath and stretched out her hands.

She tried calling on the Force, only a little-

Fives and Tup's twin screams mingled with Ahsoka's cry of pain. Fighting the stabbing pain, Ahsoka forced her eyes open to see two white and blue forms shooting into the air. The pain became too much. She released the troopers and fell to her knees.

The pain stopped increasing, but the agony remained.

Kix was immediately at her side, forcing her to look at him.

"Describe the pain." He said.

Ahsoka tried to describe the feeling, like burning knives plunging into her montrals, and the ache permeating her entire body.

Fives and Tup's screams cut off suddenly, and since there was no sickening crunch against the ground, Ahsoka assumed Gek had caught them. She winced as Kix injected a hypo into her neck. Her eyes drooped and she let them close.

"Well." Gek said. "That was enlightening."

"And terrifying." Tup said from somewhere above them.

Two soft thumps let Ahsoka know that Tup and Fives were safely on the ground.

"I've got at least an idea of what's happening." Gek went on. "Though I'll need a few more tests-"

Suddenly Kix was standing and Ahsoka felt rage pour off him in jagged sheets.

"You will not!" The medic snarled. "Look at her!"

"Not immediately, idiot." Gek said. "But once she's feeling up to it-"

"And have her go through that again?" Kix said. "You may not care that she's in pain, but I do!"

"I'd say it's up to her." Gek said coolly. "For now, let's get her somewhere she can rest."

"Can I pick you up?" Kix asked Ahsoka.

Ahsoka nodded and Kix gently lifted her.

"Is she okay?" Fives asked.

"I'm fine." Ahsoka managed. "What about you?"

"I'll tell you once my heart comes out of hyperdrive." He said. "Did you mean to launch us like that?"

"Of course she didn't!" Tup protested.

Ahsoka cracked an eye. Both troopers were distinctly disheveled. One of Fives' pauldrons was hanging off his shoulder and Tup looked like he'd been strapped to the top of a speeder in the fast lane. Despite his words, Fives had a light in his eyes, while Tup looked properly unnerved.

"Back to the house." Gek grunted.

But Kix and the others were already moving.

"I wish we could have brought Rex." Ahsoka mumbled. Whatever Kix had given her was making her sleepy and she closed her eyes again. "He's used to it."

Fives barked out a laugh.

"You're not serious!" He said.

"Threw him off a wall once." Ahsoka said. "Geonosis."

She could imagine Fives' delighted look.

"Did he scream?" It was Tup who asked.

"The whole way down." Ahsoka said. "While the wall exploded."

"I would give my kamas to have seen that." Fives said. "Next time he gives me osik about dignity-"

"Hush!" Kix scolded. "I gave her a sedative. She needs to sleep."

Ahsoka felt a distant twinge of annoyance. She hated sedatives. But her mind was fading and for a second she was able to forget that it was Kix and not Rex carrying her.


The pain in her head had almost faded when Ahsoka woke. She was back in the guest house with Kix sitting at her side.

"Only a few hours." Kix responded to her question before she could ask it. "It was only a mild sedative. How are you feeling?"

"Much better." Ahsoka said.

Kix's face, which always carried some concern, became even more worried.

"Commander, I think we should stop the tests." He said in a low tone. "You've recovered now, but we don't know what will happen if we keep forcing the condition."

"And then they won't let me lead." Ahsoka countered. "I promised Rex I would look after you all and if this is the only way, then we'll do it."

Kix looked up to the ceiling.

"What I wouldn't give for a patient who listens to me." He muttered.

Ahsoka smiled and patted his hand.

"I thought the clones were supposed to trust us Jedi." She said.

"One, you're not a Jedi anymore." Kix said. "Two, the Kaminoans left out the parts where you're all di'kut'e with no self preservation."

"It's part of the code." Ahsoka said as she got up. "No attachments, compassion for all, and sacrifice yourself at any and all opportunity."

Kix cracked a smile at that.

It was raining again and Kix led Ahsoka back to the main house. Ahsoka briefly wondered what the third and final building was for, especially since there seemed to be no one else on the compound.

Gek, Tup, and Fives were inside. Fives and Tup were cleaning their kit, while Gek studied a datapad, a pair of wire rimmed spectacles perched on his snout.

"Good." Gek grunted as they came in. "You ready to try something else?"

Ahsoka nodded. Fives and Tup exchanged glances.

"Let's try Force suggestions." Gek said. "And this time, medic, only the pain reliever. Repeated sedations wouldn't be ideal."

Kix stiffened besides Ahsoka. None of the clones seemed to like taking orders from Gek. Kix looked to her and she nodded.

"Sit on the couch." Ahsoka instructed Tup and Fives.

They did so.

"Tup, Fives, are you ready?" She asked.

They both nodded.

"Sleep." She ordered.

Like with Rex, the suggestion became a demand and both troopers slumped over. The pain blossomed again and Kix helped her to the ground. Another prick in her neck, but no sleepiness came with it.

"Pain's greater." She managed to say to Kix.

Gek was quiet, studying Ahsoka.

"One more time." He said. "I want to be sure. Meditate this time, see if it helps."

It was difficult to meditate with the pain. Even with the peaceful feeling of the planet, for nearly an hour Ahsoka had to focus on her breathing. Finally the pain began to recede, and she was able to sink into an actual meditative state. She found herself focusing on her bond with Rex. That small shred of his presence that was always with her was a comfort. She was determined to see her time with Master Gek through, but that didn't mean it was easy to perform the trying tests. Rex's small influence would help.

Ahsoka?

Rex's voice echoed in her head. Ahsoka's eyes snapped open. She hadn't been expecting a response. Rex was on Coruscant. They were far too far away to communicate with words. Weren't they?

Rex?

I thought you said we wouldn't be able to communicate while you were away. Rex sent with confusion.

I didn't think we could. Ahsoka thought with a frown. Are you still in the Temple?

Yes. Master Che has insisted on teaching me meditation. He told her. Gives me something to do while I wait to be shipped out.

That might be it. Ahsoka mused. It's always easier to connect to someone meditating, even more so if they're in the temple. And we still don't know what that drug's done to my Force abilities.

Could General Skywalker do this?

Ahsoka frowned.

I don't know. She admitted. And he's the most powerful Force user I know- whoa.

Her head began to spin and she realized her montrals were throbbing with a biting pain again.

What's wrong? Rex's thought was sharp. Is it like before?

No. Ahsoka thought with some difficulty. I guess I'm using the Force too strongly.

Rex's worry pricked at her mind.

We should stop. He said.

Ahsoka didn't feel up to sending a reply in words. Instead she sent a pulse of comfort and warmth as a way of agreement and goodbye. He responded in kind. Ahsoka released her focus and his presence receded into a pinprick at the back of her mind.

Her head still blazed. She tried to stand from her meditative position and crashed to the floor.

"Commander!" Kix immediately burst in. Had he been waiting outside the door? "What happened?"

"I used the Force again." Ahsoka grunted.

"It's too early for another shot of pain meds." Kix fretted. "What were you doing?"

"Talking to Rex." Ahsoka said.

"Rex? How-" Kix stammered.

"Get Master Gek, please." Ahsoka interrupted.

Kix pursed his lips but retreated. In moments the large Trandoshan came into the room.

"I felt that." He said. "What happened?"

"I was able to speak with a clone on Coruscant." Ahsoka told him. "We have a bond and he was meditating in the Temple."

Gek's eyes widened.

"Even still!" He said. "That's hundreds of light-years away. That's unprecedented!"

"Do you have enough data now?" Ahsoka asked. She wanted to lie down.

"I-" The Trandoshan frowned. "I understand what is happening, but-"

"But what?" Ahsoka asked, her heart sinking.

"I want to know the extent of your new abilities." Gek confessed.

Ahsoka stared at him.

"I'm here for one thing." She finally said. "For you to tell the Council I can serve again. I don't give a damn about how kriffed up I am as long as I can work with my men."

Gek stared at her.

"Aren't you curious?" He asked. "You have suddenly become one of the most powerful Force users I have seen and you don't even want to know if you can control it?"

Gek leaned forward, a glint in his eye.

"Imagine if you could control this! You might be able to end the war!"

Ahsoka hesitated. What could she do if she could control this sudden surge of power? How many more men could she save?

But right now her men were dying at Ringo Vinda because she was wasting time here. And they had no idea how long it would take to learn to control this new power, or even if it was possible.

Ahsoka looked at Gek.

"You have three days, starting tomorrow." She said. "Figure out what you can."

Gek gave a toothy grin.

They decided to halt testing for the day, meaning Kix was about to have a fit if they continued. Ahsoka managed to contact Cody, who had given her the Batch's comm frequency. They hadn't picked up, but Cody had assured her that was normal and to keep trying.

Despite having gotten used to Gek, Ahsoka still had nightmares that night. As much as it rankled her to say it, Wasskah had deeply affected her, as much as Umbara had affected her men. It was midnight when she decided a walk would be beneficial. She slipped out of bed, careful not to wake the clones.

To her disappointment, it was storming outside. She considered the walk anyway; the Force on this planet was so soothing. She wandered out to the main room, watching the rain from the large windows.

A small twist in the force let her know Tup was awake before his soft footsteps did.

"Commander? Are you all right?" Tup asked softly.

Ahsoka shrugged.

"Couldn't sleep. I'm sorry, did I wake you?"

Tup shook his head, looking out the window. He had always seemed so much younger than the other clones, especially now with his loose curls framing his face.

"I- couldn't sleep either." He said.

He slowly brought his hands up to grip his arms and continued to stare out the window. Something, Ahsoka wasn't sure what was warbling off him.

"It's been hard to sleep here." Ahsoka said, suddenly hit with an urge to be honest. "It's not Master Gek's fault, but I have a hard time around Trandoshans. It usually means nightmares."

Tup glanced at her.

"I've heard stories," He said. "Of what happened to you. Is it as bad as they say?"

Ahsoka nodded. Tup fidgeted, looking down.

"I, or should I say we, have nightmares." He said after a minute.

"That doesn't surprise me." Ahsoka said. "Things like Umbara-"

"No." Tup said. "Not- not like Umbara."

Ahsoka looked to him in surprise.

"Then what?"

Tup was agitated now.

"We don't talk about it, even though I know we all have them. Ever since we were littles. Ever since we were born." He whispered. "A mission. A mission that never ends."

The Force writhed around him, screaming his fear in speaking these words aloud. Ahsoka nearly took a step back. What he was saying echoed with lives in the balance.

"Normally we can't remember much about them." Tup said. "But for me, lately, they've been getting worse. I can't- I can't sleep much anymore."

Ahsoka was suddenly aware of the dark shadows under Tup's eyes.

He suddenly chuckled.

"Yesterday, when you made us sleep, was the best rest I've had in weeks."

Ahsoka put a hand on his arm.

"Would you like my help again?"

He looked down at her.

"You'd get overwhelmed again." He said. "I don't want-"

But his voice betrayed how much he wanted help, so Ahsoka gently led him back to the bedroom. He perched on the edge of the clones' bed and looked at her.

"Sleep." She murmured.

His relief shot through the Force as his eyes fell shut and he collapsed backwards onto Fives. Fives jolted at the impact, then muttered a curse before wrapping an arm around Tup. Ahsoka closed her eyes against the blinding pain now burning in her skull. She stumbled back into her own bed, deeply disturbed. The Force was whispering to her. What Tup had told her had the potential to save or take millions of lives. Ahsoka just didn't know how.

Chapter Text

Ahsoka was still unsettled the next morning when Master Gek announced their next test: mind reading. It was only drizzling, so they were in the courtyard again.

"I hope you know I've never actually successfully read the mind of anyone I'm not bonded to." Ahsoka said.

"Oh, and you could speak with people thousands of lightyears away before, could you?" Gek asked.

Ahsoka frowned, but he had a point.

"Okay, who wants to be the willing victim?" Gek asked.

"I'll do it." Fives said immediately.

"Hope you don't have any secrets, Fives." Ahsoka muttered.

"You know them all." Fives replied.

She reached for Fives' mind.

And then she was Fives.

Domino, clone, notjustanothernumber, brother, friend, ARC.

So many burning emotions.

Love, for his brothers and Commander and General.

Grief, for every dead trooper, every lost brother.

Determination, to stay alive, to win the war, to avenge his brothers.

Fury, at all who dared touched the people he loved.

Loneliness, because he was the only Domino left.

A Darkness, unexpected and small, separate from everything else.

And Ahsoka pulled back, leaving a trail of herself behind. A bond. Ahsoka quickly severed it, before it could solidify.

She was on her knees again, being administered to by Kix. The pain was back, of course.

Fives had stumbled, a hand to his head.

"Okay, let's never do that again." He said.

Ahsoka sat, breathing carefully. That Darkness had surprised her. It was so small, and seemingly unconnected to anything else that was Fives. Perhaps something that happened on Kamino?

Ahsoka looked to Gek.

"Can we get an explanation now?" She croaked. "Because that worked far too well."

"You don't want to rest?" Kix asked.

Ahsoka shook her head, though the action sent more waves of pain through her skull.

"Imagine a door, holding back the Force." Gek said. "Force users have the ability to open the door part of the way. They also can control how far the door opens and how much Force comes through."

Gek slowly began strolling in a circle.

"Leave the door open too long, and let too much of the Force in, and you experience Force burn." He went on. "With you, it seems you have two options. Completely open, or nearly closed. The amount of the Force that comes through is greatly magnified, but the Force burn is immediate. You've gained the ability to completely open the door, but lost all control."

"You said nearly closed, instead of completely." Ahsoka said. "Why?"

"You're not suddenly a non-sensitive, are you?" Gek asked. "Force sensitives always keep the door cracked, for their movements, ambient sensing, and reasonable bond communication."

Ahsoka nodded again. She'd been able to sense emotions and speak with Rex easily when they were close.

"Apparently, you can do those things without a problem." Gek said. "Though that's just my theory. I'd like to do some physical trials with you to make sure."

"Sounds good." Ahsoka said.

"Take the time you need, and then we'll start with sparring." Gek said. "Don't worry, medic, this shouldn't happen again."

Kix nodded, looking relieved.

"We should also test if this affects endurance." Ahsoka put in. "I could be fighting for days at a time."

"I should have some results from your blood work soon." Gek said. "We'll be having a busy three days."


While Ahsoka waited to be well enough for the next part of their tests, she finally got through to the Bad Batch.

"This is Hunter." The Batch's leader was terse. "Commander Tano, how did you get this frequency?"

"Cody gave it to me." Ahsoka said.

She heard Hunter's snort.

"I told him to not give our frequency to anyone." He muttered.

"It's about the tests Tech was doing on my blood." Ahsoka said. "There's another interested party working on me."

"Tech will be excited." Hunter said. "That's been his pet project ever since he got a hold of it."

"Were you ever going to contact me if he discovered something?" Ahsoka asked.

She could almost see Hunter's shrug.

"Probably. Can Tech use this frequency to speak to this guy?"

"Master Bas Gek. And yes."

"Okay. Expect a call in a few hours." Hunter said, and then, as an afterthought, "Are you doing better, then?"

"Yes. Tell Tech they found a device in my arm they think was the cause. Master Gek has the details." Ahsoka responded.

"Huh." Hunter said. "Well, good luck, Commander."

"Thanks. You too."


Gek ignited his pale green lightsaber. Ahsoka switched on her two electrostaffs. They crackled with purple electricity. She hadn't really been able to test them and she was looking forward to it. Kix, Fives, and Tup sat at the edge of the courtyard, watching. At Gek's questioning glance, Ahsoka shrugged.

"They didn't give me my sabers back."

"You might have asked." Gek said.

"I was pressing my luck with them as it was." Ahsoka said. "These will work for now."

"As long as they can hold off a saber." Gek said, falling into a Form VI stance.

Ahsoka shifted into her own Jar Kai starting position. Immediately Ahsoka began considering the match up. Form VI was considered the precursor to her own Jar Kai style, so she was well versed in it. On the other hand, Gek was a far larger, older, and probably more experienced fighter. She was also out of practice. She didn't know if this was a fight she could win-

"We'll start slow." Gek said. "Simple trades, all right?"

Ahsoka nodded. She was perhaps a bit disappointed. She loved sparring with Anakin or Obi Wan for the challenge, not the technical aspect.

Ahsoka easily clashed with Gek using simple swings and blocks. Her muscles felt stiff, but there was no burning pain in her head.

Yet.

Despite the simplicity of it, Ahsoka enjoyed the saber work. Anakin had instilled a love for it in her within months of her apprenticeship. Working with her sabers had almost been like meditation for her with a calming effect few other things had.

Gek was starting to increase the speed and complexity of his strikes. Ahsoka grinned, falling into a rhythm. She was tiring easily, but this was the best she felt in weeks-

The Force choked and Ahsoka could feel someone suffocating.

Ahsoka stumbled and Gek's saber stopped short of her shoulder.

"Tup?" Fives' voice was confused. "What are you doing?"

Ahsoka turned to see that Tup had stood.

"Tup?" Ahsoka echoed Fives.

The trooper's eyes were locked on her. His mouth was moving, whispering something she couldn't hear.

The Force screamed.

Tup drew his blaster and fired once. At Ahsoka. Ahsoka raised her staffs but Gek's blade met the bolt first. Fives tackled Tup to the ground, Kix diving in to help.

"What the hell? Tup! Tup! Can you hear me!" Fives said.

Ahsoka ran to the writhing tangle of clones.

Tup began yelling.

"Good soldiers follow orders! Good soldiers follow orders!"

The words struck a freezing chord in Ahsoka's core.

"What's wrong?" She asked.

"I don't know!" Fives looked terrified. "He just started muttering that and then-"

Tup caught sight of Ahsoka and began to struggle harder.

"Kill the Jedi!" His voice was a hoarse scream. "Kill the Jedi!"

Kix and Fives looked up to her with twin expressions of confusion and fear. Their eyes were that of children, pleading with her to fix it.

Tup's mind was gone. Instead Ahsoka found a stranger. What he had become wasn't even human: an automaton formed of repeated words and bone-numbing Darkness.

Goodsoldiersfolloworders.

KilltheJedi.

"Tup!" Ahsoka said. "Stand down!"

Why she expected that to work, she didn't know. There was no break in Tup's yells or his struggling.

"Stand down!" Ahsoka said.

This time the words were not merely tinged or laced with the Force; they were saturated. Ahsoka's head burst ablaze. She felt her command come up against something. She pushed against it, forcing her words into Tup's mind.

Something broke.

Tup screamed.

Tup's presence returned: weak, but there.

Ahsoka let go and her surroundings burst into her awareness like a seismic charge. She gasped, finding herself already on her knees. Kix was holding her up. Gek crouched next to her with a concerned expression. Fives was clutching Tup, who lay lifeless in his brother's arms.

"He's breathing." Fives said. "What just happened?"

"Something's in his head." Ahsoka croaked. Her vision was fuzzy and her words seemed insufficient. "I broke it."

"In his head?" Kix asked. "What was it?"

"Dark." She mumbled. "Something very, very, Dark in the Force."

Kix jabbed something into her neck. Her vision began to clear within a few moments.

"Whatever it is is still in there." She said. "But I think it's done affecting him. We'll be able to tell when he wakes up."


Tup didn't wake up.

A rotation came and went and Tup was still unconscious. He was still breathing on his own, but he hadn't stirred since he had collapsed.

Fives and Kix stayed by his side. Ahsoka would have too, but Gek had insisted on her continuing her tests.

"You'll do nothing to help by sitting there and moping." He'd said.

Gek himself had been contacted by Tech and shut himself away in the third building, which Ahsoka assumed was a lab. He was gone for most of the rotation, leaving Ahsoka to test her limits by herself.

Now he sat in front of Ahsoka in the courtyard, studying her.

"I think we've figured it out." He told her. "That clone's a smart one."

Ahsoka nodded. The news that she would have been ecstatic to hear a rotation ago was a mere novelty in the wake of her worry.

"It seems your midichlorian count is the same." Gek went on. "But the midichlorians themselves have been changed."

"Yeah, they mutated." Ahsoka said. "Tech figured that out pretty quickly."

"But what did the mutations do?" Gek said. "Your clone friend and I believe that we've figured it out. The midichlorians' sensitivity has been increased exponentially."

"And that means-" Ahsoka said.

Gek sighed.

"Have you ever flown a speeder with bad controls? One where you have to use a greater amount of force to achieve what you want?" He asked.

"Yes, they're a nightmare." Ahsoka responded.

"You've been working with a speeder like that all your life. Now you have a speeder with hair-trigger controls, and you're using the same force as before."

It clicked.

"Does that mean I'll be able to regain control again?" Ahsoka asked.

"We think so, yes." Gek said. "With proper time and practice, you should be able to finetune your use of the Force to something like before. You'll have to be extremely precise, or you'll end up like you have been."

Relief washed over Ahsoka. It seemed it would take time, but she wasn't crippled. Palpatine hadn't beaten her.

"This will take a lot of meditation." Ahsoka said.

Gek nodded.

"You best get started now. I want to see progress before you leave."

"Sir?"

Ahsoka had felt Fives' approach. He wasn't looking at her. He was nervously fiddling with his helmet as he addressed Gek.

Gek grunted his acknowledgement.

"Sir, it's Tup." Fives' voice was more uncertain than Ahsoka had ever heard it. "He's- Kix thinks he's dying."

Ahsoka's stomach plummeted.

"Isn't there anything more you can do?" Fives asked.

Gek heaved a huge sigh.

"The scans I did didn't show anything. I can't find what's wrong with him." He said.

Fives shifted.

"Kix says there's another scan you could do-"

"That would almost certainly kill him." Gek interrupted. "I'm sorry, but we just have to wait it out."

"I sensed what was affecting him." Ahsoka said. "Maybe I could find it."

Gek shook his head.

"That would require not only power, but precision." Gek said. "Precision that you don't have yet. You'd have to be able to communicate the exact details of the problem as well."

Gek ran a claw over his head.

"If you'd give yourself a few weeks, maybe-"

"Tup doesn't have that long!" Fives burst out.

"It'd require multiple simultaneous Force usages, which we don't know if she's able to survive, let alone do it properly." Gek shot back.

Ahsoka looked at Fives' stricken face and thought of Tup.

He'd been one of the clones who rescued her. She had promised both Fives and Tup a debt.

"I can do it." She said.

Fives met her eyes, hope gleaming.

"Go back to the others." Gek growled.

Fives shot him a dirty look but Ahsoka nodded to him.

Gek pulled her aside as Fives retreated.

"Listen, Tano. This isn't a case of 'if it kills you.' It's a 'this will kill you unless you are extremely lucky."

"Master Obi Wan says there's no such thing as luck." Ahsoka said boldly.

"No such- of course there's luck! That's what the Force is!" Gek said. "Did you hear what I said?"

"I'm willing to risk my life for them." Ahsoka said. "They'd do the same for me."

"Sweet merciful mother of the Force what is wrong with your lineage?" Gek said with a groan. "You will die!"

"Clones die every day!" Ahsoka retorted. "I don't see you being that upset about it!"

"Listen, I normally wouldn't care if you risked your life on whatever you want." Gek snapped. "But I would have to deal with your master! 'Sorry Skywalker, but she decided to pull an extremely dangerous Force stunt I warned her against to save the life of one clone.'"

"Anakin has nothing to do with this! I recognize this Darkness. It was in Fives' head too!"

This made Gek pause. He narrowed his eyes at her. Ahsoka took her chance.

"Tup told me something the night before he collapsed. Something about a never ending mission." Ahsoka said. "It could change the fate of the galaxy, Gek!"

"And the Force just told you that." Gek said.

"Yes, it did!" Ahsoka said. "I don't know if you've noticed, but I've been pretty connected to the Force lately."

Gek snorted.

"Gek." Ahsoka said. "The Force has a destiny for each of us, right? This is important, I know it. My destiny could be sacrificing my life in order to find out what this is."

Gek groaned and scrubbed at his snout.

"Kriffing- I hate this. I hate being a Jedi and kriffing caring about the balance of the world!" He said angrily.

He looked at Ahsoka and heaved an enormous sigh.

"At least we know it's localized in the head." He grumbled. "And I might be able to assist you in the Force."

"Thank you, Gek." Ahsoka said quietly.

Gek grunted again.

"You're too much like Qui Gon." He said. "He'd needle me into 'doing the right thing' too."

Within an hour, they had gathered in the lab. Fives carried Tup, ignoring Gek's grumbling that he didn't need to be there.

"Kix, give me a hand getting him on the surgery bed." Fives told Kix.

"It's an operating table." Kix muttered, helping lift Tup.

"Prepare the patient." Gek told Kix. "You'll have to be ready to perform the surgery."

Kix blinked.

"Don't you have a medical droid?" He asked.

"Don't like droids. They talk too much and they're never as accurate as the manufacturers say they are." Gek said. "Now get him ready."

When Kix began to shave Tup's head, his beautiful hair that he took such pride in, Ahsoka had the odd urge to cry. She was suddenly frightened that even if they could save Tup's life, he would wake as a stranger.

Kix finished and stood ready, white faced but determined. Fives hovered back. Even through the surgical mask, Ahsoka could see the absolute distress on his face. Gek pulled something up on a datapad.

"I'm going to transmit the diagram of a human brain to you." Gek said. "You just have to pinpoint where the problem is and the nature of it."

He paused and snorted.

"Just." He muttered. "Okay, put a hand on his head and I'll touch you. Theoretically, touch helps in these circumstances."

He reached out and touched Ahsoka's head. She in turn placed a hand on Tup's temple.

Ahsoka closed her eyes and dove into Tup's mind.

The problem itself was easy to sense. A dense ingot of Darkness hidden in Tup's mind. But Ahsoka struggled to see into Tup's physical mind, rather than its representation in the Force.

The pain was building. It was taking too long.

You need to stop. Gek's voice ordered.

Ahsoka nearly did. The pain was spreading from her head into the rest of her body.

But she owed them all a debt.

Tup, help me! She pleaded in desperation.

Commander?

Tup's voice was faint and scared.

You have to show me what's hurting you, Tup. Ahsoka said.

You're hurting. Tup sounded surprised.

Yes, and you can help me by showing me where the problem is! Ahsoka said desperately.

She had mere moments left.

Tup was silent.

And suddenly she could see it. A small, fleshy tablet embedded in his brain. She looked at the diagram Gek was projecting. She was able to show him where.

Foreign object. She sent, along with its dimensions.

Good, now stop! Gek's voice was a shout.

But Ahsoka couldn't. Her entire body was being immolated by the Force.

Ahsoka!

Five voices cried out to her. It was useless. The Force was pulling her, inviting her to become one with it. She wanted to. That way the pain would stop.

Five voices wouldn't let her.

Snips, don't you dare, what are you doing?

Little 'Soka, do not let yourself go. Do not let your men's sacrifices be in vain!

Young one, I cannot lose you as well!

Ahsoka, please, you promised!

Dammit, Tano, I am not dealing with your Master if you die!

The Force sang, beckoning. The voices clamored to drown it out but the song pierced through. It promised peace and rest.

Little one, you need to stay. This was a new voice, deep and fatherly. Part of the Force, yet separate. The galaxy needs your strength yet.

Haven't I done enough? Ahsoka argued back. Haven't I given everything to help bring peace?

You are a fulcrum, child. A point of balance. Your importance is beyond the pains of one life.

Ahsoka could hear the screams of clones, the cries of Jedi, Padme's sobs and-

Heavy, mechanical breathing that she knew belonged to Anakin.

A mask, black and imposing appeared to her. Horrible, grating laughter echoed around her. The rest of the sounds were smothered in Darkness, leaving only the breathing and the laughter.

She saw Anakin behind the mask.

You can save him, as I would have.

Ahsoka chose to stay.


Ahsoka was disappointed to find, when she awoke, that the pain was still her companion. It was nothing to the agony of the moment, but her head throbbed and her limbs ached. She groaned.

"Ahsoka?"

The shock of her name being spoken by that voice forced her eyes open. Fives sat at her bedside. She stared at him, trying to figure out what was different.

His head was shaven, and a bacta patch was on the side of his head.

She raised her hand and reached for the batca patch.

"What-"

"We found an organic chip in Tup's head." Fives said. "Me and Kix had one too. We got them out."

"Is Tup okay? Why aren't you with him?" Ahsoka asked.

Fives grinned. His eyes were shimmering.

"He woke up before you. He's a little confused, but he's just fine." Fives said. "You- you saved him, Ahsoka."

A tear dribbled down his cheek, followed by another. His grin slipped and he lowered his head.

"Vor entye." He said in a shaky voice. "I thought we had lost him. You saved him. Vor entye."

His shoulders shook and Ahsoka reached out to him and he took her hand. He squeezed it tightly.

"I don't know what I would do if I lost Tup." Fives said. "After everyone else."

Ahsoka's heart clenched for him. She waited quietly as he composed himself.

"I'm sorry." He said. "It's been a straining few rotations waiting for you and Tup to wake up."

Ahsoka sat up with a jolt.

"A few rotations?" She asked. "Has Anakin been in contact?"

"Right after Tup's surgery. He acted angry, like he does, but we could tell he was scared." Fives said.

"He could sense what was happening to me." Ahsoka said. "I'm surprised he's not here already."

"He's on his way." Fives replied. "The campaign on Ringo Vinda was successful, so they're going to meet us here. It'll be a rotation or two."

Ahsoka nodded. She felt relieved Anakin was coming here, if only to have Gek's help explaining things.

"We need to tell him about the chips." Fives said in a hushed tone. "We don't know exactly what they do but we can guess. We need to get this out there."

"Not a good idea." Gek had entered the room. "Good to see you alive." He added to Ahsoka.

"Why not?" Fives protested. "If there's something in our head that makes us kill the Jedi-"

"Those things are absolutely drenched in the Dark side." Gek said. "Whoever got those things in your heads is probably a Sith. Perhaps the one manipulating the war."

"All the more reason to tell the galaxy!" Fives said.

"All we have for evidence is one trooper having a breakdown and recovering after we removed the chip. That's easily dismissed. I've just finished speaking with Tech. His team has dug around the Kaminoan records and the chip is officially classed as an aggression repressor." Gek said. "We have one bit of evidence that most people won't believe. We'd also be showing our hand to the enemy, who'd be able to stop us short."

"So what do you suggest we do?" Fives asked angrily. "Just wait for someone to take advantage of these things?"

"I've taken the procedure to remove the chips and sent it to Tech." Gek said. "He's hiding it in the Republic's medical system as a different procedure. You're going to spread Tup's story and that there's a chip in the clones' head to the clones and a few Jedi you trust. From what I understand, rumors spread like wildfire in the GAR. And you'll also tell them that they can get it out, using the procedure we've hidden. All they'll have to do is tell any Republic medical droid to do procedure 1973-T."

"You've got quite the plan there." Ahsoka said.

"I've had a few rotations to think about it." Gek told her.

"I think it's a good one." Ahsoka said. "Not many people pay attention to the clones, the rumors would stay in the army."

"Hopefully no one rats us out." Fives said with a scowl.

Ahsoka perked up as Kix and Tup approached. Both had shaved heads, though on Kix there wasn't much of a difference. Tup still looked wan and apprehensive as he came in.

"Commander." He greeted Ahsoka quietly.

"Hi." Ahsoka replied. "How are you doing?"

"I'm alive." Tup said. He ducked his head, ashamed. "I'm so sorry, Commander."

Ahsoka got up, though her head still swam, and pulled Tup into a hug. He was stiff only a moment before returning it.

"It's not your fault." She said before letting go.

"I nearly killed you twice." Tup mumbled.

"That was my choice." Ahsoka told him. "Don't forget you saved my life too."

Tup smiled a little.

"Thank you, Commander." He said.

Ahsoka smiled at him and knew she'd do the same for him again. For any of them.


Ahsoka stared at the rock in front of her. Her men sat behind her on the courtyard, staring intently. Gek watched nearby. Carefully, carefully, she eased out a sliver of the Force. The rock rose a few feet in the air.

Whoops and cheers exploded behind her. She immediately lost her concentration and the rock dropped, but the clamor continued.

"Well done." Gek said.

Ahsoka grinned up at him. The last few rotations had paid off.

"You'll have to keep meditating and practicing." Gek went on. "But now we know you can control it."

"I won't be able to use it in battle." Ahsoka said. "Not with the amount of concentration I need."

"That will come in time." Gek said. "In the meantime, I clear you for service. Just don't do anything stupid."

Ahsoka rolled her eyes. Gek looked over at the excited troopers.

"You three and the other clones make sure that when she does do something stupid she'll make it out all right."

All three saluted.

Ahsoka's comm chirped.

"Hey, Snips." Anakin said. "We're here. Come on up when you're ready."

"Can you come down to the planet first?" Ahsoka asked. "Master Gek and I need to discuss my service in person."

"All right." Anakin said nervously. "Should I bring Obi Wan?"

"Yes." Ahsoka said. "He should hear this too."

Chapter Text

"Next order of business." Commander Thorn said. "The Senatorial Gala tomorrow night. How are the preparations for that, Stone?"

Fox watched the newest Commander of the Coruscant Guard straighten. Stone was in charge of security for the Gala. It was his first major event. The kid was understandably nervous.

"Things are going well." Stone said. "All of the Senators have reported if they are bringing their own guards or need an escort provided. We've almost finished vetting the bodyguards."

"And the set up of the room?" Fox asked.

Stone opened a holo of the Senate Ballroom.

"We'll have the usual guard around the perimeter-"

Fox listened to Stone's explanation and nodded in satisfaction. They had made a good choice in Stone. A few more questions left Fox confident that the event was as safe as they could get it, excluding outliers.

"Anything else?" Fox asked.

"One more thing, though it's not official." Thire said. "There's been a rumor going around the ranks, sir."

Fox raised an eyebrow.

"There's been rumors since the Nulls could talk." He said. "You'll have to be more specific."

"It's a new one, sir. From the 501st." Thire said.

Fox was silent, waiting for Thire to continue. A range of rumors could come from the 501st. From anything from Umbara, which apparently was true, to the infamous Fives and a Rancor rumor.

"According to them, there's a chip the Kaminoans put in our head. Nearly killed a trooper and they had to remove it." Thire said. "They say it's to control our minds."

The four commanders looked at each other. Part of Fox's mind screamed that they needed to tell someone. This could be dangerous. If the Kaminoans had put it in them, if they put them in at all, there must have been a reason.

Another part whispered a different story as well as the words of a certain Togrutan commander.

Fox looked at the other three. They looked to him for direction.

"Sounds like nonsense to me." He said evenly. "No need to bother anyone, especially not the Chancellor."

"Yes sir!" They chorused.

"If that's all, dismissed." Fox said.

He waited until the other three were gone before pulling out his holo. He had a few questions for the 501st.


Rex tightened his grip on the large canvas bag holding his armor. He told himself he wasn't nervous, just as he'd told himself every day on this medical transport. It hadn't worked the previous three days either. Not only did the transport remind him too much of Kamino, but he was on his way to be back in the power of the longnecks. The medical station was staffed by brothers, yes, but it was overseen by the Kaminoans. Rex didn't trust the Kaminii'se to have his best interests. During the surgery to attach his permanent leg, it would be so easy to slip, cut an artery, and let the 501st know there was a terrible accident. He shook himself. They wouldn't, not after allowing him to live this long.

Rex unconsciously touched the residual limb. He still felt the occasional jolt of pain where the leg should have been. He was told it was normal.

Next to him leaned the crutches they had given him. They were practically useless. They allowed him to move, slowly at that, when he wanted to be able to run, to fight.

He was just as kriffing useless as those sticks of metal.

His men were out there, fighting and dying while he just sat here.

He missed them. He missed Ahsoka. Even on the run, he had her. Now, surrounded by brothers, he was alone.

Most of those brothers were too injured to be good company. A few had managed a few smiles or salutes to him, but many just stared in confusion at him. They wondered why he was there, why he was still alive. Why was he, with the injuries he had, allowed to live?

Most of all, these brothers were scared. Most just needed a dunk in a vat of bacta, but even the most trivially injured clone harbored a secret fear that they'd be determined too damaged to be worth saving.

The medics were a different matter. They treated him with friendliness and compassion, but they were busy. Too many troopers were actively injured. He was stable and didn't need the constant supervision they did. And it was difficult for Rex to talk to a man after the medic had had to help Rex use the fresher, brother or no.

Rex just wanted the kriffing trip to be over. Not to mention he was still deeply disturbed by whatever had happened to Ahsoka a few days ago. General Plo had come to reassure him that Ahsoka was fine, but Rex still didn't appreciate the time he had to dwell on it.

He looked up as the medics began bustling around faster, speaking to patients and among themselves.

"We'll be landing in just a few minutes." A passing medic told him.

Rex hadn't learned his name, even after requiring his assistance a few times.

"Will you need help?" The medic asked kindly.

"I can manage." Rex said, reaching for his crutches. The medic watched, hands slightly raised as he watched Rex struggle to get up. Just as Rex found his balance with his bag slung over his back, the ship sighed beneath them as it docked.

"Just follow the rest of us, Captain." The medic said. "Give a shout if you need help."

He left to go guide a hoverbed away. Rex swung his crutches into action and hobbled behind the chaos of medics and patients crowding off the ship.

The docking bay was spacious and white. Rex looked about, apprehensive. The same medic from before appeared at his side.

"This way, Captain." He said. "The chief medic would like to speak with you."

Rex found himself tiring as he crutched after the medic. He was out of shape after the weeks in bacta and bedrest. He grimaced as the medic had to slow his pace to accommodate him.

The halls were very much like Kamino: windowless, white, and pristine.

Finally, they reached a bay overlooking the rows of bacta tanks filled with clone soldiers. Another medic was there, looking over a datapad.

"Here's Captain Rex, sir." The first medic announced.

The new medic looked up.

"Captain Rex." He greeted, proffering his hand. "I'm Sawbones, the head medic here."

Rex took his hand.

"You're a unique case, Captain." Sawbones said. "We've never had a clone here for the extensive physical therapy you'll need."

Sawbones glanced down at Rex's residual limb, where the blacks leg was pinned.

"You've been assigned not just a clone medic, but a Kaminoan doctor as well." Sawbones said, then, noticing Rex's expression, went on. "The medic will work with you the most. The Kaminoan doctor will mostly be supervising and guiding when needed."

Rex gave a short nod. The idea of a Kaminoan being involved with his recovery, even as a supervisor, did not sit well with him.

"Come with me, I'll introduce you to the medic you'll be working with." Sawbones said. "He'll fill you in on the process."

Rex adjusted his grip on his crutches. Under his arms were sore and his hands were beginning to ache despite his gloves.

Luckily Sawbones only led him a short way before opening a door. He ushered Rex into a medical examination room where another clone medic was waiting.

"You must be Captain Rex!" The new medic said. "I'm Hackjob. Don't worry about the name. I know my stuff."

The sides of his head were shaved, leaving a wild mass of hair on top.

"I'll leave you two to it." Sawbones said. "Keep me updated on his progress, okay, Hack?"

Hackjob nodded with a roll of his eyes. Sawbones nodded to Rex and left. Silence fell over the room. Rex felt his gaze fall to the floor and didn't attempt to raise it.

"You may want to put your bag down." Hackjob suggested.

The medic watched as Rex maneuvered his crutches and bag in order to sling the latter onto a waiting chair.

"Come take a seat." Hackjob invited with a pat on the examining table.

Rex obeyed, but he was getting nervous.

"We're not going to do a medical examination, are we?" He asked.

"Unfortunately, yes." Hackjob said. "But-"

"I had an examination right before I left Coruscant." Rex said. "Couldn't you use the results from that?"

He hated how he sounded, like a scared little making excuses. Hackjob appraised him with a sympathetic eye.

"A lot can change in three days." He said. "Your chart says there was still some residual infection and we need to make sure it's gone. And I want to get familiar with your injuries so I can help you better."

Rex resented the 'I'm-talking-to-a-scared-shiny' tone Hackjob was using.

"Go on, the sooner you're undressed, the quicker this'll be." Hackjob encouraged.

Rex slowly lifted his blacks top over his head. Panic was starting to boil inside his chest, freezing him. The last few examinations had not gone well. There had been no Ahsoka to soothe him and he'd barely been able to stand the touch of the healers.

Even when his clothes were neatly folded at the end of the table, Rex still sat on the edge.

"Gonna need you to lie down, vod." Hackjob said.

Rex tried. He tried to force his muscles down and found that he couldn't. Hackjob reached forward and put his hand on Rex's chest. Rex, mind blank with panic, lashed out to get the touch away. A firm hand grabbed his arm, guiding it away. The other pressed hard into Rex's chest. Rex found himself staring at the ceiling. Immediately the panic spiked. He was vulnerable, he couldn't see what was happening, he was defenseless. He immediately scrambled back, away from the hands reaching for him. He fell and crashed into the floor.

"Woah there vod!" Hackjob said, kneeling down next to him.

"I'm sorry." Rex muttered. "I should have warned you-"

"I read your file. I should have expected this." Hackjob said. "We'll have to do this a bit differently."

He helped Rex back onto the table.

"Now," Hackjob continued. "Where do you feel the most comfortable with me touching, and we'll start there."

"My- my hands." Rex said.

"Okay." Hackjob said.

He carefully lifted Rex's hand. Rex swallowed. Even this touch made his face blaze with anxiety.

"I'm going to look under your bandages and assess the healing process." Hackjob explained. "And I'll tell you about the medics here."

At first Rex was confused why Hackjob was talking about the medics. Then he found himself focusing on the medic's words as Hackjob went over his injuries. It was tolerable at least.

"And Sawbones acts like he's the most responsible brother out there, but get one shot of tihaar in him- Udesii, brother." Hackjob interrupted himself.

Rex was breathing heavily now, as Hackjob moved down to his residual limb. The room shifted before him from pristine white to dull grey. The prodding fingers became sharp teeth. Clawed hands pressed down on his chest and Rex struggled to breathe.

"No." He choked out. "No-"

"It's okay, vod." Hackjob's voice said. "You're with me on the Kaliida Shoals Medical Station. We're just doing an examination. You're okay."

Rex was confused. He was on the prison transport, the Karkarodan was mauling him. But the voice, the voice of a brother, kept speaking. It reassured him over and over that he was safe until finally Rex blinked and found the voice was telling the truth.

"And that's done." Hackjob said. "You can sit up now."

Rex struggled up. He was drenched in sweat, he realized, and his head ached.

"Things are looking okay." Hackjob said. "Most of the infection is gone, your ribs are healed, and the lacerations on your face and chest are almost there. Just a few more treatments of bacta, and we'll be able to get you ready for your cybernetic leg."

Hackjob went over his datapad again.

"Here's your timeline- if everything goes to plan, we work on strengthening exercises for a few weeks. Once you're up to standard, we'll have the surgery for the base of your cybernetic leg. After that it shouldn't be too long before you're fighting fit again."

Rex just nodded and Hackjob helped him dress again.

"That'll be enough for today." The medic said. "We don't have many rooms, most people here stay in bacta and then leave. So you'll have a roommate."

Rex didn't respond as Hackjob helped him onto his crutches and grabbed his bag.

"It's me. I'm your roommate." Hackjob said with a chuckle.

Rex didn't believe that they had a shortage of rooms. Likely they wanted to keep an eye on him. He resented it. He was captain of the 501st, not some shiny after a hard battle.

Hackjob mercifully did not offer to help him as he struggled painfully along. Rex's pride had been bruised enough today.

The room was small. The two bunks, crammed against opposite walls, were mere feet from each other. Surprisingly, there was a door leading to a tiny 'fresher.

"Perks of being a medic on this station." Hackjob said with a wink. "Personal fresher. Well, not so personal now."

Rex waited for Hackjob to sit on his bunk before sinking down on his own.

"Are you hungry?" Hackjob asked. "Do you need anything?"

Rex stared at the floor before giving a tiny shake of his head.

"I've got a few things to do before I can turn in." Hackjob said. "I won't be back for a while. No drinks or anything?"

Rex swallowed. He desperately wanted a shower. But that was far beyond his capabilities. So he shook his head again and made to lie down.

"Brother." Hackjob said. "I'm here to help you. But I can't do that if you don't let me."

Rex looked at his concerned brother. He remembered his promise to Ahsoka.

"I need your help." Rex said.

Later, Hackjob helped a clean and humiliated Rex back into bed.

"Thank you." Rex muttered.

"You'll get there, brother." Hackjob said with a smile.

Rex nodded. Logically he knew he'd recover. He hadn't been decommissioned. But the last few days had been an eternity. Every step was a struggle. Every movement was a chore. For a clone made to be physically outstanding, it was torture to be so limited


"So what we've been doing while we wait to perform the socket surgery is just simple joint rotations and massages for pain." Hackjob said to the Kaminoan doctor. "A few strengthening exercises, but his hands and residual limb still need time."

Neya Ha nodded slowly as Hackjob demonstrated the massaging technique on Rex's residual limb. They were in the small exercise room Hackjob had commandeered for Rex's physical therapy.

The past few weeks had just been Hackjob slowly getting Rex used to his touch. It had worked. Rex was able to handle the necessary massages and handling of his residual limb, and hands. Only Hackjob could treat him. Somehow any other clone's touch was beyond what he could endure.

It was only now that the Kaminoans had bothered to send his doctor. A newer doctor, Neya Ha had insisted on seeing everything about Rex's treatment. His standing over Rex made some of the anxiety return.

"I would like to attempt this." Neya Ha said, reaching for Rex's residual limb.

Rex flinched hard and scooted back. Neya Ha drew back, confused. Hackjob stepped forward quickly.

"Sir, Rex does not respond well to anyone helping him except for me." He said quickly.

Hackjob was both a blessing and a curse. He was gentle, understanding, and endlessly patient. More times than Rex had cared to count he had woken from a nightmare to Hackjob talking him through it. He never complained about Rex's needs, even when Rex needed help in the refresher or getting dressed. He met Rex's sullenness with good cheer.

And it all made Rex feel like a child who couldn't take care of himself. Which he couldn't.

"From your reports, he did not respond well to your early treatment." Neya Ha said. "It seems that all he requires is time to adjust."

This was odd. All of Rex's life the Kaminoans had used someone else for the dirty work: droids, trainers, clones themselves. He had to have been assigned the one Kaminoan who wanted to get hands on.

And Rex adjusted because it was a brother! Not a long neck who would decommission him given the chance.

Hackjob sent Rex a helpless look before moving towards Rex's head. He patted Rex's shoulder, as if to remind him that he would be there. Rex nodded, though the icy claws of panic were gripping his chest.

Neya Ha took hold of Rex's limb.

Rex didn't remember much of what happened next: only the cold, clammy fingers on his leg. Rex shouted and lashed out. The touch was gone as quickly as it had come and Rex focused again on the room. Neya Ha had stepped back, studying Rex.

"His reaction was far more violent than with you." Neya Ha said. "Odd."

"Sir, I tried to warn you. I kept Rex's mind off of what I was doing when we started." Hackjob said fretfully. "I don't know if you'll be able to get the same results."

Neya Ha was quiet. Then-

"Once he is calm, I would like an interview with him. Alone."

"Sir?" Hackjob sounded apprehensive.

"Part of his recovery is his mental state. I wish to gauge this." Neya Ha said. "It will be more effective if we are alone."

"Sir, I wouldn't recommend-"

"I am prepared for any reaction he may have." Neya Ha said. "It will further my insight on his mental state. Send him to my office when he is ready."

And the Kaminoan left. Rex groaned and let his head fall back. As if he'd be able to calm down with that to look forward to.

Hackjob helped Rex sit up and handed him his blacks. Rex found it easier to do his therapy in his grey undershorts.

"I'm sorry, vod." Hackjob said. "I honestly thought the doctor they'd send wouldn't care."

Rex looked away. He wanted to assure Hackjob that it wasn't his fault, but the words stuck in his throat like they usually did.

It was twenty minutes and quite a few breathing exercises before Hackjob determined him to be calm enough for the meeting. Rex insisted on crutching to the office and his hands were aching by the time they reached their destination.

"Come in." The placid voice invited when they knocked.

Hackjob patted Rex solidly on the shoulder before stepping back. Rex went in alone.

Neya Ha appraised Rex from across a desk. His yellow eyes were unreadable. Rex stood silently until Neya Ha gestured to a seat opposite himself. Rex took it.

"To begin with-'' Neya Ha said. "You have no reason to fear. We have received orders that you are under no circumstances to be decommissioned."

Rex was taken aback. That was unheard of. And the odd way Neya Ha had said it, almost like it was a reassurance. Kaminoans did not care how their property felt during processes like these.

"I have several questions concerning your mental state." Neya Ha said. "You clearly have trauma from the-"

Neya Ha paused, as if choosing his words carefully.

"Event." He finished. "Let us begin with a basic description of how you are feeling."

Rex stared at the Kaminoan. Neya Ha stared back.

"I require a verbal response." Neya Ha said.

Rex swallowed his instinctual fear of the long necks.

"I don't want to talk to you." He rasped.

Neya Ha merely blinked.

"We have been instructed to- repair you." He said. "I will need your cooperation in order to do so."

Rex stubbornly kept his mouth shut. There were two people privy to his emotions: Cody and Ahsoka. Neya Ha was in no way their equal.

Neya Ha continued to stare at him.

"I did not wish to do this." Neya Ha said. "I order you to tell me."

"I don't know if I can." Rex said truthfully.

Neya Ha nodded slowly, as if this made sense.

"I will ask you yes or no questions." He said. "You merely need to nod or shake your head."

Rex frowned. Neya Ha seemed determined to- to accommodate him. He had never seen anything like it before. Had they given him orders to do so?

"Are you suicidal?" Neya Ha said.

Rex raised his eyebrows. They weren't pulling punches. He shook his head.

"Good. Are you frustrated?"

Rex nodded.

It went like that for nearly an hour: Neya Ha asking questions about his mental state and Rex giving nonverbal answers. He was mostly truthful; it was easier for someone else to say the words and him simply agreeing with them.

"Thank you." Neya Ha said. "I believe I understand your situation now. You may return to your medic, Rex."

Rex felt a spike of surprise. His name. Neya Ha had used his name. He hadn't even bothered telling the long neck his name when they were introduced.

"Why are you different?" Rex asked.

Neya Ha looked at him.

"You are lucky." The Kaminoan finally said. "Though you cannot hide it, the scientists are far more forgiving of defects in clones than they are of their own kind."

Was that bitterness in his voice? Neya Ha stood up and opened the door.

"We will meet weekly to update your mental status. I will also be involved in your physical therapy. Please send in your medic."

He gestured out the door and Rex crutched out, more confused than ever.

Hackjob didn't ask about the meeting until they were preparing for bed. Rex tried to avoid the conversation by immediately getting into bed and turning his back on the medic.

"No, you don't." Hackjob said. "Hands."

"Not tonight." Rex said.

"You skipped last night and I know they're aching." Hackjob said. "Sit up."

Rex sighed and heaved himself up. He sat on the edge of his bed and held his hands out. Hackjob took them and began massaging the joints. Rex hated this. His hands felt better afterwards, true, but it was uncomfortable. It was awkward if Hackjob talked, and it was even more so if he didn't.

"What did he say to you?" Hackjob asked.

Rex ticked his head to the side.

"Asked me questions." He said. "About my mental state."

"Sounds fun." Hackjob said dryly. "Did he ask anything too bad?"

Rex shook his head.

"He wants to meet with me every week." He said. "And wants to help with my therapy."

Hackjob grimaced.

"Typical Kaminoan. Sticking their flat noses where we don't want them." He said. "Hopefully he'll get tired of you having a panic attack every time he touches you and back off."

Rex grunted in reply. He wanted to bring up how odd the Kaminoan was, but his tongue had become leaden. Talking even this much exhausted him and the meeting with Neya Ha made him feel even more so.

"I've talked about your hands with the longneck." Hackjob said after a moment. "The Kaminoans aren't keen on paying for full cybernetic replacements for your fingers."

Rex frowned. How was he supposed to function as a full trooper then?

"He suggested robotic prosthetic gauntlets." Hackjob went on. "Less expensive and they allow for most movements with the fingers."

Rex nodded.

"You'll have to get used to them, of course, but we can get an order for them out tomorrow." Hackjob said.

He released Rex's hands, which were aching significantly less.

"Honestly, Rex. I think your biggest problem is gonna be in here."

He leaned forward and tapped his own forehead.

"You've gotta be more involved with people, vod," Hackjob said quietly. "If you're going to lead again."

Rex looked away. He knew the medic was right. But talking had suddenly become a chore for him. People had become a chore for him. He longed for the simple communication between Ahsoka and himself.

But he'd promised Ahsoka he'd try, so he looked Hackjob in the eye.

"Goodnight, brother." He said.

Hackjob grinned at him.

"Goodnight, Rex."

One step at a time. Rex thought grimly.

Chapter Text

Explosions fractured Felucia's yellow sky and debris from the droid transports rained down. Another line of ships took their place. Ahsoka nodded to Jesse.

"Fire!" Jesse bellowed.

The AV-7s responded as if the cannons themselves had heard the order and not the clones controlling them.

With a thunderous clamor the line of droid transports blew apart.

Ahsoka held her hand up.

"Hold!" Jesse relayed.

The cannons stopped.

A new line of transports appeared and they started the process all over again.

"Eight waves and counting." Fives said. "You'd think they'd change up their approach."

"You know droids." Ahsoka said. "Even if it's broke, don't fix it."

She gave the signal and again the ships above burst into pieces.

"Nine." Fives said. "Good on our boys. Their aim is spot on today."

"They've been practicing." Ahsoka said with a nod to Jesse.

Only about half of the line were hit this time. Ahsoka cursed.

"You jinxed it." Tup told Fives.

He grinned sheepishly.

"Jesse, keep the cannons on the incoming ships." Ahsoka ordered. "Aran, do you have eyes on where they landed?"

"Yes, sir!" Their lookout said. "About one klick at five sixty-four."

"All right." Ahsoka said. "Fives, we're taking a platoon to intercept."

Fives saluted and jogged towards the group of waiting troopers.

"Sir!" Jump-up ran up to Ahsoka. "Transmission from General Skywalker, sir!"

Ahsoka followed the trooper to the communications tent.

"Anakin." Ahsoka said as soon as the blue figure appeared. "How are things on Coruscant?"

Anakin's scowl was evident even through the flickering holo.

"Everything is fine." He snapped.

Ahsoka raised an eyebrow. Anakin looked away and took a moment.

"How is the campaign progressing?" He finally asked.

"Master Secura's comms are being jammed." Ahsoka said. "We haven't had word from her or the 327th in three rotations. We have engaged an attack force we believe was en route to intercept the 327th."

"How many strong?"

"A few company's worth." Ahsoka said. "Nothing too bad, but if they had caught General Secura off guard, it could have been trouble. We managed to shoot most of the transport ships out of the sky and I'm about to lead a squad to take out the rest."

"Good." Anakin said. "And the rendezvous?"

"On schedule, if we take care of these clankers quickly."

"You're doing well, Ahsoka." Anakin said, pride evident in his voice. "The problems here shouldn't be much longer, but it looks like you don't need me."

"Thanks." Ahsoka said.

For a moment Ahsoka felt a hint of their previous relationship shine through. Then Anakin seemed to retreat again, letting the awkwardness that had formed between them return. Things had never been the same since she had left the Order. They still worked well together, and Anakin still worried like a mother gundark, but he still kept a distance. Gone was their easy banter and jokes.

At least she still had the men.

"Ahsoka." Fives had ducked in. "We're ready to move out."

"Good." Ahsoka said, then to Anakin, "I'll update you when we meet with General Secura if the comms hold."

"Good luck, Ahsoka." Anakin said.

The holo clicked off.

"First fight with your armor." Fives commented as Ahsoka followed him.

"The first sign of it slowing me down, it goes." She replied.

Ahsoka had finally relented to her men's two month long campaign to get her to wear armor. Ever since she had to rely less on the Force in battle, Kix especially had recommended the armor to make up for the loss.

It wasn't as bad as Ahsoka had thought it would be. It consisted only of a chest piece that went down to the bottom of her ribs, gauntlets, vambraces, greaves, and boots. All were white plasteel, decorated with 501st blue of course. They'd even managed to fashion a tunic for her similar to blacks.

She sometimes felt like a different person, especially now that her lekku were growing at an alarming rate.

Ahsoka flipped down the visor of the odd armored headdress they'd crafted. A HUD exploded into view. She grimaced. She'd practiced with it, and it was far less complicated than the clones', but it would take some getting used to. It was like pretending to have the Force; the information it gave her was more often what she normally would have been able to sense on her own.

The men stood ready in a crowd, waiting for instructions.

"Tup, take your squad and flank them from the northeast." Ahsoka ordered. "Appo, your squad will flank them from the south west. My squad will take the droids head on."

She was met with a chorus of 'sir yes sirs!" Tup and Appo immediately split off, followed by their squads.

"I suppose there's no point in ordering you to go with Tup's squad." Ahsoka said to Fives.

"None at all." Fives said cheerfully. "Unless you plan on going with them."

Ahsoka twisted her lips in a disapproving frown.

"You're supposed to follow my orders." She told him.

"Or what?" Fives asked as they led their troops forward. "You gonna turn me in to the Kaminoans?"

"Of course not!" Ahsoka said.

"That's right. We follow you for other reasons." He said with a grin. "So I feel pretty free to disobey those orders if it's for your own good."

"You're ruining the command structure." Ahsoka grumbled.

"Nah, the boys would never go against your word." Fives said.

"And what's your excuse?" Ahsoka challenged.

"I'm your friend." Fives said simply.

"So are most of the men." Ahsoka pushed an overly large flower aside.

"You're a commander first to them." Fives said. "You're my friend first."

Ahsoka looked at him and he grinned.

"Droids sighted!" Ridge said from behind them.

Ahsoka immediately focused on the group of droids around fifty meters ahead.

"Ready?" She asked the men.

She never had realized how useful a hands free comm was. And now she was connected to the men's private comm channel.

"Ready." Came the reply.

"Go go go!" Ahsoka ordered.

The squad surged forward and Ahsoka quickly broke into a run to keep ahead of them.

"Weren't there supposed to be more of us?" A droid asked.

"Now!" Ahsoka hissed.

The clones opened fire.

"Clones!" Another droid buzzed.

At least a dozen droids fell before the clankers started to return fire. Ahsoka ignited her electro staffs and batted away a few bolts. She pushed herself harder and leapt to the first clanker. She slammed her first staff up into the droid's head.

One. She counted before moving to the next. The staff had to be in contact with the droid for one second to completely fry their systems.

A clone died behind her. She didn't hesitate or flinch, but her heart tallied one more loss. She would have to make sure to find out who it was.

Ahsoka bludgeoned another droid's legs from under it and stamped on its head.

"Blast the Jedi!" A droid cried.

Ahsoka smirked as more blasters pointed her way.

"Is she a Jedi?" Another droid asked. "She doesn't have a light-"

The droid short circuited as Ahsoka slammed a staff to its head.

"Popper pop, Ahsoka!" Fives yelled.

A droid popper soared towards her. She adjusted her grip on her staff and whacked the sphere, driving it straight into the midst of the battle droids. It went off, crackling through at least a dozen battle droids.

"Fall back." Ahsoka said to her troops. "Now we've got their attention, keep them distracted until the others get here."

Immediately her men began backing up, making it seem they were laying cover fire in order to escape.

"After them!" A droid screeched.

Ahsoka deflected dozens of bolts meant for her men, but some would slip past her. With sickening thuds she heard men fall behind her. She had to step carefully over both the dead and wounded as she retreated.

With a maelstrom of blaster bolts, the two other squads burst from the sides. The startled droids didn't know where to shoot and within minutes all but a few lay as scrap. Ahsoka joined Fives and Tup to dispatch the final clankers.

"Clear." Ahsoka announced to her men.

A cheer went out among her men. They slapped each other on the backs and laughed. Ahsoka did not crack a smile. She felt sorely the missing troopers and the pain of the injured saturated the air. And this was a good battle.

Kix too had a somber, even worried aura as he approached her. She gave him a small nod and relief flooded the Force. He called to the other medics and they spread out amongst the foliage on a search for injured brothers.

Ahsoka watched them, thinking of what Jesse had confided in her. Kix had been told to leave the wounded on Umbara and now after every battle he was terrified he would be given the same order.

"Appo, take the men back to camp. Prepare for the march." She said. "Fives and I will help the medics."

"Yes, sir." Appo said and began barking orders to the celebrating men.

Fives silently followed Ahsoka after the medics. Ahsoka could feel there were few wounded among the dead and even fewer that would survive treatment. This was often the case for the after battle wounded. Any trooper well enough to cry out was often found by the medics before the battle was over.

"Kix!" She called as she came across a still breathing trooper.

His leg armor was scorched and he had a lump on the back of his head when Ahsoka removed his helmet.

"He must have hit his head as he fell." She told Kix, looking at the rocky terrain.

"Rather that than a bolt to the gut." Kix muttered.

Ahsoka left him to treat the trooper and moved again through the trees.

The next trooper she found was not as lucky.

He had gotten close enough for a blaster bolt to pierce his chest armor. He choked on his breath as she knelt next to him.

"Co-command-"

"Shh." Ahsoka said, pushing up her visor so he could see her eyes.

He was fading quickly. Ahsoka gave a tiny shake of her head to an approaching medic. This one was beyond them.

She eased his helmet off. His face was ashen. Gently Ahsoka tugged him into her arms. He stared at her, as if he'd never seen anything like her before.

"Com-" He tried again.

"Don't talk, Aiwha." Ahsoka said.

She knew this man, this boy. She had been there when he had painted his armor the week before.

"You did well." She told him. "You did your duty."

"Not-" He coughed out the words. "Good enough."

"No." Ahsoka said. "You helped win the day. You helped your brothers live."

Her words seemed to comfort him. He kept his eyes on her as his breathing became fainter.

"Go." Ahsoka said. "Go to your brothers."

The breathing stopped. He went limp in her arms. A light in the Force dulled. Not to nothing. She had thought before that when a life passed it disappeared in the Force. Now she saw that it slept, becoming a mere pinprick of its former brilliance. Then it would move further into the Force, never losing its identity. Ahsoka followed Aiwha's sleeping presence as far as she could. They always went so far away. She never could reach where they would stop. She prayed that he was with his brothers.

She became aware of a growing headache. She was pushing herself too far. She retreated with a final farewell.

She found Fives' hand on her shoulder when she came to herself.

"They're almost done." He said.

Ahsoka nodded. Fives looked at Aiwha for a moment before reaching down to close the boy's eyes. Too many pairs of those eyes had been closed by the war.

Ahsoka gently lowered the body down and stood up. Her head protested, but it wasn't debilitating. Her control was getting better.

"Can you sense any more, Commander?" Kix asked.

Ahsoka shook her head. All the pain in the area was localized in the group of wounded troopers the medics had gathered.

"How are you feeling, Commander?" Kix asked.

"I'm fine." Ahsoka lied.

She didn't want to deal with his disappointed glare if she told him she'd overexerted herself.

She watched the medics prepare the wounded, then gave one last look over the battlefield.

"Nu kyr'adyc, shi taab'echaaj'la." She murmured.

Not gone, merely marching far away. It rang true to her.


The march was uneventful and the 327th was right at the rendezvous. Ahsoka frowned at the feeling of the camp. The troops were on edge.

One trooper caught sight of them and ran deeper into the camp. Other yellow clad clones stared, but other soldiers looked relieved as they watched the 501st approach.

"Commander Tano!"

Ahsoka watched as General Secura hobbled towards them on the arm of the trooper that had run off before. Her side was wrapped in bandages, and her skin mottled with purple bruises. A medic was trotting after them, shaking his head.

"I can walk, Bruise!" Aayla said sharply. "Commander Tano, I am glad that you are here."

"What's going on?" Ahsoka asked.

"Several of my troopers have gone missing on patrol." Aayla said. "As you have guessed, something in the area is blocking our comms. I had sent Bly- Commander Bly with some of my troops to see if they could find the source. We suspected a Separatist Base nearby."

Ahsoka nodded. Aayla's lekku were flicking with agitation.

"I cannot send more troops out, for fear of them meeting the same fate." Aayla went on. "I would lead a patrol myself, but I am injured. I was hoping that when you arrived-"

Ahsoka held up a hand.

"Fives, Jesse, round a patrol." She ordered. "Appo, you get the men settled."

"Yes, sir!" They said in unison.

"Thank you, Commander Tano." Aayla said. "I fear for what happened to my men."

"I would do the same." Ahsoka said. "I'll find out what happened."

"Allow some of my men to assist you." Aayla went on.

She spoke quickly into her comm and soon a half dozen 327th troopers came forward. Among them was the 327th resident ARC trooper.

"Axel can fill you in on where Bly and the others were searching." Aayla said, as Bruise hovered at her side. "Fine, Bruise, I will rest. Good luck, Commander."


Within twenty minutes Ahsoka led her large group of troopers in the Felucian jungle.

She hated this planet. The memories of being captured and taken away were still fresh, though it had happened years ago. She swore to herself that any disturbance in the Force would not be ignored. She kept staring into the trees, trying to catch any movement.

"Hey." Fives said as she jumped at a bird taking wing. "Are you okay?"

"Fine." Ahsoka said, peering harder into the undergrowth.

"It's okay." Fives said. "The 327th said they haven't seen any lizards for months. They scared the scum off."

"Maybe they've come back." Ahsoka said.

She winced as she tried to extend her senses further. Fives noticed.

"Calm down." He said. "Or I'll call Kix."

Ahsoka glanced back at Kix, who was bringing up the rear. She grimaced and withdrew her senses a bit. She tried to relax her shoulders.

"That's better." Fives said.

"Commander." Jesse approached her. "The area Commander Bly and his men were supposed to cover is huge. This might go faster if we split up."

Ahsoka frowned.

"The reason General Secura didn't send her own men was because they wouldn't have Jedi help." She said. "I don't like the idea of you going too far from me."

"If we don't rendezvous, then you'll know that we were in the right area." Jesse said.

"That's a terrible way to confirm that!" Ahsoka protested while Fives snorted.

"General Secura was just being cautious." Jesse said. "Besides, we know something's out there. We'll be prepared."

"I still don't like it." Ahsoka said.

"How about each group sends up a flare every ten minutes or so as an all clear message?" Fives suggested.

Ahsoka considered it. On one hand, she wanted her troopers as safe as possible. On the other, it would be more efficient that way, and they could find out what happened to Bly quicker.

"Fine." She said. "Every ten minutes."

"Every ten minutes." Jesse agreed.

He turned and called several troopers to him, including Kix and Deck. He met Ahsoka's gaze and nodded. She nodded back and led the remaining troopers in the same direction as before.

Every ten minutes for two hours a flare rose above the tree line and Ahsoka's group would do the same. Then Jesse's group missed one.

"Kriff!" Ahsoka cursed. "Come on, let's go!"

They moved in the direction Jesse's group had been as quickly as they could. Ahsoka's stomach twisted as they found no sign of the other troopers.

"What the hell happened?" Fives asked aloud as they searched. "How do you just lose a group of men like this?"

"Commander." Tup said. "I see something.

All of the men drew their blasters. Ahsoka was immediately by Tup's side, staring where he was facing.

"Scorch marks." He said, pointing.

The trees a few meters ahead of them were spattered with blackened patches. Ahsoka signalled to her men to move forward with caution. She stretched all her senses, trying desperately to find any other trace of her men.

There was a stream of cursing behind them. Ahsoka whirled to see Axel stumbling. He swore again, kicking at something in the undergrowth.

"Clanker." He said.

"Watch your step." Ahsoka relayed.

Now she was looking, she saw more droid parts. As they slowly spread out, it seemed half a platoon of the clankers was blasted apart in a half klick radius. But there was something strange-

"No clones." Fives said. "All these clankers, you think at least one of them would have gone down."

"Maybe our boys were able to ambush them." Axel suggested. "Not hard in this sort of place."

"But this wouldn't have delayed them like it did." Ahsoka mused. "Unless they were all injured. Then they wouldn't be able to move very far."

She continued pacing through the brush, looking from side to side.

"Commander!" Tup called. "Over here!"

Ahsoka hurried to his side. He held up a helmet, white with blue markings.

"One of ours." Tup said. "Sir, we don't leave our kit behind if we can help it."

"I know." Ahsoka said. "I'm starting to think they were captured."

A weight seemed to fall over the group. Ahsoka knew what they were all thinking. Capture was a clone's greatest shame and as good as death. A captured clone, even a captured Marshall Commander and acting Captain, even a whole group of clones, was not worth going in after. If the captives were lucky, they would be held at the same place as the original target. Then they could be rescued. If they were transported elsewhere, they were lost.

"There must be signs of the droids leaving." Ahsoka said. "They're not exactly careful."

It was Fives who found the trail of smashed plants and broken tree limbs that marked where the droids had either made their exit or entrance.

"Come on." Ahsoka said.

"Sir, shouldn't we go back and report?" Axel asked.

"I want eyes on where they took our men." Ahsoka said. "We won't go in."

She didn't say aloud that the faster they found the men, the less time the enemy would have to find that the clones wouldn't say anything. The faster they found the men, the less chance they would be executed or shipped off.

It wasn't long before a mass of grey broke up the oranges, teals, and greens of Felucia.

"Eyes on the base." Ahsoka said. "See anything?"

While Fives stared through his scope, Ahsoka concentrated. There were a little over a dozen life forms crowded in the building.

Ahsoka withdrew her senses before she was overwhelmed.

"They're definitely in there." Ahsoka said. "Let's get a little closer and see if we can't get a sight on the guards."

Fives nodded and the group moved forward slowly. Ahsoka stopped them with a hand signal. There were two droids patrolling just ahead. She gave another hand signal and Axel and Fives came to the front. Almost in unison the two ARCs slipped up to the unsuspecting droids. Ahsoka watched as they flipped out their vibroblades and jabbed them into the underside of the droids' heads.

"See anything else?" Ahsoka signalled.

Fives gave a shake of his head and beckoned. Ahsoka and the rest of the group joined them.

"There's the entrance." Fives muttered to her. "No other guards. I'm thinking most of the clankers are inside, dealing with Jesse's group."

"Let's hope they are. Come on." Ahsoka said.

"Sir, look!" Fives said.

He was pointing to a large satellite looking machine attached to the side of the building.

"That must be boosting their comm jammers." Fives said.

"Set charges." Ahsoka ordered.

Axel and Fives jogged over to the disc and planted several explosives around the base of it. They came back and Axel lifted the detonator.

"Wait!" Ahsoka hissed. "We need to get the prisoners out."

"Sir, this is our chance to get communications back up." Axel said. "That's more important than the prisoners."

"We have a chance to get them out." Ahsoka replied. "I'm not going to pass it up. If we blow that thing now, the enemy will know we're here, and they'll be all but lost."

Ahsoka could tell Axel was frowning, but he lowered the detonator.

"Yes, sir." He said.

Ahsoka led them back to the main entrance. She didn't think she could sense the droids; it was always a gamble when they were involved.

Axel sliced into the door panel and within a minute it slid open. They all filed in, blasters at the ready. There was no sign of the enemy.

"I don't like this." Tup muttered.

"The men are this way." Ahsoka jerked her head towards a lift.

They got about halfway through the hallway before there was a soft click. Ahsoka's mind barely registered it, but her body had thrown her forward before she knew what was happening. A familiar warbling noise hit her montrals. She skidded from her dive and whirled around. Ray shields had dropped around her men.

Ahsoka cursed.

"Are you all right?" She asked.

"We're fine." Fives said. "Sir-"

Ahsoka whipped her head around at the sound of marching clankers.

"Blow it." She said.

Axel hit the detonator and the hallway shook from the explosion. It did not affect the ray shields.

"Give me a minute-" Ahsoka said, glaring at the emitter.

"We don't have a minute!" Tup said.

The droids had rounded the corner, led by an imposing figure in dark armor. Ahsoka drew her electrostaffs and ignited them.

"Drop your weapons." The figure said in a woman's voice.

Ahsoka bared her teeth at the woman.

"Do you really think you can deflect all these bolts?" The woman sounded amused. "Not one will hit the men?"

Ahsoka could hear Axel's voice muttering into a comm. Good. They could get General Secura here. This woman seemed too interested in taking prisoners.

"Ahsoka-" Fives said in a warning tone.

Ahsoka dropped her staffs. They clattered to the floor and shut off. She raised her hands to the back of her head.

"Commander!" Tup said.

"It'll be fine." Ahsoka said.

She kept her eyes level with the eye slit of the woman's helmet. The woman raised her hand.

"No!" Ahsoka shouted.

It was only the blue rings of stun bolts that flew past her and struck her men. She still winced at the sound of plasteel hitting the ground.

"I'll do what you want." Ahsoka said quickly. "Just don't hurt them."

Ahsoka was confident she could placate this woman for a few hours with false information until Aayla got there.

The woman removed her helmet, revealing the face of a Falleen. She looked Ahsoka up and down.

"Interesting." She said. "Put these with the others. I will interrogate this one myself."

A droid jabbed Ahsoka in the back to propel her forward. Ahsoka took one final look behind her at her men being dragged along the ground before she was forced into a lift with the Falleen woman.

Ahsoka frowned. There was something about this woman. She could feel the Force combat an effect she somehow had over Ahsoka. She was powerfully built and exuded an aura of confidence. Ahsoka found herself staring at the woman.

Finally Ahsoka was shoved into a room that looked like the main control room. Ahsoka scanned the room, looking for any clue for the purpose. One machine in the corner was familiar: a communications jamming device. Aayla was correct. The droid jabbed a blaster into her back.

"On your knees!" It droned.

Ahsoka obliged.

The Falleen woman strode in after her and stood before Ahsoka. She approached the tactical droid overseeing the room.

"Tell me," She said to the droid. "What prize have I caught myself today?"

"One moment, Commander Syv." The tactical droid buzzed. "Accessing Republic Enemy facial recognition software."

It buzzed for a moment and Ahsoka felt anxiety twist her stomach.

"This is Commander Ahsoka Tano. Ex-Jedi." The droid said. "Priority level: five."

"Five?" Syv said in surprise.

She turned and gave a wolfish grin to Ahsoka. She stalked up to Ahsoka and took her chin, lifting Ahsoka's face.

"A prize indeed." She purred.

Ahsoka jerked her head out of Syv's grip and Syv laughed.

"You will bring me great favor with Count Dooku." She said. "And the credits won't hurt either."

Ahsoka glared at her captor. Priority level: five? She didn't really know what each level entailed, but she would assume someone like Anakin or even Master Yoda would be the highest level. Not some ex-Jedi Commander.

Ahsoka smiled to herself. It didn't matter. This woman had brought her right where she wanted to be. One enhanced Force push and it was over.

Syv looked at her and smiled.

"We are currently being watched by the guards in the holding cells." She said. "Any move from you and they will execute the prisoners."

Ahsoka cursed herself. Of course it wouldn't be that easy. It never was. What was she thinking, getting herself caught like this?

No, she knew what she had been thinking. She had had her promise to Rex ringing in her montrals, like it did every time her men were in danger. That combined with her love for her men made it so there was little choice for her.

And now it had gotten her and her men captured. Aayla was likely on her way, but Ahsoka got a bad feeling about this woman's intentions for her. Her men were alive, but what would be done with her?

Ahsoka was having a hard time regretting her decision.

"Prepare the shuttle." Syv said. "She must be transported as soon as possible."

Ahsoka winced as the droids dragged her to her feet. This was going from bad to worse. She had no idea why the Separatists wanted her so badly, but it couldn't be good. Not only that, she couldn't be separated from her men. They were her priority. There was no way Aayla could be here in such a short amount of time.

Ahsoka cast her senses out as she was marched away. There were her men, huddled in one spot deeper in the base. Of course there was Syv behind her. Ahsoka frowned. There was a third presence. It felt like a clone, though something was wrong with it. It definitely wasn't one of her men.

Ahsoka was taken to the shuttle bay. It held a single shuttle and half of her guard left her to prepare it. Ahsoka had the odd feeling that she was being watched. The strange clone presence was near.

She heard a soft thud behind them. The droids hadn't noticed. Ahsoka barely flinched as one of the droid's heads was torn roughly from its body.

"Hey!" The other cried, but the newcomer tackled it and stabbed it through the head with a vibro blade. In a smooth motion it ripped the arm holding a blaster off the droid and shot the two returning from the shuttle.

Ahsoka got a good look at her rescuer. It was a clone, dressed in scratched yellow and white armor. The armor was covered in tally marks, far more than Rex ever had. The shape of the helmet was odd, more Mandalorian than the Phase II helmets her men wore. The visor glowed blue.

The clone clicked the trigger of the blaster he was holding, droid arm still attached.

"Damn." He said. "Only good for a few shots."

He turned to her.

"We should probably get out of here, ma'am." He said. "I'm good with a vibro blade, but not good enough to take down all of the clankers in here."

He punctuated his sentence with an odd giggle.

"Hold on." Ahsoka said. "Who are you? How did you get here?"

"CC-5576-39. Captain Gregor of Foxtrot Squad." He said. "As for how I got here, I don't remember at the moment. I'll let you know when it comes back to me. We should really get going."

He giggled again.

Ahsoka stared at the droids scattered around her and felt dread freeze her stomach. It was extremely likely that her men would suffer for her freedom.

"She has my men." Ahsoka said. "I can't just run off with you."

"We won't be leaving the base, ma'am." Gregor said. "Please, just follow me."

Well, there was nothing she could do now. She was free, like it or not. She followed Gregor to a ventilation shaft embedded in the wall.

"Lucky they need such big shafts." Gregor said cheerfully. "Otherwise I'd have gotten stuck and starved until I did fit."

He cracked open the grating and gestured inside. Ahsoka didn't hesitate going in. She heard the clatter of armor as Gregor followed her. He gave her instructions as they crawled through, though sometimes he immediately amended them.

"Okay, this will be the last right, I mean left!" Gregor said with a laugh after ten minutes of crawling.

Ahsoka did as he said and found another grate.

"Go ahead and go through. The door's sealed." Gregor said.

Ahsoka pushed through the grate into a small, dark room. It was little more than a closet. Ahsoka stood and peered through the darkness. There was a pile of ration bars and wrappers in one corner, along with a few containers of water. In another corner was a pile of droid blasters.

"Scooch a little, ma'am." Gregor said.

Ahsoka backed up and let Gregor in. He scooted back and switched a light on his helmet. He removed his bucket and placed it on the floor, illuminating the room. His face was familiar of course. His hair was far from regulation, falling in waves to his shoulders. Beyond that, there was little to separate him from his brothers.

"Ah, this place was not meant for two." He muttered, once again laughing a little. "Anyway, I'm CC-5576-39. Captain Gregor of Foxtrot squad."

Ahsoka blinked at him. His face fell a little.

"Did I- tell you that already?" He asked.

Ahsoka nodded.

"Har'chaak." Gregor muttered. "I can remember Rav'buir's favorite caf blend but I can't remember telling someone my name five minutes ago."

"You said you couldn't remember how you got here?" Ahsoka asked.

"Maybe a little." Gregor said. "I've got, well, I think I've got a brain injury. Can't remember a lot of recent stuff. I remember Kamino and a lot of missions, but anything past a certain point is dodgy. Right now all I know is that there was an explosion, I hid inside a shuttle, and it brought me here."

"Do you know what happened to you to make you like this?" Ahsoka asked.

"Not right now. I'll probably remember in a little while." Gregor said.

"What's with the pile of blasters?" Ahsoka asked. "Why didn't you use them?"

"These are experimental droids." Gregor said promptly. "Their guns are coded to the droids so that they stop working when the droid is deactivated or the gun is taken away. I've been trying to see if I can override the programming. Don't have much in the way of tools, though. And sometimes I forget what's wrong with them."

He sounded frustrated, but then turned to her with a smile.
"I forgot to ask your name." He said.

"I'm Ahsoka Tano." Ahsoka said.

"I'll try to remember." Gregor said with another chuckle. "What's your rank?"

Ahsoka frowned.

"You can just call me Ahsoka."

"Rav'buir raised me to be respectful." Gregor said stubbornly. "Your rank?"

Ahsoka sighed.

"Commander."

Gregor grinned and stuck out his hand.

"Nice to meet you, Commander Tano." He said.

Ahsoka shook his hand. He was odd, this clone. He kept giving giggles at the end of his sentences, and there was something strange in his eyes. But he seemed pleasant enough and quite willing to give Ahsoka a hand.

"You've mentioned a Rav'buir twice now." She said. "Buir is parent in Mando'a, right?"

She'd never heard any clone use buir. She'd only learned it from her external Mando'a study.

Gregor puffed out his chest proudly.

"Rav Bralor, my trainer on Kamino." He said proudly. "The best of the Cuy'val Dar. Skirata's boys will say he's the best, but they're kidding themselves."

"She let you call her buir?" Ahsoka asked, surprised.

Her limited knowledge of the training on Kamino had led her to believe most of the trainers were cruel and strict.

"Rav'buir loves us." Gregor said proudly. His face fell. "She probably thinks I'm dead."

"Well, we can get you out of here and you can contact her." Ahsoka said. "But first we need to figure out what this place is for, take out that comm jammer, and rescue my men."

"That's a tall order." Gregor said. "Even with me."

Ahsoka frowned, but he was right. Ahsoka still could only barely use the Force and her only ally was an erratic clone.

"I think I know what this place is for." Gregor said slowly. "I just can't remember right now."

"Will you eventually?" Ahsoka asked.

Gregor nodded.

"Given enough time." He said.

"I guess all we can do is wait then." Ahsoka said.

She settled down onto her haunches. Gregor stayed standing and leaned against the wall. His face was contorted with concentration.

They had been sitting there maybe five minutes before a loud voice blared into the room.

"Tano, one clone has been executed for your escape." It was Syv's voice. "You have one hour to turn you and your little rat of an ally in before I kill the rest."

The intercom fell silent. Ahsoka's stomach twisted. It wasn't a bluff. The group of troopers were one less. She concentrated. She couldn't tell if it was one of her men or one of the 327th.

She would grieve later. They needed to figure something out.

"They know about you?" Ahsoka asked.

Gregor shrugged.

"Kind of." He said. "The first few days I ran around killing as many droids as I could. Then I stopped to make them think I starved to death or something. I've been watching them ever since."

"You revealed yourself to rescue me." Ahsoka said. "Why?"

"That woman is obsessed with proving herself to Dooku." Gregor said. "I figured you must be pretty important if she was sending you off."

Ahsoka nodded and stared at her hands.

"I think we should target the communications device." Gregor said. "I'm assuming you have more than two dozen troopers on your side; we can contact the rest of your forces."

"That's true. General Secura could be here very quickly."

"General Secura, eh?" Gregor said. "Are the rumors true about her and her Commander?"

"Bly?" Ahsoka asked. "What about them?"

"That they're- you know-" Gregor gestured with his hands.

Ahsoka stared at him.

"In a relationship?" She guessed.

Gregor smirked.

"Not the word I'd use, but sure."

"I really doubt it." Ahsoka said. "You don't know General Secura. She gave me my first real attachment lecture. Besides, I'm pretty well versed in clone gossip and I haven't heard that one."

"I'm assuming you're 501st based on that tattoo." Gregor said. "You're the biggest rumor mill in the GAR, but you don't take as much as you give rumor wise. Rex makes sure of that."

"You know Rex?" Ahsoka asked, perking up.

"Old friend." Gregor said with a wave of his hand. "We used to serve together in the 212th before Skywalker got promoted and pulled him to the 501st."

Ahsoka blinked. She had forgotten that Anakin had started the war as Obi Wan's Commander.

"We're getting off topic. If we go straight for the communications device we risk getting my men killed." Ahsoka said.

Gregor frowned.

"There's only a dozen or so men in there. This place is important and we need to take it. It's a risk we need to take."
"No." Ahsoka said firmly. "They are the priority."

"Begging your pardon ma'am, but the point of clone troopers is that we aren't a priority. We can be ignored to take the bigger threat out."

"Maybe to other leaders, but not to me." Ahsoka said. "And I bet Bralor would agree."

Gregor rubbed the back of his head.

"Probably." He admitted. "Then what do you propose we do?"

Ahsoka frowned, then blinked as she sensed something.

"They're moving my men." She said. "They're not together anymore. What are the cameras like?"

"If they had decent surveillance, it wouldn't have taken them three days to figure out why droids kept getting scrapped." Gregor replied. "The only decently covered places are the holding cells, shuttle bay, and command center."

"Is there a centralized surveillance room?" Ahsoka asked.

"Yes." Gregor raised an eyebrow. "You're saying we should take out the surveillance droids?"

"I don't know why I didn't think of it earlier." Ahsoka said. "Then we hit the command center."

"Should work." Gregor said.

"Have you got an extra vibro blade?" Ahsoka asked.

"Wouldn't be much of a Commando if I didn't have at least three on me." Gregor replied. "Though, I suppose I'm not much of a Commando for losing my gun in the first place."

Ahsoka shrugged and accepted his proffered blade.

"You're an odd sort of Commander." Gregor said. "The only ones I know are clones, Jedi, or old military veterans. I'd say you're a Jedi, but you actually wear armor and you don't have a saber."

"I used to be a Jedi." Ahsoka said. "I stayed for my men."

"Well then, Commander Ex-Jedi, shall we?" Gregor gestured to the vent.

"Let's go." Ahsoka said with a nod.

Chapter Text

Ahsoka kept checking her HUD for how much time had passed. It had been fifteen minutes since Syv's initial announcement. Forty five before all her men were killed.

Gregor suddenly stopped in his tracks.

"Oh, she's clever." He muttered.

"What?" Ahsoka asked.

Gregor shifted, allowing her to see past him into a room filled with monitors. There was one droid staring at the screens. Two more stood with blasters pressed to two clone troopers' heads.

It was Tup and Axel. They'd been stripped to their blacks and they knelt with their hands pressed to the back of their heads.

"Har'chaak." Ahsoka swore in a hiss.

She hated it when the enemy used her attachment to her men against her. It didn't happen often, but when it did, it was bad. She glanced up at the screens. Each room it displayed showed two or three prisoners in the same position. If they attacked, her men would be executed immediately.

"What's the plan?" Gregor whispered.

Tup's eyes widened as Gregor spoke. He glanced towards the vent. Ahsoka shoved her hand past Gregor into Tup's field of view. She made the signs for Commander, two, vibroblade, and distraction.

Tup nodded, a bare tilt of his head. His hands shifted, working something off his wrist. Ahsoka watched as he made eye contact with Axel. Axel immediately gave a loud, fake cough. Both guards looked at him. Tup stretched something between his fingers, mouthed be ready, and released it.

A hair tie flew from his hands into the screens. It made a snapping noise as it hit. All the droids turned to look.

"What was that?" One asked.

"Was it part of the foot- augh!" The droid sitting at the screens buzzed and shorted out as Gregor's thrown vibro blade slammed into its head.

Ahsoka lunged forward as Tup dove to the side. She stabbed the droid's ankle with her vibroblade. The droid squawked and tumbled down. Tup seized its head and yanked. With a twist the head came free. Ahsoka looked up to see the other droid twitching with Gregor's blade in its head.

The Force shouted and Ahsoka whirled in time to take a blaster shot to the shoulder. She cursed and stumbled. Two more droids had come in from the hallway. Tup dove forward and wrapped his arms around the droid who had shot Ahsoka.

"Hey!" It cried as Tup forced its blaster on its companion.

Tup made it fire, then twisted the arm to jam the blaster to the droid's head. Another shot and the droid crumpled.

It was silent for a moment. Ahsoka waited for more droids to storm in. It didn't happen. She glanced at the screens. Her men were still alive. They were unnoticed.

"They were sending an all clear signal every five minutes." Tup said as they were sure no more droids were coming. "The last signal was two minutes ago. Check the logs to make sure it's exactly on time."

"On it." Gregor said.

He stepped to the terminal, removed his helmet, and began tapping. Tup stepped to Ahsoka and started examining the blast mark.

"The armor took most of the damage." Tup said. "You'll just have bruising."

"Don't tell Kix." Ahsoka said. "He won't ever let me live it down."

"Commander, none of us are going to let you live it down." Tup said with a grin. "How long have we been telling you to get armor?"

Ahsoka rolled her eyes.

"How about you?" She asked. "Where did you get that hair tie?"

Tup ran a hand through his growing, but still short hair.

"Force of habit." He said. "You don't want your tie to break in the middle of a siege and not have an extra. Lucky I did, though."

"What message am I sending out again?" Gregor asked.

Tup frowned at him.

"The all clear." He said.

"That's right, that's right." Gregor muttered.

Both Tup and Axel turned to Ahsoka.

"Where did you pick up a Commando?" Axel asked.

"He was just- here." Ahsoka said. "He can't remember how he got here at the moment."

"Got it!" Gregor said. "It will automatically send the all clear signal every five minutes."

"Good." Ahsoka said. "Now we take the command room."

"How are we going to do that?" Axel asked. "We might be an ARC and a Commando, but we only have vibroblades."

"What am I?" Tup asked, annoyed.

"You're the looks." Axel said with a smirk.

Tup raised his eyebrows and rolled his eyes.

"Let's take a look at their data." He said. "Might be something useful. If you can find that hair tie, you can use it. You look like you need it." He added to Gregor.

"Oh, er, thanks." Gregor said. He glanced at Ahsoka. "What hair tie?"

Ahsoka found the hair tie and handed it to Gregor.

"There we go." Tup said. "It's a fuel station. They plan on sending some experimental Hailfires soon and they need a place to store the fuel."

"That's right." Gregor said. "I remember now. I was gonna blow this place sky high with that fuel."

"And why didn't you?" Axel asked.

Gregor's smile slipped.

"I er- forgot." He said. "My memory's not exactly reliable."

"How do you forget an entire plan?" Axel asked. "I thought you Commandos were supposed to be the best."

Gregor's brow furrowed.

"You try remembering things after-" He paused, faltering.

Axel glanced at Ahsoka.

"He's had a head injury." Ahsoka explained. "He can still scrap clankers."

"Can we discuss this later?" Tup asked. "We're on a time crunch."

"Right." Ahsoka said. "Blowing the place isn't an option anymore. We need to get the communications back online and get some gear."

"Our stuff should be near the cells." Axel said.

They all looked to the screens. The cells were empty, save for Deck, and a 327th trooper, and their two droid guards.

"That'll be tricky." Gregor said. "The vents aren't positioned ideally down there."

Ahsoka frowned. If only they had a blaster! But maybe-

"I should be able to Force push them hard enough to deactivate them." Ahsoka said.

Tup immediately gave her a sharp look.

"Sir, are you sure-"

"I'll have time to concentrate." Ahsoka assured him. "I'll be fine. Even if it gets to be too much, you should be able to take out the command center without me."

Tup still looked concerned. Gregor and Axel looked confused.

"Is that why you're an ex-Jedi?" Gregor asked. "You can't use the Force right?"

"It's complicated." Ahsoka told him. "Lead the way. We don't have much time."

They had thirty minutes left by the time they reached the detention area. The two troopers looked worse for wear. Ahsoka closed her eyes. She hadn't tried an offensive use of the Force since practicing with Gek. The Force surged around her. She winced. It burned her hands as she stretched them out.

"Be ready to move in when I push." She whispered.

She pushed.

The droids squawked as they were slammed against the wall. Ahsoka grit her teeth against the wave of pain in her hands and head. It seemed she needed more practice. Tup helped her out of the vent as Gregor and Axel checked the area.

"You okay, Nose?" Axel asked his brother.

"Been better." Nose grunted.

"Nothing too bad, sir." Deck said at Ahsoka's glance.

"I found the gear!" Gregor announced after a quick search. "Ka'ra, you really use this junk?"

"We all can't be Commandos." Axel said. "Give it here."

Ahsoka was relieved to see five troopers ready for a fight.

"What do you want to do, Commander?" Tup asked. "Will you come with us?"

"I'd better, if just as a last resort. I've still got some juice left in me." Ahsoka said.

Tup nodded and put his helmet back on.

"Most of the hostages are being held in the command center." Axel said. "Which means more clankers. We'll have to take the ones holding the hostages first, and then hope we don't all get shot."

"Syv will be in there." Ahsoka said. "Gregor, do you know anything about her skills?"

Gregor frowned with concentration.

"Not that I can remember. She's a Falleen, though. Those pheromones might be a problem."

"There's another problem." Tup said. "We don't have enough time to take the command center and save the hostages throughout the base."

Ahsoka cursed. Tup was right. The droids would know exactly when the hour had passed and would immediately execute the prisoners once the time was up.

"We split up." Gregor said. "I'll take the ARC and Commander Ex-Jedi while you three go through the base and get the hostages. The place isn't big. Then rendezvous at the command center to back us up."

Tup glanced at Ahsoka who nodded.

"Hand me a blaster." She said.

"You can shoot?" Gregor asked as Deck handed her a weapon.

"Captain Rex wouldn't let me rest until I could shoot decently." Ahsoka replied. "Let's move out."

Tup nodded to Nose and Deck and they charged out of the detention center. Gregor led Axel and Ahsoka back into the vents.

They had twenty-five minutes left when they split up. Luckily the command center had several different entry points through the vents. Ahsoka peered into the room. At least ten troopers knelt with guns to their heads. At the forefront were Bly and Jesse. Jesse's face was bruised and his eyes lowered in shame. Bly kept his eyes forward, a determined look on his face. Syv paced before them.

"It seems your Commander does not care for you as much as she claimed." She said. "I wouldn't be surprised if she had already fled the base."

"She'd be right to." Jesse muttered.

The droid behind him gave him a whack on the back of his head.

"No talking!" It snapped.

Ahsoka took a deep breath and waited for Gregor to give the signal.

The first bolt flew, piecing Bly's droid in the head. Ahsoka began firing her own blaster. Within seconds two thirds of the guard droids were scrapped. Another blaster shot sounded and a trooper slumped to the floor.

Ahsoka bit back a cry. She let Axel and Gregor keep shooting while she sent blasters skidding across the floor to the prisoners.

Another trooper fell, but the rest had snatched up the blasters. Droids were crumpling. Ahsoka resisted the urge to dive out of the vent and into battle. She could lay down cover fire from here, and she was still weakened from the Force push earlier. She grit her teeth as Ridge collapsed to his knees after taking a blaster bolt to the shoulder.

The droids were nearly gone. The door burst open to reveal a group led by Deck and Fives. It was moments before the last droid fell. Gregor stalked over to the communications jammer and fired three bolts into it. Ahsoka started to relax, but immediately tensed as she realized something.

Where is Syv?

No sooner had the thought crossed her mind than Ahsoka heard the click of a blaster behind her.

"Stay where you are or your Commander dies." Syv shouted from the rear.

The men in the room froze along with Ahsoka. Ahsoka shifted her head to see Syv wedged in the vent behind her, blaster pointed at Ahsoka's head.

"You're a clever little Jedi." Syv said with a sneer. "But I'm afraid you and your men are far too attached to one another. Move backwards towards me."

Ahsoka complied, quietly slithering backwards.

"I may have lost the base, but I will have you." Syv said. "Preferably alive, but I will work with you dead if I have to."

As soon as Ahsoka was close enough, the woman grabbed her ankle with a vice-like grip. Ahsoka bit back a cry of pain as Syv began dragging her through the vents. Her shoulder jolted painfully as the Falleen yanked her out.

"No funny business." Syv hissed, pressing her blaster into Ahsoka's temple.

Ahsoka nodded and slowly stood up. Syv rose with her and jabbed the blaster into Ahsoka's back. Ahsoka moved forward. Her head was throbbing painfully, making it difficult to think. She didn't think she could win a fight here, especially with her injured shoulder.

Syv forced her into the shuttle bay. Ahsoka felt a jolt of panic as Syv pushed her up the shuttle's ramp.

A blaster fired, and Syv slumped to the floor. Tup was standing in the shuttle, blaster smoking.

"Tup?" Ahsoka asked.

"I thought I saw a glimpse of her when we were rounding up the men." Tup said. "I followed her out of the room and saw her go into the vents. Then I heard her threaten you, and I figured she'd come straight here. Turns out you can get places pretty quick when you're not stuck in a vent."

"Good thinking, and I'm glad for it." Ahsoka said. "Come on, let's get back to the others."

They ran into a concerned group of troopers being led by Fives on their way back. She assured them she was fine and they started back the way they had come.

"Is everyone accounted for?" Ahsoka asked once they got back to the control center.

"Yes, sir." Bly said. "We've lost three troopers and have seven wounded."

"Can they walk?" Ahsoka asked.

"Some." Kix piped up. "But General Secura's on her way and she'll be bound to have some hover stretchers."
"Good point." Ahsoka said. "Jesse, a word."

Jesse limped up to her, his eyes downcast.

"Are you all right?" She asked him.

"Fine, sir." He said. "I'm sorry."

"You got captured." Ahsoka said. "I'd rather that than you dead."

"She used us against you." Jesse sounded pained. "I'd rather be dead than that."

Ahsoka placed her hand on Jesse's shoulder.

"If anything, it's my fault." She said. "I'm not willing to let you go."

He smiled a little.

"You and the others go grab your gear." Ahsoka told him. "I want to be ready to move out when General Secura arrives."

Jesse gave a nod and called the other armorless troopers to him.

"Fives, wait." Ahsoka said.

Fives looked annoyed as he paused and returned to her.

"Listen, I'm sure it's all fun and games for you to have us dressed like this, but-"

"Oh, shut up." Ahsoka said. "It's about Tup. He was remarkable today."

Fives' eyes lit up.

"I'm proud of him." He said happily.

"What do you say to him being an ARC trooper?" Ahsoka asked.

Fives grinned even wider.

"I think that's a great idea, sir!" He said.

"I agree. Go tell him." Ahsoka said.

Fives immediately ran up to Tup, who listened with a stunned expression on his face. The younger trooper snapped his head up to look at Ahsoka. She grinned and nodded. Tup's face took on a look of shock and awe. She could read his lips as he asked 'really?' over and over. Fives was laughing and nodding. Tup squished his ori'vod into a hug. Then the excited trooper trotted up to Ahsoka.

"Thank you, sir!" He said.

He saluted, bouncing on the balls of his feet.

Then his face fell.

"That means I won't be around the 501st as much." He said.

"Tup, we'd be missing out if you weren't an ARC." Ahsoka said. "Besides, I think we see plenty of Fives."

"Sir, General Secura is on her way." Axel said. "She'll be here within a half rotation."

"Excellent." Ahsoka said. "See what else you can get from the Seppie computers."

"I can help with that." Gregor put in. "I used to be a pretty good slicer."

"Axel is fine, Gregor." Ahsoka put in. She'd noticed Axel's uncomfortable posture at the idea. "Let's get everyone out."

It was a bit of a hassle getting everyone out of the facility. They had to round everyone back up from getting their gear, move the injured down several stories, and wait for Axel to finish clearing out the computers. They left the dead, which always bothered Ahsoka. She did her best to always collect their identification tags. Rex used to do the same. He wanted no brother forgotten.

It had been two 327th troopers and Rud who had been killed. Rud had been the sacrifice when Ahsoka had been rescued by Gregor. They found his body dumped outside in the mud.

Ahsoka let herself sit down in the dirt as they waited for General Secura.

"Commander?"

Ahsoka looked up to see Bly hovering by her.

"What's up?" She asked.

"Thank you for coming for us." He said, and then paused. "May I ask you a question?"

"Go ahead."

"There's been some rumors coming from the 501st." He said. "I want to know if they're true."

"About Fives and the rancor?" Ahsoka asked with a grin. "Absolutely-"

"No," Bly interrupted. "I mean about the chips."

Ahsoka immediately sobered.

"Yes." She said. "You can believe those rumors."

"I see." Bly said.

He didn't outwardly react, but Ahsoka got an odd jumble of emotions from him.

"Thank you again, sir." He said.

Ahsoka nodded and he went back to his troops. Ahsoka wondered how many other legions had gotten wind of the chips, and how many had actually taken the plunge and had them removed.

The rest of the 501st and 327th arrived right on schedule. General Secura led the way, though she still limped.

"Commander Tano!" Aayla said as they reached each other. "I'm glad to see you and our men."

"You're a sight for sore eyes too." Ahsoka replied.

Aayla only seemed to be half listening. Her eyes kept flicking to something past Ahsoka. Finally she concentrated at Ahsoka.

"I'd like to debrief you in person." Aayla said. "But not now. Get some rest, as well as your men. I will comm you in a few hours."

Ahsoka nodded and gestured to her men.

"Gregor, let's get your head looked at." She said.

Gregor followed her hesitantly with the other injured troopers to the medic station. They had only field instruments, but maybe they could get some sort of diagnosis.

Ahsoka watched as Kix ran the scanner over Gregor's head. The medic's eyebrows shot up.

"How many concussions have you had?" He asked the commando.

Gregor blinked.

"I-I'm not sure." He said. "A lot. I know at least five. I had that many when I left Kamino. I think I've had a couple more since then though."

Kix stared at Gregor who frowned.

"That would explain your memory problems." Kix finally said. "Kriff, I didn't know commando training was that bad."

"I didn't get them in training." Gregor said.

"How else do you get five concussions?" Kix asked. "We don't do much else on Kamino!"

"You ever heard of Dred Priest?" Gregor asked.

Ahsoka felt cold at Kix's expression.

"Who's Dred Priest?" Ahsoka asked.

"One of the Cuy'val Dar." Gregor said. "He had what he called his Kyr'am Briirud. He made us fight each other. Not like sparring. He wanted us to hurt one another. That's where I got my concussions."

Ahsoka stared at him.

"You said you were trained by Rav Bralor." She said.

"I was Priest's first." Gregor said. "I was four when I- it was an accident- but Priest had made one of Rav'buir's cadets come be part of it. I had already lost a few fights and Priest told me I needed to shape up or else. I was terrified to lose that fight and I-"

Gregor closed his eyes.

"I broke the other cadet's neck." He whispered. "I didn't mean to. Priest didn't bother teaching us how to hold back."

Ahsoka felt sick as Gregor took a deep breath.

"Rav'buir found out and she was furious. I remember her storming in and demanding to know who killed her cadet." Gregor said. "That was the first time I was more scared of someone than I was of Priest. Priest told her and she demanded I be transferred to her, to make up for the cadet I killed."

A ghost of a smile flashed across Gregor's face.

"She threatened him with a lot of nasty things if he didn't. So I got transferred to Rav'buir and instead of hating me like I thought she would, she treated me just like every other cadet."

Gregor stared into space before focusing on Ahsoka.

"You said I could try and contact her?" He asked as if not sure Ahsoka had said that. Which he might not have been.

"Once we get back to the Defiant." Ahsoka promised. "The 501st is only here for a few weeks."

Gregor nodded.

"Thank you." He said.

He seemed to retreat into his own head. Ahsoka leaned towards Kix.

"Is there anything you can do for him?" She asked.

"Not here." Kix said. "Though I honestly don't know what we can do for him. I've never seen a clone with his mind addled like that."

Ahsoka looked at Gregor.

"Well, keep an eye on him." She said. "Maybe this Rav Bralor will be able to provide some options."

She got up to leave.

"Not so fast." Kix said. "I saw that blaster burn. Let me have a look."

Ahsoka grimaced but let Kix examine her.

"If you say one thing about the armor saving my life, you're on fresher duty for a month." She told him.

"I didn't say anything." Kix said innocently as he applied bacta to her bruises.

The smirk on his face let her know that he was thinking it.

Ahsoka finally got to her feet. She didn't exactly feel like resting. General Secura probably wanted the report sooner than later. She nodded to Kix and made her way across the camp to where Aayla's tent was. The clones were in good cheer. Communications were back online with minimal casualties.

Ahsoka stopped short a few yards from Aayla's tent. There were- interesting emotions roiling out from the small structure. Interesting and somewhat familiar. Kriff, if Ahsoka hadn't known better, she'd have thought it was Padme and Anakin in there. But no, it was General Secura and- was that Bly's presence?

Ahsoka suddenly was very aware of how she was intruding on a private moment between Bly and his General. She quickly retreated, making sure she was out of earshot.

Poor Aayla, Ahsoka thought. No wonder she had been so distressed when Bly had gone missing.

Ahsoka wandered the camp. It was interesting. She had no surge of horror at the idea that Aayla was in a relationship with Bly. She remembered the cold pit in her stomach when she had learned about Padme and Anakin. There was nothing like that now, only worry about what would happen if they were caught. Ahsoka was straying further from the Jedi mindset than she had thought she ever would.

It was another half an hour before Ahsoka got a comm from Aayla.

"Have you rested enough to give your report?" Aayla asked.

"Yes. I'll be right there." Ahsoka replied.

Bly was still in Aayla's tent when Ahsoka arrived. He was standing at parade rest next to Aayla, who was sitting on a cot.

Ahsoka began to explain their escapades at the Seperatist base. She kept an eye on Bly and Aayla as she talked. The only thing that hinted at what Ahsoka felt from them was that Bly stood a little too closely to Aayla. One hand was folded behind Bly's back, but the other was centimeters from Aayla's.

Aayla stayed silent as Ahsoka finished the report.

"You acted well." Aayla said. "At least in my estimation. But the council may not feel the same."

Ahsoka narrowed her eyes.

"In what regard?" She asked.

"You chose to risk your own capture for the life of your men." Aayla said. "It could be seen as a dangerous risk."

Aayla studied Ahsoka.

"Let me give you a word of warning, Ahsoka." She said. "You are no longer a Jedi. You are in a position where you can be removed if the Council thinks you are not acting for Republic interests."

A swell of anger flared in Ahsoka's chest.

"And saving their soldiers isn't?" She asked.

Aayla looked at her and Ahsoka was struck with how tired she looked.

"To some, no. You must find ways to be subtle about putting your men first."

Ahsoka glanced at Bly, whose face was impassive.

"I will be honest. I was told to watch you, Commander Tano." Aayla said. "I was told to make sure you were still fit for service."

"What?" Ahsoka burst out. "By who?"

"Elements in the Jedi Council." Aayla responded. "I believe they are uncomfortable with the idea of you remaining in command."
"By elements, you could just say Windu." Ahsoka said with a frown.

Aayla's mouth twitched.

"In any case, Commander, please be careful." She said. "I am fond of you and I admire your dedication to your men. I would not like to see you removed from command."

"Thank you." Ahsoka said. "I'll do my best to stay. Is there anything else?"

"No." Aayla said. "We will rest tonight and move out tomorrow."

Ahsoka nodded and turned to leave.

Right as she left she caught Aayla's voice.

"Bly, for pity's sake sit down."

Ahsoka let herself smile for a moment before what Aayla said weighed her down again. It seemed things were more complicated than she thought.

Aayla had been right. Three weeks later, when she had returned to the Defiant, she got a request to meet from the Jedi Council. From Windu's face when the holos appeared, they were not pleased.

"We received the reports of your mission on Felucia." Windu said without preamble.

"Is there anything wrong?" Ahsoka nearly bit her tongue to stop her from saying 'Master.'

Windu frowned and Ahsoka guessed he had noticed her omission of his title.

"While your mission was a success, there are concerns about your actions." He said. "You placed the mission and yourself in danger for-"

"For the lives of my men." Ahsoka said. "I thought I made it clear when I refused to return to the Order what my priorities would be."

Windu's frown deepened.

"It is understandable to create strategies that minimize clone casualties." He said. "However, risking the mission for the lives of a few men makes the Council question your effectiveness as a leader."

Ahsoka grit her teeth and remembered Aayla's words. You must find ways to be subtle about putting your men first. If sucking up to Windu was what she had to do, she would do it.

"I understand." She said. "I will keep that in mind in the future."

Keep in mind, yes. Follow? That was less likely.

Chapter Text

Rex pressed against the cool white floor, forcing his body up for another pushup. His arms trembled with the effort, but he stayed upright. His splayed hands felt less sturdy due to his missing fingers and they ached with the effort, but he managed.

"What the kriff are you doing?"

Hackjob's voice startled Rex and his arms gave out from under him. He managed to catch himself before his chin crashed into the floor. Hackjob hurried into the room with Neya Ha trailing behind.

"I'm finishing my set." Rex said as he sat up.

"Like hell you are!" Hackjob said. "I told you to finish the set you were on fifteen minutes ago!"

"Perhaps he is only now finishing that set." Neya Ha said in his mild tone.

"Oh yeah, it took him fifteen minutes to do three push-ups." Hackjob said.

"Perhaps." Neya Ha repeated. "But unlikely. He has less weight to push upwards than before."

Rex blinked at Neya Ha. If he didn't know better, he would have thought that was a joke. Rex would add it to the list of Neya Ha's oddities.

"How many more did you do?" Hackjob demanded.

Rex was silent for a moment as Hackjob glared at him.

"I will look at the security tapes." Hackjob said.

"I was finishing the eighth set when you came back." Rex said.

"Eight?" Hackjob asked. "How many times do I need to tell you that overworking yourself is just as bad as not working at all?"

Rex shrugged and Hackjob dragged his hand down his face.

"I wanted to have you do a light workout today, but that's gone out the window." Hackjob muttered. "Have fun recovering with sore everything instead of just a sore stump."

Rex nodded, a prick of trepidation needling his stomach. He would be glad to have a functional leg back, but the next day's surgery loomed over him.

"You'll be okay, Rex." Hackjob said in a drastically different tone.

"I know." Rex replied.

He reached out for his crutches and struggled to his feet. No matter what Hackjob said, Rex was proud of the amount of work he was able to do today. He was getting back to where he was before, at least in terms of upper body workouts.

"What's next?" He asked.

"Didn't you hear me?" Hackjob said. "Easy day today."

"But you said-"

"You're done for the day, Rex." Hackjob said. "And don't forget- no eating or drinking tonight."

"Fine." Rex said.

"You will have time to respond to your messages." Neya Ha said. "You have three, currently."

Rex grimaced. Neya Ha, as part of monitoring his mental state, had access to all of the messages Rex sent or received. As far as he could tell, the doctor wasn't blocking anything, but Rex couldn't help but worry.

Neya Ha seemed to be waiting for a response. He was continuing to prove to be the oddest Kaminoan Rex had ever met. He continued to call Rex and Hackjob by their names, continued to accommodate Rex, and continued to insist on being involved with most of Rex's treatment. It made Rex feel uncomfortable, but not necessarily repulsed by the Kaminoan. He hadn't attempted any physical help since the first day, but he was there for almost everything Rex and Hackjob did.

"Right." Rex finally said. "Thanks."

"We've gotta prep for tomorrow, so I'll be late tonight." Hackjob said. "Enjoy the respite."

Rex managed a crooked smile.

"I will." He said.

Rex crutched out of the room. Only now was he getting good at the things, right before he wouldn't need them anymore. It had helped when Hackjob had brutalized a set of blacks to make better cushioning.

Rex made it to his and Hackjob's quarters and sank onto his bunk. He grabbed his datapad. Neya Ha had been wrong. He had four messages now.

The first was just the casualty list he received every week. It was always a jolt to look at, even when the list was relatively short like it was this time. He closed his eyes and murmured remembrance for them. He copied each dead trooper's name and number to his personal file. He'd have to take the time soon to say remembrance for the whole list.

The next message was from Jesse. Like normal, it was filled with questions Rex knew Jesse was capable of answering. Jesse felt unworthy of the title of Captain and it showed. Rex wished his reputation didn't loom quite so badly over his younger brother. Jesse was doing very well as acting Captain. Rex wouldn't be surprised if he was permanently promoted after Rex returned.

The third letter was from Fives. Fives had taken it upon himself to keep Rex updated on the more personal side of the 501st. Deck, Shiv, and Aran were settling in well. Tup was thriving in ARC trooper training. The new batch of shinies had all fallen hopelessly in love with Commander Tano. Rex snorted. That was happening more and more frequently as Ahsoka got older. Fives ended with a request that Rex return to them soon, as Jesse wasn't letting him do half the stuff Rex let him get away with.

The final message was from General Skywalker. It started with a subtle complaint about how Rex wasn't around to cover for him. He had a few questions and adjustments for the battle strategies Rex had sent him. Rex studied the plans and wrote out a response. Then he studied the figures that General Skywalker had sent him. Something nagged at Rex as he studied the schematics of the battles. Some of these losses were from some of the best plans he had, ones he'd drawn up with Echo. His heart clenched as he thought of his fallen ARC trooper.

He shook himself and attached another set of battle plans. He was glad he was able to help the 501st in some way, even if the General changed half of the plans to be strill-osik crazy.

He sent the message and settled himself into the position he'd seen Ahsoka take many times. He took a deep breath and concentrated.

Ahsoka hadn't sent him a message.

He didn't need one.

Hello, Rex.

Rex smiled despite himself.

Hello, Ahsoka.

Her presence flooded him. Part of him believed that if he stretched out his hand, she would be there right beside him.

She didn't say anything right away, but she was with him. It was like sitting next to each other in a comfortable silence. He remembered in her first days as a Commander she hadn't understood the value of just sitting quietly together. She'd chatter to him constantly. But she learned, and she learned it well.

How much she'd grown. Even in the two months they'd been separated, she had matured beyond anything he'd imagined when he had first met her. If someone had told him the annoying slip of a girl that had come strutting out of that ship would become one of two people he could completely confide in, he would have assumed they'd been in their pod too long.

Annoying slip of a girl? Strutting? Ahsoka asked in amusement.

Rex flushed. It was hard to tell what was out in the open when they were like this.

Ahsoka, one of the first things you said to me was that you outranked me. It wasn't a good first impression.

Well, my first impression of you was that you had a stick up your shebs. So we were both wrong. Ahsoka sent.

No, we were right. You learned and I had the stick removed.

His mind was awash with her laughter and he chuckled along.

As much as Rex enjoyed just sitting with her, each moment had a toll for Ahsoka, so it was good that the silence was broken.

How are things? He asked.

Just finished on Garm. We're on our way to do a supply run to Ryloth.

If you see Cody, tell him to send me a message, yeah? I've gotten one from him.

I'll see what I can do. According to Master Obi Wan, he's still in a little bit of shock about the whole thing. Ahsoka replied.

Rex sighed. It was a difficult situation. Cody probably still expected Rex to be decommissioned.

The men holding up well? He asked.

Yep. They miss you though. Not a day goes by that I don't get some trooper demanding to know when you're coming home.

Rex missed them too. Hackjob was a good companion, but there was nothing compared to being surrounded by brothers you had fought alongside.

Speaking of which, Ahsoka said. How are things?

My surgery's tomorrow. Rex replied, trying to keep his anxiety away from her.

You'll be okay. If I can relearn to use the Force, then you can relearn to walk.

You're doing well with your Force control, then. Rex said, changing the subject.

Better, not well. I still can't use it effectively in battle, but stuff like this is better. Well, if you were closer.

How much time do we have left?

A few minutes.

Rex forwent the words for the sake of time and just showed her a bit more of his daily life. How weird Neya Ha was and how Hackjob both infuriated and comforted Rex, though he hid how nervous he was for the surgery. They both preferred speaking to one another, but part of the purpose of this was to make sure the other was doing well. Ahsoka in turn gave him a glimpse of the war, the efforts she went to to keep the men safe, her grief at their losses and the joy she felt with the men.

I have to go or Kix will have my head. She said. Take care of yourself.

He felt a pressure on his shoulder, as if she had placed a hand there. Show off. The best he could do in the moment was send a pulse of affection and encouragement.

Be careful out there. The men would never forgive themselves if you died doing something reckless for them.

He got a mental eyeroll in return.

Urcye mhi. He said. We'll meet again. No doubts about it. She preferred it to traditional Mandalorian goodbye. She said there was no maybe about them meeting again. She knew it.

Urcye mhi. She replied and he once again caught sight of the deep feelings she had for him. It was good to have someone care for him as much as she did and be able to feel it.

The bond shrank to a mere sliver and he opened his eyes. Hackjob was sitting on the opposite bunk. Rex hadn't noticed him come in, but that was to be expected.

"You and your meditating." Hackjob said.

"It helps me relax." Rex said. "You're always complaining that I'm too uptight."

"True enough." Hackjob said. "Any questions for tomorrow?"

Rex shook his head.

"Neya Ha explained it well enough."

Hackjob grimaced.

"A little too well if you ask me."

Rex nodded, remembering Neya Ha's extremely detailed report on what exactly they'd be doing to him.

"You'd probably best get to bed." Hackjob said. "Big day tomorrow."

"Right." Rex said.

He thought he'd kept his voice firm and resolved, but Hackjob gave him a sympathetic look. The medic clapped Rex on the shoulder.

"The procedure has been done thousands of times. You'll be fine." He said.

"Do you trust Neya Ha?" Rex asked.

He needed to know, especially since Rex himself wasn't sure. Hackjob hesitated.

"I think I do." Hackjob said. "I'd never thought I'd be able to trust a brother's life to a longneck, but Neya Ha is the one I could."

"It's strange." Rex said. "But I think you're right."

Somehow, they had gotten stuck with the one Kaminoan who seemed to view them as slightly more than assets.


Against all odds, Rex slept through the night and felt reasonably well rested the next morning. He ached, like Hackjob had warned him, but he felt okay. He hoped he wouldn't feel too bad after the surgery.

"Come on, brother." Hackjob said cheerfully after Rex had showered. "Let's get it done."

He helped Rex into the operating gown. Rex grimaced at the flimsy material.

"Oh stop." Hackjob said. "You won't be awake for most of the time you'll be wearing it."

Rex shrugged and crutched after Hackjob. They ended up in a small operating room, where Neya Ha was waiting.

"Good morning, Rex." Neya Ha said.

Rex hesitated in the doorway when he saw the straps on the operating table.

"Those are for after you're out." Hackjob said. "Don't worry. Just lay down."

Rex still felt a shudder of panic as Hackjob helped him onto the table. He had a hard time staying still as Hackjob inserted the IV and Neya Ha attached the monitors.

Hackjob caught Rex's eye and grinned.

"You'll be awake before you-"


Rex drifted. He couldn't really feel his body, and what he could get a sense of was unbearably heavy. He didn't seem capable of thoughts. The only other thing he was aware of were the voices that flickered on and off.

"Come on, vod."

The voice faded, then-

"You're not going to let a stupid thing like this beat you."

The words fizzed away before Rex could truly comprehend them.

"Gedet'yener vod. Just give us a sign you're in there."

Then, a new voice, less dear to Rex than the first one.

"Hackjob, it has been nearly a rotation. You must rest. He will wake."

"That's what we always tell ourselves. And then they don't."

Rex's body seemed to fade back into existence. He was first aware of being cold. He was wrapped in a blanket, but that seemed to be the source of the chill. His heart pounded rapidly against his chest, seemingly skipping beats every so often. He tried to wriggle against the cold wraps, but his muscles were stiff and painfully rigid. He felt damp. He briefly wondered why Hackjob and Neya Ha had left him in a cold, wet blanket after surgery.

"Rex?"

The voice that Rex now knew belonged to Hackjob sounded tired, but eager. Rex tried to speak, but there was something wrong. Something was jammed in his throat.

Ignoring his muscles' protests, Rex jerked his arms free of the blanket and scrabbled at his face. There was something strapped there, something to do with whatever was in his throat. He needed to get it out.

"Hey!"

Strong hands closed around his wrists and Rex fought against them.

"That's helping you breathe, you di'kut!" Hackjob said. "Udesii! Udesii!"

It took a few moments of Hackjob repeating the word before Rex finally relaxed.

He blinked open his eyes to see a haggard Hackjob leaning over him. The medic had dark shadows under his eyes and on his jaw.

"Are you calm?" Hackjob asked. "Can I let you go?"

Rex managed a nod and Hackjob released him.

"Well," The medic said. "I can tell you the surgery was technically a success. You have the socket for your cybernetic leg."

Rex glared at Hackjob. Clearly that wasn't the whole story.

"Calm your shebs, I'm getting to it." Hackjob said. "Apparently the same mutation that makes you blonde mutated one of your other genes to make you vulnerable to something called malignant hyperthermia."

"The fault is mine." Neya Ha interjected. "It has been documented that clones with mutated hair are susceptible to the hyperthermia. I should have done the proper research."

"Shut up, you saved his life." Hackjob said sharply. "I didn't have a clue what the shab was happening."

Neya Ha shook his head dolefully.

"Still, I wish I had prevented the need for action."

Hackjob rolled his eyes and looked back to Rex.

"You're lucky to be alive, vod." He said. "But you're going to have to stay here for at least one more rotation. We have to make sure everything goes back to normal."

Rex's panic must have shone through his eyes because Hackjob gave him a sympathetic look.

"I'm sorry, vod." He said. "But you don't kriff around with this sort of thing."

Rex leaned back and stared at the ceiling. It seemed every day was just a struggle to stay alive.


Rex stared blankly at the pair of gauntlets lying on the bedside table. He knew he should sit up and pull them on. They had come only a few days after his surgery and he needed all the practice he could get.

He couldn't find it in himself to care this morning. Two weeks had passed since his surgery, seven days since he was freed from bedrest, and he had struggled with every day of it. The three days trapped in bed had been three days of constant monitoring, chilled blankets and ice packs, and rigid, unresponsive muscles. In other words, three days of torture.

He thought it would've gotten better once he was free. It hadn't, not really.

Hackjob had told him that postoperative depression was probable. Rex knew that was what was happening to him. It was one thing to know about, but quite another to deal with. It felt like an oppressive mass inside his chest, squelching his motivation and ability to care.

But he knew, he knew, that once he was back on the battlefield, it would be better. He just had to get back to where he needed to be physically, and his mind would follow suit.

He just had to fight his way through it until then.

Hackjob came out of the refresher and frowned at Rex.

"Hey, get your shebs up!" He said. "You said you'd be up when I got out of the shower."

Rex pulled himself into a sitting position. It was easier to do what Hackjob said- most of the time. The medic was more tenacious than Kix in getting Rex to take care of himself.

"Shower." Hackjob ordered.

"I don't need one." Rex automatically replied.

"You don't have to smell yourself." Hackjob said. "In."

His lighthearted tone wasn't fooling Rex. Rex knew that Hackjob wouldn't hesitate to drag Rex into the fresher by his remaining leg and scrub Rex himself.

Rex picked up his leg, which Hackjob had named 'Cettie.' It had taken Rex a week to realize it was short for cetare, the Mando'a word for boot. As ridiculous as Rex thought it was, he found himself calling the thing Cettie in his mind. Even Neya Ha referred to it as such.

Rex attached the leg to his socket and kicked a few times. It was still odd. He had total control over the limb, but he had only a dull, faint feeling in it. Enough to make walking easier, but nothing like the leg it had replaced. It was also odd to walk and not feel the pull of muscles as he moved.

He still felt off balance as he made his way to the fresher. It was only a few steps, but he had to resist the urge to place his hand on the wall for support.

Rex leaned his head against the wall of the sonic once he'd gotten inside.

"I don't hear it going!" Hackjob called.

Rex scowled. Did everything have to happen right away? He reached out and tapped the control panel. The vibrations ran down his spine. It was neither a pleasant nor unpleasant sensation. If Rex had ever found it uncomfortable, he had long since gotten used to it.

His mind wandered to the only time he'd had access to a water shower, a hot water shower at that. It had been on Naboo, after the Blue Shadow Virus incident. They'd all been allowed to stay at a Naboo medical facility for a few days, as a form of quarantine. Those few days had been as close to a real vacation Rex had ever had: hot showers, food that made ration bars seem like mud, and a view that made Rex realize how much of a watery hell-hole Kamino was.

The company had been good, too. A few brothers, Ahsoka, and Senator Amidala had all been in the same ward. Both Ahsoka and the Senator would check frequently on the clones.

Rex stood and dreamed of another situation like that. A few close brothers, Ahsoka, the General and Senator Amidala, maybe even General Kenobi all on Naboo, or any nice planet, really. He'd heard Alderaan was nice. He'd prefer it if they didn't have to catch a plague in order to be there, but Rex would gladly welcome the Blue Shadow Virus again for that chance of rest.

Of course, he had a better chance of regrowing his leg than that ever happening.

Things would be better once he got back with the 501st. If he could just get to the physical level required-

There was a bang at the door, startling Rex out of his thoughts.

"You've been in there fifteen minutes!" Hackjob said.

Rex squeezed his eyes shut. Part of him knew that Hackjob was acting with Rex's best interest at heart. Mostly he resented the medic's constant pushing.

Hackjob stood as a silent sentry over Rex as Rex got his armor on. Rex had briefly considered trying to get around it, but thought better of it. Hackjob was on top of his nagging game today.

Rex pulled on his gauntlets last. They made his hands ache and while the robotic fingers answered to his instructions, the gauntlets still felt clunky and slow to respond.

They walked to the mess together. Rex only stumbled once or twice. He supposed he should have been pleased with the progress he'd made in the last few weeks. He didn't need his crutches anymore, and was getting fairly competent with his leg. As it was, Rex didn't feel anything except annoyance that he wasn't better.

"Get us some seats." Hackjob said. "I'll grab the grub."

Rex strategically chose seats right on the edge of the crowd. Not far enough to be considered odd or rude, but not in the thick of things.

"How's your new leg?" The medic next to him, Fixit, asked.

Immediately Rex's tongue felt tired. He just shrugged.

"Only okay, then?" Fixit said.

"How are those sims going?" Another medic, Kuir asked. "I've been asking Hack to let us watch. We've all heard those 501st rumors.

Rex immediately shook his head and looked away from the medics. There was no way he was going to let them watch him.

"Okay, okay, lay off." Hackjob said as he returned, balancing two trays.

"You're the one who told us to encourage him!" Fixit said.

Hackjob smoothly changed the subject to chafing remedies and Rex was left to eat his meal in peace. Rex knew he needed encouraging, but days like today made Rex grateful for Hackjob's protective nature.

Rex ate slowly. His appetite was non-existent these days. He found he could eat if he took his time. He'd rather not eat at all, if it was going to be such a trial, but Hackjob's constant nudging and hassling made it easier to just do as the medic wanted.

The other medics were done and gone when Rex finished.

"We're doing something different today, before we get to the sims." Hackjob told him as they disposed of their trays.

Rex nodded. It was probably some new exercise or physical test. Hackjob seemed to think mixing things up every so often would help Rex's failure to perform. Rex was surprised to be led to an examination room, where Neya Ha was waiting.

"What're we doing?" Rex asked as Hackjob ushered him in.

"We are stimulating the centers in your brain that produce serotonin." Neya Ha said.

"Why?" Rex asked with a frown. "How's that supposed to help?"

Rex was no medic or doctor, but he was pretty sure that serotonin didn't affect a soldier's ability to fight.

Neya Ha blinked slowly at him.

"You are depressed." He said simply.

"Yeah." Rex said. "It won't be a problem once I get back on the field."

"You are severely depressed." Neya Ha said. "To the point that you should not be allowed back to active duty, regardless of your physical condition."

Rex stared at Neya Ha.

"We were made to resist this sort of thing." Rex spoke slowly, as if Neya Ha was a confused shiny. "Once I'm in battle, I'll be fine."

"Your simulation scores are proving that to be incorrect." Neya Ha said.

A flare of emotion stronger than Rex had felt since his surgery pierced his chest: panic. He clenched and unclenched his gauntlets as he struggled to find something to say.

"Hey." Hackjob said and moved to put a hand on Rex's shoulder. "It's not permanent. We're gonna treat it. That's what we're doing right now."

Rex swallowed hard. He gave a curt nod.

Hackjob motioned for him to sit on the examination table. Neya Ha picked up a strange device that looked to attach to the head. Rex tried not to flinch as Neya Ha fixed it on.

"You should feel an immediate increase in mood directly after the treatment." Neya Ha said. "However, it will not be permanent. It will take multiple sessions for a lasting effect to be noticable."

Neya Ha turned the device on. Rex didn't feel much.

"We will leave it on for a half an hour." Neya Ha said.

The Kaminoan hesitated, and shared a look with Hackjob.

"Rex," Hackjob said. "It's possible that this treatment- won't work permanently."

Words failed Rex as he stared at the medic and the doctor.

"Much of it will be you." Neya Ha said. "This is not like a physical injury, where you treat it with bacta and do nothing else. You must work hard."

"I am!" Rex said through gritted teeth. "I haven't stopped working hard since the day I was decanted!"

A wave of exhaustion crashed over Rex. Wasn't what he was doing good enough?

Hackjob looked at Rex and Rex was taken aback with how somber the medic's expression was.

"I know you are, vod." He said. "And if you weren't a soldier, it would probably be enough. But you'll be going back into battle. Lives are going to depend on you. You'll need to be better."

Despair was creeping up Rex's throat, like the invisible grip of a Sith. What if he was already giving all he could and it wasn't enough? What then? Would they just quietly decommission him once they found out he literally could not get better?

The thought of decommissioning didn't scare him like it once did.

The rest of the session passed without further comments. Rex found himself feeling somewhat more hopeful as Neya Ha removed the device. Perhaps he hadn't given everything. He was determined to do better in the sims today. He was even looking forward to them.

"Can I trust you to do the sims?" Hackjob asked him. "And not just go back to our room?"

"Yeah." Rex said. "I've got a good feeling about today."

Hackjob grinned at Rex. He looked relieved and gave Rex a solid smack on the back.

"Good." He said. "Good. I'll be back to watch in a while. Got some some new shuppies to patch up."

"Good luck." Rex told him as they reached the simulation room door.

"Same to you." Hackjob said with a wink.

Rex entered the room. It was about half the size of the sim rooms on Kamino, but large enough to portray a decently accurate scenario. Rex approached the control panel. He entered his credentials and the statistics of his last attempt popped up. His mood fell slightly as he saw the time. Two minutes until failure. In a level two simulation. He had been winning level ten simulations in the same amount of time three or four months ago.

Rex sighed before inputting the parameters of a level three simulation. He was feeling much better today. He was confident he'd be able to do at least a three. He pulled his bucket on and grasped his DCs. A buzzer went off and the simulation began.

Rex dove into action. He ducked under the first few stun bolts from the training droids and took cover behind one of the metal plates that had popped up from the floor. He shot a few blasts from behind the plate. None of them hit. Rex clenched his hands around the grips of his blasters. He took a deep breath and tried again, this time focusing harder on the movement of his hands. He'd been stupid to try and use his old instincts. They wouldn't work anymore.

This time Rex was rewarded with the sound of a training droid powering off. He peeked over the slab. One down, four to go. He'd taken out the one nearest to him.

He bent low and ran to the next plate. The droids' shots dissipated on the durasteel. Rex shot again, taking out another droid this time. So far, so good.

He took a deep breath and stole a quick look at what was left to do. He needed to duck out, take the shots at the two nearest, take cover, and then finish the last one. He adjusted his grip on his pistols and readied himself to move.

Then doubt made him shrink back. He didn't know if he could take out the two droids on his way to the next bit of cover. The last two he'd had to concentrate hard to hit, and he'd been stationary. Did he stand a chance of shooting the droids while running? He had to, otherwise he'd be shot in the back.

Rex took another quick look around. His position wasn't ideal. The two droids had good cover and it would be near impossible to hit them from here.

He needed to pass this sim. There wasn't a choice. If he took too long, he'd automatically fail.

He made a break for it. His leg was handling better than he had expected as he ran and fired. He didn't take the straight route to cover; he zig-zagged to give himself more time to take the two droids out. He missed again and again until finally he stopped for half a second to aim. Two shots later they were slumped over, powered off. Rex felt a surge of triumph-

Then the stinging force of a training bolt slammed into his head. Rex fell to the floor, momentarily stunned. The third droid. He had kriffing forgotten the third droid.

"Simulation failed." A robotic voice announced.

As soon as he could move again Rex sat up, tore off his helmet, and hurled it at the wall. Even now, after he had gotten treated, he was failing simulations he had been passing as a six year old. He ripped off his gauntlets, throwing them after his bucket. Next was his leg. He sent it skidding across the floor. It didn't matter what they did to him, what they gave him, he was broken. The weight of despair bore down on Rex, making it so he could barely breathe.

A thought pierced his mind. It won't get better if you go back. And he wasn't going back. He couldn't. He had tried his best and it still wasn't good enough. He couldn't push himself any harder. It was over.

Rex stared at his scarred, disfigured hands. The despair was fading into nothing. It wasn't gone, just replaced by a vast desert of unfeeling.

The only thing that resembled light in his mind at that moment was the pinprick that represented his bond with Ahsoka. The thought of her made him twitch.

He had promised her. Not to come back, but to do everything in his power to come back. He would have to continue to try. It wouldn't be enough to return to the 501st, but when the Kaminoans finally took him away, Hackjob could at least tell Ahsoka that he had fulfilled the promise. It would be his last gift to her.

Rex grimaced. The idea of continuing on with no end in sight was overwhelming. But no, there was an end in sight: the end of the Kaminoans' patience. He just had to hold out until then.

But until then he would continue to try.

He crawled to where his leg had ended up and reattached it. Then he slowly walked to his gauntlets and pulled them on. He retrieved his bucket. Finally, he started a new, level two simulation.

It went as well as the first, as did the next three. Rex would inevitably make a tactical error that led to his immediate failure. Each failure seemed to reinforce his belief that he was not capable of returning to any state that would allow him to serve again. It chipped away at him, leaving him exhausted by the time Hackjob entered the room.

"Sorry, that took longer than I expected." He said cheerfully. "Let me see your results."

Rex looked away as Hackjob reviewed the failed simulations. The medic was quiet for a moment, staring at the screen with furrowed brows.

"This one's a better time than you've had before." He said, pointing out the level three sim. "And it's a higher level. Why'd you go back to level two?"

Rex shrugged.

"That first one was a fluke." He said. "Most of it was me hiding behind cover."

"Still." Hackjob said. "And then your scores for the rest are as low as I've seen them. You can't let failure get to you, vod. Things aren't going to be like they were before."

"You think I don't know that?" Rex snapped.

Hackjob didn't even flinch at Rex's outburst. He just moved, so he could look into Rex's face. With the searching gaze Hackjob was giving him, Rex was glad his bucket was on.

"I'm serious, Rex." Hackjob said. "You are going to fail. You cannot let that get in your way, or you'll never go back to the 501st."

Rex wanted to scream at Hackjob that was what the failure meant. He stayed quiet. He had the feeling that Hackjob wouldn't react well to the idea. Hackjob still had hope.

Chapter Text

The next few days were much of the same. Rex would receive the treatment and go into the first sim with higher expectations, do tolerably well, but still fail. They would only go downhill from there. He didn't know how much he trusted the accuracy of the results of the first sims; they were likely skewed by whatever Neya Ha was doing to him. He lost himself in the rhythm of failure.

It came as a shock when he received a nudge through the bond from Ahsoka, as he packed up his gear after another failure. It was her signal to let him know she would be waiting for him that night. For once Rex did not face the prospect with excitement. He was nervous and agitated. He had too much to hide from her.

Hackjob noticed Rex's increased agitation, like he noticed everything. He gave Rex annoyingly prying looks during lunch and dinner and when they exercised together that afternoon. He didn't ask any questions. Rex was glad that his brother had finally figured out that he wasn't going to get anything out of him.

The day both dragged and went too fast. Rex finally found himself on his bed, cross legged

"You're meditating?" Hackjob asked as he took off his uniform.

"Problem?" Rex asked.

"No." Hackjob said. "It's just- you haven't meditated since before your surgery."

Rex shrugged at that. He didn't like Hackjob's tone, one of hesitant optimism.

"I'll be quiet then." Hackjob said.

Rex nodded his thanks and closed his eyes. It took longer than normal to sink into the trance required to speak with Ahsoka.

There you are.

For a second Rex felt if not happy, at least content at her presence.

It took a moment to get to meditating.

Nevermind that, how did your surgery go?

Rex hesitated, careful to keep most of his feelings packed away from her.

There were some complications, but it was a success.

He felt a flash of anxiety from her.

Are you all right?

Rex again paused. For some reason it was more difficult to talk across the bond this time.

I'm fine.

She took a moment before responding.

You have your new leg? How is it?

Rex gave a mental nod of his head.

Fine. It walks.

I'd be worried if it didn't.

Rex attempted an amused reaction.

And are you okay? She asked.

You already asked that. I'm fine.

I can't feel you very well.

Maybe it's the distance.

We've been further apart before.

It's nothing you need to worry about, Commander.

We're back to Commander? I thought we'd moved past that.

Rex didn't know how to respond to her.

He twitched as the ghosts of fingers brushed his hands. He felt a burst of panic as she seemed to move closer to the shut off part of his mind, but then she stopped.

Rex, please. I know there's something wrong. Will you let me in?

We promised that it would stay private. He replied sharply.

She recoiled at his anger.

I want to help, Rex.

You can't. Rex couldn't stop some of his despair from weighing down the words.

I could, if you would let me in.

Rex was about to give an angry retort when Ahsoka pressed a strong wave of affection and comfort over him.

I'm here if you need me. She said. But please, Rex. Remember your promise to me, the men. We want you back. We need you back.

I remember it. Rex sent. I remember it every day.

The pressure on his fingers returned.

I have to go. We should be able to meet in a few weeks. Urcye mhi.

Ret'urcye mhi. He managed.

He got a vague feeling of disturbance at his words. She faded away and Rex was left even more agitated than before. Ahsoka was clinging too hard to him. The Jedi had got something right when they said 'no attachments.' Ahsoka was going to be badly hurt when he didn't return. He wanted to tell her to prepare her. Yet there was no way of convincing her to be at peace with it.

Rex opened his eyes. Hackjob was staring at him.

"I thought meditation was supposed to be peaceful." Hackjob said.

"Who said mine wasn't?" Rex replied.

He lay down and faced away from Hackjob.

"You didn't look peaceful. In fact you looked pretty angry." Hackjob said.

"Leave it." Rex said.

"Rex-" Hackjob said.

"I said leave it!"

In a rush, Hackjob had stood up, grasped Rex by the leg, and dragged him from the bed.

"What the-"

"I am done leaving it!" Hackjob hissed. "When you stopped talking to me, I left it. When you started lying to Neya Ha, I left it. When you stopped trying in the sims, I left it. I left it, and then you gave up!"

Rex glared at Hackjob.

"I haven't given up!" He said. "I keep trying, even though there's no point!"

"Can't you hear yourself?" Hackjob asked. "You're willing to just let the Kaminoans kill you!"

"There's no other way this ends!" Rex shouted. "I'm broken, Hackjob!"

"Broken things can be fixed!"

Rex scrambled to his feet and snatched his datapad from the bedside table. He flung it to the ground and smashed his heel into the screen. Cracks spread like ripples from the point his foot made contact. Ignoring Hackjob's stricken face, he brought his foot down again, breaking the pad in two.

"Do you bother to fix that?" Rex asked. "Do you bother to fix something that's shattered and split in two?"

Hackjob stared at Rex.

"Why do you want to be that broken?" He asked.

"You think I want this?" Rex spat. "Do you think I want to be worthless and useless? It's just a fact! You cannot fix me!"

"We don't know that because you're not trying!"

"Not trying? What do you call the hours I spend in the sims? Every day I get out of that bed even though I know it's pointless!" Rex said.

"That's my point!" Hackjob was shouting now. "You have decided you can't get better and it's stopping you from improving. You have given up on going back!"

"I have done all that I can to get better and it's not working!" Rex retorted.

Hackjob seized Rex by the shoulders. Rex instinctively lashed out, landing a solid hit on Hackjob's jaw. Rex shrank back as Hackjob stumbled.

"I-I'm sorry-" Rex started, but Hackjob had already crossed the room to the door.

"We're running out of time." Hackjob shot behind his shoulder. "And I am not leaving you to die!"

He left. Rex stood, breathing heavily for a minute before returning to his bed. Why was Hackjob so determined to hang on? And why was Rex so willing to be let go?


Rex sat sullenly in the chair across from Neya Ha. The last two weeks had been draining on him. Hackjob wouldn't leave Rex alone. Normally he was around Rex most of the day, but now he kept making excuses to stick by Rex's side. Rex tried to ignore him, but the medic was hard to ignore when he kept shouting encouragement during sims and trying to force Rex to do better. Rex suspected that Hackjob rigged one sim to be a level seven when Rex had inputted a level two. Rex had been taken out after about thirty seconds.

Neya Ha was acting oddly as well. He came more and more often to watch the sims, and had upped Rex's meetings with him to once every few days.

Neya Ha came in after a few minutes.

"I apologize for keeping you waiting." He said. "I was speaking with Hackjob."

Rex grunted in reply.

"How are you feeling?" Neya Ha went on.

"Fine."

There was a pause.

"Please tell me the truth." Neya Ha said.

"I am telling the truth." Rex said.

"You know I am in constant communication with Hackjob about your mental state. I have also been observing you personally for a time." Neya Ha said. "'Fine' is an incorrect summation of your status."

Rex stayed silent.

"Very well. I will once again accept your blatant falsehoods and come to the reason we are meeting today."

Neya Ha paused and carefully peered at Rex.

"Hackjob has been reassigned."

"What?" Rex said. "I thought he was assigned to me until the end!"

"We developed a timeline of your recovery and provided it to the GAR." Neya Ha said. "According to it, you were at least supposed to be ready for minor missions. This is not the case. The GAR has accepted that you are not ready for duty as of yet, but they require Hackjob for other duties."

Neya Ha's voice was slightly melancholy, though his words were all business. Panic was quickly freezing and burning Rex's face.

"Hackjob is one of the most efficient medics in the GAR." Neya Ha said. "There has been a shortage of medical personnel. He is needed and I can no longer delay his reassignment."

Rex swallowed the urge to protest that he needed Hackjob too. As much as he was annoyed and frustrated by the medic, Hackjob was one of the only reasons Rex could even pretend to keep going.

"In fact, the majority of the medics stationed here are being returned to the battlefield." Neya Ha went on.

It was another blow. His brothers would be leaving? Rex didn't spend much time with the other medics, but there was always comfort in having vod'e around.

"I am permitted to stay. Since the clone medics are being transferred, the station will be staffed by Kaminoan doctors." Neya Ha went on.

Rex gritted his teeth, trying to reign in his panic. He didn't know if he could stand the necessary examinations under only a long neck's hands, even if it were a more amicable Kaminoan like Neya Ha. Rex would be alone, something a clone should never be.

"We are running out of time." Neya Ha said. "Both with our time with Hackjob and with the patience of the GAR and Kaminoans."

Rex almost wilted with relief at that. He was tired, so, so tired. It was almost time to rest. He would only have to endure the Kaminoans for a little while.

"You must improve, Rex." Neya Ha said.

"And if that's not possible?" Rex asked.

An emotion Rex couldn't identify flashed across Neya Ha's eyes.

"It is." He said simply.

Rex didn't believe him.


Rex spent Hackjob's final week avoiding the medic. He took to wandering the halls of the med center, dodging the medics who would immediately drag him back to Hackjob. Hackjob was still insisting, with some sort of desperation, that Rex try harder and harder sims. It wasn't working of course. Rex knew it wouldn't.

It finally came to the last day. Rex was woken by Hackjob, who was solemn as he shook Rex's shoulder.

"Rex." He said. "Stay with me today, okay?"

Rex felt a jolt of guilt at Hackjob's sober expression. Hackjob had given so much to Rex in an attempt to heal him. Rex could spend a final day with his brother.

"I was thinking I could join you in the sims today." Hackjob said as they ate breakfast. "Maybe it'll give you a boost."

Rex agreed, though he thought it strange that Hackjob hadn't thought of it before.

They made their way to the sim rooms. Rex was apprehensive. Hackjob would surely insist on doing a higher level sim, especially with two troopers. Hackjob looked both odd and at home in armor. The white was unmarked, save for the medic's symbol on his pauldron. Rex was right, watching with a sinking stomach as Hackjob selected a level seven simulation.

"You'll have to carry me in this." Hackjob said as the droids began to power up. "I haven't been in combat in a while, brother."

Rex didn't reply and just watched the simulation set up. The droids slowly rose from their places in the ground. Rex swung his arms back and forth as the droid's eyes began to glow. They pointed their weapons straight at Rex and Hackjob. Rex settled into what he knew was a poor excuse for a battle stance. A droid made the first shot. Adrenaline like Rex hadn't felt for weeks shot through his veins at the noise. The shot hit inches from Rex's foot. Rex stared at the blackened mark on the floor.

It wasn't the sound of a normal training bolt.

It was the sound of a live round.

Rex jerked his head to stare at Hackjob, who stared back silently. A thousand thoughts raced in Rex's head in a split second. The safety protocols had been turned off. Hackjob had turned them off. They were going to die because Hackjob couldn't get it out of his brain that Rex was still worth saving.

First and foremost of all these thoughts was that Hackjob was completely and utterly dini'la.

Rex's body moved without him thinking. He tackled Hackjob and dragged him to the only piece of cover in the whole room: a tiny plate of metal that barely covered both of them. Shots rained on the metal, pinging as they dispersed. Rex thanked the Force the plate was made of durasteel.

"What the hell is wrong with you?" Rex shouted at Hackjob. "We have to turn this off!"

"Good luck with that." Hackjob said "It takes around fifteen seconds to turn this off without the right permissions. Which you don't have."

"Turn it off!" Rex said.

"No." Hackjob said. "I guess I'm a hard gambler, because I'm betting my life that you can get us out of this."

"You-" Rex started, but his mind was racing.

He was not about to let a brother die on his watch, especially one like Hackjob. Even if he had a death wish.

"Should have named you Jaro." Rex muttered as he peered over the cover.

Twenty droids. Five on the back wall at several different heights. One had been lowered into the room on a platform from the ceiling. Seven were scattered on the higher level on the left, and seven were on the higher level on the right. All of them had the high ground. Several of those droids had excellent cover, while Hackjob and Rex didn't have much. Rex recognized this program as one to be completed by a team of four or five, not two. Hackjob was a medic, one that hadn't seen battle in months.

"Name was taken." Hackjob said.

"For once you are going to need to listen to me." Rex said. "Or else we're both dead."

"Yes, sir." Hackjob said.

Rex wanted to smack the smug tone out of the medic's voice.

"We need more cover." Rex said.

"Don't have much here." Hackjob said.

"We'll make some." Rex said. "Switch your blaster to kill. I don't give a damn how much damage we do."

Hackjob did so while Rex peeked over the top again. There was one droid, positioned on a platform that had descended from the ceiling. Rex relayed the information to Hackjob.

"We're going to shoot the supports." Rex said. "You take the right, I'll take the left. Then we have to move to where it falls. We'll use it as cover."

Hackjob gave a nod.

"Go, go, go!" Rex said as he dove from behind the cover.

He couldn't check if Hackjob was doing what he needed to. He had to focus on his own actions. His mind felt mostly empty, with only the conscious thought that Hackjob was not going to die today.

Rex ducked under the bolts as he ran and shot. Each support needed at least three shots to break. Rex managed to do both after firing eight times. Not his best record, but Rex could feel something in his hands. He had been trying to use the gauntlets as if they were his hands. He could feel now that that couldn't be. He needed to change his approach.

A groaning creak told Rex that Hackjob had done his part. The platform crashed to the ground, sending the droid it held flying. Rex and Hackjob heaved it up at the same time and dragged it backwards, shooting as they moved back. Rex was impressed to see Hackjob take out three separate droids. Rex himself got four. Eight down, twelve to go, and they had taken out all of the droids on the back wall. They paused for a breather, but Rex realized with a jolt that the blaster bolts were wearing down the metal. The durasteel was too thin.

"We need to move, now!" Rex ordered.

Hackjob helped him lift their new cover.

"Focus on the left side." Rex ordered. "We'll have more room to work with."

Hackjob immediately began firing as Rex pushed the cover forward.

"Good to go!" Hackjob said.

Rex maneuvered the shield to face the right side of the room. He led Hackjob diagonally forward, still shooting, when a noise caught his attention. It was from behind them.

"Down!" Rex ordered.

Hackjob dropped with Rex. The metal fell backwards onto them, crashing into Rex's back. It was just in time to stop the droid behind them from shooting Hackjob's brains out. Rex maneuvered himself so he could look back. The droid was barely visible from their position. No wonder Hackjob had missed it.

"I'll draw its fire." Rex said. "You keep going on the rest."

Rex rolled from the metal immediately, pushing himself to his feet and shooting at the obscured droid. He needed to get to a better vantage point. The droid and a few others shot rapidly at them. His feet moved him in between the bolts. He felt clumsier and slower than he used to be, but even as he ran he made small adjustments to the way he moved his legs. He could feel himself move a little more smoothly. Finally he got to the point where he had a clear shot.

"Kriffing clanker." Rex muttered as he took the shot.

The droid fell over with a glowing hole in its chest. The bolts coming for Rex were fewer, but as he ran for cover, a stray blast pierced his good calf. Rex hissed as he crashed into the ground, but managed to scuttle on his hands and knees to their original cover. He peered over to see that Hackjob had destroyed most of the remaining droids. With Rex firing from his position, the blaster fire finally stopped.

Rex limped out from behind the metal plate, removing his helmet. Hackjob began walking towards him. He had a black scorch mark on his forearm, but he was alive. He was alive because of Rex. Something stirred in Rex, something quiet, but resolute. He wasn't at what he used to be, but he had done better today than he had ever done on the station.

Weariness pushed at the feeling as he met Hackjob halfway.

"Are you okay?" Rex asked him.

"Nothing a little bacta won't fix." Hackjob took off his bucket and studied Rex seriously. "Do you understand now, vod?"

Rex swallowed.

"I think so." He said. "But if I can only perform if a brother is in danger-"

"That's not the point." Hackjob said. "The important thing is that you have the capability."

Rex was silent. That capability was locked behind specific situations. How could he be relied on in battle?

"You know what you can do now." Hackjob said. "You know what you can strive for. You can push harder."

Instead of feeling reassured, Rex only felt exhausted.

"I know." Rex said. "I'm just- I'm just tired, Hack."

Hackjob reached out and pressed his forehead against Rex's.

"I'm sorry, vod." He said. "If anyone deserves rest, it's you. But too many people are relying on you. Please, for their sake and mine, keep going."

Rex closed his eyes as Hackjob released him. Today he had seen what he needed to change, what he could change. He was tired, but he knew what he had to do. And he would do it.


The morning meal the next day was subdued. Nearly no one spoke. Even Hackjob had little to say. Rex would have thought they would be a little excited for combat. They were clones after all. Then again, medics were medics for a reason.

Then the moment came and Rex found himself in the hanger watching clones and supplies alike be packed into transports. Hackjob reached out and grasped Rex's arm.

"Work hard, Rex." He said seriously.

"Take care of yourself." Rex said quietly. "Ret'urcye mhi, vod."

Hackjob gave a wan smile.

"Ret'urcye mhi." He replied.

Then he was gone, the transport took off, and Rex was left alone. He stared out of the hanger, following the ships with his eyes as they transported the medics to the Venator above.

Then he turned slowly around and walked back into the station. He made his way to his usual exercise room. Neya Ha was waiting for him there.

"Hackjob has left?" Neya Ha asked as Rex settled himself down.

"Yeah." Rex said shortly.

"I would like to perform a physical before the other Kaminoans arrive." Neya Ha said.

Rex looked sharply at the doctor. Neya Ha knew Rex still struggled with procedures like that, even with Hackjob.

"Why didn't you do it yesterday?" He asked.

They had had time; Hackjob and Rex had spent the rest of the day just exercising.

"Hackjob wanted you to have a relatively stress-free day." Neya Ha said. "And we could not do it earlier due to your- attitude."

Rex winced.

"I thought you would prefer the physical without the other Kaminoans." Neya Ha went on.

Rex very much would have liked to not have the other Kaminoans leering at him during such a vulnerable process, but he still balked at the idea of Neya Ha doing it.

"Sawbones is still around." Rex said. "Couldn't he-"

"Sawbones is currently the only on duty medic on the station." Neya Ha said gently. "I am sorry, Rex, but I am your only option."

Rex sighed and ran a hand through his hair. It was getting a bit longer. He really needed to shave it.

"All right." He conceded.

Rex endured the physical far better than he had anticipated. Still, only half way through and he was sweaty and tense.

"I apologize that this is such a distressing experience for you." The doctor said, pausing in his work. "Would it be beneficial if I spoke as Hackjob does?"

"I-I don't know." Rex said. "It's different with Hackjob."

He resisted the urge to add that it was because Hackjob was his brother, and not a long neck scientist. He immediately felt bad for thinking poorly of Neya Ha. The doctor was almost a sort of friend.

Neya Ha finished and retrieved the serotonin simulator. He seemed thoughtful as he placed it on Rex's head. Rex lay back and closed his eyes.

"I know you are prejudiced against my kind." Neya Ha spoke suddenly after Rex had finally gotten comfortable.

Rex blinked his eyes open and glanced at the doctor, who was sitting in a nearby chair.

"You have good reason to." Neya Ha went on. "The Kaminoans can be cruel and ruthless and certainly have been so towards the clones."

Rex turned and met Neya Ha's placid gaze. He wanted to ask what the Kaminoans had done to him.

"I will be honest with you." Neya Ha said. "Things will be different when the Kaminoan doctors come tomorrow."

"You think?" Rex muttered.

"Not only in a general way. I will be different." Neya Ha said. "I will have to be different."

Rex furrowed his brow.

"What do you mean?"

"Up until this point I have been able to act as myself in your company. This is not possible with other Kaminoans. I would like to apologize for anything I may say from now on that may upset you."

Neya Ha seemed to be the one who was upset. He rubbed his long fingers together.

"It is not ideal for your mental recovery." He said. "But it is necessary."

"So you'll be acting like all the other Kaminoans." Rex said.

"Yes." Neya Ha said. "I am sorry."

Rex shrugged.

"We're used to them." He said flatly.

"That does not mean that how they treat you is right." Neya Ha said.

"No, but it's just how things are." Rex said. "I'll be all right."

He didn't know if that was true. In fact, he was terrified. He was losing, in a way, his only support left. How was he supposed to do this?

Chapter Text

Rex could see the change in Neya Ha when the Kaminoans first disembarked. He hadn't noticed before, but the doctor slouched. Now he straightened to his full towering height. His hands, which he was normally constantly moving, were folded at his front.

"Doctor Neya Ha." The first long neck said as she approached them.

Rex recognized her. Nala Se. One of the terrors of Kamino.

"Doctor Nala Se." Neya Ha replied with a dip of his head.

Nala Se's bulbous eyes flicked to Rex.

"This is CT-7567, I presume." She said.

"Yes." Neya Ha said.

"Why is he here?" Nala Se asked. "It was not necessary for him to be involved in our arrival."

Rex glanced up at Neya Ha. His face remained calm, though Rex could see his hands twist slightly. The truth was that Neya Ha had confessed to be nervous and had asked Rex to be there when the other Kaminoans arrived.

"It is best that CT-7576-" Neya Ha said.

Nala Se immediately narrowed her eyes at the mistake. Rex guessed that Neya Ha was too used to saying his name. He remembered that Ahsoka used to get their numbers wrong all the time as a young Padawan. She always got their names right, though.

"Forgive me, a slip of the tongue." Neya Ha amended. "It is best that CT-7567 remains under near constant supervision. The clones are creatures designed to stay in a pack. This desire has been exacerbated since the other clones were removed."

Nala Se frowned.

"That is not a desirable trait." She said.

The other Kaminoans were moving past them, a walking forest of gangly necks and bulging eyes.

"We are working on a solution." Neya Ha said.

Nala Se looked down at Rex and Rex immediately lowered his eyes.

"It seems foolishness to me to attempt to repair this clone." She said.

Rex tried not to flinch.

"It is damaged far beyond anything we have attempted to mend before." She went on. "Both physically and mentally."

"We have orders to repair it regardless, do we not?" Neya Ha said.

"Yes." Nala Se said with a hint of weariness. "We will monitor your process with the clone and determine how effective your methods are."

She turned her gaze to Rex again.

"We will require a physical to determine its status."

Rex felt his chest tighten. Neya Ha was one thing, but normal longnecks performing a physical?

"That is not necessary." Neya Ha quickly said. "I sent the results of yesterday's physical to you."

"We require to see this for ourselves." Nala Se said. "Your reports have been- inconsistent."

Neya Ha stiffened immediately. Rex stole a glance at him. Inconsistent? What was Neya Ha putting in the reports?

"In any case, we will determine for ourselves the clone's progress." Nala Se said.

Rex had had physicals performed by Kaminoans before, when he was a little. It had been uncomfortable then, but now he was nearing a panic attack as three new Kaminoans watched him undress. Neya Ha was there, and Rex tried to focus on him.

Nala Se nodded to one of the newcomers, who approached Rex. Rex clutched at the sides of the examination table. Soft, clammy hands touched his ribs.

They turned to claws, digging into his flesh. Rex yelled, pushing at the talons. Mutterings he couldn't understand surrounded him. He crashed to the floor, trying to get away. The Karkadoan stalked towards him with a glint in its eyes. Rex scrambled away, but found himself cornered within seconds.

"Rex!"

That was a brother's voice. The guards were trying to get to him, but it was too late. The Karkadoan was closing in-

"Rex, look at me!"

There was suddenly a figure between Rex and the Karkadoan.

It was Sawbones.

"You okay?" He asked.

The Karkadoan's form wavered and vanished.

Rex nodded, breaths coming in gasps. He could see the Kaminoans watching from behind Sawbones. He realized he was jammed in a corner.

"That was a bad one, huh?" Sawbones went on with a tight smile.

"First one in a while." Rex muttered.

Sawbones' eyebrow quirked upward. Rex realized it was the first time he had spoken directly to the medic since his surgery.

"I'll stay if I can." Sawbones said.

"Thanks."

Sawbones helped Rex up and back to the examination table.

"Madame Se," Sawbones said. "I can perform the rest of the examination. In case he reacts poorly again."

Nala Se blinked slowly at Sawbones, but nodded.

Rex managed to stay in the present during the rest of the physical, but he shook badly and could barely follow Sawbones' instructions. Finally, finally, Rex was allowed to dress again. He briefly wondered if this was all worth it.

The next part was better. The Kaminoans watched as he went through a few brief workouts and exercises.

"He is indeed at the physical level you have informed us of." Nala Se told Neya Ha as Rex finished. "However, his mental state is far different than in your reports."

"Today has been an exception." Neya Ha said. "On average he is far more improved than he has displayed today. The loss of his normal medic and introduction of foreign participants may have caused an anomaly."

Nala Se stared at Neya Ha, who submissively lowered his eyes.

"The fact that he cannot adjust to these changes is worrying." Nala Se said. "This furthers my concern that this unit is no longer fit for duty, and cannot become so again."

"We were instructed to repair this unit." Neya Ha said.

"It may be impossible to do so. However, I will observe it for a time before I make my recommendation." Nala Se said.

The rest of the day was Rex being watched by Nala Se as he went through his exercises. Neya Ha had suggested the shooting range rather than the sims. While Rex did perform somewhat better there, he knew it was not up to standard. He couldn't help but feel that Nala Se was studying him for reasons to argue for his decommissioning. Neya Ha was stiff and quiet the whole day. When he spoke to Rex, it was bland and distant. Rex had never noticed how emphatic Neya Ha normally was, at least compared to other Kaminoans.

Rex finally retired to his room. It was too quiet without Hackjob. He sank onto his bunk and checked his datapad. The only new message was the updated list of fallen clones. Rex closed his eyes and pressed a fist to his forehead.

The door chimed. Rex looked up in surprise.

"Come in." He called.

The door opened and Neya Ha ducked inside. Rex blinked. The Kaminoan had never visited their quarters before.

"How are you feeling?" Neya Ha asked.

"I don't know how well I can do with them watching." Rex said.

"That is to be expected." Neya Ha said. "I believe Nala Se knows this."

Rex put a hand to his head.

"She's trying to kill me." He muttered. "She wants me to get worse mentally and have me decommissioned."

"I'm afraid I agree." Neya Ha said. "I believe in Nala Se's eyes, you are irreparably defective due to your actions regarding Commander Ahsoka Tano."

Neya Ha's gaze shifted to a point above Rex's head.

"I'm afraid I have worsened the situation." He said. "I- have been falsifying the reports regarding your condition."

Rex snapped his head up.

"What?" He asked. "You've been telling me that they've been fine with my progress!"

"Because I have been lying about it." Neya Ha said. "It is why Hackjob was transferred. They believe you to be ready to return to the field in two months and that you are only physically behind."

Rex stared at the doctor, who was looking down in shame. He was ashamed that his first thought was that if it weren't for Neya Ha, it all would have been over much sooner.

"I did so when it became apparent you were not recovering as quickly as we had anticipated. I had hoped that if it seemed you were progressing on schedule, they would find no reason to interfere." Neya Ha said. "Then Hackjob and I would be able to find a way to help you. I was- not willing to let you be decommissioned."

Rex felt an odd jolt as something clicked about Neya Ha's behavior.

"That's what's wrong with you." Rex said. "You care and the other Kaminoans can't."

Neya Ha blinked slowly.

"You are correct." He said. "I possess a genetic mutation that allows me to feel more compassion than most Kaminoans. I inherited it from my mother."

"So you're like me." Rex said. "A small defect, and they let you live."

"Hardly." Neya Ha said. "If the other Kaminoans knew of this, I would be immediately killed. My people saw compassion as a hindrance to survival and a trait of lesser species. They bred it out of us."

"That- explains a lot." Rex said.

"Indeed. Comparatively to their own species, they are very lenient towards the clones." Neya Ha said. "You, for instance, and many of the custodial clones are allowed to live and have purpose. My sister was killed as an infant because her eyes were a deviation."

Neya Ha's voice lowered at the confession. Not only was it compassion that compelled Neya Ha to treat them well, but empathy.

"I'm sorry." Rex said.

"I suppose that is why I feel a kinship with the clones." Neya Ha said. "In any case, the Kaminoans are expecting you to be operating at a higher level than you have been used to. I will do what I can to assist, but you must be able to perform."

Rex didn't respond. Hackjob had shown him that he was capable of more, but after today, Rex didn't know if he wanted to be capable.

"Rex." Neya Ha said. "You forget that I monitor all of your incoming messages. There are many people who wish for your return."

A vein of bitterness rose in Rex's throat.

"What about what I want?" He asked.

"What do you want?" Neya Ha asked.

"I want to rest." Rex said. "I want to be done fighting clankers, or my brothers, or my own body."

"I did not take you to be a selfish man, Rex." Neya Ha said.

Rex snorted and looked down.

"Is it selfish to be tired?" He asked. "Because that's all I am."

Neya Ha looked at Rex for a long time.

"No." He said. "My sister was not given the choice to live. You are not given the choice to die."

Rex jerked his head up, but Neya Ha was already standing.

"You will live, Captain Rex." He said. "You do not have a choice."

He left the room, leaving Rex bitter in the dark.


The alarm for 0500 went off, blaring in Rex's ears. He slapped at it, turning it off, and then curled in on himself in his bed. Two weeks. Two weeks of forcing himself to be better. Two weeks of increasingly harder sims. Two weeks of keeping up a brave face when all he wanted to do was rest. Now he was at his limit. He didn't know where he had found the strength to do it in the first place.

No, he knew. Neya Ha had forced him to keep going. The Kaminoans had watched them both like shriek-hawks. Rex was managing to perform at a slightly lower level than the long-necks were expecting. He hoped it was enough. Or did he hope it wasn't? Some days he wasn't sure.

Rex vaguely wondered where Neya Ha was this morning. He usually didn't let Rex lie in bed this long.

Rex closed his eyes and wondered if he could maybe drift off to sleep. It seemed unlikely. Sleep was hard to come by these days, though Rex was exhausted.

The door opened with a hiss and Rex heard Neya Ha's footsteps approach his bed.

"Rex." Neya Ha said. "You must get up."

Rex pretended to be asleep.

"Rex." Neya Ha said in a tone that made Rex open his eyes. "A new transport of injured has arrived. Hackjob is among them."

Rex found himself rushing into the room Neya Ha had led him to with an energy he hadn't had in weeks. The room was packed with hover-stretchers bearing badly injured troopers. Rex quickly caught sight of the red medic symbol on a trooper's pauldron. He ran to the stretcher and grabbed Hackjob's hand. He felt a surge of emotion stronger than he had had in months as he saw the bloodied bandages covering half of Hackjob's face.

"Hackjob!" Rex croaked.

Hackjob's uncovered eye opened to a slit. He focused a bleary gaze on Rex before shutting his eye again.

He mumbled something that sounded like 'vod' through cracked lips.

"I'm here." Rex said. "You'll be okay. Where's-"

Rex looked around for a medic. He saw a few moving the stretchers. Rex was going to call out to one when he noticed the Kaminoans. They were walking among the wounded, instructing the medics. The medics would either leave the stretcher or begin to move it out of the room. Some of the troopers being taken away gave cries that tore at Rex's heart.

The Kaminoans were choosing which troopers were worth saving.

One was approaching Neya Ha and Rex.

"What is this, Neya Ha?" The Kaminoan asked. "This trooper is unauthorized to be here and you were not assigned to this duty."

"This is CT-7567's personal medic." Neya Ha said. "He learned of the medic's arrival and I determined it would be detrimental to his mental state if he did not come."

Rex thought it was a poor excuse. Evidently so did the other Kaminoan, as his eyes narrowed slightly.

"This was not wise." He said and checked his datapad. "This clone's injuries are too severe. It must be decommissioned."

"No!" Rex said, grasping more tightly to Hackjob's hand.

Rex was used to brothers dying. It was a fact of life. But to have a brother he loved condemned to die in front of him might have been too much.

"It is possible for CT-8131 to recover from his injuries." Neya Ha said.

"It would be permanently damaged." The Kaminoan said dismissively.

"CT-8131 is a medic." Neya Ha said. "One that is stationed here, away from battle. I believe any residual damage from these injuries would not impede its ability to perform its duties."

Hackjob shifted, giving a grunt of pain.

"Don't move." Rex told him.

"Not- the boss- of me." Hackjob muttered, but lay still.

Rex felt himself positioning himself between Hackjob and the Kaminoan, as if he could protect his brother with only his body.

"What is the issue?"

Nala Se had approached them.

"Doctor Neya Ha does not believe this clone should be decommissioned." The first Kaminoan said.

"Why is this?" Nala Se directed her question to Neya Ha.

"CT-8131 is a highly skilled medic. Its skills would be difficult to replace." Neya Ha said. "It would still be able to perform its duties with whatever residual damage it retains."

Rex didn't turn around to see Nala Se's face, but she must not have looked convinced because Neya Ha went on.

"I have been tasked with the repair of CT-7567. CT-8131 is imperative to its mental recovery." He said. "The loss of the medic may be irreparable."

"Then perhaps CT-7567 should not be repaired." Nala Se said. "Terminate CT-8131."

Hackjob seemed to hear and jerked under Rex's grip. Rex was forced to watch, helpless, as the medic approached Hackjob. The brother's face was pained and solemn.

"Lama Su will not be pleased to hear this." Neya Ha said.

He was angry. Rex could hear the slight sharpness in his normally gentle tone.

"Neither will he be pleased to hear of your loss of control over the child under your care. Or her near escape." Neya Ha said, words dripping with ice.

There was a silence. Rex didn't quite understand what Neya Ha meant, but he could sense the weight of his words.

"Do what you will with the trooper." Nala Se said. Her voice matched Neya Ha's in coldness.

Rex turned around to see her stalking off. The medic looked between Neya Ha and Nala Se, then relaxed and moved away.

"Thank you." Rex said once Nala Se was far enough away.

"There will be consequences for my actions." Neya Ha replied. "But I am willing to bear them. We must treat Hackjob."

Rex followed Neya Ha as the Kaminoan guided the stretcher away. Rex couldn't help but look back with a heavy heart at the other troopers in their stretchers. He wished desperately that he could do something for them.

"We have saved one." Neya Ha said quietly. "That is as far as our influence goes."

Rex swallowed and nodded. He looked down at Hackjob, who seemed to have lost consciousness. He was very aware that part of why Hackjob was alive was because of him. It seemed to make the weariness bearing down on him a little easier to bear.


Rex tried to relax. It wasn't easy. Having your brother suspended next to you in bacta was always unsettling. Hackjob was on his second day of dunking. Rex wasn't able to be by his side as much as he would have liked, but Neya Ha had helped him find the time after dinner.

Rex felt a nudge in his mind. He quickly checked the chrono. It was around his and Ahsoka's normal meeting time. Rex quickly closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He was ready to speak to her, at least a little.

It took a little while to settle down into the state of meditation required. Finally, she was there, first her presence and then her voice.

Rex?

I'm sorry, Ahsoka. For last time.

That wasn't what she was expecting.

You scared me. She said after a moment. What was going on?

Rex didn't quite know how to put it into words. So he tentatively took the memory of his despair and showed her a part of it. There was another pause.

Oh, Rex.

I'm doing better. He quickly added.

She didn't quite believe him.

But I'm still not at one hundred percent. He confessed.

May I see?

Rex hesitated before opening his mind a little wider to her.

He could feel Ahsoka carefully exploring his emotions. Sorrow was growing in her mind.

I'm sorry, Rex.

I'll survive. He told her.

She didn't reply in words, but suddenly he was engulfed in a wave of warm emotions. He weakly protested, feeling how much it strained her to do so. She ignored him and continued to hold his mind. He felt relaxed when she let go.

That will have to last. She said. We won't be able to do this for a while. We're joining Windu and Master Kenobi on Anaxes to help with the siege.

Good luck. He said. And- thank you.

Urcye mhi. She said.

Urcye mhi. He replied.

Rex was surprised when he opened his eyes to see Neya Ha standing in front of Hackjob's tank.

Rex was about to greet the doctor when he noticed Neya Ha's posture. His head was bowed, an interesting thing for a Kaminoan to do. His eyes were closed and his hands limp at his sides.

"Neya Ha?" Rex asked.

The doctor's only response was a tilt of his head towards Rex.

"Is there- something wrong?" Rex ventured.

"Nala Se has retaliated." Neya Ha said dully.

Rex's heart jumped into his throat. It could be anything from Neya Ha's reassignment to his execution.

"My privilege to contribute to the gene pool has been revoked." Neya Ha said. "I am no longer permitted to breed."

Rex blinked. It seemed an odd punishment, but it had affected Neya Ha deeply.

"I'm sorry." Rex said.

"I had hoped-" Neya Ha began twisting his hands. "I had hoped to pass my mutation on to at least a few of my children. Then perhaps compassion could have found its way back into the Kaminoan genome."

Neya Ha's head swayed in an interesting pattern that conveyed distress. Rex realized with a jolt that dark bruises were forming on the doctor's hands.

Rex didn't think before reaching out and grabbing Neya Ha's hand, pulling it away from the other. He barely noticed the clammy, squishy skin.

Neya Ha blinked down at Rex and surveyed the bruises with an air of surprise.

"Oh." He said. "Thank you."

"I'm sorry." Rex said again. "If it weren't for us-"

"I made my choice." Neya Ha's voice was quiet but firm. "I chose to save Hackjob's life."

"Thank you." Rex said.

"I consider you and Hackjob- friends." Neya Ha said. "And that is what you do for friends."

Neya Ha glanced at Rex with a strange look in his eyes. It was uncertain, but hopeful.

"Burc'ya vaal burk'yc, burc'ya veman." Rex said.

Neya Ha looked down at Rex with confusion.

"A friend during danger is a true friend." Rex said. "It's a Mandalorian saying. "

Neya Ha's eyes brightened. Rex briefly wondered if the doctor had had any friends before. Then Neya Ha's expression twisted into one of grief again.

"At least Hackjob lives." He muttered to himself.

Rex found he had another reason to keep going.


Rex stood, clenching and unclenching his fists, in the shuttle bay of the station. Hackjob leaned on crutches on his left, while Neya Ha stood quietly on his right. The shuttle to take Rex to his new assignment was now late by five minutes.

He wasn't going back to the 501st. Some higher up had requested a few ARC troopers for a long term reconnaissance mission. Neya Ha had immediately volunteered Rex for the task. It would not be as grueling as the siege on Anaxes, and Neya Ha hoped it would be a good transition. Rex hoped so too.

All three of them perked up as a shuttle came into view.

"Here we go." Hackjob said.

He gave Rex a smile. Or more accurately, half of his mouth turned upwards. The residual nerve damage from the blast Hackjob had been caught in had left half of his face paralyzed. He had trouble with his hands and legs too, but Neya Ha said with enough therapy, he would recover.

Rex managed to return the smile. He would miss Hackjob. His tenacious brother was one of the best men Rex had known.

"I want reports, you hear?" Hackjob went on.

"Of course." Rex said.

"I too would like updates, if it is not too much trouble." Neya Ha said.

"I'll be glad to." Rex said.

Neya Ha looked very pleased. The shuttle entered the bay and landed with the normal clunk and hissing.

The door opened and two troopers came walking down the ramp. Both bore the winged pauldrons and kamas of ARCs. One wore pale purple paint and the other was decorated in a dark green.

Rex felt a jolt of anxiety. It had been a while since he had acted as an ARC. He hoped his new squad wouldn't think too badly of him.

"I'm assuming we're picking up the trooper without crutches." The one in purple said.

"That's right." Rex said, stepping forward and extending a hand. "Captain Rex, 501st."

The purple trooper took it.

"Bev, 176th." He said. "This is Rust, 729th."

Rust gave a nod.

"Welcome aboard." His voice was slightly lower than the average trooper's.

"We're on a tight schedule." Bev said. "Let's go."

Rex turned to Hackjob and Neya Ha.

"Ret'urcye mhi." Hackjob said.

"Urcye mhi." Rex replied. "Don't leave it to chance."

Hackjob rolled his eyes before clasping Rex's arm. Rex proffered his hand to Neya Ha. The Kaminoan took it.

"Thank you." Rex said.

"Be well, Captain." Neya Ha said solemnly.

Rex nodded and turned back to Bev and Rust. He took a deep breath and stepped forward. Another step back to his men and Ahsoka.

"Let's get going." He said.

Chapter Text

"Get down!"

Ahsoka slammed herself into the nearest trooper, forcing them both into the mud. The cannon shot blazed over their heads and barrelled straight into a line of troopers behind them.

Ahsoka scrambled to her feet, the Force wailing in her head as more men died. Already Kix was directing medics to the impact site. The men in front and behind the spot continued advancing and shooting. Ahsoka batted a few blaster bolts away and fell back.

"Jesse!" She shouted over the comms.

"Here, sir!"

Jesse's armor was covered in mud. The only discerning feature Ahsoka could make out were his double winged pauldrons.

"What's the status?" She asked.

"We're nearly there, sir!" Jesse said. "We just have to get through this last defense!"

"What's left to scrap?" Ahsoka asked.

"Mostly those cannons, though it'll be difficult to get past them." Fives said as he jogged up to them.

"Fives, you and I will go around the rear and see what we can do." Ahsoka said.

She could nearly see Fives' grin as he nodded.

"Negative, sir." Jesse said. "They've holed themselves up well. Scouts report there are organic sensors surrounding those cannons and a dozen commando droids to each."

Ahsoka cursed and turned to Fives.

"Any ideas?" She asked.

"I hate to say it, but it sounds like we've got to take them head on." Fives said.

"No, that's not an option." Ahsoka said. "Give me a bit, I'll think of something."

They had the numbers to take the cannons out, but the cost in lives would be high. Ahsoka guessed that around half of the men would be killed in such an attempt.

"We don't have a bit, sir!" Jesse said. "We can't maintain this position."

Ahsoka bit her tongue to keep from giving the order to fall back. She couldn't just retreat, not with the Jedi Order breathing down her neck.

"You know how a full frontal assault would end up." Ahsoka said.

"In the base being captured. In a victory." Jesse said. "And Force knows that we need one."

He was right. It seemed that every kriffing battle on Anaxes ended in either a defeat or a stalemate. The Republic needed this, especially this base. It was originally a Republic shipyard; the entire siege could hinge on those ships.

But Ahsoka wasn't going to be the one to give them this victory. It was her men that meant the most. However, she couldn't just retreat without a reason the Council would accept, but maybe-

Ahsoka eyed the blaster bolts flying over their heads. She reached out in the Force very carefully and guided one of them. She closed her eyes before the bolt rammed into her shoulder, right where the armor plates met.

"Ahsoka!" Fives shouted as Ahsoka stumbled to the ground.

"Kix!" Jesse was already shouting.

The medic was there in seconds.

"What the hell kind of luck was that?" Kix muttered as he stripped her armor off. "That was the most unlucky shot I've ever seen."

"Just like everything else on Anaxes." Ahsoka said through gritted teeth. "We can't take those cannons without me. We'll have to back off."

Both Fives and Jesse stared at her.

"That bolt looked like it curved." Jesse said.

Ahsoka shrugged, then gasped in pain at the movement. Kix shook his head at her.

"We don't have time for that." Jesse said. "We have to take this place now."

"We can't!" Ahsoka retorted.

"We have the numbers!" Jesse said.

"I said to fall back, trooper!" Ahsoka snapped.

Jesse looked at Kix and gave a tiny nod.

"What-"

Kix jabbed a hypo in her neck. She gasped and jerked away, but it was too late.

Her vision began to fade and she saw Jesse turn away.

"The Commander's out of action! We have orders to take out those cannons at all costs!" He said over the main comm channel.

"No-" Ahsoka slurred. "No-"

Her mind faded.


Ahsoka struggled to wake up. Her lids felt as if they were sealed closed. She crawled her way to consciousness, slowly becoming aware of voices around her.

"-Skywalker at bay until she wakes up. Tell him she's been injured." She was fairly sure that was Fives' voice.

"It's technically the truth." That was Kix. "Kriffing idiot. I've never seen such a display of-"

"Display of what?" Ahsoka mumbled.

She felt distinctly annoyed at the medic. She couldn't quite remember why.

"Lie still, Commander." Kix's tone was apprehensive, as if he expected her to be irritated with him.

"What happened?" She asked.

Her eyelids still felt like durasteel weights.

"We won." Fives said.

There was a touch of defiance in his voice. Why-

Then she remembered the sting in her neck and she forced her eyes open.

Fives and Kix hovered at the foot of the medical bunk she was on. Kix's left hand was thickly bandaged and Fives had several bacta patches plastered to his face. Their expressions were mirrors of each other: an odd mix of defiance and guilt.

Ahsoka extended her senses to the group of men around the medical tent. She felt a hole open in her chest as she felt only a fraction of what it had been before. Ahsoka made herself sit up and her blaster wound screamed in protest. Kix took a step towards her, hand half raised, but Ahsoka shot him a glare.

"No." She said. "None of that. What the kriff, Kix?"

Kix stiffened and focused his gaze above her head.

"It was necessary for victory, sir." He said.

"Victory?" Ahsoka asked. "You wanted to win so badly you disobeyed and drugged your C.O.?"

Then she remembered Jesse's tiny nod.

"Where's Jesse?" She said, interrupting any response Kix had.

Fear plunged into her stomach as Fives and Kix exchanged a glance.

"Where is Jesse?" She repeated.

"He's a few beds over." Kix said. "Sir, please, not right now. He's been through hell-"

"He's about to go through it again!" Ahsoka snapped.

She swung her legs off the bunk and pushed herself to her feet. Kix and Fives both reached out but she glared at them. It was only her shoulder and whatever kriffing drugs Kix had forced on her. She took a few shaking steps and looked around. Her stomach rolled at the sight of the stuffed medical tent. There were at least a dozen injured troopers packed into the area..

"What were the casualties?" Ahsoka asked.

"Sir, maybe after you've rested some more-" Kix said.

"I said casualties, trooper!" Ahsoka said.

Kix looked at the ground.

"Seventy-eight dead, sir." He finally said. "And only around a dozen that weren't injured."

Ahsoka's heart twisted at the news. Almost half of Torrent had been cut down while she had been out of commission. Her anger blazed anew. She finally caught sight of Jesse's bold tattoo three beds down from hers.

She softened at the sight of him. His chest was bare and bandaged heavily and one arm was in a sling. Like Fives, he had bacta patches over around half of his face. She thought he was asleep, but his eyes flickered open as she approached.

"Commander." He said weakly. "How was your nap?"

"Explain yourself." Ahsoka said shortly.

Jesse closed his eyes again.

"You might have forgotten, sir, but there are some things more important than our lives." He said.

"No." Ahsoka said. "There should be nothing more important than the lives of my men."

"You're missing the big picture." Jesse said. "We are glad to lose our lives to assure a Republic victory. It brings us closer to peace and the safety of the Republic."

Ahsoka clenched her fists.

"I don't give a damn about the Republic." She said. "But I do care about what happens to you."

"Stop being selfish." Jesse said. "You might be protecting us, but you're ignoring what we want."

"You want to die?" Ahsoka asked.

"No." Jesse said. "We want to protect the people of the Republic. And if we have to die to reach that goal, so be it."

"So you'll disobey your commanding officer." Ahsoka said.

Jesse looked away.

"If I need to."

"Jesse!" Ahsoka said, but Jesse cut her off.

"You need to work with us instead of just taking control." He said. "Men died today because of your stubbornness."

"Because of my-" Ahsoka was too angry to finish. Jesse was the one who had ordered the men to their deaths.

She tried to turn around but found herself stumbling. Kix was immediately there, helping her up.

"I'll get you a pain shot." He said.

Ahsoka didn't say anything as he helped her back to her bed, but she didn't discourage him either. Her shoulder kriffing hurt and she didn't need to deal with that at the moment. Kix pulled out the hypo and a wave of panic crashed over Ahsoka. She lashed out and knocked the hypo out of Kix's hand.

Kix froze, confusion wrinkling the Force around him. Ahsoka, beyond the panic, was confused too. This was Kix. She had had some trouble with some of the healers, but never Kix. She trusted him.

Except- she couldn't now. Not after he'd drugged her like that. Kix knew what had happened to her. He should have known.

Kix seemed to understand, gauging by the resigned look on his face. He picked up the hypo, sterilized it, and handed it to Fives. Fives blinked, but administered the shot. Ahsoka didn't flinch.

"Commander." Kix said after a few minutes and the pain shot had taken effect. "Are you going to report Jesse?"

"No." Ahsoka said. "You know what would happen to him if this got out."

Kix's shoulders relaxed slightly.

"Thank you." He said. "And- I'm sorry."

Ahsoka didn't look at him.

"Don't ever question me again." She said.

"I can't promise that, sir." Kix said.

Ahsoka jerked her head to look at him. He seemed to wilt under her gaze.

"None of us can make that promise." Fives said. "Ahsoka, we have to do what's right."

Ahsoka glared at him but unlike Kix, he met her gaze. She couldn't hold the stare. His brown eyes, exactly like Rex's, were resolute. Ahsoka found that she wasn't quite sure what was right or wrong anymore.


They had to stay in the captured base for a rotation, waiting for a Republic force to come and replace them. Torrent couldn't hold the shipyard with their decreased numbers, especially since nearly everyone was injured. Ahsoka was relieved that they would be returning to the Republic base. It had been a hard battle, and after what Jesse and Kix had done, she felt exhausted. Hopefully she'd get a rest, and have an opportunity to speak with Rex. It had been too long.

She was also thankful for the bacta tanks waiting for her men at the base. As angry as she was with Jesse, his wounds were severe and she didn't want to watch him, or any of her men, be in pain longer than they had to be.

They were on the LAAT/i, flying back to base. Ahsoka hung out of the side, watching Anaxes' landscape go by.

"Please don't do that, sir." Ridge said. "You're scaring the shinies."

Ahsoka glanced back to see a small group of unpainted clones staring at her. She focused for a moment and felt their fear for her. She smiled at them. That seemed to make them more nervous.

She considered for a moment leaping out of the gunship to show them what she could really do, but her shoulder still ached and she was sure someone would lecture her about it, whether it be Kix or Anakin.

Speak of a Sith. Ahsoka thought as the gunship came in for a landing. Anakin was waiting for her, along with Windu.

"Ahsoka!" Anakin called as she disembarked.

"Hello, General." Ahsoka said. "How were things on your front?"

Anakin scowled.

"It's like they can access our battle plans." He said. "We can't seem to get a win."

"Congratulations on your victory." Windu said. "It was sorely needed."

Ahsoka hesitated before responding. If she had had her way, they wouldn't have taken the base.

"Thank you." She finally said. "Hopefully it's the first of many."

"Indeed." Windu said.

"Kix sent the casualty report ahead." Anakin said as Windu retreated. "I'm sorry."

Ahsoka didn't have a response. She would have said it was okay, but it wasn't. She had a hard time justifying the cost of men to take the base.

"Is the medbay prepared for the troops coming in?" Ahsoka asked.

Anakin nodded.

"I informed them." He said. "Let's get them in some bacta, okay?"

He must have sensed her distress. He was acting more like his old self than he had in months. He was treating her like his apprentice again, which she found wasn't entirely unwelcome.

"We're getting a new shipment of troopers within the next few days." He told her as they supervised the injured being offloaded.

"Great. Just what I need." Ahsoka said. "A new pack of shinies during one of the hardest sieges of the war."

"I don't think they're shinies." Anakin said. "I got the impression they were transfers from other legions."

"Even worse." Ahsoka said. "They'll be as stiff as carbonite when we get them and it'll take weeks to get them to unfreeze."

Anakin looked at her.

"What happened?" He asked. "I know that you lost a lot of men out there, but you won!"

Ahsoka made sure that Windu was out of earshot.

"I didn't give the orders that led to our victory." She said. "It was Jesse."

She quickly explained what had happened. Anakin listened with a frown.

"Don't report them." Ahsoka finished. "They're fools, but I still want them around."

Anakin was still frowning.

"We've always encouraged them to do what they think is right." He said.

Ahsoka was taken aback.

"They drugged me!" She said.

Anakin winced at her tone.

"Maybe they were over enthusiastic." He said, then his eyes narrowed. "But according to Kix, so were you. He thinks you purposefully got yourself shot."

It was Ahsoka's turn to wince.

"It's true?" Anakin stopped in his tracks and stared at Ahsoka, a familiar anger and disbelief flooding their bond. It seemed the only thing that came through was his disappointment or frustration these days. She pushed it aside and returned his gaze with defiance.

"Yes, I did. I knew the only way we were taking that base was if we sacrificed too many men. I thought they'd be forced to retreat if I were injured."

"This is war, Ahsoka!" Anakin said. "Kriff, I thought you understood that!"

"I do!" Ahsoka snapped back. "I've understood for almost four years!"

"Do you?" Anakin asked. "Because if you did, you would know that some sacrifices have to be made!"
"Sacrifices?" Ahsoka said. "Do you know what it feels like now? Every kriffing time one of those men is sacrificed? The Force screams in my head over and over again and they keep dying!"

"They die, yes!" Anakin said. "I'm sorry you can feel it so strongly, but you need to look beyond the battle, Ahsoka! If those men didn't die today, the fight for Anaxes would be longer and more men would die!"

"They shouldn't have died!" Ahsoka said. "They wouldn't have died if they had just listened to me!"

"They know their duty." Anakin said.

"My duty is to keep them safe." Ahsoka hissed. "Because I'm the only one who gives a damn whether they live or die!"

She didn't hear Anakin's reply because she stalked away. She shut their bond down to ward off any parting shots he could send her way.

Why couldn't they understand? The men's lives were worth more than anything, even her own.


The 501st were assigned to stay in the base until their newcomers arrived. Ahsoka hated the time they were there, though she knew it was good for the men. They needed time to heal. She couldn't stay away from the men, even if she was still angry at Kix. Kix walked on eggshells around her. Jesse would have been an issue as well, but he had been in a bacta tank since they returned. Fives was attempting to stay neutral on the matter, but Ahsoka could tell he agreed with Kix and Jesse.

The rest of the men didn't know she hadn't ordered the attack, so she pretended she had. They didn't need to know that Jesse had undermined her orders. She hid her anger and pretended everything was okay.

She hadn't really spoken to Anakin after their argument. She regretted that she was clashing so much with her former master. She didn't know what to do about it. Ever since she had left the Order and revealed Palpatine's scheming, he had been distant. It seemed the only communication they had with each other was relaying information or an argument.

She had also tried to communicate with Rex during their few days of sparse rest. He hadn't replied. He had definitely been getting better, but it made her worry that he might have fallen back into a depression.

"Sir, the new troops have just arrived."

Ahsoka looked up from her Sabacc cards. She was losing, and badly, to Shiv. Jump-up had approached her with the news.

"Good." Ahsoka said. "Ridge, take over for me."

Ridge grimaced but accepted her cards. It wasn't like they were betting real money anyway. Ahsoka nodded to Fives, who handed his own cards to Deck before standing up to join her.

"You don't have to greet every new batch." Fives told her as they made their way through the base. "You're not the general."

"It helps them relax." Ahsoka said. "There's nothing worse than a trooper who thinks he has to be at attention whenever you're within a parsec of them."

Fives rolled his eyes.

"I can think of a lot of things worse than that." He said. "Don't be dramatic."

"This coming from the trooper who declared his life was over when he lost that last round." Ahsoka said.

Ahsoka could see the line of LAAT/i unloading the troopers. She grimaced. She wished they had given more of a warning. She liked to be here when the ships landed.

Something in her mind twinged. Ahsoka stopped in her tracks and let her head turn towards the source.

Two troopers were standing right outside one of the gunships. Their hands were on the back of each other's heads and their foreheads were pressed together. One was Cody. The other-

Ahsoka broke into a run. How had she not sensed him before? How had she not felt him coming?

Rex released Cody and turned to face Ahsoka. His warm brown eyes met her gaze. His lips quirked up into a small smile.

Ahsoka reigned in the desire to throw her arms around him; she knew it would make him uncomfortable with so many brothers around. Instead, when she reached him, she stretched out her arm. He clasped his hand around her forearm. His other hand reached to the back of her head and pulled her forward to press his forehead to hers.

At the contact their bond burst into golden light. Ahsoka nearly gasped at the intensity of his presence. For a moment she just bathed in it, relished how easy it was to feel.

Hello, Ahsoka. His voice echoed warmly in her mind. We meet again.

I told you we would. She replied.

She thought there was a mirror of her own reluctance in his mind as she let go. She took the opportunity to study his face. His blonde hair was longer; long enough to curl slightly over his forehead. A large jagged scar crossed his face now. Ahsoka had hoped that the wound wouldn't leave a mark, but it had. His stance was- off and Ahsoka remembered that he had a cybernetic leg now.

There was a scar he was missing. Ahsoka resisted the urge to reach up and touch his right temple, where she knew the chip was hiding.

She had chosen not to tell him. There was no point; he was too heavily monitored to get it out. And- after his surgery, she had been afraid to. He had been so dark, so fragile. She was sure the news would have broken him.

She looked into his gently smiling face. She should tell him- tell him soon. But not now. He was happy. And they couldn't get it out until they returned to the Defiant.

"Captain!" Fives had arrived. "Good to see you!"

"Good to see you too, Fives." Rex said.

He repeated the gesture of touching his forehead to Fives'.

"Where's the General?" Rex asked as he let go of Fives.

"Indisposed." Ahsoka said.

"Ah." Rex said. "I'll see him in a bit then."

"Commander! Fives! Captain!"

The three turned to see a trooper with shoulder length hair jogging towards them. He had the pauldrons and kama of an ARC trooper.

Fives gave a roar of delight and practically tackled Tup.

Ahsoka hurried to follow him and clasped hands with her trooper.

"They didn't say you were coming back!" Ahsoka said.

"I asked the General to keep it a secret." Tup said.

"Where's Jesse?" Rex asked.

There was a tinge of fear in his voice.

"He's getting dunked." Fives said. "The last battle was a doozy."

Ahsoka felt a surge of anger at his words. It hadn't needed to have been a 'doozy' if they had just listened to her.

"I'm sorry to hear that." Rex said.

His gaze flicked to Ahsoka and she knew he had felt her rush of emotion. To her mild surprise, he didn't question it.

"Come on, Captain." Fives said eagerly. "The boys will want to see you."

"I should stay with the Commander." Rex said. "She'll need help corralling all these new troopers."

"I can give her a hand, Rex." Cody said. "I'm all caught up on my paperwork and I don't have much else to do right now."

Ahsoka assumed that was a lie; Cody was a Marshall commander and they always had something else to do.

"Go on, Rex." Ahsoka said. "If you don't and word gets out you're back, they'll just come to you."

We can talk later. She added mentally.

Rex gave a sharp nod.

"See you in a bit, Commander." Tup said with a grin.

The three troopers saluted her and Fives began dragging both Tup and Rex behind him. Ahsoka smiled as she watched them go, her worries for the moment lifted. She turned back to the group of new troopers lined up in rows.

"All right men," Ahsoka said to them. "We'll start with your names and numbers."

Chapter Text

Rex was greeted by his brothers with barely suppressed delight. Fives must have commed ahead because the barracks were filled with straight backed clones at attention. As he entered they all smoothly saluted.

"At ease." Rex said.

They all relaxed and the smiles they had been repressing broke out. All of their gazes felt heavy on Rex, but he just nodded to them.

"Welcome back, Captain." Kix said.

"Thank you, Kix." Rex said. "I assume you've been taking good care of the men while I've been gone?"
Kix looked offended at the question.

"Of course I have." He said. "Do you have so little faith in us, Captain?"

"I have perfect faith in you." Rex said. "I was worried the rest of the legion got into too much trouble for you to handle."

"Oh, we've tried." Fives said cheerfully. "You'd be surprised though, Rex. Jesse was a huge killjoy as Captain."

"That's part of the job description." Rex said.

The banter came easily to Rex, but each word seemed to chip away at him. Neya Ha had warned him that he might not be able to handle as much social interaction as he had before. Well, he could endure his men's company for now. He owed them that.

A majority of the troopers gathered around Rex and Tup, asking excited questions. Tup luckily drew their attention away from Rex. Being a new ARC trooper made him plenty interesting, and if Rex was honest, Tup was a bit more approachable than Rex himself.

Rex noticed a subset of clones gathered farther away. Curiosity and apprehension was reflected in their eyes.

They didn't approach the entire time Rex spent with his men. They were separate from their brothers, and it bothered Rex.

It also bothered him to not see the Republic cog among the eager faces around him.

"Kix," Rex said. "Take me to see Jesse."

The medic nodded and helped Rex maneuver through the crowd of brothers. It was slow going, as Rex couldn't resist clasping the arms of any brother who proffered theirs. He had missed them, and it was good to be back.

The medical bay was filled with too many troopers. Rex grimaced at the sight of so many brothers injured. Kix led Rex to the room of bacta tanks. Each one held a trooper. Kix pointed to a nearby tube of blue goo. Jesse was easy to recognize, with his large Republic cog. Rex approached the tank. His chest constricted at the sight of his younger brother suspended helpless in bacta. Ahsoka had felt the same when Rex had been in the tank.

Rex waited patiently. One tended to sleep for most of the time when in bacta, but Rex was willing to stay here until Jesse saw him. Kix even wandered off to return to his medic duties. Rex relished the quiet of the bacta room, even if the floating troopers were a little eerie.

Finally Jesse's eyes cracked open. Rex smiled at him, though he knew Jesse wouldn't be able to see much through the bacta. Jesse's eyes widened and he jerked in the harness.

"Hey, udesii, vod." Rex said aloud.
Jesse seemed to have heard Rex, as he stopped moving and stared down at him.

"It's good to see you." Rex went on.

Jesse nodded slightly.

"You've done an ori'jate job as Captain." Rex went on. "Thank you."

Jesse closed his eyes again and Rex guessed he was falling back asleep. The fact that he'd stayed awake this long was impressive.

"Get back on your feet soon." Rex said. "We'll need everyone we've got to win this siege."

Jesse didn't respond. Rex heaved a sigh and put a hand on the cool tank.

"Rest while you can." He muttered.

He turned from the tank and walked among the others to see if there were any more troopers that he knew. After giving each a few moments, Rex started his way back to the barracks.

"Rex!"

Rex looked up to see General Skywalker approaching with a grin.

"Good to have you back, Captain." Anakin said, reaching an arm out.

Rex clasped the General's arm.

"Good to be back." He said.

The General seemed- off. Rex had been confused when he'd learned that the General had been seeing his wife rather than greeting the new troopers. He usually made meeting the shinies a priority.

Rex studied the General's eyes for a moment. They seemed distant, like his thoughts were elsewhere. Rex could guess exactly where they were.

Anakin walked with Rex a ways, filling him in on the last few battles.

"Ahsoka's really taking charge." He said.

It was a declaration that Rex would have thought would be filled with pride. There was some pleasure in Anakin's voice, but there was also a melancholy there.

"Is everything all right, sir?" Rex asked.

Anakin blinked.

"Besides losing two thirds of our battles, yes." He said. "Why do you ask?"

He sounded genuinely confused. Rex shrugged.

"No reason in particular."

"I've got some reports to do." Anakin said after an awkward moment. "Let me know if your leg gives you any trouble."

He waved his cybernetic hand at Rex.

"I'll see you around."

Rex nodded.

"Thank you, sir."

When the General left, Rex considered going back to the barracks. The prospect of being jumped again made him wince. Hackjob had told him to make time for himself.

Rex walked the length of the runway. It was mostly deserted, save for a few mechanics working on the ships. They nodded as he passed. Finally he reached the edge of the platform on which the base was built. It overlooked a kilometers wide river that glistened in the setting sun.

Rex sat down on the edge of the platform and admired the view. Anaxes seemed nice, at least when the ground wasn't scorched by blasterfire and the air shattered by ordnance. He undid his gauntlets and sighed with relief as he slipped them off and laid them aside. While he was proficient with them, they still made his hands ache. He rubbed at them for a minute, but it didn't do much good. Hackjob had suggested getting someone to help him knead his hands, but who was Rex supposed to ask? It had been awkward enough with Hack, and he had seen more of Rex than anyone else.

Rex closed his eyes and bathed the setting sun. He had missed natural light. It was warm and pleasant on his skin. A similar feeling was growing larger in his mind.

"Are the shinies settled?" Rex asked as Ahsoka sat down next to him.

"I wouldn't call them shinies." Ahsoka said. "They've seen battle. They're mostly dregs from platoons that didn't make it."

"I know." Rex said. "I just hope they hold up."

"They seemed fine." Ahsoka said. "Some of them aren't pleased to change their armor colors."

"Too bad good taste isn't genetic." Rex said.

He loved the 501st blue. The General had picked it, and while Rex had been neutral on the shade at first, it had come to mean so much more.

"How are you?" She asked.

Rex opened his mind to her. He had little apprehension about it. While he still struggled somewhat, he was far and beyond the wretched creature he had been on the medical station.

"Good." Ahsoka murmured. "Good."

Silence fell over them. Rex basked in not only the sun, but her presence next to him. She felt so different, but at the core it was still so very much Ahsoka. Speaking across the galaxy was an all right substitute, one he had been very grateful for, but nothing compared to having her beside him.

He opened his eyes and looked at her.

She was looking across the river. Her face was relaxed and the sunset cast a warm glow over her auburn skin. The blue of her lekku, he suddenly noticed, was almost the 501st blue he loved so much.

Kriff, when had she become so, so-

Rex had always known that Ahsoka was attractive, but in the same way that he knew General Skywalker or General Kenobi was attractive. Others would be attracted to them, but not Rex. But now- now there was something about how her lekku had grown past her ribs, how her cheekbones had become more prominent, how her white markings had elongated and subtly changed form that made it so he couldn't stop staring at her.

She wasn't a child anymore: far from it.

She turned to meet his gaze with her soft blue eyes. She cocked an eyebrow.

"What are you looking at?" She asked.

The spell was broken and Rex was suddenly ashamed and horrified by his thoughts. He'd managed to keep them in the private corner of his mind, where Ahsoka would never look, but she was his commander. It was highly inappropriate for him to think of her that way, even if she was one of the most stunning things he'd ever seen.

"Your armor." Rex managed. "I'm glad you finally decided to get some."

She shrugged.

"Kix wouldn't leave me alone." She said.

"More than usual?" Rex asked dryly.

Ahsoka rolled her eyes.

"Speaking of which." She said, before removing her vambraces. She stretched her arms out in front of her

"It's nice out." She said. "At least we wage war on a pretty planet."

Rex didn't respond. His focus was on the blue tattoo on her forearm. Jaig eyes. He half lifted his hand, overcome with a desire to touch it.

She noticed his gaze and flushed.

"You've done so much for me." She said in way of explanation.

Rex nodded slowly. Then it was for him, and not some wild decision to emulate the Mandalorians.

"Er- thank you." He said. "Commander."

She looked down, her blush intensifying. Then she seemed to notice his hands. Her brow furrowed and sadness crossed her face. Rex caught a glimpse inside her mind.

"No." Rex said. "None of that."

"None of what?" Ahsoka asked.

"You can't blame yourself for what happened to me." Rex said firmly.

"You have to admit it happened because of me." Ahsoka said.

"I will not." Rex said. "It didn't happen because of any choice you made."

She frowned at him.

"Can I at least feel bad that it happened?" She asked.

"For five minutes." Rex replied. "Then you have to pick yourself up and move on. Dwelling on it won't change anything."

"I'm sure you didn't dwell on it at all." Ahsoka said with a raised eyebrow.

"You know I did." Rex said. "And it held me back."

Ahsoka nodded and looked back over the river. Rex watched her for a moment. Something else was on her mind, something she was upset over.

"Anything else on your mind?" He asked after a few moments of silence.

Ahsoka's hands clenched where they were resting on her legs.

"I'm trying my hardest to keep the promise I made to you." She said. "But the men are making it difficult."

"Difficult?" Rex asked. "What happened?"

Ahsoka explained what had happened during their last battle. As Rex listened, he experienced an odd jumble of shock, anger, and understanding.

"Why won't they let me protect them?" Ahsoka finished. "It's like they want to die!"

"Ahsoka," He said slowly, taking care to choose his words. "We don't want to die, but you have to understand. We have a duty. When you made that promise, I wasn't asking you to prevent every clone death possible. I was asking you to keep things fair."

"You being here isn't fair!" Ahsoka said.

"We're soldiers." Rex said "We understand the risks. It's when we're thrown away when they think we're useless. That's what I wanted you to protect them from, and to not risk their lives unnecessarily. It was necessary this time."

"So you're okay with them drugging me?" Ahsoka asked.

"No. What they did was wrong. I'll have to have words with them." Rex said. "But they must have felt that they had to, because you weren't listening to them. Getting yourself intentionally injured isn't what any of us want!"

"It's what I want."

"You want to be-"

"No! I just want-" Ahsoka took a deep breath. "You're willing to give up your lives for the Republic and I'm willing to give my life up for you."

"I know you are, but we have to find a balance." Rex said. "I am grateful to you for protecting our men and doing everything you can, but there's a limit."

She looked away and then suddenly snorted.

"What do you do when you have two parties that are so willing to die for the other?" She asked.

"We ran into that problem on Saleucami." Rex said with a smile.

"I'm still angry with you about that." Ahsoka said.

"Really." Rex said.

He could tell she was changing the subject on purpose, but he let it go for now.

"What about you?" She asked. "There's something on your mind."

Rex nodded.

"Yeah."

He took a moment to collect his thoughts.

"There are so many troopers in the 501st that I don't know." He said. "I used to know all of their names."

"There are some you didn't even get to meet." Ahsoka said softly.

Rex got a flash of grief from her and a memory of her holding a dying trooper on Felucia. Rex's heart twisted.

"I don't know if-" He said.

"If what?" Ahsoka asked.

"I don't know if I should be the Captain again." He said.

"Rex!" Ahsoka said. "You're the best captain there is."

"I was." Rex corrected her. "Because I knew my men. I think Jesse should be permanently promoted, and stay as Captain."

"Then they'll just transfer you away!" Ahsoka's voice had taken on an edge of fear.

"I'm pretty sure after what they did to you, they'll do whatever you want."

"You'd think that." Ahsoka said.

"General Skywalker will make sure I stay with the 501st." Rex said. "But I honestly think that Jesse is the better man for the job."

"What will you do, then?" Ahsoka asked. "Go back into the ranks as a normal trooper?"

"You forget I was an ARC before I was Captain." Rex said.

"Then they'll just send you away."

"Fives has stuck around." Rex said. "And Tup has managed to make his way back to us."

Ahsoka looked at Rex. Rex had to suppress a shiver at her intense gaze.

"If you're sure." She said.

"I am." Rex said. "It'll be for the best."

"I'll talk to Anakin then." Ahsoka said.

"Thank you." Rex replied.

They sat again in silence. Rex felt better that he had gotten something off his chest, if not everything.

"There's something else." Ahsoka said, jolting Rex. "Something since you were on the medical station."

Rex closed his eyes.

"You'd think I'm crazy." He said.

"I know you're not." Ahsoka said. "You think I wouldn't know if the person I was bonded to was insane?"

Rex's heart did an odd flutter when she mentioned their bond. He scolded himself internally. They'd been bonded for months now, there was no reason to react like that!

"We've been losing so many battles lately." He finally said. "I've been keeping track. All of them, they're my plans."

Mine and Echo's Rex added in his mind.

"What if they've found something, an algorithm, that cracks me?" He asked.

"That's impossible." Ahsoka said with a frown.

"Is it?" Rex asked. "Just imagine it for a second."

"How could they do that? Why would they just crack you? No other legions or battalions have been having this level of losses. You'd think they'd-" Ahsoka said.

"I don't know." Rex interrupted. "I don't know exactly. But I'm sure it has something to do with my plans."

"What else aren't you telling me?" Ahsoka asked. "Rex?"

Rex stared at his mutilated hands.

"Most of these plans." He whispered. "Are variations of plans I drew up with- with Echo. I think he's alive."

Ahsoka was silent.

"Go on." Rex said. "Tell me I'm crazy."

"I don't know." Ahsoka said. "I want to believe Echo's alive. I want to get someone back after losing so many. But the explosion-"

"It is possible that he survived the initial blast." Rex said.

"But why would the Separatists treat him?" Ahsoka asked.

"That was my thought." Rex said. "But- I don't know, there's just something going on."

Ahsoka put a hand on his arm.

"We'll figure it out." She said. "I think we can go to Anakin with what you said about an algorithm. It wouldn't hurt to look into."
"Thank you." Rex said.

"Come on." She said. "You're tired, and if we're going to talk to Anakin, you'll want to be at your best."

"What's wrong with him?" Rex asked as he stood and gathered up his gauntlets.

"I don't know." Ahsoka said. "Learning what Palpatine did to me and to you; it's really shaken him. I'm practically leading the 501st now."

"It was a shock." Rex said carefully.

"It's been over six months. He spends more and more time speaking with Padme. He still leads us in battle, but he's just different." Ahsoka said. "He doesn't talk to me anymore. I hurt him when I left the Order."

"He'll come around." Rex reassured her. "It must be hard for him."

Ahsoka shrugged.

"He's struggling and I don't know what to do. He won't let me in. I doubt he's talking to Obi Wan." She said. "Maybe he'll open up to you."

"Maybe he's finally feeling the effects of the war." Rex said. "Let's focus on winning Anaxes. And then we can see what we can do to help."
"Okay." Ahsoka said.

He could feel that she was still worried.


The next day they first went to Cody with the idea, omitting Rex's suspicions about Echo.

"It makes more sense than what anyone else has come up with." Cody said. "I think you're right. The Generals will want to hear this."

Ahsoka wasn't pleased to see Windu with Anakin gathered around the holo projector. She was surprised to see Windu paying more attention to Rex's explanation than Anakin was.

"What do you propose?" Windu asked.

"Let Rex and me take a small squad behind enemy lines." Cody said. "There's a Separatist Cyber Center which relays all battlefield intel to their command ship. If we're going to find anything, it will be there."

Windu nodded thoughtfully.

"What about you, Commander Tano?" He asked.

"I was planning on accompanying them." Ahsoka said.

Anakin's eyes immediately narrowed.

"Ahsoka-"

"Captain Rex has only just now returned to the battlefield. I believe things would go more smoothly if I went." Ahsoka cut off any excuse Anakin had for making her stay.

"I agree." Windu said. "Commander Tano's skills will be of a great benefit to any covert team."

Ahsoka managed not to stare open mouthed at Windu's compliment.

"Thank you, Generals." Cody said quickly. "We'll leave as soon as we can."

"I'll take care of assigning most of the squad." Cody said as they walked away. "Grab an ARC and a medic and we should be good to go."

Ahsoka looked at Rex as they headed back to the 501st barracks.

"Who do you think?" She asked. "Fives or Tup?"

"Tup." Rex immediately said. "I- if Fives finds out what we suspect, he might become unpredictable. I don't want to open that wound for him again."

"No." Ahsoka agreed. "It's hurting you as it is."

Rex's mind, at least a part of it, was in turmoil from the idea. Ahsoka didn't need to be bonded with him to tell that.

"If he's alive," Rex said quietly. "Then we abandoned him."

Ahsoka didn't know how to respond to that. It was true.

"I'll go get Kix and Tup." Rex said. "You go and let Fives know he's in charge."

"Orders, Captain?" Ahsoka said.

Rex blinked and flushed.

"I didn't mean-"

"I know." Ahsoka assured him. "Just teasing."

She patted his shoulder and that seemed to make him go redder. Ahsoka raised an eyebrow as he hurried away. Something had changed between them. She wasn't sure what lay in their relationship's future.

Chapter Text

"Where's the Captain?" Tup asked Ahsoka as they lounged outside the barracks. "Commander Cody said we'll be leaving soon."

Ahsoka shrugged, though she knew exactly where Rex was. He was in the barracks, alone, thinking about Echo. She had told him not to dwell on it, but he seemed incapable of thinking of much else.

"Cody will get him when it's time." She said.

A few minutes later Ahsoka was proven right as Cody and Rex joined them. Cody was frowning thoughtfully

You told him? Ahsoka asked Rex.

Felt right. He replied. He didn't call me crazy, but I know he thinks I'm overthinking things.

"Guess who we're taking in, Commander?" Rex said aloud. "Clone Force 99."

"The Bad Batch?" Ahsoka said, brightening. "That should be fun."

The gang of defective clones had fascinated her. She looked forward to seeing them in action.

They all looked up at the cries of 'Clear the airfield!' from the runway. What looked to be an Omicron attack shuttle was barrelling towards them.

"Is Wrecker piloting?" Ahsoka asked.

"Wrecker's not allowed to pilot." Cody said, smirking slightly. "You know the saying about there being a fine line between genius and crazy? That's Tech sometimes."

They approached the shuttle as it opened. The Batch filed out.

"The cavalry has arrived!" Wrecker boomed.

Then he looked down at their group and removed his helmet. He was grinning.

"Hey, Commander Tano!" He said. "Cody didn't tell us you'd be coming!"

"Oh, good." Tech said. "I have multiple questions for you."

Meanwhile Hunter and Cody had grasped each others' arms.

"Why is it we only hear from you if you need something?" Hunter asked. "First with Commander Tano and now this."

"You're the one who told me only to contact you for emergencies."

"Ah, well." Hunter said. He looked over to Rex and Ahsoka and gave a nod. "Good to see you doing okay."

"You as well." Ahsoka said.

"We would have been here earlier if your comm had come at a different time." Hunter went on. "We were putting down an insurrection on Yalbec Prime. Had a few unseen complications."

Ahsoka winced.

"I can imagine." She said. "Male Yalbecs are notoriously difficult to kill."

"That wasn't the problem." Hunter said.

"Technically it was." Tech said. "The complication was the fact that we were unable to kill the males fast enough to reach the ship"

"I was referring to the reason they were coming after us." Hunter said. "Wrecker cut off the Yalbec Queen's stinger while she was still alive."

Ahsoka began to laugh, while her companions looked at each other.

"That's why all those Yalbec males tried to eat us!" Wrecker said proudly.

"I don't think they were trying to eat you." Ahsoka choked out.

"Indeed." Tech said. "They were trying to mate with us."

Ahsoka had to turn around to see the shocked and disgusted looks on her troopers' faces. She laughed even harder.

"Oh, I knew I liked this one!" Wrecker said, clapping a hand on Ahsoka's shoulder.

She shot him a grin, but then felt the seeds of jealousy from her troopers.

"Anyway," Ahsoka said after she regained control of herself. "You already know Rex, but this is Tup and Kix. Two of my best men."

Hunter quickly introduced his squad. Crosshair was still standing in the back, side-eying them all. The Force around him was hard and defensive, as if he was preparing to be attacked.

"Well, what 'suicide-mission' do you have for us this time, Cody?" Hunter asked.

"We'll brief you on the way." Cody said. "Let's get going."


Ahsoka watched as Rex huddled over Cody. His worry was oozing through the Force. Kix had finished administering to the Commander, but Rex still hovered by his brother. While Kix had been treating Cody, Ahsoka sensed a great amount of fear from Rex, and saw a quick flash of another trooper lying injured on a holobed.

How is he? Ahsoka asked, ignoring Tech's explanation of Hunter's abilities.

He needs to get out of here. Rex said.

He got up and walked back to the group.

"Listen up. We have to move out." He said.

Crosshair stood immediately, glaring at Rex.

"Commander Cody's in no position to move." He said.

"Already called in Evac. Kix will stay with Cody until it arrives." Rex explained. "Commander Tano's put me in charge. And I've got a plan to get into that Cyber Center."

"If your plans are so good, why did Commander Cody have to call us in?"

Rage immediately sparked the air around Tup and Kix, who stood. But Ahsoka focused on the worry and fear that was coming off of Crosshair of all people.

"Hey." Ahsoka said.

All heads turned to her.

"Cody's going to be okay." She said.

It might have been a trick of the firelight, but Ahsoka could have sworn Crosshair's eyes widened slightly. Then they narrowed into their typical glare.

"Rex is right. We need to get moving." Ahsoka went on. "And Crosshair, that's why we're here. Rex's plans are so good, the enemy had to find a way to counter them."

Wrecker laughed again while Crosshair turned around and stalked a few paces away.

"Well said, Commander." Tup said with a grin.

"Hush." She told him, but winked.

They started packing up when Wrecker let out a loud gasp that made everyone jump.

"Tech, look!" Wrecker said, showing something to his squadmate.

"It is a rock, Wrecker." Tech said.

"It's shiny!" Wrecker said. "D'you think Omega'd like it?"

"Seeing as she has reacted positively to literally everything you have brought back to her, yes." Tech replied.

"Omega?" Ahsoka asked.

The name had a clone feel to it, but Tech had said 'she.'

"Our sister!" Wrecker said.

Immediately Crosshair and Hunter shot Wrecker warning looks, but it was too late. Kix, Tup, and Rex were staring at the Bad Batch. Brothers they were familiar with, but sisters were a new concept.

"Omega is a female clone." Tech said shortly when it was clear Rex and the others weren't going to drop it. "A secret project by Nala Se. She stays on Kamino."

"We have a sister?" Tup asked.

"No." Crosshair spoke up, eyes narrowed. "We have a sister. We're the ones who found her."

"Technically, we would not have found her if not for Tup." Tech said. "It was only during my research of the chips that I discovered her existence."

"Chips?" Rex asked.

Everyone froze. Ahsoka grit her teeth. She had wanted to wait. They couldn't get it out right away, there was no point in scaring him. But it seemed the choice had been made for her.

"You didn't tell him?" Tup asked Ahsoka.

"Tell me what?" Rex asked.

Ahsoka could feel his growing apprehension.

"Commander Tano discovered the existence of an inhibitor chip embedded in the brains of all clones." Tech said briskly. "We suspect that they were placed there for the purpose of killing the Jedi."

"What?" Rex hissed. His eyes found Ahsoka's as his hand went to his head.

"Finish packing up." Ahsoka said to the rest of the group, keeping eye contact with Rex. "Rex, with me."

Ahsoka took Rex's arm and led him away from the rest of the clones. Questions flowed like Naboo waterfalls into Ahsoka's head from Rex's.

"What happened?" Rex demanded out loud once Ahsoka stopped.

"Tup tried to kill me." Ahsoka said.

Rex's eyes darted to Tup and his hands twitched as if he wanted to grab his blasters. Ahsoka grabbed his shoulder and turned him back to her.

"It wasn't his fault." Ahsoka said quickly. "It was the inhibitor chip. That's how we found out about it."

"When?" Rex's voice was harsh.

"When I was being tested by Master Gek." Ahsoka said calmly. "It nearly killed Tup, but we got it out."

"And- And I have one too?" Rex rasped.

"Yes."

"Why didn't you tell me?" He demanded.

Ahsoka hesitated.

"You were being monitored constantly on that station. You wouldn't have been able to take it out even if you knew." She said. "And- Rex, you know how you were feeling then. Do you think you would have been able to handle that information?"

Rex looked down.

"No." He admitted.

"And after, we communicated so infrequently and I couldn't distract you from your mission." Ahsoka went on.

"I want it out." Rex said.

"I know." Ahsoka said. "Once we get back to the Defiant, we can get it out. But we need to keep it secret. We think someone powerful is behind them."

Rex nodded, but continued to stare down at the ground. True to form, Ahsoka could tell he was starting to blame himself.

"Hey." Ahsoka said. She reached to guide his head up so he was forced to look at her. He stiffened at the touch. "It's okay. I'm okay. The men are getting them out as quickly as they can. You can still trust your brothers."

Rex touched the spot on his head where the others had scars.

"Yeah." He said. "Yeah. We'll be okay."


CT-1409. CT-1409. CT-1409.

The robotic voice that was so familiar repeated over and over in Rex's mind.

Echo was alive.

Ahsoka sat close to Rex, a hand always on his shoulder. He knew she was feeling the same way he was right now. She was just better at hiding it. Currently, as Rex stared at his hands, Ahsoka was explaining what that number meant to the others.
"Echo?" Tup asked. "He was Fives' batchmate, wasn't he? He died at the Citadel."

"That's what we thought." Ahsoka said. "But it was possible to survive the explosion he was caught in, I suppose."

The evac came for them soon after. The group was quiet with the news. Tup had heard stories about Echo from Fives. Ahsoka and Rex had worked closely with him. The Bad Batch seemed to have the sense to not interrupt their quiet reflections.

"Thank you." Rex said to the Batch as they landed back in base. "That wouldn't have gone nearly as well without you."

"Just doing our duty." Hunter said. "If you'll excuse us, we're gonna go find where they've got Cody holed up."

Rex nodded and the Batch left. He glanced at Tup.

"Go on back to the barracks." He said.

"Sir," Tup said. "Fives-"

"I'll take care of that." Rex said. "Go and get some rest."

"Shall I tell him you want to speak with him?"

Rex hesitated and glanced at Ahsoka. She nodded.

"Yes." Rex said.

Tup gave them one last look before jogging away.

"Do you want me to be with you when you tell him?" Ahsoka asked.

Rex did want Ahsoka there. Her presence would calm both him and Fives.

"We need to go to the General first." Rex said, avoiding the question. "We need permission to go find Echo."

Ahsoka folded her arms tightly around herself.

"Rex-"

"I know." He said.

It could be a trap. It probably was a trap. But if there was any chance that they could get Echo back, Rex was going to risk it.

"Come on." Ahsoka said. "Let's tell Anakin."

General Skywalker was serious as they explained what had happened.

"I'll talk to the Council." He said. "But we will be getting permission."

Rex knew that meant they were going whether or not they got actual permission. For once, the General was acting as his old self again.

"Go and talk to Fives." He said. "He'll want to know."

"Thank you, sir." Rex said.

General Skywalker patted Rex on the shoulder.

"I'll let you know when we can leave." He said. "And I'll see if that Bad Batch can give us a hand."

Rex and Ahsoka turned to leave before the General spoke again.

"Oh, and Rex?" He said. "I'll need your- help later, okay?"

Rex repressed a sigh.

"Yes, sir." He said.

"You're only back a few days, and he's making you stand watch during his little meetings with Padme?" Ahsoka asked once they were on the way to the barracks, shaking her head.

"It's all right most of the time." Rex said. "Just as long as General Kenobi's not around."

Fives was waiting at the entrance of the barracks for them.

"Rex, Ahsoka." He said as they approached. "Tup said you had something important to talk to me about?"

"Yes." Rex said.

"We'll go to my quarters to talk about it." Ahsoka said.

Fives' frown deepened, but he followed them to the small room Ahsoka stayed in.

"Take a seat." Ahsoka said to Fives, gesturing to her cot.

Fives did so, looking between them.

"Whatever it is, I didn't do it, okay?" He said.

It was a weak attempt to diffuse the tension, Rex knew, and Fives' grin slipped away as Ahsoka and Rex continued to look grim.

Rex gave the outline of the mission: that they suspected an algorithm that could predict Rex's plans.

"We found a live signal at the Separatist Cyber Center. From a being on Skako Minor." Rex said. "When we asked who it was-"

Rex took a deep breath. He hoped he wasn't wrong in opening this wound.

"It said it was CT-1409."

Fives' eyes widened, his nostrils flared, and he stood immediately.

"When do we leave?" He demanded.

Rex and Ahsoka shared a look.

"Fives, we are going, and soon, but you have to consider that this may be a trap." Ahsoka said.

"Of course it's a trap!" Fives said. "They're using our dead brother to try and lure us in! They have to pay for it!"

"Fives," Rex said, unsure on how to respond to Fives' reaction. "Echo could be alive."

"He's not." Fives' voice had dropped to a low growl. "He's not. It's a trick and they have to pay."
"Fives-"

Fives whirled on them, eyes wild.

"Don't you think I would know if my brother was alive?" He yelled. "I saw him die! I felt it! Echo is dead!"

He stared at them, daring them to say differently. Tears were leaking down his face, unnoticed.

"Just-just let me know when we leave." He said.

He pushed past them and out the door.

"Ahsoka." Rex said. "Can you- can you maybe feel Echo?"

Ahsoka shook her head.

"But that doesn't mean he's for sure dead." She said. "I couldn't really feel Master Obi Wan when he was pretending to be that bounty hunter, and sometimes a person can change so much that you can't recognize them in the Force."

"I have to believe he's alive." Rex said quietly. "It has to be him."

"But if it's not?" Ahsoka asked.

"Then I say his name in remembrances again." Rex said. "And move on, like with every fallen brother."

It was a lie. If it was not Echo, Rex did not know if he could move on this time.


Fives shot again and again into the crowd of clankers. His face still throbbed from where Crosshair had landed his only decent punch from their fight earlier. Fives liked to think that the sniper had come off worse for wear from their scuffle. The idiot shouldn't have brought up leaving Echo behind.

That was why this couldn't be Echo. It was a trap, through and through. Because if Echo was alive, that meant Fives had left his injured brother behind, left him for dead. Fives could have never done that. So Echo wasn't alive. It was just a fact.

Ahsoka led the group through the Techno Union's base. Rex was at Fives' side. The Captain had been high strung and moody this whole mission. He'd nearly attacked Crosshair too and would have if Ahsoka hadn't stopped him.

Fives vaguely wondered how he'd been acting, if Rex was this bad.

Fives was forced to admit, the Bad Batch was good. He wouldn't choose to take any of them on missions, as they were all pretentious shebs'e. Except the big one. Wrecker was all right, and was worth a squad of his own.

He's a bit like Hardcase Fives thought as he yanked a droid's head from its body and chucked it at another oncoming clanker. He never thought this much during missions. He had a laser focus, only deviating for a well timed joke.

"The signal is coming from in there." Tech said, pointing to a door.

He had been calling it Echo's signal until Fives had threatened to shove his datapad up his unmentionables. It wasn't Echo's signal. It was a trick.

"Open the door!" Rex ordered.

An ugly, amphibian like mug appeared on a screen next to the door.

Fives tuned out most of what Wat Tambor had to say and shot more clankers.

"Your friend is dead." Fives managed to catch Wat Tambor's words over the blaster fire.

He knew it.

"Liar!" Rex snarled.

Fives wanted to scream at Rex. He didn't know how the Captain would react to finding out that Tambor was telling the truth. Rex needed to let the delusion go.

"Fives!"

Fives looked back to see an open door. Rex was beckoning to him.

"You're with us!" He said.

Fives ducked in with Tech and Rex. Hunter looked back at them.

"I hope you find what you're looking for." He said.

The door closed behind them. They were in a dimly lit chamber with several control desks. The focus of the room seemed to be a strange- Fives couldn't think of any other word than casket.

"I don't like the look of this." Tech said as they moved slowly into the room.

He tapped at his datapad.

"I'm definitely picking up a lifeform in there."

"Signals can be faked." Fives said.

No one responded. Rex was staring at the casket.

"I think I can get it open." Tech said.

He worked at the controls. Fives stood next to Rex, ready to pull him away from whatever trap was contained in the casket.

The casket opened.

A body fell forward, hanging from a jungle of cords and wires.

For a horrifying moment Fives thought it was a corpse. Then he saw the flickering of the eyes.

It was alive.

Echo was alive.

Fives moved faster than Rex, ripping his helmet off and climbing up to where Echo was attached. An anguished noise he couldn't remember making echoed around the chamber. He pulled Echo down into his arms.

"Echo!" Fives said.

Echo made no movement. His skin was freezing, even through Fives' armor and blacks. Fives clutched him harder into his chest.

"Ey'ika, wake up." He said.

Hot tears were dripping off his nose onto Echo's back, melting the frost.

"Ey'ika, please." He begged. "We're here, we're here. You can wake up now."

He was openly crying now. He was vaguely aware of Rex giving Tech instructions, but he didn't care what the others did. Echo had to wake up.

Then Echo began to speak.

"We-we have to get to the shuttle-" Echo mumbled. "To escape the Citadel."

Fives' already cracked heart broke into two.

"No! I'll go first."

"No, Echo." Fives said in a rush, rocking Echo back and forth. "No, you're not there."

"No, no!" Echo struggled weakly against Fives' grip.

"You're with me. It's Fives. I'm here." Fives babbled.

"No!" Echo pushed against Fives one last time before falling back. "Fives?"

His eyes finally focused on Fives' face.

"You- you came back for me." He said.

A fresh wave of tears overcame Fives. He pressed their foreheads together.

"I'm sorry." Fives choked out. "I'm sorry."

Echo shifted against Fives' grip.

"Rex?" He asked.

Rex knelt next to them.

"Yeah, it's me." He said softly.

"What- what happened?" Echo asked. He pulled weakly away from Fives and looked around. "Where am I?"

"It's okay, Echo." Rex said. "You're safe now."

Fives wondered how Rex was staying so calm. How could he reassure Echo that it was okay? It wasn't okay. Didn't he see what they had done to Echo? And they were the ones who left him.

"Just sit tight trooper." Rex said. "You're going home."

He beckoned and suddenly Tech was with them. Fives instinctively wrapped his arms tighter around Echo.

"Fives." Rex said. "We gotta make sure he's okay."

Fives swallowed. He felt if he let go of Echo, then his brother would suddenly disappear and Fives would find that it was a dream. He released Echo and gently positioned himself so that Tech could get a look, but kept one arm around Echo's shoulders.

Tech was surprisingly gentle as he checked Echo over. Even still, every so often Echo would shudder or flinch.

Fives took in Echo's condition as Tech worked. Echo was so, so thin. He was ghostly pale and his now faded eyes were too large in his face. But the worst thing was what they had added. Metal studded the skin of his back, his stomach, his chest, his head. Wires were screwed into his left arm, and his right- Fives swallowed bile as he looked at the inhuman scomp they had replaced his right hand with. As far as Fives could tell, Echo's legs were also mechanical. For a second, Fives was overwhelmed with how little of his brother was left.

"Unfortunately there isn't much I can tell without a good scanner." Tech said after a moment. "As I suspected, most of the useful information will come from the data here."

He stood and handed Fives a canteen.

"He is dehydrated." Tech said. "Make sure he drinks."

Then he turned back to the controls and started tapping away.

Fives unscrewed the canteen and held it to Echo's lips. Echo grimaced and turned his head away.

"Come on, Ey'ika." Fives encouraged. "Just a little."

Echo opened his mouth and Fives poured a little of the water in, careful not to make his brother choke.

Echo drank slowly at first, and then hungrily. Both his hand and his robotic attachment came up to steady the canteen as he gulped.

"Slow down." Fives said.

Echo's eyes widened and he pushed away at the canteen. He only moved it a little bit, but it was enough space for him to hunch over and vomit the water over his and Fives' laps. It hadn't had time to warm in Echo's stomach and the cool, yellowish liquid soaked into Fives' blacks.

"S-sorry." Echo mumbled, attempting to wipe at his mouth.

"It's okay." Fives soothed.

Echo stared at the canteen. His throat bobbed up and down as he swallowed, his thirst evident.

"Hey Tech!" Fives said. "He threw up the water."

Tech glanced at them.

"His stomach's size has been reduced considerably." He said. "Only let him take sips every few minutes."

"You hear that, Echo?" Rex asked.

Echo nodded.

"Do you remember how you got here, Echo?" Rex asked after Echo had had a few sips.

Fives shot Rex a glare. Echo didn't need to be interrogated right now.

"No." Echo said softly. "I-I just remember trying- trying to get to the shuttle and then- and then-"

He clutched at his head with his hand. He was trembling under Fives' arm.

"That's all right, trooper." Rex said. "Just relax. Do you think you can stand?"

Echo put his hand on Fives' shoulder, pressing down. He managed to get to his feet, but he swayed. He took a step but immediately lost balance. Fives caught him and helped him back down.

"It'll be fine." Fives said. "I'll carry him."

Rex nodded. He placed his hand on Echo's shoulder again for a moment before standing and taking a defensive position near the front of the room.

It wasn't long before Ahsoka came into the room.

"Things are almost under control out there." She said. "How's it going in here?"

"I'm still trying to decrypt Echo's cerebral interface." Tech said promptly. "Until I do, we cannot disconnect him from this computer system."

She came forward and knelt in front of Echo.
"Echo." She called softly.

Echo, who had retreated into his own mind, started and looked up.

"Com-commander?" He stuttered. "What-what happened to you?"

Ahsoka gave a small laugh. Fives' own smile disappeared when he saw the look on Echo's face.

"How long have I been here?" Echo whispered.

"We can talk about that later." Ahsoka said. "How do you feel?"

"I-" Echo swallowed. "I've been better, sir."

Ahsoka glanced at Rex and Fives.

"He's too weak to walk." Rex supplied. "He's very disoriented. Can't remember how he got here."

Ahsoka nodded.

"Have you called in the extraction squad?"

"I tried." Rex said. "Signals are-patchy here. I don't think I got through."

Ahsoka grimaced.

"Well, we've been in worse binds."

The rest of the Batch had come into the room.

Fives ignored their reports and turned back to Echo. His brother was shivering and damp from the melting frost. All Fives could do was hold his brother close.

Echo seemed to fade in and out of reality. Occasionally he would jerk and whisper his number again.

"I've got it!" Tech declared. "We can unplug him now."

Rex approached and Fives helped Echo turn around. Fives held him steady as Rex ripped the connections out. Echo jerked and gasped after each one. The last one sent him sprawling onto Fives' shoulder, coughing. He lay still for a second.

"Echo?" Fives asked.

He pushed Echo off of him and held him at arm's length. To his surprise, Echo was sitting upright by himself. When he looked into Fives' eyes, there was a light that wasn't there before. A smile touched his lips.

"I got a big headache." He declared.

Fives gave a laugh that verged on a sob. Echo was free.

Chapter Text

Hey everyone!

For those of you not following the Fives Effect and didn't see my latest update, I am on a short hiatus! I haven't been able to edit my works in around a month due to the chaos of the holidays and I simply ran out of edited material to post, at least with Fives Effect. I didn't feel right about just skipping Fives Effect so I've been on a two-week hiatus, starting the 27th of December.

I will begin posting again, starting with the Fives Effect, on the 10th of January. That means Guilty will be updated on the 17th. Things will return to normal, with the fics being posted on Monday of alternating weeks.

Thank you for all the support and Happy Holidays!

Love,

Executive Cucumber

P.S. The Book of Boba was great!

Chapter Text

Fives helped Echo up the Marauder's ramp, despite his brother's protests.

"I can walk, Fives."

"Just because you can, doesn't mean you should." Fives replied.

Echo's snort of laughter made Fives' heart swell.

Behind them Rex carried Ahsoka. Saving all of their shebs'e had put her firmly out of commission.

Fives figured that spewing forth masses of lightning would take it out of anyone.

The battle alongside the Poletec had been going badly. Fives had had the traitorous thought of wishing they had a Jedi with real lightsabers. Ahsoka's electrostaffs had been useless against the tri-droids. Hunter and Rex had been making some progress on them, courtesy of Wrecker chucking them on top of the droids.

Then one had made the mistake of turning its sights on Crosshair and Echo.

Fives had shouted, but Ahsoka had acted. Fives could still see in his mind her flinging her hands forward in a desperate attempt to stop the tri-droid from firing. Instead of an invisible push, a barrage of green bolts of electricity had sprung from her fingers. It had overwhelmed the tri-droid and it toppled over into its fellow, bringing them both down.

After they'd taken out the rest of the droids, they'd found Ahsoka unable to move, but able to curse loudly. Rex had carried her the entire way back.

Fives had been impressed, but Ahsoka seemed somewhat upset about it. General Skywalker had told stories about Dooku's ability to use lightning. Allegedly it was something only Sith could do.

Fives figured there was a first time for everything. Ahsoka was the furthest thing from a Sith one could get, at least according to Fives' limited understanding.

Echo stumbled and Fives quickly steadied him.

"You okay?" He asked.

"Yeah." Echo said. "Just a little tired."

"I suspect you are feeling more than 'a little tired.' Tech said. "The adrenaline that has kept you functioning the last several hours should be wearing off."

Fives had Echo sit on one of the Marauder's seats. Looking into his brother's eyes, Fives guessed Tech was right. Echo's eyelids were drooping.

On the other side of the ship, Rex was lifting Ahsoka onto one of the sleeping racks.

"Does this happen to you a lot?" Wrecker asked Ahsoka. "Cause this is the second time-"

Rex shot Wrecker a look, but Ahsoka laughed.

"It's a recent development." She said. "Doesn't happen as often as it used to though."

"Here." Fives looked up to see Hunter holding out a set of blacks and a blanket.

"Thanks." Fives said, accepting them.

He nudged Echo, who'd been staring into space.

"Tech says he shouldn't eat anything right now." Hunter went on as Fives began helping Echo get the blacks on. "But he's getting nutrition and saline shots ready."

Fives nodded his thanks. Echo kept zoning out, making dressing him a little difficult. Finally Fives got Echo settled with the blanket wrapped tightly around him. Fives removed his own upper armor and put an arm around Echo. For the first time since they'd freed him from that casket, Echo stopped shivering.

It wasn't until the Marauder had taken off that Tech came by with several hypos.

"Echo." Fives said softly.

Echo blinked at Fives and then saw the needles. His eyes widened.

"No-" He croaked and jerked away from Tech. "No more, get away from me-"

"Echo!" Fives held his brother firm. "Echo, you're safe. These are going to help you."

Echo shook his head.

"No more." He said again. "No more."

"You will have to hold him." Tech said. "I will administer a sedative first."

"I'm not gonna hold him down!" Fives said. "Not like they did!"

Tech pushed at his goggles and frowned.

"Echo." Ahsoka said. "Be calm."

Fives could feel the power in her words. Echo stopped struggling. He meekly allowed Tech to roll up his sleeve and give him the first shot, though he was trembling. He flinched hard as the needle pierced his skin. Fives let out a breath as Echo's head fell onto his shoulder.

"Excellent." Tech said.

He administered the other two shots. Fives tucked his brother in closer and settled down.

The Batch migrated to the cockpit. Fives suspected they were uncomfortable with their ship so overtaken by strangers. There were a few minutes of indistinct conversation before the only sound on the ship was the hum of the engines.

Fives looked down at Echo. The shadows under his eyes were so dark. Fives wondered why. Wasn't stasis like sleeping? He'd have to ask Kix when they returned. Maybe they just looked dark because of Echo's ghostly skin.

Clones didn't have much to lose in terms of body weight. They were slim, efficient machines. But Echo was skeletal. His bony shoulder dug painfully into Fives' side.

Fives suddenly became terrified for Echo. Did he meet the standards anymore? Could he do what was required of him as a soldier?

That thought made Fives even more sick to his stomach. Echo, if he wanted to live, had to become a soldier again. Looking down at him, Fives thought that he'd never seen anyone who looked less ready to go to war. Fives didn't want him to, either. He wanted Echo to have the chance to forget about what he'd been through. The war would make that impossible.

Echo twitched in his sleep and let out a soft groan. Fives didn't want to imagine what horrors lurked behind Echo's eyelids.

"You're safe, Echo." Fives muttered. "I'm here."

Echo stilled again. Fives mentally prepared himself for a long trip. Echo would need him and Fives would be there. It wouldn't make up for the years he'd left Echo alone, but he would be there.

He would not sleep. Not when there was the chance of waking and finding that Echo's return was a dream.

After a while it became difficult to keep his eyes open, so Fives started looking around the ship for a distraction. Rex caught his eye.

Ahsoka was fast asleep on the rack, one hand hanging down. Rex sat on the floor beneath her. He was holding that hand. Fives could see Rex's thumb running across her knuckles in a slow, deliberate pattern. Rex's eyes were closed, and his face was a rare picture of contentment.

The impression that this was a private moment washed over Fives and he looked away. He normally wasn't a huge respecter of privacy, but seeing as the private moment in question was two of the people closest to him, he would be a bit more polite.


"Ready to join the land of the living?" Rex asked.

Echo gave a noncommittal shrug but rose from his bed in the small room off of the medbay. Rex would have reached out an arm to steady him, but Fives beat him to it.

"I can walk, Fives!" Echo said harshly.

Fives recoiled. Rex was surprised as well. Echo had been very patient the last few days with Fives' fussing. Then Rex noticed Echo's hand in a deathgrip around his scomp attachment.

"Kix, Fives." Rex said. "Let me have a minute with him."

Fives' brow furrowed, but Kix took him by the elbow with a firm hand.

"Of course, Captain." Kix said, before dragging Fives out.

Echo stared past Rex as the door shut. It was quiet for a moment.

"You're scared that the Kaminoans will catch wind of what happened to you." Rex said.

Echo twitched, but nodded.

"Troopers don't have cybernetics." He said.

"Well, I wouldn't say that." Rex said, moving to sit down on Echo's bunk.

In a deft movement he detached his leg and set it on the bed. Echo's eyes widened.

"This is Cettie." Rex said, patting the leg.

"What- what the hell?" Echo choked out.

"Got on the bad side of a Karkarodon." Rex said. "They couldn't save my leg. But General Skywalker and Chancellor Amidala made sure they saved me."

Echo continued to stare at the leg.

"Echo, do you know why they don't save troopers who lose limbs?" Rex asked.

Echo gave a curt shake of his head.

"It's because prosthetics are expensive." Rex said. "You've already got some. As long as you can perform, you'll be fine."

Echo swallowed.

"They made- other modifications." He said. "It's not just the prosthetics."

"I know." Rex said. "But Kix says he doesn't see why you can't still serve."

Echo nodded. Rex reattached Cettie and stood. He clapped Echo on the shoulder.

"You'll be okay." He said. "You're not going back there. You're stuck with us."

That got a smile out of Echo.

"I'd much rather be stuck with you than be without."

"Very true." Rex said. "Come on, let's get you settled back in the barracks."

"Took you long enough." Fives said as they came out. "Were you reinventing the blaster in there?"

Echo smiled and Rex rolled his eyes. Kix shook his head.

They started together towards the barracks. Rex glanced at Echo every so often. His brow was furrowed and Rex could tell that he was still in a fair amount of pain. Kix said he would need help adjusting Echo's cybernetics to make them more comfortable.

Echo seemed hesitant to enter the barracks, but Fives opened the door and pushed him in.

Rex grinned at Echo's shocked face as the men that filled the barracks snapped to attention. In unison they saluted.

Ahsoka was at their front, holding a helmet. Fives had asked Rex to paint it to match Echo's old bucket. Rex glanced over the group of vod'e saluting Echo. Their faces were stoic, but many eyes danced with happiness. Rex himself felt that potent joy for Echo's return. Getting a brother back was a rare occasion.

Echo took a step forward, staring at the helmet. His eyes flicked over the crowd of brothers and then back to the bucket.

Rex felt his smile falter as Echo made no other reaction.

Echo turned on his heel and left the barracks.

Fives immediately followed him. A pit formed in Rex's stomach. He hesitated, looking back at Ahsoka. She nodded, though her face was contorted with worry.

Go see what's wrong.

Fives had Echo by the shoulders just outside, but Echo had his face turned away from his brother.

"Echo?" Rex asked. "What's wrong?"

Echo continued to stare away from them for a moment.

"How many brothers aren't here because of me?" Echo asked.

Rex froze.

"I can understand wanting me back. I'm glad to be back." Echo went on. "But don't- don't act like I was just a prisoner."

"Echo-" Fives started.

"Is there anywhere else I can stay?" Echo asked. "I can't- it's too much."

Rex walked forward and went to put his hand on Echo's shoulder. He stopped short when he saw Echo flinch at the gesture.

"Of course, vod." Rex said. "Let's get your helmet and we can figure out where you can bunk in peace."

Echo shook his head.

"No. Get rid of it. That man is dead."

When Rex returned to the barracks, things were back to normal. At least, everyone was doing their jobs. There was a sense of disturbance in the air. Ahsoka was directing troopers, but made her way to Rex when he came in.

"Come on." She said.

He followed her to her quarters.

"So?" She asked. "All I could get from him was shame."

"I think he blames himself for what the Separatists used him for." Rex said.

"Which is ridiculous." Ahsoka said. "How was he supposed to stop them?"

"Kind of like how blaming yourself for my leg is ridiculous." Rex said quietly.

Ahsoka shot him a guilty glance before folding her arms against her stomach.

"I wish there were more we could do for him." Ahsoka said.

"Fives is with him." Rex said. "He won't let Echo get too down on himself."

"Speaking of which." Ahsoka looked at Rex. "Before this I just finished speaking with Anakin. He's agreed to your proposal. Jesse's the new captain of the 501st."

"Good." Rex said.

"Luckily for you, since Anaxes is taking precedent, you, Tup, and Fives are now the resident ARCs of the 501st." Ahsoka went on.

"Luckily for me?" Rex asked. "I have to stay in the hardest siege of the war."

"Luckily for you, because if your plan got you transferred, I would have broken your kneecaps." Ahsoka clarified.

"That seems unfair." Rex said, and then took a more serious tone. "And did the General mention- you know."

He wiggled his fingers a little at her.

Ahsoka's mouth tightened.

"Master Plo is trying to calm the Council down." She said. "Apparently he's done something similar and it wasn't a problem. But a lot of them already don't trust me."

"But you're not part of the Order anymore!" Rex said. "What are they going to do?"

"Remove me from command." Ahsoka said.

Rex's heart seemed to shrivel inside him.

"They're not-"

"They haven't made the decision yet." Ahsoka said. "Master Plo doesn't think they will, but-"

Ahsoka shook her head.

"Worst case scenario they decide that I'm a threat and have me put under surveillance in the Temple." She said.

Rex stared at her, contemplating for a moment how difficult breaking her out of the Jedi Temple would be.

Ahsoka picked up on his thoughts.

"Stop." She told him. "As skilled as you are, you wouldn't be able to break into the Temple."

Rex fidgeted sheepishly.

"Besides, I really doubt they will." Ahsoka said..

"But it's a possibility." Rex said.

"Yeah." Ahsoka heaved a huge sigh.

Rex stood quietly, letting her tangle of emotions wash over him.

"Ahsoka." He said. "I've had Sith root around in my head."

Ahsoka looked up at him in shock.

"Ventress, remember?" Rex went on. "I know what it feels like. You've never felt anything close to that. I could- feel you when you used that power. You were the way you always are."

Ahsoka fiddled with the hilt of her electrostaff.

"Thank you, Rex." She said finally. "But it's still hard to be sure that it's not the Dark Side coming through."

"I'm just telling you what I felt." Rex said.

She smiled at him and it sent his heart thumping wildly.

"I can always rely on you." She said.

Then she put her hand on his arm and his heart went into hyperdrive. Kriff, he needed to get whatever this was under control.


There was something wrong with Rex's leg. He could feel it as he and Tup disembarked from their gunship onto the landing strip. It trembled a little under his weight and occasionally it sent a shocking jolt into his residual limb.

"Something wrong, Captain?" Tup asked.

"Just my leg." Rex muttered. "Haven't had a chance to tune it for a while."

The last time Rex had had a moment to have a good look at his leg was two weeks ago, right after they'd rescued Echo. The siege had kept him too busy to give it the attention it needed. His and Tup's latest escapades must have finally set something wrong, with that last jump they'd made into the gunship.

"I'd tell you to go to Kix, but I don't think he's the right man for the job." Tup said. "Gears might be able to help you."

"He's a LAAT/i mechanic, not a cybernetics expert." Rex said. "I can take care of it. I just need a moment to myself."

"Good luck with that." Tup said. "Oh, hello Commander."

Rex's heart just about shot out of his chest as he caught sight of Ahsoka's montrals. It wasn't from surprise.

"Good to see you two alive." Ahsoka said.

"Same to you, Commander." Rex said. "The mission was a success."

"Good to hear." Ahsoka said. "Tup, get to the medbay. Don't act like I can't see those blast marks."

"They're just scrapes!" Tup protested, but Ahsoka gave him a glare.

"Go on. In the meantime I'll debrief Captain Rex." Ahsoka said.

"Er, sir." Rex said as Tup finally left. "It'd be better if Tup was here for the debrief-"

"Weren't you there too?" Ahsoka asked with a cocked eyebrow. "Besides, don't you want a hand with Cettie?"

"I can handle it myself-"

"I've been helping Anakin with his arm for nearly four years now." Ahsoka said. "You won't find a better cybernetics mechanic on the base. Besides Anakin."

Rex almost told her he'd go find the General, but in truth, he wanted time alone with Ahsoka. Desperately so.

Which was why he should go find the General. The feelings that he had should not be encouraged.

Rex was a weak man.

He followed Ahsoka to the barracks, and then to her quarters.

"Sit." Ahsoka ordered.

He did so. He moved to remove his leg but she was quicker. His heart pounded as her hands brushed his leg. She expertly detached his prosthetic. She slid it from his blacks and sat down next to him, holding Cettie in her lap.

Rex's chest seemed to swell as she started her work. It wasn't just that she was doing it for him. It was the fact that he knew that she would do it for any one of the men in the legion.

He was quite content sitting there at her side.

"Report, Captain." She said after a few minutes.

Her tone was teasing, but he knew he'd better get it done.

"Not much to tell." Rex said. "We went in, confirmed that the scans were correct, and then got caught in a fire fight on the way out."

"So we've got-"

"Another five thousand clankers or so on their way here." Rex said.

Ahsoka paused in her work, laying aside her tools.

"It'll be another hard battle." She said.

"I know." Rex said.

She seemed so troubled by it, Rex was desperate to try and cheer her up.

"Did you hear?" He said. "Kix and Tech say that Echo's almost ready for duty."

She smiled.

"It'll be good to have him back for real." She said.

"He might have some intel that could turn some tides." Rex said.

"Hopefully." Ahsoka picked up her tools again. "And how are you holding up?"

"You know how I'm doing." Rex said.

"Kind of." She said. "You've been in and out of the base so much and I haven't had the time to get a read on you."

Rex was both glad for and tormented by his time away from the base. On one hand, he could keep away from his feelings more easily. On the other, those same feelings made it painful to be away from her.

Every time he'd seen her this last few weeks seemed to make the feelings worse.

"I'm doing okay." Rex said. "The siege is wearing on me, but having my brothers and you and the General around help."

"Just let me know what I can do to help."

"Just being around does wonders." He told her sincerely.

"Have you heard from your friends back on the med station?" She asked.

"Hack's been permanently reassigned there, thank the Force." Rex said. "And Neya Ha thinks he'll be there for a while too."

Ahsoka nodded her approval and focused back on Rex's leg. She hummed without a tune as her tools sparked and smoked.

"I wish we could get you on the Defiant." She said suddenly.

Rex remembered with a jolt about the time bomb in his head. The thought of harming her, or the Generals, made him sick.

"Me too." He said.

The siege had been so busy, they had hardly the time for things like this, let alone taking the time to go all the way to their Venator.

"Finished!" She declared, as if nothing was wrong.

He held his hands out for Cettie, but she picked up the leg of his blacks. She carefully slid Cettie back through his pant leg. Rex was feeling uncomfortably warm as she clicked the leg into place. She stood, using his leg as leverage. Then she stood there, hand on his knee.

Rex needed her to take her hand off. His insides were churning in a way that was not appropriate. She looked at him for a moment longer. Rex blinked at her, confused.

Then she leaned towards his face.

Rex's heart thudded with a painful rhythm as time slowed down. Her face was coming closer to his. What was she doing? What was she doing? His mind had gone as blank as a shiny's armor. All he could do was stare into her eyes, which were now very close to his. Why was she smiling like that? Rex wasn't ready, he didn't know if he'd ever be ready-

Ahsoka tapped her forehead lightly against his.

"There." She said, leaning back. "Good as new."

"Th-thank you." Rex choked out, both relieved and deeply disappointed.

"Now, come on." She said. "We've got Anaxes to take back.