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Gravity Well

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I woke to the stench of burning electrics. Opening my eyes, I blinked a few times until the ruined cockpit materialised around me and my vision swam back into some semblance of clarity.

The viewport, which was directly in front of the co-pilots chair in which I was still strapped, was cracked and scattered with dirt, leaves and other debris. If I squinted and ducked my head, I could just make out the nose of the ship, buried into the ground, through the smeared transparisteel.

Groaning, I turned my head and focused on the interior of the vessel. The lights on the console were out, and the ship was dim without the illumination. I turned my head to the right and caught a glimpse of my pilot slumped forward in his chair with his head hanging.

Shit.

He wasn't dead, that much I knew from the tenuous force connection we shared, but he looked in pretty bad shape. Blood plastered down one side of his face, matting his black hair and dripped from his stubbly chin. I concentrated, ignoring the pounding in my own head, and felt for him through the connection. I hissed as I felt his broken ribs creak with every breath. His right arm ached dully, I guessed the force of the impact had rebroken his collar bone, which had healed badly after an old blaster injury sustained some years back.

Fuck. Fuckety fuck.

"Toby?" I groaned, voice coarse. The air was choked with smoke which wafted lazily through the cockpit. I coughed to clear my throat, and immediately regretted it as I felt the sharp pain in my side from my own broken ribs. Fuck. That hurt.

I glanced down at the safety straps still looped around my body. With a shaking hand, I clipped the release and threw the offending items off of me. Leaning my head back against the chair, I closed my eyes and fought off a wave of nausea.

Where the kriff were we? I screwed my eyes as I attempted to unscramble my brain. I remembered a job on Oba Diah. I couldn't recall the job, which I considered thankful as I was fairly certain it was an unsavory one. Something had gone wrong. Had we stolen a ship? Yes, I think we had.

"Toby!" I called more forcefully. Still no response from my unconscious wingman.

Typical, the man that was supposed to keep me safe was currently fucking useless.

Gritting my teeth I leaned forward and stood. Much to my surprise, we legs remained steady despite the pain and disorientation. And the camber of the cockpit floor from the collision.

I limped the two steps to where Toby was slumped forward and sat my ass on the console in front of him. Placing my palm on his chest, I gave him a gentle shake.

"Oi. Ed" I hissed, hoping the affectionate nickname I had given him all those years ago would rouse him into consciousness.

Still no response. I shook a little more roughly and the man grunted softly but still did not move.

Growling in frustration, I glanced past Toby's shoulder towards the stern of the ship and realised it was gone. The entire back portion of the craft was missing, the cockpit ended a few paces past the pilots and co-pilots chairs. Through the gaping gap I could see a line of smoking debris which cut through the surrounding jungle, a smouldering scar on the otherwise picturesque landscape.

Kriff. We were well and truly fucked.

I suddenly became accutely aware of the precarious position we were in. Our ship, which I was sure was stolen, was not going anywhere. I couldn't recall the planet we had crash landed on, although from the density of the surrounding jungle and the noises and cries of various creatures I could just make out, I was willing to bet it was a hostile one. Not to mention lack of supplies and the possibility of an Imperial presence.

I glanced at my unconscious friend again and shook my head in frustration. We needed to move.

"Kark this".

Pushing myself off of the console, I swung my leg up and over Toby's lower limbs so that I was straddling his knees. He didn't move from the pressure and I hoped that meant neither of his legs were broken.

Raising my right hand back, I paused, and studied his face briefly.

"Sorry," I muttered with a grimace as I swung my arm with as much force as I could muster and slapped him hard across the face with a satisfying thwack.

His head jerked up and he gasped, eyes flying open and struggling to focus. His mouth hung slack and he panted a few times, wincing from the pain I knew he felt.

I bobbed my head in his line of vision and his green eyes suddenly cleared. He snapped his head back as he realised how close I was to him.

"What the fuck, Gem!" he groaned in between breaths.

I grinned lopsidedly and cringed inwardly.

"Sorry, bud, I couldn't get you to wake up. We gotta move."

I shuffled off of Toby's lap, and reached over to unfastened his own safety belt. He watched me distantly, his eyes still somewhat unfocused.

"What happened?" he panted, glancing around at the ruined cockpit. "Where the kriff are we?"

I grinned more genuinely this time. The way he slurred his words and blinked owlishly was inappropriately amusing to my concussed brain. It reminded me of the many times we had drunken ourselves into a stupor in some seedy cantina on some seedy outer rim planet.

"You tell me."

I pushed myself to my feet and moved to the side, swinging the pilot's chair around to face me.

Toby grimaced when the chair jarred his shoulder and coughed when he inhaled a mouthful of the sickly smoke which was rapidly filling the confined area.

"We need to move " he choked, coughing up a mouthful of gunk and spitting in an unattractive manner.

"No shit," I snipped sarcastically.

Pushing my hands under the man's armpits I hauled him unceremoniously to his feet, ignoring the pained moan that escaped him. I steadied him as best I could and craned my neck to look up at his pinched face, which had gone an unappealing shade of grey.

"If you're going to throw up, please try not to do it on me."

He nodded and swallowed a few times. After a minute, I deemed him composed enough to move and leaned into his side, careful not to nudge his ribcage or touch his right arm. Unconsciously, Toby wrapped an arm around my hips and I tried not to flinch at the touch. Neither of us were particularly comfortable with physical contact, but this was not the time to be squeamish.

Slowly, painfully, we limped towards the rear of the ship, pausing at the opening to stare at the carnage.

I glanced down and noted that there was a drop of a few feet to the barren ground below. We would have to jump to reach the planet's surface. Normally this would not have been an issue; I was agile on my feet from years of scrapping, and Toby's lanky legs means that he could handle a fall. But in our current state.... this was going to hurt like a motherkriffer.

Toby seemed to have read my thoughts as he breathed heavily through his nose. He peered at me through the corner of an emerald eye and nodded.

Wordlessly I moved away from him and we jumped together.

I landed hard, bending my knees and screaming silently as the impact send shock waves through my ribcage. Beside me, Toby landed harder, falling forward onto his knees and instinctively throwing out his arms to break his fall.

I heard him sob loudly as his broken collar bone took his weight, and then he was leaning forward and vomiting onto the charred ground.

I left him to heave for a few moments, before steeling myself and crouching down beside him

"Done puking?" I asked flatly. He nodded, wiping his chin with his good arm and blinking away tears.

We pulled each other to our feet and I hesitated, unsure of what our next move should be. We needed to get away from the crash site, that was obvious, but I felt uneasy trekking into the unknown jungle. Maker only knew what could be out there.

Fuck it, I thought. I'd rather take my chances with the native fauna than run the risk of an Imperial scouting party finding us.

Groaning and panting in tandem, we limped towards the nearby treeline, half pulling each other and trying to pretend that we were offering support for the others benefit.

The ship had left splinters of broken trees in the wake of its crash, and we ducked beneath these, pushing into the dense forest.

We didn't make it far before we collectively collapsed into the soft undergrowth, face first. I lay, for a moment, listening to my heart pounding in my ears and feeling the pain radiating from my own body, and that of the man next to me.

"Shit!" Toby groaned, rolling himself over to lie on his back and scowling at the canopy above as though it were personally responsible for our shitty luck.

I nodded wordlessly, also shifting so that I was facing skyward.

"What the fuck happened?" he panted through gritted teeth.

I shook my head, still no closer to fully answering his question than I was when he raised it earlier.

"I remember a job going tits up, think we were on Oba Diah? Not sure", I huffed a sigh.

Toby nodded with a wince.

"I remember stealing that crappy shuttle," he said, voice gravelly with pain. "Some spice deal gone wrong. We were trying to make it off world, although I can't remember where we were headed...."

"And then we crashed here," I finished lamely.

The man huffed a laugh, smiling in a strained fashion.

"Hey," he chided. "I don't crash, I just execute improvised landings."

"Not very good ones," I grunted, in no mood to find the humour.

I twisted my hand to my right shoulder and felt the reasuring presence of the hilt of my vibro saber. I was still armed, and glancing at Toby I saw the two pistols he carried at his hips still safetly nestled in their holsters. I debated trying to move further into the jungle but almost immediately shot the idea out of the sky. Neither of us would get much further, and we were far enough away from the crash site to not be easily noticed if a patrol went past.

I blinked slowly, my eyelids feeling like plascrete weights. I heard Toby mutter something beside me as I closed my eyes.

"Hey," he grunted, elbowing me in the ribs which caused me to hiss like a wounded nexu. "Don't fall asleep. You have a concussion. Gotta stay awake."

He spoke confidently but I could hear the waver in his voice and knew he was also struggling to stay conscious. I closed my eyes again, just for a few minutes, just to ease the pressure building behind my skull.

....................

I woke suddenly and with a start. Kriff, when had I even nodded off? I had been trying to keep Gem awake, fully aware that she had a concussion. I must have failed miserably, judging by the soft snores I heard beside me.

I stared up at the leafy canopy above, watching the large fan like leaves sway gently. It was oddly peaceful, and I relaxed slightly despite the creeping agony of which I was slowly becoming aware. Fuck me. I HURT.

I blinked numbly a few times, and swallowed, trying to work moisture back into my parched mouth, which felt drier than the dune seas of Tatooine.

Was that what had woken me? Or the pain? Or the growing pressure on my bladder?

Kark, I would have to get up for a piss soon. I groaned, knowing full well that moving was going to hurt, big time. I contemplated just wetting myself, but the thought of Gem teasing me for the rest of my days stopped me.

Grunting with the effort, I pushed my left arm underneath me, and raised myself to one elbow.

It was at that point I came face to face with the barrel of a blaster.

I swallowed audibly and my eyes travelled up the muzzle to the helmeted face behind it.

"Fuuuuuck."

....................

I became aware of movement beside me and drifted back into consciousness.

I huffed quietly to myself, having been pulled away from an extremely pleasant dream involving me, a squad of well built, sweaty Corellian mechanics, and a family sized tub of moof milk ice-cream.

Yawning, I stretched my arms towards my head and stopped with a jerk as the pain shot down my side.

Shit! The events of the last few hours (days? Minutes?) came flooding back live a tidal wave and my brain started with a jolt.

I moved to scramble to my feet and made it as far as my knees before halting in my tracks as I became fully aware of my surroundings.

Toby was beside me, propped on one elbow and staring unblinkingly at the visor of the person standing before him, who I quickly realised had a blaster pointed directly at my friend's face.

I turned quickly and became mindful of others nearby. We were, in fact, surrounded. Just when I thought things couldn't get any kriffing worse!

My eyes travelled to the men standing around us. At least, I assumed the figures were male, the armour they wore didn't make that particularly easy to ascertain.

They all wore dark armour, the kind I had seen clone troopers wearing one time when we had been grounded on Salucammi between jobs, although I noted that there were variations to the armour. From what I understood of troopers (which wasn't much) that was unusual.

I counted out five men, including the one pointing his blaster at Toby. All had some form of fire arm trained on either myself or the man next to me. Shit. We were outnumbered. Clearly there was an Imperial presence on this shitty, Maker forsaken planet.

I silently cursed myself as I met the gaze of the one standing beside me. Well, I guessed I met his gaze, it was hard to tell where his eyes were focused through the visor of his helmet, but I noted the slight shift in his stance when I looked at him, and the way he moved the muzzle of his rifle closer to my chest.

I licked my lips, realising that his finger was cradling the trigger. These guys weren't fucking about.

The one standing in front of Toby shifted slightly and my head snapped round to face him, half expecting to be ripped apart by bolts of molten plasma.

The fellow in the armour lowered his blaster slightly, barely; it was still pointing at Toby's chest, and could still kill him in less than a heartbeat.

Both Toby and I tensed in silence, neither of us quite sure what to do. I knew, as well as he did, that if either of us made a move towards our weapons we would be cut to pieces. But I would be karked if I was going to be taken into Imperial custody. I had heard stories of how they treated mercenaries like us, and I didn't fancy our chances of lasting long as slaves in the Kessel spice mines.

As my mind scrambled for a course of action that wouldn't result in death, one of the troopers behind me spoke, his voice heavily accented even through the modulator on his helmet.

"What do you want to do, Hunter?"

I turned my head enough to spot the guy out of the corner of my eye and gave a start: his right arm, below the elbow was not flesh, but machine. That was most certainly unusual.

The man ahead of us shifted again, considering the other's words. That must be the one called Hunter, I guessed recklessly. Not that it really mattered as I was sure Hunter and his cronies couldn't give a shit whether they killed us or not.

"Do you think that's them? The ones that ambushed the supply drop?"

The man that spoke stood behind Hunter and slightly to the side. His voice was coarse and booming, echoing through the trees and startling several small creatures from a nearby bush. I eyed the trooper critically. He was HUGE. I was used to Toby's size - he was a lot taller than the average man - but this guy was something else. Built like a tank, tall and broad, he towered above us and I felt myself unconsciously cringe.

I glanced at Toby, who hadn't moved a muscle since I had woken. I tried to catch his eye but he was still staring up at the trooper.

Shit. These guys clearly thought we were up to no good. Part of me was relieved, in a way: at least if we weren't the people they were looking for, perhaps there was a chance they would let us go? A small chance maybe, but a chance all the same. Emboldened by this thought, I cleared my throat and finally spoke.

"We don't know anything about a supply drop."

I winced at the sound of my own voice shaking. Fuck. That didn't do my image much good. Then again, perhaps if I played the poor frightened female card, these guys would take pity. The thought died quickly. I still had my pride, even if it was in tatters.

A chuckle sounded beside me from the man with the rifle and I shuddered at the lack of humour in the sound.

"That's just what an Imperial insurgent would say," the man drawled, his voice thick with contempt.

Hang the fuck on. Imperial insurgent? What the fuck? If these guys thought we were Imps, who the fuck were they?

Toby finally looked at me then, and I saw the look of confusion clouding his eyes which must also surely have been plastered across my own face.

Behind Toby, another voice piped up, higher pitched than the others and with a lift to it that implied intelligence.

"I do not believe that the insurgents that attacked us could number as few as two. Statistically, two individuals would not have been able to gain the upper hand over us. It is not a viable scenario." There was a tapping sound behind us that sounded as though the man typed something into his wrist comp. "Unless there are more, other than these two," he added with a hint of consideration in his voice.

The man called Hunter nodded, although he still did not lower his weapon.

"We're not insurgents," I tried again, willing my voice to stay steady. "Or Imperials".

Beside me, Toby nodded gracelessly, not managing to mask the groan of pain that the movement caused. He never was one for words, but I still would have been grateful for some sort of verbal support.

The man with the rifle snorted derisively.

"Then what are you?" He asked, and even behind his helmet it was clear he was sneering.

Prick, I thought. I exchanged a glance with Toby and we both hesitated.

What did the guy want us to say? Mercenaries? Pirates? Smugglers? Spice runners? None of the real answers seemed like they would go over well with this bunch.

I took a deep breath and said "traders" at the exact same moment that Toby said "missionaries".

I glared at my friend and he shot me an apologetic look. Missionaries? What the kriff?!

One of the troopers chuckled, although I couldn't tell which. They all sounded pretty damned similar.

The man with the blaster pointed at Toby's chest paused for a moment as though considering something, before grunting.

"We'll bring them with us," he said finally, his voice firm and leaving no room for argument.

I stole a worried look at Toby, whose eyes had narrowed as though he were considering saying something. I prayed it wouldn't be something too snarky. I knew my friend too well. He was at his most abrasive whenever he felt threatened.

Abruptly, the one called Hunter levelled his blaster at Toby and pulled the trigger. I yelped, before realising that the man had stunned my friend, rather than shooting him dead in cold blood.

He pointed his blaster at me and the last thing I saw was the flaking paint on his helmet. It looked like a skull. Everything went numb.

Chapter Text

I shifted my weight, subtly testing the cuffs pinning me to the bulk head in the ship's hold. The cuffs remained as unyielding as they had when I had first come to some time ago. I glanced at my blasters, which were carefully laid on a nearby console, but sadly, too far away to reach.

I suppressed a groan. From my position curled cross legged on the cold floor, the pain in my shoulder was biting. I could feel Gem curled beside me, slumped and still unconscious. She hadn't stirred since I had woken.

I had been aware almost immediately that we were travelling through hyperspace. The hum of the engine and the blue light spilling from the cockpit had been a giveaway.

I blinked slowly, never taking my eyes from the man staring me down from his spot a few paces away. He leaned against the wall of the ship, arms folded across his chest, a toothpick clamped between his teeth. His brown eyes squinted down at me and a look of disgust painted his gaunt face.

I glowered at the fellow in a way that I hoped would be indimindating. Or at the very least would discourage any violence from him.

I knew his type. From his buzzed grey hair, to the casual alertness, to the way his sharp eyes picked apart every detail. I had seen enough of the galaxy to know. The guy was a soldier. No doubt about it.

From my brief interactions with the other four men, they were no different. Perhaps outwardly they were distinguishable, but they were most certainly military.

And then there was the girl. I couldn't decide where she stood in all this as she hovered with the others in the cockpit, peering back at me every so often with large, curious eyes. I gave her a quick glance before returning to the grey haired one nearby. Most likely she was the kid of one of the troopers, her face held several similarities to the one with the skull tatoo.

Aside from handing me a canteen of water and graciously letting me use the fresher (after I had threatened to piss on the floor) the others had left me alone for the most part, their eyes barely pausing whenever they passed by. Apart from grey hair, who stared enough for all of them combined.

I felt Gem stir beside me and let out a relieved sigh before I could stop myself. Grey hair shifted his gaze to her as she raised her head and moved to press her palm to her temple.

She stopped when she realised she was cuffed and gave an involuntary jerk. I tore my eyes away from grey hair and looked down at her.

Gem pulled against the restraints again, and I felt the spark of panic in my chest. I didn't need to feel through the connection to know she was afraid. Gem never liked being confined, she could barely make it through long haul hyperspace journeys at the best of times.

I shifted my knee so it was touching hers in an attempt to ground her. She turned to look up at me, her yellow eyes wide and her face pale.

"You ok, sweetheart?" I asked, knowing that the nick name would cause her to bristle. It was the distraction she needed.

She scowled and grunted. I gave her a half hearted smile as I felt her breathing level out.

Good. The last thing I needed right now was a full scale panic attack from her. I knew she could never help it but still. It wouldn't be ideal.

Gem twisted to look up at grey hair and I felt a surge of pride as the look of hatred on her face matched his own. Her resting bitch face was truly something to behold.

Grey hair sneered and spat out his toothpick, although he was sensible enough to aim it away from the pair of us. No doubt he was aware that any improvised weapon could be dangerous and he clearly wasn't willing to underestimate our abilities.

"So you're not dead," he drawled.

His voice was a razor blade wrapped in silk: sharp, yet appealing. I cursed myself silently. Now was not the time to think of the guy like THAT. I paused to wonder if this was how Stockholme Syndrome started.

Grey hair shifted his crossed arms and continued.

"Thought Hunter might have killed you by accident." The sneer deepened and he cocked an eyebrow. "Not that it would have mattered".

I felt rather than heard Gem growl beside me. I felt the anger rolling from her like waves of radiation from an ion engine.

"Fuck you," she spat at the guy and I felt slightly disappointed that that was the best she could come up with. Some of Gem's curses could make a hardened criminal blush.

Grey hair leered down at her and unfolded his arms, moving like a coiled viper.

Fortunately, whatever he was going to do or say was interrupted by skull face stepping from the cockpit.

He walked softly down the hold of the ship and paused beside the grey haired trooper.

"Crosshair," he said, his voice low and with an underlying tone of warning.

Grey hair - Crosshair, plucked another tooth pick from a pouch on his belt and shoved it between his teeth with a snarl, before stalking away into the cockpit.

Skull face turned his head to watch him go, before focusing his attention on us.

"Sorry about him," he muttered, although there was no hint of genuine sorrow in his voice.

He knelt down nearby, just far enough away that we couldn't reach him, but close enough that we could see his eyes in the dim light.

"You ok?"

His eyes travelled over me and landed on Gem, who was still looking daggers in the direction that Crosshair had disappeared.

"Fucking fantastic " she snarled, voice dripping with sarcasm.

Skull face sighed and ran a hand through his shaggy hair, which was tied back with a red sash.

"Look," he said, lowering his voice, "we don't like this anymore than you do. But we need answers, and if there's a chance either of you can give them to us, well, then I'm sorry, but I have to take that chance."

The apology sounded at least halfway genuine and Gem finally looked up at the guy, though I noticed that her gaze didn't soften.

"Oh yes, because this-" she jangled the cuffs for effect "- is such a hardship for you."

Skull face huffed a laugh, and Gem looked as though she might implode.

Fuck. This needed to be difused, now.

I coughed roughly to get skull face's attention and his cool eyes landed on me, a smirk still playing at the corner of his lips.

"Look, buddy, we really aren't the people you are looking for. I don't know what went down on that planet back there, but we had nothing to do with it. Our ship went down, and that's it. We don't know anything about any Imperials or insurgents, or anything."

I tried to keep my voice level and I could see skull face considering my words.

He nodded after a while, and rose to his feet.

"That may be true, but it may not. I can't assume you didn't have anything to do with that ambush back there."

He turned and walked back towards the cockpit, pausing when he was a few steps away and giving me a side on look. Gem he ignored.

"We'll take you back to base, and if you truly don't know anything we'll patch you up and send you on your way." He didn't say what would happen if they decided we weren't innocent, and I didn't want to ask.

Skull face left us then, and a quiet settled over the corner of the ship in which we crouched.

Gem butted her head again the smooth plasteel wall behind us.

"Kriff" was all she said, and I was inclined to agree.

....................

The journey through hyperspace took nearly three days, judging by the snippets I overheard from the troopers. It was hard to mark the passage of time, and it was only by the routines of the five men that allowed me to track the hours.

They slept in shifts, two at a time, on the bunks located at the rear of the ship. The one with the goggles, who I understood to be called Tech, never slept in the bunks, choosing instead to bed down wherever he crashed.

The troopers were good enough to feed us, twice a day, passing us ration bars, which we struggled to eat all while being cuffed to the bulkhead. The cuffs were removed for a few minutes a day, when they let us use the fresher, once in the morning and once in the evening.

Other than that, they left us huddled on the ground. I tried to doze when I could, but it was uncomfortable with my arms pinned above me, and my ribs aching from the impact of the crash.

Toby wasn't doing much better, grunting and suppressing a sob every time he moved. I started to worry about his broken shoulder. I knew the cuffs were putting a strain on the break and it was hurting. At one point, I considered demanding some sort of pain relief when he woke from a fitful sleep, shaking and sweating. But in the end, I knew he would rather suffer than ask for help, and so I kept my mouth shut and tried not to wince whenever he moved.

We sat in relative silence for the most part, there really wasn't much else to do and neither of us were in the mood for idle chat.

It was evening, after late meal (I guessed, it was hard to tell) on the second day in hyperspace (again, a guess) when the girl came and spoke to me.

I had seen her before, only glances from a distance, as the troopers kept her well away from us. She would peer from the cockpit, eyes large and soft, watching us as though we were some exotic new species that she had never seen before.

I found the scrutiny unnerving at first, but I began to appreciate the break in the monotony that she brought. Watching her was far more interesting than staring at the floor.

On this particular occasion, she was leaning against the doorway of the cockpit, ration bar in hand, watching me as she chewed. I watched her back, keeping my face neutral.

The girl glanced behind her into the cockpit, at skull face, who was leaning back in the navigators chair with his bandana pulled over his eyes. I thought he was asleep, although he may just have been trying to drown out the bickering between the one they called Crosshair and the big guy. They were arguing about a kill count on a previous mission, and the debate was getting quite heated.

I noticed that Tech, the one with the goggles, was butting into the conversation every so often from his position in the pilot's seat, never raising his eyes from whatever piece of machinery he was fiddling with. The unnaturally pale one with the mechanical arm - a scomp, I had come to realise, like the kind that astromechs had - was leaning back in the co-pilots chair with a long suffering look on his face as he listened to the squabbling.

The girl peered behind her once more and then softly, quietly, padded towards where we were cuffed to the wall.

She stopped once or twice, as she made her way towards us, checking that the troopers hadn't noticed her approaching us, but they were deeply engrossed in the argument.

The girl halted in front of me, far enough away that I wouldn't be able to kick out at her. Clearly she was cautious despite being inquisitive.

Casting her gaze back one last time, she levelled her brown eyes on me, and promptly sat her ass down on the cold floor, crossing her legs and taking a bite of her ration bar.

"Hello", she said between chewing.

I blinked at her a bit, not quite sure how to respond. I wasn't very good with children at the best of times, let alone when I was cuffed with broken ribs in a strange ship full of armed me who may want to hurt me.

"Hello," I replied slowly, watching the girl warily.

She swallowed her mouthful and grinned at me, clearly thrilled that I was capable of speech. It would have been quite amusing if I wasn't so fucking done with this whole situation.

Her brown eyes, I noticed, held none of the wariness of the others. They were bright, eager, playful. I supposed it was nice to think that these troopers, in whatever relationship they had with her, hadn't squashed that out of the kid yet. She wasn't very old, not yet even in her teens I thought, although I truly was no expert on young humanoids. Her hair was a soft shade of blonde similar to my own, although whereas mine was long and tied back at the nape of my neck, hers was short and unruly. It looked as though someone with non existence hairdressing skills had recently tried to cut it, and I felt an unexpected pang of sympathy for the kid.

She finished her ration bar, crumpled the wrapper and laid it to one side, still smiling at me.

"My name's Omega," she said it matter of factly, and I picked up the strong accent, although I couldn't place the cadence. "What's your name?"

I was slightly taken aback by the casual way she asked, as if she had just met me at some random diner and not chained to the hold of a ship, beat up and bruised.

I swallowed down my surprise and cleared my throat.

"Gem." My voice sounded hoarse from lack of use and I tried again. "I'm Gem." I nodded my head to the man cuffed beside me, who was deeply asleep with his chin resting on his chest. "That's Toby."

The girl nodded as if she knew who we were already and hummed to herself. She glanced at Toby and her eyes softened.

"He's hurt, isn't he?" she asked softly, lifting her knees to her chest and leaning forward to study the dark shadows under the man's eyes and the blood which had long dried on the side of his face.

I nodded wordlessly and stole a glance at my friend. He really did look like shit.

Omega opened her mouth and closed it a few times, eyes darting between me and Toby's sleeping form.

"I can help," she whispered conspiratorialy.

I raised an eyebrow at her and suppressed a dismissive snort of laughter. As if this CHILD could possibly do anything to save us from the shit storm we were currently caught up in.

The girl took my raised eyebrow as confirmation of our need for assistance and it prompted her to continue.

"I used to help, on Kamino, with the wounded," she twisted to look behind her at the other men but none had given any indication that they had noticed her absence. "They don't want me to talk to you, but I know your friend is hurt, and I can help." She smiled again then, as if to reassure me that her intentions were genuine. I was sure that they were, but it didn't change much.

I shrugged as best I could in my position.

"He's had worse. We both have."

Omega nodded again and shuffled forward slightly, almost close enough that our feet were touching.

"On Kamino, I used to help out at the medbay," she explained brightly, playing with a scrap of rubbish on the floor. "When the clones got sick, or injured during training. One time, one of the cadets got his thumb blown off by a stray blaster bolt. There was blood EVERYWHERE!"

She hopped on her butt excitedly, but I barely noticed. I started to clock what the kid had said and frowned as I thought.

Clones. Kamino. I had heard that name before. I was sure.

The girl was rambling on about how much gore there had been and how the blood spurts had reached the ceiling, but I couldn't really hear her. It felt like my brain was stalling like a badly rigged engine.

Kamino. I was sure that name had something to do with the now non-existent Republic. Was it a military outpost of some kind? No, that didn't seem right. Clones. Yes, it had something to do with clones. The girl had mentioned them, so that must be right.

I nodded along with whatever the kid was saying, barely listening. Kamino was where the Grand Army of the Republic was created. Yes, that seemed right. Where the clones were made. They had labs there, where they bred the fuckers in tubes, or something equally as kriffed up.

"What were you doing on Kamino, kid?" I hissed, suddenly desperate to know the answer, to give my aching brain a reprieve from trying to puzzle it out.

Omega deflated slightly, clearly somewhat put out that I had interrupted what I'm sure was a fascinating story.

She blinked wisely at me and pulled a quizzical expression.

"Kamino's my home. Where I was born."

She said it so matter of factly, as though it should have been obvious to me.

At that point, I felt more confused than ever.

"You were born there?" I asked, truly curious. My intrigue seemed to appeal to the girl as she puffed up, pleased that I was taking an interest in her. "But I thought Kamino was just full of clones?"

Omega hummed in agreement.

"It is," she said, tracing a pattern in the dust by her feet. "But that's where I was born too. And the others."

She nodded her head towards the cockpit and I felt my mouth fall open. I must have looked ridiculous as the girl giggled quietly.

"Those guys are CLONES?!" I asked incredulously and Omega nodded, looking pleased as punch that she had left me pretty much speechless.

The sound of boots reverberating on the plasteel floor jolted me to my senses and I shut my mouth with a snap.

I looked up just in time to see skull face striding towards us, before he snatched Omega up by her arms and dragged her away from me.

"Omega!" He was almost shouting, kneeling in front of the girl so that she met his stern gaze and gripping her by her arms.

I felt Toby stir next to me, no doubt the shouting had woken him. Which was a pity because he had looked comfortable and it must have been difficult for him to get any real sleep in his current condition.

Skull face was shaking the girl gently, and I realised the look on his face was one of genuine concern, worry etching his otherwise handsome features.

"I told you to stay away from them. They might be dangerous. They might want to HURT you."

He shot me a quick look and I balked, disgusted with the notion that he thought I would harm a child. I had done some questionable things in my time, sure, but that was crossing a line.

Omega cast her eyes down and I noticed that her cheeks were turning pink.

"But Hunter, we were just talking. She wouldn't hurt me. I know it."

The man, Hunter, softened his gaze and tilted her chin gently with one hand, so that the kid was looking straight at him.

"Sorry kid," he said with a gruff gentility, "but I'm not willing to take that risk."

Omega looked as though she was thinking of a come back, I could almost hear the gears of her mind turning. The other men, who had moved closer during the exchange, watched wordlessly.

"But..."

"That's an order," Hunter said it sternly, as though he were addressing one of the other troopers, but there was a hint of amusement in his voice.

Omega visibly pouted and I felt a flash of admiration for the girl.

"That man's hurt," she finished weakly, half gesturing to Toby.

As if on cue, the man beside me awoke fully with a groan and a drawn out curse, twisting as he tried to take the pressure off of his broken arm.

Six pairs of eyes focused on Toby as the soldiers and the girl shifted their gaze to him. I stared at the floor, uncomfortable with how close the attention was to my physical person.

A soft "fuck" next to me caused me to look over at my friend.

He really did look dreadful, his face was clammy, contorted in pain. His eyes, normally full of life and mischief, were hooded, the pupils dilated to the point that I could barely see the green iris's. His skin was ashen grey and he looked like he might be sick at any moment. As if to cement the thought, he hicoughed and swallowed loudly.

Toby craned his neck to rest his head against my shoulder in a rare display of affection. I guessed that he hadn't noticed the scrutiny he was under as he would never have shown such vulnerability in front of others. He looked in all seriousness like he wanted to cry, and I sighed deeply.

We had been best friends for so long, since we were kids, and I knew the man better than I knew myself. We had run away together when we were ten, smuggling ourselves onto a freighter and leaving our home world far behind. I could recall that day vividly, as we had snuggled together between crates of machine parts, hungry and scared, but each putting on a brave face. He had sworn to me, at that point, that he would always protect me. We had cut our palms and bled them together to seal the oath. It was childish and stupid, but it stuck.

Since then we had travelled across the galaxy side by side, both growing, maturing, experiencing new and exciting things with the security that the other always had our back. We had seen each other at our best, and our worst. Had hardened ourselves to the worlds around us, living in our own bubble in which we were the only two beings that mattered.

There had always been a bond between us, stronger than anything else in the galaxy, which kept us together. We had often, in the dead of night and usually when we'd been drinking, pondered this connection, trying to fathom it with all the logic and deep contemplation of two idiots hammered out of their brains. We could FEEL each other, for want of a better word. Always knew if the other was hurt, hungry, angry, sad, Hell, even horny. Toby had often speculated that we were force sensitive, that we had bonded together through the force. Personally I thought that was bollocks, but I humoured him.

Glancing down at the man I considered my best friend, I was struck by the sudden panic of what I would do if he died. I FELT for him, through that connection we shared and grimaced. He really was feeling truly shitty.

I raised my head and met the eyes of each of the five men in turn, jaw set and expression grim. My eyes lingered on Hunter a moment longer than the others.

The tattooed man sighed through his nose, letting go of Omega and nodding towards me.

"He really that bad?" The question was softer than I expected.

I cocked my eyebrow at him and conveyed a look that said "what the fuck do you think, dick head?"

Hunter smirked slightly and I wondered for a second if I had spoken the sentiment out loud.

"Omega, get the med kit."

The girl sprang into action, dashing across the ship to rummage around in a nearby locker.

The one called Crosshair growled and rolled his eyes.

"We wasting medical supplies on THEM now?" The look he directed at Toby was one of complete contempt and he smirked around his toothpick.

Hunter shot him a warning look, and took the proffered med pack from Omega.

"Wrecker, uncuff him and bring him over here. Tech, you help me. Echo, Crosshair, keep eyes on 'em."

The others moved away to their designated tasks, the grey haired one grumbling quietly.

The big guy, Wrecker stomped towards us and nealt down next to Toby. I tried not to look intimidated and met his eyes defiantly. Or EYE, I should say, his left eye was milky white and a scar webbed its way across that side of his face. I doubted the man could see anything from it.

The tank of a man grinned crookedly and fiddled with the cuffs at Toby's wrist. I felt my friend jump at the unexpected touch and I realised he must have passed out again.

Wrecker paused for a moment, watching Toby carefully, whose face was strained and wild looking. He gently moved his thick fingers back to the bindings, moving as though we were frightened animals that might bite him. From the feral look in Toby's eyes, I supposed that was a fair concern.

"Easy buddy," Wrecker said in a voice which may have been an attempt at a whisper, but which made my ears pop none the less. "Not gonna hurt ya."

The cuffs loosened with a click and Wrecker tossed them to the side. The sudden lack of support caused Toby's arms to drop to his lap, limp from lack of use.

He buried his head in my shoulder and let out a muffled scream. I felt teeth sink into my flesh. That would most certainly leave a mark.

Wrecker knelt for a few moments to let Toby breathe through the pain, before offering a hand to pull him up. He must have realised that standing was not an option for my friend; he was shaking worse than a cantina singer's bosom, the sudden pain overwhelming.

The big man withdrew his hand and instead reached an arm under Toby's legs and one behind his back, lifting him off the ground like a child. It would have been funny if Toby hadn't been sobbing so pitifully.

Wrecker moved towards Hunter, who indicated a nearby crate with a flick of his wavey haired head. Damn, he really did have nice hair. I shook my head, wondering if I was going peculiar.

Wrecker set Toby down on the crate and stepped back to lean against the wall, his posture menacing. Although I had seen the look of concern that had flitted across his features when he had picked up my friend and wondered if the bravado was just for show.

Toby perched on the edge of the crate, knees knocking together and his left arm cradling his ribs. Hunter moved closer, accompanied by Tech, who pulled out a scanner similar to the ones I had seen medical droids use in the past. He cast it over the broken man, who flinched at the sudden brightness of the device. Over by the wall, Crosshair tightened his grip on the rifle he held, which I realised was trained on my friends head.

I glanced at scomp arm (was his name Echo?) who was covering me with his blaster held awkwardly in his left hand. He met my gaze and shrugged apologetically, and I huffed, although I appreciated the fact that his weapon was loosely aimed at the floor and not my face.

Tech finished scanning Toby and scowled at the med scanner when the results of the exam pinged through. He hummed flatly.

"Broken ribs, fractured clavicle, concussion, multiple abrasions," he listed his findings to no one in particular. "Thankfully, no internal bleeding".

Hunter grunted an acknowledgement and began rummaging through the med kit.

"Whaddya need, Tech?"

The man with the goggles cocked his head and thought for a moment.

"Steriplast. It will be awkward due to the location of the fractures, but it will provide the most efficient relief. We will need to remove his clothing first."

I saw Toby's head snap up at that and he looked as though he might protest at being stripped by two strange men, but he must have realised he was in no position to argue for he swallowed his words and pathetically started to undress.

Hunter and Tech helped him as best they could, pulling off the long black coat and casting it to the side. The shirt proved more difficult to negotiate around the broken bones, and in the end they peeled it off with minimal jostling of his arm. It was still enough to send him panting in pain though.

Once his top half was bare, I finally got a good look at Toby's wounds and winced. He was black and blue, the bruises criss crossing old scars to form a sick collage of injury. His shoulder was a stomach churning colour, and his right arm looked swollen.

Tech surveyed the area, tutting quietly as though irritated that the man had allowed himself to get injured in the first place. He worked quickly, wrapping the bandages around Toby's chest and shoulder as best he could. Hunter watched wordlessly, passing items to Tech whenever he asked for them. I noticed Omega, standing back behind the others, watching silently.

Toby inspected the bandages disinterestedly before struggling back into his clothes. The man with the goggles fashioned a splint of some kind to keep the arm pinned to Toby's side.

He then moved to Toby's head, wiping away the dried blood to reveal the offending cut. He applied a bacta patch unceremoniously to the area and tilted my friend's head before quickly jabbing him in the neck with some sort of syringe. Toby panicked momentarily before the pain killers kicked in, and he finally started to relax. Tech packed away the unused meds and stood.

"That is all I can do with our limited resources."

Toby caught his eye and nodded his thanks, leaning his head back and groaning with relief as the drugs kicked in.

Wrecker, who had been passively watching the whole debacle, picked up the cuffs he had previously thrown against the wall and moved towards the injured man. Hunter stopped him with a hand on his chest, glancing at Toby, who was quickly going limp against the wall, eyes half closed. The tattooed man seemed to consider something briefly.

"Put him in one of the racks. Cuff him to it, just his good arm. Dont wanna undo Tech's work."

Wrecker gave a thumbs up, stooping and gathering Toby in his arms. He didn't protest this time, merely sagging into the sudden weightlessness.

I watched as the big guy laid my friend on the bottom bunk, clipped the cuff around his left arm and looped it around the side of the rack. Toby sprawled out inelegantly, already unconscious.

I was so busy watching that I didn't notice Tech running his scanner over me until he shone the light directly into my eyes and I growled.

"Kriff," I muttered, pushing myself away from the offending illumination, only to realise my back was already flush to the wall.

Tech appeared concerned.

"Apologies," he said, drawing his hand back. "I did not mean to cause you discomfort. But it appears you also require medical attention."

I felt my self scowling suspiciously at him.

"M' fine," I muttered sulkily.

Wrecker laughed loudly, elbowing Hunter hard enough that the smaller man stumbled sideways.

"Ha! Tough guy eh? I like her!"

The tank of a man winked at me with his good eye and I tried to hide a grin. Something about him was strangely endearing.

Tech adjusted his goggles and peered at me through his eyelashes, gauging my response.

I sighed and swept my gaze across the others. Fuck it, I thought. A few bandages wouldn't do any harm, but there was no way in all Hells I was going to let these guys drug me.

"Fine," I conceded grumpily.

Tech brightened once he realised I was accepting his help. Wrecker moved towards me and released my arms from the cuffs. I sighed as I rubbed my wrists, which were bruised from the tight confinement, and made to stretch my aching limbs.

A mechanical click from the corner brought my attention to the grey haired prick. He had shifted his stance so that his sights were trained on me, finger ghosting the trigger of his rifle. The safety was off.

My breath caught in my throat as I met the cold gaze. This wasn't the first time someone had pointed a gun at me, but there was something about this man, the predatory look in his eyes, that frightened me.

Something must have given away my fear as the lanky git sneered at me, toothpick rolling in his lips. Shit. He grinned even wider.

"Don't move, there's a good girl. Nice and still." His tone was so patronising that I nearly gagged. If it wasn't for the rifle aimed at me I would have flipped him off and told him to get karked.

I stilled my movements and lowered my gaze, cursing myself for being so submissive. I could practically feel the shit eating grin the guy was directing at me.

I heard Tech clear his throat beside me but I didn't look at him. I was afraid he would see the blush on my cheeks.

"You will need to remove your garments so that I can apply the bandages."

I looked at him then and met his eyes, which widened as a red tint reached his face. I just nodded, no longer able to summon the energy to fight.

I threw off the dark jacket I was wearing and shrugged out of the soft grey shirt. I could see Tech's fingers twitching in his lap, as though he was considering helping me undress, but ultimately decided that would be inappropriate.

I bundled my clothes to one side and sat back on my heels, my top half naked save for the tatty bra I was wearing. Fuck. If I'd known I would be stripping for a squad of troopers I would have worn a decent one.

Tech swallowed audibly and I tried not to think about what was going on underneath the crotch plate of his armour.

"Your undergarments, as well, if you please." His voice was strained.

I looked him dead in the eyes.

"Fuck off."

He swallowed again and hesitated, clearly trying to assess whether he could administer the necessary medical dressings around my brasier. Ultimately he must have decided that he could as he nodded solemnly and reached towards me with a role of steriplast held in his shaking hands.

He began binding my ribs and I glanced around at the others.

Hunter looked like he wanted to die then and there, the side of his face not covered by his tattoo was an interesting shade of Puce.

Wrecker kept his eyes downcast, shooting fleeting glances at me every now and again as though checking to make sure I still wasn't a threat, rubbing the back of his neck nervously.

The one called Echo still had his pistol in his hand, but he stood stoicly, eyes trained on a spot above my left shoulder as he attempted to give me some semblance of privacy whilst still keeping his gaze close enough to notice if I made any threatening movements.

Omega stood at the back, alternating between watching Tech's hands and ogling at my semi-naked form.

And Crosshair.... the fucker still had that shit eating grin plastered across his narrow face! His eyes shamelessly roved over my body, critically picking me apart.

I was secretly glad that Toby was out of it as I was sure the hungry look in Crosshair's eye would have caused my friend to pull the bunk out of the wall in his haste to deck the guy.

I started to feel sick and withdrew into my self. Tech paused in his ministrations, hesitating to gauge if my flinch was caused by pain. He gentled his movements and carried on.

I kept my eyes fixed to a spot on the floor as the man finished tending my wounds. He held up another syringe of pain killer and I shook my head. There was no chance I was going to let myself be sedated whilst stuck in a tin can traveling through space, with five men who were evidently sex starved.

I shrugged back into my clothing without saying a word and positioned myself back against the wall with my hands raised in readiness for Wrecker to cuff me to the bulk head again.

The men rapidly dispersed once I was secured, evidently they were almost as mortified as I was over the whole debacle. Only Crosshair and Omega remained, the latter hovering nearby until she was herded towards bed. The former was still watching me, although his rifle was now propped against his leg and his arms were folded tightly to his body. His eyes had lost some of their hunger but they were still cold, and I shivered involuntarily, trying to mask the reaction by fidgeting to get comfortable.

I stayed awake for a long time, keeping one eye open for danger, too unnerved to fall asleep.

Chapter Text

The ship pulled out of hyperspace the next day.

I felt the familiar lurch as the drive disengaged, and my stomach began to churn. Toby, who had been lying on his side, still cuffed in the bunk, gave me a reassuring look as he sensed my anxiety. The attempt was appreciated, even though I could practically smell the unease rolling off of him.

There was a flurry of activity in the cockpit and I craned my neck to better survey the activity.

Tech was hunched over the controls with Echo beside him. Hunter leaned forward to lazily gaze through the view port, while Omega stood on one of the chairs to get a better view. Wrecker had stopped bench pressing a decrepit looking Gonk droid, and was gripping the back of Omega's chair. The only one who didnt appear phased by our jump from hyperspace was Crosshair. He didn't move from his spot in the navigators chair nearby, chin resting on his chest and arms folded. His eyes were closed, and I would have said he was asleep except that his stance in no way belied relaxation. He was coiled tight enough to leap into action at a moments notice.

"Coming up to Nasu now," Tech remarked, taking hold of the controls in both hands. "It looks to be a difficult landing. I would suggest strapping in."

There were a few grumbles of acknowledgement and it was obvious that difficult landings were usual for this group of troopers.

I glanced at Toby again and he shifted himself so that he was braced against the wall, just in case.

The others secured themselves in various crash seats located in the ship. I found it alarming just how many damned crash seats the Marauder had.

We dropped through the atmosphere faster than I was comfortable with and I felt my stomach lurch as the ship bucked through the turbulence. Toby had his eyes closed and seemed to praying to the Maker. The clones and the girl seemed unperturbed by the bumpy ride. I clenched my jaw and tried not to be sick.

Abruptly the free fall stopped and I felt the rumble of the landing gear as we touched down hard.

The second the ship stilled, the men leapt to their feet, grabbing various pieces of gear and weaponry. I saw Hunter make a hand signal to Wrecker and the giant nodded and made his way towards us, closely accompanied by Echo.

Wrecker unhooked my cuffs from the wall and re-fastemed them again behind my back. Evidently these guys still did not trust me. He hesitated with Toby, not quite sure how best to secure him with one arm in a sling. In the end, he removed the cuffs completely, figuring that my friend was not a viable threat with only one arm.

Echo hooked his scomp arm under my elbow and pulled me to my feet. My legs groaned at having to carry my weight again after do long sat on the floor. I heard Toby limping behind me as Echo guided me from the ship, flesh hand gripping a pistol and scomp arm resting on my shoulder.

I stepped down the ramp and flinched at the sudden brightness. It was cold, I realised, and my breath caught in my throat at the sudden change in temperature. The cyborg behing me was kind enough to pause for my eyes to adjust before he prodded me on gently.

As I made my way down the ramp I took note of my surroundings. The planet we were on was arctic, snow swirled lazily in the air and a thick mulch covered the ground. There were trees in the distance, tall pines and conifers and on the horizon I could see mountains. Closer, almost immediately in front of us, was the opening of a hangar and behind that a low, grey, square building sprawled, almost melding with the landscape.

I glanced behind me and saw the ship we had arrived on, parked haphazardly on what I realised was a landing platform attached to the hangar. It was an old Omicron class, tatty and battered in places, with more than one shoddy repair job welded to the hull. I hummed to myself as I tried to puzzle out what these guys were doing with an old Republic shuttle.

We approached the hanger, Hunter and Omega leading the way with the other four flanking Toby and I as if expecting us to make a run for it. Honestly, I could barely walk, and I knew there was no point trying to escape anyway.

I noticed others then, dotted here and there about the landing platform as they busied themselves with their work, bundled up against the cold. There were other ships too, a mixture of old and new, big and small, shuttles, freighters and gun ships.

We entered the hanger and I felt myself sigh as the air around me warmed considerably. I shook snowflakes from my hair and stomped my feet a few times to remove the worst of the snow that had packed onto the sole of my boots.

The occupants of the hangar gave us curious looks as we passed, pausing briefly from their tasks. I kept my head high and trudged along behind Hunter, not making eye contact with anyone. I had learned from a very young age that it was always best not to show weakness.

At the rear of the hangar a door slid open with a hiss, giving me the briefest of glances into the stark grey hallway beyond before shutting again after two men stepped through.

These two were most definitely clones, their faces were almost identical and the armour they wore left no room for doubt. The white plastoid gleamed dully in the stark light of the hanger, although I noted that there were scorch marks here and there and the blue paint which decorated the various plates was chipped in places.

The two newcomers stopped in front of our group and I saw Hunter salute casually, removing his helmet and clamping it under his arm.

"Captain", he said equally as casually, although there was an underlying tone of sarcasm which was barely audible.

The one to the left acknowledged the greeting with a curt nod, standing stiffly and running a critical eye over the group. His eyes were brown, I noticed, although they looked strained, as though he had seen too much. His hair was so short that he almost looked bald in the bright lights, although I saw on closer inspection that his hair was dyed blond.

The other guy actually was bald, a large tattoo which looked like a cog covered one half of his head. He barely looked at Toby or I, his gaze instead fixing on Crosshair's visor. I thought I saw his hands clench into fists but I could have been wrong.

"Hunter," blondie said in greeting, shifting his brown eyes to me. I squirmed slightly at the scrutiny. "Good to see you all in one piece. I take it the mission was not a success?"

Hunter seemed to bristle at this, and I heard the others shift their feet on the smooth deck of the hangar. Clearly they did not handle failure well.

The man recovered quickly and cleared his throat roughly.

"There were....complications."

The blond haired guy twitched a smirk, eyes lingering on me a moment longer.

"We were ambushed at the drop point," Hunter continued, straightening his back in an effort to make himself taller. He jabbed a thumb behind him. "We captured these two, thought they might be insurgents so brought them in for questioning."

I felt myself scowl at that and vaguely heard Toby mutter something about not being an insurgent. Blondie gave him a scathing look.

"Take them to medbay. Have Kix prep them and tell him I will be along shortly. Hunter, you're with me. I expect a full debrief."

With that, the blond guy turned on his heel and marched back towards the doorway. His buddy paused for a moment longer before following. Hunter cast a look over his shoulder and fell into step behind with obvious reluctance, Omega scrambling in his wake.

Toby and I shot each other panicked looks. What the fuck did he mean, prep us? Images of probes started flashing through my mind and I shuddered.

A prodding in the small of my back brought me back to my senses and I shot a filthy look at whoever was doing the prodding. Crosshair, I realised by the helmet. I could imagine the sneer underneath.

We were marched through the doorway in the hangar, and were greeted by a blast of warm air as we entered the bland, grey hallway. I quickly lost my bearings as we twisted a turned through the corridors, which were void of any decoration save for the occasional door. We passed a handful of others on our treck, more clones and plained clothes civilians. They gave us mildly curious looks but didn't say anything.

The medbay was just as cold and stark as the hallway and I shivered when the door whooshed shut behind us. The room was empty, save for two medical droids and a guy hovering at the far end of the room. He seemed engrossed in sorting through a medical cabinet, and our group stood awkwardly just inside the entrance, waiting for him to notice us.

It was the one called Echo that spoke first.

"Kix?" he called softly. The guy at the far end of the room almost jumped out of his skin, dropping an armful of syringes which scattered across the sterile floor.

The man, Kix, whipped around and spared a dark look at the syringes, before shifting his gaze to us. He was a clone as well, I noted his dark buzzed hair and the white and blue armour. I could just see the edge of a tattoo peaking out from his hairline.

The guy covered the distance in a few strides, and clapped Echo on the shoulder in greeting. Echo removed his helmet and I saw that he was grinning.

"What brings you here?" asked Kix, returning Echo's smile. "Never thought I'd see that day you walked into my medbay of your own accord."

Echo shook his head, still grinning, and jabbed his friend in the ribs with his scomp arm. He cocked a head at Toby and I.

"We took some prisoners on Onderon, Hunter thinks they might be Imperial insurgents. Rex wants them ready for questioning."

Kix looked at us then, eyeing Toby, who gave him a defiant look. I just concentrated on not having a panic attack. The man, a medic I realised from the red cross on his pauldron, had an unreadable expression on his face.

He ran a hand through his short hair and sighed through his nose.

"Fine," he said, voice more snappy than before, and it occurred to me that the fellow was not entirely comfortable with whatever was about to happen to us. "The two bays on the end."

I felt a hand close on my shoulder and looked up to see Wrecker steering me towards the beds indicated by the medic. I started to panic for real then, and fruitlessly tried to twist myself from his grip but he held fast, iron fingers biting into my shoulder.

"What are you gonna do to us?" Toby voiced the question that we were both thinking. His voice almost sounded steady. Almost.

Wrecker nudged me towards the bed and inclined his head towards it. I just stared at him and fiddled with my cuffs. Through the partition beside me, I heard Toby grunt as someone shoved him down on the bed.

"Rex just wants to ask you some questions," it was Echo that spoke, and his voice was low and soft. I was grateful at the attempted reassurance, even if it did nothing to still my pounding heart.

What the fuck were they going to do to us?

I heard Toby grunt nearby and hiss in pain. It roused an animalistic response in me and I lunged forward, barrelling into Wrecker and almost concussing myself when he didn't move an inch.

"What are you doing to him?" I asked, slightly hysterical. I tugged against my restraints and tried to shove the huge man out of the way with just my head. He laughed in amusement before lifting me off my feet with one arm and laying me on the bed face up.

I kicked out and spat like a cornered tooka, but the man just laughed harder, pressing me into the bed with a large hand on my chest.

"Get off me!" I grunted as I thrashed against the clone. The pain in my ribs flared but I ignored it.

The medic was suddenly standing on my other side, reaching across my body and strapping my to the bunk with bindings thicker than my wrist.

Once I was secured, the pair stepped back from me, watching carefully to make sure I wasn't going anywhere. I strained against the straps one last time before slumping back down, defeated. Fuck, there was no way of getting out of this.

Toby was unusually quiet and I worried at what the men might have done to him. I craned my neck to try to catch a glimpse of my friend but the partition blocked my view.

I laid still, arms awkwardly pinned beneath me on the bed, chest heaving and eyes glowering. The one called Kix stopped forward again, hands raised in a placating gesture.

"Take it easy," he said eyes fixed on mine, "no one's going to harm you. I promise. This isn't going to hurt one bit."

I spat at him, the gob landing miles from the target and he gave me a disgusted look but I didn't give a shit.

A sharp pain in my thigh caused me to grunt and I looked down just in time to see Kix sticking me with a syringe, before everything went black.

....................

Everything was fuzzy, but not unpleasantly so. I opened my eyes to see the harsh lights above dancing in and out of my vision, and I wondered why we were moving.

I blinked a few times and the small feat was exhausting. Kark, everything was so heavy.

I became aware of faces peering at me and I realised I was sitting upright, still strapped to the medical bed. I willed myself to tug at the restraints but nothing happened, and I cursed my leaden body.

Fingers snapped near my face and I started, blurrily focusing on the face behind the fingers. It was blondie, his almost bald head reflecting the overhead lighting.

I was struck by how pretty that was, and I giggled uncharacteristically. Fuck, why was everything so fuzzy?

"Can you hear me?"

It was blondie asking, though his voice sounded far away and echoed dreadfully.

"Yes."

I answered unbidden and jolted at the compliant tone in my own voice. I swallowed a few times. My tongue was too damn big for my mouth.

"Good." Blondie gave me an encouraging half smile, although the gesture didn't reach his eyes.

I could vaguely make out others standing nearby but their faces were blurry and swam sickeningly.

Blondie clicked his fingers again so my focus was on him.

"My name is Rex." He spoke slowly, as if talking to an idiot. I realised I was drooling onto my chest. Classy.

Rex continued speaking in his slow tone.

"Can you tell me your name?"

I blinked stupidly up at the man. Go fuck yourself, I thought, but the words wouldn't come out.

"Gemini Lazarus", was all I said. Fuck, I didn't mean to say that. I should have given a false name. Kriff.

Rex nodded and grunted as though pleased with himself.

"Good," he continued. "Can you tell me your friend's name?"

Focus. False name.

"Tobias Edwards".

Shiiiit. What the Hell was going on?

Behind Rex, I could hear someone tapping into a holopad, no doubt recording my answers.

"Gemini," Rex said, a slight hint of humour in his voice as he said my name. I snapped my focus back to him. "I want you to tell me what you were doing on Onderon."

Right. Hard-core bluffing was required. There was no way I was going to tell the guy we had been involved in some dodgy spice deal.

I cleared my throat, thinking furiously. We were traders, yes that was a good enough cover. Our ship had been shot down by Imps on our way to refuel. Good. That would drive home the point that we were most certainly not with the Empire.

I opened my mouth, ready to relay that half baked lie.

"We were involved in a spice deal which went south."

Fuuuuuucckkkk!!!!

"We had to steal a ship, got shot down and had to make an emergency landing."

The words tumbled from my mouth and I couldn't stop them. This was surreal. What had these guys given me?

A scornful look crossed Rex's face and he cocked an eyebrow at me.

"You're spice dealers?"

No.

"Yes".

Fuck.

"Amongst other things."

More tapping on the holopad nearby.

Rex thought for a moment before continuing with his interrogation.

"What kind of other things?"

This time I clenched my jaw so tightly that I nearly bit off my tongue. My lips moved unbidden and I screamed silently.

"Mercenaries, pirates, smugglers, gun runners. A stripper, one time. Arsonists. Freelance pilots, mechanics, thieves."

The list finally ended and I wanted to die. A stripper? Shit, there was that time on Ord Mantell. We'd been desperate for credits. I heard a throaty chuckle nearby but couldn't see where it had originated from.

The man standing in front of me pursed his lips into a thin line, clearly not impressed by my rap sheet.

"Interesting choice of professions." He sounded half way between sarcastic and disgusted. "Ever take on any work from the Empire?"

I sighed, finally glad of a question of which I was not concerned with answering truthfully.

"No. Never".

Rex nodded and straightened, moving away from me to whisper a few words into the ear of the medic.

I passed out so quickly that I didn't even feel the prick of the syringe as he put me under once again.

....................

The hum and beep of machinery filtered through my brain when I woke. For a while, I lay still, eyes closed, and just listened. It was peaceful, and a welcome change from the constant trauma of the past few days.

I opened one bleary eye and realised I was still in the medbay, lying on my side on the bed with a blanket draped over my legs. I wriggled my hips and realised the restraints had been removed. So had the cuffs.

I tried to roll over, unsuccessfully, and flopped back into stillness. Fuck, I felt like shit. My head was swimming and my stomach churned uncomfortably.

"Toby?" I called hoarsely.

A nearby grunt was the only response I got, and I let out a breath I hadn't realised I'd been holding. At least he was alive.

I shifted to prop myself on one shaking elbow, casting around for my friend. He must still have been behind the partition for I couldn't see him. I did however spot the trooper in black armour leaning against a nearby wall.

I ran a hand across my eyes to clear my vision and Hunter's face hazily appeared as he took a step towards me. He fidgeted as though embarrassed, his gaze wouldn't meet my own.

"Hey."

That was all he said at first, and I must have blinked stupidly at him because he coughed and spoke a little louder.

"You doing ok?"

Stupid question, I thought. Of course I wasn't fucking doing ok.

I glowered at the man and opened my mouth to tell him what I thought. I barely made it over the side of the bed before I was sick. I puked onto the floor for what felt like an age, until my stomach was empty of even bile. The retching hurt and I couldn't stop the tears from rolling down my face.

When nothing else came up, I buried my face into the sheets and wiped my eyes and mouth. When I looked up, I saw that Hunter was still standing close by. He hadn't moved. There was vomit on his boots I realised, and my face went red with embarrassment.

The tattooed man didn't seem to care though, he was watching me intently. There was a nervousness to the way he crossed and un-crossed his arms. I realised he was waiting for an answer to his question.

"Been better," I grunted. I wanted to say more, but considering the man was covered in my sick, I thought better of it.

Hunter licked his lips and broke eye contact. I watched him, feeling that he had more to say.

He finally spoke, softly as though he was worried his words would carry too far.

"Sorry."

I was taken aback, unsure how to respond. I hadn't expected the man to apologise. Yet here he was, squirming uncomfortably with a guilty look written across his face. I wondered who had put him up to this.

I nodded once in acknowledgement, still scowling at him.

Hunter, evidently satisfied that he had said what he needed to, backed away and left. I sat in silence, and stared at the spot where he had stood. One of the droids swung by long enough to clear up the pool of sick, but other than that I was left in peace.

Chapter Text

I fidgeted in my spot, perched on the end of Gem's bed. She was lying on her back, staring at the ceiling of the medbay, deep in thought. The colour had returned to her cheeks, thankfully, and she no longer looked like she might throw up at the drop of a pin.

I'd joined her a few hours ago, once I'd been awake enough to move without keeling over. She'd seemed grateful to see me, and I returned the sentiment. I'd been scared when they'd put me under the first time, although I would never admit it out loud. It was reassuring to be close to her again.

Gem had told me what had happened when they'd questioned her. I'd figured the soldiers had drugged us with some sort of truth serum. I still felt violated, even though I supposed I should have been grateful they hadn't resorted to torture to get their answers. I recalled my own experience under the influence and cringed.

Evidently, the men must have decided that we were not a threat, as we were no longer cuffed or restrained in any way, and aside from the medic that checked on us every so often, they had left us alone.

I glanced at Gem again and briefly felt for her with my mind. She was worried, confused, and a little bit scared. I could relate.

She must have felt me brush her consciousness because she seemed to snap out of her reverie.

"What are we going to do?"

The question was almost rhetorical. Almost. She still half hoped I would have an answer.

I licked my lips before speaking.

"We'll leave as soon as they let us."

I hoped my tone was confident but Gem frowned and caught my eye.

"And go where?"

Anywhere, I thought. Anywhere would do, as long as we were together.

I wasn't stupid enough to miss the immediate issues though. We had no ship, no credits, nothing but the clothes on our backs. Our meager belongings had been on the remains of the ship we had left behind. I was also pretty sure that the Pyke's would not be best pleased we had karked up the job for them.

I sighed and scrubbed a hand through my hair, which was matted with dried blood and sweat.

"What about Ord Mantell?" I suggested half heartedly, even though, deep down I knew it would be sensible to return to a Pyke occupied planet anytime soon.

Gem shook her head. That would be no good.

I racked my brain, trying to think of the best course of action. Ultimately, I decided, the long and short answer was that we were pretty much fucked.

....................

Pathetic as it sounded, I just wanted a good cry.

I looked over at Toby, who seemed to be giving some serious thought to our current predicament, and wondered if he would notice.

The door to the medbay opened with a hiss and a pair of footsteps approached my bed. Toby stiffened and moved so that he was sitting closer to me.

Rex appeared around the partition, closely followed by the man I'd seen earlier with the cog tattoo. The blonde man smiled sheepishly when he saw we were conscious.

"Glad to see you both awake," he said, although I wasn't entirely convinced he was. We were surely trouble after all.

Toby and I eyed him warily. Rex didn't seem phased by the scrutiny however, resting his hands on the bed frame and leaning forward slightly.

"Look, let me cut to the chase. Evidently neither of you are with the Empire. I'm sorry you had to go through all this, but we had to be sure."

He paused momentarily as if considering elaborating. Toby shifted closer to my side.

"The thing is, we can't just send you on your way now. Even if you aren't Imperial, we can't run the risk that you'll give anything away to the Empire."

What the fuck was he saying? Were we prisoners? Were they going to kill us? Rex noticed the look of worry on our faces and raised his hands.

"You're safe," he assured us, "but we can't just let you go, at this point."

I realised Toby was gripping my ankle through the blanket.

"So, we're prisoners?" my friend asked, almost spitting out the last word.

Rex shook his head quickly.

"No, no. Not prisoners. You won't be detained, but you won't be able to leave the base either."

So yes. We were captives then. Fuck that.

"So what," I huffed in mock amusement, "we live the rest of our days in this shit hole?"

Rex balked at my words and seemed to struggle for a response.

"No, not indefinitely. Just until we know you can be trusted not to talk to the wrong people. Besides -" he cocked an eyebrow sarcastically "- you don't seem to have any better options."

True. But I didn't need this smug twat reiterating the point.

I glanced at Toby and he pulled a face.

"Can you give us a minute?" I asked. Rex gave a look of surprise, as if wondering what we had to discuss. This was our only option. Regardless, he nodded, and he and the tattooed guy left us alone.

I crawled from under the blanket and moved so that I was kneeling on the bed beside my friend. His hands clenched on the sheets and I knew he hated this as much as I did. I brushed my fingers against the back of his hand and he gave me a tired smile, moving so that his hand wrapped around mine tightly.

There wasn't anything to say. We were out of other options. At least this way we would have food in our bellies and a warm place to sleep. Maker knows, there had been times when we hadn't even had that.

Rex rejoined us after a few minutes, his eyes resting on our joined hands and a flat look crossed his face. Toby squeezed my fingers possessively.

"Fine," I said with a sigh. "Like we have any other options anyway."

Rex flashed his teeth in a grin and straightened, spreading his hands in a welcoming gesture.

"Welcome to the rebellion."

....................

We left the medbay that evening, Kix having deemed we were no longer in danger of any further side effects from the drugs.

A trooper came to collect us at 1700 promptly. His face was sour, and he clearly felt that the task of escorting us to our barracks was beneath him.

We walked side by side, following the man as he led the way deeper into the base. I started to worry that we would never find our way out of the labyrinth of hallways, before realising that was probably the point.

Finally, after what felt like miles of walking, the trooper halted in front of an open doorway and gestured inside.

Toby and I both hesitated for a split second before the trooper, clearly lacking in patience, roughly shoved me into the room. I stumbled over my own feet and would have face planted into the hard floor if Toby hadn't caught my arm.

I swung in his grasp to throw a few choice words at the trooper but he had already gone.

"Fucker." I shouted the word through the open doorway, pulling from my friend's grip and straightening myself.

A cough behind me caused me to whip round quickly. I met Rex's eyes as he stood in the middle of the room, scowling at me in an unsavory manner. Clearly he wasn't impressed with my language. But I didn't care.

The room, I realised, was actually a barracks. There were 8 bunks lining the two long walls of the rectangular room. At the far end was a door which I guessed must lead to a fresher. Against the final wall was a small couch, a table and chairs, which were piled with all assortment of crap, and a couple of lockers. There were no windows, and I briefly considered that we might be underground.

The room was cozy, made cozier by the amount of bodies crammed into the communal space. I recognised the familiar black and red armour and groaned.

"You've got to be kriffing me."

Our five captors, plus the girl, eyed us with a mixture of curiosity, resignation and resentment. Rex just looked done in.

The blond man pinched the bridge of his nose and made to leave the room, pausing as he drew level with us.

"You're bunking in here," he said shortly. "Not ideal, I know, but we're short on bunk space. Hunter will show you where everything is."

He shot a warning look over his shoulder before leaving the room and I was inclined to believe that these five men had been tasked with baby sitting us. From the looks on some of the faces, I knew that was a correct assumption. Hunter looked like he was sulking, Crosshair was DEFINITELY sulking, and I thought that perhaps being forced to bunk with us was some sort of punishment for the squad dragging us into this shit show.

There was silence after Rex left. The squad stared at the newcomers, and we stared right back. In the end, it was Omega that broke the awkward chill.

The girl dashed forward before anyone could stop her and grabbed my hand.

"Come on," she said, beaming, as she tugged me gently towards two empty beds beside the door. "You can bunk next to me."

I went to beckon Toby but realised he was already following, so close I could almost feel his breath on the back of my neck.

Omega dragged me to one of the spare bunks and I sat down, Toby taking the rack next to me on the end of the row. The berth to my other side must have belonged to the kid, judging by the collection of tattered stuffed toys neatly lined against the pillow.

The beds were narrow and hard, but I had slept in far worse before. I ran my hand over the coarse blanket folded at the foot of the bunk. Omega just stood beside me, grinning.

It was Wrecker that eventually broke the deafening silence.

"Fresher's at the back," he nodded to the closed door, "case you wanna take a shower."

I realised that I did. Wrinkling my nose I caught a whiff of myself and grimaced. Toby looked as bad as I must smell and we both nodded.

"Sure."

I stood to my feet and the big guy gestured to the fresher. Omega made as though to follow us but stopped at a cough from Hunter. The man raised an eyebrow and she hesitated, instead settling on the edge of my bunk to wait for my return.

The fresher was cramped, and smelt of body odor and piss. Stalls lined one wall and sinks lined the other. At the far end two showers were set into the wall, with a modest screen separating them from the rest of the room. There was no partition between the showers however, and I did not much like the idea of communal washing.

The door hissed shut behind Toby and he slumped against it, goggling at me.

I realised I'd been holding my breath and blew dramatically through my lips.

We stripped in silence and removed the dressings from our wounds before stepping into the shower. We both tried to avert our gazes so as not to stare at the others bare skin. We'd seen each other naked before, but it was still awkward as Hell.

I scrubbed myself under the warm mist, marveling at the colour of the water as days of grime washed down the drain.

When we were sufficiently clean, I turned off the water and stepped into the fresher, taking the towel Toby passed me.

We dressed again, our clothes feeling stiff and uncomfortably dirty now that we were clean. I made a mental note to track down laundry facilities when I got the chance.

The troopers had finally dispersed while we were in the fresher. Wrecker was sitting on the floor, cross legged, playing some sort of game with Omega. I couldn't tell what the game was, but they were loudly egging each other on. Tech was perched at the table, deeply engrossed with the small piece of machinery he was tinkering with. Echo sat opposite him, chin resting in his hand, watching with a bored expression. Crosshair was lying on the bunk nearest the fresher, arms folded and toothpick clenched between his teeth. As the door slid open he shot us a filthy look, rose to his feet smoothly and barged past us into the fresher. I scowled as the door slammed shut, although I was grudgingly grateful he had at least waited til we'd finished showing.

Hunter hovered near our bunks, waiting for our return. He made an effort to smile as we drew closer, but I didn't return the gesture. I was still pissed at the guy for dragging us into this whole mess.

"Do you guys need anything?" he asked politely. "Late meal isn't served til 1800, I can go get anything you need."

His tone held a hope that we would turn down his offer. I almost did, before deciding I would be much more comfortable in clean clothes. I said as much, and the man nodded.

"Sure."

He shot a look at Echo before stalking out of the room. I saw the cyborg grin into his hand and guessed their leader being forced to be an erand boy was amusing to an extent.

Tech abruptly put down the piece he had been working on and adjusted his goggles, looking at us as we both lingered awkwardly, unsure of our places.

"Are your injuries healing sufficiently?" he asked curiously.

I twisted my body and realised that my ribs were indeed healing. I guessed that the medic had treated us while we were unconscious in the med bay. The pain was still there, but it was much less noticeable that before. I saw Toby roll his shoulder with barely a wince.

"Yeah, I guess so."

Tech fiddled with his goggles again and tilted his head at me in consideration. I prayed he wouldn't ask me to strip again so he could inspect the bruises.

Whatever the man was thinking was interrupted when Hunter rejoined us. He passed me a bundle which contained a soft marroon coloured tunic and loose fitting trousers, some underwear, and a tooth brush. Toby unwrapped a similar parcel.

"Thanks," I said, genuinely glad for the clean clothes.

A thought suddenly occurred to me.

"Do we get our weapons back?"

My mind went to my vibro saber and I thought that I would maybe feel more comfortable with it nearby.

Hunter pulled a face.

"'Fraid not. Not until Rex says so. Dont worry, they're safe in the armoury."

I rolled my eyes but didn't say anything more, instead making my way to the fresher so that I could change.

The tunic was too big for me and almost hung from my shoulders. The trousers were also too big, but I managed to roll up the legs and tie the waist in so that they wouldn't fall down. At least they were clean.

By the time I emerged Toby was similarly dressed, the clothing fitting him much better and I guessed they were sized for men.

The others were congregating near the doorway, and I realised they were all waiting for me. Wrecker clapped a hand on my shoulder and I staggered, knees buckling. I shrugged off his hand and gave him a scathing look. He didn't seem to notice.

"Chow time!"he said enthusiastically, scooping Omega up in one hand and sitting her on his shoulder. They filed out the door and we followed closely.

The mess hall was warm and crowded and filled with the smell of caff. Rows of tables and benches filled the room and there was a long counter along one side, behind which I guessed was the kitchen. We all joined the que and waited patiently for our turn.

Wrecker picked Omega off of his shoulders and held her under one arm, she giggled and kicked her feet as he suspended her in the air. It was sweet, if a little out of place in the canteen almost entirely filled with battle hardened clones. When he reached the front of the line, the giant of a man picked up two trays in one hand and made his way to a table at the far corner, still with the girl clamped under his arm.

I collected my tray and scurried over to where the others had seated themselves, choosing a spot between Omega and Tech. I sat my ass down and surveyed my tray. There was a bowl of greyish mush which didn't smell like anything, and a cup half filled with a translucent liquid.

Tech noticed me inspecting the meal and peered at my face to gauge my reaction.

"Supplies have been in short supply for some time," he said matter of factly, picking up his own spoon. "The flavour is lacking but it is nutritionally balanced."

I didn't care. I was hungry enough to eat a week old Bantha carcass at this point.

Tech wasn't wrong, the slop barely tasted of anything, but I greedily shovelled it in, washing it down with the syrupy liquid. I finished in less than a minute and threw my spoon down.

I raised my eyes and realised Crosshair was sitting opposite me and giving me a dark look. I wiped my mouth on my sleeve and he rolled his eyes.

"Charming."

I flipped him the finger and did it again. He sneered at me but didn't say anything more.

I felt a tug on my sleeve and looked down to see Omega trying to catch my attention.

"What does that mean?" she asked, mimicking my gesture and looking up at me with innocent eyes.

Oh kriff. Oops. I heard Hunter choke and Echo dropped his spoon with a clatter.

I found myself at a loss for words under her gaze and opened my mouth several times as I searched for a response.

"It-ah-it means, well, it means something, um, not very nice."

She blinked thoughtfully and I held my breath.

"Why did you do it, then?"

Shit. There was no getting away from this kid.

I rubbed my hands over my face and sighed. I caught Toby's eye and he gave me a look which said "you're on your own".

"Because I'm not a very nice person."

It was a lame answer but I couldn't think of a better one. Besides - it was true.

Crosshair snorted a laugh and I contemplated throwing my bowl at him, but decided against it, instead settling for a look which I hoped channelled all the contempt I felt for the guy.

Omega had gone back to eating and shrugged around her mouthful.

"I don't think that's true."

I felt myself blush and became suddenly very interested in a spot on the table.

The rest of the meal passed uneventfully and I found myself back in the barracks sitting crossed legged on my bunk and wondering what to do with myself next. Toby had dozed off and was snoring softly. The others were engrossed in whatever they were doing.

I felt the bed dip and Omega crawled up so that she was sitting in front of me. I watched her warily, not sure why she was do interested in me. I noticed Hunter protectively watching the girl as well.

The kid had a stuffed doll in each hand, and she brought them up the my face so that I could see them better. One was supposed to be a tooka, I thought, and she offered the stuffed animal to me.

"That's Lula. Wrecker let's me sleep with her, when I have nightmares."

I squeezed the tatty thing in my hands, turning it over to inspect the threadbare patches. I thought that the hideous creature was more likely to give nightmares than sooth them, but I kept this sentiment to myself.

I glanced over at the giant, who was playing Sabacc with Crosshair and Echo at the little table. Maybe there was more to Wrecker than there first appeared.

I smiled at Omega and handed back Lula. She offered me the other doll for inspection. This one was a clone trooper, although the armour had been crudely painted black and red. I realised how similar the colour scheme was to Hunter's armour and chuckled.

"I like his style," I said passing the figure back to Omega, who shot me a look.

"HER", she corrected and I held my hands up in apology.

"Sorry, I like HER style."

Omega grinned toothily and inspected the doll herself.

"She's a Bad Batcher," the girl explained, running her fingers over the paint job. "I made her armour look like the rest of the Batch, so she would fit in."

The Batch? I guessed that was the rest of the squad. Odd nickname, but I wasn't going to judge.

Omega passed the toy back to me.

"She can stay with you tonight, if you want. She'll keep you company, in case you get scared."

I held the doll in my hands and considered passing it back, but the girl had already hopped off the bed. I wanted to tell her that I didn't need it, that I wasn't scared, but that would have been a lie.

Instead, I lay back on the bunk and loosely dragged a blanket up and over my head so that no one would see my press the doll against my chest.

I didn't fall asleep, instead I curled up and listened as the rest of the group - the Batch - made their way to bed one by one. Someone turned the lights off and the room went dark, the only illuminations coming from a data pad at the other side of the room and the merge cycle lighting in the floor.

Even in the darkness, I still didn't move, until I was sure the others were asleep. It was only then that I cried a few silent tears into a stuffed toy and finally fell asleep.

Chapter Text

I was rudely awoken by someone dragging the blanket off of me.

I groaned and pulled my hands over my head to shield myself from the sudden brightness. There was movement around me and I guessed it must have been morning, although it was hard to tell as there was no window in the barracks.

Somebody tugged my elbow gently in an attempt to uncover my face and I flapped a hand and buried my head under the pillow.

I was karking tired, and I was not used to being woken up in this ungodly manner.

I felt the mattress dip slightly, as though someone was kneeling on the bed, and the pillow was yanked unceremoniously away from me.

I growled at that point. Squinting up, I saw Crosshair standing over me with the pillow held in his hands as if he was considering smothering me with it. I nearly jumped out of my skin and he leered down at me, throwing the pillow onto the floor.

What an unpleasant sight to be greeted with first thing in the morning. It was too fucking early.

I rolled over onto my side and propped myself up, eyes half closed as they adjusted to the light. Something fell to the floor and I looked down to see the little trooper doll. I snatched the thing up and stuffed it under the mattress before anyone noticed.

The rest of the Batch were up and dressed already in their armour and I wondered fleetingly if they even took it off to sleep.

I realised I must have massively overslept as even Toby, who was usually the laziest out of both of us, was lingering by the door with an impatient look on his face. The others all stood nearby, politely waiting for me to drag my ass out of bed. I guessed it must have been time for first meal, judging by the colossal growls emitting from Wrecker's stomach.

"You guys go without me," I said groggily, laying back down and trying to curl back up on the lumpy mattress. "I'm not hungry anyway."

Hunter hesitated, clenching and unclenching his fists. His reluctance cemented the notion that he was indeed tasked with babysitting us. A wicked look suddenly crossed his face.

"Fine, Crosshair, you can escort our, er friend here, to the mess hall when she's ready."

I heard Crosshair hiss and was about to argue but the others had already left me alone with the grumpy grey haired man. I cast him a nervous look. He was fuming.

I scrambled out of bed and made my way to the refresher.

When I emerged I almost fell over the man leaning beside the door. Had he been waiting there this whole time?

Stepping deftly to the side so I wouldn't tread on him, Crosshair looked even more angry than he had earlier.

"Hurry up!" he hissed, biting down on his toothpick so hard it snapped in two. "If I miss first meal because of YOU, so help me...." He left the threat unfinished.

I snorted at him, and he bristled even more.

"You'll WHAT?" I snapped angrily. Who did this asshole think he was?!

Crosshair stepped forward until his face was inches from mine. I hadn't noticed before but the guy was considerably taller than me. He stooped slightly so that he was more on my level and jabbed me with a finger.

"Don't tempt me SWEETHEART." He said the last word so venomously that spit landed on my cheek.

The look in his eyes was murderous and I fought to keep eye contact. The primal instinct in my gut told me to back away, but I wasn't willing to give the prick the satisfaction.

He shoved at me again, hard enough that I stumbled before I could regain my balance.

"Don't touch me, fucker!"

The grey haired man spat out his splintered toothpick and sneered at me, stepping forward to close the gap again.

Without consciously meaning to, my right arm swung a punch at him, which he deflected with ease, grabbing my wrist and yanking me towards him with such force I thought my arm was going to pop out of it's socket. I slammed into his plastoid chest plate with an "ooof" as the air was driven out of my lungs.

Crosshair didn't even stagger and I guessed he must be stronger that his slim frame belied. His left hand still gripped my wrist, and I felt his right hand snake up to wrap around the back of my neck in an iron grip.

I panicked then, eyes shooting wide as my knees started to shake. My instincts screamed at me to get away. This man was going to hurt me.

Crosshair however did nothing more than glower at me with a smug look, still holding me firmly with seemingly no effort. I struggled pathetically but the grip didn't slacken.

He was enjoying this, I realised by the look on his face. The thought made me feel sick to my stomach.

The hand on the back of my neck tightened to a bruising pressure.

"Know your place womp rat," the man growled, looking at me like I was lower than Bantha shit.

With that he wheeled me around and marched me to the door, propelling me forward with the hand gripping my neck.

Several onlookers watched as Crosshair shoved me roughly towards the mess hall. I felt my face grow hot at the scrutiny, feeling like a child that had been caught breaking the rules.

I stole a glance back at the man as we marched along. He was most definitely enjoying this.

It was at that point that I realised how much I totally and completely despised Crosshair with every fiber of my being.

....................

A week passed with relatively little break in the monotony.

The days were always the same: wake, eat, work, eat, sleep. The same routine. Every day.

Rex seemed at a loss as to what to do with us. We were given menial tasks: sanitation duty or inventory taking, or something equally as mind numbingly dull. It was always the same, working on our own with minimal interaction with anyone else. One of the Batch was always present to "make sure we didn't get lost" as Hunter put it.

Both Toby and I knew the real reason. They were keeping an eye on us.

They seemed to take it in turns with watching us. I honestly had no idea what the others did while we worked, and I couldn't really care much either.

It wasn't too bad, I supposed, on most days. Despite the long hours and demeaning tasks, at least we were fed. At least we had warm showers and a bed in which to collapse at the end of the day.

And the Batch weren't really that bad, if i was being honest. Well, most of them.

I got to know them a little in the time they spent supervising us, although I still hadn't figured out what their deal was.

Wrecker was my favourite. Despite his outward bruiserish appearance, the guy was secretly a softie. Whenever he was tasked with watching us, he would chat away as if we were old friends he had known his whole life. He helped too, with whatever we were doing. The man would lift crates with ease, always unprompted, and I began to believe that he genuinely liked us.

Tech was also quite a character. I learned very quickly that the dude was SMART. Scarily so. I always thought of myself as an intelligent person, but Tech made me feel like an infant most of the time. I didn't begrudge him though, there was something so genuine about the guy that I couldn't believe he intentionally made me feel dense. And his long rambles on whatever subject had piqued his curiosity made the time go faster.

Hunter and Echo both took a similar approach in baby sitting us. They both watched with an attentive gaze as though they expected us to betray them at any moment. They weren't unpleasant per se, they just didn't go out of their way to make us feel welcome. If I was honest, though, the silent distance was a nice reprieve after the overload that was Wrecker and Tech.

Crosshair hadn't spoken to me since our altercation in the barracks. And I truly couldn't give a shit. Toby had noticed the bruises on the back of my neck and had pushed me for an explanation, but I hadn't given one. I wasn't sure why, but I supposed it was largely embarrassment, and also fear that my friend would get hurt if he confronted the prick. When it was his turn to watch us, Crosshair surveyed from a distance, seemingly totally disinterested in us. He would loll casually against a crate, stripping and cleaning his rifle with seemingly not a care for us. But I knew that if one of us stepped out of line he would squash us without hesitation. In a way, he was just as attentive as Hunter or Echo, perhaps even more do.

Sometimes Omega joined whoever was on watch duty. She was a curious thing and I found myself drawn to her the more time she spent around me. Her bright attitude and carefree demeanour was refreshing.

After a week, it became clear that the Batch was growing more and more restless. They snapped at each other unprovoked, and became more irritable as the days passed. It occurred to me that they were used to being in the field, and that they didn't much care for being cooped up on the base. As I watched Wrecker and Echo sizing each other up for a fight one evening, I almost felt a pang of guilt at the fact they were stuck behind because of us. Almost. They had dragged us into this after all, without any consideration for me or Toby.

....................

We were on our way back to the barracks, after what felt like an impossibly long day cleaning out the maze of ventilation shafts which served the base. Gem was filthy, almost to the point of being unrecognisable, and I was sure I didn't look much better.

Echo marched along beside us silently. I had tried to engage the guy in casual conversation on several occasions, never being a fan of the awkward silence. He was polite always, but distant. I'd thought at first that he just didn't want to engage either of us, but I'd come to wonder if he just didn't know how to. There were times when his eyes would glaze over and his face would become hollow and haunted. I often wondered what was going on in his mind at these points, but I wasn't going to ask.

The door to the barracks opened with its familiar hiss, and I was surprised to find the man called Rex standing beside the small table surrounded by the rest of the Batch. I froze, momentarily panicking that something had changed with our arrangement. Had they reconsidered the deal? What did that mean for us?

I felt a hand on my shoulder and jumped at the unexpected touch. Echo withdrew his hand almost immediately, clearly uncomfortable with my reaction, but it was enough to ground me in the moment.

I saw that there was a holo projector placed on the table, the small portable kind, although I couldn't see through the surrounding men to get a view of the projection.

Rex was looking at us expectantly as we entered.

"Gentlemen," he said briskly. "And, er, lady," there was a slight blush on his cheeks as Gem scowled at him. "Listen up."

Echo sauntered confidently to the group while Gem and I hung back uncertainly. Rex gave us a look when he realised we hadn't joined the party.

"That means you too."

Gem and I exchanged worried glances before making our way over. I squeezed into the circle next to Echo and he flinched when my arm brushed his shoulder.

I could see the holo projection clearly now. It was a map of a star system, although I couldn't say which.

"Listen up," Rex repeated, eyeing everybody in the circle. Including me and Gem I noticed with concern.

"This is a standard op," the man continued, indicating one of the planet's on the projection, which started flashing red. "Our contact will meet you here, on Pantora, in the next rotation. The exact coordinates of the rendezvous will be provided to you when you are underway."

The Batch exchanged looks. Clearly this was unusual, and I wondered what in all Hells was going on.

"The objective is simple: meet the contact, obtain the intel, and get out of there. I don't have to stress how important this info could be in helping us crack down on the Imperial ambushes."

There was a collective nod around the table. I locked eyes with Gem to see if she had any clue but she looked as lost as I felt.

I raised my gaze again to see Rex eyeing Gem and I with a kind of weary determination.

"I'm bringing you two in on this mission," the blond man said, flicking his pointing finger at the pair of us.

I tensed and felt Gem do the same beside me. This was not what we had signed up for.

"But..." Gem stuttered, "but, we are NOT soldiers. And this is NOT what we agreed to."

Rex gave my friend a crooked smile before answering.

"Doesn't matter, not for this op. In fact, you two being civilians is actually an advantage. As for the latter point, well, I guess its about time you did something useful around here."

Gem looked like she'd been hit over the head with a shock baton. The other Batcher's looked equally as confused.

"Look," Rex ran a hand over his shorn head and sighed, "I get that you're not from a military background. But I wouldn't put you in harms way. At least not intentionally."

Comforting, I thought. At least the guy was trying to appear like he gave a fuck about us.

Gem and I exchanged glances.

"Fuck it," she mumbled quietly, almost to herself. "We've done dodgier shit I'm sure."

She met Rex's eyes steadily.

"What do you want us to do."

There was a huff to my right and I saw Crosshair scowling at Rex with a look which would have made a weaker man crumble. Rex, it seemed, was made of stern stuff.

"We don't need THEM," the grey haired man said contemptuously, flicking the toothpick he'd been chewing in our direction. It bounced off of Gem's shoulder and landed on the table with a soft clatter.

"They're CIVVIES," the guy continued, "and NATBORNS to boot. They're a liability."

The waves of hatred coming off of him were intense, and I sensed something equally as potent radiating from Gem.

There was a momentary pause as everyone processed such a nasty comment.

Rex clenched his fists and leaned them on the table menacingly.

"They are going on this mission," he said in an authoritive voice. "That is an order."

Crosshair opened his mouth to retaliate, but was stopped by Hunter placing a hand on his chest.

"Stow it, Crosshair."

The guy seethed into silence, sharing his looks of disgust between Gem and Rex. I wondered briefly why I wasn't special enough to be on the receiving end of the scowl.

Rex relaxed slightly and turned to address us, folding his arms across his chest.

"Our contact is, well, let's just say they are not too fond of soldiers. They're loyal to the cause, but they don't trust us."

"So you need us to meet with the guy to collect the goods?" Gem asked flatly.

"In a manner, yes," said Rex. "The others will be there to back you up, and you won't be entirely on your own, of course."

Of course. Just in case we tried to stab them in the back.

Gem nodded and cocked an eyebrow at me. I gave her a look that said "like we have a choice."

Rex seemed to read our exchange as an affirmative and switched off the projector, pocketing the device.

"Any questions? Good. You leave at 0600."

With that Rex was gone, leaving us alone with the rest of the squad.

The silence was punctuated by a whoop from Wrecker.

"A mission! Yeah!" He punched a hand into his fist in excitement. "It's been ages since I got to blow anything up."

The others exchanged looks and dispersed to check their gear and prepare for our departure.

Echo laid his scomp arm on Wreckers shoulder and gave the larger man a pained look.

"Wrecker, I don't know if you noticed, but this is a stealth mission. No blowing anything up."

Wrecker groaned sorrowfully as Echo lead him away.

I shrugged at Gem and we made our way to the fresher to shower off the grime and brace ourselves for whatever tomorrow would bring.

Chapter Text

The Havoc Maurauder jostled as it entered the atmosphere of Pantora.

I sat in one of the crash seats with the safety bar down, feeling slightly sick from the turbulence. Or possibly from nerves, I wasn't sure.

Toby and I had dressed in our own clothes this morning, but we still were not permitted our weapons. I didn't like going into this unarmed, and had said as much, but Hunter had ignored my worries, instead assuring me that the Batch would be there to wade in if things went bad.

Omega had tagged along on the mission with us, although Hunter had insisted that she would stay on the ship with Tech once we landed. I still could not fathom the girls relationship to the clones, but I decided it wasn't really my business.

The plan was simple: land is the chosen bay, make our way to the rendezvous, which was some seedy bar called "Odark's Pit Stop", order an Alderaan Chaser at the bar (which signaled to the contact that we here for the intel), give the contact the passphrase ("the moons of Tatooine are beautiful at this time of year"), collect the intel, hand the contact the bag of credits safely tucked in Toby's pocket, and leave.

Simple. And yet there was so much scope for things to go wrong.

The ship gave another dive and my stomach dropped. I gripped onto the safety harness and cursed.

Hunter must have heard me, somehow, over the noise of the ship's descent. He grinned at me and caught my eye.

"You doing ok there kid?"

I nodded, screwing my eyes shut.

"Fucking fantastic," I replied sarcastically.

Hunter's grin widened and I couldn't help but give him a small smile in return. I supposed he was actually a good looking guy really, when he wasn't brooding.

"Kriff!" The ship bucked again and I slammed against my seat. Hunter didn't seem perturbed by the movement. He didn't even have his safety harness on. I grumbled irritably. "So what is this intel we're picking up anyway?"

Hunter shrugged vaguely at my question.

"Dont know," he replied nonchalantly. "Didn't ask."

I blinked a bit at him as we plummeted to the surface.

"You didn't ask?" Hunter shook his head. "You mean, you're prepared to risk your life for some random information that you know nothing about?"

Again Hunter shrugged.

"It's what we do." He said it as if it was obvious.

I was blown away by that. This guy was a soldier through and through.

"But, it might not even be worth it," I said in frustration. "It might be completely garbage intel. It might be the senator of Naboo's personal porn collection. Or the Emperor's recipe for Qwark stew."

Hunter chucked throatily, apparently amused by my indignation.

"If Rex thinks its important, then it's important. He wouldn't send us if it wasn't helpful to the rebellion."

I shook my head in exasperation. It was like arguing with a plascrete wall.

"You may be willing to die for some stupid rebellion, but I'm not sure I am."

The tattooed man scowled at me then, as if I had personally offended him.

"Maybe you should try thinking of someone other than yourself for a change." His tone was lower, angrier, but quietly so. "I've seen what the Empire does, first hand. They enslave or kill those that cross them, those that don't comply. I'm willing to put my life on the line if it means sticking it to the Empire. Giving people hope. I don't expect you to understand."

He turned his head and his eyes were scornful. I licked my lips and softened my tone.

"So that's what this is about? This rebellion? Flipping off the Empire?"

"Yes."

Hunter's tone said that this conversation was done. I leaned back in my chair and sighed. We'd never had much to do with the Empire, but I knew they didn't much care for criminals like me and Toby. The old Republic had been more willing to forgive, but this new Empire was unyielding.

I stayed pensievly silent for the rest of the descent, barely noticing the choppiness. It was only when I heard the growl of the engines powering down that I realised we had landed.

I'd never been to Pantora, but from what I'd heard the Pantorans were a pretty tight lipped bunch, not too fond of the sort of work Toby and I often found ourselves undertaking.

It was pretty, I supposed, as we walked through the colourful dusky streets lined with stalls and stores. Although I couldn't fail to notice the vacant shops with their windows boarded, or the homes with the shutters tightly fastened, scorch marks charring the walls of the buildings. Was this the Empire's doing?

Toby and I walked side by side through the bustling streets, almost blending in with the locals, who barely gave us a look. Hunter and Wrecker, who flanked us on either side, were much more conspicuous. Even in their civilian attire, Wrecker's size and Hunter's tattoo made them noticeable, and I started to worry that this wasn't a good idea after all.

We arrived at Odark's Pit Stop, which looked even seedier than I'd imagined, and Hunter nodded to the alley which ran next to the establishment. We ducked in for a last minute pep talk from Hunter. The alley smelled of sick and I tried not to look at what I was stepping in.

"OK," Hunter said, leaning closer so that he could speak quietly. "You know the plan?" We nodded. "Good. Wrecker and I will be just outside. Crosshair's got the front covered, and Echo's watching the back. If anything seems off, signal us."

He handed Toby a comlink, which he safely tucked in his pocket.

"Channel two. If things go according to plan, we'll rendezvous here. If you aren't out within half an hour, we're coming in anyway, regardless. Got it?"

I nodded, feeling unexpectedly nervous. Hunter clapped a hand on my shoulder, almost sensing my anxiety, and gave me a reasuring smile.

Toby and I entered the cantina side by side, attempting to look as nonchalant as possible.

The inside was a shit hole. There was no other way to describe it. The floor was sticky, and the place was dimly lit, most of the overhead lights were either smashed or flickered luridly. There was a handful of rickety mismatched tables and chairs that looked as though they had been broken and stuck back together more than once. The bar took up one side of the room, and at the back, a Twi'lek woman was twirling half heartedly round a stripper pole for the pleasure of a handful of jeering Weequay. There was a shabby looking Pantoran passed out on a table, and a droid polishing glasses behind the bar, but other than that the place was empty.

Toby put an arm around me and guided me to the bar. Broken glass crunched under me boots.

"Excuse me," Toby cleared his throat. The droid put down the filthy rag he was holding and limped down the bar towards us.

"What can I get for you, sir?" the droid said in its mechanical voice. I glanced around the room but the other patrons were ignoring us.

"Um, yes, I'll have a, um, Alderaan Chaser?" His tone wasnt very confident, and I hoped that no one noticed.

The droid paused for a moment to process the request, before spinning and stalking through a beaded curtain behind the bar.

Toby and I exchanged nervous glances while we waited anxiously for something to happen.

After what felt like an age, the curtain twitched open and an odd looking character stepped into the bar. He was human, small and wiry, and the dark robes that he wore hung from his frame as though they were several sizes too large. He was balding, the remaining scraps of hair on his scalp hung limply, and his eyes were shadowed and bloodshot. The guy looked like a spice tweaker and smelled worse than a rancor's armpit.

Flanking the man were two IG units. A cold dread crept over me but I kept my face neutral. That was some expensive hardware, and I had to wonder how this guy could afford such things.

The man, who I guessed was our contact, gave us a thorough look over. I cleared my throat and stepped forward as I was closest to him

"The moons of Tatooine are beautiful at this time of year."

The contact shifted, peering around the cantina as if half expecting Imperials to suddenly sprout from the floor. I tried to keep my stance relaxed, but I could feel Toby fidgeting behind me and I silently willed him to keep still.

The man nodded his head to one of the IG units and turned his gaze back to us. The droid moved mechanically and went to stand beside the door. I felt my palms grow clammy then and started to wonder how we could make a quick gettaway if necessary. There was a door at the far end behind the stage on which the Twi'lek was performing, but it was quite a distance to cover. Particularly if the IG's started blasting.

The fellow reached a hand into his robe and I stiffened, expecting him to pull out a blaster, but instead his hand withdrew, clutching a narrow data stick. I let out a slow breath and tried to relax again.

The weedy man hesitated, data stick in hand, and I felt an urge to lunge forward and snatch it, but resisted. I didn't fancy taking my chances with the IG by the door.

"You are not what I expected." The man's voice was nasal and whiny.

I blinked at him and looked back at Toby, who seemed more than happy for me to do the talking.

"What did you expect?" I asked pleasantly, giving him a tight smile.

The man returned the gesture, showing off rows of rotten teeth. He gave a chuckle and the noise set my skin crawling.

"Not you, my pretty." He made as though to reach towards me but hesitated when he caught sight of the data stick in his hand. He frowned as though he had forgotten it was there.

Toby stepped around me so that he was standing slightly in front of me, and I felt grateful for the protective gesture.

"Well," he said loudly, causing the man to shift his gaze to me friend. "We'll just be taking that intel, and then we'll get out of your hair."

The man eyed Toby and shrank back a bit. I had to admit that my friend could be quite intimidating when he wanted to be.

The contact looked at the data stick again and tightened his fist around it.

"The arrangement has changed," he said briskly, fondling the stick again.

Toby shifted his feet in the way he did when he was nervous.

"How do you mean?" my friend asked warily.

The guy chuckled again, seemingly extremely pleased with himself.

"You know, the Imperials are willing to pay a considerable sum for intel these days," he said, twirling the data stick in his bony fingers. "Much more than you rebels."

The man nodded to the IG unit standing next to him and the droid stepped forward, removing the blaster from its holster on its back. I saw Toby subtly reach into his pocket while the balding man pulled a pistol from the folds of his robes.

"In fact," the man continued, "they were extremely happy to pay for a couple of rebel operatives. Even gave me these nice shiny droids for my troubles."

I saw Toby move to put himself fully between me and the man before there was a sharp hiss and the room rapidly began to fill with smoke.

The group at the far end of the bar scrambled to their feet and made a dash to the door behind the stage. Even the unconscious Pantoran jerked upright and dived backwards behind a table.

The balding man fired a shot into the smoke and it flew wide, shattering some of the bottles stacked behind the bar. I wrapped my arms around Toby's waist and hauled him to the ground as absolute chaos erupted around us.

I heard a wild yell behind me and twisted to see Wrecker barrelling into the IG by the door and wrestling it to the ground. Hunter emerged from the thickening smoke and sent a bolt in the direction of the other droid, but the blast bounced off of its pauldron. The droid turned and opened fire and Hunter was forced to dive behind a table.

Toby and I crouched beneath the bar, choking on the smoke and trying to keep our heads down. I could just make out Wrecker through the murk, seemingly tearing the IG apart with his bare hands. It would have been impressive if we weren't in immediate peril. Hunter was no where to be seen, but judging by the fact that the other droid was peppering the far corner of the cantina with shots, I guessed he must still be alive.

I heard a scuffling nearby and turned just in time to see the slimy, balding man bringing his blaster to bear on me. He smiled wickedly and gestured with the weapon, although trying to coax me to my feet.

Abruptly a bottle collided with the guy's face and shattered, knocking the fellow backwards. I spun around to see Toby sprawled on the floor, searching for another projectile.

The balding man had pushed himself to his hands and knees, blood dripping down his face. He shook his head to clear his vision, casting around for his pistol, which I realised had flown from his hand when he had fallen. I spotted the weapon beneath a nearby chair and dived to pick it up.

Rising to my knees, I could just see the man making a break for the door through which we had entered. Wrecker had finished off his droid and was now engaging Hunter's, laughing maniacally. Neither of them could see the contact making a run for it.

Without even thinking, I fumbled to a crouch and ran after the guy, keeping low so as to avoid the bolts richochetting all around. I heard Toby yell, but I was through the door before he could stop me.

The street outside the bar was deserted, everyone having assumedly made a run for it when they heard the shooting start.

I coughed and rubbed my eyes to clear away the smoke, and saw the balding man taking off down the street, cradling his head in his hands. I dashed after him raggedly.

"Wait!" I shouted, voice hoarse from the smoke. "Stop!"

The man kept running and I suddenly became aware of the blaster in my hand. I brought the weapon up and took aim, and the man suddenly dropped to a crumpled heap on the ground.

I heard the shot ring through the surrounding buildings a moment later.

I pulled up confused, glancing at the pistol before I realised that I hadn't fired the shot. It was then that I saw Crosshair, crouched on a nearby roof, smoke still curling from the barrel of his rifle. Which was trained on me, I realised.

I just stared at him for a moment, and he stared right back at me, still not lowering his weapon. I felt my hackles rise and wondered if he hated me enough to actually kill me.

Fortunately, I was saved from the sniper's wrath when Hunter and Wrecker sprinted up behind me, closely followed by Toby. My friend looked scared, but the fear left his eyes a little when he saw that I was still in one piece.

Hunter and Wrecker were watching me warily, and I realised I still held the pistol. I dropped the weapon with a clatter, and the two men instantly relaxed. Hunter holstered his blaster as Echo jogged into view.

"Tech says the police force are inbound," the cyborg panted, pausing to catch his breath. "He says he can reroute them which will buy us some time, but we gotta get out of here."

"What about the intel?" I asked. "The contact had the data stick on him still when he ran."

Hunter nodded and motioned for Wrecker to retrieve the data. I watched as the giant rolled the body over with his foot and rummaged around in the guy's robes.

"Found it!" he called brightly, waving the data stick at us.

Echo chuckled softly.

"Well at least something went right."

"And we still have our credit's," Toby added, pulling the bag from his pocket. "I call that a win, win."

"Let's wait til we're off this rock before we start celebrating," Hunter said scathingly before speaking into his com. "Tech get the engines warmed up, Crosshair get back to the ship."

He motioned for us to move and we did, making our way back to the ship as quickly as we could without drawing too much attention to ourselves. As we jogged down a narrow side street, Crosshair caught up with us and fell into step behind us.

We were almost at the hangar when Hunter paused, holding up his fist and signalling us to stop at the end of the street we were in. He cocked his head to one side as though listening.

"Sirens," he hissed. "Coming this way! Keep out of sight."

I strained my ears but couldn't hear anything. The others plastered themselves against the alley wall, crouching behind a couple of trash cans. I squeezed my way between Wrecker and Hunter and waited, heart hammering.

Sure enough, within moments two speeder bikes zoomed down the nearby street, sirens wailing. Once they were sufficiently far enough away, Hunter signalled us to move again and we took off at a jog.

We made it back to the ship without further incident, which I counted as lucky. The engines were already online and Omega was hovering at the top of the ramp, waiting for us. She waved when she saw us and called into the cockpit to alert Tech.

We piled onto the Marauder and Crosshair slammed the button to raise the ramp. The doorway hadn't even sealed before Tech had us in the air.

"Everyone in one piece?" Hunter asked, barely out of breath.

We all nodded an affirmative and I doubled over, panting from the exertion of running.

"Good, Tech get us home."

The ship cut through the atmosphere and the clouds gave way to stars as we entered open space. I was shaking, I realised, partly from the exercise and partly from the adrenaline crash. I made my way to one of the navigation seats and flopped into out. Toby had slid to the floor near the cockpit and looked paler than usual. The others were in the cockpit, and unusually they paid us no mind.

I felt the familiar pop as the ship jumped to hyperspace and I finally relaxed. Hunter emerged from the cockpit and surveyed the pair of us. I tried to stop myself trembling but he must have noticed because he was suddenly crouching down in front of me.

"You sure you're ok?" There was genuine concern in his voice and I was slightly taken aback.

I nodded, not trusting my voice to stay steady.

Hunter looked me in the eye for a moment, holding my gaze with an intensity that was almost uncomfortable.

"You did good. Both of you," he glanced at Toby who had his eyes closed tight.

Hunter placed a hand on the edge of my chair and fidgeted slightly.

"Look," his voice was hesitant and I realised the man was nervous when he would no longer meet my eye. "I'm sorry things didn't go according to plan."

Despite my exhaustion, I felt the need to reassure the tattooed man.

"It's ok," I said, managing a weak smile. "It's not your fault. Besides, we got the data didn't we? I call that a success."

Hunter returned my smile, and I felt myself warming to the guy. It had been a long time since anyone, besides Toby, had shown any concern towards my wellbeing.

I heard Tech call from the cockpit and Hunter rose to his feet and left me alone again. I looked over at Toby, who had an unreadable look on his face. Pushing myself to stand on aching limbs, I made my way to the cockpit, pulling Toby up as I passed. He held onto my hand a moment longer than was necessary and gave me a relieved look. I squeezed his fingers and we joined the others.

Tech was fiddling with the console while the others stood around, silently watching. Omega saw us enter and came over to hug me briefly around the middle. I patted her on the back awkwardly and she let go, only to look up at me with a small smile, which I returned.

"I am trying to decrypt the data stick but my attempts appear to be unsuccessful." Tech tapped away at his data pad, a concerned frown pulling down his brows and making his goggles sit crookedly on his face. "I believe the data may be corrupted."

A moments pause. Then -

"What?!"

"All that for nothing?!"

"What do you mean by corrupted?"

"Can any of it be salvaged?"

"You're telling me we almost got shot to shit and didn't get anything out of it?"

The last was from me and Tech shot me a disapproving look and adjusted his goggles. I realised my tone was overly aggressive and I gave him an apologetic smile. None of this was his fault.

Tech considered the tirade of questions before answering.

"I believe the data was corrupted on purpose," he speculated flatly. "It would appear that our friend never intended to give us that intel."

The reactions in the cockpit were a mixture of anger and disappointment.

"That no good, back stabbing, son of a bitch," Toby added with a shake of his head.

"Look on the bright side," I said in mock enthusiasm. "At least he got what he deserved."

Seven pairs of eyes landed on me and I realised my joke had missed the mark. I briefly met Crosshair's brown gaze before lowering my own and stalking back to the rear of the ship.

....................

I shifted uncomfortably in the navigators chair where I was curled up, trying in vain to get some sleep. My body screamed with exhaustion but my mind just couldn't seem to shut off.

All around me, I could hear the sounds of the sleeping Batch and felt a jab of resentment that they should be able to rest when I couldn't. Toby was also curled on the floor nearby, dead to the world, and Omega had crawled into the gunners turret some time ago.

Hunter usually insisted that someone kept watch on the ship at all times, but on this occasion he allowed his men to rest unhindered. Something had changed, I realised. They no longer watched us constantly and I hoped that meant we had earned some trust from the group.

Fuck, this chair was the most uncomfortable thing ever though. I shifted again and tried once more to doze off before giving up. Maybe I would have better luck in the cockpit. The flickering blue of hyperspace had always been soothing to me, and I hoped it might lull me to sleep.

The door of the cockpit hissed open as I entered and I closed it quietly behind me so as not to wake the others. I slumped in one of the seats near the rear of the cockpit and snuggled down.

Abruptly, the co-pilots chair swivelled around to face me and I almost fell out of the seat, not having realisedthat the cockpit was already occupied.

Crosshair surveyed me lazily, legs stretched out in front of him as he lolled in the chair. I shuddered and hid the reaction by wrapping my arms around myself.

We stared at each other in silence for a moment before I rose to my feet. I would rather die of exhaustion that spend time alone with this man.

The chair creaked as Crosshair propped his feet up on one of the nearby consoles and plucked a toothpick from one of the pouches on his belt. I found myself wondering where in all Hells he got his neverending supply from, but I was never going to ask him.

I turned my back on the man and made my way to the door, intending to give the navigators chair another go.

"Aren't you going to thank me?"

The voice was quiet, soft, and yet it still seemed to echo in the silence of the cockpit. I turned slightly to give the guy a quizzical look.

"Thank you for what?" I asked without thinking. I inwardly cursed myself for engaging with the man.

The toothpick rolled in Crosshair's mouth and I watched it, unable to meet his eye.

"For taking the shot."

I stared, flabbergasted. This guy was truly something else. I would have been livid if I wasn't so damned tired. Instead I felt a diluted kind of annoyance settle over me.

"You didn't have to," I said, voice prickling. "I didn't need saving."

I opened the door and stepped through, turning to reach the button to close it again.

"I didn't think you did."

It was said so softly I almost thought I'd imagined that the man had spoken. I shook my head, convincing myself that I was hearing things, and closed the door.

I settled back into my seat but it was some time before I drifted into an uneasy sleep.

Chapter Text

Things definitely changed after the mission on Pantora.

On our return to Nasu, after the debrief, Rex had actually pulled Toby and I to one side and apologised for the fact that we had been put in a dangerous situation.

We both accepted the apology graciously but in truth neither of us blamed the guy. Shit always went sideways after all and nothing ever went to plan. At least on the sort of jobs we pulled.

The Batch began to treat us differently after that and it was as if we had grudgingly earned some small shred of respect after holding our own on Pantora.

They no longer watched us quite so closely as they had before, and even left us to complete our work assignments alone sometimes.

It was a small thing but it didn't go unnoticed by me. We could have taken off when things went bad on Pantora, but we hadn't, and I guessed that gesture had offered a crumb of trust.

As Toby and I started to get a little more independent I wondered whether we would be separated from the Batch for good. They were soldiers, after all, and if we no longer needed constant supervision then I supposed they would ditch us sooner or later.

I had mixed feelings on the subject of that possibility. On the one hand, I would be grateful to get away from Crosshair's scorn and snide remarks. On the other, I would miss the Batch's company. They were entertaining after all, and I had grown quite fond of Omega. I enjoyed their weird family dynamic and often found myself watching their interactions enviously. Part of me wanted that, wanted to be a part of it, but I knew it wouldn't happen. I wouldn't let myself get too close to them because I knew, sooner or later, I would be disappointed. Besides, they were already a complete unit: they didn't need outsider's like us.

A few days after Pantora, Toby and I were sitting in the mess hall one morning, eating a late first meal before we headed to the hanger to re-catalouge the crates of spare parts. The other Batcher's had already eaten and left for the day, trusting us to look after ourselves. The mess hall was quiet at such an hour, and save for a handful of clone troopers and two civilian pilots, we were the only others present.

Toby sipped his caff, slowly savouring the caffeine boost. I could never stand the stuff, but my friend was barely human without it. I prodded at the remains of my grey sludge, wondering if there was any substance in the galaxy that could make the stuff palatable.

The sound of a palm slapping our table caused us both to jump, Toby almost spilling his precious caff in the process.

Hunter stood over us both, grinning from ear to ear. He was fully kitted in his armour, his helmet wedged under one arm. I started to get an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach.

"Been looking for you two," he said in an upbeat tone, while Toby and I exchanged uneasy glances.

Hunter must have noticed the looks on our faces because his smile became less maniacal and more soft.

"Come on, time to gear up." He jerked his head towards the door.

"Gear up for what?" I asked suspiciously, eyes narrowing. Hunter's smile became more toothy again.

"We're going off base for a few hours. Thought you mind wanna join us."

Toby and I still hesitated, not quite sure what was going on. Hunter regarded us both for a moment before continuing.

"It'll get you away from stacking crates," he said temptingly.

I threw down my fork and rose to my feet.

"Fuck yes."

Hunter chuckled at that and nodded for me to follow. Toby quickly joined us with a sigh. Anything was better than stacking crates, and quite honestly I was finding our confinement within the base suffocating.

Hunter led us out into a small courtyard area beside the hangar. The area was stepped down from the runway, one side edged by a retaining plastcrete wall which ran parallel to the landing bays. The other side was open ground for maybe a hundred paces, edged by sparse pine trees and scrub. The courtyard was cleared of snow, and appeared to be some sort of improvised training area, judging by the blaster marks on the wall. There were some battered targets set up nearby in the open area, mostly made up of pieces of scrap and old droid parts.

The rest of the Batch, plus Omega, were waiting in the courtyard. They were all (save for Omega) dressed in full armour and each carried his weapon of choice. Even Omega carried a blaster, the weapon looking much too large and bulky in her small hands.

I started to worry about what I had agreed to be a part of.

Hunter shoved his helmet on his head and pulled out his blaster.

"Right," he said cheerily, looking about at the small group. The others, I noticed, appeared way too excited and I seriously considered changing my mind about the whole thing. At least stacking crates was safe. Whatever Hunter had in store for us, I doubted it would be.

"You all know the rules," Hunter continued, "but I'll go over them again for the sake of our guests." He looked at me and Toby. "Search and destroy. The goal is to eliminate the other team before they take us out. It has to be a solid hit to the body or head with a stun blast to count, and once you're hit, make your way back here."

Hunter passed Toby and I each a tracking beacon, presumably so we could find our way back to the courtyard.

"Last team standing wins. And remember to set your weapons to the lowest setting. Dont want a repeat of last time."

I caught Wrecker rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly.

"I didn't mean to knock Tech out," the big man said in embarrassment. "I just got carried away."

"Yes, well, your enthusiasm earned me a stint in the medbay, Wrecker." Tech's tone was disapproving.

I felt a surge of adrenaline and my stomach did a small flip. I wasn't sure whether this would be a pleasurable experience but I had to confess there was some appeal to being given the opportunity to shoot the rest of the team. One member in particular.

"Got it?" Hunter asked us and we nodded. "Good. We'll split into two teams. Crosshair, Wrecker, Tech, Toby, you guys can hunt first. Give the rest of us a ten minute start before pursuing."

I glanced at Toby, who looked like he might argue at us being separated. I put a hand on his arm and gave him a smile. It might be good for us to have some time apart.

Echo handed each of us a blaster, and I checked that the stun feature was set as low as possible, before tucking the weapon into the back of my belt. I would much rather have my vibrosaber but this would do.

Hunter, Echo, Omega and I set off into the nearby forest at a jog, keeping the pace slow so as not to tire quickly. I thought Omega would struggle to keep pace but she didn't appear to have any trouble, even when the snow drifted past her knees.

We kept moving deeper into the forest until Hunter held up his hand and motioned for us to stop.

"OK," the tattooed man said, his voice distorted by the modulator in his helmet. "They'll be on the move by now. I suggest we split up to throw them off the trail. Omega, pick a buddy and stick with them, I don't want you out here on your own."

Omega nodded and moved to stand beside me. I gave her a smile and imagined the soft look in Hunter's eye.

We dispersed quickly, all aware of the time ticking by. The others would be on us in no time, particularly as the snow underfoot made it easy to track us.

Omega and I headed towards a nearby rocky outcrop. I figured that the stone would make it harder to follow us. I climbed the few feet to the top of the cliff, pausing to pull Omega up behind me. She brushed the snow off her clothes and glanced around.

"Where to now?" she asked in a whisper, looking up at me expectantly.

I took note of our surroundings: the trees were much thicker here and the ground underneath the canopy was bare of snow. I could hear a stream nearby, through the trees.

"Hmmm." I thought for a moment. "I think we should head along this outcrop for a way, seeing as it'll be harder to pick up our footprints. Then head into the trees and try and find that stream. That sound ok to you kid?"

Omega nodded and grasped my hand. Her fingers were warm and soft, and I felt myself thaw a little as we trotted further along the ridge before disappearing into the trees.

The stream was closer than I had thought, cutting its way through the forest and meandering around the boulders and pines. It wasn't very large, no more than a few feet across and no deeper than a couple of inches at best, though the water ran quickly, tumbling around boulders and rocks in its haste to move downhill.

Omega stopped and dipped her fingers into the crystal clear water, withdrawing them with a yelp.

"It's cold!" she gasped, drying her fingers on her tunic.

I laughed quietly and she looked at me, surprised at the noise.

"Well what did you expect?"

I ruffled her hair to show that I was teasing and she smiled, cupping her hands to her mouth to warm them.

"Come on, kiddo," I said, taking her hand in mine to try and warm it. "Lets move upstream, they won't be able to track us if we stay in the water."

Omega looked at the stream, then down at her feet.

"We'll get wet," she observed, curling her fingers into mine.

I knelt down next to her and let go of her hand.

"Hop onto my back," I said, looking at the girl. "Then only one of us needs to get wet."

She hesitated for a minute, before stepping behind me to wrap her arms around my neck. I stood, taking the girl's weight onto my shoulders and waded into the stream.

It was hard going scrambling up the rocky stream bed, particularly with Omega's added weight. I was panting and sweating in no time at all, and started to think this was a bad idea.

After a small distance, the stream became too steep to progress further. I stepped out of the water and let Omega down to the ground, doubling over so as to catch my breath.

I suddenly became aware of movement nearby, and Omega must have heard it too because she gave me a look of genuine panic. I put a finger to my lips and pointed to a nearby fallen tree, the branches of which would offer some cover from whoever was approaching us.

We ducked behind the log and both peered over the splintered branches. Someone was definitely honing in on our location, although I couldn't tell yet whether it was friend or foe.

The noise seemed to be getting closer; whoever it was wasn't bothering to hide the sound of their approach. I pulled the blaster out of my belt and held it close, and I saw Omega do the same.

Out of nowhere, somebody stunned me from behind with their blaster. I howled as the shot sent a pulse of electricity through my body.

Turning, I saw Tech standing behind us, his pistol raised. Omega hesitated, looking between me and Tech. In the end she put her blaster down and raised her hands above her head. Tech holstered his weapon.

"I am not going to shoot you Omega," he said matter of factly. "But do I have your unconditional surrender."

Omega nodded quickly and picked up her blaster.

I rubbed the spot between my shoulder blades, where Tech's bolt had hit me and grimaced. The man shrugged his shoulders slightly.

"Sorry."

"That's ok," I said with a lopsided grin. "All's fair in love and war."

I heard a branch snap behind us and twisted to see Wrecker making his way towards us, helmet perched on the top of his head and a savage smile plastered across his face.

"Ha ha!" he chortled, wrapping his arms around my shoulders and lifting me to my feet. "You fell for it! Good plan, Tech!"

Tech adjusted his goggles underneath his visor.

"Yes, well," he said, voice flustered. "We always do work well as a team."

Wrecker patted Tech on the back in what was supposed to be a gentle gesture, but which almost took the smaller man off of his feet.

"Guess you two are out!"

I turned to Omega, who looked crestfallen.

"I guess so," I offered Omega my hand, which she took glumly. "Happy hunting boys."

I pulled out the tracking beacon and we set off in the direction of the base. Omega was silent, walking along beside me, defeated. After a little while I gave her hand a squeeze.

"You ok kiddo?"

She nodded, eyes downcast.

"Yes." A moments pause. "Sorry we got captured."

I looked down at her and tugged her hand to catch her attention. Her huge brown eyes met mine, and I could see that she was genuinely upset.

"It's ok," I said with a smile. "It's not your fault. Tech is way too smart. Besides, its supposed to be fun."

That seemed to make her feel a little better and she perked up.

"You're right," she said, voice determined. "Tech is the smartest. It's no wonder he worked out how to catch us."

Her step was a little lighter. Hell, I was feeling nice today.

"You're smart too, y'know," I chided the girl. I really was quite fond of her after all.

Omega blushed at my words and gave me a coy smile.

"Not as smart as Tech. He is the smartest."

"Says who?" I asked in mock indignation. Omega chuckled.

"He is. He was engineered that way," she replied in a matter of fact voice.

I paused to help her climb over a boulder.

"What do you mean 'engineered'?" It was an odd choice of words and I couldn't fathom her meaning.

"I mean," Omega hopped over a snow drift, "that's how he was created."

Created? I supposed they were clones after all. Of course they would have been cooked up in a lab.

"I thought all clones were created the same? Isn't that the point of a clone?"

Omega giggled as if I'd said something funny but I was genuinely curious.

"Most of the regs are the same," the kid said, clearly enjoying the fact that she was able to share her knowledge with me. "But the Bad Batch were created differently."

I blinked a few times in confusion.

"Why?"

Omega halted in her tracks and looked up at me in contemplation.

"I'm not sure," she finally answered. "I know they were all enhanced to be different, but I'm not sure why. I guess to make them better at being soldiers."

Enhanced clones. Wild times. I shook my head.

Omega hummed and started walking back down the slope. I caught up with her and she slipped her hand into mine once more.

"They're all different? In what way?"

I knew that I should mind my own business but I wanted to know more about the band of misfits that I had fallen in with.

"Tech's super smart," Omega explained, "and Wrecker's really strong. Crosshair has the best eyesight of anyone, and he never misses a shot. And Hunter has enhanced senses. He says he can feel the electromagnetic frequencies of droids."

I hummed approvingly.

"That's actually pretty cool. What about Echo? How is he enhanced?"

"He's not," Omega replied. "Echo was a reg. But then he got blown up, and now he's -" she paused momentarily while she searched for the right words, "-now he's just Echo. He didn't fit in with the rest of the regs so he joined the Batch."

Man, that was more than a little fucked up, I thought. But hey, each to their own. And it's not like any of the guys had chosen to be made the way they were.

We made it the rest of the way back to the compound in relative quiet. We weren't the first to have been taken out, I was pleased to see. Echo was sitting on a crate, looking glum. His face softened when he saw Omega however, and the girl let go of my hand to run to the cyborg. She put her arms around his waist and hugged him. I didn't miss the smile quirk up the corner of the man's lips.

"You miss me kid?" Echo asked as Omega let go and beamed at him. He chuckled and squeezed her chin in his flesh hand. The man raised his head and gave me a small smile.

"Tech and Wrecker outsmarted us," Omega said, with a look of determination on her face. "But we'll get them next time."

I chuckled at her enthusiasm and Echo's smile became wider.

"We sure will, kid."

Echo shuffled over so that Omega could perch on the crate beside him.

"Well I'm glad I don't have to sit here on my own any more," there was hint of shame in the man's voice. "It was getting kinda lonely."

"Who got you?" Omega asked, hudling closer to the cyborg for warmth.

"Crosshair," he answered sheepishly. "I barely made it two minutes after we split up. Damned cybernetic legs." He kicked the crate in annoyance.

Toby joined us within a few minutes, his cheeks rosy from the cold, and Wrecker followed soon after. He and Tech had apparently got separated and he'd been taken out by Hunter quickly. I wondered how much chance the others stood against a man with heightened senses and considered that the guy had an unfair advantage. At least he was on my team.

Within half an hour, Tech emerged from the treeline, absentmindedly fiddling with his data pad as he joined the rest of us. That just left Hunter and Crosshair.

I stomped around the courtyard in an attempt to keep warm. It was kriffing chilly now that I wasn't moving, and my muscles were starting to knot together. The others didn't seem phased by the cold, save for Omega, whom Wrecker had enveloped in a bear hug on his return. I could just see the top of her head beneath his thick arms.

I wondered how much longer this could go on for and was considering going back inside to wait in the warmth, when I distantly heard a shot reverberate round the forest.

"Finally," Wrecker said in relief and I was inclined to share his sentiment as my teeth started to chatter.

Crosshair stalked into the courtyard looking thoroughly pissed off. Omega gave a cheer at the sight of the grey haired man.

"Looks like our team won after all," she said, wriggling from Wreckers grasp.

Crosshair snorted and slung his rifle on his back.

"Hunter got lucky," was all he would say.

I heard Tech contacting Hunter on his com to let him know that the game was over, and within no time the tattooed man jogged into view, looking pleased with himself. I was secretly thrilled that he had taken out Crosshair, although I would have been happier if I'd have had the chance to make the shot.

"Another game? Swap places?" Hunter asked and everyone agreed.

Toby, Crosshair, Tech and Wrecker made their way into the forest and Echo set the timer on his wrist comp to give the group a fair headstart.

I listened as Omega regailed Hunter with our adventure while we waited. I blushed a little when the girl praised my idea of wading up the stream, and fiddled with my blaster so that no one would notice.

The alarm went off after ten minutes and we set off into the forest once more, eager to catch our prey.

We split up again and as before, Omega paired up with me, for which I was flattered.

I wasn't quite sure what the best plan would be to catch the other team, and I hesitated once Hunter and Echo peeled off.

"What do you think kid?" I asked. "Any ideas?"

Omega seemed pleased that I had asked her opinion, and puffed out her chest while she thought.

"Hmm, well Wrecker will probably be the easiest," she mused quietly. "Crosshair will look for some place up high, and Tech will try and set a trap. I don't know about your friend Toby though."

"Toby'll keep moving and hope to outrun us," I added.

Omega nodded.

"We should look for tracks," she said, gripping me sleeve. "Come on."

We wandered aimlessly for what felt like an age, combing the area for footprints or any kind of disturbance in the snow.

Eventually, Omega spotted something beside a dense clump of pines and pointed.

"Look!" she said, scrambling over to the trees. I followed, not quite sure what I was meant to be seeing. "See where those branches are bent back? That means someone came through here."

She pointed into the foliage and looked at me for approval.

"Good going, Omega," I said and she beamed at me, face turning pink once again.

"Hunter showed me," she said bashfully. "He said I could be as good at tracking as him one day."

We pushed our way into the thicket, crouching so as to keep out of sight of anyone that might be lurking nearby.

We'd hardly gone ten paces when I spotted him, poorly hidden under a handful of conifer branches. Wrecker stuck out like a sore thumb.

I tapped Omega on the shoulder and pointed the man out. She smiled when she noticed him, and I drew out my blaster as quietly as I could.

Wrecker yelped like a kicked tooka when I shot him, and promptly rolled out of the bush. Omega cheered and I felt myself flush with pride. At least I could impress the kid.

Wrecker gave me a wounded look as he joined us and I smiled apologetically. The girl hugged the giant and pouted.

"Sorry Wrecker," she said. "No hard feelings?"

It was difficult to feel cross at that little face and Wrecker gave her a warm smile and ruffled her hair.

"No hard feelings kid." He turned to me. "Nice shot."

"Thanks, I guess."

We parted and Omega and I made our way further uphill, bolstered by our victory.

It was beautiful here. This was the first time I had been outside proper since arriving and I began to appreciate just how truly breathtaking the planet was.

I paused near the summit of a slope and looked back, drinking in the snow and the trees and the crests of the mountains in the distance. I breathed in the cold, crisp air and felt at ease for the first time in a long while.

Something connected with the back of my head and I squealed, thinking I'd been hit by a stun blast. I touched the back of my scalp and my hand came away cold and wet.

I spun on my heel and saw Omega, standing a few paces away, bouncing a snowball in the palm of her hand. She had a wicked look plastered to her face.

"Oh, it's on."

I dove to the side and rolled, scooping up a handful of snow and compacting it as I came upright. Omega threw but missed, the snow ball breaking apart a few feet in front of me. I took aim and lobbed my projectile, which hit the girl squarly in the face.

She shrieked in delight and took off towards the top of the hill. All thoughts of stalking our quarry dissipated and I galloped after her. Omega threw another ball at me which hit me in the leg, I collapsed to my knees, feigning injury.

The girl trotted over, keeping her distance.

"I'm a goner!" I shouted and flopped my hand across my face, taking the opportunity to scoop another handful and chuck it at the kid.

Omega giggled hysterically and dodged nimbly. I threw myself into a nearby drift, laughing whole heartedly. I hadn't had this much fun in ages.

"Look!" I heard the girl call and sat up to see her standing and the crest of the hill we had been climbing, pointing at something in the distance. I heaved myself to my feet and walked over to the girl, wary of any further icy missiles.

The crest of the hill suddenly dropped to a shear cliff which swung in a smooth arch to create a basin of sorts. Below, the ground was level and smooth and stretched for quite a distance unbroken.

"It's a lake," I said as I surveyed the area.

"It's so pretty," Omega stated, sidling her way towards the edge of the cliff.

I flung out my arm to stop her advancing.

"Be careful," I warned the girl. "Keep back from the edge."

Omega nodded and craned her neck to look. I tiptoed to the precipice and looked down. The frozen surface of the water was maybe fifteen feet below, but I couldn't see how thick the ice was from this distance.

"Would be a nice place to fish," I noted, looking for a way down. "Do you think we'd be able to find our way back here again?"

I turned to look at the girl, and that's when I saw the barest motion from one of the upper branches of a nearby pine tree.

I opened my mouth to shout but the blast hit me square in the chest with enough force to knock over a Bantha, and then I was falling backwards.

I barely had time to hear Omega scream before I hit the ice hard, the force of the impact crushing the remaining air from my lungs and pushing me through the fragile surface of the lake.

I went under, and gasped involuntarily at the shockingly icy water, water which flooded my nose and mouth. I choked and more made its way in as I began to flounder, numb from the cold and the shock of the impact.

I struggled towards the surface but it was dark beneath the ice, so dark, and cold, so bitterly cold. I didn't know which way was up and something was dragging me, pulling me towards a watery grave. My vision started to blur and I struggled futility against the weight of my leaden clothing. I was dying.

I was so tired, I realised, and I felt so sleepy. I just wanted to close my eyes. I just wanted to rest.

Something bit into my shoulder and I squirmed against the discomfort. My head suddenly connected with something hard and I realised whatever had hold of me was dragging me against the underside of the ice sheet.

I fought hard then, some primal survival instinct kicking in and I lashed out at whatever monster had hold of me.

Without warning my head breached the surface of the water and something or someone shoved my roughly from behind. I slithered onto the ice, almost forgetting to breath.

The cold air against my wet skin hit me like a slap in the face and I gasped, rolling, retching up the lake water which had made it'sway down my throar. I coughed so hard I thought my lungs were going to come out of my mouth.

I realised I was shaking but I couldn't tell if it was from the chill or the shock. I wondered vaguely if I was already dead, but there was no way the afterlife was this fucking cold.

I curled on the ice, gasping and gagging and shaking myself to pieces. After what felt like an eternity, my head cleared and my vision steadied enough for me to raise my heavy body to my elbows. I caught sight of Omega crouching on hands and knees at the edge of the lake. She was crying I realised and I couldn't figure out why.

Something moved beside me and I panicked, dragging myself away from the monster that wanted to eat me. I slipped and fell, smashing my face into the hard surface of the lake and tasting blood.

A hand grasped my shoulder and rolled me over and I was looking up at the pinched, grey face of Crosshair.

The moments before my fall flooded my brain and I panicked again, certain that he was here to finish me off. He'd shot me, I'd seen him shoot me, pushing me back into the ice, leaving me to die. Hot tears ran down my frozen face and I struggled backwards.

Crosshair didn't follow me, he merely watched me retreat as he lay sprawled on the ice.

My back connected with something warm and Omega was dragging me to the narrow shore which fringed the lake. I screamed and fumbled for my blaster but it was gone, and my numb hand fell limply to my side.

Omega moved so that she was crouched over me, her tear streaked face peering down at me. She placed one of her tiny hands on my cheek and I melted into the warm touch.

"Gem?" she called tearfully, "ssshh, it's ok. It's ok. You're safe now."

She stroked my face tenderly and I reigned in my panic to a small degree.

"Sshh, you're ok. Sshh. You're fine. You fell in the lake, but you're ok now. Crosshair pulled you out."

I thought I was hallucinating at that one and concluded that my brain had been deprived of oxygen for too long.

I pushed myself up a little to see the grey haired man had made it to the shore and was kneeling next to his helmet and rifle, which were discarded haphazardly amongst the rocks.

Crosshair was watching me, mouth open and panting but with a neutral expression on his face. He was soaked, I realised, his hair plastered to his head and rivulets streaming down his armour. Had he jumped in to save me? I couldn't believe that was true, and yet the sopping wet man was sitting right in front of me.

Our eyes met and his gaze was intense. Angry, and yet there was something else behind that I couldn't fathom.

A shudder ran through my entire body and I nearly bit through my tongue. Fuck I was so deathly cold.

Crosshair picked up his helmet, clamping it under one arm, and slung his rifle over his shoulder.

"We need to move," he said, his tone almost as icy as the lake. He leaned into his wrist com. "Hunter, we have a situation, hone in on my signal."

He stood shakily and took a step towards me. I flinched but I wasn't sure he'd noticed as I was shivering so violently.

Omega put her hands on my shoulders and tried to push me to my feet to no avail, and it was only Crosshair lifting me by my elbow that got me into an upright position. Damn, this stick man was strong.

By this point I was almost convulsing with the cold and my knees threatened to buckle under my own weight.

Crosshair cursed colourfully and thrust his helmet at Omega.

"Kid, hold this," he snapped. Omega obediently took the item and held it carefully in both hands.

I felt an arm wrap around my waist and Crosshair was pulling me into his side, dragging my arm over his shoulders and supporting my weight. I was certain he felt me flinch then, but he ignored my reaction and pulled me closer to his plastoid.

"Go," he hissed at Omega, "back up the way you came. Quickly."

Omega scrambled back up a shallower section of cliff, Crosshair half dragging half carrying me up behind her. I wanted to push the man aside, insist I didn't need him, but truthfully I did. There was no way I would make it three feet on my own.

The journey back down the mountain was painfully slow, and the cold was biting. We moved in silence, Crosshair panting from the exertion and Omega trotting ahead and shooting worried looks back at us.

We stumbled a few times when we hit deep snow and I would have fallen if Crosshair hadn't kept his grip. I noticed his hands were shaking and i wondered if he felt as cold as I did. Each time we fell, he surged upright again without so much as a word, and we continued our tortuous trek.

I became aware of yelling close by. Abruptly the rest of the squad came into view and I saw Omega barrel down the hill and collide with Hunter. The man scooped her into his arms fluidly and held her close as he checked her over.

Toby reached me first and almost snatched me out of Crosshair's arms. The force was enough to send me pitching forward onto my knees, Crosshair stumbling down beside me from the sudden loss of support.

My friend wrapped his arms around me and cursed softly, and I buried my face into his warmth.

The others had gathered around us, Echo hauling Crosshair to his feet and tucking his scomp under the taller man's arm. Wrecker nealt beside me and pried Toby away from me. The huge man stooped and picked me up in his arms as if I weighed nothing. He cradled me against his chest and even with his armour on it felt like I had been thrown into a furnace.

I relaxed into the warmth and felt myself drifting. I was vaguely aware of moving, and the gentle motion combined with the warm man pressed against me was enough to put me out.

....................

I awoke in the medbay sometime later to the sound of two people arguing in a hushed tone nearby.

It was warm and cosy and I could have stayed like this forever. But that damned shouting was irritating.

I cracked my eyes, wincing against the bright lights, and glanced down at my body, which was piled high with thermal blankets. I wriggled my toes under the mound and was grateful that I could still feel them.

Toby was sitting in a chair by my bedside, but he didn't notice that I was awake, so engrossed was he in the argument that was taking place at the foot of my bed.

Crosshair was in the bed beside me, sitting cross-legged and bare chested under a pile of blankets to rival my own. He was also watching the fray with a blank expression.

Hunter and Rex were chewing each other out. It was quite a sight to behold, seeing these two grown men arguing with conviction whilst trying to keep their voices low, evidently trying not to disturb my slumber. Too late, I thought irritably.

Rex had his arms folded and was glaring daggers at Hunter, who had his fists balled by his side, legs planted in a fighting stance.

"That was totally irresponsible and completely childish," Rex yelled in a hoarse whisper, leaning towards the other man to get his point across. "Your little game almost got two people killed, never mind depleting our medical supplies unnecessarily."

"Oh, I'm sorry CAPTAIN," Hunter hissed the last word, "for trying to keep my men in fighting shape."

Rex scoffed, uncrossing a re-crossing his arms.

"Oh, so that's what this was hmm? A training exercise."

"Well not all of us are willing to spend our lives sat in front of a holo projector reviewing intel and preparing mission briefings."

"That's not all I do and you know it."

"Come on CAPTAIN? When was the last time you were out in the field?"

"I was in the field before you were even out of you tube."

"I'm surprised you can even remember that far back."

I watched the exchange, totally flabbergasted. I couldn't stop myself from laughing hoarsely.

"You do know how utterly ridiculous the pair of you sound?"

Rex and Hunter snapped their heads round to look at me. Toby sighed with relief once he realised I was alive and conscious and gave me a worried look. Crosshair just stared at me blankly.

Rex at least had enough self awareness to look embarrassed, a slight flush touched his cheeks and he scratched the back of his head.

"She's right," he said guardedly. "We're ex republic soldiers for kark's sake, not shinies arguing about who got the most hits in training."

Hunter had turned to glower at the captain and I sensed he wasn't done with the argument. I sighed, exasperated by this pair of grown ass men bickering when I just wanted to be cosy in my warm bed.

I sat up, intending to tell the men to kindly piss off and take their argument elsewhere. The blankets slipped and I realised too late that I had been stripped completely naked beneath the covers.

I snatched the uppermost blanket quickly and managed to cover myself, although judging by the way Rex's eyes popped out of his skull I thought he may have glimpsed a nipple.

Apparently almost flashing the men was enough to defuse any further argument and the pair visibly deflated.

I felt my face heating up and shrugged a few more blankets over me, just in case. I was saved from any further embarrassment when the medic, Kix, waded into the fray.

"Come on fellas," he said firmly, stepping between Rex and Hunter, "that's enough. My patient's need their rest."

Rex shot Hunter a final glance, and Hunter retaliated with a look that said "this isn't over", before the blond haired man nodded at Kix, and left the room, pointedly not meeting my gaze.

Kix folded his arms.

"That means you two as well," he scowled at Hunter and Toby. "Out."

Toby reluctantly rose to his feet and he and Hunter followed the captain out of the medbay. Kix sighed through his nose and gave me a look which plainly translated as "can you believe this shit?"

The medic approached my bed and rearranged some of my blankets.

"How are you feeling?" he asked with concern, moving to run a scanner over me.

"I'm fine," I said, "tired, I guess, but I'm ok."

Kix hummed as the scanner beeped.

"Vitals are stabilising, which is good. You were on the brink of hypothermia when they brought you in. You fell in a lake I understand?"

I nodded and the man made a tutting noise.

"How did you manage that?"

I glanced at Crosshair who was watching me with tight eyes.

"The cliff I was standing on gave way. I should have noticed it wasn't strong enough to hold me."

Why, I thought. Why had I lied? I met Crosshair's gaze and it was blank and unreadable.

Kix shook his head and put down his scanner.

"Not the best idea to mess around near a body of frozen water," he said in a scolding tone. "Just be more careful next time. Try and get some rest."

I nodded and gave the medic a grateful smile. He glanced over at Crosshair before striding down to the other end of the infirmary and quietly busying himself on his data pad.

I laid back down and burrowed into the warmth.

Closing my eyes, I sighed, feeling the warm cocoon engulfing me. Damn, this had to be the most comfortable I'd ever been in my whole life.

Except that I was acutely aware of Crosshair watching me, which was ruining my moment.

I tilted my head and looked over at the silent man. Fuck me, his gaze was disturbingly intense.

"What?" I snapped, in no mood for any of his shit.

Crosshair broke first, laying back on his mattress with one arm hooked behind his head.

"Nothing."

I grunted and rolled over so that my back was facing him.

A niggling feeling of guilt grew in my belly as I lay there. I tried to swallow the feeling down but it knawed relentlessly at my very core.

I huffed irritably. What the Hell was wrong with me? Why did I feel so shitty about landing the nasty prick in the medbay? He'd shot me after all, and there was no way that stun blast was set to the lowest setting. I'd nearly died because of him.

And yet, he'd risked his own life to drag me out of the freezing depths. I shouldn't feel guilty for that though, I mused. It was his fault I'd landed in that situation in the first place.

So why DID I feel so guilty?

Silently cursing myself, I lifted me head off the pillow slightly.

"Crosshair?"

There was a slight rustle of fabric as he turned to face me. I licked my lips, squirming internally.

"Thank you."

Silence.

Not so much as a snide remark.

With the weight of that reluctant confession lifted, I finally drifted into an uneasy sleep.

Chapter Text

I woke from a nightmare in which I was drowning. I jerked awake, gasping and shaking. Sweat soaked through the blankets and my face was wet with tears. I was still in the medbay and someone had thoughtfully dimmed the lights.

I wiped my eyes on the corner of a blanket and bit back a sob, rolling over to try and find a drier spot on the damp mattress.

I was aware that I was being watched and suddenly noticed that Crosshair was staring at me, eyes shining in the half dark. I shifted uncomfortably and wondered if I'd woken him, but he didn't say anything so I guessed not.

Movement at the other end of the room caught my attention and I raised my head a few inches to get a better view.

The curtains around the last two bunks were drawn tightly closed, offering some modest privacy to whoever was occupying the space. A couple of lights were on down that end of the room, giving off enough illumination for me see Kix standing next to the sealed off beds, talking to two men.

Both of the guys were wearing the white and blue armour that I had become accustomed to seeing around the base. One man was sitting on the edge of a nearby bed, chin propped on his fist, while the other stood nearby, running a hand over his face. I recognised the guy standing as the same fellow that had been with Rex when we first arrived.

"This is getting ridiculous," the standing guy was saying, his voice almost too quiet to hear. He pressed his palms to his eye sockets as though trying to ward off a headache.

"You're telling me," Kix replied with a shake of his head. "We've almost entirely run out of bacta and I'm having to reuse bandages."

"We can't go on like this," the man with the cog tattoo was saying. "We just can't."

"Something's gotta be done," the man on the bed added, letting his arm fall to his side.

"You got a brilliant plan up your sleeve Fives?" cog tattoo asked.

The sitting man, Fives, shook his head.

"I'm just saying, we'll have to do something sooner or later."

"Do what?" asked the standing man, his voice slightly raised, though still barely above a murmur.

Fives sighed and shrugged sadly.

"SOMETHING. We need to devote men and resources to figuring out how the Empire always manage to be one step ahead of us."

"WHAT men? WHAT resources? We're not part of the Republic anymore, Fives." Cog tattoo was getting quite irate now.

Kix laid a hand on the man's shoulder in a placating gesture.

"Go easy on him Jesse, none of this is his fault."

The man called Jesse seemed to cool off a bit at that and I heard him take a deep, calming breath.

"You're right. I'm sorry Fives. It's just frustrating. I honestly can't remember the last time something went right."

Fives gave the other man a tired smile.

"I know brother. I know."

Silence fell on the group, though none of the men made a move to leave.

Kix briefly disappeared behind one of the curtains, returning a moment later with an audible sigh.

"How are they doing?" the man called Fives asked, indicating the two beds cloaked by the curtains.

Kix didn't answer immediately, instead busying himself with twitching the curtains to make sure they were closed to his satisfaction.

"They're not out of the woods yet, but they'll live. Hardcase might be out of action for a bit while his leg heals, and Tup has a concussion, but it could have been much worse."

Fives looked slightly relieved at that, but Jesse just looked grim.

"Go over it again Fives, from the beginning," Jesse asked and Fives groaned quietly.

"I told you Jess. We landed on Yavin 4, at the coordinates Rex gave us. Except that instead of the supplies that were supposed to be waiting for us as promised, there was a squad of Imperials instead. One of them set off a charge that took out Tup and Hardcase, we fell back, and here we are."

Jesse ran a hand over his bald head.

"And you're sure they were the right coordinates?"

Fives clapped a hand to his face in frustration.

"Yes Jess, for the millionth time, I'm sure."

Kix made a hand signal for the pair to lower their voices.

"The intel came straight from the contact," Jesse said, shifting his feet so that he was leaning against the bed on which Fives was sitting. "She's always been reliable before"

"Things can change," Fives said coldly, "people change. It's hard to know who to trust anymore."

Jesse shrugged his shoulders and grunted.

"Rex trusts her. That's good enough for me. He's never steered us wrong before."

He shifted his feet as though considering his next words carefully.

"I think we might have a spy in our midst," Jesse said in a hushed whisper. "That would explain how the Empire keeps predicting where we'll be and when. Rex's worried. It could be anyone. I don't like to think of the possibility of a brother betraying us, but it's happened before."

Fives rested his head in his hands again.

"I still think we should be acting, doing something to try and get to the bottom of this," the man said thoughtfully. "If there's a mole accessing intel and feeding it to the Imps we can't sit around and do nothing."

Jesse considered his words for a minute and exchanged an unreadable look with Kix.

"What do you suggest?" Kix asked.

"I don't know," Fives huffed, running a hand through his buzzed hair. "Do some digging on all personnel. See if there's anything going on that we don't know about. Its a starting point at least."

Jesse pushed himself away from the bed and paced in front of the closed off bunks.

"Trouble is, how do we know who we can trust to lead an investigation?"

"I don't have an answer," said Fives with a sigh, "but we'll have to figure something out before we all starve."

A murmur of agreement. Fives wearily hopped off of the bed and stretched with a groan.

"I'm gonna get some shut eye," he said to no one in particular. "Wake me if Hardcase or Tup come round."

Kix nodded to confirm he would and Fives clapped Jesse on the shoulder before leaving.

As soon as the man was through the door, Jesse sagged against the bed and put his head in his hands. Kix moved closer and gently touched his arm.

"Hey," he said softly. "None of this is your fault either."

Jesse merely nodded but didnt look up. Kix pulled him into a hug and wrapped his arms around the other man.

I laid back down as quietly as I could, uneasy with intruding in what was clearly a personal moment between the two men.

Crosshair was still awake, and I guessed he must have heard the exchange too. I felt slightly embarrassed that I'd been caught eavesdropping and rolled back over to my side, away from his scrutiny.

I closed my eyes and tried to quiet my mind enough to drift back to sleep, but my thoughts kept shifting back to the conversation I'd overheard. Clearly, the men were stressed, and I wondered what it would mean for Toby and I if this little rebellion went tits up. Silently I cursed myself for being so selfish, because there was more at stake here than the wellbeing of just the two of us.

I sighed, and burrowed down into my nest a little further. There was nothing I could do but keep my head down.

....................

Kix discharged Crosshair and I the next morning and we left the medbay together in silence.

I still wasn't sure how I felt about the snarky grey haired man, but I decided that all the while he ignored me, I could ignore him back.

Entering the barracks, I was almost taken off my feet when Omega barreled into me, hugging me tightly. She gave me a worried look, and shot Crosshair one of suspicion.

"Key kid," I said tiredly, wrapping my arms around the girl.

Toby and the other Batcher's gathered round, looks of concern mixed with relief etching their faces. I guessed the concern was for Crosshair and didn't pay them any mind.

Omega let go of me and I was immediately pulled into another hug by Toby. I leaned into the rare show of affection, as my friend pressed my face into his chest.

"Glad you're ok," he whispered into my ear before pulling apart.

"You gave us a bit of a scare," Hunter said and I turned to notice that he was speaking to me. I blinked in confusion before regaining my senses and smiling at him.

"Yeah," Wrecker added, plucking me off of the ground and holding me under the armpits like a tooka kitten. "You had us real worried."

He put me back down gently and I adjusted my tunic, grinning up at the big man.

"The chances of you becoming hypothermic were quite substantial," Tech added, adjusting his goggles to peer at me.

"You were lucky," Echo said with a shrug.

I was beginning to feel extremely uncomfortable from all the attention and felt myself blushing. I glanced at Crosshair, who was standing a little way away with his arms folded tightly to his chest. I wondered why the others weren't showing him any concern, and considered that he may have confessed to the events preceding my fall into the ice.

"Come on," Hunter said to the others, "give her some space."

I smiled gratefully at the tattooed man as the others dispersed.

I spent the remainder of the day resting in my bunk. The others went about their respective duties, popping back every so often to check on me. It was sweet, really, that they were so concerned, even if the fuss made me squeamish.

Omega spent most of the afternoon lolling with me on my bunk, engrossed in her data pad. I found the kid easy company and was comfortable enough to doze in her presence.

By the following morning, I was restless and keen to be back on my feet. Toby and Omega left with the others when they set out of prep the Maurauder for an upcoming mission, and I was left alone.

I dressed quickly and slipped into the hallway, thinking that I could at least stretch my legs, even if I wasn't yet up to undertaking anything actually useful.

The corridors were quiet. It was mid morning, and most people were already busying themselves with their respective tasks.

I took a turning past the mess hall and found myself in a stretch of hallway I'd never been in before. It was eerily quiet and my footsteps echoed off of the stark walls.

I took a few more turnings, coming to a stairwell which lead down to the lower levels. It was colder down here, and darker, the lights dimmed and the spaces less glaring than the floor above. I chose another hallway at random and walked on, beginning to worry that I might actually become lost in this labyrinth if I wasn't careful.

I rounded a corner and collided with someone, the force of the impact sending me staggering backwards.

The man, the clone, that I had collided with, cursed as he bent to pick up the data pad he'd dropped.

"Sorry!" I instinctively apologised, rubbing my shoulder which was sore from the bump.

The clone straightened, data pad in hand and gave me a suspicious look.

"What are you doing sneaking about down here?"

I thought I recognised the man as one of the guys that was talking in the medbay. He had a tattoo of the number five on his temple, and I thought this might be Fives, but I couldn't say for certain seeing as they all looked pretty much the same.

I straightened my jacket and gave him an unamused stare.

"I wasn't sneaking," I said indignantly. "Just stretching my legs."

The man hummed at that and raised an eyebrow skeptically.

"If you say so."

"I do. I just got a little turned around is all."

The man watched me for a bit before cracking a cheeky grin and shaking his head.

"Come on," he said gesturing with a hand, "I'll escort you back to your barracks. Can't leave a lady in distress."

"What the fuck gave you the impression that I was a lady."

He laughed loudly at that and gave me an approving look, which I returned with a lopsided grin.

"I won't give the obvious answer," he said in amusement, eyes resting briefly on my hips and tits.

I clicked my fingers in the man's face.

"Oi, eyes up here trooper."

"Thats ARC Trooper to you."

There was something likeable about this man and I found myself admiring him as he led me back through the corridors. He was good looking, I supposed, with short, dark hair and a dark goatee. His brown eyes twinkled with mischief, and I couldn't help but wonder what sort of trouble this man and I could get into if given half the chance.

The guy caught me looking at him and I quickly averted my gaze.

"So," he said casually, "are you one of the volunteers we picked up on Saleucami?"

"No," I replied, shrugging my shoulders. "Honestly, I'm not quite sure what I am. Besides a lady of course."

He chuckled at that.

"I though you said you weren't a lady?"

"A girl can change."

The man laughed again and extended a hand to me as we walked side by side.

"I'm Fives by the way."

I gripped his hand and smiled softly at him.

"Gem."

Fives walked me back up to the main level and I stopped in front of the barracks.

"This is me," I said, nodding my head to the door.

An odd look crossed Fives' face and he cocked his head to one side.

"You're with the Bad Batch?" he asked, tone confused.

"Urm, yeah. Sort of."

"Huh," Fives huffed in surprise. "You must know Echo. He and I go way back."

I nodded my head.

"Yeah. Nice guy."

Fives gave me a smile and took a step back, giving me a theatrical bow.

"Well, MY LADY," he said, "this is where we part ways."

I laughed and pouted at him, before giving him a wave and opening the door to the barracks.

"So long Fives."

The door closed behind me and I felt that I might have made a friend.

....................

Rex had another mission for the Batch and Gem and I volunteered to tag along. The Captain didn't argue and I guessed he must have been desperate for bodies on this particular venture.

We were being deployed to Florrum, an outer rim planet that Gem and I had a great deal of experience with. It was a favourite amongst pirates and smugglers, and it was perhaps our previous knowledge of the place that made Rex concede to allowing us to be part of the mission.

The task was simple; we were to meet up with another group of clones from the base, and stake out the area while the primary squad undertook a supply exchange.

Gem had relayed what she'd heard in the medbay, and I understood that supply runs for this group of rebels often ended badly. We were expecting trouble and had prepared accordingly.

The inside of the Marauder was stacked with as many boxes of amo, power packs and explosives as Hunter could scrounge from the armoury. Which wasn't a great deal, granted, but enough to cause Wrecker to rub his hands together with glee everytime his gaze fell on the crates.

We still weren't permitted our weapons: clearly we hadn't yet earned that right. I was to stay behind and guard the ship with Tech, who would be monitoring the systems for any ships entering orbit. Gem had been assigned to be a spotter for Crosshair, and I sensed that she was less than thrilled by the prospect. I could relate; the grey haired guy was an asshole after all.

I sat in one of the chairs in the cockpit as the blur of hyperspace skimmed past the window. Fuck me, the time in transit was boring. The ship was quiet, too quiet without Omega. The girl had stayed behind to help out in the medbay, much to her disgust, though Hunter had insisted she stay on base.

Gem had gone to try and get some shut eye in one of the cots at the back of the ship. Echo was back there as well, which left Hunter, Crosshair, Wrecker and Tech is the cockpit with me. Hunter was dozing in one of the chairs, his bandana pulled over his eyes. Wrecker and Crosshair were cleaning their weapons, and Tech was poring over his data pad as usual.

I sighed and tapped out a tune on the floor with the heel of my boot. Crosshair gave me a filthy look and bit down on his toothpick.

"Must you do that?" he drawled, meticulously cleaning the inner chamber of his rifle.

I stretched my hands above my head with a groan.

"I must."

There was a momentary pause.

"How about if you don't stop that, I'll throw you out of the fucking airlock."

I felt myself smirking, secretly pleased to have gotten a rise from the normally quiet and brooding man.

"And why would you want to do that?" I asked innocently.

Wrecker chuckled from the corner of the floor where he was sitting, and I shot the large man a mischievous look.

Crosshair glowered at his brother before cocking an eyebrow at me.

"Do I really need to answer that?"

Wrecker and Tech paused what they were doing to gauge my reaction. I felt anger bubble up inside, but swallowed it down.

"Somebody got up on the wrong side of the bunk this morning," I said in a tone of mock concern that had Crosshair seething.

The man snapped a part of his rifle back together with a little too much force and scowled at me.

"You'd better watch your tone," he growled icily. "We wouldn't want anything to happen to you on Florran."

My skin prickled at that and I saw Wrecker watching me worriedly.

"Is that a threat?" I tried to keep my voice level but a hint of anger crept in before I could stop it.

Crosshair gave a half shrug.

"Just an observation. You're a CIVVIE after all. Wouldnt want you to get caught in the crossfire."

"Actually," Tech interjected without looking up from his data pad, "Toby will be with me on the ship so the chances of him being close to a firefight are extremely remote. I could calculate the odds, if you'd like me to."

I smiled at the back of Tech's head, quite pleased that the guy had stood up for me, even if only in his limited way of spouting factual information.

"Yeah," I said confidently, bolstered by the support. "Besides, I can hold my own in a firefight."

Crosshair plucked the toothpick from between his teeth and flicked it at me. The tiny splinter bounced off of my arm and I ignored it.

"Who are you kidding?" the man sneered, voice loaded with arrogance. "You wouldn't last five minutes in a real fight."

"Oh yeah?" I retorted, unable to keep the annoyance out of my voice. "Give me a pistol and I'll make you eat those words."

Crosshair chuckled darkly.

"We wouldn't want to strain you," the man said sarcastically, squinting at me. "Besides, if you could fight your own fights, you wouldn't need us to babysit you anymore."

I really bristled at that, and Crosshair noticed, a shit eating grin creeping over his face when he realised he'd got a hit in. Wrecker and Tech seemed to be holding their breaths.

"Oh, what a shame that would be," I spat, eyes narrowing. "What would I do without you there to watch over me, poor pathetic thing that I am."

Crosshair stuck another toothpick in his teeth and went back to cleaning his rifle.

"You said it, not me."

Wrecker kicked Crosshair in the ankle and gave me a worried look when I leaned forward and jabbed a finger at the grey haired man.

"Fuck you."

I rose to my feet angrily and made for the door which separated the cockpit from the rest of the ship.

"Awww," Wrecker groaned, shooting Crosshair an exasperated look, "come back buddy. Don't listen to him. Where ya going?"

I slammed the door release with my fist so hard that my knuckles creaked.

"For a piss," I snapped. "Is that allowed, or does someone need to come and hold my hand?"

I gave Crosshair one last look of fury. He looked absolutely thrilled with himself.

"Why don't you go and cry to your girlfriend," he retorted.

I stormed out of the cockpit and slammed the door shut.

I stood in the mid section of the ship for a while, breathing deeply to try and stop myself from being devoured by the rage. When my hands had stopped shaking, I made my way to the fresher at the rear of the ship.

I stiffened when I spotted Echo sitting in one of the navigators chairs, and the motion caused him to jump and drop some sort of wrench which he had been gripping in his flesh hand.

I stooped to pick up the tool, which had rolled across the floor, and held it out to him.

"Sorry," I said, forcing a smile. "Didnt mean to make you jump."

Echo took the wrench with a nod of thanks, holding the tool up to his cybernetic arm and hesitated, looking at me sheepishly. I figured he maybe didn't want me watching him when he worked on his prosthetics, so I continued to the refresher.

When I returned, Echo was still fumbling with the spanner, teeth gritted and a look of frustration on his face. I hovered back a few paces and watched him for a moment. He dropped the tool again and cursed quietly.

I stepped forward slowly.

"Need a hand?"

Echo shot me a sideways look and I grimaced, realising that was maybe not the best phrasing.

"Sorry," I said again, "I didn't mean it like that."

Echo's face softened and he quirked his lips weakly.

"It's ok," he sighed, letting his hand fall to his side. "It takes a lot to offend me these days."

I gave him a genuine smile and glanced at the tool on the floor.

"What are you trying to do?" I asked, trying to sound innocently curious and not like I was teasing his failed efforts.

Echo picked up the wrench and twirled it in his hand slowly.

"My cybernetics need adjusting," he said hesitantly, eyes downcast as if he were embarrassed. "Stupid kriffing scomp keeps sticking."

I moved so that I was right in front of him and knelt down, holding out my hand for the spanner.

"Let me help," I said, taking the tool from his hand. "I'm pretty good with machines."

I saw Echo stiffen and my stomach dropped.

"Shit!" I said, giving him a look of utter horror. "That was totally insensitive of me. I'm so sorry."

Echo smiled sadly.

"It's ok," he said, forcing a chuckle. "Tech says I'm more machine than person anymore anyway."

"Well, I don't think of you as a machine," I said, trying to make amends for the unintentionally nasty comment. "Please let me help you?"

Echo lifted his cybernetic arm towards me and gestured with his good hand.

"Sure," he said defeatedly.

I looked him in the eyes to make sure he was serious and nodded, taking his scomp arm in my hands gently. He flinched at the touch and withdrew slightly. I held up my hands to placate him and reached for the prosthetic again.

"I'll be gentle, I promise," I said as I took the limb. Echo huffed a laugh but didn't take the arm back.

"I bet you say that to all the girls," he said as I twisted the scomp to locate the problem

"And boys," I added absentmindedly. I tensed when I realised what I'd said and wondered if I'd shared too much, but Echo didn't seem bothered. He merely gave me a curious look and watched my fingers work.

I located the problem section and began making minor adjustments.

"Let me know if I hurt you," I said, glancing up at the man as I worked on the limb.

"You won't," Echo answered with a shake of his head. "I can't really feel anything with it anyway."

"Really?" I asked, trying not to sound like I was treating him like a freak.

Echo screwed up his eyes and tilted his head.

"Hmmm. I can feel the pressure if someone touches it, and I can feel if it's damaged. But I can't feel pain, or anything like that."

"Wild," I said as I leaned forward to make a few more adjustments, trying to ignore how close our faces were.

Damn, he smelt fucking good. Like a mixture of mild soap and machine oil. I shook my head to try and keep such impure thoughts from my mind.

"I think that's got it. How does that feel?"

Echo lifted the arm and twirled the scomp attachment.

"Much better," he said, admiring my handiwork. "Thanks."

"Anytime."

His eyes lingered on mine a moment longer than necessary and I felt myself growing flustered. I broke the contact and moved away to sit with my back to the nearby console. I didn't feel like going back into the cockpit anyway, but I didn't want to crowd Echo.

"Mind if I stay here for a bit?" I asked, trying to sound casual. "I don't much fancy going back in there."

Echo smiled warmly at me. I felt my heart beat a little faster.

"Sure. I'd like that."

Chapter Text

Fuck, I had not missed Florrum.

As soon as I stepped foot off of the Marauder's ramp the dust was stinging my eyes, and catching in my lungs. I coughed a few times to try and clear my airways, but it was a pretty pointless exercise as the wind gusted a cloud of gritty sand into my face almost immediately.

Tech had set us down a few clicks south of the rendezvous location, and we would be continuing on foot. The primary squad had already arrived, and were waiting beside their ship, adjusting their weapons impatiently. I noticed a familiar face and waved at Fives, who returned the gesture.

"Wait, you know Fives?" Echo asked as he descended the ramp with his helmet held awkwardly under his scomp arm.

"Er, yeah. We've met," I said with a shrug.

The other squad was making their way over and I noticed that the man called Jesse was also with them, along with two other men I didn't recognise.

"Hunter," Jesse greeted the man with a nod.

"Lieutenant," Hunter replied stiffly.

"We expected you at 0800," Jesse said, voice prickling with irritation.

Hunter just shrugged as if that was an acceptable answer. Jesse sighed and ran his gaze over the rest of us.

"Everybody know the plan?"

A murmur of agreement rippled through the group.

"Good. Let's get moving."

The two squad's fell into step behind Jesse silently. I glanced back at Toby and Tech, who were both standing at the top of the ramp, watching us leave. Toby caught my eye and mouthed "be safe" and I nodded.

The men set a brisk pace through the dust bowl that was Florrum. The stiff breeze whipped sandy flurries into the air and I screwed my eyes shut and covered my nose and mouth with my sleeve as best I could when the gusts got too strong.

The others were, of course, unaffected by the debris, their helmets shielding their faces. I tucked myself behind Wrecker and used him as a human wind block, but even so, my face quickly became burnt and my lips began to chaffe from the abrasive sand.

The plains gave way to sulphur geysers, and Jesse motioned us to move around the toxic chimneys, giving them a wide berth. The stench was eye-watering and I fought the urge to gag as we picked our way over the craggy ground.

Beyond the geysers the ground rose to either side to form a ravine, so narrow at points that we had to walk in single file.

At one point, my foot became wedged under a piece of fallen rock and I struggled to free myself. Fives stopped to help drag me loose and I stood, brushing myself off.

"Thanks for saving me," I said in mock adoration.

Fives chuckled before dipping into a flourishing bow, as he had before.

"Anything for you, my lady."

Echo raised an eyebrow at me as Fives jogged to catch up to his brothers, and I rolled my eyes, which made the cyborg chuckle.

We paused briefly at the end of the canyon so that the men could catch their breath, piss, and swig from their canteens. I uncorked my own flask and almost groaned as the cool water relieved my parched throat.

After a few minutes we were on the move again, reaching the mouth of the gorge, which opened onto a vast swath of rocky outcrops, crags and crevices. I sighed heavily, realising this was the point where Crosshair and I would peel off from the group to find a vantage point where we could survey the rendezvous sight from a safe distance. A cold dread had crept over me when Hunter paired me with the grey haired man to act as his spotter. Crosshair had scoffed at that, insisting that he didn't need a spotter, and I'd almost scratched myself from the mission. I would have done too, except that I knew that was what Crosshair wanted, and I wasn't going to give him the satisfaction.

I tightened the straps of the rucksack Tech had given me and gave a half hearted smile towards the others as they continued on to the rendezvous point, where they would keep out of sight and wait for our contact to arrive.

Crosshair paused at the opening of the canyon and studied the nearby cliffs, which rose high into the sky like jagged teeth. I gulped, hoping he wasn't thinking of climbing up that high. I had never been good with heights.

Unfortunately, it quickly became apparent that that was exactly his plan when he grunted to himself and made his way to the nearby slope, not even bothering to check if I was following him.

I had to admit, Crosshair was surprisingly nimble. He scaled the steep rocky slope like a Kowakian Monkey-Lizard, effortlessly climbing to the summit. I trailed behind, ascending slowly as I made sure each hand hold and foot hold was secure before letting it bear my weight. I hauled myself over the precipice, panting, the sweat trickling down my face and cutting rivulets in the dirt.

It was a good spot, I realised. The spire Crosshair had chosen was flat at the top, the shelf large enough to accommodate us both comfortably. There was also an outcrop behind us, so we wouldn't be silhouetted against the skline should anyone look up.

Crosshair was already prone by the time I reached the peak, rifle resting on its bipod as he peered through the scope. I lay on my back for a minute while I caught my breath, before removing my pack and resting it against the outcrop next to Crosshairs. I fished out a pair of macrobinoculars and crawled towards the ledge, though not so close that I could see over the edge. I really wasn't a fan of heights after all.

Bringing the binos up, I scanned the landscape for the rest of the squad and caught sight of them just before they disappeared behind a sandy peak.

"So, where's the landing site?" I asked as I surveyed our surroundings.

Crosshair didn't look up from his scope.

"Two points north, north-east. The flat ground beyond that dune."

I swept the binos to the area he indicated and made a note of it for future reference.

Sighing, I placed the binos on the ground in front of me and rested my chin on my fists.

This was going to be a long day.

....................

Hours had passed without any activity. The sun was setting behind us, throwing our perch into shadow. It was a nice reprieve from the baking heat.

I put down the binos for what felt like the thousandth time, rubbing my eyes which were prickly and achy from both the dust and concentration.

Crosshair hadn't said a word all day. He hadn't moved an inch either, and I could not fathom how in all Hells he wasn't numb to oblivion. Maybe he was, I thought. He was just too damned stubborn and proud to show it.

I blew through my nose and rolled over onto my back, staring up at the dusky sky.

I guessed it couldn't be much longer to the designated rendezvous time. The whole point of the stake out had been for us to be in position prior to the agreed time, to limit the chances of a trap being set.

I shifted my shoulders, which were aching beyond all belief, and twisted to avoid a stone which was digging into my back.

"Stop fidgeting."

It was the first thing he had said to me all day. Glancing over I saw that his eyes were still focusing down the scope of his beloved rifle.

I shifted again, grunting as my body protested at having been kept still for so long.

"I said stop." Crosshair's voice was soft.

"I gotta piss."

"Hold it."

"The ground's hard."

"Then move over."

"I'm thirsty."

"There's a canteen in my pack."

A pause while I shuffled about some more.

"Fuck me," I sighed, clapping my hands to my face. "I honestly don't know how you can do this."

Crosshair rolled his shoulders ever so slightly and I realised he was probably just as uncomfortable as I was.

"It's what I was bred for," he said flatly.

I tutted and turned onto my side so that I was facing the sniper.

"That's not much of a life."

"It's all I know."

I felt a pang of sadness at the cool resignation in the man's voice. I started to feel the beginnings of sympathy too, but reminded myself quickly that Crosshair was an asshole after all.

I rolled to my feet and slithered over to my pack to pull out a canteen. Returning to the ledge, I took a long swig, before handing it to my silent partner. Crosshair ignored the canteen and I rattled it slightly.

"You should take a break," I said quietly. "Let me keep watch for a while."

Crosshair slowly shook his head, eye still trained down the barrel of his rifle.

"'M fine."

"I'm sure you are," I said, keeping my voice neutral. "But what's the point of having two lookouts if you can't take a break."

He hesitated, but didnt refuse outright.

"Come on, we still have a couple of hours yet, and the Imperial Fleet isn't suddenly going to descend from the skies in the next five minutes."

Finally, Crosshair moved. He gently laid his rifle down and took off his helmet, placing it to one side. I smiled inwardly, revelling in the fact that the guy had actually listened to him. Maybe the man wasn't a complete and total arrogant bastard after all.

Crosshair took the canteen and poured the contents down his throat without a word. He passed the bottle back to me once it was empty and I rolled it towards my pack behind me. I picked up the macrobinoculars and brought them back to my face so that I could survey the landing site.

I heard Crosshair get to his feet, and a slight rustling and shuffling behind me as though he were stretching the knots of of his muscles.

He was back at my side in a few minutes, cradling the rifle to his shoulder and shoving the helmet back on his head, taking up his position once again as though he'd never left.

I put down the binos and rolled back to look at the sky, which was dark enough now that the stars were clearly visible. I traced patterns with my eyes, wondering offhandedly how many other worlds were out there and whether I would live long enough to see them all.

"Why did you lie?"

His voice was pitched so softly I almost didn't hear him. I looked over at the sniper, but he didn't return my gaze. Instead he fixated stoically on whatever was at the end of his scope.

"Excuse me?" I asked, confused. What was the man talking about?

Crosshair paused for quite a while and I wondered if he would answer.

"Back in the medbay. When that medic asked you how you fell in the lake. You lied."

I thought back to that day and scowled up at the stars.

"So?"

"So I want to know why." His tone was soft and yet insistent.

Why the kriff was he bringing this up? Why did it matter?

I sighed heavily and played with a strand of my hair.

"I don't know," I answered truthfully. I really couldn't fathom why I had lied to protect him.

Another pause and night enveloped us, silent save for the chirping of some sort of insect in the valley far below us.

"You shouldnt have lied."

I snorted a laugh and gave the man a side eye, which he didn't see.

"I lie all the time."

"But you shouldn't have lied for me."

I was taken aback by that comment, and shifted so that I was facing the sniper. He didn't look at me, but I saw his shoulders tense and I knew he was aware of my scrutiny.

"Why not?" I asked. This was the first actual conversation I had had with the man, and I was keen to keep up the momentum.

Crosshair seemed to give serious consideration to his answer.

"Because," he faltered, "because I almost got you killed."

There it was. The guilt. I was surprised that he cared enough to feel guilty, but not as surprised as I was that he had voiced that feeling.

"Almost," I agreed, and I faintly heard his breath hitch. "But I'm still here aren't I? Thanks to you."

The silence between us stretched, becoming almost defeaning. Anxiety started to knot my belly.

"Do you regret pulling me out of that lake?"

Crosshair finally lifted his head then, looking at me through the visor of his helmet.

"What does that mean?"

"I mean you didn't have to save me. You could have just left me to drown."

He held my gaze a moment longer before returning to the scope of his rifle.

"Why would I do that?" he asked, his tone slightly mocking and I squirmed in embarrassment.

"You don't like me very much," I stated with a shrug.

"Is that so?"

"It is."

Nothing after that and I felt slightly put out that the conversation had ended.

Full darkness fell, and I switched on the night vision setting on my macrobinoculars. The valley was quiet, still, save for the dust clouds which swirled about in the wind.

The time of the rendezvous came and went, and still we waited in silence.

Clearly the contact was not coming. I began to wonder how much longer we would wait around, when Crosshair's helmet com chirped. He answered the call but his helmet muffled whatever information was being relayed.

Crosshair adjusted his rifle and pulled down the scope of his helmet.

"Tech picked up two ships entering the atmosphere," he drawled softly, voice calm.

I lifted my binos to the sky but couldn't see anything.

"Big ones?"

Crosshair chuckled.

"No."

"Is it the contact?" I asked, my heart beginning to beat a little faster now that something was actually happening.

"Not sure. Tech's trying to hail them."

Abruptly two ships appeared in the sky above us.

"There!" I said, pointing.

Crosshair raised himself to his knees and brought his rifle up so that he could track the vessels.

Blaster fire lit up the sky.

I zoomed in my binos and saw an ancient looking G9 Rigger desperately trying to outmanouver the ship behind it. The second ship came into view and I saw that it was an Imperial attack shuttle.

Crosshair must have seen it too because I faintly heard him swear beside me.

"Shit," he touched the com on the side of his helmet. "Hunter, Imp shuttle inbound."

A shot from one of the shuttles forward guns clipped the engine pod of the G9, and the craft was suddenly pitching towards the ground, smoke spewing from the engines. It spun dizzily as it fell and hit the ground in the valley below, skimming the surface for a while, before creaking to rest behind a trail of debris.

The shuttle swung in a wide arc, banking and coming about to have another go at the downed rigger.

Suddenly one of the shuttle's engines blew and a split second later I heard the shot ring around the valley. I almost dropped my binos over the ledge, and looked over to see smoke curling from the muzzle of Crosshair's rifle. That was one impressive shot.

The shuttle hit a nearby cliff and exploded on impact, the blast causing the spire to tremble underneath me. The sky lit up momentarily and I closed my eyes tightly to preserve my night vision.

When I opened them Crosshair was already on his feet, picking up his pack and slinging his rifle onto his back.

"Come on," he said, handing me my own bag. "We're moving."

I took the proffered rucksack and swung it over my shoulder.

The scramble down from the spire was much quicker than the climb up, if a little less elegant. I half jumped, half fell the last few feet, landing awkwardly in a heap. Crosshair was already jogging towards the crash site, and I hurried to catch up.

The rest of the combined squads had made it to the downed G9 by the time we arrived. Wrecker and the two troopers I didn't know were in the process of salvaging whatever crates they could from the wreckage, while the other men had formed a perimeter to keep watch for any more Imperial ships.

Hunter saw us approaching and removed his helmet. Crosshair did the same, and I hovered to one side.

"The pilot's dead," Hunter stated flatly, "but most of the cargo's still intact. Tech's bringing the Marauder in so we can load up and get out of here."

Crosshair nodded as he placed a toothpick in his teeth and I fidgeted nearby. Hunter caught my eye and gave me a reassuring smile.

One of the clone troopers emerged from the rigger, dragging a particularly large crate behind him, and I dashed forwards to help.

"Thanks," the man panted, while Wrecker emerged carrying a stack of boxes effortlessly.

I made to follow the clones back into the ship, but was quickly stopped when Wrecker put a hand on my shoulder.

"Might not wanna go in there," he said, eyebrows drawn together. I craned my neck to look up at the giant of a man.

"Wrecker, I have seen dead bodies before," I replied, folding my arms and trying to look stern.

Wrecker looked like he was struggling for a comeback, but the man was saved from arguing by the arrival of the Marauder.

Tech set the ship down nearby and left the engines running, clearly expecting us to need a quick gettaway. Toby looked for me as soon as the ramp hit the ground. Upon seeing that I was still alive and uninjured, he went to help the others load up the ship with the salvaged crates.

With so many hands, it didn't take long for the Marauder to be loaded, and for the rest of us to board. The ship was packed to the gunnels, and there was barely enough room for the troops to squeeze in. It was quite literally standing room only.

We left the crashsite quickly, swinging around to drop Jesse, Fives and the other two at their ship, before Tech was punching in the coordinates for home and we were breaking the atmosphere.

A collective sigh rippled through the Batch as we entered hyperspace, and I couldn't help but share their relief.

"Another successful mission!" Wrecker expressed enthusiastically, leaning on the back of Hunter's chair. All seven of us were crammed into the cockpit, the rear half of the ship almost entirely occupied by crates of supplies.

"Don't speak too soon Wreck," Hunter chided, massaging his temples.

Tech adjusted his goggles and swivelled his chair now that the autopilot was engaged.

"Need I remind you that our streak of mission successes was broken a considerable time ago."

Wrecker looked put out and gave Tech sad tooka eyes.

"But I suppose," Tech continued in a reassuring tone, "that we successfully retrieved the supplies with no casualties. So yes, based on the appropriate parameters, I would also agree that we were successful."

"We almost weren't," Echo roused from his quiet brooding to join the conversation. "And that poor pilot didn't make it. So that counts as a casualty."

Tech pinched his chin and scowled.

"I do not deal in 'what if's', merely the factual outcome, and so considering what might have happened would in no way effect the actual tangible outcome of the mission. You are, however, correct about the pilot."

"Tech," Hunter groaned, leaning back in his chair. "I have a headache."

The room was silent for less than a minute.

"We should really check the supplies," Wrecker said in a stage whisper, a feeble attempt at not aggravating Hunter's headache. "Y'know, just to check everything's there."

"You just want to raid the rations," Crosshair drawled as he began stripping and cleaning his rifle.

"I'm hungry!"

"You're always hungry, Wrecker," Echo stated, "if we let you at those crates there won't be anything left by the time we get back to base."

"Hey!" Wrecker bristled and folded his arms so that his muscles bulged to the point that they were in danger of breaking free from his armour. "What are you saying?"

"I believe the point Echo is trying to make Wrecker, is that your heightened metabolism caused by your altered genetic make up, coupled with your poor impulse control, could result in you unintentionally consuming our entire supply of rations prior to us disembarking at Nasu."

"Thanks Tech," Echo said in a mocking tone.

Wrecker began grumbling and promising that he wouldn't eat EVERYTHING while Tech countered with various statistics and info dumps on why he would. I reached for my rucksack and began rummaging around in one of the pockets.

"Here you go Wrecker," I said as I straightened and passed him my uneaten ration bar.

The giant's face lit up and he grabbed the bar with one hand and me with the other, bringing me into a rib cracking bear hug. I gasped for breath, eyes watering.

"Don't break her, Wrecker," Hunter warned, eyes still closed and seemingly asleep.

Wrecker carefully placed me back onto the ground and shoved the entire ration bar in his mouth in one go.

"Sorry," he apologised between chewing. "I just got excited."

I wheezed for breath and felt myself swaying slightly.

"That's ok big guy," I panted, "Nice to know I can make someone happy."

Wrecker stopped complaining then and Echo shot me a grateful look.

I sank to my ass in a corner of the cockpit as a wave of exhaustion crashed into me. It must be quite late, I thought, and my eyes were stinging from hours of focusing through the binos.

I rested my chin on my chest and felt myself drifting off, only half aware when Toby snuggled down next to me.

At some point a while later I woke up fully and, thinking something must have roused me, glanced around.

The cockpit was full of sleeping bodies. Toby leaned against my shoulder, dribbling slightly, while Wrecker lay flat out and spread eagled in the middle of the room, snoring loud enough to wake the dead. Echo's top half was draped over Toby's legs, and his bottom half was pillowing Wrecker's head. Crosshair was asleep at the other end of the cockpit, arms still wrapped around his rifle, legs curled up so that he wouldn't accidentally make contact with anyone else if he shifted in his sleep. Hunter was asleep in his chair, while Tech was comatose beside him, passed out on a nearby console.

I smiled faintly to myself at the heartwarming sight.

Chapter Text

Rex was ecstatic when we arrived back at base with the supplies. It was the first time I'd even seen the man grin like a school boy, and the relief that radiated from him was palpable.

The supplies only offered a temporary reprieve. They would not last indefinitely, but even so the mood on base lifted slightly at the hope of full bellies for the foreseeable future.

It was a welcome change.

We didn't get to enjoy the respite for long though as we were being deployed to Dantooine for a stint to offer security for a group of civvies that were manning a rebel listening post. Or rather, the Batch was being deployed to Dantooine, and Toby and I would be tagging along. Again.

Rex pulled us into the command room the night before we were due to depart. The command room, I discovered, was little more than a glorified office. A round table sat in the centre of the room and it was piled high with data pads and paper star charts and maps, some of which had spilled onto the surrounding chairs. It hardly looked like the heart of the rebellion on Nasu and I was surprised at the chaotic disorganisation.

Rex closed the door softly, leaving just the three of us in the cramped space. Toby and I exchanged worried glances.

The Captain moved a stack of data pads and leaned against the table, arms folded.

"I hear you performed well on Florrum," he said casually, brown eyes flickering between us.

I shrugged, wondering what we'd done to earn such praise. I certainly couldnt recall having actually taken any action, and if I had, I knew that Crosshair wouldn't have mentioned it to Rex. Would he? I still couldn't fathom the man.

"Thanks," I said awkwardly, not really sure what else there was to say.

Rex gave me half a smile.

"Youll be stationed on Dantooine for a little while," he continued. "If you wanted to collect your weapons from the armoury I won't object. They might come in handy."

I was stunned, and I could tell that Toby was just as much taken off guard by the rare show of trust.

"That would be great," I said, eagerly accepting the olive branch. "Thank you, Captain."

He gave me a genuine smile when I addressed him using his rank.

"You're one of us now," he said with conviction.

We gave our thanks and were dismissed.

The pair of us made our way to the armoury immediately, walking in silence down the hallways.

I for one couldn't decide how to feel about the events of the last few weeks. We'd been captured, restrained, drugged, and forced into servitude without consent. And yet, coming out of that darkness, we had made friends, people who seemed to genuinely care about our wellbeing. That in itself was a rarety in the galaxy. We were part of something else now too, part of something bigger than just the two of us. Even if we couldn't see it, and didn't directly benefit, it felt right. It was starting to feel like we belonged here.

....................

There was an air of excitement amongst the Batch at the prospect of deployment, and I could see why. For these men, that had literally been brought into this world to fight wars, sitting around on base must be Hell.

Hunter warned us to pack supplies as Dantooine was remote and we would not be able to restock while we were there.

Toby and I only had a few personal items, and I made sure to visit the quartermaster to grab an extra change of clothing, some soap, and various other items necessary to females.

Omega was coming with us seeing as we would be away for a few weeks. I helped her pack her own meager belongings, taking extra care to include her collection of stuffed toys.

We left Nasu early the next morning, while it was still dark. The journey would only be a short one, but we had a check in with the current squad to relieve them, and Hunter thought it wise to leave plenty of time for any hand over.

Years ago, Toby had snuck me into a holomovie theatre as a surprise after we had done well on a job. I couldn't really remember the movie: some shitty flick that was supposed to make you feel good about your life. But there was one bit when a family had been boarding a shuttle to some off world vacation spot, and I could recall the jovial and carefree mood of the scene with alarming clarity.

On board the Marauder en route to Dantooine, the atmosphere was similar to that of the movie, minus the singing.

I had never seen the Batcher's in such a good mood. They laughed and joked freely, teasing each other and reminiscing about past missions, nights out, and women.

The latter subject fascinated me, purely because of the individual members take on the opposite sex.

Wrecker was apparently a big hit with the ladies, but was absolutely clueless, and more than a bit nieve. Tech looked at sex clinically as the fulfillment of a basic human need. Hunter had a respect for women which I found quite admirable in a sort of wholesome way. Echo was extremely uncomfortable on the subject, and judging by the looks he kept throwing at Toby I wondered if he was perhaps not interested in women at all. Crosshair was reserved and seemed to like to keep his distance, which I supposed made sense considering he was a sniper.

After our odd exchange on Florrum, Crosshair had barely acknowledged me, and I was beginning to think he was ignoring me on purpose. I couldn't say why but I felt drawn to the enigmatic man. It troubled me deeply, because I still wasn't sure whether to regard him as an enemy or not.

I'd never been to Dantooine before as it didn't really have much to offer besides forests and attractive landscapes.

Tech set the ship down haphazardly on the designated landing zone and we all piled out to get our first glimpses of the place that would be our home for the next few weeks.

There wasn't much to see, to be honest. The listening post itself was underground and was accessible by a sloping tunnel cut into a small hillside. It monitored radio chatter and siphoned out anything which may be of use to the rebellion. On the surface, there was a small area for ships, and a couple of large open sided tents which served as the communal and eating areas for the handful of engineers that lived on the base full time, as well as whichever troopers were on rotation.

Hunter dealt with the handover while the rest of us were given a tour of the base by one of the engineers. It wasn't much of a tour, seeing as the only other features of any interest on the base were the barracks - two small bunkers buried beneath the ground - and the communal fresher.

We left our gear in one of the barracks which was designated for us and made our way back up to the surface. When we arrived, the other squad had already departed, and Hunter was waiting to brief us.

I realised quickly that our stay was not what the Batch had expected. We were pretty much little more than glorified watchmen, just there as a military presence in case of invasion. The chance of which was pretty much non existent. We would split guard duty into shifts, and other than that we more or less had free reign. It actually sounded like a pretty good deal to me, but the others were not impressed.

"You mean, we won't get to blow anything up?" Wrecker asked, looking like he might cry.

"The flora and fauna of this planet has already been catalogued extensively," Tech sighed dramatically, "I'm unlikely to find any new species."

"We're wasted here," Crosshair added arrogantly, flicking his toothpick from one side of his mouth to the other.

"This is going to be the longest and most boring three weeks of my life," grumbled Echo, "and I spent a year and a half in cryo."

Hunter looked like he was on the verge of sulking himself and the only thing holding him back from doing so was his rank.

"Boys, I know, but a mission's a mission." He held up his hands as if to say 'don't shoot the messenger'.

"Well I think its going to be fun," said Omega defiantly. "We could go fishing, or hiking. You could teach me how to swim like you always say you're going to."

"It's not a holiday kid," Hunter scolded gently, "but I guess it might be nice to recharge for a bit."

There was a bit more grumbling but no one else spoke up.

Hunter divided us into three groups of two and one group of three, allocating each of us four hour rolling shifts. We were to patrol the perimeter and just generally keep an eye out for trouble. The listening post itself would pick up any potential major problems, our presence was merely a comfort for the civilians.

I was put into the group of three with Echo and Tech. Hunter paired with Toby, which left Crosshair with Wrecker. Omega was nominated to compile the watch reports, which was a pointless task in reality but it would keep her occupied and nake her feel important.

Hunter and Toby took the first watch and so the rest of us made our way back down into the barracks to unpack whatever belongings we'd brought with us.

There were four double bunks in the room with a storage chest at the foot of each, but that was it for furnishings. I chose the bottom bunk nearest the door, and Omega chose the bed above mine.

"This is going to be so much fun!" she said as she hung her head over the side of the bed to watch me unpack.

I couldn't help but smile at her enthusiasm.

"It sure is kiddo," I said, smiling up at her.

Crosshair happened to be passing at that moment and he shot us a scornful look. I met his eye and he quickened his pace to leave the barracks. What was his problem now?

We ate a simple late meal with the engineers, and then Tech, Echo and I took over watch.

"I believe there is a watch tower amongst that treeline," Tech said pointing into the nearby distance as we made our way to the perimeter of the camp. "It may be wise if one of us stationed ourselves there so as to have a vantage point over the camp."

"I'll go," I volunteered and the others nodded.

Watchtower was possibly a grand name for what turned out to be a wooden platform suspended amongst the branches of a large leafy tree. As I eyed the rope ladder which offered access to the perch, I hoped the structure was capable of bearing my weight.

I made my way to the top, listening carefully for sounds of splintering wood. But the installation was surprisingly sturdy, and actually offered a pretty decent view of the base I realised when I reached the top.

I leaned back on one of the tree limbs and settled down for my shift. It was quite soothing, people-watching from the cover of the tower. I could see Hunter eating his meal with Omega perched on his knees, and further, beyond the ship yard I watched Echo patrolling up and down the treeline casually.

Evening came and the camp began to clear of people. Save for myself, Echo and Tech of course. I sighed and realised I had forgotten to bring my macrobinoculars up into my perch with me. Which was foolish seeing as the sun was rapidly setting and it would soon be too dark to see.

When darkness fully descended, the forests around the camp came alive with wildlife. I couldn't see any of the creatures, but I could hear them rustling through the undergrowth and calling to each other. I hoped none of them were large and carnivorous as I could only half see. At least I had my trusty vibrosaber slung on my back. Even if it was too dark to see what I was hitting.

I heard a creak below my platform and stiffened, panicking that some creature had caught my scent. I drew my vibrosaber and rested it on my knees, in readiness.

Abruptly a figure ascended the rope ladder and pulled themselves over the top of the perch silently. I actually almost screamed at that point before I realised that it was probably whoever was due to relieve me.

"Who goes there?" I called, my voice wobbling and my heart still pounding.

Whoever it was didn't answer and I gripped the hilt of my sword, preparing to sweep the person off the platform if necessary.

"Didnt mean to scare you."

The voice was sarcastic and could only belong to Crosshair. I let out a breath that I didn't know I'd been holding and sheathed my weapon.

"You didn't," I said indignantly. "I just couldn't see you."

"Maybe you should get your eyes checked," he hissed and I flinched at the sudden tone of contempt.

"My eyesight is perfectly fine," I snapped, preparing to leave the perch. "I just, er, forgot my binos."

Crosshair gave a mirthless snort and I felt my skin prickle.

"Some guard you are," he said and I could tell that he was sneering at me.

Clearly, asshole Crosshair had reared his fuck ugly head again.

"Nope. I can't even do that right," I responded flatly.

"Maybe you shouldn't be here then."

My stomach lurched at that and I felt a sudden overwhelming sense of inadequacy. It was a truly shitty sensation.

I made to climb down the ladder, desperate to escape but the grey haired man was blocking my way.

"I'm sure the others would agree." The man was relentless in his desire to make me feel worthless.

I choked down the lump that his comment had brought to my throat. I had thought the other Batch members had liked me? Was that not the case? I thought about Hunter's smiles, which I'd thought were friendly, and which now seemed patronising. Echo's warm looks became gazes of superiority, and Tech's endless questions barely covered his boredom with my very existence, I realised, the more I considered it.

Hot angry tears dribbled down my cheek before I could stop them, and I realised Crosshair could probably see them with the aid of his night vision.

I scrubbed my face, ashamed and hurting. I just wanted to hide away.

"Move," I said, not bothering to hide the crack in my voice. The prick wanted to hurt me, and dammit he had succeeded. I bet he was really proud of himself.

He still didn't budge, and I sensed he was trying to think of more hurtful things to say.

"MOVE!"

My scream rang around the forest, but I didn't care. If some creature had wanted to eat me at that moment I would have let it.

Still the man didn't move aside, so I crawled forward and reached blindly for the top of ladder.

Crosshair bumped my shoulder with his own when I passed, and for a heart wrenching moment I thought I would overbalance and fall. Not that I particularly cared at this point.

"You trying to push me now?" I half yelled, half sobbed as my hand finally found the top of the ladder and I twisted to find the footholds. "Is that what you want? Finish what you started at the lake?"

The man didn't answer but I took his silence for confirmation and descended the ladder.

I marched across the camp, still crying, and not entirely sure why. Perhaps it was the thought that my 'friends' didn't really like me. Perhaps I was just hormonal. Or perhaps I had been starting to think Crosshair and I could have been close, and he had just stabbed me in the back.

The others were getting ready for bed when I burst into the barracks. Toby took one look at my face and, leaping out of bed, he was by my side in half a second.

"What happened?" he asked, gripping my shoulders firmly. Hunter was hovering nearby, as was Echo, and Tech was watching me from his bunk, but I couldn't bring myself to look at their faces. I couldn't see the disinterest I believed would be there.

Toby tried to lift my chin so that I would meet his eye but I jerked my head away, staring at the ground and letting the tears fall.

"Gem?" Toby's tone was gentle and it was the voice I knew he only used when he was very worried. "Tell me. Did someone hurt you?"

Yes, I thought. Yes they did.

"Cross-Crosshair, he, he said..." I couldn't get the rest of the words out around my sobs.

My friend wrapped his arms around me and pulled me into a hug, letting me cry into his chest. I felt another pair of hands snake around my waist, too small to be anyone's other than Omega's.

I don't know how long we stood like that, but eventually I cried myself out and just stood, whimpering quietly.

Toby broke apart and wiped my face with his thumbs tenderly. It was the most affectionate gesture he'd ever given me, and I realised that at least this one person cared about me even if no one else did.

"Come on," Toby said, taking my hand and leading me towards my bunk, Omega in tow. He sat me down on the edge of the bed and took off my boots, before pushing me down onto the mattress and covering me with a blanket. I saw Omega hovering nearby, watching me with genuine sadness in her eyes. I sniffled and lifted the blanket in an invitation. The girl dived beneath the covers and snuggled against my side.

I noticed that Toby was moving towards the door and watched as Hunter stopped him with a hand on his shoulder.

"I'm gonna kill him," Toby said quietly, with such conviction that I actually believed him.

"Just," Hunter sighed and gripped my friend's shoulder tighter, "just let me talk to him. Tomorrow."

Toby growled and made as though to shove the tattooed man away.

"Please?"

I think it was the genuine sound of desperation in Hunter's voice that caused Toby to pause. He hesitated.

"Fine," my friend snapped, stepping back from the other man. "But if he so much as LOOKS at her again, I will end him."

Hunter nodded, and Toby stalked off to bed. Hunter ran a hand through his shaggy hair and scowled with worry.

After my emotional outburst, everyone settled down for the night and someone extinguished the lights.

I lay there for a long while, listening to Omega's breathing once she fell asleep, and soaking up her warmth. It was nice, comforting, and I willed my eyes to stay open so that I could savour the feeling.

Chapter Text

Gem looked exhausted when I went to wake her for her shift early the next morning. Her eyes were bloodshot and her face was haggard, and I wondered if she'd managed to get any decent rest in the night. I was half tempted to take her watch for her, but I knew that would just leave her feeling unwanted.

She barely said a word and wouldn't eat anything, merely made her way to the watchtower at the far end of the compound without making eye contact with anyone.

I lingered nearby for a little while, just to make sure she was OK, before heading back down to the bunker to grab a couple of hours of sleep.

I paused when I reached the door to our barracks. I could just make out the sound of voices coming from within.

".....really upset."

It was Hunter's voice I realised, and I could only imagine who he was talking to.

"Good."

I felt my hackles rise when I heard Crosshair's leering voice. I wanted to rip the door off its hinges and beat the guy to a pulp. But part of me also wanted to listen to Hunter chew the man out.

"You don't mean that Cross," Hunter said softly.

"I do."

"She was crying."

"So?" Crosshair's voice was entirely devoid of any emotion. "Why should I care?"

"But you do care," Hunter snapped irritably. "That's the problem."

"You don't know what you're talking about."

"Oh yeah?" Hunter sounded defiant now. "Try me?"

A laugh colder than a night on Hoth.

"Poor Hunter," Crosshair litled, his voice thick with distain and hatred. "Always trying to be the Sergeant he's supposed to be. Trying to keep everyone together. And failing, because YOU'RE NOT GOOD ENOUGH".

Hunter didn't rise to the words and I had to admire his self restraint, because if I had been in that room Crosshair would have been eating dirt.

I heard the Sergeant take a deep breath as though to calm himself.

"It's always the same with you, Cross," he said, and his tone was one of sad resignation. "You always lash out like this when you feel threatened."

"I do not feel threatened," the grey haired man spat. "I'm just the only one in this squad that has the guts to say what needs to be said."

"Sure, Crosshair," Hunter said, voice barely covering his condescension, "you keep telling yourself that. We all know differently, but you keep lying to yourself if that makes you feel better."

There was the sound of someone being slammed against the wall and I hesitated, torn between dashing into the room and wanting to hear more.

"You don't know shit." Crosshair was shouting at this point, and I guessed from the faint scuffling noises coming from within the room that he had Hunter pinned to the wall.

"I know that you care about her," Hunter said through gritted teeth. "I know that pushing her away is your defense mechanism. Because you won't for one second allow yourself to get close to anyone. To trust anyone. Because you don't think you're worthy enough to be happy. And you're scared of being hurt."

There was silence then, so oppressive that I held my breath, waiting for the sound of Crosshair's fist connecting with Hunter's face.

"I'm not scared of anything."

Crosshair's tone was almost defensive and I was startled by how calm it was. I heard a rustle as the man let go of the Sergeant and Hunter sighed.

"Look," the tattooed man said, and he almost sounded relieved. I guessed perhaps even he had been fearing for his own safety. "Not everyone is out to hurt you Cross. I know that's what we were taught to believe but it's not true. Just go talk to her. Please? Don't leave her feeling like this. You know as well as the rest of us how it feels to be rejected."

Crosshair huffed a laugh but it wasn't cold like it had been before.

"You've gone soft Hunter," the sniper said, his voice almost teasing.

Hunter also snorted a laugh at that.

"Is that such a bad thing? War's over. We can be what we want to be, now."

I heard the grey haired man hum, although I couldn't tell if it was a sound of agreement or consideration.

"That kid's rubbing off on you." I could almost hear his eyes rolling.

"Just, please go and talk to Gem," Hunter said in a pleading tone. "Please? Apologise at the very least."

I heard Crosshair grunt and then there was the sound of footsteps approaching the door. I flattened myself to the side of the corridor as the door swished open and Crosshair stalked out. He didn't notice me as he made his way to the surface.

I watched, just to make sure he wasn't going to come back, before I heard Hunter call out to me.

"How much of that did you hear?"

I grimaced and slinked into the room, looking ashamed and apologetic.

"Pretty much all of it."

I should have know Hunter would have heard me eavesdropping. He did have advanced senses after all.

Hunter nodded.

"Look, I know Gem's your friend, but perhaps we shouldn't get involved in this," Hunter said. "They're both grown adults. They need to figure this out on their own."

I hesitated, torn between wanting to protect my friend, and not wanting to smother her.

"Fine," I conceded reluctantly, "but if he hurts her again I'm gonna have to step in."

"Agreed."

....................

A few days had passed since Crosshair had made me cry, and I was slipping into the routine of avoiding him at all costs.

I took two watch shifts a day, and other than that I mostly kept to myself, either hanging around in a quiet spot of the camp, or going for hikes in the surrounding forest.

It was quite beautiful here, I conceded. Much warmer than Nasu, and much more peaceful than some of the other planets I'd visited in my time. I found comfort in the quiet, and began to withdraw further and further into myself. I barely even spoke to Toby anymore, not that he seemed to mind. He was keeping his distance, and I guessed that even he was probably fed up with me at this point.

We reached the end of our first week on Dantooine. It was evening, and I skipped late meal and made my way to the watchtower to relieve Hunter. I'd been skipping a lot of meals lately. Not that anyone noticed. Or even seemed to care.

I climbed wearily up the rope ladder, double checking that I had brought my macrobinoculars with me this time. Reaching the top, I grasped hold of the ledge and made to pull myself up.

And almost fell backwards when my eyes locked onto Crosshair's.

What the fuck was he doing here?

We stared at each other as my hands started to tremble on the boards. Crosshair's face was unreadable, and there was something in his brown eyes that I hadn't seen before.

He opened his mouth to say something but I wasn't prepared to wait for a tirade of abuse. I slid back down the ladder without a word, and went to go and find Hunter to interrogate him as to why he had swapped the shifts without telling me.

Hunter was in the barracks when I marched in, cleaning his armour while Wrecker and Omega play wrestled on the floor. Tech was huddled on his bunk, data pad in hand, engrossed in whatever he was reading.

The tattooed man raised his gaze when I entered, seeing the look on my face and actually physically recoiling.

"What the kriff are you playing at Hunter?" I snapped, causing the others to twist and survey me.

Hunter's eyes widened and he looked at a loss for words. Abruptly, his gaze snapped past me and I became aware that someone was standing behind me.

Spinning on the spot, I came face to face with the person that I really didn't want to see right now.

Crosshair looked from me to Hunter to the others, his eyes holding something that I could only describe as panic. I heard Hunter put down his armour and get to his feet behind me.

"Come on," he called to the others. "Let's go get some grub."

I half turned to face him and shot him a look of terror, but he made a placating gesture with his hands. I frowned, confused. What the fuck was going on?

"Yeah!" shouted Wrecker, leaping to his feet with Omega tucked under one arm and dashing to the door.

Tech looked up from his data pad, puzzled.

"But we only just ate late meal," he mused, adjusting his goggles.

"Now, Tech."

Tech scurried to the door and Hunter ushered him out, shooting Crosshair a pointed look before leaving.

Please don't leave me, I thought, but my mouth didn't seem capable of forming words.

Crosshair and I both stood, staring at the floor. It felt like the walls were closing in and I couldn't breath, couldn't escape, because the man was blocking the exit. It was like that night on the watchtower all over again and I felt the beginnings of a panic attack.

Crosshair broke the silence first, and I was so surprised by the waver in his voice that I met his eye before I could stop myself.

"I..." he swallowed, trying to make his voice sound less hoarse. "I...I'm."

I had never heard the man at a loss for words. He was always quick with a snide remark, and to see him so flustered was a novelty.

"I'm.....sorry."

The last word sounded like it caused him physical pain, and I wondered if Hunter had put him up to this.

I blinked stupidly at the man, trying to find something to say.

"You think that makes everything better?" I asked coldly.

Crosshair recoiled at that, and he looked as if I'd hit him. He licked his lips nervously.

"No! I just....I didn't....I didn't mean-"

"Yes you did," I snapped, sensing where this was going. There was no way I was going to let this prick back track away from his nasty comments and feign innocence.

Crosshair's mouth worked and he frowned, a look of frustration creeping over his face.

"I just....I don't....I don't know how...to say...I don't know how!"

He snapped the last words and suddenly the panic was gone from his eyes, replaced by an intensity that made me flinch. I braced, tensing myself for the appearance of asshole Crosshair. Waiting for the knife to cut me again.

But the wound never came. Crosshair just stood there, so tense that I could see him trembling.

"Kriff it," he growled, and I half expected him to storm out of the room.

What I did not expect however, was for him to close the distance between us in two strides, grab me by the shoulders and slam me into the wall.

I yelped as the air was driven from my lungs, hands instinctively going up to protect my face. Crosshair gripped my wrists and pulled them down to my sides, and he was suddenly all over me, kissing and biting my neck with all the ravenous ferocity of a starving man. His hands roved to my waist, gripping me so hard that I could feel finger nails biting into my flesh. I gasped, mind totally numb at the unexpected reaction.

I felt Crosshair stiffen suddenly and he drew back a few inches, worry knitting his brows as he looked down at me. Fuck he was tall. And attractive in a weird sort of way.

I was panting as though I'd run a mile, staring up at the brown eyes. His pupils were blown wide, and an expression I could only assume was fear danced across his face.

He made to move away from me, thinking perhaps that he'd overstepped the mark. But his impulsive reaction had awoken something inside of me I'd never known was there. I wanted this man. Badly.

I reached up and snagged his silver hair with one hand, the other snaking around his waist and pulling his hips to mine. I saw him smirk momentarily before I brough his head down roughly for a kiss.

He diverted at the last moment before touching my lips, instead moving to nip and suck at my throat. I groaned reflexively and that only seemed to encourage him further. His teeth sunk into my flesh as he pulled the collar of my jacket and shirt aside and traced my collar bone with his mouth.

I felt myself burning, aching. I let go of his hair and ran my hand over his chest plate, fumbling for the catch, desperate to feel his body against my fingers. But Crosshair was apparently not having any of that.

He pushed my hand away and pinned it to the wall with his own, tearing at my shirt with his teeth as he kissed my skin furiously. The friction of his codpiece against my lower regions was almost unbearable, made even more so when he pressed his thigh between mine and gently brought it towards the apex of my legs.

I groaned like a holoporn star at that, feeling myself blush with embarrassment, but Crosshair didn't seem to mind. In fact, he seemed to enjoy it. I felt him chuckle into my flesh.

"You like that, sweetheart?" he purred, and I felt myself growing wetter.

"Yes!" I gasped, fighting down the urge to grind against him.

He pulled back enough that I could see his leering face. His eyes were wild, and he was panting almost as heavily as I was.

"You want more?"

His tone was so fucking seductive that I almost came then and there. All I could do was nod, too far gone to be capable of coherent speech.

Crosshair grabbed me roughly by the waist and shoved me towards one of the bunks. It wasn't mine, I realised vaguely.

He pushed me down onto the mattress and pinned me by my wrists as he climbed on top of me, eyeing me hungrily. I fidgeted, desperately trying to wrap my legs around his hips, desperately trying to relieve some of the growing pressure.

The man watched me squirm with a look of satisfaction on his face. I never thought the day would come when I'd feel so damned turned on by that smug look.

Crosshair shifted so that he was kneeling at my feet, yanking off my boots and throwing them to the floor unceremoniously. His eyes didn't leave mine as he peeled off my trousers and underpants in one fluid motion, discarding them casually.

He was suddenly crouching over me again, kissing and biting my neck and jaw to the point that I almost couldn't breath. His hands rested on either side of my head as he roughly savaged me with his mouth. At the back of my mind was the vague worry of how I would hide the bruises, but it was only vague and I didn't much care at this moment. All I wanted right now was to be fucked into the bunk so hard that I wouldn't be able to walk tomorrow.

I felt one of Crosshair's hands slip down my body, running over my curves, reaching between my legs. I bit off a moan as a gloved finger slipped inside of me, followed by another. I spread my legs further apart, wanting desperately to be fucked by this man. But Crosshair only teased gently, as though testing me.

He gave one last suck on my neck and leaned back, surveying me with a feral look in his eyes.

"You want me?" he asked. There was no hint of conceit in his voice. It sounded more like he was genuinely curious and a bit perplexed by the prospect.

"Yes," I groaned, arching my back as he withdrew his fingers. "Please, Crosshair. Please."

I should have felt ashamed of the desperation in my voice but I wasn't. Crosshair merely nodded, and unclipped the maglocks holding his codpiece in place. He threw the piece of armour onto the pile of my clothes on the floor. I could make out the outline of his dick, pressed hard against the fabric of his blacks. He leaned back over me, palming himself as he made his way back up to my collar bone. I looked down to see him lowering his blacks just enough to free his cock, which was rock hard and twitching, before said body part was thrust inside of me.

I cried out when Crosshair's hips snapped into me and he paused, tensing as though waiting to see if I would shove him off. Instead I hooked my ankles behind his knees, silently willing him to kriff me.

He obliged, pushing roughly into me a few times as though testing my reaction. My throaty groans were apparently the only confirmation he needed, because he was suddenly fucking me so hard I saw stars.

I came after only a few thrusts, squealing in bliss and grasping hold of his chest plate, but Crosshair didn't stop. He set a brutal pace, cock pounding into me as his hands held me down, and his lips and teeth teased and grazed my flesh.

He must have been more wound up than I'd realised because he started to slow his pace, and I sensed he was close to the edge. I leaned up and bit hold of his ear and that was enough to finish him. He pulled out just in time, and I felt a warm wetness between my legs as he came over me.

Crosshair stayed suspended over me for a few minutes while he came down from his high, eyes downcast as though embarrassed, and panting hard. I reached up to run a hand through his sweaty, tousled hair and he flinched away from the touch, using the momentum to break away from me. He stood and tucked himself back in before replacing his codpiece, still not looking at me.

I started to feel self conscious and reached for the blanket to cover myself. Had I done something wrong?

He must have sensed my concern because he glanced back over his shoulder at me and looked me dead in the eye, as though waiting for something.

I licked my lips, trying to fathom what to say. Did he want praise? Did he want me to tell him he was the best kriff I'd even had? Did he want me to thank him? What did this man want from me?

"Crosshair, I forgive you." It seemed like the least cringey option but even so I grimaced at my own words.

Crosshair nodded, stuck a toothpick between his teeth, and stalked out of the barracks. It was a somewhat anticlimactic end to what had been a pretty intense hour.

I sighed and rolled out of the bunk, grabbing my towel and discarded clothing and making my way to the shower.

Chapter Text

Three days had passed since Crosshair and I had slept together, and things had definitely changed between us. Not necessarily for the better, but changed nonetheless.

The resentment that had hung over us before had dissipated, to be replaced by an awkward tension.

Whenever we passed in the barracks or hallways, each of us would pointedly look the other way, not meeting the gaze of the other.

On my part, it was purely out of embarrassment. I had come apart for this man so desperately, so needy for him, and the memory made me cringe. For Crosshair, I was obviously just another lay, and I guessed he was maybe worried that he'd let himself go too far. That I would expect more from him.

I did, to begin with. The first day or so, I tried to get him alone, to see if he would give me round two, but to no avail. He didn't seem keen to be left on his own with me and I tried not to feel hurt by his response. To him, I was just a mediocre kriff, a moment of weakness, even if I maybe wanted more.

Toby had sensed something was up with me and I ended up confessing to my fling with the grumpy sniper, skipping the salacious details. To my surprise, he wasn't remotely shocked, and I wondered if he knew something I didn't. Had Crosshair been bragging about his conquest to the others? That worry opened a whole new can of worms.

I tried to put the man from my mind and kept myself occupied with watch duty and teaching Omega to fight, a vocation which Hunter was not too thrilled about.

We started with sticks at first, me teaching her some basic cuts and parries. The kid was a quick learner, and she was soon asking for more, so I gave her a brief lesson on fist fighting. She picked it up quickly, and began demonstrating her new moves on Wrecker one evening while we sat digesting late meal. Hunter gave me a disapproving look when she almost punched Wrecker in the balls, and I shrugged.

"She should know how to defend herself," I said, sipping from my mug. "The galaxy's a dangerous place, particularly for a girl."

He conceded to my wisdom, but still seemed scornful at the concept.

The weather on Dantooine was unpredictable to say the least. One day the heavens would open in a torrential monsoon which lasted hours, and the next, the sun would be beating down on us, burning Tech's ears and causing everyone to sweat and grumble from the heat.

On one particularly hot day, I was play fighting with Omega in the shade of one of the tents. Even though we weren't in the sun directly, I was still melting after half an hour and had stripped off my jacket and rolled up the sleeves of my shirt. Omega on the other hand, looked like she could go forever: she was barely slowed by the excessive warmth.

The heat had sapped my strength and the girl took me off my feet for about the sixth time, wrestling me to the ground and sitting on me, victorious.

"Time out," I gasped, wiping sweat from my eyes.

Omega pouted down at me.

"Ohhhh, but I was just getting the hang of that move."

I chuckled at her enthusiasm. She truly was a gutsy kid.

"Yeah but you've wiped me out kiddo," I said, rolling onto my feet with difficulty. "I gotta take a break."

She pouted again and I ruffled her hair fondly.

"We'll carry on later, when it gets cooler," I promised. "Now go and see if Tech wants a hand with those upgrades for the Marauder."

The girl looked like she might sulk, but nodded glumly, before trudging off to find Tech.

Scooping up my jacket from the nearby bench, I wiped my face on the sleeve and made my way down into the bunker. The barracks were deserted, which was unusual considering that it was the coolest place in the camp. I threw my jacket on my bunk and grabbed a towel, heading towards the refresher.

There was no one in there when I entered and I slipped inside, grateful for the privacy. I stripped quickly, roughly folding my clothes and laying them on the bench near the showers.

The water was cool and refreshing and I felt it wash away the sweat and soak my aching muscles.

I had my head under the shower, washing the soap out of my hair when I heard the door to the fresher open. I instinctively slammed off the water and grabbed my towel from its peg, hastily wrapping it around myself as Crosshair entered the room.

He was just in his blacks, with a towel slung over his shoulder, and I guessed he was also looking to cool off from the relentless heat outside.

It took him a moment to notice me and when he did, he stopped in his tracks, his eyes going wide. I stood uncertainly, trying to cover my modesty as best I could and wondering how to disentangle myself from this awkward situation. I expected Crosshair to leave, as he had so often of late whenever he found himself alone with me.

To my surprise he didn't make any move towards the door. Instead he just stood stock still, clenching and unclenching his fists as though he were fighting some internal battle with himself. I unconsciously played with a strand of hair that had fallen across my face, and that motion seemed to be some sort of trigger for Crosshair. I saw his eyes flutter down towards my semi naked form, and felt myself heating up. Flashes of our previous encounter whisked through my mind, doing nothing to calm the growing blush on my face.

Fuck it, I though. There wasn't much more I could feel embarrassed about now anyway. What did I have to lose?

I let the towel drop to the floor.

Crosshair's eyes travelled to my tits and he smirked, gaze going lower, and I fought the urge to cover myself again. When his eyes returned to mine, I recognised the hungry look.

He stepped forward slowly, painfully slowly, and I felt myself start to tremble in anticipation. I cursed inwardly at allowing myself to become so needy for this man, who not so long ago I had decided I hated. Glancing down, however, I noticed that I wasn't the only one so affected.

Crosshair came to a halt mere inches from me, so close that I could feel his breath ghosting my face. He gave me another look of approval, eyes full of lust and I watched his erection growing beneath his blacks.

I reached out with a shaking hand and cupped his dick, softly rubbing him through the fabric. He gave the barest of groans, eyes fluttering shut as he leaned into the touch. He didn't buck or hump my hand as I expected him to, merely melted into me. It was almost tender.

Abruptly, his eyes flew open and I felt his cock twitch in my grasp. Crosshair looked me in the eyes with an intensity that was frightening, and I thought he would tell me to stop, to stay away from him, to leave him the kriff alone. But instead he wrapped his hands around my waist and bodily lifted me off the floor. I yelped in surprise and only had a split second to wrap my legs around him before he was carrying me into the shower. He put my feet back onto the ground, and pushed me into the shower wall. I gasped as the cold tiles met my skin, and Crosshair grinned savagely at me.

As he ground against me, I had to bite down the urge to keen. His lips connected with my neck and he was soon nipping and licking at the bruises that still remained from our last escapade.

I panted, wrapping my arms around his neck and hooking one knee around his hip. Crosshair pulled off his gloves and started touching me, squeezing my soft parts and I shuddered at the flesh on flesh contact. My reaction caused the man to pause.

"Dont stop," I said breathily and he chuckled throatily into my neck.

Encouraged by my words, he started exploring my body even further and I moaned loudly when his fingers found that sweet spot between my legs.

I moved my hands down, running them over the lean body beneath his blacks, tracing his abs. Fuck he was surprisingly muscular, toned and taut and HOT. I began fumbling with the seal of his blacks, desperate to touch him like he was touching me.

Crosshair pulled back, tensing, and I stopped, looking up at him and fearing I'd done something that he didn't like. He met my eyes, pupils wide, breathing heavily. Slowly, he pushed himself back into me, moving my hands to the side. Clearly he wasn't one for touch.

I went back to looping my arms around his neck as he had seemed to be comfortable with that, and I felt the man relax a little. Crosshair buried his face into the crook of my neck, nipping his way down my collar bone and moving towards my sternum. I gasped hoarsely when his lips found my breasts. Suddenly it was too much.

"Fuck me," I demanded, pulling his head up sharply. "Now!"

That smirk was tantalising.

He flipped me around roughly, pushing my face into the tiles and spreading my legs with his own. I felt his cock slap against my ass when he liberated it from his blacks and I whined desperately.

Crosshair guided himself into me, moving his legs apart to rectify the difficult position.

He started slow, deliberately pounding into me so hard that i couldn't catch my breath. His forearms rested on the wall on either side of my head, and he sucked marks into my shoulder and throat with every thrust.

Crosshair quickened once I was wet enough to accommodate the pace, hips snapping into me causing me to gasp every time. His thrusts became harder and I felt my eyes watering when his cock prodded my bladder. He was pressed suffocatingly tight to me, pinning me to the tiles while he fucked me roughly.

And I loved every second of it.

I felt myself drawing close to the edge and reached around to grab his ass with one hand, firmly guiding his thrusts until I came so hard I almost passed out.

He held me there for a few seconds, rocking me through my orgasm, before reverting to his previous enthusiasm. I could hear him panting in my ear, and guessed he must be close to his own climax.

Crosshair came with a chocked grunt, biting down hard into my neck as I felt cum splash up my back and ass. His cock gave a few more twitches against my backside and I could feel his heart pounding against my shoulder. He let go of my neck but still kept me pinned to the wall and I wondered if he was considering a second go.

We stood pressed together for quite a while, until my knees stopped shaking and I heard Crosshair's breathing level out. He made to pull away but I twisted my hand around my body and grabbed his waist, keeping him in position. He didn't object, and leaned back into me again. I wanted to say something, to break the silence, as I desperately didn't want it to be awkward between us again.

"You know," I said quietly, glad he couldn't see my face which was already blushing in anticipation of how blunt I was about to be. "We could make this a more permanent arrangement."

I felt Crosshair stiffen behind me and started to feel anxious when he remained silent.

"I'm not boyfriend material," he finally said, voice low and flat.

"That's not what I meant."

"Then what did you mean?"

I bristled at his tone, which sounded confrontational. I took a deep breath, which was somewhat difficult with Crosshair's weight leaning against me.

"Casual sex?" I asked, tentatively. "No strings attached, just good old fashioned kriffing."

He was quiet and I started to think that maybe I shouldn't have crossed that line. Perhaps I should just have accepted the small amount of attention he'd already given me and been satisfied with it. But I found the man intoxicating and I wanted more. I wanted him.

"Fine."

I started, not really expecting him to consent so easily. I think he was a bit surprised himself because I felt him pull away, tugging his blacks into position quickly and huffing a sigh to cover his embarrassment.

I cranked the water back on quickly to wash myself clean again. When I turned around to retrieve my towel I saw Crosshair sitting on the bench, watching me solemnly, arms crossed. I covered myself sheepishly and pulled on my clothes, aware that he was waiting for me to leave so that he himself could shower.

When I was dressed, I finally met Crosshair's brown eyes with my own yellow ones. I gave him a small smile, and he retaliated with a twitch if his own lips.

As soon as I was back in the hallway I slumped against the wall and slid all the way to the floor, totally spent. I had a feeling that this arrangement with Crosshair would leave me feeling like this often. I grinned at the prospect.

Chapter Text

Being fuck buddy's with Crosshair was a novel experience to say the least.

Within the first week, I quickly learned several things about the quiet, grey haired man.

Firstly, he didn't do kissing on the mouth. Ever. I'd tried to pull him in on a couple of occasions while mid fuck and he had either twisted away or stopped me with a hand over my mouth. It was fine, I supposed, although I did enjoy a good bit of snogging.

Secondly, he had an insatiable appetite for sex. Once we had formalised the arrangement that day in the shower, he almost couldn't get enough. He'd pull me aside at every opportunity for a quick kriff: down a quiet hallway, up against a tree, behind some crates in the storeroom, wherever the fancy took him.

Thirdly, he liked it rough. Hard and fast seemed to be the only way he knew how. He was dominating in bed, preferring to be in control at all times, and he did not display the patience I had expected of a professional sniper. He wasn't a big talker, either, treating sex like any other mission, getting the job done as quietly and efficiently as possible.

Lastly, Crosshair did not mix pleasure with business. While he was on duty, or whenever the rest of the Batch were around, he more or less ignored me.

I had told Toby about our arrangement of course. There was no hiding anything from him, and I knew he'd be hurt if he found out from someone else. He didn't seem bothered about Crosshair and I hooking up, not that I expected him to be. Neither of us had ever shown any romantic interest in the other, save for the occasional fuck when one or other of us was drunk or feeling particularly lonely. I knew he wouldn't be jealous and as long as I was happy, so was he.

I suspected Hunter also knew from the knowing looks he'd shoot me whenever I snuck away from the main group. I wondered if could smell the sex on us, what with his heightened senses, and made a mental note to shower more often.

To my knowledge, the others were totally oblivious. Which suited us both just fine.

I was glad, in a way, that I had a decent distraction because it turned out that being stationed on Dantooine was dead boring. The most exciting thing that had happened so far was when one of the engineers had accidentally set fire to the cooking station. Wrecker had been so excited by the carnage that I'd thought he was going to wet himself.

One afternoon, the boys decided that they would finally keep their word, and teach Omega to swim. There was a lake close to camp, only a short trek through the forest, and Hunter had chosen that as their staging area.

Echo had offered to stay behind and take the watch shift.

"Kriffing cybernetics are useless for swimming anyway," he'd grumbled, but I thought that maybe he was a bit too body conscious to take off his clothes in front of everyone.

To my surprise, Toby offered to stay behind and keep him company. Echo gave him a grateful smile, and I saw a familiar twinkle in my friend's eye.

We packed some blankets and towels to dry off with and set off for the lake, Omega hurrying ahead. Even Crosshair had decided to join us, and I was secretly looking forward to seeing the sniper without his blacks on. I'd yet to see him naked, and that would be a real treat.

The water was calm and clear and the surrounding forest was quiet when we arrived. I'd visited this spot before, and I knew that the lake didn't get much deeper than a few feet. There was another, much deeper pool further into the woods, fed by a stream, but the water was rougher and deeper and wouldn't be suitable for Omega to learn in.

I laid out the blankets I'd brought with me while Omega and Wrecker eagerly stripped down to their underwear, Hunter not far behind. I tried not to stare at the two men, but I did cast a few appreciative glances their way. They were commandos after all, and good looking ones to boot.

Crosshair noticed me looking at his brothers (the man noticed everything) and scowled at me, toothpick waggling in disapproval. I gave him a sheepish smile, and glanced down at his own clothes suggestively. Unusually, the man shifted uncomfortably, sitting down on one of the blankets, still fully clothed in his blacks, and bringing his knees up to his chest. He caught me looking at him and his face darkened slightly. It was surprising - for all his arrogance, I had not expected the man to be so self conscious.

Tech made himself comfortable on one of the other blankets, settling himself down with his data pad. I laid down between the two men, stretching out in the warm sun.

The others were wading out into the water, and I watched Omega held onto Hunter for dear life as the water reached her waist.

"Are you not swimming, Gem?" Tech asked offhandedly as he scrolled through his pad absentmindedly.

"Ah, no Tech," I replied. "Not today."

Tech hummed vaguely and carried on scrolling.

"Are you menstruating?"

I snapped my head around to look at him.

"Excuse me?!"

Tech lowered his data pad and peered at me through his goggles.

"It's an accurate assumption," he said in his usual deadpan voice, "that you wouldn't partake in the activity of swimming if you were menstruating."

"Tech," I said, feeling myself blushing, "you can't just ask me questions like that."

I glanced at Crosshair and he looked as uncomfortable as I felt.

"Why not? It's a natural biological function."

"Yes, but that doesn't mean I want to talk about it. It's not appropriate. "

"What other logical reason would there be for you not wanting to swim?"

"Perhaps I don't wanna take my clothes off in front of everyone," I snapped, rising to my feet.

I grabbed a towel, intending to find that other pool and have a dip in there. I was thoroughly too embarrassed to stay and have Tech ask me inappropriate questions.

Hunter saw me get up to leave, and frowned at me.

"Everything ok?" he asked, glancing at Crosshair and assuming it was he that had upset me.

"Tech's being weird again," I said in exasperation.

"Tech, stop being weird."

"I was merely asking a question, however Gem's reaction seems to suggest that it was a personal one."

"Aww, don't go because of Tech", Wrecker said, floating on his back in the middle of the lake.

"It's fine," I called back. "I'll be back in a minute. Just gonna stretch my legs."

I found the pool easily enough, the sound of running water led me straight to it. I leaned on one of the rocks which edged the water, and dipped a hand in, testing the temperature. It was cool, and clean and inviting.

I placed my saber on a nearby boulder and wriggled out of my jacket and shirt. I kicked off my boots and trousers, and was just dipping a toe into the pond when I heard a rustle behind me.

Shit. Probably Tech coming to ask me more questions about my reproductive cycle.

Crosshair stepped smoothly around a tree and I relaxed. I found that notion odd, seeing as a couple of weeks ago the man's presence would have had me tenser than a coiled spring.

I knew this dance well, and I waited in readiness, feeling myself grow excited at the prospect of a quickie in the woods.

Crosshair smirked at me as he approached and I could see from a distance that he was already hard. I inwardly smiled at the fact that the mere thought of sex got him aroused.

He stopped a couple of feet away and looked pointedly at my belly.

"You're not really, er," he raised his eyebrows questioningly.

"You can fuck off as well," I said jokingly. "What did I say about inappropriate questions?"

Kissing the crook of my neck, the man took a deep breath and pulled me into him. I went willingly, stroking his chest and murmuring contentedly.

"Crosshair?" I asked as he tugged down the straps of my bra.

"Hmmmm?"

"Why didn't you want to take your clothes off back there?"

He jerked back as if I'd slapped him but I firmly kept my hands on his waist, afraid that he would storm off and the moment would be ruined.

"I didn't mean to pry," I said apologetically. "I was just curious. You don't have to tell me"

Crosshair's eyes flickered between mine, before he glanced to the side, gaze downcast.

"I don't like people looking at me."

I blinked in shock at that, and squeezed his hip.

"Even your brothers?" I asked timidly, treading carefully so as not to put him on the defensive. Sometimes I felt like dealing with Crosshair was like handling a wild animal. One with claws.

A shallow flush crept up his normally pale face.

"Especially them."

"Oh," I said softly and he made eye contact warily. I shrugged my shoulders. "I didn't have you pegged as the shy type."

He frowned at me, irritated but not yet angry.

"I'm not," he said bluntly. "It's just not necessary for anyone to see me naked."

I licked my lips, considering my next words carefully, eager to avoid those claws.

"What if someone wants to see you naked?" I asked self consciously. "What if I want to see you naked?"

He looked taken aback by that comment, glancing about as though searching for a way to escape. I took a step closer and held him tighter.

"Hey," I said, getting his attention. " I have an idea."

Crosshair eyed me suspiciously but I stepped away towards my pile of clothes, cautiously keeping my attention half on the man in case he decided to flee. Rummaging amongst my possessions, I came up with the scarf that I had taken to wearing around my neck, ever since we had returned from Florrum. It wasn't so much a scarf as a scrap of cloth, but it did a good job of keeping dust off of my face whenever the conditions were arid.

The sniper was still watching me as I stepped out of my boxers and slipped off my bra. I stepped into the pool, the water coming up to my waist, and reached up, tying the scarf around my forehead. I gave Crosshair one last look, hoping he would get the gist, before pulling the fabric down over my eyes and backing further into the pool.

I stood in the water, my heart racing as I waited. Something told me that this could be a make or break moment, and I hoped it would be the former.

I lazily traced my hands over the surface of the pool, trying not to look as nervous as I felt. After what felt like an eternity, I heard a faint rustling nearby and then a splash as someone stepped into the water. I smiled invitingly.

I felt a touch on my waist and hummed in relief. I placed my hands on Crosshair's, and gently ran them up his forearms, to his biceps and then his shoulders. I grinned when I realised he was totally naked, and felt a pulse between my legs.

I ghosted my fingers down his chest, seeing with my hands rather than my eyes. I felt goosebumps erupt under my touch. I felt the puckered scar that ran down his side, and the other that must have pierced one of his lungs. I leaned in, kissing the scar softly, before repeating the gesture with every blemish I found.

Crosshair to my surprise, didn't back away, and gave only the barest of flinches at the contact.

My hands roved shamelessly over his body, feeling the toned muscles of his chest and stomach. I shuffled closer and my fingers moved round to the back, running up and down his spine. I heard Crosshair gasp softly at that one, but I didnt relent. I was determined to explore every inch of his body for as long as he would allow.

I moved down below the water, kneading his ass with both hands. Fuck me, it was one spectacular ass. Even if I couldn't see it, I could tell.

Trailing round his hips to the front, I caressed the strip of hair running down from his navel and wondered if it was silver like the hair on his head. I almost wanted to peek, but that would dispel the magic.

Tracing the line, my fingers brushed his cock, which was already fully at attention. I ran my fingernails firmly over the tip, and Crosshair moaned for real this time. I did it again and he bucked into my hand with an uncharacteristic groan.

"You like that?" I asked with a seductive smirk. I was finding this whole act difficult without being able to gauge the reaction on his face.

"You know I do," Crosshair said breathlessly. I put a hand on his chest and felt his breath hitching with every touch.

I continued for a little while, winding the man up until I felt sure he couldn't take any more. It was then that I stepped back and let him take control.

Crosshair lifted me so that my legs were wrapped around his waist and guided me onto his dick, which was throbbing after so much stimulation.

I gasped as he slid into me, revelling that I would finally get the satisfaction I had been craving. I moved so that my face was pressed against his neck, feeling his pulse through my cheek.

Crosshair seemed to be having difficulty keeping his balance in the water while holding me up. His thrusts were shallow and I tried twisting my hips so that he could fuck me hard like I knew he wanted to, but he stilled my movements with a hand.

"D'you wanna lean against the rocks?" I asked, offering him the opportunity to get some better leverage. He shook his head.

"'M good".

I sighed into the man's neck as he held me close and fucked me leisurely, suspended in the cool water of the pool. It was so out of sorts from what I had become used to, that I worried my plan was making him feel uncomfortable.

I tried grinding against him a few times, giving him the opportunity to kriff me harder but he stopped me each time until I began to wonder if he was actually enjoying this slow pace. I certainly was. I could almost believe it was loving.

The fuck lasted much longer than the usual fast ones we engaged in, and I absently started to wonder if the others would be missing us soon.

Crosshair kissed my neck and nibbled my jawline roughly and I whined, softly so as to avoid being heard by Hunter. His hand moved down to cup my ass and he squeezed, causing me to moan again.

I started to feel the familiar coiling in my lower belly and gripped onto the man harder, egging him on and chasing a release. It was a slow build climax, and I panted breathily as it finally hit. I felt Crosshair cum at almost the same moment, cock throbbing inside of me as he grunted into my hair.

He held me for a minute before I felt him tense unexpectedly.

"Fuck," he said softly, "I didn't mean to..."

He didn't finish the confession but I knew he was uncomfortable with cumming inside of me, even though my implant prevented any unwanted consequences. He made to withdraw but I tightened the grip with my calves and held him in place.

"It's ok," I reassured him, running a hand through his hair. He let me, for a change. "You don't have to worry about things like that."

Crosshair paused before nodding. I felt a twinge in my chest at the welcome show of trust.

He lifted me out of the water, still entwined, and wrapped the towel around me before placing me carefully on the ground. I waited, still blindfolded, while he quickly got dressed. When he was ready, he tugged at the scarf and I removed it, giving him a soft smile. To my surprise he returned the gesture.

I pulled on my clothes and we walked back to the others silently. I tried to compose my face as we returned to the lake to watch Omega awkwardly doggy paddle through the water. I was frightened someone would notice just how happy I was.

Chapter Text

Our stint on Dantooine was almost at an end.

To my own surprise, I felt deep sorrow at the prospect, and couldn't help but wonder if mine and Crosshair's arrangement would come to an end once we returned to Nasu. It would be much harder to sneak off for quickies on a base full of soldiers.

The day before our replacements were due to arrive, Rex called in on the holoprojector. I was momentarily excited, thinking he was going to inform us that our relief was delayed, or that we would be stuck on Dantooine for another few weeks. However, he was merely calling to brief us on our next mission, which was to initiate as soon as we left this planet. I felt a glimmer of hope that perhaps things wouldn't immediately have to stop between Crosshair and I, but I was mentally preparing myself for the worst.

Our next mission had all the boys excited, but particularly Wrecker, because it was a demo job.

Rex wanted us to infiltrate an Imperial run factory on Corellia, where it was rumoured the Empire was testing production of a new prototype fighter. Once inside, our orders were to blow the place sky high.

I finished my final watch shift on Dantooine and thought that I might actually miss my little perch up in the trees. I heard the familiar sound of Crosshair making his way up the ladder to take over and lowered my binos.

Crosshair hopped up onto the platform silently and sat down nearby. I didn't leave immediately, instead I stayed leaning against the tree trunk, listening to the sounds of the night. This may be the last chance I got to be alone with him and, even though I knew he wouldn't engage in anything sexual while he was on watch, I still wanted to be close to him.

Inwardly I was in turmoil. I truly didn't want our arrangement to end, and I was embarrassed to admit that. I tried to convince myself that it was because he was so kriffing good in bed, but I knew that I'd be lying if I said that was the only reason.

"What?" Crosshair said softly, breaking me out of the dangerous path in my mind that I was going down. He must have sensed that something was wrong, though I couldn't fathom out how.

"Nothing," I replied, hesitantly.

Crosshair grunted nearby.

"Suit yourself."

I really didn't want to ask the question, but I knew it would eat me up inside until I had an answer. I didn't want to be distracted on the next mission. It could be dangerous for everybody.

I cleared my throat and mentally prepared myself for the answer I was dreading.

"Will -" I had to swallow before I continued, "- will things change when we get back to Nasu? Between us, I mean."

He didn't answer immediately and I thought my heart was going to stop.

"Why would they?"

I tried to wipe the relief off of my face as I knew Crosshair would be able to see it through his night vision visor.

"I dunno," I said lamely. Even I could hear that my voice was more upbeat. "I just thought that, y'know, with all the extra people around...."

I heard the man beside me shrug.

"It's a big base. Plenty of empty corridors and disused supply cupboards."

His tone was so casual, it was as if he was considering a good spot to set up lookout on a mission, not discussing the best places to engage in raw, animalistic sex.

"I guess so," I replied.

We were quiet after then, just enjoying each others company in silence. It felt like a great weight had lifted off my shoulders.

....................

Our relief squad of clones arrived very early the next morning, their ship loaded with supplies for our next mission. I noticed tears at the corner of Wrecker's eyes when he surveyed the crates of explosives.

The hand over was brief, we loaded our gear onto the Marauder, and before too long we were quickly leaving the lush, green planet behind.

Tech plotted a course to Corellia, one which would take us through the lesser known hyperspace routes. It would mean that the trip would take several days, but it would keep us out of the way of any Imperial patrols.

The days dragged slowly. After so long cooped up on Dantooine, the journey to Corellia was boring. At least on Dantooine we had had our duties to occupy us. During the trek through hyperspace, there was literally nothing to do besides take naps and play Sabacc.

Crosshair and I couldn't even sneak off for a fumble given the close quarters we were all in. After a few days, the lack of sex seemed to be getting to him. I caught him eyeing me hungrily when he thought no one was looking. He snapped at the others for no reason and just generally seemed to be more of an irritable asshole than normal.

One evening, his horniness got the better of him and he snuck into the fresher while I was brushing my teeth. I heard the door open and close, and then the faint click of the lock behind me. It wasn't unusual for any of the Batch to just walk into the fresher unannounced when it was already occupied. None of them apparently had any boundaries when it came to privacy and personal space.

I was leaning over the small sink, rinsing out my mouth when I felt him grind against my ass. I yelped and almost choked, before whipping my head up and catching sight of Crosshair smirking at me in the cracked mirror.

He slowly ground against me again, and without his armour I could feel just how excited he was beneath his blacks.

"What are you doing?" I asked, wiping my face on my sleeve.

He paused momentarily, half hesitating as he searched my eyes in the reflection of the mirror. I turned around, leaning against the sink so that I could face him, and folded my arms, cocking an eyebrow at him questioningly.

His gaze roved my face, pupils dilated to the point that I almost couldn't see the brown iris's.

Crosshair gave another half hearted thrust of his hips against mine, eyes almost pleading.

"Did you want something?" I asked, innocently, looking up at him and batting my lashes. He swallowed and I felt his prick twitch against my belly.

He half grunted, half groaned in response.

I smirked inwardly. I was quite enjoying just how much power I had over him at this moment. He was so needy!

"Use your words," I said in a condescending tone of encouragement. This was something we'd been working on, his communication, or rather, lack thereof.

I could hear Crosshair grinding his teeth.

"I want," he said, voice hoarse and uncharacteristically uncertain. "I want.....to fuck you."

He gave another shift of his hips as though to reiterate the point. I raised my eyebrows in mock concern.

"The others are only just outside that door," I said cheekily. "What if one of them were to walk in? Or hear us?"

"I don't care."

Another twitch in his groin told me that the danger of being caught was part of the thrill for him.

In truth, I was suffering from horrific cramp and at that moment, for all my teasing, I really wasn't in the mood for a hard kriff against the sink. Besides, it would be messy.

I looked up into his eyes. They were pleading, almost begging me to do something to relieve the tension coiling his body. I sighed and rolled my eyes, a habit I had picked up from the sniper.

I placed my hands on his hips and pushed him away and he looked crestfallen, thinking I was turning him down. His expression changed however when his back hit the far wall of the fresher and I slid down to my knees on the floor.

I paused and took a moment to look up at him. I couldn't help but grin at the sight looming over me. Crosshair was panting and already beginning to sweat in anticipation of what I was about to do. A wet stain had appeared on the crotch of his blacks from his cock, which was already leaking pre cum.

"Close your eyes," I instructed, leaning forward to undo his blacks with my teeth.

"Why?" he grunted suspiciously, the sound running into a deep groan as his straining dick was finally released from his pants.

I paused for a minute to survey his penis, which looked so hard that it must actually hurt.

"Because I don't want you watching me."

Crosshair obliged, shutting his eyes and leaning his head back on the wall.

I took a deep breath before running my tongue over the tip, grimacing at the sour taste of pre cum.

The grey haired man shuddered and growled in his throat. I remembered the time in the pool and how he had reached to my fingernails, and ran my teeth over the head of his cock. It snapped up and slapped me in the nose, and I smirked, enjoying the effect I was having.

I repeated the motion and Crosshair's body reacted in the same was. I moved my mouth down the length, alternating between nipping and sucking kisses into his hot skin.

I made it the base and was halfway back to the tip when Crosshair decided he couldn't wait any longer. He wrapped a fist into my hair and thrust towards my face, dick hitting my cheek. I wanted to push him back to continue my teasing but, looking up at the man above me, I didn't think he would be able take much more. His eyes were screwed shut, mouth slack, and sweat was running down his face.

I finally conceded and guided him into my mouth. He groaned softly as I took as much of him as I could, hollowing my cheeks so that I could suck enthusiastically.

Abruptly, he pulled my head down and humped into me so hard that I gagged, pulling off him and coughing. I looked up with watery eyes and saw him sneering down at me. Clearly that was revenge for the teasing.

"Do that again and I'll bite it off," I threatened, voice gravelly.

Crosshair snickered and closed his eyes again.

I slowly sucked him off in the confines of the fresher, hands firmly grasping his hips to keep him from fucking my face.

His fingers played with my hair as I worked, tangling the strands idly as he enjoyed the moment. He was moaning with every bob of my head now, and I felt a bit guilty knowing that poor Hunter would probably be able to hear everything that was going on, even from the cockpit.

I felt Crosshair's muscles begin to tense beneath my hands and knew that he was close.

Just at that moment there was the sound of someone trying the door to the fresher. I jumped, accidentally biting Crosshair's dick and causing him to hiss.

Whoever was outside the door realised it was locked and knocked loudly.

I leaned back away from Crosshair, watching the door warily.

"I'm in here," I called, trying to make it sound like I hadn't just had a cock in my mouth.

I heard a shuffle outside the room.

"Oh, sorry Gem". It was Wrecker's voice, tinted with embarrassment.

I looked up at Crosshair and cocked an eyebrow at him. He smirked shamelessly and nodded, knowing how close he was.

"Give me two minutes big guy," I called back to Wrecker.

"But I gotta piss real bad!"

"I'll be as quick as I can."

I heard Wrecker tapping his foot on the floor outside in desperation as I went back to blowing Crosshair. I set a quicker pace, aware that I needed to get this done fast. I sucked as quietly as I could, gently mouthing the tip with my teeth at every opportunity.

I tilted my head to see Crosshair bite down on his tongue and his grip tightened on my hair as he came into my mouth.

I swallowed quickly, wiping my mouth with the back of my sleeve as I got to my feet. Crosshair was slumped against the wall, eyes vacant and cock dripping onto the floor. I made a mental note that blow jobs were a definite yes.

Crosshair looked like he was incapable of coherent thought at that moment, so I took it upon myself to shove him into the shower cubicle and pull across the tinted screen. Hopefully Wrecker wouldn't notice his brother.

I quickly fixed my hair in the mirror and unlocked and opened the door. Wrecker brushed past me with a groan of relief as I left the room. I heard him pissing enthusiastically as I made my way down towards the cockpit.

Hunter gave me a look which quite clearly said "must you?" as I entered and I gave him my most innocent expression.

The others were totally oblivious, as usual, and didn't even notice Crosshair join us, looking like he'd been dragged through a hedge backwards.

Oddly enough, the sniper was much more relaxed for the remainder of the journey, and barely lost his temper at all.

....................

Gem and I had only been to Corellia once in the past, and the planet hadn't changed much since then. It was still a hive of industrial activity. The only difference was that on my previous visit, the planet had been under the jurisdiction of the Republic. Now the Empire had its stranglehold on Corellia.

Tech landed at a space port near to the factory which was our target. We were going under the guise of a civilian crew looking for some upgrades for our ship. I'd never seen the Batch in civilian clothing before, and they looked so uncomfortable in the unfamiliar get up that it was comical.

Hunter looked the most natural of them all, in dark greens and browns, his hair hanging loose around his face, his signature bandana discarded. Wrecker was wearing a tattered poncho, which seemed to be the only thing big enough to fit his frame, and a broad brimmed hat to hide his scarred face. Tech was kitted in stiff overalls, and would almost have passed for an engineer, except that the clothes were spotlessly clean. Crosshair was dressed all in darks greys and blacks, a long coat swathing his slim frame; he appeared more like a bounty hunter than anything else. Echo's disguise was the most bizarre. He wore a padded jacket and trousers and had some sort of mask covering his head and face. It made him look more like a droid than a man, but I supposed that was the point.

Omega was to stay behind, out of sight, and wait for our return. She had hidden herself in an overhead service area above the main hold of the ship. The girl would be safe there, until we made it back, hopefully all in one piece.

"Alright team," Hunter said as Tech returned from paying our docking fee to the harbour master, "everyone know their role?"

A chorus of agreement.

"Good. Let's get to work."

We each grabbed our respective packs, which contained a disturbing amount of explosives. The factory was quite large, and would take a lot to bring down.

Splitting into our respective groups, we parted ways so that we would all approach the target from different directions and avoid rousing suspicion.

Gem and I were paired together, and we were tasked with entering the base through the ventilation system on the lower level. The plan was for us to then follow the schematics provided by Tech and emerge in one of the two reactor rooms, which should be deserted. The other two teams would be targeting the remaining reactor room and the assembly plant respectively. Once we had set our charges, we were instructed to retreat and rendezvous on the roof of a nearby building. The factory could then be raised to the ground once everyone was clear. The whole thing should go off without us even being detected.

As we wound our way through the murky streets of Corellia, I double checked the blaster hidden beneath my coat. Gem had it's twin, seeing as her saber would be too big to hide and would draw attention if we were stopped by any guards.

We slipped our way into the dark alley which ran alongside the factory, looking for our access point. Gem spotted it halfway up the wall, and I gave her a boost so that she could remove the protective grille.

"Maker, you weigh a tonne," I grumbled as she perched on my shoulders, fidling with the catches to remove the cover. "I don't know how Crosshair manages to manhandle you about."

Gem kicked me sharply with the heel of her boot.

"You're just jealous 'cos you ain't getting any."

"Hmm, Crosshair isn't really my type."

"Echo on the other hand...."

"Shut up or I'll drop you."

She tugged off the grate and crawled into the ventilation shaft, pulling me up after her. She replaced the cover and, removing her backpack, rummaged about for the data pad Tech had provided us with. Glancing at the schematic of the facility, she pointed down the shaft.

The soft light of the pad gave some illumination as we crawled through the tight space, making as little noise as possible. The air was cool and dry, and I had to fight the urge to cough. I couldn't help but feel the tension radiating from my friend at being in such a confined area. I worried that she would start to panic and draw unwanted attention to our position, but thankfully she remained in control of her fear.

We made our way to the lower reactor, following Gem's directions. After what felt like an age, we arrived at the hatch which Gem indicated was the correct one.

"This is it," she whispered, pointing to the opening and looking eager to be out in the open once again.

I pressed my face to the grille and looked down. I could just make out the room below us. It was much smaller than I'd expected.

"Are you sure this is the right one?" I asked.

Gem frowned at the data pad.

"According to the blueprints, this is definitely it."

I grunted, still not convinced but willing to trust that Tech had given us the correct info.

We got into position on either side of the grate.

"I'll go first," I hissed. Gem nodded and took hold of the hatch. "On three."

I pulled out my blaster, just in case, and counted down with my fingers.

Gem yanked open the trapdoor and I dropped through, landing on my feet as lightly as I could.

I realised, quite quickly, that we were in fact in the wrong room. Instead of a mass of electronics and power banks, I was faced with a handful of Imperial officers. They were sitting at a round table in what was clearly the rec room, playing a hand of Sabacc.

I must have caught them by surprise because they just stared at me, dumbfounded.

I made to call up to Gem and tell her not to join me but she had already dropped down.

"Oh shit."

At that moment, the three Imps leapt into action. One dived backwards while the other two reached for their blasters, which were resting on the table, alongside their caps.

Without thinking I squeezed the trigger of my pistol and shot the one on the right. He fell to the ground with a smouldering hole through his chest. Gem was slower taking out the other, and he had almost brought his weapon to bear before he dropped back down into his chair and slumped onto the table.

The third man, barely old enough to shave, leaned around the side of a chair and squeezed a shot in our direction. It went wide, bounced off the wall and shattered one of the light fittings.

I reacted in a split second, diving across the table and slithering on top of the fellow. He yelped and twisted to shoot me, but not before Gem put a whole in his head. I let go of the man's jacket and looked up at my friend. Her eyes were wide, and her hand was shaking.

I heard my pocket com beep and fished the device out while Gem locked the door to the rec room.

"I heard blaster fire," Hunter's voice cut through the silence, his tone worried. "What's going on?"

"Er, yeah we ran into a complication," I said hastily.

"What kind of complication?" Hunter asked skeptically.

"Tech's directions were wrong," Gem said, coming to kneel beside me on the floor and frisking the pockets of one of the dead officers. I gave her a look of disapproval but she just shrugged. "We've ended up in some sort of rec room."

"What?!"

There was a momentary pause before Tech joined in on his own com.

"Ah yes," he said sheepishly. "It would appear that the schematics I gave you were for the floor above the reactor room."

"You've gotta be kriffing me."

"Tech!"

"I apologise for the oversight, but I do believe that I can guide you to the appropriate area if you are able to climb back up into the ventilation shaft."

I glanced up: the hatch was a few feet above us, but I thought we might be able to scramble onto a table.

"Fine," I groaned. "Just give us a minute."

I put the com back into my pocket and searched for Gem. She was shamelessly raiding the bar behind the dead officers.

"For kark's sake!" I snapped. "We gotta go!"

"Alright, I'm coming," Gem replied. "Ooh Corellian Whisky. Only the finest for the Empire."

"GEM!"

"OK!"

She hopped over the bar, pausing to slip a couple of the bottles into her pack, while I dragged a table over to the opening.

Gem scrambled up with ease, and I followed.

"OK Tech," I said into my com, "We're in the access shaft."

"Very good," came the man's reply, "head back to the last junction, and take a right."

We followed the directions, quickening our pace, fully aware that the clock was ticking and that the bodies behind us would soon be found.

The passage began to slope down and I breathed a sigh of relief: at least we were heading towards the correct level.

I heard the other two groups checking in to confirm that their charges had been set.

"The next grate you come to will lead you down into the reactor room," Tech chirped over the com.

"You'd better be right," I said irritably. "Because if I jump down into another room full of Imps, so help me Tech...."

"I am confident that this is the correct opening."

We repeated the same procedure as before, Gem tugging open the grate while I jumped down.

I breathed sigh of relief when I found myself in an empty reactor room.

"We gotta be quick," Gem said as she joined me, pulling her rucksack off and retrieving several thermal detonators.

I followed suit, attaching the explosives to the key parts of the reactor.

"Are you done?" I called, reaching up to clamp a charge to one of the pillars holding up the roof.

"Waiting on you."

Abruptly, an alarm somewhere in the building keened and I froze on my way back to the hatch.

"Shit. I think they found those dead guys," Gem stated, glancing at the door, which was thankfully still sealed.

I ran to the opening, kneeling down to give Gem a leg up and unceremoniously throwing her into the vent. She leaned down to give me her hand.

"Fuck, who's the heavy one now?" she said as she pulled me up to join her in the cramped space.

"Not the time, Gem."

"Mind my whisky!"

"Are you shitting me?!"

"What?!"

I pulled the com out of my pocket as we quickly scurried back the way we had come.

"Tech, get us outta here," I said, panting from the exertion of moving at such a speed whilst doubled over.

"Left at the next junction."

We made it back to the breach point in record time, all the while pursued by that damned siren and the occasional sound of running footsteps below us.

I practically shoved Gem down into the alley before falling after her, not bothering to replace the grille.

"Come on!" I said, dragging her away from the building.

Abruptly, two troopers appeared at the end of the alleyway and we skidded to a stand still.

"Halt!" one of the men shouted, which was a bit redundant seeing as we had in fact already halted.

But neither of us gave the men time to react as we both ducked down a side street and ran, as fast as we could, towards the rendezvous site.

Blaster fire echoed down the alleyway and we both dropped into a half crouch.

"This way," I said, grabbing Gem's hand and pulling her with me down another turn. The shots still followed us, although fortunately we seemed to be putting distance between us and our pursuers.

I pulled the com out of my pocket as we ran.

"You might wanna hit that detonator," I panted as we took another turning. I was trying to keep track of where we were in relation to the rendezvous. "We've got Imps inbound."

"Negative," came Tech's reply, "you may still be in range of the blast."

"We'll wait for you at the rendezvous," followed Hunter. "We don't leave our own behind."

I felt a twinge in my chest at that, but the feeling was quelled as a plasma bolt narrowly missed my head.

"Fine," I grunted, "but we're coming in hot."

"We'll be waiting."

We rounded another bend and Gem tugged at my sleeve.

"I think i know where we are," she said between breaths. "It's this way."

I followed her lead and we sprinted down the street, which was thankfully deserted at such a late hour. Well, besides the two men pursuing us.

We'd been running for so long that I figured we must be close to the rendezvous.

A left turn brought us to a dead end.

"Kriff!" Gem cursed, "I could have sworn this was the right way!"

"No time to turn back," I said, glancing around for some cover. We would have to fight our way out of this one.

The alley was empty save for a few rotten crates. I shoved Gem down behind them, and we pulled out our blasters in readiness.

The two Imps rounded the corner and, seeing us crouched behind the meagre shield, opened fire.

They barely squeezed off half a dozen bolts between them before two shots dropped them dead in their tracks.

I looked around to see where the blasts had come from, and spotted Crosshair and Echo leaning over the edge of a nearby building.

"Took you long enough," drawled the sniper, tucking away his blaster.

"Better late than never," Gem quipped, smiling up at the man. I shook my head. Only she could flirt standing over two dead bodies.

Hunter appeared beside the other two and threw down a grappling line. We jogged over and began ascending. Reaching the top, Wrecker hauled us up by the scruffs of our necks.

The whole team was waiting for us. Hunter had his head cocked to one side and I guessed he could probably hear the commotion at the factory.

Tech approached Gem and I almost warily, adjusting his goggles.

"I would like to apologise for my error," he said stiffly. I waved a hand dismissively, doubled over and gasping for breath.

"Later, Tech," Hunter said, having snapped out of his apparent trance. "Wrecker, she's all yours."

"Yeah!" screamed the large man.

Several shushing noises followed but Wrecker didn't seem to notice. He pulled out a detonator from somewhere beneath his poncho, flipped the lid, and hit the trigger.

I saw the blast before I heard it. It was, I had to admit, spectacular, and I thought I saw a tear run down Wrecker's cheek as he surveyed our handiwork.

We all spectated for a moment, entranced by the smoke and the fire and the sound of rubble shifting. I tried not to think about how many people might have been inside the facility.

"We need to move," Hunter said, breaking us out of our reverie.

One by one, we followed the Sergeant as he picked his way across the rooftops towards the dock in which the Marauder was parked.

We slipped back down to the ground for the final stretch, jogging towards the landing platform.

As we entered the hangar, I almost ran straight into Tech who had stopped abruptly. Looking past him, I saw two whole squads of white clad troopers, standing beside our ship and talking to the harbour master. The small, wiry, rhodian saw us across the space and pointed.

I felt someone drag me towards a mound of ship parts as the troops started blasting. Looking across, I saw that it was Echo that had grabbed me. The others were spread out across the hanger, returning fire on the men, who had also tucked behind cover.

I heard a sharp whistle and looked over to see Hunter conveying a series of hand gestures to Echo.

"What's he saying?" I hissed, firing off a couple of bolts in the direction of the soldiers.

"Give covering fire while Tech makes a break for the Marauder."

I obeyed, firing aimlessly down the other end of the hangar. I saw Tech duck out from behind a crate and sprint the distance, leaping up the ramp of the ship. The engines hummed into life and the shooting continued.

I noticed that the troopers looked like they might be rallying for a frontal assault.

"Echo!" I called to the man next to me.

"I see 'em", he replied, voice warped through the modulator of his mask.

The Maraunder swung smoothly into the air, barely skimming the ground as Tech guided the ship towards those of us that were pinned down. As the vessel came about, I saw the rear gun turret swing and begin firing at the troops. I guessed Omega must have come out of hiding to man the weapon.

The white clad men were caught off guard when the ship returned fire. They scrambled back behind cover long enough for Tech to reach the rest of us.

"Go!" Echo shouted as he hooked his scomp arm underneath my elbow and dragged me towards the ship, still shooting blindly at the enemy.

I scrambled up the ramp, closely followed by Echo, Gem and the rest of the Batch. Wrecker was last, and he hung from the ramp longer than was appropriate given the amount of blasting that was going on outside. He seemed determined to take out as many Imperials as possible before we left.

The ship rose out of the dock and Tech guided us away from the danger.

As soon as we were out of range, Wrecker shut the ramp and gave a excited whoop.

"That was fun!"

I leaned against the nav console, sweating profusely and panting so hard my lungs burned. I couldn't keep the grin off my face though, as the adrenaline coursed through my system.

"You've got a warped definition of fun," I huffed, before sliding into a chair and praying to the Maker that nothing too exciting would happen on our return journey to Nasu.

Chapter Text

It felt odd to think that I'd actually missed Nasu.

The Marauder landed and I craned forward out of my seat to peer out of the viewport into the swirling snow storm.

The ramp lowered and we all strode eagerly into the warmth of the base. Save for Echo, who insisted that he needed to stay behind to make necessary repairs to the ship after our fire fight on Corellia. I though Toby might stay with the cyborg, but my friend got caught up in the throng heading towards the hangar and couldn't disentangle himself.

Rex was waiting for us under cover, apparently having been warmed of our imminent arrival by the long range scanners. He was grinning toothily as we approached.

"Good job fellas," he said, clapping Hunter on the shoulder as we drew level. "I heard that explosion was really something."

Wrecker beamed with pride, and the others also looked pleased with themselves.

"Just doing our job Rex," Hunter said humbly.

Rex laughed quietly, before quickly frowning.

"Where's Echo?" he asked, and there was a note of worry in his voice, which Hunter quelled with a hand on the other man's shoulder.

"Doing some work on the Marauder. He insisted."

Rex tutted and shook his head.

"That guy really doesn't know how to take a break." He motioned towards the base and we all followed, keen to get out of the cold.

Rex escorted us towards our barracks, casually updating Hunter on the current state of the rebellion and the limited success of the most recent supply runs.

He paused outside the door.

"We'll debrief properly tomorrow," he said, running a hand over his cropped hair. He looked bone tired. "You guys deserve a night off. Report to me at 0800 tomorrow."

With a wave, the Captain was gone, and we filed into our barracks.

"A night off? Why would we want a night off when there's plenty of things out there for us to smash?" Wrecker sulked, throwing himself dramatically onto his bunk which creaked ominously.

Omega grabbed my hand and skipped to her bunk to unpack her dolls.

"Easy Wrecker," Hunter said, massaging his temples in the way I had come to notice meant he was fighting off a headache. "Not all of us can keep up with you."

"Well I for one am looking forward to a quiet evening," Tech said to the room at large. "I managed to record a fair amount of data while we were stationed on Dantooine, and I am quite keen to catalogue it all in its correct place."

"You wild thing Tech," Toby said as he grabbed a towel and made his way to the shower.

I made eye contact with Crosshair as I was unpacking my rucksack and he raised an eyebrow in the expression which I had come to understand meant "fancy a fuck later?"

I smirked at him, which was my way of saying "of course, dumbass" and reached into my pack to pull out my dirty clothes.

My hand brushed against something hard and I leaned over the bag, fumbling with my hands to try and locate the foreign item. My palm wrapped around the bottle and I grinned.

"Oh boys," I said, pulling out the bottle of Corellian whisky and uncorking it to take a sniff. "This is gonna be a fun night off."

"Where did you get that?" Wrecker asked, sitting up in his bunk, suddenly alert. Hunter was also looking towards me with interest.

"Swiped it from that factory in Corellia," I said casually. "There's another bottle in there too."

"What is it?" Omega asked curiously, reaching a hand for the container. I held it just our of her reach.

"Happy juice," I said, tickling her side so she wouldn't feel left out. "For grownups only."

"Ohhh," Omega pouted, still looking at the bottle in fascination.

"You wouldn't like it, Omega," Hunter said, standing and hovering nearby.

Wrecker bounded over and snatched the bottle out of my hand. Uncorking it, he raised it to take a swig but I grabbed his hand to stop him.

"At least use a glass Wrecker," I chided him. "What are we, savages?"

He huffed a laugh and made his way over to the table to fetch a glass.

"Grab one for everybody," I said, glancing around at my friends. "Tonight, I'm sharing."

"How kind of you," Crosshair mumbled, part sarcastic, part genuine. I met his eye and gave him a mocking, saintly look.

"What can I say - I'm a generous mother kriffer."

Wrecker brought over a stack of mugs, some of which looked suspiciously like they'd never been washed. Oh well, I thought, the alcohol would sterilise them.

Wrecker poured out healthy measures of the whisky into the cups and passed one each to me and Crosshair and offered one to Hunter, who hesitated.

"I shouldn't...." he said, already looking guilty.

"Come on sarge," Wrecker said encouragingly. "We're not debriefing until 0800. That gives us plenty of time to sober up."

Hunter took the glass with a smile, and Wrecker thrust one under Tech's nose. The smaller man frowned and adjusted his goggles.

"Is this such a good idea?" he asked warily. Wrecker shoved the mug into his hand.

"Yes," I said flatly.

I took a sip of the whisky and felt it warm my throat. Wrecker knocked his back and helped himself to another merrily.

"Easy tiger," I said, watching the man with concern.

"Do not worry about Wrecker," Tech said reassuringly, sniffing his own mug suspiciously. "He has a remarkable tolerance for alcohol."

I glanced around at the others. This really was gonna be a fun night.

....................

An hour later, the party was really warming up.

The first bottle was already gone, and we had started on the second. The Batch sat around the small table in the barracks, drinking like seasoned veterans.

Hunter had a dopey smile on his face and was leaning back in his chair and watching his brothers contentedly. Crosshair didn't seem able to focus on anything, his gaze kept slipping in and out blearily. Wrecker was barely affected by the drink, and the only reaction I had noticed was that he was becoming louder and louder as time went on. Tech had devolved into acting like a hyperactive child: his eyes were the size of saucers and he looked like he'd taken at least five stims, one after the other.

I lounged about, enjoying the fuzzy sensation in my head and feeling my body relaxing into the enebriation. Toby, on the other hand, seemed on edge. He'd barely touched his whisky, which was unlike him. My friend did enjoy a drink after all.

Omega watched us all from the couch, grinning like a mad woman, enjoying the sight of her friends and protectors gradually becoming too pissed to even speak coherently. I should have felt ashamed that we were setting such a bad example to an impressionable child, but quite honestly I was just having too much damned fun. It felt like an age since I'd last let my hair down, and I fully intended to enjoy every second.

"I really am not sure that this is a good idea, what if someone decides to spot check us, or the Empire invades, or we have to evacuate the base - it could happen at any time, you know - we would be too intoxicated to fight back -"

Tech spouted out more of his worries, speaking so quickly that his words jumbled together and I had trouble following along.

Hunter waved a hand vaguely at his brother.

"'S fine, Tech," he said voice slurring. "Don' worry 'bout it."

"Yeah," Crosshair added with a hiccup, "yer always worryin' 'bout somethin'".

"Relax Techie," I mumbled, overly pronouncing my words to compensate for my drunkeness. "Enjoy the moment. Live a little. We could all die tomorrow."

"'S cheery," Crosshair snipped, his drawl over accentuated by his slurring.

"Welp, 's the truth."

"Statisically, Gem is correct, in our line of work there are constant risks of death at the hands of the Empire, add to that more mundane issues such as heart failure, pneumonia, blood poisoning, cancer, brain aneurysms -"

"Tech," Hunter moaned, closing his eyes. "Yer gonna give me a brain aynerism. Annerism. Amerimsm. A brain hurt."

"Yeah," Wrecker added, knocking back his drink, "I don't wanna think about how I'm gonna die."

Tech was just opening his mouth for another drink induced, paranoia fueled info dump, when there was a knock outside the room and the door slid open. Hunter tried to scramble to his feet and stand at attention but promptly feel over. He needn't have bothered though because it was only Fives that entered the room

"Woah!" The clone whistled, taking stock of the state of us. "Looks like some party!"

Hunter tried to pull himself back up by the chair but that fell over too and he just gave up and lay on the floor under the table.

"Fives!" I called enthusiastically, flinging my arms wide in greeting. "'S you!"

Fives cocked an eyebrow at me and gave me an amused smile.

"It's most unbecoming of a lady to drink alcohol."

"Piss off."

"That's even more unbecoming." He laughed at me and I gave him a warm grin. "Didn't mean to interrupt, was just looking for Echo."

"He is currently engaged in undertaking repairs to the Marauder," Tech informed the clone, swatting at something invisible buzzing near his head.

"That man doesn't know when to quit," Fives stated with a fond look on his face.

Toby suddenly stood up from the table, topping up his glass and filling another.

"Where yer goin'?" I asked my friend.

Toby blushed slightly and shrugged his shoulders.

"I feel bad that Echo's missing out," he tried to sound casual but even through the haze I could hear something else beneath the surface of his voice. I was just too drunk to figure it out. "Have fun."

With that, he left the room with two cups in hand.

"Wanna drink, Fives?" I asked blearily, struggling to focus enough on the whisky bottle to grab it.

"We don't drink with Regs," Crosshair spat venemously, folding his arms and glaring at Fives. The effect was slightly ruined by the fact that his eyes couldn't focus on the other man.

I looked between the sniper and the other clone, trying to gauge his response.

Fives merely raised his eyebrows, before meeting my eye with a cheeky grin.

"I would love to," he said, with a small bow of his head, "my lady, but if I start drinking that poison I'm not sure I'll be able to remain gentlemanly."

"Very funny," I snorted.

To my surprise, Crosshair surged to his feet unsteadily and shot Fives a murderous look. His gaze then swung to me and his eyes didn't soften much.

Wrecker sat up a little straighter in his chair and put down his glass.

"Crosshair," he said in the same warning voice Hunter usually used to de-escalate a Crosshair related incident.

Crosshair straightened with a sway, eyeing Fives and me critically. He made to move towards the door.

"Where yer going?" Wrecker asked loudly, eyebrows knitted together sorrowfully.

"'M gonna go shoot somethin'," the grey haired man replied, grabbing his rifle from the locker by the door and swinging it over his shoulder with so much ferocity that he almost overbalanced.

"Not when you've been drinking Cross," Wrecker warned, obviously the only one still sober enough to think clearly.

Crosshair shot his larger brother an indignant look before stalking out of the room.

The door closed behind him and we sat in silence, which was broken by Hunter chuckling underneath the table.

"Ha! Crosshair's jealous!"

....................

I made my way through the hallways, which were quiet at this hour, careful not to spill the drinks I was carrying.

I knew Gem had seen me blush when I left, but I hoped she would be too drunk to remember it tomorrow.

The hangar was deserted, and I made my way towards the Marauder through the softly falling snow. I could see lights on in the cockpit, which told me that Echo was still working. I felt a bit sorry for the guy that his squad had left him to work alone while they got drunk. That didn't seem fair to me.

I pressed the ramp release with my elbow and hurried inside out of the cold, closing the door after me so as to keep the warmth in the ship.

"Echo?" I called softly, cocking my head to listen.

"In here," came the reply from the rear of the ship.

I made my way through the hold, but couldn't see any sign of Echo. I paused, listening again, and almost jumped out of my skin when I heard a shuffle directly above me. Looking up, I saw the cyborg leaning out of the overhead access hatch, gazing down at me. He looked tired, and a little bit frantic.

I smiled warmly up at him, and held up the glasses I was carrying.

"Thought you might need a drink."

Echo gave me a grateful smile and dropped from the hatch onto the floor, his cybernetic legs making a heavy thump when he landed on the deck plate.

"Thanks," he said, grabbing one of the proffered cups and taking a swig.

He promptly choked on the liquid, and peered into the glass incredulously.

"Is that whisky?" he asked between boughts of coughing.

I gave him a sheepish look.

"Yeah, sorry. Probably should have warned you that it wasn't water."

"Where the kriff did you get it?"

I thought he might be angry with me for breaking the rules and I shifted my feet in embarrassment.

"Um, Gem nicked it when we were on Corellia," I said, running a hand through my hair. "The others are having a bit of a party back in the barracks. I didn't want you to feel left out."

"Oh," Echo said in response, hesitating with the mug halfway to his lips. "I really shouldn't. I still gotta lot of work to do."

I took a sip of my own drink to try and distract myself from how awkward I felt.

"Does it need to be finished urgently?" I asked politely.

"No, I guess not, but -"

"Then I can help you tomorrow," I blurted out, cursing myself for rudely interrupting the man. And for sounding so desperate. "If you want."

Echo flicked his eyes between me and the glass, still suspended in mid air. In the end, he succumbed and took a drink, closing his eyes to appreciate the whisky burning his throat. I grinned and took another swig of my own drink.

"Mmm," the man said, savouring the moment. "Been a long time since I tasted whisky."

"Not a big drinker?" I asked, casually, realising too late that that may be considered a prying question.

Echo didn't seem to notice though as he just shrugged.

"Not since," he looked down pointedly at his cybernetic attachments and cleared his throat. "I don't have much of a tolerance for it now."

"Oh," I said softly, eyes roving the man's face and chest tightening at the look of sorrow that seemed to be etched there permanently. I'd never asked the circumstances that had lead to the enhancements, but I guessed it must have been traumatic.

Echo looked like he was lost in his own mind, so I gently clicked my glass against his to bring him back.

"I didn't mean to pry," I said gently, shifting to lean against one of the nav consoles.

Echo shook his head and came to stand against the console next to me.

"It's ok," he said sadly, taking another sip. "It's just that I forget sometimes."

"Forget?"

He held up his scomp arm.

"That I'm like this," he said bitterly. "That I'm not normal anymore."

I put my half empty glass down on the console nearby and shifted so that my shoulder brushed the cyborg's.

"Normal's overrated anyway," I said, trying to sound cheerful.

Echo didn't smile and looked like he might be retreating into himself again. I nudged him gently and he started, looking up at me with his brown eyes. If the sadness on his face was bad enough, the misery in his eyes was bottomless. It made me want to pull him close and hold him tight and do my very best to never let him hurt again.

But I restrained the urge because it was overly sentimental. And because I was pretty sure that Echo was straight as an arrow.

"Look," I said with a sigh, trying to keep too much emotion out of my voice. "You're you, Echo. Being different doesn't change that. Being unique doesn't make you any less of a man."

He didn't say anything, just gazed at me solemnly and I began to worry I'd said too much. I cleared my throat and looked to the side, and Echo put his empty glass down and stepped away.

"I really should get back to work," he said, pointedly not looking me in the eye. I'd definitely said too much. "Thanks for the drink."

"No problem," I said with half a smile in his direction.

I expected the man to withdraw away from me, back up into the safety of the maintenance shaft. Instead he just stood there, looking a little lost.

I should have left the ship then, but I couldn't seem to make my feet move.

"Y'know," I said, breaking the tense silence, "I meant what I said about helping. You don't need to kill yourself to get everything done."

Echo shook his head and placed a hand to his temple. His lifted his eyes and I saw that they were wide and panic stricken. The sudden change in his emotions caught me off guard.

"No, I have to get these repairs finished," he said firmly, but his voice was trembling. "I shouldn't have stopped."

"Hey, you're part of a team," I said cautiously, still confused by his reaction. "That means asking for help when you need it. Or letting others help you."

He backed away from me and I took a step towards him.

"No, it's my job. Its the only thing I'm good for."

"That's not true," I put my hands up in a placating gesture.

Echo's breathing had picked up, and I knew the beginnings of a panic attack when I saw one.

"Echo..."

"If I can't keep the ship in working order, there's no point keeping me around."

His eyes were frantic and his face had gone paler than normal.

"If I'm not useful they'll leave me behind, and then I'll be alone again."

He moved towards the access hatch but I caught his arm.

"Echo, it's ok," I said gently, trying to meet his gaze.

"No, it's not!" he snapped and I realised there were tears in his eyes.

I wondered if it was the effects of the alcohol that had made him so emotional or whether I had just touched a nerve.

Echo drew in a rattling breath and I could feel him shaking in my grip.

"I can't be alone again!" he sobbed, finally breaking down. "I can't!"

Without thinking I pulled him into me and held him so tightly my ribs creaked. I felt his body convulse from the ragged sobs, and I felt a wetness on my shirt as he started crying.

We stood in the hold, wrapped together as I stroked his head and rubbed his back and whispered promises into his ear that he would never be alone again

.................

There was a stunned silence.

"Jeleous?" I spat, instantly beginning to sober up.

Hunter was still giggling as though it was the funniest joke ever.

I glanced at Fives, who looked as confused as I felt. Tech adjusted his goggles and frowned down at Hunter.

"What cause would Crosshair have to be - oh. Oh I see."

He looked across at me with a small smile on his face.

Shit.

I groaned and buried my face in my hands to hide the blushing.

"Took you long enough genius," I mumbled into my palms.

Tech looked extremely pleased with himself, and Wrecker shot him a baffled look.

"What's going on?" the big guy asked, gaze shifting between me and Tech. "What did I miss?"

Tech cleared his throat and I considered sliding under the table to hide with Hunter.

"If my assumption is correct, then I believe that Crosshair and Gem are engaged in a sexual relationship." He paused and looked thoughtful. "I am quite surprised that I did not figure it out sooner."

"THEY'RE KRIFFING EACH OTHER!?"

Tech winced at the shout and I heard Hunter shushing underneath the table. I considered kicking him. This was all his fault after all.

Fives had his mouth open and was staring at me as if I'd grown another head.

Omega perked up and climbed over to sit on the back of the couch.

"What's 'kriffing' mean?" she asked innocently and I prayed that I'd burst into flames.

"Well Omega, when two consenting adults are physically attracted to each other, the male of the species -"

Tech cut off with a yelp as Hunter punched his leg.

Fives closed his mouth and blinked a few times.

"I think I might need that drink after all."

....................

"Why is this so hard for you all to grasp?" I sighed, exasperated. "Crosshair and I have a mutual agreement. That is all you need to know."

"Yes but I just don't get why," Fives said, knocking back his second drink.

I groaned and leaned my head on the cool table. This conversation was sobering me up painfully fast.

"Because I have needs, Fives," I huffed irritably, silently willing everybody to fuck off and leave me alone. My mind wandered to Crosshair and I felt a pang of worry that he really was upset with me.

"Yeah but, I mean, why Crosshair?"

I jerked upright and smacked a hand on the table, causing Tech to jump.

"Because he's hot!" I yelled at the clone, really kriffed off by this point. "Because he's a great lay! Because he makes me scream like a keeradak during mating season! What do you want me to say?!"

I rose to my feet and shot Fives a last look to convey just how annoyed I was, before storming out of the room.

Fucking idiots!

I marched around the hallways for a few minutes, trying to cool off. Eventually, I decided I had better go and speak to Crosshair.

I found him at the shooting range that was set up in the courtyard outside. It was almost pitch black, but from the familiar sound of plasma meeting plasteel, I knew that he was still hitting his targets.

I hovered behind him for a little while, hoping he would notice me. I coughed quietly, but the man still didn't acknowledge my presence.

"Crosshair?" I asked tentatively.

He didn't so much as grunt, but I heard one of his shots whiz off into the trees.

"Crosshair, can you put the rifle down?"

Still no response. I was beginning to feel irritated and a little light headed. I guessed perhaps I was still fairly drunk.

"Crosshair, put the gun down, and let's talk. Like grownups. Please?"

He finally reacted then, spinning on his heel so that he was facing me. Thankfully his rifle was pointing at the ground.

"What is there to say?" he snapped, eyes blazing with anger. I took a step back at the hurt he was projecting in my direction. "You can kriff whoever you want to."

He made to turn back towards the range but I grabbed his arm. He flinched and shoved my hand away, but still faced me.

"What are you talking about?" I asked, totally confused. Fuck, my mind was still so foggy.

Crosshair scoffed and stalked over to the wall, where he leaned his rifle against a crate.

"You really think I'm stupid?" he hissed loudly, squaring up to me. "I may not be smart like Tech, but there is nothing wrong with my eyesight."

He folded his arms, defensive. It was a pose I knew well.

"Cross, I really don't know -"

"I see the way you and that Reg look at each other," he spat the words, dripping with venom, and I took a step back, shocked. I hadn't seen this spiteful side of Crosshair for such a long time, I'd forgotten just quite how intimidating it could be.

"Fives?" I asked, goggling at the man. Was that what this was all about?

Crosshair huffed and rolled his eyes, widening his stance.

"You kriffing him too?"

That one felt like a slap in the face and I felt anger coiling in my very core. I took a couple of steps forwards to close the distance between us.

"Are you fucking kidding me?" I asked, furious now. "Is that what you think I do? Just go round and sleep with everyone I see?"

"How should I know?!" He was yelling now, voice echoing off of the walls of the courtyard. There was pain in his eyes, and that uncharacteristic emotion caused me to pause. I felt my anger draining away.

"Crosshair, Fives and I are just friends. Barely even that."

"Well, Gem, if he makes you happy."

"YOU make me happy!" I shouted at him, marching forward and shoving his armoured chest as hard as I could.

The sniper looked down at me with a look of horror on his face, and I realised that I had well and truly made a big karking mistake. But I couldn't stop now.

"I chose YOU Crosshair."

I shoved him again and he stumbled backwards.

"But I CAN talk to other men. You don't own me. And it doesn't mean I want to SLEEP with any them."

I jabbed a finger at him to reiterate the point. Crosshair seemed to be holding his breath. I tried to swallow down the word vomit, but it came up anyway.

"I want YOU Crosshair. Just YOU."

A painful silence followed my confession, and I felt emotional tears sting my eyes. I blinked, turning away, knowing that I had said far too much. It was over now. I had broken the agreement. I had added strings.

His slim hand wrapped around my wrist and I faltered. I couldn't meet his eyes, because I couldn't see the look in them when he ended things between us.

His other hand tipped my chin and I flinched, trying to move away, but Crosshair held painfully fast, raising my face so that I was looking at him.

His expression was absolutely flat and I almost sobbed. Here I was, breaking apart because it was over and I had let myself care more than casual fuck buddies should, and he clearly didn't feel anything at all.

"Please," I stuttered, no longer able to hold in the tears. "Please say something."

Crosshair didn't say anything at all.

Instead he did something I would never have expected him to do in a million years.

He kissed me.

On the lips.

Intentionally.

Crosshair brought his face down to mine and pressed our lips together. I froze, unable to respond, and just stood there dumbly with my eyes open.

He pulled back a couple of inches and his face looked a little flushed in the dim light.

"I've -" he stammered nervously, "- I've never done that before."

I blinked owlishly. He'd never kissed anyone before? Ever? I'd thought perhaps the aversion he had to kissing me was purely based on the fact that our relationship was just based on sex. That there was no real intimacy there.

I was crying quite hard now, drunk and overwhelmed. Crosshair looked worriedly at me, thinking I hadn't enjoyed the kiss. I fumbled, trying to find the words to tell him I was OK. But nothing would come out, so instead I wrapped a hand around the back of his neck and brought him down for another.

I kissed him properly this time, eyes closed, moving my lips against his. He didn't flinch or draw back and so I kept going, opening my mouth a little. Crosshair mimicked the gesture, and I slipped my tongue inside. He jumped a little at the intrusion, but didnt stop me. My tongue met his and he groaned.

My hands moved down to his torso and I traced the chips on his chest plate. Crosshair brought his own hands to my back and gripped hard as though he was frightened I would vanish into thin air.

It was steamy, but not overly sexual, the pair of us exploring each other's mouths and enjoying the new experience. I could taste the smoky flavour of the whisky, could feel his breath on my face. I lost myself in the sensations, and it felt as though Crosshair did the same.

After what felt like forever, we finally broke apart, panting slightly. My face was tingly from his stubble and I cupped his cheek as he looked down at me, caressing my spine with his bony fingers.

Neither of us spoke. Neither of us wanted to break the spell. As we stood in the swirling snow, I made a promise to myself that no matter what, I would do my best to keep this man as long as I could.

Chapter Text

When I awoke, it was morning. The cold, stark light filtered through the viewport of the Marauder, and leaked from the open doorway to the cockpit, bathing the hold in a metallic glow.

Last night had been pretty intense. Echo's panic attack had lasted longer than I'd thought humanly possible. He'd finally cried himself out at around midnight, and I had half carried, half dragged him to one of the racks at the rear of the ship. I'd hopped up into the bunk above, just to be close in case he woke and started panicking again.

I rolled over onto my front and peered over the edge of the cot. Echo was still asleep, thankfully. He looked peaceful, and I couldn't help but smile. The poor guy deserved a little peace, even for a short while.

I surveyed the man below me for quite some time, listening to his even breathing and watching his eyes flicker beneath the lids. I didn't know what the time was, but honestly I didn't care. If we missed the debrief, so be it. I didn't want to disturb Echo and bring him back into this painful waking world.

After a while, the cyborg stirred, and his eyelids fluttered open. He blinked a few times to clear his vision before he noticed me watching him. I drew back a little, not wanting to creep him out or make him feel uncomfortable under my scrutiny.

"You stayed."

It was such a simple statement but it almost broke my heart.

"'Course I did."

He gave me a weak, but grateful smile. I returned the gesture, eyes lingering on his in a manner that was way too inappropriate. But fuck me, if it wasn't the easiest thing in the world to get lost in those sad eyes.

Echo stretched with a grimace, before touching his temple with his flesh hand.

"My head hurts," he groaned, screwing his eyes shut.

"I'm not surprised," I said with a chuckle.

The man flinched and sat up, swinging his legs out of the bunk and sitting on the edge. I hopped down to the floor and worked the cricks out of my back.

"Did I drink a lot?" he asked, almost as though he was reluctant to hear the answer. I wondered how much of last night he was able to recall.

"Not really," I answered honestly, turning to face him. Sitting on the bunk, he was as tall as me, and our eyes were at a level.

"Tell that to my head," he groaned, massaging the bridge of his nose. "Feels like a rancor's trying to break its way out."

"Do you remember what happened last night?" I asked cautiously. Part of me wanted him to say no, so at least I knew he would be spared from the memory of the trauma. The other more selfish part of me wanted him to remember the tender, vulnerable moment we'd shared.

Echo averted his gaze and I had my answer.

"I'm really sorry," he said hoarsely. He made to get up, looking like he wanted to run away, but I put my hands on his knees and held him in place, squeezing the cybernetics, hoping he would register the pressure as comforting and not threatening.

 

"It's ok," I said gently. "You don't have to be sorry. Truly."

He nodded silently.

"It won't happen again."

That made my chest hurt, the thought that he would rather suffer his trauma alone than burden anyone else with it.

"Echo," I said, with a sigh, "look at me."

He still kept his gaze on the floor, so I reached forward and lifted his chin with one hand, forcing him to meet my eye. It was maybe a little cruel when he was feeling so insecure, but I wanted to get my point across.

"It's ok to fall apart sometimes," I said quietly. "Your brothers care about you, and they'll always be there to help put you back together. I'll always be there to help put you back together. You're not a burden."

He was quiet, just staring into my eyes. He looked less guilty, but still anxious. I stroked his cheek with my thumb and gave him a smile, hoping he wouldn't find the gesture inappropriate.

Echo seemed to enjoy the contact however. He closed his eyes and leaned into my touch, so I brought up my other hand and cupped the other side of his face. To my surprise I saw a tear break the corner of his eye, and roll down the side of his face. I stilled my hands, thinking I'd done something wrong. I really didn't want to trigger another panic attack.

Echo let out a ragged breath and swallowed as though trying to clear a lump in his throat.

"It's....." he swallowed again, voice thick with emotion, "it's been.....such a long time.....since..... since.....anyone...."

He couldn't finish his confession so I finished it for him.

"Touched you?"

He nodded and I gulped audibly. I hadnt realised just how touch starved this poor man was.

I went back to stroking his cheek with one hand, while the other removed the cybernetic enhancement from the back of his head.

Once the contraption was off, I leaned forward so that our foreheads were touching. I tugged off the glove on his flesh hand and intertwined my fingers with his. Echo bit off a sob and I lifted my head to kiss his forehead.

This was definitely going too far, I thought. I didn't want him to think i was taking advantage of him in his vulnerable state. But the man didn't flinch or shove me off or tell me to stop and so I kept going.

"It's ok," I said with a soothing shushing sound. "I got you. I'm here."

I kissed his forehead again, and he pulled back to look up at me. His eyes were cloudy and his lips were so damned close to my own. I could smell him, a heady mixture of sweat, soap and machine oil, and the scent was almost intoxicating.

Cautiously, Echo lifted his scomp arm and hooked it around my neck. The cybernetic was cold against my skin but I didn't flinch. Slowly, desperately slowly, he lifted his face to mine, until we were less han an inch apart. I felt his breath flutter on my skin and was sure he could feel mine on his.

Echo hesitated, suddenly unsure of himself, and so I closed the distance and kissed him softly on the lips. He kissed me back, just as gently, and I thought my heart was going to beat it's way out of my chest. He pulled back momentarily, before leaning in again. This time the kiss was more forceful. I moved my mouth against his, letting him take the lead.

Echo drew back, panting, and I surveyed his face cautiously, aware that I may well have missed the mark and pushed things too far.

"I'm sorry," he said, voice barely above a whisper, "I didn't mean-"

"Echo," I interrupted him firmly. "You don't need to apologise. Did I make you uncomfortable?"

"No!" he said, tone sure. "I just, I thought, you and Gem were, you know...."

He raised an eyebrow and I chuckled.

"Just friends. Always have been. Besides, she's kriffing Crosshair."

Echo sighed breathily and I felt my cock stir.

"Thank the Maker," he said, leaning back in, before abruptly coming to a halt, eyes wide. "Wait, what?!"

I laughed at the expression on his face and brought him back in for another kiss. Deeper. Harder. Passionate.

I felt Echo groan into my mouth and the sound sent blood rushing to my groin. I tried to ignore the feeling. This was a vulnerable and tender moment, not one for thinking about sex. No matter how much I wanted to make love to the man so thoroughly that he could forget all his insecurities, even just for a little while.

Eventually we broke apart to lean into each other and wait for our breathing to calm and our hearts to stop racing.

"I've been wanting to do that for such a long time," I confessed sheepishly, rubbing Echo's nose with my own.

Echo scoffed in disbelief and I frowned, moving away a little.

"Did I overstep?" I asked, suddenly nervous.

He shook his head and a flush tinted his cheeks. It was the healthiest I'd ever seen him look.

"No," he insisted, squeezing my hand, which was still wrapped with his. "I wanted to. I just, didn't think you'd be interested. In someone like me."

I sighed softly. If only this man knew just how much I ached for him.

I leaned in to brush a kiss to his lips and gave him a goofy smile. Echo reciprocated, his grin awkward, as though his face had forgotten how to make the gesture.

Fuck, he was so good looking when he smiled.

I puckered my lips and kissed his nose playfully, stepping back and tugging his hand.

"Come on handsome," I said contentedly. "Let's go eat."

....................

Fuck me, my head felt like it was going to explode.

I'd woken earlier to the sound of someone throwing up in the fresher, and it had all been downhill from there.

The debrief with Rex had been painful to say the least. The Captain had taken one look at the state of the squad, and gone berserk. I couldn't really focus on the lecture because my mind was concentrating on not vomiting all over the shiny floor of the control room, but it had something to do with us being reckless, immature, and an absolute disgrace.

Glancing around the room, I had to agree with Rex. We looked like shit.

Hunter appeared to be very much worse for wear. His face was an interesting shade of green, and his jaw was clenched in an effort to control his nausea. Tech had huge dark circles under his eyes, and his normally neat hair was tousled. Crosshair was bleary, eyes bloodshot, and face scruffy with five o'clock shadow. Only Wrecker seemed largely unaffected, save for the fact that he winced every time Rex raised his voice. I hadn't seen Toby or Echo since last night, and I could only imagine what they'd been up to.

Crosshair caught my eye and I tried to give him a half hearted smile, but my face hurt too much to fully pull that one off.

After our intimate moment the night before, we had returned to the barracks to find the others passed out in various positions, spread over the room like confetti after a parade. We hadn't spoken about the snogging session, although Crosshair had briefly brushed his lips against mine while I was crawling into bed.

"Is something funny?"

I snapped back to the present and realised Rex was talking to me. I wiped the silly smirk off of my face and shook my head.

"No," I said coarsely. "Sir."

Rex did not seem amused. Instead he gave us all scathing looks of disapproval, eyes lingering on me a moment longer than the others. I guessed being the instigator of last nights escapade did largely put all of this on my shoulders.

"Well," he said brightly, a sick grin on his face. "Perhaps a good bit of exercise will help revive you all."

I heard a barely audible sob from Hunter and swallowed loudly. Rex's sadistic look only got more intense.

"To the thermal springs and back," he snapped, waving at us dismissively. "On the double."

....................

"I think I'm going to die," I panted, jogging along with the others as we carried out Rex's psychotic command.

"It's not so bad," Tech said, voice strained. "Exercise has been proven to help eliminate toxins from the body."

As if on cue, Hunter pulled up short and was violently sick in the snow. I took a few deep breaths, afraid I would end up joining him.

Hunter finished puking, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand and slumping against a nearby tree.

"I am never drinking ever again," he panted.

We all silently agreed.

I had never been to the thermal springs before, and honestly I would probably have appreciated them a bit more if I hadn't have been feeling quite so shitty. I did however make a mental note to return with Crosshair alone. It seemed like it might be a nice spot for a steamy fuck.

By the time we returned to base, we had all sobered up considerably, and I had to concede that maybe Tech was right.

We made our way to the mess hall, dishevelled, sweaty and reeking of booze, though none of us seemed to care.

We were sitting at one of the benches, struggling to force down todays portion of mush, when we were joined by Toby and Echo. I shot my friend a knowing smirk and he raised an eyebrow at me innocently.

"Ooof," Echo said as he took a seat, eyeing us all critically. "You lot look like Bantha fodder."

"Thanks Echo," Hunter said sarcastically, cradling a mug of caff as though it were the most precious thing in all the worlds.

We finished our meal in silence, none of us certain that our stomachs wouldn't yet betray us.

We were just getting ready to leave when I heard footstep approach from behind me. Fives stopped beside our table and I looked across to see Crosshair frowning spitefully at the man. I carefully hooked my ankle around his and tugged it. He seemed to calm down a bit from the gesture, but he was still glowering.

"Morning all," Fives said brightly and we all groaned at his overly cheery attitude. He shot me an awkward look, which I ignored.

"Whaddya want, Reg?" Crosshair huffed, although he sounded more tired than angry at that point, for which I was grateful. I ran the toe of my boot up the inside of his calf and he smirked into his caff.

Fives bristled slightly at the nickname, but didnt rise. Instead he locked eyes on me.

"Just here to convey a message," he said pompously, standing slightly stiffer. "Captain Rex wants you to report to the command room. Now."

"All of us?" Hunter asked suspiciously.

"Nope, just Gem."

I groaned and leaned my head against the table, narrowly avoiding my food tray.

"What now?!"

....................

Fives escorted me to the command room in silence.

Anxiety knotted my stomach, partly because I was dreading another altercation with jeleous, possessive Crosshair. But mostly because I had the sinking feeling that whatever Rex wanted, I was not going to like it.

"Soooo," I said, trying to break the awkward silence. "Any idea what this is about?"

Fives cast his eye over his shoulder in what I could only describe as paranoia.

"Not here," he hissed, "I'll let Rex explain."

I huffed a nervous laugh.

"Well that makes me feel so much better."

Silence again, save for our boots on the floor.

Fives coughed and I cast him a sideways look to see that he was fidgeting with the collar of his armour as though it was too tight.

"Gem, I'm, er, sorry," he said uncomfortably. "About last night. About what I said. It really isn't any of my business what you do in your personal life."

I felt my face heating up as I recalled the things I'd said while drunk.

"It's ok Fives," I said with a weak smile. "I'm sorry too for all the things I blurted out. I'm sure you didn't need to know all of that."

Fives laughed mischievously.

"I have to admit, the mental images are gonna leave me scarred for life."

"Shut it."

I punched his arm playfully, which actually really hurt my fist. He was wearing armour after all.

We reached the command room and Fives motioned me in. I entered, trying to keep my chin up and not look like a child that was about to be reprimanded. Did Rex know about Crosshair and I? Was that something we would get in trouble for? Or was this still about last night's debacle?

Rex was leaning against the table in the centre of the room, surveying a holo projection which appeared to show a star system of some kind. He noticed Fives and I enter the room, and hastily switched off the projection.

"Gemini," he said in greeting. I heard Fives snort beside me and shot him an evil look.

"Captain," I said stiffly. Should I salute? In the end I just settled for a half hearted wave.

Rex didn't seem offended at all, for which I was relieved. He also didn't seem angry either. He just looked exhausted, like the weight of the world was on his shoulders. It couldn't be easy being in charge of this entire base all by himself.

"I'm gonna cut to the chase," Rex said wearily, turning to face me with his arms folded. "We are in serious trouble."

My heart skipped a beat at that.

"What kind of trouble?" I asked cautiously, fiddling with the hem of my jacket.

Rex sighed and ran a hand over his head. Fives just stood beside me, unmoving and silent.

"We believe," Rex said slowly, as though frightened to say the words out loud, "that we may have a spy in our midst."

My mind flashed back to that night in the medbay, to the conversation I'd overheard between Fives, Jesse and Kix.

I felt a sudden panic. Did they think I was a spy?

"You don't think it's me, do you?" I asked in alarm.

There was a pause and my stomach dropped.

"No!" Rex insisted.

"The opposite in fact," Fives added, "whoever it is was feeding intel to the Empire long before you and your friend arrived."

"Which means that the two of you are the least likely to be a mole," Rex finished.

"Oh."

Right. What did this mean for me?

Rex and Fives exchanged glances, clearly still not comfortable speaking about this subject with a stranger.

"The long and short of it," Fives said, taking the lead, "is that we need to uncover this spy. They're seriously impacting our supply runs, not to mention gathering intel. More importantly, it's affecting the rebellion as a whole. If we don't put a stop to this, who knows what classified intel this mole will feed the Empire next?"

I could see their point. What if this traitor decided Nasu had no more valuable information to provide? That could mean aerial bombardment. Execution of the entire rebel presence. All of us.

"What do you need me for?" I asked, suddenly concerned for my own well being. And those on Nasu that I cared about.

Rex coughed into his fist.

"It comes back to what Fives said before," the Captain explained. "As the newest addition to this cell, you pose the least threat. We need to uncover this spy, and we need your help to do it."

I swallowed, nervous, and yet determined.

"So whats the plan?"

Rex gave me a look of approval and Fives clapped me on the shoulder.

"The first phase is simple," Rex said, reaching across the table to pass me a data pad. "We need you to investigate all personnel on base. That data pad will give you access to everything we have on everybody that has even been stationed on Nasu."

I fired up the data pad and grimaced at the sheer volume of information that was presented to me.

"We want you to keep an eye out for anything suspicious," Fives continued. "Anything that you think might single any person or persons out as a potential. It could be anything, from a previous criminal record, to any sort of altercation in which they may have been exposed to Imperial influence".

I nodded, not quite sure how I was supposed to know what to classify as suspicious activity. I guessed I'd worry about that when the time came.

"Once you've been through the files and compiled a list of potential suspects, we can bring them in for interrogation," Fives said, suddenly cracking a smile. "I understand that you have personal experience with our particular method of data retrieval."

I remembered my first visit to the medbay on Nasu. I recalled telling Rex that I had been a stripper and cringed.

"Why can't we just bring everybody in for questioning?" I asked, worried that I was not qualified enough for this role.

"Because it would take too long," Rex answered. "And it would alert the spy that we were launching an investigation. Not to mention it would be a massive drain on resources."

I shrugged, understanding their point, but concerned that that might still be the most reliable method of getting to the bottom of this.

"So, whaddya say? Are you on board?"

Rex and Fives were both looking at me expectantly but I hesitated.

"I mean, I wanna help. But I'm not sure I'm up to this. Surely there's gotta be someone more capable? What about Toby? You said yourselves that neither of us are likely to be a suspect."

I felt a bit guilty putting my friend forward but at the same time, I knew that Toby was better at understanding people than I was. Much better.

Rex's gaze softened, becoming less intimidating.

"Look," he said with a sigh. "I don't want to drag you into this, and I'm not going to force you. But Fives has vouched for you, and if he's convinced your capable, well, then so am I. And as for your friend, the less people that are involved in this the better."

I felt a little put on the spot and glanced at Fives, who looked away with a slight rosiness in his cheeks. After pausing for a moment, I finally nodded.

"Fine," I said resignedly. "I'll do it."

I heard a collective sigh of relief from the two men. Rex strode around the table and grasped my shoulders.

"You'll do fine," he said, giving me a reassuring smile. I wished I shared his confidence. "If you run into any problems or if you have any concerns at all, you come to me, Jesse or Fives."

Again I nodded, clutching my data pad to my chest. Rex squeezed my shoulders and let go.

"I don't need to tell you that this is strictly confidential. The details of this investigation are not to go beyond the four of us."

"What about the Batch?" I asked in concern. "What do I tell them?"

"Tell them I've tasked you with cataloguing mission data. If they ask further, tell them you're looking into patterns regarding the supply raids. At least then if it gets out, it will be assumed we are reviewing external factors. You'll be grounded until the investigation is over, of course."

I felt my stomach clench at that and my heart sunk at the thought of being stuck on base for the foreseeable future while my buddies were out adventuring without me. Not to mention that it would severely limit the amount of time I would have to spend kriffing Crosshair.

"OK. I don't like lying to my friends, but if it helps keep them safe, then I'll do it."

"Good man," Rex said brightly, turning back to shuffle various pages on the table.

He caught himself, realising his error and blushed quite furiously.

"I'm sorry," he stammered. "I didn't mean to offend. It's force of habit, you see."

I chuckled and gave him a smile.

"Don't worry, I've been called worse."

....................

The others were waiting for me back at the barracks. As soon as I walked in the door, they pounced on me, all speaking at once.

"You ok?"

"You get into trouble?"

"What did Rex want?"

"Is this about last night's incident?"

I waved my hands at them, suddenly overwhelmed.

"It's fine," I said, sitting on the edge of my bed. "I'm fine. Rex just has a job for me, thats all."

"What kind of job?" Crosshair asked suspiciously, leaning against a wall, toothpick in his teeth as he watched me instensly.

"Analysing data from past supply runs," I said casually, hoping they wouldn't detect the lie.

Tech scowled at me, and I started to panic that he knew I wasn't being truthful.

"Why would Rex task you with analysing data?" he asked, puzzled. "Surely if he required such a task to be undertaken, he would have instructed me. I am the most qualified."

"Thanks for the vote of confidence on my capabilities Tech," I said sarcastically.

"I meant no offence," the man said flatly. "I was just stating facts."

"Big headed much?" Toby snorted behind me. I didn't meet his eye because I knew out of all of them, he was the most likely to know if I was concealing anything.

I sighed and met Tech's gaze.

"I guess you are more useful in the field than I am." I wasn't wrong about that. "I guess he felt that I was the only one that could be spared."

That seemed to satisfy the group although I did notice that Crosshair still looked a little suspicious.

"Well, we're glad you're ok," Hunter said, patting my shoulder. "We thought it might have something to do with you and Crosshair."

"WHAT?!"

Crosshair looked livid and I groaned to myself, totally having forgotten that the entire squad was now aware that we were sleeping together. I caught sight of Hunter and saw that he was eyeing the door as though considering making a break for it.

"Err, yeah," I said sheepishly, "about that. Hunter let it slip last night while he was drunk. They all know now."

"WHAT?!"

Hunter was definitely edging towards the door now and Crosshair looked like he was planning murder. I stood up and put myself between the two men.

"Crosshair calm down," I said, taking a step towards him and putting a hand on his pauldron.

"It's none of your business," the sniper growled, eyes locked onto Hunter's. "What gave you the right?"

"He was drunk Cross," Wrecker said, looking nervously between the two men.

"In Hunter's defence, he was enebriated," Tech added.

"It was bound to come out sooner or later," I said gently. Crosshair looked down at me as though surprised to see me there. After a brief pause he visibly deflated a bit, still looking angry, but no longer furious. "Besides, at least now we don't have to hide anymore."

Crosshair shot Hunter one final look of contempt, and I could see he was considering my point. Eventually most of the fight went out of him and he gazed down at me again, a wicked smile painted across his face. I felt my stomach knot in nervous anticipation.

"Sweetheart," he purred, voice smooth and yet edged with something dangerous. I shuddered involuntarily. "Seeing as I didn't get to fuck you into the bunk last night, how would you feel about a quick kriff now?"

I blushed and openly gawped at him.

Crosshair gave me his standard shit eating grin. I knew he was doing this on purpose to make the other's feel uncomfortable as revenge for talking about him behind his back. But still. There were limits.

Following the comment, I can honestly say that I have never seen a room clear so fast in all my life.

"I'd better go and see how Omega's getting on in the medbay," Hunter said, face redder than I thought possible.

"I still have repairs to do on the Marauder," Echo added, looking at the floor.

"I'll come with you." Toby was pulling the cyborg to the door.

"I believe that my presence may also be required," Tech said, goggles foggy.

"Er, I'm gonna go check out the new shipment of explosives in the armory," Wrecker finished, suddenly very interested in his hands.

Once they had all shot out the room faster than a Nexu with an ass full of dynamite, I gave Crosshair a disapproving look.

"Was that really necessary?"

"Yes," the man said with a smirk. "I wanted to make sure they all know that you're mine."

I raised an eyebrow at him.

"Is that so?" I asked, putting my best unamused expression on my face. But secretly, I quite enjoyed possessive Crosshair. It was nice to be wanted.

"Of course, if you'd rather not...."

He shrugged and pretended that he wasn't bothered either way.

Reaching up, I grabbed his chin and squeezed.

"I'm all yours sniper man."

Chapter Text

Reviewing the personnel files was actually more time consuming than I had anticipated.

Most of the data was totally garbled and not in any order, and so it took me a long time just to unravel anything. By the time the Batch received their briefing for the next supply run, I hadn't even made it through all of the maintenance staff.

I spend the majority of my time lying on my bunk, data pad in hand, scrawling through the endless reams of information. After the first couple of days, I had a permanent headache, and wondered how in the world Tech could spend so much time staring at a screen.

The squad was due to ship out the following day, and I was feeling a little down at the prospect of being left alone for a while.

Crosshair must have sensed my mood because the night before their departure, he dragged me away from my data pad and into a disused supply cupboard on one of the lower levels.

Perched on an empty crate, with my arms around Crosshair's neck as he roughly fucked me, I still felt pretty miserable. I tried to enjoy the moment, aware that this might be the last time we had together for a while, but I couldn't seem to shake the melancholy that had settled over me.

Abruptly, Crosshair stopped thrusting and pulled back to look at my face.

"I can stop if you're not enjoying it," he said, as observant as ever. There was a slight hint of insecurity in his voice, and his eyes betrayed the same emotion.

I squeezed the back of his neck in what I hoped was a comforting gesture, and smiled pathetically at him.

"It's not that," I said with a sigh, suddenly becoming fixated on a spot on the wall over his shoulder. "It's just, I'm really not looking forward to being stuck on base without you. Without all of you."

I added the last, just so Crosshair wouldn't think I was being overly needy and demanding. Our relationship had evolved to something slightly more than just sex, but I still hadn't worked out what that was yet.

Crosshair sighed, his brown eyes roving over my face as he studied my expression.

"Come with us then," he said quietly. "Fuck Rex, and his assignment."

I chuckled and met his gaze with an amused look.

"No thank you," I said, cocking my eyebrow at him. "I've already told you, you're the only one I wanna fuck. And besides, I can't. It's taken me a long ass time to earn a bit of trust around here, and I'm not gonna ruin that by disobeying orders."

Crosshair grunted, still not in agreement, but willing to accept my reasoning. He was silent for a while, before I wriggled my hips against his again, prompting him to carry on fucking me.

"You don't have to stop."

"You're upset."

"It's fine," I said with a watery smile. "Dont worry about me."

"I do."

His comment caught me off guard and I tensed, causing Crosshair, who was still fully inside of me, to grunt softly. A sudden, indescribable feeling swept over me and leaned into his shoulder, trying to ground myself as it threatened to overhelm me. I felt myself welling up and tried to swallow down the lump in my throat.

Crosshair withdrew himself from me and I worried that I'd upset him. He hadn't signed up for emotions, after all.

Instead, he awkwardly wrapped his arms around me, and squeezed gently. The gesture tipped me over the edge, and I started crying proper, sobbing quietly into his blacks.

"I'm sorry," I mumbled into his shoulder, feeling embarrassed as the uncalled for outburst.

If Crosshair was uncomfortable he didn't show it.

"'S ok," he whispered into my hair.

We stayed like that for quite a while, wrapped together. It was the first time I could recall the man embracing me without sex being involved.

Eventually I managed to regain some sort of control over myself. I leaned back, wiping my eyes on the sleeve of my shirt, which I was still wearing. Crosshair was watching me with an unreadable expression on his sharp face. I guessed he must be confused - after all we had gone from kriffing to crying in the space of a few minutes.

"I didn't mean to get upset," I said hoarsely, trying to offer some explanation for the sudden emotional shift. "It's just that this will be the first time I've been on my own. Since I can remember."

Crosshair nodded, as though he understood.

"It won't be for long," he said quietly in an attempt to sooth.

"You'll come back though, won't you?"

He gave me an odd look, frowing at me and I felt like an idiot for saying something so stupid. So much for not coming across as needy!

I was just opening my mouth to backtrack when Crosshair leaned in and kissed me. I moved with him, letting him take the lead. After that night in the courtyard, we had kept kissing to a minimum, and Crosshair only usually reserved the gesture for when we were mid kriff. In those instances, it was all teeth and tongues, filthy and steamy. Yet now, it was soft and deliberately so.

We broke apart and he looked down at me, bringing his hands to my shoulders.

"Of course."

....................

"I'm telling you, the problem's with the cooling system," Echo said in exasperation, brandishing the tool he was holding at Tech as though it were a weapon.

Tech looked equally as annoyed, and I stood passively nearby while the two men argued.

Echo and Tech had been trying to iron out a few problems with some of the secondary systems on the Marauder before we departed tomorrow morning. I was present, merely because I liked spending time with Echo.

After the kiss we had shared, our interactions had been more intimate: a stolen snog here and there and the occasional embrace when no one was around. Things were moving slowly, and I was happy to accommodate the pace. I knew Echo was extremely self conscious and unsure when it came to intimacy, and in truth it had been such a long time since I had last been with anyone romantically. Besides, Echo was worth waiting for.

"You may be correct," Tech was saying in a condescending tone, "but I would still prefer to run a full diagnostic of all non essential systems, just to be sure."

"Dont you trust me, Tech?" Echo snapped, and I could see he was getting upset now.

"It is not a case of trust," Tech said in his usual clinical voice. "I just feel that a diagnostic would be able to pinpoint the issues more efficiently."

Echo's face was darkening, and he was grinding his teeth furiously.

"Tech, I am literally part machine!" he shouted, waving his cybernetic arm at the other man. "If I scomp in, I can find the problem and fix it faster than you can with your data pad."

Tech looked like he was composing his counter argument so I stepped between the two men.

"Echo, just humour him," I said quietly, resting my hands on his shoulders and rubbing the tense muscles between his armour plates.

Echo continued to glower at Tech behind me, but he remained silent.

"How long will it take, Tech?" I asked, still keeping my eyes on Echo.

I heard Tech shuffling around behind me.

"No more than two hours."

I squeezed Echo's shoulders a little harder and he finally looked up at me, an expression of hurt and anger on his handsome face.

"Why don't we just let Tech run his diagnostic," I said placatingly. I lowered my voice so that only Echo would hear me. "I know you're right, and you know you're right. But just humour him. He won't let it go otherwise. Besides, when his diagnostic comes to the same conclusion as you, you can rub it in his face that you were right all along."

Echo gave half a smile at me and chuckled.

"Fine," he conceded, the anger seeming to drain out of him. "Do it Tech."

Tech leapt to the main console and plugged in his data pad, fingers flying over the screen.

"I have set the system's check," he informed us, standing and making his way to the door. "I will return in a couple of hours to check the results. In the interim, please don't touch anything on my ship."

With a superior look on his face, Tech stalked down the ramp and the hatch closed behind him.

Echo was visibly shaking, although from anger or anxiety I couldn't tell. I moved my arms so that they were draped around his neck.

"I know you're angry with him," I said sympathetically, "but I'm not sure it's worth the energy arguing with Tech."

Echo grunted and looked at the floor. I pulled him a little closer to me.

"Besides," I said cheekily, "now we have a whole two hours all to ourselves."

Echo shot me an amused look, noticing the mischief which must have been on my face.

"You did that on purpose didn't you?"

I gasped in mock indignation.

"No! Of course not!"

Echo laughed softly and leaned in, so that his face was only an inch from mine. I felt my breath hitch and my heart beat faster in my chest.

"What are we going to do with ourselves for two hours?" His voice was almost a purr and I felt my dick twitch at the seductive tone. It was so uncharacteristic of the Echo I knew, but I liked the change.

"I have a few ideas," I said, voice strained as I tried to control myself.

Echo grinned wickedly at me.

"Show me."

I was a little thrown by his request. Although we'd gotten closer over the last few days, we had kept things on an innocent basis.

Noticing that I appeared to be stunned, Echo took the lead and pressed his lips to mine. The kiss was furious, much more so than I was used to receiving from the cyborg. I wondered vaguely if it had something to do with Tech riling the man up before.

Echo pushed me backwards into the nearest console and I yelped from the force of the impact. The man chuckled, opening his mouth to slip his tongue into my own. I returned the ferocity, feeling myself harden by the second.

I reached for the maglock on his chestplate, and the piece hit the ground with a thud, followed by the backplate, and the pauldrons. Echo pushed the pieces to one side with his foot and leaned in closer.

Lowering my hands, I ran them down his back, fingers caressing the cybernetic implants which covered his spine. He shuddered, and I paused, expecting him to tell me to stop, but he didn't. My hands hovered, wanting so badly to touch him, but afraid of taking it too far.

Fuck though, I needed something, anything to relieve the building pressure. I was harder than I'd ever been in my life, and I had to fight the urge to touch myself as Echo's tongue slipped in and out of my mouth, his body pressed closer to my own.

I moaned reflexively, grinding myself against the cyborg desperately. Echo broke the kiss momentarily, looking deep into my eyes, which must have looked frantic.

"We should stop," I panted, nuzzling into the crook of the man's neck.

I felt Echo stiffen and I pulled back. His brown eyes were creased with worry and he wouldn't meet my gaze.

"Was it no good?" he asked, voice emotionless as though he expected to hear a affirmative from me.

"Fuck yes," I groaned, rubbing my nose against his stubbly cheek. "I mean no. I mean, yes it was good. Really fucking good."

I felt Echo relax then, and he moved to kiss me again but I stopped him with a hand on his chin.

"Echo," I breathed, "if we carry on, I'm not sure I'm gonna be able to stop."

He gave me a sheepish smile, face a little flushed.

"Is that such a bad thing?"

I honestly thought my dick was going to rip it's way out of my pants, and I couldn't contain the whimper which left my lips. Echo seemed to find that amusing.

"I don't -" I stuttered, as he moved to kiss my chin, "- kark! I don't wanna rush you."

He made a shushing noise and moved to kiss my jawline, pressing himself closer to the point that his codpiece dug into my crotch. I almost bucked my hips at the sudden friction.

"I'll tell you if it gets too much," he said in a reassuring tone.

I bit off a moan as he placed another kiss on my neck. He chuckled into my flesh, and the vibrations caused me to release a drawn out groan.

"What do you want, Toby?" Echo asked, voice almost pleading for guidance.

"I want..." I muttered, feeling a growing pressure in my groin. "I want...."

I couldn't seem to get the words out. My mind was deliriously blurry. My tongue felt like it wasn't working. And that damned sensation between my legs was growing more intense with every shift of Echo's armour against me.

Echo kissed my neck again, this time grazing me with his teeth.

The motion pushed me over the edge.

"Fuck!" I gasped as the climax hit. My cock throbbed in my pants, cum dribbling down my leg.

At first Echo didn't notice, he kept kissing and nibbling my neck devotedly. It was only when he felt my legs shaking that he looked up and gave me a confused look. I felt my face heat up.

"Sorry," I apologised, wishing the ground would swallow me up.

Echo cocked an eyebrow, still slightly perplexed. It was then that he looked down to see the wet stain on the front of my trousers.

"Oh," was all he said.

My skin felt like it was on fire. Echo was silent.

"Well," I said, in an effort to diffuse some of the awkwardness, "that was absolutely mortifying."

"Actually," Echo said, looking up at me through his lashes, "it's kinda hot."

I cocked an eyebrow at him and scoffed, looking away to avoid the intensity of his gaze.

"Yeah right," I said in disbelief. "Cos I didn't just jizz in my pants like a randy teenager or anything."

Echo reached up and brushed a lock of hair from my face. I met his eyes, which were wide and full of something primal.

"You really enjoyed that?" he asked quietly.

I nodded and gestured to my crotch.

"Clearly."

He grunted and was suddenly pulling me in for another kiss again, pushing me into the console so hard that my ass started to go numb.

Fuck, maybe firing off early really had turned him on.

I kissed him back, eager to give him the release he must need. My hands fumbled with the kama draped around his waist, and I threw the piece to the side. The codpiece quickly followed, and Echo flinched at the sudden sensation of exposure that losing the protective casing must bring.

I used the pause to manhandle him into changing places, so that he was leaned against the console. Echo was breathing heavily, almost to the point of hyperventilating, and I suddenly panicked that I had pushed him out of his comfort zone.

"Too much?" I asked, stroking the side of his face and keeping my eyes locked onto his. No matter how desperately my gaze wanted to wander lower.

He shook his head and screwed his eyes shut.

"No," he wheezed, sounding pained.

"Echo," I chided, recognising that the man was becoming overwhelmed. "It's supposed to be enjoyable. If it's too much, we can stop."

He shook his head again, opening his eyes and staring at a spot on the ceiling.

"Dont wanna stop," he panted, gripping the edge of the console with his one hand. "Just, so intense. Can't remember it being like this. Before."

I made a soothing sound, continuing to stroke his cheek.

"Is it better with your armour?" I asked, making to retrieve the codpiece from the floor. "I can put it back on."

"No!" Echo almost shouted, grabbing my wrist and meeting my gaze. Fuck he was pent up. His pupils were the size of saucers, and I could feel his hand shaking.

I nodded, not moving and keeping my distance so that he could calm down a bit. But Echo was still panting, his eyes taking on a desperation I hadn't seen before.

"Just -" he gasped, throwing his head back, "- just, need it to stop."

"Need what to stop?" I asked, backing off slightly. "The pressure?"

Echo nodded furiously and I felt a pang of sympathy.

"Do you want me to help?"

"Please!" he groaned desperately.

I nodded, stepping forward so that I was standing right in front of him. I leaned in to kiss his cheek, before dropping to my knees.

I gently tugged down his lower blacks, keeping my eyes on his face for any sign of discomfort. Echo gritted his teeth and groaned as his cock sprung free, almost hitting me in the face. Glancing down, I carefully wrapped my hand around the base. He was hairless, I noted absentmindedly. Leaning in, I took him in my mouth.

Echo shuddered and grunted painfully at the contact. I kept the pressure firm, and the pace even, trying not to overstimulate him with featherlight, teasing touches.

I took as much of him as I could, sucking gently and making sure to keep my tongue away from the tip. I thought he might buck into me but he remained frozen, head thrown back and hand gripping the console.

I expected him to finish quickly in his overly sensitive state, but he didn't. He seemed to be just on the edge but unable to tip over. I withdrew from him, rubbing his thighs and looking up.

"Echo, relax," I said soothingly. "Just relax. It's ok to let go. I got you."

I swapped to my hand, firmly stroking him whilst quietly muttering words of reassurance.

"You can do it," I mumbled, tugging his dick with one hand and rubbing his leg with the other. "You can do it for me."

Echo gritted his teeth and yelled hoarsely as his orgasm finally hit. I couldn't help but groan as he came all over my face, the feeling of his hot cum on my skin causing my own cock to stir again.

Gently I worked him through his climax, which seemed to last impossibly long. Eventually, his cock stilled and he ceased quivering, and I stopped, careful not to overstimulate the guy.

I looked around for something to clean myself with and noticed a rag on the floor under the console. It was pretty dirty, but it was better than nothing.

Once my face was clean, I stood and surveyed Echo. He was panting, almost on the verge of sobbing, and I carefully wrapped my arms around him and held him close.

After a little while, he pulled away from me and rested his forehead against mine, his breathing almost under control.

"You doing ok?" I asked tentatively, knowing that had been a pretty intense experience for him.

He huffed a chuckle, which quickly turned into a fit of hysterical laughter. I frowned, worried that I'd actually broken the man mentally.

"Better than ok," Echo said, his voice thick with relief. "That was the first time. In a long, long time."

Wow. I hadnt quite expected that reaction, but it was better than a panic attack. Or a nervous breakdown.

I ran my thumb over his cheek and kissed his lips softly.

"The first of many, I hope," I said, smiling warmly at him.

Echo grinned toothily.

"I should kriffing well hope so."

Chapter Text

I stood in the hangar to wave off the Batch, Omega beside me.

I had been secretly thrilled when Hunter had insisted the girl stay behind with me, and wondered if Crosshair had said something to the Sergeant.

As the engines rumbled into life and the ramp closed, I mentally prayed that they would all come back to us safe and sound. Omega squeezed my hand, and I knew she was silently willing the same.

The Marauder lifted into the air and grew smaller and smaller in the sky before it vanished completely.

I looked down at Omega, her eyes large and misty with tears, and felt a pang of sorrow.

"Hey," I said quietly to catch her attention. The girl turned her sad gaze to me. "They'll be fine."

The words sounded like they lacked conviction, and the kid didn't seem to believe them because her bottom lip started to tremble. I crouched down in front of her and gave her a half hearted smile.

"Looks like you and me get some girly time kiddo."

She finally gave me a weak smile, scrubbing her eyes with her sleeve.

"What's girly time?" she asked innocently, as I stood and led her back into the warm.

I grinned down at her and ruffled her hair, which had grown quite a bit since I'd first laid eyes on her.

"It's when two girls who are friends spend quality time together bonding," I replied, knowing the answer sounded lame.

I had never had female friends in my life and had no practical experience with girly time. But I'd seen holo flicks. And I could bull shit my way through anything. Besides, the kid seemed like she needed a distraction, and if I was being honest, so did I.

"What are we going to do first?" Omega asked, a new spring in her step.

I chuckled at her enthusiasm, grateful that I had something to look forward to outside the boredom of analysing data, and the sadness of being left behind.

....................

"Come on kiddo," I said, putting down my data pad and rubbing my tired eyes. I'd been at it for hours, and it was time to call it a day. "Let's go get some grub."

Omega put down her own data pad and sighed.

"I'm not hungry," she said, voice flat. She'd been quiet all day, since the Batch had left this morning.

"I know kid, but you've gotta eat," I chided her gently. "If not you won't have the energy for all the things I have planned."

She perked up a bit at that and hopped off the bed to stand before me.

"What things?" she asked, trying not to sound too interested.

I grinned at her and raised my eyebrows.

"If I told you it wouldn't be half as fun."

Secretly I was making the whole thing up as I went along.

Standing, I offered her my hand, and we left the silent barracks and headed for the mess hall.

It was quiet, most of the civilian volunteers had already eaten, and the majority of the troopers were currently deployed. Only a handful remained, and they were far too busy to bother making the journey down to the mess hall to eat.

We collected our rations and sat at a table by ourselves. I ate my meal methodically, not really interested but aware that I also needed to eat.

I noticed that Omega had barely touched her food. She was pushing it around her plate disinterestedly with her head resting on her hand.

"Come on Omega," I said gently, "just try and eat at least half of it. You'll get sick otherwise."

"Gem's right," came a voice over my shoulder and Fives plonked his tray on the table next to Omega and sat down. "You gotta keep your strength up. We need all our soldiers in tip top condition."

Omega grinned before she could stop herself, and Fives caught my eye. I mouthed a quick thank you and he winked at me.

The girl started eating a little more enthusiastically. Fives watched her take a few bites before concentrating on his own meal.

"What are you doing here Fives?" I asked, pushing my tray to one side and sipping my drink.

"Eating."

I rolled my eyes at the man and he grinned around a mouthful of mush.

"I meant what are you doing on base? Why aren't you running a mission with the others?"

Fives put a hand on his chest and gave me solemn look.

"Because I am just too damned important to leave my post," he said dramatically. Omega giggled and he nudged her in the ribs.

I ran a hand over my eyes, realising I wasn't going to get a sensible answer from the man.

"Are you always this big headed?" I asked in mock exasperation.

"Always," he answered with a grin, which quickly faded. "How's your assignment going?"

I gave him a wary look and glanced pointedly at Omega, who was fortunately engrossed in finishing her plate.

"Fine."

Fives grunted, carefully glancing around in a paranoid fashion.

"Well, if you need any help, you know where to find me."

"As you yourself said, Fives, I am more than capable," I replied indignantly.

The clone almost blushed and shook his head in amusement. Across the table from me, Omega had cleared her tray and was watching Fives finish his own meal. The man noticed her gaze and paused with the last spoonful halfway to his mouth.

"You still hungry, kid?"

Omega blushed a bit and shifted uncomfortably.

"I'm not surprised if she is," I piped up, trying to make the girl feel less embarrassed. "She's barely eaten anything all day."

Fives wiped his mouth with the back of his gloved hand and gave us a conspiratorial look.

"Is that so?" He cast his gaze dramatically over each shoulder, before leaning closer to Omega.

"Come with me," he said in a stage whisper.

Omega looked at me for approval as the man stood from the table and I nodded. The girl scrambled from her seat and ran after the man, who was pretending to tip toe from the room.

I couldn't help but chuckle at the ridiculous sight.

....................

Fives returned Omega to the barracks half an hour later.

She burst through the door with the speed of an ion cannon, cradling a small crate in her arms. Fives followed her more sedately, looking worryingly pleased with himself.

"Gem!" Omega yelled as she leaped onto the couch beside me, almost catapulting me into the air with the force of the impact. "Look what Fives gave me."

She removed the lid from the box and held it in front of my face so that I could inspect the contents. It was full of an assortment of treats and snacks, all neatly packaged in brightly coloured wrappers.

I whistled, impressed.

"Thats quite a haul you've got there kiddo," I said as Omega started pawing through the crate.

I looked up at Fives, who was grinning and leaning against the door frame.

"Where did you get this?" I asked him, convinced that the rebellion would not permit such contraband.

Fives shrugged.

"One of the last shipments we received from a contact," he explained casually. "They sent us the wrong crate by mistake."

I glanced at Omega, who had pulled out a packet and was opening it excitedly.

"Won't Rex mind her having all that?" I asked, knowing how tight supplies had been in the past.

Fives waved a hand at me dismissively.

"Rex doesn't need half a tonne of mantell mix. Besides, kid can't live solely on the crap they serve in the mess hall."

I raised an eyebrow, entirely convinced that the sugar rush would have the girl bouncing off of the walls by night fall.

"Thanks Fives."

"Don't mention it."

I ruffled Omega's hair and she grinned happily at me, crumbs already smeared round her face.

"All we need now is a crappy holo flick to make it a proper girly night," I chuckled.

Omega swallowed whatever she had been eating and leapt to her feet.

"I can do that," she said with determination, and I cocked an eyebrow at Fives, who was grinning in amusement.

Omega rummaged in the chest at the foot of Tech's bunk and returned with a data pad and a holo projector.

"Tech keeps a stash of movies on this pad," she explained, carefully placing the projector on the table in front of the couch. "He let me watch them a couple of times."

Hold the fuck on. Tech had a stash of holo flicks? What the actual kriff?

I heard Fives stifling a laugh behind his fist. Omega was scanning her way through the movies on the data pad.

"Which one?" she asked without looking up.

"You choose, I said, stretching my legs out and getting comfortable. "Just not one with too much gore. Hunter'll kill me if I give you nightmares. And no boobs."

I heard Fives sigh in fake disappointment and I grinned at him.

Omega selected a movie and set it running before leaping onto the couch beside me.

"You staying, Fives?" I asked the man who was hovering by the door.

He held up his hands.

"I don't want to interrupt your girly night."

Omega selected another snack, before passing the box to me, which I declined. I wasn't going to deprive the kid of her treats.

"It's ok Fives," she said brightly. "You can be an honorary girl."

Fives looked confused and I gave him a look that said "just go with it". He shifted his feet and rubbed the back of his head.

"I'd love to kid," he said with a sigh, "but I really got a lot of work to do. Thank you for the offer though."

The funny, comical Fives had suddenly disappeared, to be replaced by a tired, worried looking man. I felt a pang in my chest as I realised he'd needed this distraction as much as Omega had.

"Well, goodnight ladies. Have fun."

Fives gave a wave and headed for the door. I jumped up and quickly ran into the hallway after him.

Sensing my presence, the man turned to face me and I quickly hugged him round the waist, breaking apart before he could get the wrong impression.

"Thanks, Fives," I said gently.

Fives gave me a genuine smile and a mocking salute.

"Dont mention it."

I shut the door and curled up on the couch next to Omega, who snuggled close. Worries temporarily forgotten, we spend an enjoyable evening watching cringe worthy movies, and devouring our own body weight in mantell mix, courtesy of ARC Trooper Fives.

...................

I woke from a nightmare, gasping, sobbing and dripping in sweat.

In my dream, I had been in the cockpit of the Marauder. The ship was going down, falling, crashing towards an ocean planet. I had looked around to see the other members of the Batch, panic etching their faces as we pitched towards the body of water. The ship broke the surface, killing the others instantly, and I watched as their lifeless bodies floated away as the cockpit filled with water....

Shuddering, I wiped my cheeks on the corner of my blanket, trying to get my breathing back under control. It was just a dream.

The barracks were so damned quiet without the others present. I never thought a night would come when I'd miss Wrecker's snoring.

A light flicked on beside me and I winced at the sudden illumination.

Omega was standing beside my bunk in her night clothes, looking at me worriedly. I gave my face one final scrub before putting on a fake smile.

"Sorry kiddo, didn't mean to wake you."

Omega wasn't convinced by my falsely cheeryattitude. She cocked her head to one side gave me a sympathetic look.

"Did you have a nightmare?" she asked in an overly grown up tone, and I nodded, not quite trusting my voice yet.

The girl reached over to her own bed and removed her tooka doll. She held it out to me and I took it gratefully.

"Lula helps me when I have nightmares," she said matter of factly, perching on the end of my bed. "Sometimes I wake up so scared, and I know when Lula's there that everything's ok."

I reached over and stroked her hair softly.

"It's good that you have her to look after you. To keep you safe."

Omega nodded soberly and shuffled closer up the bed towards me. I lifted my arm and she crawled under it, cuddling tightly.

"Gem, I'm scared."

It was said so quietly that I almost didn't hear, I cocked my head at her and pulled her into my side.

"Of what?" I asked hoarsely.

Omega swallowed audibly, fiddling with the hem of my blanket.

"What if they don't come back?"

I felt my heart drop when I realised we shared the same fear. My nightmare flashed through my mind again but I forced it down.

"They will," I said, voice determined.

She was silent after then, but I could still sense her worry.

"Hey," I said sitting upright. "I got an idea."

...................

I found an old broom in one of the lockers and propped it at the end of the bed.

At my instruction, Omega gathered all the spare blankets from the boy's bunks and brought them to me.

I tied a couple of blankets to the broom head, fastening the other ends to the shelf above my bunk. Omega watched in fascination, probably wondering what in all Hells I was doing.

When Toby and I were children, on the run, homeless and very often terrified, having somewhere safe to sleep was not a luxury we enjoyed on many occasions. Sometimes, we would find ourselves in some dodgy town on some backwater planet, where street urchins and pick pockets were not tolerated amongst the locals. At best, we would receive a smack from anyone we got too close to: at worst, we would be driven from the town in a volley of hurled projectiles.

In these instances, whenever we found ourselves bedding down in some filthy alleyway or some piece of scrubby ground, we would make shelters from whatever material was available. Pieces of fabric, old crates, scrap and any other debris would be utilised to create structures of questionable stability. We were convinced that these forts as we called them would keep us safe from the outside world, and they did, in a way. Hidden away from the scary world outside, we could just be children, forgetting our troubles, our fears, and our hunger, even if only for the night.

I stood back to admire my handiwork and felt Omega standing beside me.

"What is it?" she asked curiously.

"A blanket fort," I responded proudly, grabbing her hand. "Come on."

We crawled into the fort and snuggled down into the dark, soft safety. I stroked Omega's hair and she murmured happily, rolling closer.

"We'll be safe in here," I promised, holding her until she finally fell asleep. I joined her soon after.

....................

"Omega, sit still!" I snapped, having already issued the command several times and feeling my patience starting to fray.

"But you're pulling my hair!" the girl whined, and I could sense even without seeing her face that she was pouting.

"Well, you wanted braids, that involves some hair pulling. Besides if I don't do them tight enough they'll just come undone."

Omega humphed and I couldn't help but smile.

I perched on the end of the bed, the girl sitting cross legged on the floor in front of me. During our holo movie marathon the other day, she had become absolutely fascinated by one of the lead female characters.

"She's so pretty," she'd sighed, as the voluptuous woman was batting her eyelashes at some hunk of a man.

Not really my type, but I guessed the kid hadn't really had much exposure to women.

"You know, you're pretty too Omega," I'd assured her, but she'd shaken her head.

"Not like that. I wanna look like that."

"Looks aren't everything," I'd replied, playing with her hair.

She'd looked up at me with those big brown eyes, and I'd known that I was doomed.

"Please, Gem."

And so here we sat, me trying to replicate the look the female character had been rocking. It was difficult as Omega's hair was much shorter, and I was no expert at plaits, but I did my best.

"There," I said, tying in the braids, "all done."

Omega patted the back of her head, feeling the braids, before leaping to her feet and dashing into the refresher to admire at her reflection in the mirror.

"I love it!" she called, and I grinned.

She came running back out, still vainly preening a bit at her new look.

"Can I have the eye stuff as well?"

I shook my head.

"Sorry kiddo, Hunter will murder me if I tart you up too much. Besides, I don't have any makeup. Not really my thing."

She stroked her hair once more and then came to stand in front of me.

"Can you teach me how to do this?" she asked, pointing to her head.

"Er, sure. But you'll have to practice on my hair seeing as yours is already done."

She nodded enthusiasticly.

"Show me how."

....................

Half an hour later, we had swapped places and I was sitting on the floor with my knees up as Omega styled my hair. By the tugging, I guessed she was tangling it more than braiding it, but she was having a good time and I didn't have the heart to complain.

"Why do some people have different coloured hair," she asked idly as she twisted small strands together.

I shrugged my shoulders.

"Because everybody is different," I said weakly. "And besides, some people dye theirs different colours."

"Like Rex?" she asked curiously.

"Yeah, I guess so."

She paused for a minute in consideration.

"Can I dye mine?" She said it casually, as though half hoping I would agree without giving any consideration to the proposal.

"Er, no kid," I said with a chuckle. "Maybe when you're older."

She seemed happy with that answer and hummed thoughtfully.

"I think I'd like purple hair," she said, pulling my own follicles so hard that my eyes watered. "Or pink. Or the Batch colours."

I laughed inwardly, imagining Omega with black and red hair. It would actually look pretty cool.

There was a knock at the door and I jumped, causing Omega to rip a chunk out of my scalp.

"Come in," I called, wincing.

Captain Rex entered the room and I immediately scrambled to my feet.

He did a double take upon seeing me, eyes roving to my head and I was pretty sure I looked like a mad woman.

"Er, sorry to interrupt," he said, lips twitching as though he was holding back a smile. I felt my face heat up but tried to look defiant.

"That's OK Rex," Omega said brightly, coming to stand next to me. "We were having girly time."

Yep, I was definitely blushing now.

Rex cleared his throat and looked at the floor, although I noticed that his eyes kept flickering to me, and everytime they did, his mouth jerked uncontrollably.

"I was just coming to let you know that the boys are heading back early."

I blinked, suddenly feeling like my stomach had dropped through the floor. Omega must have had the same thought as me bacuse she gripped my sleeve hard.

"Is everything OK?" I asked, trying to keep my voice from shaking.

Rex nodded briskly, realising that he'd panicked us.

"They're fine," he assured me quickly. "Mission was a bust. Contact didn't turn up. They should be back soon. I just wanted to let you know."

I visibly relaxed and let out a long breath which I'd been holding in.

"Thanks Rex."

Omega let go of my hand and dashed to the door, waving at me to follow her.

"Come on Gem," she called, practically bouncing in excitement. "Lets go and wait for them in the hangar."

I gave her a thumbs up and she went haring off down the hallway.

Rex gave me a final glance before cracking.

"I'm sorry," he said, choking on a laugh. "But that....that's a look...."

I bristled and put my hands on my hips, but had to fight to keep my own smile in check.

"Excuse me, Captain," I said indignantly, "but I'll have you know that Omega worked very hard to pull this look off."

I gestured to my head with a dramatic wave.

Rex turned away so I wouldn't see him laughing silently. The man managed to regain control very quickly, and I had to admit I'd never expected him to have any sort of sense of humour.

"Well, maybe don't let her go into hairdressing."

"Don't worry, I won't. She wanted to dye her own hair purple, so I guess I'm lucky that I got away so lightly."

Rex chuckled throatily and gave a wicked grin.

"I would have given my last credit so see Hunter's face after that one."

....................

The Batch descended the ramp of the Marauder, looking thoroughly dejected. They didn't take defeat well, it seemed.

Omega dashed forward to throw her arms around Hunter, who was the first to leave the ship. He hugged her awkwardly and went to ruffle her hair before noticing the new do.

"What's this," he said, tugging on one of her braids. She preened self consciously.

"Gem did it for me. We had girly time."

Hunter lifted his head to look at me before letting his jaw drop almost to the floor.

I walked over to the group and help up my hand.

"Dont even start."

Wrecker almost fell down the ramp he was laughing so hard at my appearance. I folded my arms and gave him a look of disapproval, which was hard seeing as I knew I looked ridiculous.

"You..." the large man wheezed, tears streaming from his eyes, "you ..."

Whatever he was going to say he couldn't finish. My hair style was apparently just so hysterical.

I glanced around at the others. Both Toby and Echo were sniggering quietly, and Tech had his face buried in his data pad so I wouldn't see his grin. Even Crosshair looked like he was fighting a battle to hold in a smile. When I met his eyes he lost the fight and smirked at me, shaking his head.

"I don't see what's so funny," I said, keeping my tone falsely serious.

That got another wave of giggles.

I rolled my eyes, pretending that I was not amused, but secretly I was quite glad that I'd managed to cheer them up, even if it was at my expense.

"Come on," Hunter finally said discreetly wiping a tear from his eye. "We'd better go and debrief."

Their mood improved as we left the hangar, although they did keep shooting looks back at me and chuckling when they thought I wasn't looking.

Chapter Text

The days turned into weeks, and I was slowly working my way through the data provided by Rex.

It was hard going, but I had so far identified two possible suspects, one a civilian pilot that had previously been imprisoned in a Republic facility, and another, a clone trooper who had been reported MIA during a reconnaissance mission on Teth, only to reappear two days later. It wasn't much, but my gut told me it was suspicious.

I got used to the comings and goings of the Batch while I was working. They more or less left me alone, only interrupting me to make sure I was eating and drinking enough. It was quiet in the barracks when the squad was off training or running missions, but I became accustomed to the stillness, and actually found it disturbing when the boys were present.

Rex hadn't started chasing me for my results, but I knew that he was anxious to get to the bottom of the matter after a string of recent mission failures.

I found myself slaving over that damned data pad more and more, eager to put the Captain's mind at rest, as well as to gain back some freedom of my own. I had felt myself growing distant from the squad now that I was no longer able to accompany them, and it was lonely.

I would wake up in the middle of the night, mind racing and fingers twitching for the data pad. I would rise, careful not to disturb the others, and find myself a quiet corner of the base to work in until the sun rose.

One such night, I was perched on a crate in the courtyard, blanket wrapped around my shoulders to keep out the cold. I didn't often venture outside much these days, and it was nice to get some fresh air, even if the wind was bitter.

Scrolling through the list of personnel I had yet to review, I got to the number of a clone trooper and clicked to open the data.

It took me a moment to realise this was Crosshair's file.

I suddenly felt incredibly awkward, as though I were intruding on his privacy. I hesitated, unsure whether to just skip this file and move to the next. On the other hand, the sniper was a very guarded person, and it might be interesting to know a bit more about him. In the end though, curiosity got the better of me.

Crosshair's file was....interesting to say the least.

I knew that he must have seen a lot of action, he was a soldier after all, but as I scanned down the list I whistled, impressed. The guy had been around. He'd been deployed on dozens of missions all over the galaxy during the clone wars.

I scanned further, coming to the bottom of the list, to the more recent stuff. I read something about order 66, and frowned, not sure what that meant. There was something in there about an inhibitor chip as well, and I recalled seeing that term on some of the other clone files.

I wasn't sure why the chip was relevant, but from reviewing the data I understood that Crosshair's had activated. I continued, and my heart sank when I read that he had turned against his squad. Against his brothers. That they had abandoned him.

I wanted to stop but I couldn't. I needed to know more, and there was a sense of dread creeping into my very soul as I considered the possibility that Crosshair might be the spy.

He'd been the Empire's dog. They'd brain washed him, used him, made him do unspeakable things all while under their influence.

I didn't realise I was crying until the tears landed on the data pad and smeared the screen. I threw the device down, my mind a melting pot of emotions. I felt sad, knowing what the man had been forced to do, angry that he'd turned against his family, betrayed that he'd never trusted me with this information. Most of all I felt a sickening worry, knowing that I would have to consider flagging Crosshair as the potential mole.

I leaned my head back and wrapped the blanket tightly around me, suddenly feeling cold to my core.

My mind was racing as I wrestled with my conscience. I knew, deep down, that Crosshair was no spy. And yet, the evidence suggested that he could be. He'd spent months in Imperial custody. If that didn't raise alarm bells then nothing else would.

I almost leapt out of my skin when I heard soft footsteps approaching. Turning, drying my eyes on my sleeve, I saw Hunter making his way across the courtyard towards me.

He slowed when he drew closer, noticing that I was upset.

"Couldn't sleep?" he asked softly, leaning against the wall beside me and folding his arms. He was dressed only in his blacks and I wondered that he wasn't cold.

I shook my head, not trusting my voice not to crack.

Hunter was silent for a while but I could see him watching me from the corner of his eye.

"You doing ok?"

No, I thought. I'm not.

"Yes," I lied, watching the snow billowing around the courtyard. I swallowed, a lump forming in my throat. "No."

Hunter moved so that he was sitting on the crate next to me, shoulder brushing mine.

"You wanna tell me about it?"

I shook my head.

"It's fine. Don't wanna unload on you."

Hunter huffed a chuckle and nudged my knee with his own.

"That's what I'm here for," he said earnestly.

I gave him a watery smile.

"It's not," I said with a sniff. "You've got better things to do than listen to me. Besides, it's nothing."

There was a pause, and I hoped that would be the end of it, but the sergeant wouldn't let it drop.

"You're upset. That doesn't look like nothing to me."

I sighed, meeting the man's eye then and seeing that he was determined to help solve my problems. I hesitated, considering how to answer without giving away my mission, or coming across like I was invading his brother's privacy.

"I was reviewing some of the mission data for Rex," I said slowly, keeping my tone level. "When I may have accidentally come across Crosshair's file. I didn't realise what it was until it was too late."

Hunter's expression didn't change, but I felt him shift slightly beside me.

"Oh," was all he said, and I felt slightly relieved that he hadn't immediately pressed further.

"I didn't mean to look," I said lamely, not even believing my own lie.

Hunter was quiet for a while and I thought he must be angry by the way his jaw was set.

"How much did you read?" he asked cooly.

I swallowed and felt myself tear up again.

"Enough."

The tattooed man ran a hand through his scruffy hair and breathed through his nose heavily.

"Look," he said finally, his tone more gentle than I had expected it to be. "I don't know what's on Crosshair's file, but I can imagine the gist of it. Just know that most of those things on that data pad, they weren't Crosshair. None of that was him."

"But he murdered civilians," I whispered, shaking at the thought.

"I know," Hunter replied, and his voice was strained.

I sniffed loudly, and wiped my cheeks with an unsteady hand.

"And you left him behind."

Hunter swallowed loudly and I noticed that his bottom lip was trembling.

"I did."

His voice sounded close to breaking and I felt guilty that I had brought up the subject because it obviously caused him great pain. Hunter twisted away from me briefly and I thought he might have been wiping away a tear. He took a second to compose himself before continuing.

"They put chips in our brains. All of us clones. To make us more....compliant. Obedient."

I felt sick to my stomach at the thought of these poor men, my friends, being treated as little more than slaves.

"When Cross's chip activated," Hunter continued guardedly, "he wasn't the same. He wasn't him. I had to leave him behind, to keep the rest of the squad safe." He cleared his throat roughly. "I'll live with that guilt for the rest of my days."

I sniffled and reached out to grab his hand. He squeezed tightly in return, and I knew he wasn't exaggerating at that confession.

"Does he..." I paused, licking my lips to work moisture back into my mouth. "Does he still have it? The chip?"

Hunter shook his head firmly.

"No. We all had ours removed. Rex helped us. He's helped a lot of clones find their way back from the Empire."

I felt a surge of affection towards the blond haired clone, grateful that he had selflessly helped these men in need.

"Does he remember what he did?" I asked, not sure I wanted to know the answer.

Hunter was silent, but I saw the pain in his grey eyes.

"Yes," he said, voice hoarse. "Yes, he does. When we finally got him back from the Empire.....when we finally removed the chip.....he was.....broken. The Empire made him do terrible things. They gave him orders, and he couldn't stop himself from following them. Even if it meant going against everything he knew was right."

Tears ran down my face and I closed my eyes, willing them to stop, to no avail.

"I can't imagine what that must have been like," I said, drawing the blanket a little tighter around myself.

"I think..." Hunter continued, voice thick with emotion, "I think it almost killed him. When we got him back, it was months before he'd speak to any of us. He wouldn't eat, he couldn't sleep without having nightmares. I think the trauma ran so deep that he couldn't let himself be him again."

I shook my head, not able to believe that the man I knew, the man who was so stoic and arrogant, could ever have been in such a place.

"Poor Crosshair."

Hunter grunted in agreement before sighing loudly, and I sensed he had something more to say. I tightened my grip around his fingers in the hope it would prompt him to carry on.

"Gem," he said quietly, hesitantly. "I know you and Crosshair are.....whatever you are. You make him happy, and he deserves that. Please don't let this affect how you see him. He's a good man, no matter what that kriffing file says."

I smiled thinly up at the Sergeant before resting my head on his shoulder.

"I know."

....................

The next morning I woke up feeling sicker than I ever had in my life.

My throat felt like it was full of sand, and it hurt to breath. I guessed it possibly had something to do with spending so much time out in the cold last night. Hunter and I had sat for quite some time after our heart to heart, before he'd walked me back to the barracks. At the time I had been too preoccupied to realise just how chilled I'd gotten.

Now, as I shivered hard enough to make the mattress creak, I silently cursed myself.

Hunter took one look at me before sending Omega to fetch a medic.

Kix arrived shortly thereafter, looking a little bedraggled as though he had just woken up.

He ushered away the Batch members and Toby, who had all gathered around my bed, surveying me with concern. They didn't move too far, instead congregating close enough to be near to me, but not so close as to be in the way.

Kix ran a med scanner over me and I winced at the blue light, which was painfully bright. The action drew a fit of wheezing coughs and he put a hand on my arm to keep me still.

"It's pneumonia," the medic concluded, addressing the room at large. "She needs to be moved to the medbay."

The others nodded, and Wrecker moved forward as though to pick me up.

"No!" I wheezed, remembering my last visits to the medbay, which were not particularly pleasant. "Wanna stay here. Please."

Kix looked like he was going to insist, but fortunately Toby stepped in to fight my corner.

"She'll be more comfortable here," he argued gently.

There were sounds of agreement around the room.

"Yeah," Wrecker agreed.

"We can look after her," Omega promised.

Tech cleared his throat and pulled out his data pad.

"I am quite familiar with various forms of illness in humans. I can assure you that she will be well cared for."

Kix opened his mouth, before closing it with a snap.

"Fine," he conceded, before raising a finger and continuing in a firm tone. "But she will need rest. I'll give her something to help clear it up, but it'll take a few days. She'll need constant supervision to make sure her condition doesn't deteriorate."

Again, sounds of confirmation rang around the room, and I felt my heart clench at the thought that the squad were all prepared to rally round in my hour of need. Even Crosshair looked worried, although I couldn't meet his eye. The pain from my conversation with Hunter was still too raw.

....................

The Batch took it in turns to act as my nurse. They even made a rota so that one of them was always awake and able to sit with me.

Kix gave me some medicine which he insisted would make me feel better, but truthfully I felt like I was dying.

Everything was painful. It hurt to breath, move, and just generally exist. I couldn't even make it to the fresher when I needed to and had to physically be carried, which was just humiliating.

I spent a great deal of time sleeping. It was a welcome escape from the pain, even though it was broken and fitful. I drifted in and out of consciousness, only vaguely aware of the people around me.

At one point I woke to Rex standing nearby, speaking quietly to Echo, who was keeping me company. I felt a pang of guilt that I wasn't pulling my weight with the assignment, but there wasn't much I could do.

I had decided, after giving it a great deal of thought (which was physically painful in my current condition) that I would not flag Crosshair as a potential spy. Although I maybe should have, if I was following orders to the letter, I couldn't bring myself to do it. I knew it would dredge up all those monsters, and I wasn't prepared to put any of the Batch through that. I would suffer the consequences if necessary.

After some time (I didn't know how much) I became slightly more lucid and able to stay conscious for a little while between naps.

On one such occasion I jolted into awareness with a rattling wheeze. I blinked, trying to clear away the grogginess with only partial success.

Crosshair was sitting on the floor beside my bunk, his back to the wall and his forehead propped up in one hand. His eyes were closed, but they flew open as soon as I stirred, and he turned his head to look at me. He looked drained and I felt another pang of guilt that I was causing so much grief.

"You look like shit," he observed bluntly, in an effort to disguise his obvious discomfort.

I gave him what I thought was a smile, although I couldn't tell if my lips actually moved or not.

"I feel like shit," I croaked painfully, heaving a cough.

Crosshair watched me in concern until I finished hacking my lungs up.

"Do you need anything?"

I shook my head, miserably aware that nothing could make me feel better at this point.

The man studied me for a few minutes, clearly not convinced with my answer. I must have looked really pathetic.

"You sure about that?"

Where was he going with this? Surely he wasn't going to suggest sex at this point? Because honestly, I was likely to puke on him if he came anywhere near me with that intent.

"Yes," I wheezed, fighting back another coughing fit. "Unless our agreement covers cuddling when either one us feels like death."

To my surprise, Crosshair nodded and rose to his feet, moving around behind me. I felt the bed dip as he knelt on the mattress.

"Move over."

I tried to raise myself to my elbows but couldn't even do that without flopping down again. I heard Crosshair sigh behind me, before wrapping his arms around my chest, careful not to squeeze too hard, and shuffling me over. He retrieved his arms from around me and laid beside me ontop of the sheets.

I didn't say anything for a little while because I was too shocked that he had actually done what I'd asked. Well, partially at least. I decided to try my luck for more.

"I'm cold," I said in my most pathetic voice. "Will you get under the blanket?"

He sighed again, before wriggling under the covers. I would have grinned if I'd been capable of doing so.

Dressed only in his blacks, I could feel Crosshair's warmth radiating into my sick body. I shuddered, as though suppressing a shiver, and waited to see if he would take the bait.

The man moved closer, close enough that his chest was pressed against my back, and his knees tucked into the crook of my own. His arms were pressed awkwardly between our bodies, so I reached across and brought his hand to rest on my waist. He didn't withdraw, and I felt his other arm snake under my neck to pillow my head.

I sighed contentedly. It was strangely intimate, which was an odd thought considering we spent a fair amount of time fucking each other.

I felt myself drifting off in the warm, comforting embrace.

....................

I started into consciousness with a jolt, thinking I'd woken myself up from coughing.

I became aware of an arm draped over me and I jumped, confused and foggy.

The arm was trembling slightly, the hands balled into fists so tightly that blood was dropping onto the blanket where the fingernails had broken the skin.

I twisted myself carefully so that I was face to face with Crosshair, who had his eyes closed and was convulsing on the bed beside me.

I panicked thinking he was having a fit, and tried to shake him gently.

"Crosshair," I whispered quietly.

He was still shaking, although I could now see his eyes moving backwards and forwards beneath the lids. His teeth were clenched tightly shut, and there was a film of sweat on his face.

"Cross?"

Abruptly his eyes snapped open and he drew in a ragged breath as though he'd forgotten how to make his lungs work. He stared directly at me, although he didn't seem able to see me. I realised that there were tears on his face mingled with the sweat, and his pupils were so large that I couldn't see his iris's at all.

I recognised a nightmare when I saw one. I'd had enough of them to know.

I gently shook the sniper on the shoulder and he flinched, eyes suddenly coming into focus. He jerked as though stung, and tried to scramble away from me.

"Don't," I said as firmly as I could.

He stopped mid-roll frantic eyes locked onto mine. I could hear his shallow, ragged breathing.

"Don't," I repeated although it wasn't necessary.

Crosshair scrubbed his face with the sleeve of his blacks, looking angry, although I couldn't tell if that was directed at me or himself. I reached up to pull his hand away but he ripped it from my grasp with something that sounded almost like a snarl.

I made a soft shushing noise and went to touch him again but he still wouldn't let me.

"It's ok," I muttered hoarsely. "Just a nightmare."

He let out a ragged breath and tried to roll away from me once more, but I managed to wrap my arm around his waist and hold on tight enough to prevent him moving. The muscles in my arm ached from the strain, but I ignored them.

"Stop," the man growled, not bothering to conceal a look of panic.

I didn't relent, and held fast.

"Relax, Cross," I pleaded, and he finally went limp in my grasp.

I moved my hand to touch his cheek but he shifted away so that my fingers didn't connect. In the end I settled for resting my hand on the pillow between us.

He screwed his eyes shut tight while he tried to calm himself, the action causing a tear to slip down his cheek and soak into the pillow without a trace.

I felt a lump in my throat and hurriedly swallowed it away.

After what felt like forever he had composed himself enough so that he was no longer having a panic attack. He pushed himself up, making it as far as sitting on the edge of the bed with his back to me. I saw that his legs were still shaking and guessed that he possibly was unable to get to his feet.

"Please don't go," I asked softly. I saw the muscles in his back stiffen but he didn't move other than that. "Please stay."

"Why?"

His voice was raspy and emotionless.

I blinked, worried that he would try to leave again.

"Because I want you to."

"Why?" he asked again.

I took a deep breath and raised myself to a sitting position. The activity was enough to leave me quivering.

"Because I like you being here."

I heard him scoff a laugh, his shoulders sagging.

"You shouldn't," he snapped angrily.

I balked slightly at the tone but didn't give up.

"Why not?" I asked timidly.

"Because I'm no good."

He almost shouted the last and I felt as though I was drowning, as though I could palpably feel his pain.

"Yes you are," I said insistently. I considered reaching for him but knew he would draw away.

Crosshair snorted derisively and I saw him shake his head.

"You don't know," he muttered, tone dismissive.

I moved a little closer, careful not to startle the man.

"Yes I do," I insisted, voice firm. "I know you're a good man. I know you love your brothers and they love you. I know you've done things in the past that you're not proud of. But I don't care. It doesn't change anything for me."

He huffed a humourless laugh.

"Then you're an idiot," he grunted.

There it was. Lashing out to protect himself. As he always did when he was feeling vulnerable.

"Maybe I am," I croaked, voice strained from so much talking. "But it still doesn't change how I feel."

Another mirthless laugh.

"You shouldn't feel anything about me," he almost snarled. "I'm just a kriff, remember?"

I sighed and slowly reached out my hand to lay the palm against his spine. Crosshair flinched but didnt withdraw entirely.

"You know that's not all you are to me. Not anymore."

He was silent after that, sitting on the bed with his back to me. I couldn't see his face which was bowed, but his shoulders shook slightly and I wondered if he was crying.

"I don't deserve it."

I leaned forward slightly until my forehead was resting between his shoulder blades, feeling as though my heart might break in two.

We sat like that for a long time, until Hunter came to take over nurse duty.

As soon as the tattooed man entered the room, Crosshair rose to his feet and disappeared into the refresher without saying a word or making eye contact with either of us.

Hunter gave me a questioning look but I shook my head, collapsing back onto the bed, exhausted and fighting back tears.

Chapter Text

Within a few days, I was feeling much better and was able to get out of bed on my own and move around without the assistance of the others.

Kix ruled that I was in the clear but that I should stay away from vigorous activity for a little while.

I almost scoffed at that request. With the Batch hovering over me constantly - I couldn't even get a drink of water without one of them leaping to my aid - there was no way I was in danger of even breaking a sweat.

And Crosshair had barely spoken to me since his nightmare. He wouldn't even meet my eye anymore, so any vigorous activity in the bedroom was extremely unlikely.

The sniper had withdrawn almost completely into himself. He spent most of the day - and much of the night for that matter - at the training range, blowing target droids to pieces. One evening, he returned to the barracks well after dark, stiff from the cold and barely able to remove his own armour. Hunter had noticed me watching the man worriedly and had pulled me aside when Crosshair ducked into the fresher.

"Don't worry about Cross," the Sergeant had assured me, placing a hand on my shoulder comfortingly. "He'll be ok."

I glanced towards the door to the refresher in concern.

"I.....I think I said something wrong the other night," I admitted guiltily, but Hunter shook his head.

"It's not you," he said firmly, "he just gets like this sometimes, ever since-" he looked around to make sure the other's weren't nearby, but still lowered his voice regardless, "-ever since his chip was removed. Just give him some space and a bit of time and he'll come around. He always does."

Although I felt that distancing myself from the man was probably the least sensible thing to do given his current depressive state, I respected Hunter's judgement and left the grey haired sniper alone.

I used the time now that I was feeling well again to catch up on reviewing the personnel files. The mundane distraction kept me from worrying about Crosshair. And, I was ashamed to admit, also kept me from noticing how much I missed his company.

Early one afternoon, I finally finished the task Rex had set me all those weeks ago. Throwing the data pad onto the table, I almost whooped for joy because fuck me, I had never done anything quite so boring in all my life.

There was a noticable spring in my step as I made my way to the command room to hand over my findings.

Rex was mid conversation over the holo projector with a Sergeant from one of the other squads when I entered. I hovered by the door and he held up a hand to indicate that he would only be a minute. I fiddled with my data pad, eager to get this over with so I could get back to more interesting things. To some semblance of normality. Because although I would never admit it out loud, I missed spending time with the Bad Batch.

Rex wrapped things up with the trooper, disconnected the holo projector, and waved me over.

"Gemini," he greeted me formally, "how goes the task?"

I tried not to roll my eyes. I hated that fucking name.

Closing the distance, I handed the data pad over eagerly.

"Completed," I said with obvious relief, glancing back to the door and wondering if I could make a break for it now. "You'll see the list I've compiled of potentials."

"And?" he asked, briefly thumbing through the information, "what is your conclusion?"

I sagged a little at his question, realising that this was going to take longer than I'd hoped.

"Four possibles," I said slowly, shifting me feet and itching to leave. "Two troopers, and two civvies."

"Debrief me," Rex asked as he scanned the files.

I drew a deep breath, annoyed. Why couldn't he just read through the kriffing data?

"CT-34-5523 went MIA on a mission on Teth," I said flatly reeling off the information. "Only to be recovered two days later. The file says he was pinned down in a trench for the entire time, but from reviewing the battle plan, it turns out he was within a stones throw of Imperial troops who were stationed in a nearby bunker. So he's a definite maybe."

Rex nodded, eyes darting across the screen.

"And the others?"

"CT-2172 was allegedly experimented on by the Empire when his inhibitor chip didn't activate. Of the other two, Thynus Ramm was married to an Imperial pilot who was killed by a rebel operative, and Biba Vilda was held for four years in a Republic prison. Although I couldn't tell from the files why he was detained."

Rex nodded vaguely and set down the data pad on the table.

"Good work," he said approvingly, giving me a rare smile.

I shrugged and felt myself blush a little at the praise.

"Does this mean I get un-grounded now?" I asked enthusiastically. "Can I go back to running missions with the Batch?"

Rex faltered at the unexpected question, although he quickly recovered and to my dismay, shook his head.

"Afraid not. I'd rather you stayed on base until we are done questioning the suspects. Just in case you pick up on something that we don't, or I need to defer to you for more information."

My heart sank, and Rex must have noticed my glum expression because he strode over and put a hand on my shoulder in a gesture of comradery.

"It won't take long," he promised, "we can start first thing tomorrow, after Fives, Jesse and I have had a chance to fully review the intel. Report to room B224, on the lower level, at 0800 tomorrow morning. We can go from there."

Rex gave my arm a final pat before returning to the data pad. I slipped out of the room before he could order me to do anything else mind numbingly dull.

I dragged my feet all the way back to the barracks and almost slammed the door shut behind me in annoyance.

I'd been under the impression that once I was done reviewing the intel, I would be free again. Clearly not. On the plus side, I thought, perhaps this indicated that Rex valued my insight. That notion did make me feel slightly better about myself and dispelled some of the disappointment.

Leaning against the door, I finally noticed Crosshair, sitting on the edge of my bed in his armour. He was poised, coiled tight, and looked as though he had been waiting for me to return.

His face was paler than usual, his skin almost had a grey palour, and there were dark shadows under his eyes. I noticed his knee jiggling with what could only be nerves, and started at the unexpected concept.

He looked up at me when I entered and there was something about the emptiness in his eyes than made me walk over and crouch on the floor in front of him.

"Cross?" I asked worriedly. "Everything OK?"

He swallowed and looked down at his hands. I saw that they trembled slightly.

"'M sorry," he grunted.

I stared blankly at him, unable to tell if he was apologising for the nightmare, the things he'd said to me, or his recent depressed state. I quickly decided it didn't matter because he had no reason to apologise for any of those things.

"It's ok," I said, reaching up a hand to stroke his cheek. I almost recoiled at the icy coldness of his skin. "Dank ferrik Cross, you're frozen! How long have you been outside?"

He didn't answer and just kept staring at the floor. I watched him for a bit before standing and offering him my hand. He took it cautiously and gazed up at me, his brows furrowed slightly.

I pulled him to his feet and lead him towards the refresher. He followed along behind me like a baby tooka that had lost its mother, and I wanted to cry at just how helpless he was at the moment. It was pitiful.

I closed the door and stood him beside the bench at the far end of the room, peering up at his with a concerned look at his face.

"Take a shower," I insisted, cupping his chin in my hands. "As hot as you can stand. Or else you'll end up getting as sick as I was."

Crosshair just stood there, staring at the wall behind my left shoulder as if he hadn't fully heard me. As if he wasn't fully there. I moved my hands down to tap his chest plate.

"Take off your armour. I'll get you some clean blacks."

He finally moved then, obediently reaching up to undo the maglocks on his protective shell. I left the room to grab him some clean underclothes from the chest at the foot of his bunk, and returned to find him partially stripped of his armour. He appeared to be having difficulty removing the pauldron on his left arm.

I dropped the bundle I was carrying onto the bench and reached up to help. Crosshair's hands fell to his side limply and he placidly let me remove the pauldron. I carefully placed the piece on the bench with the others.

"Do you want help with the rest?" I asked as I straightened. I offered out of politeness more than anything because I knew he was unlikely to accept assistance, even from me. He was too damned proud.

To my surprise Crosshair nodded soberly. I paused for a minute, eyebrows raised in mild shock, before smoothing my features.

I removed the remaining pieces as quickly as I could, fingers fumbling with the unfamiliar catches. My only previous experiences with removing Crosshair's armour were the occasions when I'd ripped off his codpiece so that he could fuck me. That didn't exactly give me an in depth knowledge of how it all fitted together.

Eventually, with a great deal of effort on my part, I managed to remove it all. Once Crosshair was just in his blacks, I paused, waiting for him to indicate that he wanted me to leave. When he didn't give me a sign, I carefully reached up to tug his upper layer off over his head.

Crosshair stood stock still, staring at the ground as I stripped him completely naked. I tried to keep focused on my hands as I knew he didn't like being oggled, but I couldn't help noticing his body while I worked. He was lean and toned and perfect, his skin taught over his muscles, criss crossed with the occasional scar or blemish which somehow just made him look even more appealing.

Now that he was bare, I also noticed the huge bruise on his shoulder, right were his rifle usually sat. I guessed it must have been a result of the endless hours he'd spent at the range recently, and I reached up to brush my fingers over the mark as though to sooth away the pain that it must cause. Crosshair winced at the contact and I withdrew, not willing to cause him further discomfort.

I stepped into the shower and set the water running, cranking up the heat. I then stripped off my own clothes, before wrapping my hands around Crosshair's waist and pulling him gently into the spray.

The water was hot enough that steam quickly filled the room as I submerged myself and the grey haired man beneath the stream. I felt him relax under the soothing torrent, and he leaned forward to rest his head on my shoulder, eyes closed. It was heartbreaking and intimate and so damned pitiful all at once that I felt a lump forming in my throat and tightened my hold on the man.

We stood like that until the hot water ran out. At that point, I shut off the tap and reached to grab a handful of towels from the nearby shelf. I wrapped one around Crosshair's waist and the other around his shoulders, before sitting him on the bench.

As I towelled myself off, I noticed the man looking at me, properly looking at me for the first time in a long time. His eyes were focused and clear, and it seemed as though some of his sadness had been washed down the drain.

I grinned at him fondly and was rewarded with a similar expression from the sniper, his lips quirking upwards slightly in the corners in what passed for him as a smile.

"Watcha thinking about?" I asked as I rubbed my hair.

"Dantooine."

I straightened and tucked the towel around myself.

"Dantooine?" I asked curiously, raising an eyebrow at him.

Crosshair shrugged noncommittaly.

"It was the shower."

I chuckled at that, thinking back to the time when we had entered into our agreement. After he'd kriffed me into the tiles.

"Seems like so long ago," I mused.

The man grunted as though agreeing with me.

"Feels like a lot's changed since then." Crosshair's voice was pitched low and I wasn't sure if he was speaking to me or to himself.

Either way, I was inclined to agree. A lot had changed since Dantooine.

Crosshair glanced to the side and reached out to grab my hand. The gesture was foreign to me, and I squeezed awkwardly. I moved so that I was standing in front of him, lifting his face with my fingers.

"Good change, or bad change?" I asked gently. Something in my gut told me this was a monumental moment.

Crosshair smiled crookedly at me and reached out to pull me down so that I was sitting on his lap, facing him, my legs either side of his own.

"Good."

I beamed at him and stroked his stubbly face with the back of my knuckles.

"Good for me too."

Crosshair's face suddenly grew serious and my smile faltered.

"Gem...." his voice was a soft growl at the back of his throat.

"Cross?"

The man, usually so arrogant and self assured, flushed slightly, his eyes darting between mine nervously. I felt my heart start to beat faster.

"I....." he licked his lips. "I....."

I thought my heart was going to leap out of my ribcage, and I was sure Crosshair must be able to feel my racing pulse through our entwined fingers.

"I...."

He was so flustered it was uncomfortable to watch, struggling to get the words out and flailing helplessly

In the end I leaned in to kiss his forehead.

"Show me," I whispered into his ear.

That was all he needed. That confirmation that words were not necessary. That he could express whatever he was thinking or feeling by gestures alone.

Pulling my face down towards his, Crosshair kissed me with more passion that I'd ever known.

It was as if he poured everything into that kiss; every time he'd ever hurt me, every quiet moment we'd spent together, every brush of skin, every smile, every intimate encounter we'd ever had. The intensity took my breath away. It was beautiful and painfull all at the same time.

His hands wrapped around my waist and pulled my closer, close enough that our bodies were crushed together. My towel slipped down and I shuddered as my nipples grazed the muscles of his chest.

Crosshair didn't seem to notice. He was so absorbed in kissing me that I thought a bomb could go off in the next room and he wouldn't have flinched.

It was as if time stood still and the very universe held its breath.

After a while - it could have been minutes, hours or days, I honestly couldn't tell - we broke apart. I nuzzled into Crosshair's face with my nose and he peppered my cheek with soft kisses.

Without warning, the fresher door opened.

"Oh for kriffs sake!" Echo yelled, catching sight of me perched on Crosshair's lap, both of us mostly naked, and coming to a false conclusion. "Are you kidding me?!"

Neither of us acknowledged Echo, we were both too enthralled with each other and still coming down from our emotional high. I heard the fresher door shut and pulled back to see that the cyborg had left.

Crosshair was smirking wickedly, and I thought my face was going to split in half I was smiling so hard.

We didn't need words.

....................

At some point during the night, I was woken by a pressure on the mattress as Crosshair crawled into bed with me.

Wrapping his arms around me, he burrowing into my side, holding me carefully to him like I was the most precious thing in the galaxy.

It should have been uncomfortable, squeezed into the narrow cot, pressed together in a proximity that was foreign to both of us. But somehow it just felt right. Like this was how it was supposed to be. This was where we were supposed to be.

Crosshair dozed off almost immediately and slept soundly, safe in the knowledge that he wasn't alone. I stayed awake for as long as possible, listening to his even breathing and feeling the rise and fall of his chest against my body, his warmth soaking into me and eventually soothing me into a peaceful slumber.

Chapter Text

Sweat ran down my face and dripped off of my chin, landing between Echo's shoulders blades and running in rivulets down his cybernetic spine. The man didn't notice: he was liberally coated in a sheen of sweat himself.

"More," he panted, voice pained and thick with emotion.

I withdrew and thrust back into him harder, throwing my head back and groaning as he clenched around my cock. There was no one around to hear and I was too far gone anyway to care.

Echo moved from his hands and knees to press his back into my chest, pulling my head over his shoulder and kissing me sloppily. I returned the action, just as messily, feeling like every nerve in my entire body was on fire.

"Toby...." he moaned hoarsely around my tongue. "I think.....I'm gonna...."

I buried my face in the crook of his neck as I gave one final pump and the universe exploded around me.

....................

I jerked awake, feeling hot and tingly, and sweating enough that my night clothes were damp. The sheets were a tangled mess, and my heart was absolutely pounding as though I'd run a mile through water.

I drew a ragged breath and blinked away the after effects of the dream. Fuck, that had felt so real. I could almost still feel Echo's touch, even though I knew he was fast asleep at the other end of the room.

I became aware of my hand cupping the bulge down the front of my trousers and jerked away from the contact guiltily. I felt the stickiness on my palm and groaned inwardly, my face flushing even though there was no one around to see my shame. This was the third time in a week that I'd unconsciously touched myself in my sleep, and it was getting annoying. I was almost at the point of sleeping in cuffs, just as a precaution against my filthy subconscious mind.

Since our last encounter on the Marauder, Echo and I hadnt seemed to get a moment to ourselves, and I was beginning to feel more pent up than ever. It was hard to tell whether Echo was similarly affected as he wasn't very confident at expressing his feelings or desires. But judging by the wistfull looks the cyborg kept shooting my way when he thought I wasn't looking, I concluded that he might be getting just as desperate for physical contact as me. I was struggling to keep any sort of self control around him, and even Gem had noticed me sneaking off for cold showers with ever increasing regularity.

It was getting to be a real pain in the ass.

I sighed and lay back on the bunk, waiting for my pulse to slow. I strained to listen, worried that I'd woken the others with my nocturnal antics, but I doubted anyone could hear anything over the sound of Wrecker's snoring, even if they were wide awake.

Quietly, I threw back the blanket and siddled out of bed. Grabbing some spare clothes, I padded to the fresher.

Once inside, I shut the door and turned on the light, blinking at the sudden intrusive brightness which only made my problem more glaringly obvious. I groaned softly and cursed my own body. I was still painfully hard.

I hesitated by the door, torn between wanting to get cleaned up and slipping back into bed before anyone else woke, and desperately needing to take care of my growing issue.

In the end, the latter won out.

I scurried guiltily over to one of the toilet stalls and shut myself inside, throwing my clean clothes ontop of the cistern.

I paused to listen but couldn't hear anything aside from the faint rumble coming from a sleeping Wrecker.

With shaking hands, I unfastened my damp trousers and pulled out my cock, breathing through my nose at the relief once it was free from the uncomfortable caress of fabric.

I ran my hand down the length, palm lubricated with the consequences of my previous orgasm, and sighed. Leaning against the wall, I closed my eyes and started stroking myself vigorously, eager to get this over with and feeling a sickening mixture of shame and exhilaration in the pit of my stomach.

There was a hiss as the door to the fresher opened and I froze, hand still wrapped around my dick. I heard the door close again and then slow, heavy footsteps walking across the tiled floor.

I held my breath as the steps came closer, almost leaping out of my skin when there was a soft tap on the side of the cubicle.

"Toby? Everything ok?"

I recognised Echo's voice and relaxed, slumping against the toilet stall.

"Yeah," I replied, voice strained and croaky. My cock twitched and I looked down at the stupid thing angrily. What the kriff was wrong with me? "Sorry, did I wake you?"

"No." There was a pause from the other side. "Can I come in?"

There was an almost playful tone in his voice which caught me off guard. I looked down at myself, rock hard, smeared with cum, sweaty, desperate and dishevelled. Not an attractive look.

"Uh, no," I replied, voice higher than usual. "Just give me five minutes and I'll be out."

Another pause.

"Five minutes, huh?"

Shit. The tone of his voice told me he knew EXACTLY what I was doing. I panicked, feeling incredibly self conscious, but at the same time, uncontrollably horny.

"You know we all do it, right?" he added cheekily, and I could tell he was grinning. "Well, maybe not me, but the others sure do."

I thought I might die of embarrassment. Fuck. Why was I acting like a naughty teenager that had been caught with his hands down his pants? Probably because I was, albeit the teenager bit. I gave myself a shake. Echo was right, everybody did it. It was normal.

I took a deep breath and unlocked the door.

Echo was smiling wickedly but when he caught sight of me his grin faltered and his eyes widened.

"Woah," he whistled, gaze roving over me and taking it all in.

I let go of my cock and tried to stuff it back into my trousers, but it was so stiff that I just ended up fumbling awkwardly. In the end I gave up and just left my shame on full display.

Feeling exposed and worried that someone else would walk into the fresher any minute, I reached out and grabbed Echo by the scruff of his blacks, yanked him inside, and slammed the door closed. He yelped and I twisted so that he wouldn't accidentally brush against me and set me off again.

Echo had his chin on his chest and was openly staring at my penis with a kind of obscene fascination. I coughed to try and break his gaze but it didn't work. I started to feel incredibly uncomfortable but there was nowhere for me to hide in the tight confines of the cubicle.

"That's something," the cyborg finally said, still not looking up. My cock twitched in response and I saw his lips peel into a toothy grin.

"You do know you have one too, right?" I replied, trying to sound casual and not like I was standing half naked in front of the man I fancied and with every inch of me being scrutinised.

Echo tilted his head to one side, still surveying my manhood.

"Yeah but mine doesn't look like that."

I blushed furiously, eyes casting downwards.

"What's wrong with it?" I asked self consciously.

Echo shook his head furiously.

"Nothing. It's just.....quite.....big."

I didn't think it was possible for my face to get any redder. I was wrong.

"Oh."

He looked up at me through his lashes and I saw that his own cheeks were tinged slightly pink, no doubt from his own forwardness.

We stood there awkwardly for what felt like an age, while I silently willed my body to calm down. My cock on the other hand, had other ideas. It was throbbing, aching for some relief, and Echo's close proximity only made that need more accute.

Swallowing audibly, I kept my eyes of Echo while I tried to subtly palm myself. He noticed the movement, gaze lowering again and I stopped.

Glancing at me nervously, the man reached out with his good hand, pausing when his fingertips were just a few inches away.

"Can I...." he hesitated awkwardly, "can I do it?"

I let out a ragged breath and melted against the wall.

"Please," I asked in a pained voice.

His fingers finally brushed the tip of my cock and I moaned throatily, throwing my head back and closing my eyes. He paused and I knew he was waiting for some sort of confirmation. I'd noticed that he was so full of self doubt sometimes, and thought he might need verbal approval.

"That's nice, Echo," I whined, attempting to reassure him.

It must have worked because Echo continued stroking me gently with just the tips of his fingers. It was slower and gentler than I wanted, but I wasn't prepared to rush the man and break the small amount of self confidence he had at this moment.

I opened my eyes and watched Echo touch me, his tongue between his teeth and a look of absolute concentration on his face. It was cute, and I could help but smile fondly.

"What?" the man asked, catching sight of my face and halting his ministrations.

I shook my head, knowing that he would assume it was something he was doing wrong.

"Nothing," I said with a chuckle. "You just look adorable is all."

Echo cocked an eyebrow at me and let go of my cock, raising a finger in my face. I sighed wistfully at the sudden lack of friction.

"Listen here you little shit," he said in mock indignation, barely able to keep a grin off his face. "I am a seasoned commando and an ex ARC trooper. I am not 'adorable'."

I shrugged and abruptly pushed him into the wall, bracing myself with my forearms on either side of his head.

"Sorry sir," I said innocently, making sure my eyes were wide, "I didn't mean to offend."

Echo gawked at me, flustered and flushing. I looked down to see the tent in his pants and hummed, mildly surprised by his unexpected reaction.

"I just can't resist such a handsome and brave trooper," I purred, testing to see his response. I was never much good at seduction but I must have got something right because he was now shivering slightly, eyes darting between my own and my lips.

"You think I'm handsome?" he asked hoarsely.

I reached in so close that my breath ghosted his cheek.

"Dont forget brave."

Echo whimpered at that and I leaned in to kiss him, softly at first, but then with more pressure once he had relaxed a bit.

I broke away and moved to kiss down his neck, sucking little marks that I was sure would be bruises by tomorrow. I reached out my hand and cupped his straining cock through his blacks. Echo's breath caught in his throat and I shifted to look him in the eye.

"Too much?" I asked, fully aware of how overly sensitive he had been during our last encounter.

"No!" he wheezed, gazing at me in panic as if he thought I would withdraw entirely. "Dont....don't stop."

I went back to palming him with a savage grin on my face.

"Yes sir!"

I thought he was going to fall apart at that and I felt him shudder and twitch beneath my palm. Snaking my fingers under the waistband of his leggings I pulled out his dick. He reciprocated by reaching a shaking hand out for my own hard member.

We started jerking each other off in tandem. It was awkward at first, my arm was hooked around Echo's and it was difficult to get a decent angle, but after a few attempts we eventually found a rhythm.

Echo had his gaze fixed downward, watching his hand and my own as we pleasured each other. It was innocent, really, compared to some of the more unsavory things I'd done in the past, but fuck me was it hot.

I quickened my pace, forcing Echo to do the same. We were both panting heavily by this point. I could feel a coiling in my groin but held on, desperate to make the other man cum before I did. It had been difficult for Echo last time and I didn't want him to feel self conscious or left out.

"Oh Echo," I moaned softly, leaning my forehead against his. "That feels so kriffing good."

The praise affected him as I knew it would. He started pumping me harder, and I had to grit my teeth to stop myself climaxing too soon.

"You are so good at that," I murmured and he moaned softly. "So kriffing good."

He shut his eyes and I felt his ragged breaths against my sweaty face.

"Doing such a good job trooper."

He grunted and I knew he was almost there. I wouldn't be far behind.

"How about you paint me first, and then I'll paint you?"

His strokes became sloppy.

"I'd like that," I purred, shutting my eyes and bracing for the impending orgasm. "I'd like you to cum for me sir."

Echo rolled his eyes back into his head as he finally peaked, mouth open in a silent scream as he came all over my hand. I finished seconds after him, almost drowning as the relief finally hit.

We stood leaning on each other while we came down from our high. Echo moved to bury his face into my chest and I kissed the top of his bald head. I smiled, feeling like the strain that had been pulling me tight for the last few weeks had finally slackened.

"I really hope the others didn't hear any of that," Echo finally said, pulling away and grimacing at me.

I cocked an eyebrow innocently.

"But everybody does it, remember?"

"Stow it," he said with a wolfish grin. I loved the rare occasions when his self confidence came through.

"Look at the state of us," I commented drily, looking down to survey the mess.

Echo chuckled sheepishly and I stripped off my shirt, using it to clean both of us up as best I could. He hummed pleasantly at the contact, absentmindedly playing with the hair on my now bare chest as I worked.

"If you start braiding it, I swear....." I left the threat unfinished.

He sighed contentedly as I threw the shirt on the floor and stripped off my trousers to change into the clean clothes I had brought.

"I miss having hair," he said, running his hand over his bald head and tracing around the implants in his skull.

"It's overrated," I replied as I shrugged into my pants and tunic. I wanted to ask how he had lost his hair but didnt want to make him uncomfortable. I knew he'd spent an extended period in cryo and guessed it must have something to do with that. "Besides, I like you stubbly."

He ran his hand over his chin, which was the only place he seemed to be able to grow any hair at all.

"I could go for a beard," Echo said absently, frowning as though considering the proposed look.

I chuckled, imagining the man with face fur.

"You could give Fives a run for his credits."

He shook his head.

"No, I don't think I could pull off a goatee that well," he said with total seriousness.

I had to stifle a laugh at that and gave him an incredulous look.

"You LITERALLY have the same face."

Echo scowled at me and rested his hands on his hips. Well, hand and scomp to be more accurate.

"I am deeply offended," he said soberly, although I caught the glint in his eye to know he was joking.

I put my hands together and made a pleading gesture.

"I beg your forgiveness," I said, pouting, before switching to a toothy grin. "Sir."

His eyebrows almost climbed off his head at that.

"Dont start," he warned blushing faintly, "you'll set me off again."

I put a hand on my chest solemnly.

"I wouldn't dream of it."

....................

We crept back into the barracks cautiously, conscious of waking the others.

By the dull illumination from the emergency lighting in the floor though, I could see that they were all still sleeping soundly, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

Glancing over at Gem's bunk, I stopped and squinted my eyes as I moved closer. Echo saw it too and trailed along beside me.

Crosshair was cuddled into Gem's side, arms wrapped around her protectively. They were both fast asleep, tightly entwined and looking sickeningly peaceful.

"What the kriff?" Echo whispered as he surveyed the scene. We both knew Crosshair was about as affectionate as a rabid rancor, and Gem wasn't much better.

I glanced at the man beside me and gave him a mischievous grin.

"Get the holo camera."

Chapter Text

The next morning, just after 0800, I found myself sitting in a chair in the corner of room B224, already bored out of my skull.

The room was cold from lack of regular use, a thin layer of dust veiling the surface of the small table and half a dozen chairs, which were the only furnishings present.

Rex, Fives and Jesse sat on one side of the table, with trooper CT-34-5523 sitting on the other. Kix was hovering behind the man, looking like he wanted to be there even less than I did.

I felt a bit sorry for CT-34-5523, or Buzz as he was known. The poor guy looked confused, worried and nauseas all rolled into one. He was strapped, quite firmly, into his chair, and the bindings looked uncomfortably tight. Fives had obviously been a bit over zealous with restraining the man, and I had to question whether tying the guy up actually served any purpose at all.

At Rex's command, Kix had stuck the fellow with a syringe which I guessed contained the same truth serum Toby and I had been subjected to when we first arrived on Nasu. From the vacant expression rapidly forming on Buzz's face I presumed the stuff was working.

Rex had been very clear in my role in all this. I was to observe, that was all. I wasn't even permitted to speak to the suspect.

I leaned back into my chair and sighed loudly.

Jesse shot me a filthy look over his shoulder.

"Are we boring you?" he asked irritably, drumming his fingers on the table in a way that told me he was equally as frustrated as I.

"Yes actually," I replied, just as annoyed. I really did have better things to do. Now that Crosshair had come through the other side of his dark spell, I was hoping we could play catch up in the bedroom.

Jesse bit off whatever he was going to say and instead met Kix's eyes.

"Do you think it's working?" he asked, eyeing Buzz through narrow eyes.

Kix shrugged his shoulders.

"I would think so by now. It's hard to tell. Everybody reacts at different speeds."

"Only one way to find out," Rex said firmly, leaning forward on the table to that one arm was resting on the surface. The other, I saw, hovered near the holster at his hip.

Buzz's head was lolling and he looked like he was falling asleep. At a nod from Rex, Kix stepped forward to shake his shoulder. His head snapped up and he blearily gazed around the room.

"Trooper?" Rex asked, snapping his fingers in the man's face. "Can you tell me your CT number?"

Buzz gave himself a little shake and I wondered whether he was fighting the effects of the serum.

"CT-34-5523," he replied obediently.

"Good. Do you know why you're here?"

The man shook his head slowly, screwing his eyes shut as though the motion made him feel dizzy.

"No, Sir."

Rex grunted in response, eyeing Fives, who was tapping away into a data pad, recording every part of the exchange ordered.

"Can you tell me what happened on Teth trooper?"

Buzz blinked in confusion.

"Teth, Sir?"

The Captain frowned, fingers unconsciously brushing his pistol.

"Yes. Teth."

The trooper paused, brow creased as though he was struggling to remember something.

"Never been."

There was a heavy silence over the room, and I noticed the men shift anxiously.

"Yes, you have," Jesse said after a while, his tone suggesting that he was not in the mood for nonsense. "You were stationed there a few months back."

Rex shot him a disapproving look but Jesse didn't notice through his own frown.

"No, Sir," Buzz said, shaking his head furiously. "I swear. I've never been to Teth before in my life."

The other men shared concerned looks. Fives pulled up CT-34-5523's file and glanced through it quickly.

Rex ran a hand over his shaved head.

"Let's try a different approach," he sighed, composing himself. "Trooper, five months ago you went MIA whilst you were deployed on a stealth mission. Is that correct?"

"Yes, Sir," Buzz replied flatly.

"The file says you were deployed on Teth, but you say you've never been."

"It wasn't Teth, Sir," Buzz said, meeting Rex's gaze, if a little unsteadily. "It was Lothal."

Rex raised his eyebrows and shot Fives an unreadable look.

"Report must be wrong," Fives said with a shrug.

Jesse huffed and leaned back in his chair, watching Buzz carefully as though he wasn't convinced the man was being truthful. I however didn't doubt his honesty - I recalled just how effective that damned truth serum was.

"Fine," Rex said, a hint of exasperation creeping into his voice. "You were stationed on Lothal. And you went MIA. Can you tell me what happened?"

Buzz's eyes glazed over and his expression became considerably more vacant.

"We were deployed to infiltrate an Imperial weapons depo," the man said, his voice level and emotionless as though he was reading from a script. "But the Imps knew we were coming before we even arrived. There was a firefight, and I was separated from my squad."

There was a pause, the only sound coming from Fives' fingers tapping on the data pad.

"And," Jesse prompted, "what happened to you then?"

"I made my way back to the rendezvous," Buzz said firmly.

"Immediately after you were separated?" Rex asked, voice curt.

Buzz nodded enthusiastically.

"Yes, Sir," he said with absolute conviction.

"Are you positive?" Jesse almost demanded, leaning forward in his chair as if to intimidate the trooper.

"I swear, on my life," Buzz stammered, eyes wide.

I heard one of others blow out a sigh although I couldn't tell which.

Eventually, Rex nodded his head to the others, signalling for them to step away from the captive trooper. They gathered in the corner where I sat, and I stood up just in case they required my input.

"None of this makes sense," Rex said, running a hand over his face and looking more tired than normal.

"I think it's a cover," Jesse added suspiciously, casting his eye over his shoulder to make sure Buzz couldn't hear him. "I think he's lying."

I snorted a laugh and the other men turned their gazes to me. Jesse shot me a disapproving look.

"Something to add?" he asked.

I met his gaze levelly.

"I don't think he's lying," I replied, folding my arms across my chest. "I don't think he's capable of lying. You forget I have first hand experience with your truth serum. Even if he wanted to lie, he physically couldn't."

Kix roughly cleared his throat and waded forward into the conversation.

"She's right," he said, looking guilty, "he has enough drugs in his system to bring down a tauntaun. There's no way he could fight the effects. It's just not possible, not unless he's super human."

Rex eased out a slow breath whilst he let everything sink in.

"Which would suggest that he's telling the truth, and that our report is wrong."

"It happens," Fives said, tucking his data pad away. "Information gets muddled, or people forget how things happen in the heat of battle."

"So we are no closer to solving this." Jesse rubbed his temples.

"Hey," I piped up, giving a weak smile, "on the bright side, at least that scrubs him off the list."

Rex gave a faint groan.

"One down, three to go."

....................

"So let me get this straight," Rex said, head in his hands and looking like he had absolutely reached his limit. "You have never been encarcerated before? Ever?"

The man called Biba Vilda shook his head.

"No, Captain Rex," he said in his heavy Rhyloth accent. "I have never been to prison in my life."

We had been interviewing Biba for the past couple of hours without much success, and I guessed the serum would start wearing off soon.

The other interviews had been just as unsuccessful. After Buzz had been dismissed, Kix had brought in CT-2172 for questioning.

The file on this particular trooper said that there had been complications with his inhibitor chip and that the Empire had conducted various experiments on him to determine what had gone wrong. What the file didn't say, however, was that said experiments had left poor CT-2172 permanently brain damaged.

It was obvious from the minute the medic had marched the man into the room. There was a distant expression on his face even before Kix had stuck him with the syringe. When he spoke, his words slurred, and he appeared to have a very short attention span.

After an hour of fruitlessly attempting to get information out of the man, who couldn't even seem to remember his own name at points, Kix had actually pulled out his med tool and scanned the guy. He concluded that CT-2172 had been lobotomised by the Empire, resulting in him having limited cognitive functions.

It was therefore concluded that poor CT-2172 did not have the capacity to be our spy.

After the trooper, Thynus Ramm was brought in. According to his file, his wife had been a freighter pilot for the Empire, and she'd been killed by a rogue rebel operative on a heist mission gone wrong.

However, it turned out that the guy's wife wasn't dead, and that she'd actually run off with an Imperial officer.

We found that out the hard way, when Rex had brought up the subject and the man had burst into tears, bawling like a baby while he recounted all the times his wife had ever hurt him, culminating in her eloping with another man.

He cried for quite some time, and at one point Fives looked like he was considering shooting the guy, just to get him to stop.

It was clear though, that the man hated the Empire with every fiber of his being.

Finally, late in the afternoon, we'd gotten to Biba, our final suspect and again, nothing on the Twi'lek's file was correct. He'd never been imprisoned by the old Republic. In fact, prior to joining the rebellion, Biba had been a volunteer relief worker. Everything about the man himself was the polar opposite of his file.

There was a recurring theme with the interviews - every report on every file was wrong.

One mistake I could understand, but four? That was highly unlikely.

In the end Rex cut his losses and dismissed the Twi'lek. Kix escorted the man to the infirmary while the rest of us sat in silence for a while.

It was Fives that eventually spoke up, throwing his data pad on the table and stretching.

"Well that was a colossal waste of time," he said with a groan. Both Rex and Jesse shot the man a filthy look while I pulled my chair closer.

"Thanks, Captain Obvious," I snapped sarcastically, sitting and propping my boots up on the table.

"Er, excuse me," Fives said, and the annoyance in his voice wasn't put on. "Go back and sit quietly in your corner."

"Is that how you thank me?" I huffed, bristling at his tone. "After the weeks I spent sifting though all that fucking data?"

"Well, you didn't do a very good job because - oh look - no spy."

"Dont you DARE blame this on me," I growled, getting to my feet so that I could shoot him a dark look over the top of Rex's head. "As I told you at the beginning: I. Am. Not. Qualified. For. This. Job."

Rex slammed both hands on the table, with such force that I thought the decrepit piece of furniture would collapse, and stood.

"ENOUGH!" he snapped glaring between me and Fives. "You're both behaving like cadets fresh out of the tube."

Fives and I gave each other final angry looks before I sat down, sulkily folding my arms. Rex watched to make sure we weren't going to start again, before taking his seat. He breathed heavily through his nose and I could see a vein pulsing in his temple.

"Look, we're all tired and frustrated," the captain said tensely, not looking at anyone in particular. "This is not the outcome we hoped for, and it seems like we've taken one step forward and two steps back. But it does open up a whole new avenue we haven't yet considered properly."

"And what would that be?" Fives snapped. Realising his tone was inappropriately harsh, he added a hasty "Sir".

Rex scratched his chin, frowning at the far wall as if it contained all the secrets.

"Well, the interviews proved one thing: none of the files we have on any of those personnel are correct."

I resisted making a snarky comment because I thought Rex might slap me if I did.

"You've got to think about the chances of all four files being wrong," Rex continued, meeting the gaze of the rest of us questioningly. "One mistake, maybe. But not four. That is more than a coincidence."

"You think someone hacked the files?" Jesse asked, shooting me a look and raising an eyebrow. Oh no. He was not suggesting I was responsible for this clusterfuck.

"Hold it there tattoo boy," I said, pointing a finger menacingly at Jesse, who looked at the digit scornfully. "Don't you even think for one minute that I had anything to do with this."

Jesse opened his mouth to say something but Rex held up a hand to diffuse the situation before it began.

"No one is suggesting that Gemini," he said quickly, giving Jesse a warning side eye. "Besides, you don't have clearance to access the central system."

I felt my anger ebb and gave Rex a half hearted look of gratitude, which he ignored. Clearly he was still annoyed by my previous behaviour.

"There aren't many of us on base that have that sort of clearance," Fives mused, reaching for his discarded data pad as though to begin immediate research into the subject.

"No," Rex agreed, "unless the spy was able to synthesise his own access codes. Which is possible, but unlikely as our security systems would probably have picked up on the discrepancy."

"Is there any other way to access the central computer?" I asked, feeling that I aught to at least look like I was being helpful.

"No," Jesse answered, meeting my eye with a shake of his head, "not unless he hacked into the mainframe in the command centre. That's the only other route."

"Yeah, and that is also incredibly unlikely," Rex added, drumming his fingers on the table in thought. "That room is locked down at all times when one of us isn't present. The security is really tight, and if anyone just walked in when one of us was in there, we would definitely notice."

"The question is, why tamper with the personnel files in the first place?" Jesse asked with a sigh.

"To throw us off the scent?" I suggested, and the three men turned to look at me. I swallowed under their scrutiny. "We've just spent valuable time and resources questioning people that are most definitely not connected to this. He's trying to distract us."

"Which means he knows we're looking for him," Rex finished with a worried frown. "I have to ask Gemini, did you tell anyone about this assignment?"

I flushed slightly at the accusation, cringing inwardly at the intensity of the men's gazes.

"Absolutely not," I said, throwing my hands up as though that would prove my innocence. "I swear."

Rex nodded, apparently satisfied with my answer, although the other two still looked suspicious.

"If he thinks we're onto him, why doesn't he make a run for it?" Fives asked curiously.

"Maybe he doubts our capability to actually track him down," Rex said, gritting his teeth and clenching his fists in silent anger. "Maybe he just doesn't want to give up on this mine of Intel. Maybe he has a specific end goal in mind."

"Perhaps we could use this to our advantage though," Jesse suggested, leaning forward in his seat as if he had suddenly had an epiphany. "If we keep on pretending we're reviewing personnel files, we could throw HIM off the scent. I'm sure he's probably already wiped his own file from the system, so I doubt he'll be worried."

"And what would that achieve?" Fives asked with a cocked eyebrow.

Jesse faltered a bit and blushed slightly.

"It would give us more time," I said, meeting Jesse's eye as he nodded in agreement. "And maybe it'll put him at ease. He might slip up then if he gets comfortable."

"More time for what?" Fives asked and I hesitated, losing my train of thought.

"To launch the next phase of our investigation," Rex said firmly, hitting his palm with a fist decisively.

There was a pause, broken quickly by Fives and Jesse speaking in unison.

"Which is?"

Rex had a determined look on his face and I knew he must have a plan.

"Look, this spy - whoever he or she is - must be transmitting the intel to the Empire somehow, regardless of how they are actually obtaining the information. We need to look at all transmissions leaving Nasu, made from any of the computers on base."

"Are you thinking of trying to trap the guy?" Jesse asked.

"I don't think that'll work," Rex said with a shake of his head. "If he's this smart, there's no way he'll use the same terminal twice. But there might be a pattern. Maybe he always transmits at the same time, or on the same day of the week. It might not come to anything but it's another starting point."

"We should look at any transmissions made from the ships too," I added, "he might be using them to send his messages."

"Good idea," Rex said and I preened a little at the praise. "Are you volunteering, Gemini?"

No, I wanted to say, but at the same time I felt quite determined to help catch this prick. He could be putting mine and my friends lives in danger after all.

"I'm in," I said, trying not to sound too resigned to my fate. "But how do I go about this with the Batch? I'm pretty sure they're already suspicious that I'm up to something."

"Tell them the truth," Rex said with a shrug. "Or part of it at least. Tell them you're reviewing personnel files and looking into the possibility that there might be a spy. That way, if it gets out, which it will, it might actually help throw the spy off."

I nodded, feeling a bit brighter than I had after receiving the last assignment.

"OK."

"Good," Rex said with a smile. "All four of us will have to pull together on this one. It'll be a lot of data to go through."

"No kidding," Fives snipped, but his grin suggested that he was glad to finally have an active roll in implementing the plan.

"I suggest we start tomorrow," Rex said, making a move to stand. "It's been a long day, and we'd best start fresh."

We all nodded, rising and dispersing to our respective barracks, tired but hopeful that we might still catch the bastard yet.

Chapter Text

The boys and Omega were in the mess hall for late meal when I entered the barracks, so the room was empty.

I felt tired and drained, although not yet weary enough to sleep, so I trudged to the fresher for a quick shower.

When I emerged, the others had just returned. Hunter caught sight of me and raised an eyebrow.

"Where have you been all day?" he asked, causing the others to turn their gazes on me.

I took a deep breath, deciding that I would tell them the half truth as Rex had suggested, but still not fully comfortable with lying to them.

"With Rex, Jesse and Fives," I said, keeping an eye on Crosshair to gauge his reaction. He scowled at me but other than that his expression stayed the same. "That assignment I was given, it wasn't to go over mission reports. Rex is convinced there's a spy amongst us, feeding intel to the Empire. That's why the Imps always seem to be a few steps ahead of us. We've been reviewing personnel files, trying to see if we can pinpoint any suspects."

The room was silent, and I held my breath, worried that they would be angry with me for lying.

"Well, I for one suspected as much," Tech said matter of factly, flopping down at the table and retrieving his data pad.

"It was pretty obvious something was up," Hunter said, giving me a sheepish smile.

"Yeah, you're a shitty liar Gem," Toby added, nudging me in the ribs as he made him way over to his bunk.

I glanced at the others, who were going about their business as if I'd merely commented on the weather.

"Oh," I said, giving myself a little shake and sitting on the edge of my bed, feeling relieved but also put out at the same time. "Right then."

Only Crosshair continued to look at me and when I met his eye, he nodded towards the door, indicating that we should step outside. I felt a flutter of excitement in my stomach, but quickly realised by his stony expression that sex wasn't on his mind.

We walked silently along the hallways, Crosshair leading the way. The quiet was almost painful.

Crosshair made for the training courtyard outside, where we had shared our first proper kiss. It was full dark by the time we emerged from the base, the light of Nasu's twin moons bouncing off of the snow drifts and causing them to glow softly in the murk.

The man halted and turned to face me, arms loosely folded across his chest. I couldn't read his expression in the dim light, although his eyes sparkled faintly through the gloom.

"Is....is everything alright?" I asked tentatively, convinced by the tension in the air that something most definitely was not alright.

Crosshair tilted his head and surveyed me through his dark eyes. I felt my pulse start to race, expecting the worst. As always.

The man sighed quietly before answering.

"You should have told me," he said finally, voice soft and with a waver of something which sounded like it may have been disappointment.

I blinked dumbly, my mind taking a moment to catch up.

"About the assignment from Rex?"

The sniper nodded slowly, meeting my gaze levelly. I swallowed loudly and looked away, still accutely aware that I wasn't going to be able to tell him the whole truth.

"I wanted to," I said guiltily, knowing that the excuse sounded lame. "But I couldn't. It would have put you all at risk if you knew."

"And what about putting you at risk?" Crosshair asked, voice cold and bitter, although I didn't think the anger was directed at me.

I took a step towards the man and cupped his elbows with my hands.

"I'm fine," I insisted, squeezing his arms to try and reassure him. "I honestly don't think the spy will risk blowing his cover by targeting me. I'm not worth that. Besides, it's not like I spend much time on my own to be vulnerable anyway."

He shook his head and looked at the snow spattered ground with a scowl.

"I still don't like it," he said stubbornly. "If anything happened-"

Abruptly he cut off from whatever he was going to say and shifted his feet uncomfortably, as though embarrassed.

I gave him a fond smile which I wasn't sure he could see in the dark.

"Don't worry," I said, gently shaking him to reiterate the point. "Nothing's gonna happen. Trust me."

Crosshair looked as though he was considering walking away, and I knew then that something else was bothering him. I heard him grinding his teeth and he peered at me again, eyes narrowed.

"Bit hard to do that when you don't trust me."

There it was. The crux of the issue. I registered the hurt then on his face and tensed involuntarily. Reaching up, I ran my thumb over the tattoo covering his eye. He didn't withdraw, which I guessed was a good sign that his temper was in check.

"I do trust you, Cross," I said, gently insisting, "I do. I didn't want to lie to you. But I didn't have much choice."

He huffed a laugh and gave a shake of his head.

"There's always a choice," he drawled, anger now creeping into his tone.

"Maybe so," I replied, trying to keep my voice calm. "But if that's the case then I chose to lie to keep you safe. To keep all of you safe. If you knew what I was up to, if it got out, the spy might have assumed you were helping me, and that could have made you a target."

"Then why tell us now?" he asked, rolling his eyes. "If you're that concerned, as you say, why put us at risk now?"

Shit. He had a point. I fumbled, searching for a reasonable answer and fortunately finding one.

"Because Rex doesn't think the mole is on base anymore," I lied smoothly, impressed by how convincing I sounded. "He thinks he's maybe monitoring our chatter from nearby. Meaning that he's now less of a direct threat."

I could see Crosshair mulling over my excuse and I prayed he would buy it, because I didn't want to get caught in another lie.

"Look," I said softly, resting my hands in the man's shoulders, "I'm sorry I didn't tell the truth. Didn't tell YOU the truth. But you have to believe me, Cross, I did it for your own good. I love you too much to put you in harms way."

I paused, before realising what I had said and making a chocking sound.

Oh fuck. Oh fuckfuckfuckfuck.

Crosshair reacted immediately. His eyebrows shot up and his lips parted slightly. He looked at me in alarm, and I realised I had to fix this ASAP.

"I didn't mean it like that," I hastily backtracked, glad that the darkness disguised the shade that I knew my face must be. "I meant all of you. In a brotherly fashion."

He still didn't say anything and I considered fake passing out just to get out of this situation. Maybe I could then pretend I was too faint to know what I was saying.

As I was considering this option, Crosshair startled me by uncrossing his arms and grabbing my own shoulders so hard that his nails dug into my flesh.

I gasped involuntarily and he moved do that his face was closer to mine. Close enough that I could see the frenzied look in his eyes. Shit, I had really fucked it up now. Just like I always did. There was no getting away from this one.

I spluttered, starting to panic.

"I'm.....I'm sorry-"

"Say it again."

His voice was barely above a whisper and if he hadn't been so close I wouldn't have heard it. I blinked stupidly while my brain malfunctioned and I just stood there like an idiot.

"Say it again."

"Wh-what?" I gasped, voice and body shaking.

He was so close now that I could see his eyes darting between mine

"Say. It. Again."

His voice was smooth, low and commanding. It would have been sexy if I wasn't on the verge of crying or having an anxiety attack.

My vision started to go blurry around the edges and I genuinely thought I was going to black out. I must have wobbled because he tightened his grip on me and pulled me into him.

"I....I....love you."

I heard a hitch of breath but couldn't tell if it came from me or him.

"Crosshair, I love you."

The words had barely left my mouth before he was kissing me. I went limp, melting into him as his tongue met my own.

He was panting, and so was I, I realised. It felt like some sort of flood gate had opened, though whether it had been holding back emotion or pent up sexual frustration I couldn't tell.

Crosshair let his hands wander to my spine, pressing me into him so hard that the plastoid of his armour started to dig into my ribs. I reciprocated by grasping the back of his head and pulling him down deeper into my mouth. He groaned and I fought the urge to start ripping off his armour then and there.

He pulled back slightly, enough that his lips were barely ghosting mine.

"Gem," he growled, drawing my name out in desperation.

"I know," I said, gripping the front of his armour until my fingers went numb. "Too cold here."

I heard his groan but couldn't tell if it was from frustration or arousal. Probably both I concluded as he ground his hips against mine.

"Marauder," Crosshair grunted, moving his hands so that they held my own. "It's closest."

I nodded and he dragged me, quite literally, towards the hangar.

The ship sat on the open landing pad, cold and dark in the snow. Crosshair practically punched the release to lower the ramp and hauled me inside, closing it behind me. Fuck though, it wasn't much warmer in here than outside.

Crosshair must have noticed me shiver because he wrapped his arms around me in an awkward attempt at a bear hug, guiding me towards the racks at the back of the hold.

It had been some time since I had been on the Marauder, and I felt a comforting feeling of familiarity warm my soul. I got the same feeling as Crosshair kissed me softly on the lips and carefully placed me on the bottom bunk.

Some of the frantic need had ebbed away now, to be replaced by a softer, gentler longing.

The grey haired man leaned his forehead against mine, pulling me to the edge of the bunk so that I was closer to him. I felt for the seals of his upper armour, removing his chest plate and pauldrons as he began to kiss down my face and neck. I pulled off his upper blacks and threw them on the floor in an unceremonious pile.

Running my hand over his chest, I felt Crosshair flinch and immediately hesitated.

The man felt me still my motions and lifted his head to give me an apologetic look.

"Cold," he said, indicating my hands and I gave him a soft smile.

"Get into bed."

He nodded and proceeded to strip off his remaining armour. I started to remove my own clothing, wincing as the chilly air brushed my skin. Crosshair noticed, ceasing his own undressing to run his rough hands over my belly and up towards my shoulders. They were, thankfully, warm, and I leaned into the contact.

Crosshair moved his hands to lower the straps of my bra down over my shoulders, watching as my skin erupted in goosebumps under his finger tips. He smirked, although I knew the reaction was partly due to the arctic conditions.

He removed the garment entirely, reaching out his hands to cup my breasts and fondle them tenderly. I groaned, feeling my nipples harden under the contact. The man moved back in to kiss and nip at my neck and I took the opportunity to awkwardly shed the remainder of my clothing.

Once I was totally naked, I wrapped my legs around his waist and pulled him in until I felt the hardness in his blacks pressing against the wetness between my thighs.

"Get into bed," I repeated, lower and more commanding that before.

Crosshair's lips quirked as he peeled off the rest of his blacks and hopped up into the bunk, pushing me down into the cot underneath him. He reached up to pull a blanket from the rack above, before draping it over us to ward off the chill in the air.

I snuggled down into the warmth, relishing the sensation of Crosshair's hot, naked body pressed into my own. He seemed to be enjoying it too because he lowered himself so that more of our flesh met, until he was almost draped over the top of me.

I reached up to snag his silver hair and pull him down into a steamy snog. I whined softly as his tongue brushed my own, arching my back and pushing my pelvis into his groin. I felt him grin into my mouth, but he resisted pinning me down as he often did in these situations.

He kissed me thoroughly and with more attentiveness than I ever thought he possessed. I quickly warmed up beneath his body and the blanket, and my skin started to prickle with claminess.

The pulsing in my lower regions grew to the point that I had to hold in a whimper everytime the man shifted his weight. I could feel his own excitement throbbing against my body and it was gloriously arousing.

I rolled my hips against Crosshair, hoping to prompt him into giving me what I wanted. Thankfully, he wasn't in the teasing mood. He pulled back long enough to lock eyes with mine, before I felt him reach down and guide himself into me.

I moaned throatily as he entered me slowly. Fuck, it felt like an age since his cock had last been inside of me.

I braced myself against the bunk, preparing for the rough, hard fuck I knew I was likely to receive. Crosshair however seemed to have other ideas. He started slowly, keeping an even and steady pace, pausing after each thrust to make sure his pubic bone was pressed into my clit. I jerked into the intense contact each time, throwing back my head and clenching around Crosshair, who moaned softly as I squeezed him closer to his orgasm.

Our lips and bodies locked together, not in the raw primal way they usually were in bed, but in more of a gentle, reserved manner. I'd never understood the term 'making love' before but now, with Crosshair rocking into me tenderly and kissing me passionately, I finally understood.

We made love for what felt like hours, although in reality I had no way of knowing how long it lasted.

I could tell Crosshair was close to the edge and was holding out for me to climax first. I was surprised I had made it this long, but in truth I just didn't want to let go of the moment, wanted to keep it alive forever.

I reached up to run my fingers through Crosshair's sweaty hair, tugging gently in the way I knew he liked. He pulled back from kissing me, and looked me dead in the eye, his pupils large in the dim light of the ship. There was a desperation there, a need to satisfy me that was almost overwhelming the man. And something else, softer and more intimate that made my chest ache. I kissed him sloppily, deciding it was finally time to put him out of his misery and come undone with him.

"Crosshair," I groaned, cupping his face in my hands and feeling the faint tingle in my lower belly.

The sniper hummed in response, seemingly concentrating so hard on not losing it that he couldnt form a coherent reply. I pulled his face down and kissed him fondly. I felt his thrusts grow unsteady and knew he couldn't last any longer.

Wrapping my knees around his waist I tugged him into me.

"I....I love you," I panted around his mouth.

I heard Crosshair moan at that and his hips stuttered. The tingling washed over me as I finally let myself cum, breath catching in my throat as I whimpered his name. I felt him twitch, the warmth spreading inside me as he practically sobbed through his own orgasm.

Finally, our mutual waves of pleasure ebbed away and we pulled apart, totally spent. I was trembling, I realised, although it wasn't from the cold.

The bunk was narrow, and so I shuffled over onto my side, resting my head on Crosshair's chest as I listened to his heart rate finally return to normal.

He wriggled an arm under my neck, wrapping it around my shoulders and tucking the other behind his head. It was usually only in the post orgasm haze have that he ever willingly allowed any tactile contact, and I wasn't going to waste one moment. I sighed contentedly, reaching over to play with the smattering of silvery hair on his chest. He chuckled gruffly, kissing the top of my head affectionately.

"Can we stay here tonight?" I asked quietly, not wanting the magic to end.

Crosshair didn't answer, instead he reached to pull more blankets down, tucking them around us tightly, and cocooning us together in the soft warmth.

We both stayed awake for a long time, listening to the others breathing and drinking in the glow that pulsed between us.

I knew that nothing lasted for ever. I'd lived long enough to come to that realisation on my own. But as I lay there sleepily in Crosshair's arms, I prayed to every deity I knew that things wouldn't ever have to change.

Chapter Text

"Well, no unusual transmissions to or from the Savage," I sighed, scrubbing my face with the back of my hand as I finished reviewing the ship's logs.

Rex hummed absently from his spot at the other end of the command room. I watched him cross off the vessel from the list beside him, before he went back to peering at his own data pad.

We had decided collectively that from now on, any results we found or information we gathered relating to our potential spy would be recorded manually on paper. This would hopefully prevent the intel being hacked, and the mole learning of our revised plan.

"What about the Empress?" Jesse asked, voice croaky from lack of use.

I shook my head.

"She's still not reported back from her run to Kashyyk."

"We'll give her another few days," Jesse decided and Rex made another note on the nearby page.

We'd been working diligently for a couple of days now, reviewing all comms from all rebel ships stationed at Nasu. Rex had decided we should start with the ships first, because there was an inevitable overlap of vessels docking and leaving Nasu, which could offer our spy plenty of opportunity to send a transmission without anyone noticing.

Even in such a short space of time, I felt like I had blended in with Rex's task force. They treated me as an equal, and I couldn't help but feel proud that I had finally earned their respect.

Fives leaned back in his chair and swivelled around idly like a bored child.

"I think I'm losing it," he groaned, eyes bloodshot and hair dishevelled. "I swear I've been over the same log twenty times."

Rex pressed his palms into his eye sockets and grunted.

"We should call it a day," he said with a sigh. "This is going to be a marathon, not a sprint. We've been at it for hours."

"You guys go get some rest," Jesse said, waving a hand vaguely in our direction but not looking up from the intel he was perusing. "I think I'll stay on for a bit."

I flipped my data pad back into the pile on the desk in front of me, pushed my chair back and stood. I groaned as my back cracked loudly.

"Well boys, its been a pleasure as always," I said, grabbing my jacket from the back of my chair.

I heard Rex chuckle quietly and glanced over at him.

"Cant wait to get away from us?" he asked, an amused look flitting across his face.

"Er, no," I replied hesitantly, shrugging into my coat. "I just, er, have something to do."

I saw Fives shoot me a wicked grin.

"More like someONE," he said with a snigger.

Rex and Jesse looked around, and it was clear from their expressions that they were now fully invested in where I was going.

I backed towards the door, giving Fives a warning look. Rex cocked an eyebrow at me, which I ignored. He then moved to give Fives a questioning look.

"Gem has a date," the trooper replied merrily, in answer to the unasked questions.

I widened my eyes at him and pointed a threatening finger in his direction.

"It is NOT a date," I hissed in denial, which only seemed to fuel Fives' teasing.

Fives shrugged innocently and I had an urge to throw something at his face.

"Candles, moonlight, romantic setting - sounds like a date to me."

Fuck this guy. I knew asking him to help with my latest endeavour would come back to bite me in the ass.

"A date?" Rex asked, the word sounding foreign in his mouth.

"With who?" Jesse asked at the exact same time.

I groaned, annoyed at Fives and unwilling to delve into my personal life with these three men.

"None of your damned business," I snapped irritably.

I thought I might have crossed the line but Jesse was smirkimg and glancing at Fives as though to prompt an answer from the man. Rex just had a disapproving look on his face.

"With who, Fives?" Jesse asked, shamelessly curious.

Fives met my eye as he stretched his hands above his head and gave me a dark grin.

"Crosshair."

There was a moments pause while his revelation sank in.

"Seriously?" Jesse asked, clearly delighted at the morsel of gossip.

"I'm not sure dating on base should be encouraged," Rex said prudishly, with a shake of his head.

"Dont worry, Rex," Fives chirped, holding up his hands in a mock placating gesture. "Technically it won't actually be happening on base."

Rex looked like he was giving serious thought to a moral dilemma, and I knew he would be horrified if he knew half the things Crosshair and I got up to on base.

Jesse shook his head, flabbergasted.

"Crosshair," he said, tone incredulous, as though I had announced I would be running for a seat on the galactic senate. "I can't believe it."

"Well, believe it," Fives replied, looking really fucking pleased with himself.

I shot him a murderous look.

"I'm gonna kill you Fives," I hissed as I made it to the door.

Fives waved merrily at me, still grinning like the prick he was.

"Have fun, Gem," he called after me. "Enjoy the handcuffs!"

I flipped him off before storming out of the room.

.....................

Damn, I hadn't fully realised just how much of a hike it was to the hot springs.

I was panting and sweating by the time I made it to the clearing, unceremoniously dumping the crate I had brought with me onto the rocky ground. I pushed a damp strand of hair from my face and was glad that I had allowed plenty of time to set my plan into motion.

Fives had been right in his assessment: the springs were quite charming really, aside from the sulphurous smell. In reality, they weren't much more than half a dozen small pools spaced close together in a stony clearing amongst the trees. But there was something beautiful about the contrast between the steamy, inviting water and the frigid unwelcome landscape.

I chose the largest pool, located towards the centre, and dragged my box of supplies closer, setting the lantern I had brought on the rocky ledge beside the water.

I prised open the lid and surveyed the items.

I knew fuck all about romance. Literally nothing. But I had once overheard a conversation between a group of women at a bar on Coroscant, where Toby and I had been drinking. They had been bragging about the sort of dates their boyfriends took them on, and I had only half listened at the time, really just interested in getting drunk enough to maybe pull some halfway attractive bloke. Apparently, however, I did absorb enough of the info to be able to recreate some poor semblance.

Step 1, idyllic location. I glanced around at the setting and, while the smell was a little off-putting, and the cries of nocturnal animals coming to life in the nearby bushes was a distraction, this seemed like the best Nasu had to offer.

Step 2, comfortable surroundings. Whilst the location itself was pretty primitive, I felt sure that I could still make it more appealing. I noticed a fallen tree towards the edge of the clearing, and approached. I drew my vibro sabre and, with a fair few hearty swings, managed to break off a sizeable stump, which I rolled towards my chosen pool. I heaved the lumber into the water, leaping back to avoid the splash. At least we would have something vaguely comfortable to sit on.

Step 3, refreshment. I reached into the crate and withdrew a glass bottle - the last of the Corellian whisky - and two tumblers, which I placed on a flat rock beside the spring. There was barely anything left in the bottle, but I felt sure I could make it last.

Step 4, mood lighting. Once again delving through my supplies, I pulled out half a dozen partly melted candles. I had no idea where Fives had found them, and I hadn't really asked. I guessed they were kept in some dusty supply closet, reserved for an instance when all other light sources were out of action. I placed the stubs of wax in a circle around the pool, and lit them with the sparker I'd also brought with me.

Step 5, sexy outfit. Yes, well. Looking down at myself, I decided this stage was not necessary as I was not intending wearing anything once I was in the water.

Step 6, ambient music. I pulled out the battered stereo I had also borrowed from Fives and set it down beside the whisky. I switched it on and fiddled with the dials until an soft, mellow jazz wobbled through the speakers. I wasn't sure it was particularly relaxing, but it would do.

Finally, step 6, hunky man. I glanced at the crono on my wrist comm, and saw that it was almost time. Any minute now, Hunter would be passing on my message to Crosshair. He hadn't seemed overly thrilled when I'd asked for his assistance, but eventually he'd given in after I'd trailed about after him for the best part of an hour, making sad tooka eyes and sighing gustily.

As if on cue, my comm beeped, the signal from Hunter that things were in motion and Crosshair was on his way.

I hastily stripped off my clothes and threw them behind a rock, before lowering myself into the warm water with a groan. I perched on the log, hoping that I wouldn't get splinters in my ass, and waited.

Sure enough, I heard the faint crunch of boots stepping through the undergrowth towards me. I settled back against the edge of the pool and tried to look casual.

Crosshair stepped into the candlelight with a bewildered expression on his face. He stood near the edge of the water and took everything in: the pool, the whisky, the candles (one of which had blown out), the odd choice of background music, and me, naked and sitting awkwardly in a puddle of hot water.

"What are you doing?" he asked, eyebrow raised and lips threatening to crack into a grin.

I spread my arms wide to encompass the whole scene.

"It's a date," I said, as if I was talking to an idiot.

Crosshair blinked and lowered himself so that he was crouching close by, looking down at me without concealing his amusement.

"A what?"

"A date," I said again, slower this time. "You know, like what normal people do. I got all the things and everything."

"I can see that," he replied, reaching down to pick up one of the candles. He inspected it, before putting it back down carefully. "Why?"

I started to blush and realised that this had been a stupid idea. I'd initially thought it would be a nice thing to do, to repay Crosshair for opening up to me the other night, and to reiterate to him just how much I cared. Now, as I looked around at my shitty attempt, I began to regret it.

"I just wanted to do something nice," I said in embarrassment, pretending to be really interested in a leaf floating on the surface of the steamy water. "It's silly, I know. Just give me a minute and I'll get out and we can head back to base."

I hear a rustle and looked up to see Crosshair hastily removing his armour, smiling at me fondly. He peeled off his blacks and stepped into the pool, coming to sit on the submerged log next to me.

Alright, I thought. Mission was a partial success. I reached over and pored out the whisky, passing a glass to the man and clinking it against my own.

Crosshair knocked back the alcohol and put the glass to one side.

"So," he said leaning back against the rocky shelf behind us and watching me curiously. "What does one do on a date?"

I put down my own glass and turned yo face him.

"I'm not a fucking expert. How the Hell should I know?"

The man smirked at me and chuckled.

"Dont lie, you must have been on a few in your time."

Was Crosshair calling me a slapper?

"Are you saying I'm easy?" I asked indignantly, causing him to blush.

"N-no, I just meant, pretty girl like you, must have had plenty of offers."

It was my turn to heat up then. I thought back to all my previous encounters and cringed. A drunken kriff in an alleyway with a man who's name I couldn't even remember did not constitute a date in my warped opinion.

But Crosshair thought I was pretty.

I snorted and picked up my glass, sniffing it suspiciously.

"This stuff must be contaminated," I said, half jokingly. "You must be delusional if you think I'm attractive."

Crosshair sighed and his lips drew into a thin line.

"Why do you do that?" he asked, eyes narrowing.

"Do what?" I asked as I emptied my cup.

"Put yourself down all the time?"

I blinked, thrown by his observation. I really shouldn't have been surprised, I supposed. Nothing got past Crosshair.

"It's my thing," I said, shrugging casually.

He shook his head and reached out to fiddle with a strand of my wet hair.

"But why?"

I suddenly felt accutely uncomfortable and busied myself with adjusting the volume on the stereo. Crosshair tugged my hair gently, as if trying to prompt an answer.

"I guess a lifetime of people treating you like you're nothing eventually makes you believe that you are indeed nothing."

To my surprise, Crosshair wrapped an arm around my shoulder and pulled me into his side. I yelped, almost dropping the radio into the pool.

"You're not nothing to me," he whispered into my hair.

I felt my heart clench and swallowed a lump in my throat.

We sat for a little while, soaking up each others company and the warmth from the spring.

"This is nice," I murmured contentedly, tracing circles on the back of Crosshair's hand with my fingers.

He grunted in response and pulled me closer, so that I was sitting on his lap with my spine pressed into his chest.

"How's this?" he asked, and I shivered at the low pitch of his voice. I knew exactly what the cadence meant.

"Nicer," I replied, shuffling my ass against his thighs. I felt his erection brush against my skin and grinned savagely.

Another successful mission.

....................

"Toby, where in all the Hells are we going?" Echo asked as we weaved our way through the endless maze of hallways.

I squeezed his hand and took a left turning, knowing that we had almost reached our destination.

"It's a surprise," I said insistently, raising an eyebrow at him over my shoulder.

I heard the man grumble and couldn't help but smile.

"I don't like surprises."

I hummed in feigned consideration and paused in the middle of the corridor.

"Hm, well in that case we can always go back to the barracks and watch that documentary with Tech. I hear the breeding cycle of the Sarlacc is quite fascinating."

Echo grimaced and poked me in the ribs with his scomp.

"OK, you win."

We made it to the ladder and I stopped to gesture with my hands. Echo looked up at the hatch above a gave me a quizzical look.

"We're going onto the roof?" he asked, and I nodded. "Um, why?"

"You really don't get the concept of a surprise do you?" I asked incredulously, before giving him a playful nudge. "After you. Sir."

He blushed at that and scoffed. I couldn't help but grin. Ever since I'd found out that Echo had a bit of an authority kink, I'd fully taken advantage of teasing him at every opportunity.

We climbed the ladder and emerged through the hatch on the roof. The night was clear and peaceful, just as I had hoped.

I shut the doorway and moved towards the small square building which housed the generators for the solar panels. Echo followed me slowly, worried about slipping from this height.

I led the man to the spot I had prepared, sheltered beside the generator room.

Several small storage heaters dotted the area, giving off a comfortable level of warmth and a faint glow. I'd had one Hell of a task getting them from the Marauder onto the roof, but I knew Echo didn't like the cold and I didn't want him to get a chill. In the middle of the space, I'd piled blankets and pillows, which I'd scrounged from every available bunk, into a sort of nest. There were lanterns as well, standing on the floor, giving off an ambient light which highlighted the angles on Echo's face and made his eyes look like liquid gold.

"Wow," he said as he surveyed the scene. "You did all this for me?"

I hoped he couldnt see my face flush but disguised the reaction anyway with a bemused look.

"Who else would I have done it for?"

Echo looked sad for a moment, before gazing up at me with those huge eyes.

"Thank you."

I grinned crookedly and leant in to kiss him on the lips.

"You're welcome."

We laid down on the pile on our backs beside each other. I reached over and draped a blanket over Echo's lap, tucking it around him to make sure he wouldn't get cold. I caught him smiling softly at me and hesitated.

"What?"

He shook his head and reached up to run his thumb over my stubbly chin.

"Nothing," he replied, eyes darting between mine. "Just that no one's taken me on a date for a long time."

I snorted a laugh and snuggled down next to him.

"I'm not sure this is much of a date."

Echo nuzzled my shoulder with his nose .

"It's perfect."

We lay like that for quite some time, gazing up at the stars and listening to the faint sounds of the night around us. It was so damned comfortable, nestled in this warm cocoon, that I could feel myself starting to doze off.

Echo stirred beside me and I opened my eyes a crack.

"Gotta take a leak," he grunted, rolling to his feet and making his way to the edge of the roof.

"Don't fall off," I called with a grin.

I closed my eyes and listened out just to make sure he didn't slip. Not that I would have been much help if he had, but still.

I heard Echo shuffling back towards me and closed my eyes again, waiting for him to lay back down.

Instead, I felt him crouch down by my feet and slither underneath the blanket, groping his way up my body.

I almost jumped out of my skin and was instantly wide awake.

"Dank ferrik, Echo," I yelped, trying to will my heart to slow down. "What are you doing?"

I heard the man pause and saw the outline of his head beneath the sheet, somewhere near my midriff.

"Shhhh."

Did the man just shush me? I glanced down, slipping my hands under the blanket and locating his shoulders, intending to pull him back into position beside me before my dick got any ideas.

I got a shock when Echo slapped my hands away quite fiercely. What the actual fuck? I heard him tutting and for some obscure reason the sound sent blood rushing to my groin.

He must have noticed my reaction because I felt him hand ghost over the fastening of my trousers, teasing the fabric and causing me to bite off a moan.

Oh. This was how it was going down.

I felt him tug down my zipper, and I knew by the jerking motion that he wasn't using his hand.

"Oh kriff!" I gasped, hands fisting around the blankets as I felt my cock bounce out.

I heard Echo chuckle and the sound sent me twitching.

Emboldened by the noises I was making, and possibly by the fact that he was hidden under the blanket and feeling less self conscious, Echo ran his tongue down my length and I let a drawn out groan escape my lips.

"Fuck, Echo," I panted, as his mouth nipped its way back up to the tip. "Fuck!"

He didn't say anything, merely continued to mouth my cock with the occasional approving hum whenever my body reacted in the appropriate way.

"Fuck, Sir, you are a tease," I panted, reaching down to run my fingers over the man's head.

I yelped as I felt teeth sink into the tender flesh and jerked away. Echo didn't say anything, but he grabbed my hips tightly and pulled me back down towards him.

"Don't call me that."

His voice was strained, but firm and I instantly tensed, sensing that something was off.

"Sorry," I mumbled, wondering if I should withdraw. "I didn't mean....I thought you liked it...."

Echo sighed but still didn't surface from beneath the blanket.

"I do," he said gently, squeezing my thigh in a comforting gesture. "I really, really do. But this isn't about me. I don't want to get distracted."

I made to pull the covers off of his head but he caught my hand and held tight.

"I want to do something for you," he murmured, voice almost pleading. "Please just let me."

I thought for a minute, torn between wanting to please this man and also wanting to be pleasured by this man.

"OK," I said hoarsely, letting my body relax and lying back onto the soft pile.

Echo took a deep breath before moving back down to my crotch.

I sighed as his mouth continued to work on my throbbing cock. If this was what he wanted then who was I to stop him?

Every movement the cyborg made was slow and deliberate and EXCRUCIATING. Within minutes, I was panting and sweating and trembling pitifully under this attention, glad that he couldn't see how badly he was affecting me.

Echo moved to gently stuck my tip, tongue pressing down on the most sensitive part until my hips started to stutter. He leaned his weight on my pelvis and the pressure was the only thing holding me back from fucking his face shamelessly.

"Fuck, Echo," I hissed through clenched teeth, trying so hard to hold it together. "I am so kriffing close."

I expected him to quicken his efforts then, to push me over the edge, but instead he drew back, moving to run the tip of his nose down my shaft. He lifted his head and started kissing my lower belly softly.

I groaned loudly, cock twitching at the sudden lack of stimulation.

Fuck, I needed to cum so kriffing badly.

But Echo was not going to let me, I realised.

He held back, waiting for me to calm down. It was only then, once my heart rate had slowed and my cock had stopped aching quite so badly that he moved back to licking and sucking again.

This continued for what felt like hours, and it was the most painful and exhilarating experience of my life.

Echo was calculating, slowly bringing me to the very brink of an orgasm before withdrawing completely, long enough for me to step back from the edge, and then repeating the process.

I was going loopy from the stimulation, sweat running down my face in rivulets and sparks dancing in front of my eyes. My throat felt like it was full of sand from my constant panting, and I was so very thirsty. My head rang dizzily, and I felt groggy, as though I'd had one Hell of a drinking session the night before. Added to that, every shift of Echo's weight made me painfully aware of the fact that I also needed to piss quite badly. I had never been edged like this before, and I wasn't sure how much longer I could take it without needing a break.

The man seemed to enjoy my squirming though, and the more I fidgeted, absolutely desperate for a release, the more he teased.

"You're EVIL," I panted gravelly as he gave my cock a particularly slow suck, pressing his palm into my bladder and making me wince. "Fuck, Echo! I can't take any more!"

He only chuckled and carried on his ministrations.

I held out for as long as was humanly possible before I broke and started sobbing uncontrollably, totally overwhelmed by the whole affair.

"Please," I begged pathetically, shaking like a leaf and blinking away tears of frustration. "Please."

Echo must have recognised that I'd reached the end of my tether, because he bent his head over my dick and starting sucking hard, no longer teasing but intent on letting me finish.

I groaned with every movement, the thought of relief almost too much to bear.

I practically screamed when I finally came, holding onto Echo in a death grip because he was the only thing grounding me.

The orgasm lasted so long, I wondered if it would ever stop. After a while, Echo withdrew from my cock coughing and spluttering while I still erupted.

Eventually, the sensation finally stopped and I grunted in relief, feeling like I was in danger of shrivelling up.

Echo finally withdrew from the blanket, face red and streaked with my jizz. He looked sheepishly at me and I tried to say something, to confirm that I had enjoyed that immensely. I managed a nod and he seemed to accept that.

The man crawled up beside me, subtly wiping his face on one of the blankets. I reached out to cup the tent in his blacks but he stopped me, bringing my hand to his lips and kissing the knuckles.

"Uh uh," he chided with a coy smile. "I told you, this was just for you."

I whimpered and tried to wipe away the tears in my eyes. Echo pulled me into him, thumbing my face clean and kissing the top of my head.

He held me like that while I came down from the experience.

"You doing ok?" he asked quietly as he stroked my hair affectionately.

I nodded, too exhausted to think of a way to express just how I felt at that precise moment.

"Thirsty," I rasped, licking my lips to prove my point. "Tired. Need a piss."

Echo hummed and got to his feet, making his way quickly towards the hatch which lead into base. I tried to push myself onto my knees but my arms couldn't support me. I flopped back down, totally spent, and waited for Echo to come back.

He wasn't gone long, returning with a canteen of water and a ration bar. He knelt behind me and pulled me into his lap, holding the canteen to my lips so that I could quench my thirst. When I was done, he broke apart the ration bar and fed me little bits by hand. It was adorable really, but I was too drained to fully appreciate the moment. With a grunt, Echo hauled me to my feet and helped me to the edge of the roof, holding me upright while I emptied my bladder over the ledge in an extremely undignified manner.

My knees were shaking as he pulled me back into our nest, covering me again and snuggling close now that I was comfortable.

I melted into him, feeling more content than I ever had in my life. I wanted to close my eyes and let sleep wash over me, but I fought the desire. There was something I needed to say first.

"Echo?" I murmured, voice still hoarse and scratchy.

The man tilted his head and I knew that he was listening. I swallowed, suddenly incredibly nervous.

"Will you be my boyfriend?"

It sounded ridiculous I realised, as soon as I'd said it, stupidly childish and inappropriate.

I was trying to think of a way to backtrack when Echo rolled me over and kissed me softly on the lips.

He pulled away after a minute and I could see that he was smiling lopsidedly at me.

"Yes Toby," he said with a chuckle. "I will be your boyfriend."

We fell asleep under the stars, wrapped in each other and tangled amongst the pile of blankets. I didn't see the shooting star that scorched the night sky above us, but even if I had, it wouldn't have mattered. I had exactly what I wished for right here.

Chapter Text

"Aww yeah!" Wrecker yelled, pumping the air with a fist. "Another mission!"

He was the only man I knew who got so fucking excited at the prospect of being put into life threatening situations.

I watched the boys file into the barracks, following their briefing with Rex. They were being sent on a supply run to Ord Mantell to pick up medical equipment, which we apparently desperately needed.

The whole Batch looked like they were raring to go and I felt a pang of jeleousy. Omega hopped off my lap where she'd been perched so that I could braid her hair (which was becoming a regular occurance) and ran over to greet them.

"Where are we going?" she asked curiously as Wrecker scooped her up and deposited her on his shoulders. I didn't miss the hint of worry that was also there, worry that she too would be left behind.

"Ord Mantell," Hunter said, removing his collection of vibro knives from a locker and laying them carefully on the table. "We leave at 1500."

Omega's face lit up and she wrapped her skinny arms around Wrecker's head.

"Can we go and visit Cid?"

Hunter gave a throaty chuckle sheathing his blades in various holsters hidden about his person.

"Sure kid," he replied with a grin. "Who else did you think we would be picking supplies up from?"

I saw Crosshair roll his eyes as he started packing his own kit.

"Oh, goodie," he drawled, shooting a disapproving look towards Hunter.

"You just don't like her because she's the only other person you've ever met that's just as sarcastic as you," Echo said, wiping a streak of grime off of his helmet.

"Not true," Crosshair snapped sulkily.

"Um, who's Cid?" I asked, suddenly worried that Crosshair might be spending time with another woman on missions.

"An old contact," Tech explained, searching for his spare pair of goggles. "She runs an establishment of fairly questionable repute out of Ord Mantell City."

I felt my fists clench unconsciously. I knew exactly what kind of establishments Ord Mantell was known for. I'd spent enough time there to be familiar.

"It's a brothel, isn't it," I stated with a cringe, not sure if I wanted to hear the answer.

Hunter snorted a laugh and gave me an odd look.

"More like a bar," he said, and cast around at his brothers as if implying there was no way in all Hells he would voluntarily take any of them to a brothel.

"What's a brothel?" Omega asked as Wrecker put her back on the floor so that he himself could pack.

Damn this curious kid and her inappropriate questions.

"A brothel is an place where individuals, most often females, engage in-"

Tech cut off as one of Hunter's knives buried itself in the wall just above his head. The man didn't flinch, merely adjusted his goggles and frowned.

I half heartedly smiled at Hunter's skill and Tech's total lack of shits to give, but deep down I was feel pretty miserable. Yet again, I would be left behind, only this time I wouldn't have Omega to keep me company.

Toby must have sensed my melancholy because he pulled up a chair next to mine and threw a casual arm around my shoulder. I'd noticed of late that he was much more tactile, and it was unfamiliar and unnerving.

"Rex still have you grounded?" he asked with a sympathetic look.

I shrugged my shoulders and grunted, trying not to be a downer but at the same time not able to summon much enthusiasm.

"Aww," Wrecker said, looking like a sad tooka. "We miss having you on missions."

"Yeah, we look forward to having you back on the team," Hunter added, before smirking childishly. "Besides, we're all getting tired of Cross pining all the time."

It was Hunter's turn to duck as Crosshair lobbed one of his spare magazines at the Sergeants head. Hunter stepped aside with a well rehearsed maneuver that I had a feeling he used often.

"I do not PINE," the sniper hissed, shooting me an embarrassed look. I responded with a weak pout, but I wasn't in the mood to find any real humour.

Echo approached the table and sat on the other side of Toby, so close that he was practically sitting on his lap. Toby met his gaze and they made sickening doe eyes at each other. I made a choking noise and pretended to gag. I'd guessed they were sleeping together long before Toby told me, but to be honest I was slightly worried by how hard and how fast my friend had fallen for the cyborg. Not that I was one to talk I supposed.

Echo rested a hand on my friends knee and leaned forward.

"Why don't you go and talk to Rex?" he suggested, "I'm sure if you put forward a good argument he'll let you go. He's a reasonable man."

I mulled over his suggestion for a minute before throwing off Toby's arm and getting to my feet. Echo was right. I wasn't some damned soldier that Rex could order around as he pleased.

Rex wasn't in the command room when I entered. Nor was he in the mess hall, showers or barracks. Eventually I found him at the firing range, twin blasters in hand as he blew apart a few dummy droids. I'd never actually seen the Captain in action, but as I watched him obliterate his targets in rapid succession, I had to admit it was impressive. Not Crosshair level of impressive, but impressive none the less.

Rex fired one last shot, blowing the head off of a mangled B1, before unloading his pistols.

"What can I do for you Gemini?" he asked, turning to face me as he holstered his weapons at his hips.

I grimaced and pulled a face.

"Please stop calling me that, Rex," I said with a sigh, trying to buy myself time to compose my argument.

Rex gave me a half smile.

"It's your name."

"Maybe the one I was born with, but not the one I chose."

Rex scratched his chin and looked thoughtful.

"I can understand that," he said finally, walking back towards base and gesturing for me to walk beside him. "I guess I wouldn't like it if everybody called me CT7567 all the time either."

I shook my head, not really understanding what the Hell the guy was trying to get at. He was looking at me expectantly as we walked and I remembered why I was here.

"Um, Rex," I asked timidly, causing him to cock an eyebrow at my tone. "I was wondering if it would be OK if I accompanied the Batch to Ord Mantell?"

He stopped walking and breathed heavily through his nose. For some reason he was looking at me as though I'd let him down somehow.

"Why?"

I fiddled with the hem of my coat and stared at a point on the ground. I didn't want to have to meet his eye and see the disappointment.

"Because I feel like I could be an asset on this particular mission," I said with as much determination as I could muster. "I know Ord Mantell really well."

"So do the boys," he replied smoothly, folding his arms in a not amused manner and giving me a look as if to say "try again".

I groaned quietly and kicked a pile of snow across the courtyard, which did nothing to dispel the notion that I was being unreasonable.

"C'mon Rex, I'm going stir crazy stuck on base all the time."

Rex pursed his lips into a thin line.

"You think you're the only one who could use a break from all this." He gestured with his hands vaguely.

He looked irritated I noticed, and tired. Maybe it wasn't a good idea to press him at the moment, but I'd already committed by this point.

"No of course not," I huffed, feeling more than a little guilty. I knew Rex hadn't left Nasu in months, and every waking moment was dedicated to looking out for his men and concentrating on the mission at hand. "But the difference is that you guys are used to doing as you're told and following orders and staying in one place for months at a time. I'm not. I'm a free agent."

It was obvious from Rex's reaction that something I'd said had touched a nerve. His face darkened and his mouth twisted in disdain.

Rex took a step closer and drew himself up to his full height in an attempt to intimidate. It might have worked with the troopers, but it wasn't going to have the desired effect on me. I'd faced much scarier adversaries in my time. I met his eye defiantly.

"No," he snapped, jabbing a finger at me in an almost threatening manner. "What you are is a selfish child, only capable of thinking about yourself and not the bigger picture."

I was really pissed now. I squared my shoulders at the man and gave him my best angry bitch face.

"Dont you DARE speak to me like that. I am NOT one of your fucking soldiers to boss around and talk down to."

Rex shook his head with a mirthless laugh.

"No. You're right. You're not a soldier," he conceded, eyes narrowing and lips peeling back in what I could only describe as a snarl. "Thankfully. Because I would be ashamed to call you one."

I actually took a step back as though he'd hit me. He might as well have; it probably would have hurt less.

Rex had gathered momentum now like an out of control speeder bike and was hurtling at breakneck speed towards his destination, which was apparently my self esteem.

"You WILL stay on base," he demanded, tone dangerous and forceful. "You WILL continue to track down that spy. You WILL NOT go gallivanting off on a whim. Do I make myself clear?"

I gave him a mock salute, turning the gesture into a rude one at the last minute by flipping him off.

"Go fuck yourself, SIR."

I stalked away before Rex exploded.

Feeling unreasonably angry, I stormed off into the forest to sulk by myself. If Rex thought I was a petulant kid then I sure as shit wasn't going to ruin his opinion of me.

I kicked an uprooted tree angrily and swore loudly at everything and anything.

Once I'd calmed down a bit, I slumped down onto the trunk, burying my face into my crossed arms.

I couldn't really say why I felt so hurt, but I supposed it was largely because Rex was right, I was a spoiled child, used to doing whatever I wanted without any real need to consider anyone else. The truth made me feel shitty.

I heard the crunch of boots in snow and groaned, not in the mood to deal with whoever the fuck was coming to disturb my peaceful brooding.

The log dipped as someone sat down next to me.

"You done sulking?"

I scowled into my arms.

"Leave me alone Rex."

I heard him sigh and guessed by the tightness of the noise that his teeth were gritted.

"Can we have an adult conversation face to face, or is that too much to ask?"

His tone was quiet, calm and firm. I sat up straight and twisted on the log to look at him, making sure to scowl so that he knew I was still angry. Rex's face was relaxed and he seemed to have regained control over his emotions.

"If you've come to make me feel even more shitty about myself, good luck," I snapped, annoyed that my voice wavered and it sounded like I was going to cry.

Rex ran a gloved hand over his stubbly scalp and he seemed to sag a little at my words. Good, I thought, he deserved to feel bad.

"Look," he said with a heavy sigh. "I'm sorry for the things I said. That wasn't appropriate."

I blinked, slightly taken aback by the apology and feeling myself start to deflate.

Rex waited for my reply and when I didn't give one he continued.

"You're right. I treat you like a trooper when you're not one. I guess I've been a Captain so long ordering people about just comes naturally to me."

The last comment sounded like it was meant to be a joke, but I didn't laugh. I was too busy fighting myself internally, torn between keeping the flame of my anger alight and dousing it with regret. I did feel bad for giving the guy a hard time. He was just speaking the truth after all.

I shrugged my shoulders and felt more miserable than I had earlier.

"I'm a brat," I said blandly. "And I'm selfish. And I'd make a pathetic soldier. You're not wrong."

Rex shook his head and shuffled a bit closer to me.

"None of that's true," he said softly, "you're a good person Gem. You're just.... not used to being part of a team. And I know I've been putting you under pressure with this assignment. If I'm honest, I've just kind of gotten used to depending on you."

I smiled weakly and Rex gave me a confused look.

"You called me Gem," I muttered and he returned my smile.

"It's your name."

I chuckled, eyeing the Captain, who looked slightly relieved that I hadn't erupted again. I felt another wave of guilt as I noticed the bags under his eyes now that we were so close. The poor guy was just trying to keep it all together. I wondered how he didn't buckle under the strain of it all.

"I promise to be less of a pain in your ass," I said with an eye roll. "And I'll do as you ask and stay on base."

Rex leaned back with his hands on his knees and his brows furrowed.

"You know, reviewing communication logs doesn't necessarily have to be carried out on base," he said thoughtfully and I felt my mood pick up. "I would consider giving you leave to join the Batch IF you promised to spend all the travel time there and back again working on our project."

I couldn't help but grin at him, my anger forgotten.

"I promise," I said seriously, putting a hand over my heart. "Thank you Rex."

He looked like he was already regretting his words. Without thinking I threw my arms around his neck and planted a wet kiss on his cheek. Rex's face went an unbelievable shade of red, but I did notice him preen at the contact.

"Yes, well," he spluttered, pushing me away, "dont think you're gonna get your own way every time."

"I wouldn't dream of trying, Captain."

I practically bounded back to base, leaving Rex to make his own sedate and dignified way back. I burst through the door to the barracks just as the boys and Omega were getting ready to leave.

"I'm coming with you," I panted, hastily throwing various articles of clothing into my backpack. I saw Crosshair smirk and Omega clap her hands excitedly. "Just gimme a minute."

Crosshair stayed behind to wait with me while I finished gathering my belongings, the others eagerly making their way to the Marauder.

"What did you do to get Rex to change his mind?" the sniper asked suspiciously, shifting his toothpick from one side of his mouth to the other in a way I had come to understand meant that he was anxious.

"I tugged at his heartstrings," I said dramatically, shooting him a smile. He didn't return it and looked just as tense. "Look, he said I could go with you as long as I carried on reviewing intel while I was away. I think he couldn't bear the thought of having to listen to me bitch all the while you were gone."

Crosshair grunted and relaxed a bit, his toothpick ceasing it's wriggling. I slung my rucksack on my shoulder and moved to stand in front of him, looping my hands behind his head.

"I'm sure I can find some time to spend with you though," I purred, scratching the back of his scalp with my finger nails.

He raised an eyebrow at me, lowering his hands to dig his fingers into my hips possessively.

"How generous."

I have him a filthy smile, reaching up to pluck the toothpick from his lips and flick it across the room.

"I was thinking a repeat of what we got up to on the way to Corellia."

I saw his eyes widen and a smirk etch its way across his face. Oh yeah, he remembered that journey alright.

I heard a cough from nearby and saw Wrecker standing in the doorway looking awkward and uncomfortable.

"Er, Hunter sent me to tell you we're about to take off without you," he said, rubbing the back of his neck and looking at the floor.

I let go of Crosshair and we rolled our eyes in unison.

"We're coming big guy," I said, giving his arm a pat as I passed. Crosshair just shot his brother a savage grin and gave my ass a squeeze when he caught up to me.

Oh man, Ord Mantell, we were coming for you.

....................

I sat cross legged on the floor of the Marauder, leaning against one of the navi consoles while I flicked through my data pad.

Although I found the endless data tedious and boring, I had to admit, it was nice to have something to distract me from the monotony of hyperspace. Even watching Wrecker bench press the Gonk droid was only entertaining for so long.

Omega was asleep in her little cubby, while Wrecker, Echo and Toby played a game of Sabacc in the cockpit. Hunter was dozing in one of the bunks, and Tech was making some minor adjustments to his armour nearby. Crosshair sat in one of the seats opposite me, stripping and cleaning his rifle, toothpick in his mouth.

I sighed heavily and switched to the next communications log to review. I heard Crosshair put his weapon back together and lean it against his chair.

The toe of his boot came into view, edging towards me tentatively. It brushed against my knee, coming to rest on my thigh.

I ignored the foot, instead concentrating on my data pad. I had promised Rex I would pull my weight whilst I was away, and I was determined to do so, because I knew I would feel too guilty if I didn't.

The foot wiggled against my leg, but still I didn't look up. I could feel Crosshair smirking at me and pretended I was deeply engrossed in whatever I was reading.

The man traced down my shin with his toe, and I tried not to tense when it stopped at my ankle, very close to my crotch. Another wriggle, which I paid no mind to.

The boot edged forward another inch or so, until the tip was pressing gently into my lower regions. I clamped my jaw shut but didn't react to the touch.

I hummed and scribbled something on my nearby notepad, trying to stop my hand from shaking too much. I heard Crosshair shuffle opposite me and his foot started to move, slowly, up and down. Damn this man and his stupidly long ass legs!

I held my breath to stop myself making a noise as his toe brushed my clit. Fortunately Tech was so engrossed in his armour that he paid us no mind at all.

Still, I refused to look up. I knew I would give in to him eventually, but I was going to make him work for it.

The pressure started to become firmer and more and more difficult to ignore. I hissed softly when he started rolling his ankle to make circular motions which set my nerves on fire. Fuck, I wasn't about to have an orgasm when Tech was sitting a few feet away.

"What do you want, Crosshair?" I asked perfectly innocently but still with my gaze fixed on my screen.

The movement stopped and I knew Tech must have heard me. He didn't seem to react though, just kept fiddling with his gear.

The foot pressed into my groin twitched as Crosshair flexed his toes. I finally laid down my data pad and looked up at him then, raising my eyebrows at him in feigned ignorance.

He was leaning back in his chair, arms folded and a sickening sneer on his face. His eyes were dark and hungry looking, and I shivered involuntarily.

Someone cleared their throat nearby bit I didn't break the man's gaze.

"I believe Crosshair is trying to instigate coitus," Tech said in his standard matter of fact voice. "May I suggest the refresher if you would prefer privacy?"

I looked over at the man then and saw that his face was bright red, and he was fixated on his hands as they busied themselves with various tools. I winced, feeling bad that I had made the poor guy feel so uncomfortable.

"Sorry Tech," I said guiltily, ignoring Crosshair's foot, which had started moving again.

Tech shrugged his shoulders casually.

"It is a normal biological desire. You should not apologise. Besides, it has been proven to reduce stress and increase serotonin levels."

I turned back to stare at Crosshair, throwing him a conspiratorial grin.

"I do feel quite stressed actually," I said sincerely, and the sniper smirked filthily at me.

"Again, might I suggest the refresher?"

Crosshair stood smoothly and offered me his hand. I couldn't help but blush a bit when he marched me towards the fresher and locked the door behind us.

"Really?" I hissed at him, folding my arms and pretending that I wasn't amused, all the while trying to ignore the tingling sensation between my legs.

He gave me a seductive grin, eyes roving over my body as he started to remove his codpiece.

I shook my head and rolled my eyes at him.

"I told you, I have work to do."

He threw the armour to the floor and started rubbing the bulge in his blacks, pupils already dilating at the stimulation.

"I'm not stopping you."

I gave him an unimpressed look but couldn't help but bite my lip when he slipped down his leggings just enough to drag out his cock and start rubbing his thumb over the tip.

"OK, just be quick," I snapped, tugging town my trousers and spinning so that I was facing the sink, legs spread and hands braced on the cool plasteel surface.

I watched Crosshair approach in the mirror, his eyes giving my ass an appreciative look. I could feel myself getting more and more turned on by the second, and I could tell by the desperation on his face that he felt the same.

"You don't sound very enthusiastic to me," he growled, brushing the head of his dick between my legs. He must have noticed how wet I was because I saw him smirk.

I grunted and met his eye in the mirror.

"Cross, if you don't fuck me right now, I'm going to remove your balls with my bare hands." I cocked an eyebrow at him. "Is that enthusiastic enough for you?"

In reply, he thrust into me from behind, pulling my hips into him as he started pounding against me. I bit down on my tongue to stop from making any sound, and held on for dear life as he kriffed me hard against the sink.

Crosshair did as I asked and we both finished quickly, already pent up and desperate for each other before this even started. He held me in place for a few minutes while my pulse returned to normal, before pulling out and tucking himself away.

I bent over to pull up my pants and he gave my ass a slap, causing me to yelp. When I turned round, he was looking at me longingly again. I shook my head and held up a finger as I redressed.

"Uh uh," I tutted at him, making my way to the door. "I told you, I have work to do."

He gave me a disappointed look and I saw his hand edge towards his prick again. Fuck, his recovery time was impressive, but I really did have shit to do.

"I'll leave you to it," I said cheekily, reaching down to give his cock a squeeze through his blacks, before removing myself from the refresher.

I took up my spot on the floor once again, turning on my data pad and settling down. I tried not to think about what Crosshair was doing in the fresher.

Tech had finished his repairs and was reassembling his armour. He looked at me out of the corner of his eye as I sat down.

"Do you feel better, Gem?" he asked and I tried not to react to the inappropriate question.

"Ah, yes, Tech. I do. Thanks for asking."

He gave me a small smile.

"You are most welcome." He paused, noticing the snipers absence. "Where is Crosshair?"

I flushed at that one, although I knew I shouldn't be the one to be embarrassed.

"Oh, erm, he's still feeling a bit stressed."

Tech blinked, unphased. He opened his mouth and proceeded to give me a lecture on the biological justification for masturbation.

....................

Ord Mantell was just as I remembered it: the armpit of the mid rim.

As we disembarked from the Marauder, I pulled up the collar of my jacket and let my hair down in an attempt to hide my face. If the Pykes were here, then I certainly did not want to get noticed by them.

We made our way from the dockyard, weaving through the streets of Ord Mantell City. The Batch looked relaxed, almost casual, helmets propped under their arms and weapons still in their holsters. It was only Toby and I that scurried uneasily along, eyeing everybody suspiciously, worried that we would be recognised.

Tech had been right though: Cid's place was a shit hole.

We approached down an alleyway that was full of garbage, broken bottles and old bits of scrap. A man at the far end of the street was pissing against a wall, and the air smelt like various bodily fluids.

None of the Batch seemed to take any notice of our surroundings however, and I tried not to either.

The sign for the bar was hanging loose, propped crookedly against a wall and covered in graffiti. Hunter lead the way down some narrow steps and we all followed.

I had to admit though, the inside of the cantina was much nicer than the outside. Or at the very least, cleaner. A bar ran along one end, surrounded by stools and small tables. Booths lined the walls, and the place had an almost homely, lived-in feel to it.

There were a few patrons present when we entered but none of them gave our group a second glance.

Omega, who had been holding my hand ever since we left the ship, suddenly broke the contact and waved at a trandoshan near the bar.

"Cid!" she called merrily, making her way over to the woman.

It turned out that I had no reason to be worried about Cid after all. She was short and wide and had a face like a mean tempered blurrg. As Omega approached she narrowed her already narrow eyes and made a humph sound.

"Oh great," she said sarcastically, eyeing each of us in turn. "I thought you boys had left for good."

Her gaze lingered on me a moment longer than the others and I straightened my back and met her eye fiercely.

Omega, apparently not bothered by the woman's tone, threw her arms around Cid's ample waist and squeezed. The trandoshan looked alarmed, but I saw her scaly lips quirk and she patted the kids head.

"Nice to see you too, Tiny."

The girl withdrew and Hunter cleared his throat and stepped forward. His face was unreadable but his stance was oddly tensed and relaxed at the same time. As though he expected this woman to either greet him warmly or stab him in the back.

Her yellow eyes honed in on the man and she pushed herself away from the bar to stand in the room with her hands on her hips.

Hunter faltered a bit at the intimidating pose, but recovered quickly.

"Cid," he said by way of greeting, eyes scanning her face and the surrounding bar for signs of danger. "You have some supplies for us?"

The trandoshan rolled her eyes and flicked her tongue between her lips.

"Cool your jets, Tall-dark-and-broody," she said with an irritated wave. "I got what you need. But first the matter of my payment. I don't work for free, remember?"

She made a gesture with her hand, rubbing her thumb and forefingers together.

"Right," Hunter said, eyeing the other patrons warily.

Cid noticed his concern and turned, clapping her hands to gain the attention of her customers.

"Everybody out!" she demanded, jabbing a stubby thumb towards the door.

The room cleared very quickly and I was left in no doubts that Cid was a force to be reconned with.

As soon as the door was closed, Hunter drew out the bag of credits Rex had supplied him with a tossed it to Cid. She caught it in one hand, gauging the weight and deeming it sufficient payment. The bag disappeared about her personage without a trace.

"Toothpick, Goggles, my office," she snapped, indicating for Crosshair and Tech to follow her into a side room. I felt myself smirking at the nicknames.

The two clones returned, each carrying a crate of supplies, which Wrecker took and hoisted onto his shoulder with one hand.

"Well, it's been a pleasure, Cid," Hunter said, ushering Omega towards the door and indicating for the rest of us to follow.

"Not so fast," the woman said, holding up a hand. The whole group froze and collectively tensed.

I saw Echo's hand twitching near his holstered pistol, and Wrecker bounced the crates slightly, as though preparing to throw them at someone.

Cid was either ignorant of our unease or just didn't give a fuck.

"You boys up for earning a few extra credits?"

I let out a breath that I didn't realise I'd been holding, and heard a couple of the others do the same. Hunter sagged slightly but still didn't look at ease.

"Er, thanks for the offer Cid, but we've gotta get back to base," the sergeant said, giving everybody a look which suggested we should leave and backing towards the door.

The woman folded her arms and looked at the tattooed man sternly.

"It won't take long," she replied firmly, and I got the distinct feeling that she wasn't going to take no for an answer.

Hunter must have had a similar thought because he gritted his teeth and sighed loudly.

"What's the job?"

I heard Crosshair hiss beside me and Echo scowled at the sergeant.

Cid smiled and the gesture did nothing to improve her face.

"There's some guys down in the lower sectors that owe me a lotta money. I just need you fellas to go and collect. Maybe intimidate 'em and rough 'em up a little."

Hunter licked his lips and looked around at the group.

"Give us a minute," he said, nodding towards the door.

We all converged at the entrance and the sergeant ran a hand through his shaggy hair.

"You can't be serious, Hunter," Echo hissed, shooting a glance towards Cid to make sure she couldn't hear him.

"I thought you said no more questionable jobs from HER," Crosshair spat, not bothering to keep his voice down. "After the last one."

"Crosshair is correct," Tech added, adjusting his goggles, "however, given the current economic position of the rebellion, a few more credits would not go amiss."

"Well I think we should do it," Wrecker chimed in, voice booming around the confined space. "Been a long time since we had a good fight."

Omega opened her mouth to add her credits worth, but Hunter put a hand on her shoulder and gave her a scowl which made the girl deflate. The Sergeant looked at me and Toby for our opinions and I shrugged.

"I think Tech's right," I muttered, ignoring the startled look on the bespectacled man's face that someone had agreed with him. "Funds are tight. The rebellion needs credits as well as supplies, so if we can return to Nasu with both then that's a double win."

I saw Toby shift his feet uncomfortably.

"The lower sectors are no joke," my friend stated, scratching his head and looking worried. "We could be walking into a bad situation."

I did have to agree with him on that one. The last time we'd been down to the lower sectors, Toby had ended up with a knife in his belly, and I'd had to drag him to some dodgy back alley medical facility to get him patched up. It'd ended up costing more credits than we'd earned on that particular job.

Hunter met everybody's gaze levelly, and I knew by the set of his jaw that we would be doing this job.

"I hear what you're all saying," the man said calmly, "and I get your concerns, but we need to keep on good terms with Cid. She's always been a valuable - if expensive - asset to the rebellion. Plus, the credits would be good too."

The toothpick Crosshair had been chewing snapped in two and he spat out the splinters. Echo and Toby exchanged glances but no one argued with Hunter. They all knew that he was right, although none of them would admit it.

Hunter glanced around the group once more before turning to Cid.

"We'll take the job."

Chapter Text

Fuck, I really did not enjoy the lower sectors of Ord Mantell City.

'Lower sectors' was a misleading name, because the whole City was built above ground on a flat plain, so there were no parts higher or lower than any other. I supposed the name was meant more to reflect the class of people that resided there rather than the geographical location.

The lower sectors were, in short, the slummiest, seediest, dodgiest areas of the city.

In days gone by, when Gem and I were younger and stupider, we'd loved places like this. There was always plenty of work - if you didn't mind getting your hands dirty - the women were easy and the booze was cheap.

Now though, I appreciated just how much of a Hell hole the lower sectors were. My hand brushed the scar on my stomach as I recalled my last visit, and I winced.

I supposed, deep down, I did understand Hunter's reasoning for bringing us here. Even if I didn't agree with it. I glanced over at Echo as we made our way to the address Cid had given us. His helmet was tucked under his scomp arm, and I could see by the scowl on his face and the twist of his mouth that he too was not happy with the whole situation. Part of me wished I'd stayed behind on the ship with Omega, but there was no way I was going to give the others the impression that I was a coward.

As we neared the end of a filthy alleyway, Tech held up his hand, indicating for us to halt.

"The coordinates Cid provided us with lead to that building," he said, pointing to a nearby warehouse. Its windows were boarded up and part of the roof had fallen in.

Hunter shook his head, eyeing the building questioningly while Crosshair shoved his helmet on and began scoping the place from afar.

"That can't be right," the Sergeant said, turning to Tech. "Are you sure you got the address right?"

Tech gave the tattooed man a scathing look which plainly suggested that he never got anything wrong. I caught Gem's eye and she wrinkled her nose and gave me a worried look. I could smell it too, and started to seriously wish I'd stayed on the Marauder.

"What is this place?" Hunter asked warily, waiting for Tech to provide an answer as he usually did to any question.

The bespectacled man didn't have one though, and clearly he'd never spent much time in the lower sectors.

"It's a spice den," I said with a small groan. There was no mistaking that smell anywhere, and I was surprised Hunter with his keen senses hadn't picked up on it. Maybe he had, and just didn't recognise the scent.

"Are you sure?" Echo asked, giving me an unreadable look.

I nodded, too ashamed to admit that the mere smell of the stuff in the air was making me clammy. I hoped if Hunter heard my racing heart, he would assume it was nerves for the mission.

"OK," Hunter said, putting on his helmet and indicating for the others to do the same. "We stick together once we're inside. And remember - we're just here to intimidate them and leave with Cid's credits. I wanna try and avoid a firefight if we can help it, so keep your weapons holstered."

I heard Wrecker groan but the others nodded and followed the Sergeant towards the building.

The heavy door was hanging from its hinges, and Wrecker pulled it free and set it to one side as if it were made of flimsy. The giant stood back and Hunter went in first, weapons holstered but hands hovering nearby. We all followed in a tight group, and I had to concentrate on not tripping over anybody else as we made our way into the dimly lit space.

I could hear thumping music in the background, and there was a haze of pipe smoke hanging in the air. Breathing in the stuff was inevitable, and I just focused on keeping my head as clear as possible.

The open warehouse space was full of old bits of machinery and equipment which looked as though it had seen better days. It was dirty, and the only illumination came from a couple of flickering overhead lights and the scant daylight filtering through the hole in the ceiling. In the centre of the room were a handful of benches and chairs arranged haphazardly, many of them were broken or had missing limbs. Seated around the area were a dozen characters of various shapes and sizes. The only binding feature was the fact that they were all armed to the teeth, and all high as fuck.

We fanned out a little as we entered the open area, although we were still close enough to reach out and touch the person on either side. Despite the fact that the group was clearly spice addled, they noticed our approach almost immediately, rising to their feet and turning to face us.

Hunter brought our squad to a halt, a few feet from the other men. It was a stand off of sorts, although I noted that they outnumbered us by two to one. Admittedly, I supposed that Wrecker could probably take at least four of them with one hand if necessary, which would even our chances.

Hunter and the rest of the boys flexed their muscles and tried to look intimidating. The tweakers eyed them with a mixture of disdain, anger and concern.

One of the group, a twi'lek with brightly coloured markings on his head tails, stepped forward from the rest, and I guessed from his self assured body language that he must be their leader.

"What do you want?" asked the man spitting on the ground, the gob landing just shy of Hunter's foot.

I saw Hunter clench and unclench his fists, cocking his head to one side, no doubt calculating the best battle strategy if this went wrong.

"We work for Cid," Hunter said, his voice a low growl which actually sounded more menacing coming through the modulator in his helmet. "You owe her a lot of credits. We're here to collect."

The twi'lek laughed cruelly, flashing sharp teeth as he glanced at the rest of his men. Several of them shuffled forward, also giving us amused looks.

"So, Cid sends her dogs to do her work for her?" he snarled, bolstered by the fact that his cronies were now surrounding him.

Hunter moved so that his hand was resting on his holstered pistol, the gesture seemingly casual, but I saw several of the tweakers notice the movement and scowl in the Sergeant's direction.

"Look, we're just here for the credits. So if you give them to us, we'll be on our way."

Another laugh from the twi'lek.

"And why would we do that? he asked mockingly, eyeing Hunter as though he were an idiot. "We outnumber you, two to one."

Wrecker cracked his knuckles and I saw Crosshair rolling his shoulders in preparation for the onslaught. Hunter shrugged noncommittaly.

"I like those odds."

It was as if someone flipped a switch and all Hells broke loose.

The leader, the twi'lek, launched himself at Hunter, who ducked smoothly to the side, swinging round to grab the guy by the throat and flip him onto his back on the ground.

Wrecker charged into the fray, literally ploughing through his oponents and sending them flying in all directions. I saw Crosshair grappling with a weequay, drawing back his leg and stamping on the back of the poor fuckers knee. I heard the bones breaking with a sickening crunch.

I didn't get much chance to notice anything else as the fist of a large trandoshan connected with my jaw and I stumbled backwards. I recovered quickly and lashed out to kick the guy squarly in the belly, sending his pitching into a nearby table.

A pair of thick, hairy arms wrapped around my waist and I was lifted off the ground with a startled yell. I kicked and struggled in an attempt to free myself but whoever had hold of me was not letting go in a hurry.

Abruptly the arms went limp and I dropped to a crouch, twisting to see the zygerrian reeling away and clutching his bleeding head. Crosshair dropped the brick he'd used to clobber the bloke with and our eyes met long enough for me to nod my thanks, before the sniper was wading back into the fight.

The trandoshan had regained his feet and was coiling, as though readying himself to tackle me. I shook my head in a vain attempt to clear it, and moved quickly, throwing my own body weight at the guy and over balancing him before he had a chance to do the same to me.

We both hit the ground hard and I felt broken glass bite into my forearm as it connected with the floor. The trandoshan was quicker to recover than me, rolling so that his bulk was pinning me to the ground. His sharp teeth were pulled into a sneer and his eyes were bloodshot even around the acid green iris's. I could smell the fragrant pang of the spice which had seeped into the fibres of his clothes and felt my heart leap in my chest. I really needed to get the fuck out of here. Now.

Summoning all my strength, I wrapped my arms and legs around the man and flipped him over onto his back. He gave a surprised hiss before I was straddling him, pinning him with my weight. I hit him in the face, hard, and again, even harder. I felt the skin on my knuckles split but that didn't stop me pounding the guy to a pulp.

Another pair of limbs grappled me and hauled me off the trandoshan. I snarled but the arms were thicker than my own legs and I couldn't wriggle free.

"Easy buddy." It was Wrecker's voice in my ear. "He's had enough."

I looked down to see the trandoshan curled into a ball, coughing teeth and blood and I went limp in Wrecker's grasp. I could see from looking around that the fight was over: the majority of the gang was either out cold or cowering on the ground. The Batch and Gem were all upright, if panting quite hard, and I could see that Hunter had the leader in a headlock.

The giant held me for a minute before carefully placing me on the ground. My hands were shaking and I could taste blood, but I wasn't too bad off. At least this time I hadn't ended up getting stabbed.

The troopers were looking at me I noticed, although it was hard to read their expressions beneath their helmets. The only face I could see was Gem's and it was pinched and slightly panic stricken.

I pushed away from Wrecker, feeling foggy and sweaty and anxious.

"Toby?" I heard Echo ask, but I waved a hand at him and stumbled out of the warehouse.

Outside, I moved to the opposite side of the street, far enough away that I couldn't smell the tantalising scent of spice, and slid down the wall of the alley. Holding my head in my hands, I took a few deep breaths.

Eventually, my mind cleared and I regained control of my breathing, not fully but enough that I was no longer in danger of hyperventilating.

I heard footsteps approaching and raised my head to see the whole squad exiting the warehouse and making their way over to me. Hunter was bouncing a large bag of credits on his palm and I guessed the mission must have been a success.

I tried to push myself up but my legs felt like they were made of jelly and so I sunk back down to the ground.

"Give me a minute," I muttered, ashamed at how much my voice wavered.

Echo was suddenly kneeling down beside me with his helmet off, and I saw Gem peering worriedly over his shoulder.

"Are you injured?" he asked, resting his hand on my knee and furrowing his brow in concern. His eyes darted to my bleeding knuckles, which I hastily scrubbed against the leg of my trousers. I gave him a weak smile and shook my head, trying not to look like I was having some kind of breakdown.

"I'm fine, just need a minute."

Hunter had moved closer and was gazing down at me now, helmet wedged under his arm.

"You wanna tell us what that was about?" he asked, his tone wary and commanding.

"Yeah," Wrecker added, "you almost ripped that guy to pieces."

I swallowed, feeling myself start to shake again. I really did not want to have this conversation but it didn't seem like I had much choice.

"It's just.....the smell of that place set me off," I said weakly, clenching and unclenching my fists to hide the fact that they were trembling. "I got carried away. Sorry."

Crosshair gave me a suspicious look and shoved a toothpick between his teeth.

"No one else was affected," he drawled and I gave him a scowl and willed him to shut up.

Finally, Tech shoved his data pad away and eyed me critically through his visor.

"I believe that Toby may have previous experience with spice," he said matter of factly. "Hence his reaction."

"Previous experience?" Hunter asked, eyebrow raised at me. Echo didn't say anything but he was giving me a peculiar look and I felt my stomach lurch.

They all turned to stare at Tech when I didn't answer, and the man fidgeted uncomfortable under their scrutiny. He cleared his throat and continued as though eager to distract everybody.

"Dilated pupils, shallow breathing, elevated heart rate, clammy skin - these are all symptoms of substance withdrawal. I would speculate that Toby was previously an addict, and that exposure to the drug has caused undesirable side effects."

I hung my head, ashamed now that it had been said out loud. Secretly though, I was glad Tech had spoken up as I wasn't sure I would have been able to get the words out.

I knew Echo was staring at me intently but I couldn't meet his gaze. It was Hunter that broke the heavy silence, and his voice was loaded with disappointment.

"Is that true?"

I nodded, not trusting my voice not to crack.

"That would have been information to share with the group prior to this point," Tech stated, although there was no judgement in his tone. He merely sounded curious, as though he already had a million questions to raise about this new revelation.

"I didn't think it would be a problem," I mumbled, feeling my stomach twisting uncomfortably to the point that I thought I might be sick.

"Clearly you were wrong," Crosshair grunted, and I saw Gem nudge him firmly in the ribs and give him a disapproving glare. He raised an eyebrow at her but didn't add any further snide comments.

"Why didn't you tell us?" Echo asked, finally speaking up. His voice was soft, but yet I could hear the hurt beside the gentleness. I swallowed the lump in my throat and concentrated really hard on not letting myself well up because I knew that self pity wouldn't get me anywhere.

"It doesn't matter," I sniffed, shaking my head. "It was a long time ago and I've been clean for years."

I nudged Echo's hand away and pushed myself to my feet, still keeping my gaze downcast, desperate to get away from the judgemental stares I knew the others would be directing my way.

"We should get out of here," Hunter said with a sigh, replacing his helmet and tucking the bag of credits down the front of his armour.

Everyone silently agreed and we filed out of the alleyway. I brought up the rear, keen to keep myself apart from the others. Unsurprisingly, Gem fell into step beside me. She didn't say a word, merely reached out and took my hand in hers, holding it tightly as we made our way back to Cid's bar.

Evening was approaching as we neared Cid's, and from the noise level coming from inside the place I guessed the nocturnal patrons must be coming to life.

We crowded into the cantina, which was much livelier than it had been earlier, and the Batch made their way towards what was Cid's office. Gem let go of my hand and followed, but I hung back, eager for five minutes by myself. I found an empty booth in the far corner and sat, wrapping my arms around my body so that I could brood in peace.

It wasn't long before the others emerged from the back, stretching and removing their helmets. I expected them to head towards the door, but instead they made their way over to the bar, arranging themselves to casually lean or perch on the smooth surface. All except Tech, who I did see scurry from the premises. I hovered, halfway towards standing and not sure whether I should join them, when Echo peeled away from the bar. His gaze landed on me and he approached my booth, two glasses clamped awkwardly in his one hand.

Without saying anything, the man placed the drinks on the table before sliding in to sit next to me. I felt the anxiety which I'd been fighting ever since we entered that damned warehouse rise up and threaten to swallow me whole.

"Tech suggested it might be a good idea to refuel and recharge the Marauder's power cells while we're here," Echo said in a falsely cheerful tone. "It should only take a couple of hours, and then we can make our way home. Cid says the first round's on her."

He nudged one of the glasses towards me with his scomp arm but I didn't take it. I wasn't sure drinking was a good idea right now, particularly as I was on the verge of spiralling.

Echo watched me intently and I felt my pulse start to race even more than it was already. I considered making a break for the door to go and sit by myself in the ship, but I knew that would hurt Echo's feelings, which wasn't fair.

"Toby," Echo said softly, gingerly touching my arm with his hand. "Look at me."

I shook my head and screwed my eyes shut. Everything was too loud, too bright. Too much.

His hand cupped my chin and I felt him twist my face so that it was close to his.

"Please look at me."

Again I shook my head firmly, knowing that if I opened my eyes I would probably fall apart.

His scomp arm looped around my neck and his hand moved so that the backs of his fingers brushed against my cheek.

I drew in a ragged breath and gripped the edge of the table firmly to ground myself.

"Toby, no one is angry at you," Echo whispered soothingly. "I'm not angry at you. I just wish you didn't feel like you had to hide things from me."

I still had my eyes tightly shut but the lump in my throat was threatening to suffocate me regardless.

"I'm sorry," I said, my voice pained and croaky.

Echo leaned into me and rested his forehead against my own. I drew another shaky breath and counted to four before letting it out again.

"It's ok," Echo said firmly, continuing to stroke my face. "You have nothing to apologise for. I just want you to know that you can always come to me if you need to."

I nodded awkwardly and reached out to fumble my hands around his waist. I wanted to keep it all in, to hold it down inside, but I felt that Echo was due something, some explanation. Some show of trust. He'd been vulnerable around me so often that I felt I owed him the same.

"It was a long time ago," I said, feeling a tear escape down my face. "I was in a really bad place. Didn't want to be here anymore. Started getting high all the time because I just didn't give a fuck what happened to me."

I wanted to stop, not fond of sharing. But it was as though a dam had broken and the words came flooding out before I could stop them.

"I started taking more and more because I don't want to feel anything at all. Gem tried to get me to stop but I figured she'd be better off without me anyway."

Echo made a shushing noise and I felt another trickle down my cheek. He broke the contact and pulled me in so that my face was nestled against his neck.

"One night I overdosed. Took so much that I nearly died. Gem came back to the room we were sharing and found me half dead. It scared the shit out of her. She made me get help after that."

Echo kissed my cheek and squeezed me so tightly I didn't have a chance of hyperventilating.

"Oh Toby," he murmured, voice chocked. "I'm sorry."

I sniffed loudly and shrugged my shoulders.

"It's ok," I said quietly. "Just that sometimes places like that....the smell.... all of it comes flooding back."

I felt him nod and knew that he of all people understood what it was like to be tormented by the past.

We sat cuddled against each other for a little bit. The contact, the presence and the general sense of security that the cyborg brought was enough that I finally felt the stress drain out of me. Pulling back, I ran a hand over my eyes to dry them and finally met Echo's gaze. I saw my own pain reflected back at me and flinched, suddenly accutely aware that we were surrounded by others. I went to move away but Echo only pulled me in closer, a soft smile dancing on his lips. I tried to return the gesture, even if it was a flimsy attempt.

"Thanks, for listening to me rant," I muttered, feeling my face heat up a bit in the aftermath of my melt down.

"Anytime."

He moved to brush a kiss against my lips and I couldn't help but smile into his mouth. Echo hummed a chuckle as he drew back and gave me a cheeky grin.

"What?" he asked, looping his scomp around my neck again so that I couldn't retreat.

"Nothing," I replied sheepishly, shaking my head. "Just that you've never kissed me in public before."

Echo's demeanour immediately changed and it was my turn to hold onto him to prevent him backing away.

"S-sorry," he stuttered, fixing his eyes on one of the glasses on the table and looking mortified. "I forgot where we were."

I squeezed his waist and he turned to look at me, clearly embarrassed.

"Its ok," I said, feeling a bit brighter now that I wasn't wallowing in self pity. "It doesn't bother me."

He raised his eyebrows at me and his cheeks turned pink.

"Really?" he asked, and his voice was full of genuine disbelief. "I thought....you know....you wouldn't want anyone to know...."

I blinked stupidly at the man.

"Why?" I asked cautiously, worried that I'd done something out of order.

Echo squirmed a little bit but didnt make a move to leave.

"Because, well," he said, flustered. He didn't finish the sentence and merely gestured with his hand at himself.

I finally understood. He thought I would be embarrassed by him, if people knew we were an item.

I shuffled along the seat so that we were pressed against each other and moved my hands so that I was holding his face. I opened my mouth to reassure him but couldn't think of anything to say.

In the end I just pulled him in for a kiss and hoped that would set his mind at peace.

Chapter Text

I stood by the bar with the others and took a swig of my second drink.

After Cid had paid us for the job, Hunter had discreetly handed out a small portion of the credits to each of us, ensuring that the bulk was held back to pass on to Rex. It was a nice gesture and one which was appreciated, particularly as we never had the cash to treat ourselves to anything.

Not that anyone intended on using the money for anything constructive. We fully intended on drinking it away.

Tech had returned to the bar with Omega in tow, and she was perched on a stool next to Hunter, sipping on some fruity concoction which the trandoshan had made for her. I was pretty sure it wasn't alcoholic, but I was almost certain it was full of sugar. The kid would be bouncing off the walls later, but I hoped to be too drunk to care.

Wrecker was knocking back the booze at a frightening rate, and I noticed two attractive women siddling over to the giant, apparently in adoration of his drinking abilities.

Hunter wasn't drinking at all, and I had the feeling he didn't trust his surroundings enough to let go. Either that or the memory of our last drinking session was still vividly imprinted on his brain.

Tech was sipping his beverage in a dignified manner, avidly watching the patrons in the cantina as they drank, danced, and flirted, as though studying some foreign species.

I could see Echo and Toby at a booth across the room, and they seemed to be having a moment. I left them to it, glad that Echo was there to comfort my friend after his earlier episode.

Crosshair drained his third pint and placed the empty glass on the bar, motioning for the bartender to fill it up again. I honestly couldn't fathom how such a skinny guy could physically hold that much liquid in his body.

He caught my eye and gave me a lopsided grin which told me he was already tipsy. I too could feel the effects of the alcohol, although I wasn't stupid enough to let myself get blind drunk in unfamiliar surroundings. I finished my whisky and left the glass on the bar. Crosshair made to flag the barkeep and order me another but I shook my head.

"I'm good," I insisted, resting my hand on his pauldron. "Don't think Hunter will approve of I let myself get too drunk."

The Sergeant cocked an eyebrow at me and I winked in response, feeling pleasantly merry. Crosshair shrugged.

"Suit yourself," he said, downing half of his beer in one go. I had a feeling I was going to regret not slowing him down later.

There was a choking sound to one side as Wrecker spat out a mouthful of his drink, spraying Tech, who looked absolutely disgusted with his brother.

"Woah!" the huge man called, eyes popping out of his head.

We all turned to follow his gaze and I saw that Toby had pulled Echo into his lap and they were both necking like randy teens. I snorted a laugh at the bemused looks on the others faces.

"Well," Hunter said, looking uncomfortable and fidgeting on his stool. "That's happening."

"Aww," Omega chimed in, standing on her chair so that she could get a better look. Wrecker leaned over to cover her eyes but she pulled his hand away. "I think it's cute!"

Tech hummed thoughtfully, raising his glass to drink and sticking out his little finger daintily.

"I must admit, I did not forsee that outcome."

"I don't think any of us did Tech," Hunter said with a chuckle, running a hand through his hair.

"Yeah," Wrecker said, scratching his head, "I thought Echo liked girls?"

"I would consider that Echo has not been part of our squad long enough for us to ascertain his sexual preferences," Tech said matter of factly.

"What about Toby? I've seen him ogling pictures of girls before."

"Yeah Toby likes girls AND guys," I added watching the pair and feeling a sense of relief that my friend was obviously feeling better after his minor breakdown.

"Oh."

A pause while the four men stared at the couple as they made out nearby, watching with a morbid kind of fascination that was marginally tinted with embarrassment.

"Give them a bit of peace," I chided firmly. "They both deserve to be getting some."

Hunter grunted, reached over and took a swig of Wrecker's drink, which lay abandoned on the bar.

"Long as they're happy," the Sergeant said and there was a murmur of agreement.

Crosshair was looking at me with narrow eyes. I caught his gaze and gave him a quizzical look.

"You knew, didn't you?" he asked suspiciously, taking another draught of beer. I was impressed by the fact that he could drink around the toothpick in his teeth.

The others were all looking at me now and I shrugged, giving him a mischievous grin.

"Oh honey," I purred, pinching his chin between my thumb and forefinger. "You should have realised by now that I know everything."

Crosshair grunted and jerked his head away but met my smile with a wolfish grin of his own.

Hunter cleared his throat roughly and turned away from Toby and Echo.

"Tech, how much longer until the recharge finishes?"

Tech peered at his wrist comp and adjusted his goggles.

"One hour and forty one minutes."

Hunter blew through his nose heavily.

"I feel like I'm going to regret agreeing to a couple of hours of down time."

"Ah come on sarge!" Wrecker said, finally noticing the two scantily clad women eyeing him up and giving them a wicked grin. "We could use some fun!"

"May I remind you of the last incident in which alcohol was involved?" Tech asked cynically.

"I'd prefer it if you didn't remind me," Hunter said with an audible gulp.

I chuckled softly before turning to Crosshair and drumming my fingers against his chest plate.

"Come and dance with me," I insisted, nodding towards the nearby dance floor, which was packed with gyrating individuals.

I heard Hunter snort and Tech gagging on a mouthful of his beverage. I fought to keep my face sweetly innocent as I batted my eyelashes at Crosshair. He looked absolutely floored by my behaviour, and just stood staring at me in bewilderment with his jaw slightly open and his pint halfway to his mouth. He was saved from having to come up with an excuse by Omega, who hopped off of her chair and grabbed my hand.

"I'll dance with you," she said, tugging me away from the bar. I shot the others a quick look which said "save me". Crosshair smirked smugly, his expression clearly indicating that I had asked for this.

It turned out that I was indeed correct in my assumption that Cid had been plying Omega with sugar because as soon as the girl hit the dance floor she started flailing around like a maniac. I danced serenely nearby, trying to avoid her limbs, but quite honestly it was pretty funny to see the kid enjoying herself so much. Omega's moves also meant that people cleared a wide circle around us to avoid getting smacked, so we didn't have to contend with the press of sweaty bodies.

I was quickly clammy and out of breath and would have liked to have had a sit down, but I didn't have the heart to pull Omega away when she was having such a good time. Instead I slowed my movements and just sort of shuffled on the spot in time to the thumping beat of the music.

I felt a hand wrap around my waist from behind and grinned, impressed that Crosshair had finally grown enough balls to come and make a tit of himself with me. I turned around to tell him as much, only to come face to face with someone who was most certainly not Crosshair.

The blond guy pushed his hair out of his face with one hand, while he pulled me close to him with the other. He was grinning and his eyes were bleary.

"What's a girl like you doin' in a place like this?" he asked, gaze roving over me approvingly.

I rolled my eyes at the cheesy line and made to shove the man away, but the asshole held firm. His other hand snaked down to my ass and he groped me shamelessly.

"My place is just 'round the corner," he slurred into my ear, and I could smell the booze on his breath. "Why don't you and me get outta here?"

I huffed an unamused chuckle and tried to twist my face away from his because he looked like he might be moving in for a snog.

"No thank you."

I shoved again, this time a bit harder, and the guy stumbled back a little. I backed away, quickly looking for Omega, who was no longer by my side. I felt a panic rising in my throat, but the sensation was quickly quelled when I spotted her by the bar, the girl having sensibly extracted herself from the situation.

Unfortunately, my distraction gave the drunken prick the opportunity to press himself against me again.

"Oh come on," he insisted, grabbing my wrists, "dont be like that."

I drew my leg back, intending on kneeing the guy in the groin, when an arm reached over my shoulder and grabbed the man by the throat. He made a choking noise, eyes buldging, and he let go of me. Whoever has hold of the bloke shoved him away and he stumbled backwards into another couple, who yelled angrily at the disturbance.

I looked up to see Crosshair standing behind me, teeth gritted and face murderous. Nearby, Wrecker was disentangling himself from the two women, and Hunter was striding forward to flank his grey haired brother.

The drunk had recovered his balance and was straightening, his face flushed and scowling. He took an unsteady step towards me, but Crosshair was quicker, moving to place himself between me and the blond guy. The sniper drew himself up to his full height, which was considerably taller than the other man.

"She said no, asshole," Crosshair growled, his voice so menacing it sent a chill up my spine. Or perhaps it was the thrill of him coming to my rescue that had my body reacting in such a way.

I peered around his armour to see the drunk hesitating, eyeing the grey haired man and weighing up his odds. His eyes went wide and he swallowed nervously when Wrecker joined us, cracking his knuckles so loudly that people on the other end of the room looked up from their drinks.

The blond deflated and seemed to shrink a bit. He shot me a nasty look before spitting on the floor.

"You can keep the bitch," he slurred, and I had to admit he was ballsy, because I could only imagine the look on Crosshair's face. "I don't like to share anyways."

Crosshair made to lunge at the guy but I swiftly wrapped my arms around his waist and held tightly. My weight was enough to slow him and allow the mouthy blond asshole to step back a few paces and melt into the crowd.

"Cross, no!" I panted, holding on for dear life. "Not worth it!"

Fortunately, Hunter took up position in front of his brother and pushed him back firmly.

"Enough," he barked, eyeing his brother in warning. "That's enough!"

Tech had now joined us with Omega gripping his hand with both of hers, her eyes wide with worry.

"Perhaps it would be best if we waited for the recharge to complete on board the Marauder."

"Good idea Tech," Hunter agreed, grasping Crosshair's shoulders in a death grip. "Everybody out!"

Crosshair shot the drunk one final look of contempt before allowing himself to be man handled towards the exit. Once outside, he put an arm around my waist possessively and gave everybody in the nearby vicinity a death stare.

Tech and Omega joined us in the alleyway outside, and Wrecker appeared shortly afterwards with Echo and Toby in tow. The latter pair had pink cheeks and blinked in confusion at us.

"What's happening?" Echo asked, taking everything in with wide eyes. "Why are we leaving?"

"Some guy was getting a bit too friendly with our Gem," Wrecker said, jerking a thumb back towards the doorway.

Crosshair tightened his grip and I guessed it was in reaction to Wrecker's statement that I was theirs collectively.

Toby gave me a worried look, and I was relieved to see that he looked like his old self again.

"You ok?"

I gave him a crooked smile.

"'M fine."

Hunter still had hold of his taller brother and, once we had all extracted ourselves from the bar, gave Crosshair a gentle shove towards the alley.

We made our way back to the ship, more than a little deflated that our evening had been cut short. It was almost fully dark by now, although many of the establishments we passed were still open, and I knew it would be many hours yet before Ord Mantell settled down for the night.

The Marauder was waiting for us on the dock, her engines humming warmly as her power cells recharged. The mood was subdued as we all filed on board, even the normally upbeat Omega looked crestfallen. The others made themselves comfortable while we waited for the charge to finish.

Crosshair was still gripping my tightly as we stood in the hold, and I looked up at him with an amused expression on my face.

"Y'know you're gonna have to let go of me eventually, right?"

He only grunted in reply. I tried to peel him off of me but he held tighter than a Dionoga.

"Much as I appreciate you stepping in to rescue me," I said as I tried to escape his possessive paws. "I am quite capable of fighting my own fights."

Crosshair snorted derisively.

"Looked like you had it all in hand," he drawled sarcastically. I felt my hackles rise at the snarky comment.

"You didn't give me much chance," I snapped, folding my arms in annoyance.

Wrecker chuckled loudly and picked up the Gonk droid with one hand, lifting it above his head like a weight.

"I'd have liked to see you take down that guy!" the giant boomed enthusiastically. I couldn't help but grin at him.

Crosshair on the otherhand did not look amused. He finally let go of my waist and lightly shoved me away as though I suddenly repulsed him.

Oh for kriffs sake, I thought with a prickle of anger. What now?!

The grey haired man stuck a toothpick between his teeth and glowered at me.

"Next time someone thinks you're fair game, I'll just stand aside and let them run their hands all over you, shall I?"

"That's not what I said!" I snapped, becoming increasingly irritated with his attitude. Part of me tried to justify it on the drink, but I knew that was being generous. He was just being a twat.

"That's what it sounded like."

"For fucks sake Cross!"

"What?!"

I growled in frustration and I heard a defeaning silence descend on the ship. Everyone was trying to pretend that they weren't listening to our argument, but the stillness made it glaringly obvious that they were.

I took a deep breath to compose myself because I knew fighting with Crosshair would get messy.

"All I meant was, thank you for stepping in, but you don't need to leap into action everytime someone looks at me funny. I am quite capable of looking after myself. I was doing it long before I met you."

He spun away from me, stalking towards the cockpit and growling like a caged Nexu.

"Why are you angry?!" I shouted after him, not willing to let him think he'd won and spend the rest of the night sulking. He was a grown ass man after all.

Crosshair spun on his heel and strode back towards me, and I tried not to flinch at the rage twisting his features.

"Why are you not?!"

I blinked in the face of his anger and met his gaze defiantly.

"Because it's not a big deal," I yelled, folding my arms and planting my feet.

The toothpick in his mouth snapped in two and he spat out the splinters.

"Not a big deal?" he hissed venemously, looking like he might explode. "Some guy feeling you up isn't a big deal? So you'd have quite happily let him have his way with you?"

Hunter stood up from his seat and made to move forward.

"That's not what she said, Cross," the Sergeant stated and I was grateful that he was at least trying to diffuse the situation.

Crosshair didn't break my gaze but he did point towards his brother with a menacing finger.

"Stay out of this Hunter," he snapped and I saw the tattooed man hesitate. His eyes narrowed even further as he addressed me again. "Sounds like you don't care who has their hands on you."

Fuck me dead. This again. Motherfucking insecure, possessive ass Crosshair had returned.

I rolled my eyes reflexivity which was not a smart move because Crosshair immediately tensed even more than he was already.

"For the millionth karking time," I snarled through clenched teeth, "you are the only one I want Crosshair. I honestly don't know how many other ways I can get this point across."

He scoffed a laugh of disbelief and I snapped at that point.

"You are fucking impossible!"

I stormed down the ramp before anyone could stop me, absolutely livid.

I strode from the dock, not particularly caring where I went so long as it was away from Crosshair. I was angry, but also more than a little guilty because I knew his entire reaction was largely driven by insecurity. By the unfounded fear that he wasn't good enough for me.

After a while, I found myself in a familiar part of the city and slowed my pace, taking in the bright signs outside the bars and the sound of people having a good time. I contemplated ducking into one of the cantina's for a drink, but decided that was a sure fire way of finding trouble. I walked to the end of the street before composing myself and making to head back.

It was at that point that I caught sight of a dimly lit parlour opposite me and paused, grinning savagely as an idea formed in my mind.

....................

I wound my way back to the dock slowly, trying not to cradle my arm, which was stinging quite badly. I felt a little dizzy from the adrenaline crash, and was starting to think this had been a really stupid idea.

Oh well, I thought. Bit late now for second thoughts.

The dock was quiet and I wouldn't admit that I was relieved to see the Marauder still there. At least the gang hadn't decided to cut their losses and leave me behind.

I paused in the middle of the space, suddenly anxious about how I would be greeted. My hesitation didn't last long though because I heard footsteps approaching me. I spun, hand reflexively reaching for the hilt of the saber on my back. I had drawn a few inches of the blade before I recognised the figure looming from the gloom as Crosshair.

I let out a breath and sheathed the weapon. The sniper stepped forward until he was illuminated by the weak lights of the dock. His face was totally blank, although his eyes were creased around the edges and I guessed the emotion might be worry. But it was always difficult to tell with him what he was feeling at any one moment.

Shifting my feet, I wondered if I should apologise first. I took a step forward so that I could gauge his reactions better.

"I'm sorry Cross," I muttered, not meeting his eye. "I'm sorry for belittling your feelings. I really do appreciate the fact that you care about me."

He rolled his eyes, although there was no menace in the gesture.

"I'm sorry for being an asshole."

We both smiled sheepishly at each other and I was quite impressed that the man had calmed down so much. I figured the others must have given him a talking to.

I closed the distance between us and reached out to touch his waist. I was glad that he didn't flinch at the contact, instead grabbing my wrist and pulling me in so that I was pressed into his armour.

I, however, did flinch at the contact, hissing in pain as his fingers closed on my flesh.

Crosshair immediately leapt back, giving me a concerned look. I held up my hands in a placating gesture and tried not to grimace at the burning on my skin.

"Are you hurt?" he asked softly, eyes scanning me for signs of injury.

I scratched the back of my neck and felt my face heating up. This had definitely been a really idiotic idea, and I was pretty sure Crosshair was going to lose his shit when he found out.

"No, not really. I just, erm, I got a erm, tattoo."

He blinked slowly and looked at me as if I'd sprouted wings.

"A tattoo?"

I nodded, no longer able to hold his gaze and sighed, deciding that it would be easier to show him than explain. I carefully rolled up my right sleeve to reveal my forearm.

Crosshair merely stared, without saying anything and I considered running to hide on the Marauder. I probably would have done too, except that I knew the ship was small enough that hiding places were limited and he would be able to find me within minutes.

I looked down to guiltily admire the tattoo, which covered a fair chunk of the inside of my forearm, near my wrist. A crude circle was etched into my skin, two lines cutting across the smooth surface to form a cross at the centre. It was almost identical to the tattoo which marked Crosshair's right eye socket.

We lifted our heads at the same moment and I met his confused gaze. To be honest, I also was a little confused as to why the Hell I had gone through with this.

"I just kept thinking about what I said," I muttered, blushing and fiddling with my sleeve. "About you being the one I want. And I know you don't always believe that, even though it's true. So I thought if I could do something to prove that I'm yours, well, that might make you believe me."

He cocked an eyebrow at me as though I was insane and I had to agree that it did seem like I was.

"So you got a tattoo?" he asked flatly, his voice almost as deadpan as Tech's. "You do know that's permanent?"

I huffed a laugh, trying to cover up how stupid I currently felt.

"Um, that's kinda the point," I said with a chuckle. "Look, I just wanted some way to show you that I'm all yours. To show everyone that I'm all yours. A tattoo seemed like a good idea."

Fuck I sounded like a dumbass. No, I didn't just sound like a dumbass: I was acting like one too.

I started to roll down my sleeve but Crosshair abruptly caught my hand and pulled it away, lifting up my wrist so that he could inspect the tattoo closely. After a while he let my hand drop gently to my side.

"Not as good as mine."

I was silent for a minute staring incredulously at the man until he finally quirked a smile at me and I relaxed.

"You're not mad at me?" I asked, feeling relieved and marginally less idiotic. Only marginally though.

He shook his head and there was amusement dancing in his eyes.

"I think you're insane," he chuckled uncharacteristically, "but I'm not mad."

"Good, because in case you don't know, this shit's permanent."

I moved forward and wrapped my hands around his armoured waist. He reciprocated by resting his own on my hips.

"I like permanent," he said with a small smile, before leaning down to nuzzle into the crook of my neck.

I sighed into the contact, moving one hand to run it through his hair.

Teeth suddenly sunk into my skin and I screamed, yanking his silver hair and dragging him off of me.

Crosshair pulled back to give me a bloodthirsty grin and I rubbed my neck, which was sore and felt like it was already starting to bruise.

"What the Hell?!"

He shrugged and have me a hungry look.

"Just reminding you that there are others ways for people to know you're mine."

I raised my eyebrows at him and his grin only deepened.

"Well," I purred, gripping the back of his head and pulling him down so that he was on my level. "In case you missed the entire conversation we just had, you don't need to mark me anymore. You however? Well, how will people know that you're already taken?"

I reached up to graze his throat with my teeth and felt him shudder in anticipation.

"How much longer til the power cells finish charging?" I asked softly, nipping down his jaw and revelling at the fact that I felt his heart rate pick up.

"Nineteen minutes."

I hummed in acknowledgement and he moaned softly.

"I can be quick." His voice was unusually strained and I rewarded his compliance with a sharp nip to his neck.

"You damned well better be."

Chapter Text

The journey back to Nasu was uneventful. I did as I had promised Rex and spent most of the time going over com logs, feeling a bit guilty that I had neglected my duties whist on Ord Mantell. The others busied themselves with cleaning and repairing their gear and maintaining the Marauder, which was in itself a never ending task.

Crosshair spent a lot of time loitering nearby wherever I was working, watching me whilst trying to pretend that he wasn't. I thought at first he was just waiting for the opportunity to catch me alone for a quickie, but as time went on I started to wonder whether he was just being over protective after the fandango at Cid's bar. I did notice his eyes darting to the mark on my wrist every now and then and his lips quirked up every time.

Toby had laughed at me for a whole half hour when he'd noticed the tattoo, and the others just seemed utterly perplexed at the concept of me voluntarily wanting to mark myself for a man. I ignored them as best I could, although I still couldn't actually believe I had done something so impulsive. Or that I had committed myself so willingly and openly to the sniper.

Try as I might to be productive on the journey home, I was feeling unusually anxious about returning to Nasu, although I couldn't say why exactly. It felt as though a plastcrete weight had settled in my stomach and the closer we got to the planet, the heavier it became. I tried to shrug it off as stress, caused by my guilt for manipulating Rex into letting me come on this mission. But deep down, I know that wasn't it. I just felt uneasy.

As we dropped out of hyperspace to begin our approach to Nasu, the feeling only grew stronger. I found myself hovering in the cockpit, gripping the back of the pilot's chair and peering through the view port, data pad forgotten.

Toby must have sensed my worry because he came to join me as I watched the white planet grow larger through the screen.

"What's wrong?" he asked quietly, though not quietly enough for Hunter and Tech not to hear.

I shook my head as the three of them eyed me apprehehsively.

"Dunno. Just a feeling."

Tech cast a look of disapproval over his shoulder at me.

"Our scanners indicate that there is no threat in the immediate vicinity," he said with a hint of annoyance in his voice. "Therefore I would conclude that your feelings are incorrect-"

A red light started blinking on the console and Tech stopped his lecture short.

"Incoming transmission," he said, voice curious but wary.

Hunter sat up straight in his chair and gave me a look of disbelief.

"Patch it through."

A male voice crackled through the speaker. It definitely belonged to a clone, although I was ashamed to admit that I couldnt tell which one.

"Havoc Marauder, please provide clearance codes."

Tech and Hunter exchanged a look.

"Clearance codes?" Hunter asked suspiciously.

Tech shrugged his shoulders and pushed his goggles up his face.

"Must be a new protocol."

He relayed our codes and there was a moments pause before the voice hunmed into life again.

"Order 241, proceed to emergency coordinates."

The line went dead and the cockpit fell into silence. The rest of the Batch had joined us by now and they exchanged worried looks.

"What's order 241?" I finally asked, feeling my skin prickling with unease.

Hunter scratched his chin, his eyes glazed over.

"It means the base has been compromised," he replied hesitantly.

I felt my stomach drop and gripped the back of Tech's chair even harder.

"Compromised? What does that actually mean?"

Hunter snapped out of his reverie and leaned forward in his seat.

"Could be anything. Could be that Nasu has been overun by Imps. Could just be a quarantine lockdown."

I thought about the others - Rex, Fives, Jesse, Kix - and prayed that they were all ok.

"Take us to the emergency landing zone." Hunter barked the command and Tech nodded, taking the controls to bring us in manually. "Everybody else, gear up. We don't know what we'll be walking into when we land."

....................

I stood at the top of the ramp, huddled behind Wrecker and Hunter as we waited for the Marauder to touch down.

The others already had their weapons in hand and so I drew my vibrosaber awkwardly, careful not to accidentally skewer anyone seeing as we were squashed so closely together.

I felt the jarring motion as we landed in a small clearing in the forest, less than a click from the base, and was suddenly caught up in the surge as the Batch evacuated the ship.

They took up a patrol formation, Toby and I hanging near the rear with Omega in tow. Hunter had insisted the girl came with us for fear that she would be captured if she stayed with the ship. I made sure that she was positioned between myself and Toby, just in case.

The boys made good time despite the fact that dusk was looming and snow was falling heavily. We climbed down the steep hillside away from our landing site, careful to keep our balance in the inhospitable terrain. At some point Omega grabbed onto my hand to support herself and clung to me from then on. Her hands were warm and her firm grip was comforting, keeping the mounting anxiety at bay.

A break in the trees offered a view of the base, not that we could see much through the murk and the mild blizzard. We paused just long enough for Crosshair to pull down the range finder on his helmet and squint down at the building.

"Smoke coming from the hangar," he declared after a few seconds.

We collectively tensed and I unconsciously squeezed Omega's hand.

"Imperials?" Hunter asked, twirling his vibro knife in his hands as though in anticipation of having to imminently use the weapon.

Crosshair shook his head.

"Hard to tell."

We moved off again, keeping closer together as the light faded so as not to be separated.

We had almost made it to the edge of the training ground when Hunter stopped and held up a fist for us to do the same. I froze, heart hammering and blood pounding in my ears. I guessed he must have heard something because the Sergeant gave a hand signal to the troopers and they began to fan out. He gave another, simpler gesture to Toby, Omega and I, indicating that we should stay put.

The only sound was the whisper of the snow through the trees. The Batch moved silently away from us and quickly disappeared into the gloom.

I found myself holding my breath, waiting for the oppressive atmosphere to ease, for something to happen.

A twig snapped behind me and without thinking I shoved Omega towards Toby and spun on my heel. I brought my sword in a wide arc, which sent the snowflakes in manic eddies away from the sharp edge.

The blade connected with something and I felt the impact ripple through my hand to my wrist and down my forearm. I spun the sabre, flowing into another smooth cut and paused when my assailant came into view.

The clone trooper moved forward, close enough that I could make out the blue markings on his armour through the icy flurries. His hands were up in front of him, palms facing me and head twisted towards the tip of my blade, which was inches away from his left side.

I faltered, quickly recovering my balance but still not lowering my sword. Another trooper moved up beside the first, the blaster in his hand trained on the ground.

We stared at each other, none of us sure how to react. I was saved from making the decision by the soft thump of footsteps as the Batch descended on our location.

It was Echo that stepped forward, removing his helmet and squinting at the troopers.

"Hardcase?" he asked, and the trooper with the blaster twisted his head to look at the cyborg.

"Echo?" the man said, visibly sagging with relief and holstering his blaster.

He tugged off his helmet and I saw that he was sporting a series of lineal tattoos on his face and shaved head. I recognised the blue markings and realised I had seen the man hanging out with Fives before.

Echo laid his hand on my arm and squeezed, indicating for me to stand down. I paused before sheathing my sabre. The other trooper lowered his hands, giving me one last cautious look before scrambling through the snow to look for his own weapon, which I realised must have been what my blade connected with.

I saw the other Batchers surrounding us, although they still looked like they were tensed and on edge.

Echo and Hardcase clasped each other's forearms in greeting.

"What are you doing here?" Echo asked, as Omega siddled back up next to me and gripped my sleeve. "What's going on?"

Hardcase eyed the rest of us warily, as though still not certain that we were friendly.

"Tup and I were sent to scout the area," he said as the other man, Tup, finally retrieved his blaster and stood upright. "The base got hit and Rex wanted to check their weren't any unfriendlies lurking in the woods."

It was Hunter's turn to step closer now.

"What do you mean 'hit'?" he asked tensely.

Hardcase broke Echo's gaze and peered through the falling snow towards the Sergeant.

"I mean HIT," he said, gesturing with his helmet at the last word. "Somebody bombed the hangar."

There was a collective murmur then and I saw Tech glance up at the sky worriedly, lifting the visor of his helmet.

"I am surprised a ship got that close," he mused, voice distorted through his helmet. "The long range scanners would have picked up it's signature as soon as it entered our orbit."

It was the other trooper, Tup, that spoke up.

"It wasn't a ship," he said, tone almost disbelieving. "Somebody set the bomb. It was an inside job."

I felt my blood run cold and an awful sense of dread crept over me. I wanted to speak up, to demand more, but my throat was so tight I couldn't get the words out. In the end, it was Hunter that voiced what I was thinking.

"Any casualties?"

Hardcase and Tup exchanged looks and I felt the lump settle deeper in my stomach.

"Some," Hardcase answered, fondling his helmet as though to distract himself from thinking too much about it.

Looking at Echo, I saw that I wasn't the only one feeling sick with worry.

"Where's Rex?"

"Dealing with the fallout," Tup said, nodding towards base.

I felt a slight relief that at least one friend had survived.

No one seemed to have anything else to say. In the end, Hunter merely jerked his head and we all silently continued on towards the base.

The closer we got, the more I could smell the heavy aroma of smoke. I tugged up my scarf to cover my nose and mouth to prevent me choking.

The hangar came fully into view and I was not the only one to hesitate at the sight of the carnage.

The entire hangar was gone, the roof having collapsed in on itself from the blast. Pieces of several ships were strewn about the runway, many of the wrecks still on fire and spewing smog into the sky. Troopers and civilians alike dashed about in a vain effort to extinguish the flames, while a handful of others were using industrial mech suits to pull away sections of the collapsed hangar.

Wrecker was the first to move, making straight for the ruined building. I watched as he single handedly lifted a chunk of roof which would have taken two mechs to shift. The others dispersed quickly to assist in putting out the fires. I made to join them but Omega held me back, wrapping her arm loosely around my hips. I looked down and saw that there were tears in her eyes.

"Omega?" I asked warily, draping my own arm over her shoulders.

She blinked up at me and a fat tear rolled down her cheek.

"Why would someone do this?" she asked, voice thick with emotion.

I blew through my nose and shook my head sadly.

"I don't know kid. Sometimes people do awful things that don't make sense."

She twisted and pressed her face into my stomach. I pulled her in and hugged her roughly in the middle of the runway littered with debris and heavy with smoke.

Eventually she let go and scrubbed her eyes.

"Come on," I said, taking a deep breath. "Let's go see if we can help."

Abruptly I felt a hand gripping my shoulder and shuddered in surprise, turning to meet Rex's brown gaze.

"Rex!" I gasped, snaking my hands around the man and pulling him into a gruff hug. I registered a fleeting moment of concern at the thought of dealing with jeleous Crosshair if he noticed the contact. But it was only brief and quickly dissolved into relief. I considered Rex a friend and was glad to see him in one piece.

I felt him lay an arm around me before we pulled apart.

"Boy am I glad to see you guys," the Captain said with a strained smile. "Please tell me your mission was a success, because Maker knows I don't think we've never needed those medical supplies more."

I nodded an affirmative and he visibly sagged. Damn he looked exhausted, his eyes bloodshot and frantic, dark circles framing the sockets and his face was smeared with grime and soot.

Omega let go of me and moved to stand in front of Rex, neck craned as she peered up at the man.

"What can we do to help?" her voice was determined and I saw Rex's eyes soften momentarily as he surveyed the girl.

"Well, we're gonna need those supplies brought in. So how's about you go and round up Tech and get him to retrieve the Marauder?"

The girl nodded curtly before dashing off in search of the bespectacled man.

Rex watched her for a second before his eyes met mine.

"This is no place for a kid."

"No shit."

He gave me a fleeting smile before setting his jaw grimly.

"Kix is overwhelmed treated the wounded," he said with a sigh. "D'you think you could help out in the medbay?"

I swallowed audibly and grimaced. I really was not good at dealing with people at the best of times, let alone when they were bleeding and in pain. But Rex was desperate and I would have felt shitty for refusing.

"Fine," I said with a dramatic eye roll, "but if anyone pukes on me you owe me a drink."

He huffed a laugh which turned into a grateful smile.

"If I'm still standing by the morning, you can have the whole bottle. Hell, I might even join you."

The Captain clapped me on the shoulder before stalking back into the fray.

I made my way to the medbay, taking the longer route seeing as the hangar was impassable. The corridors of Nasu were deserted, everyone stationed on base was either in the infirmary or helping clear up the wreckage.

I thought I had seen a lot of shit in my time, but nothing could quite compare to the medbay that evening.

Every bed was occupied with groaning, crying, bleeding individuals, and the place was so packed that some of the wounded men were curled on the floor or propped against the wall. The stench of charred flesh reached my nostrils and I gagged, leaning in the doorway as I fought down the urge to vomit. Two troopers brushed past me, carrying a blanket swaddled form between them. Blood stained the sheet and one of the dead man's hands trailed carelessly across the ground.

I watched them drag the body away down the hallway and felt my breathing become shallow as panic threatened to take hold. I closed my eyes for a second, steeling myself because I was not prepared to succumb to the fear. Not when I should be helping.

Opening my eyes, I spotted Kix at the end of the room, kneeling over a wounded trooper as he tried to simultaneously pin the guy down whilst also plucking shrapnel from the man's tattered chest. I walked as quickly as I could, slipping occasionally on the gore as I made my way over.

Silently, I leaned my whole body weight on the wounded man as Kix busied himself with removing the shards of plasteel. He didn't say a word and merely nodded his thanks. I noticed his top armour had been removed and the sleeves of his blacks were rolled up to his elbows. His hands were bloody but remained steady as he started patching the trooper back together.

When he was done, Kix wiped his fingers on an already bloody rag before moving onto the next casualty.

I made the rounds with the medic, changing bandages when instructed and administering pain killers to those worse affected. I felt a sick kind of relief that I didn't recognise any of the injured men and recoiled at the selfish thought.

Some of them were in a poor state and I could tell Kix was just trying to keep them comfortable until they finally succumbed to their injuries. I felt myself admiring the medic, his stoic determination and devotion to his patients. He didn't flinch when one of the civilian pilots threw up on him when he'd attempted to move the man to a more comfortable position, merely wiped off the vomit and carried on.

Finally the supplies we'd brought from Ord Mantell made their way to the medbay. Kix stiffened when the first crate was dragged through the door and I saw him peering towards the opening expectantly. After a moment he gave himself a shake and went back to his duties.

I wasn't sure how long I stayed in the infirmary but eventually the number of patients lessened as they either died or were taken back to their barracks by their friends or brothers. In the lull, I approached Kix who was huddled at the back of the room, obsessively scrubbing his hands over the sink.

"You should take a break," I suggested timidly, trying to beat down my own almost overwhelming sense of exhaustion

Kix turned off the water, drying his hands on the front of his blacks and finally meeting my gaze. His eyes were hollow and haunted and I had to force myself not to take a step back. He swallowed and I noticed that, for the first time that evening, his hands were shaking.

"They can't find Jesse."

His voice was hoarse and croaky, yet totally devoid of any emotion. I felt my stomach knot and I tried to keep the worry off of my face.

"He'll turn up," I said, trying to sound confident and failing miserably. "They're still clearing the debris from the hangar. They'll find him."

Dead or alive, I thought. I wanted to reassure Kix that the man would be fine, but I couldn't summon the words and I knew they would sound false anyway. The medic nodded and leaned against the sink, gripping the edges as though holding onto his last shred of sanity for dear life. I left him there to work through his emotions while I busied myself with assisting the remaining patients.

I was in the process of gathering up dirty bandages into a bucket when a familiar figure walked through the door and I dropped said bucket with a clatter.

Fives looked as haggard as everyone else and there was a bandage wrapped around his temple. Blood had seeped through the fabric and was starting to trickle down the side of his face. He caught sight of me across the room and winked before making his way over.

"You look like shit," he said and, glancing down at my filthy self, I was inclined to agree.

"That's no way to speak to a lady."

He gave a short chuckle and I was pleased to see there was still some life left in his eyes. He hesitated only briefly before pulling me in for a hug, crushing me against the plastoid of his armour.

"Glad you're not dead, Fives."

"Likewise, Gemini."

We pulled apart as Kix approached, giving his brother an unamused glare.

"You should be resting," the medic chided, back to his usual stern self.

Fives gave the man a lopsided grin, although it was much more feeble than usual.

"I will," he assured, "as soon as I can. The fires have been extinguished but they're still clearing the hangar. Rex has ordered a second sweep of the entire building, just in case there's another bomb."

I tensed at that, the thought never having occurred to me. Fives noticed my reaction and put his hands up in a placating gesture.

"It's unlikely. We've already been over the whole base, but we just want to be extra careful."

I relaxed a bit but must still have looked a little concerned because Fives opened his mouth as though to reassure me some more. Before he could even get the words out though there was a scuffling sound in the hallway and the three of us turned to see Hardcase and another trooper awkwardly shuffling into the room, a limp body carried between them.

I saw the armour but I wasn't familiar with the markings, and the man's face was so covered in blood and soot that I couldn't make out any discerning features. Kix and Fives on the other hand, recognised the guy instantly.

"Jesse!"

Kix was hovering over the Lieutenant in a heartbeat, carefully helping the others lift him onto an empty bed, whilst Fives started to strip off his armour.

Jesse had his eyes closed and I thought for a terrible moment that he was already dead, but as Fives removed his chest plate I saw that he was still breathing. Barely.

Kix moved with renewed vigor, running a med scanner over his wounded brother. Fives was trying to wipe some of the blood off of Jesse's face with limited success seeing as his own hands were just as dirty. I just stood awkwardly nearby, aware that I would probably be in the way if I tried to help.

"He has internal injuries," Kix concluded, voice tight with worry. "I'll do what I can, but he might.....he might not...."

He swallowed the rest of his sentence and I felt my heart clench.

"Whaddya need?" I asked, trying to sound calm.

Kix blinked as though to clear his vision.

"Bacta. I need bacta. Lots of it. And steriplast. "

I nodded before disappearing to the medical cabinet. I returned with an armful of patches, spray and gel, and carefully set the medicine on the bedside cabinet. Jesse had been stripped to his boxers and I finally saw the extent of his injuries. There were lacerations criss crossing his ribcage, which was black with already forming bruises. There was also blood pouring steadily from a gash on his forehead, the red liquid rapidly staining the pillow tucked underneath his head.

Kix wasted absolutely no time in treating the injured man, applying bacta in copious amounts to the damaged areas. I could hear him mumbling as he worked, although he was speaking so softly that I wasn't sure if he was talking to himself or Jesse. Fives kept a vigil by the wounded man's head, a firm hand grasping his shoulder as though hoping that if he held tight enough he could keep him from slipping away. Even Hardcase stayed nearby, just in case he was needed. He watched with his arms folded, fidgeting uncontrollably.

I thought Jesse's breathing might have become stronger as the bacta took hold, but I might have imagined it. Eventually, Kix drew back and leaned heavily against the bed.

"Thats all I can do."

Fives nodded, giving the unconscious man's shoulder one final squeeze. He swayed a little as he pushed himself away from the bunk.

"I'll keep watch."

Kix shook his head and sniffed loudly.

"You need rest, Fives," he said, sounding exhausted. "You have a head injury."

Fives shrugged, although even I could tell from a distance that his face was pale and pinched.

"I'm fine."

"You're not," the medic insisted, giving his brother an almost pleading look.

Fives deflated a little, eyes flickering between Kix and Jesse. I heard Hardcase clear his throat nearby.

"I'll stay."

Fives hesitated before grudgingly nodding.

"If you need anything, you know where to find me."

Kix nodded silently as Fives spun on his heel. He met my gaze and cocked an eyebrow at me.

"You need some shut eye too."

I wanted to argue but truthfully I was bone tired. The thought of a shower and sleep was tantalising, and I allowed the ARC trooper to put an arm around my shoulder and steer me from the room. I cast back a final look to see Kix bending over Jesse's bed, resting his forehead against the injured man's.

....................

The rest of the Batch had just returned from a patrol when I stepped into the barracks. Surprisingly, they barely seemed tired at all, which made me want to slap the lot of them. Omega and Toby were perched on the edge of one of the bunks, slouched against each other as they both tried to keep their eyes open.

Hunter must have smelled me coming because his face was wrinkled in an already prepared grimace as I walked through the door. His eyes however were soft and sympathetic.

"I know, I smell," I grunted with a sigh.

I made my way to the refresher without even acknowledging the rest of the squad. I was just too damned exhausted to interact with anyone.

I stripped off in the middle of the fresher, not even caring if someone where to walk in and see me naked. I stepped into the shower, cranking the water up hot. Standing under the stream I watched the grime swirl down the drain.

When I was finished, I wrapped a towel around myself and stumbled out of the shower. Someone had thoughtfully laid a pair of clean blacks on the bench for me, although I hadn't even heard the door open. I shrugged into the garments, which were slightly too long and baggy for me, but were at least not covered in sick and blood.

By the time I left the fresher, the others were stripped of their armour completely. I didn't know how late it was but I guessed the sun would soon be coming up, and I was surprised that no one was making a move towards bed. I flopped down to sit next to Crosshair, who was perched on the end of my bunk. I leaned into his shoulder and was grateful that he didn't shove me away.

"Gem," Omega croaked, twisting to peer at me and rubbing her bleary eyes with a fist. "Please can we make a blanket fort again?"

The corner of Toby's mouth quirked up and I mustered a half smile for the kid.

"Not tonight. I'm too tired."

The girl looked a bit put out but I really was just too damned drained for any nonsense.

"What's a blanket fort?" Hunter asked in amusement, raising his eyebrows at me.

"Literally what it says on the tin," I replied dryly.

"Ahh, sounds like fun," Wrecker grunted. He was slumped on his mattress, seemingly the only one that was outwardly affected by the strains of the day. I guessed lifting several hundred tones of scrap must have taken it out of him.

"No offence Wrecker but I'm not sure you'd fit in our blanket fort," I said with a huffed laugh. "Besides, we needed all the blankets when we did it before and there wouldn't be any left for anyone else to sleep under."

Omega pouted at me, her eyes huge and misty.

"But it helped keep us safe last time."

I noticed Hunter's face tighten at that, and I myself felt a little pang of sadness.

"Hey," Hunter said, pushing himself away from the table he had been leaning against and moving to crouch beside Omega. "We're all safe here."

The girl still didn't seem convinced and looked like she might argue. In the end it was Tech that diffused the situation.

"We could always do that thing that we used to do as cadets," he said, laying down his data pad and shuffling over to his own bunk.

I thought I heard Crosshair groan softly, but the noise was drowned out by Wrecker sitting bolt upright with a yell.

"Yeah! Let's do that!"

The giant leaped out of bed and started tearing the sheets off of his bunk. I glanced around the room, confused and trying to work out what the Hell was going on. Tech looked smug, while Hunter just looked resigned. Crosshair had a pained expression on his face, and Echo appeared to be as confused as me.

Once his bed was stripped, Wrecker dragged his mattress into the middle of the room, before starting on Crosshair's bunk. I heard the sniper hiss in annoyance, but he made no move to stop the man.

Wrecker proceeded to remove the mattresses from all the beds, piling them on the floor in the middle of the room. Once he was finished, and the rest of us were standing about, having nowhere else to sit, the man grabbed a blanket and a pillow and sunk down on the cushioned mound. He wriggled to get comfortable and pulled the blanket over himself, before eyeing the rest of us.

"Come on."

Omega dived in beside the large man without hesitation, snuggling up beside him. Tech followed, taking up position on Wrecker's other side. Hunter laid at the top, perpendicular to the others, with his arms folded behind his head. Even Echo and Crosshair joined the pile, although I noticed that the latter kept a good foot distance between himself and anyone else.

Toby and I exchanged an awkward look.

"Are you just going to stand there all night?" Crosshair drawled.

I shrugged before resigning myself to join to snuggle pile. I crawled in between Crosshair and Omega, shuffling so that I could be as close to the sniper as possible. I heard him sigh before he too was inching closer to me. He even allowed me to rest my head on his shoulder without flinching. Toby curled himself around Echo and shamelessly spooned the cyborg.

Hunter rose briefly to kill the lights, before settling back down at the head of the pile.

Despite the trauma of the day, the sound of the others drifting asleep and the warmth exuding from their bodies was enough to put me out almost instantly. My last sensation before I finally passed out was one of complete and total security. Surrounding by these men, there was nothing in the galaxy that could get me.

Chapter Text

I was the first to wake later that day.

I lay still for a moment, cuddled against Crosshair's side, listening to the even breathing of the others (and Wrecker's colossal snores) which told me that they were still sound asleep.

I closed my eyes, which felt gritty from tiredness, and tried to go back to sleep for a bit longer. I had no idea what the time was, but I still felt exhausted and guessed I must have only been out for a few hours.

Sighing, I shuffled around, trying to get comfortable in the limited space of the cuddle pile. Hunter had his knee wedged into my shoulder while Omega's feet were planted in the small of my back. It had been cosy last night, drifting off in such close proximity to the others, but now everybody had shifted in their sleep and my body was contorted into an unnatural position.

Groaning, I carefully disentangled myself from the others and stood, stretching the kinks out of my muscles. I considered laying down on the couch to try and grab a few more hours of shut eye, but my mind was now fully awake, despite the fact that my body was not. I gave the mound of bodies one last fleeting glance, before opening the door quietly and slipping out into the hallway.

The corridors were deserted and deathly silent. The smell of smoke was still strong, and I grimaced as the more unpleasant details of the night before came flooding back into my mind. I paused, halfway to the mess hall, intent on making myself some tea, before changing direction and heading off towards the medbay.

The room was hushed, the only real sound being the soft groans of the remaining patients and the beeping of various machines. The maintenance droids must have made their rounds while I was asleep because everything looked much cleaner and far less gruesome than it had previously.

I spotted Jesse, still unconscious in his bed, and was relieved to see his chest rising and falling steadily. He still looked like shit, but there was now some colour in his cheeks and he looked marginally less like a corpse.

Kix was slumped in a chair beside him, head resting on the mattress, eyes closed and jaw slack. He was fast asleep.

I paused to check no one needed any assistance, but the other wounded men also seemed to be dozing. I pulled a blanket from a nearby pile and draped it around the medic's shoulders, careful not to rouse him, before leaving him in peace.

Hesitating in the hallway, I decided to make my way to the command room to record the information I'd gathered on the journey to and from Ord Mantell. In truth, I felt incredibly guilty about abandoning my post to go off adventuring with the rest of the squad. If I'd stayed behind, perhaps there was something I could have done to prevent the bomb going off. I wasn't sure what that would have been in reality, but that didn't stop me feeling any less shitty.

I was surprised to find Rex alone in the command room. I had expected the Captain to be asleep like most of the others, but judging by the bags under his eyes, he didn't seem to have gotten any rest at all. By the grime on his face and armour, I also guessed he hadn't even stepped away from his post long enough to shower.

The man jolted upright in his chair when I entered the room, looking at me with eyes which were bordering on wild. The data pad which had been perched on his knee fell to the ground with a clatter.

His face calmed a bit when he saw it was me, although he didn't fully relax.

"Gem," he said with a falsely upbeat tone, smoothly rolling back into Captain mode. "What can I do for you?"

"Nothing," I answered, squinting at him suspiciously. He really did look a bit like a madman. "Just came to update the log sheet is all."

The man nodded, running a hand over his almost bald head. I stepped closer, stooping to pick up his data pad and passing it to him. He held the device in his hand gingerly as though it might bite him.

Rex caught me eyeing him worriedly before giving me a pathetic smile which did not reach his eyes.

"Just going over the reports from the explosion," he said flatly, placing the pad on the table. "Not that there's much to go over. Whoever set that bomb did a pretty good job of covering their tracks."

I swallowed and took a seat opposite the Captain, leaning forward to close the distance between us.

"Rex?"

He hummed in reply, rubbing his eyes with the back of his hand and smearing the dirt across his face even further. I licked my lips nervously, feeling my stomach clenching guiltily.

"I'm sorry I didn't stay behind."

Rex moved his hand away and gave me a confused look.

"What?"

I fiddled with the sleeve of my too large borrowed blacks.

"I should have stayed behind on base, like you asked," I said with a shrug. "Instead of gallivanting off with the others."

The man cocked an eyebrow at me.

"And what would that have achieved? Besides you possibly getting caught in the blast as well?"

I shook my head and wouldn't meet his gaze.

"Maybe if I'd stayed here I could have gotten through more of the logs," I admitted. "Maybe I could have found something useful before it was too late."

To my surprise, Rex reached out and rested the tips of his fingers on my knee. I started, lifting my gaze to see a stern look in his eyes.

"None of that," he said in a tone which left no room for argument. "You being here would have made no difference. Besides adding another person for me to worry about."

He gave me a soft smile which I returned shakily.

"I'm still sorry though," I muttered with a sniff.

Rex let go of me and leaned back in his chair with a sigh. We sat in silence for a moment before I cleared my throat, steeling myself to ask the uncomfortable questions that were niggling at the back of my mind.

"How many casualties?"

Rex's face took an a pained look.

"Too many. There was a safety drill in the hangar just before the bomb went off. There were a lot of people caught in the blast. Some.....some are still unaccounted for and.....we may never find their remains."

I swallowed, feeling sick at the thought that a person could literally be blown into so many pieces that nothing was left.

"And the ships? How many of those did we lose?"

"At least a third were damaged beyond repair," Rex answered, tone one of frustration. "The rest were either deployed or can be salvaged."

Silence once again as we both processed these losses.

"Rex, we gotta catch this bastard."

"I know."

I shuffled in my chair and let out a shakey breath, feeling anger bubbling up inside of me. How dare this spy pull such a dirty move? Killing someone face to face was one thing, but sneaking around and murdering from the shadows was something else entirely.

"I swear I'm gonna spend every waking moment going over those reports until I find something that gives the fucker away."

Rex chuckled softly, for once not annoyed at my use of harsh language.

"I believe you," he said with a smirk, eyeing me in amusement. "On the plus side, we managed to pull across all the comm logs onto the central computer before the ships got blown up."

I nodded, feeling more and more determined by the second.

"I guess our spy is likely to lay low for a while," I murmured thoughtfully. "After the explosion, he won't want to draw any attention to himself. It could buy us a bit of extra time."

"That's true," Rex mused, scratching his chin and scowling. "And the reports seem to indicate that the blast originated from one of the ships. Which means we can narrow down a time frame of when anyone had access to set the bomb."

I felt hope blossom at the thought that, despite the awful destruction the spy had caused, the explosion might actually be able to lead us closer to him.

"It means we can also narrow down our list of suspects," I added. Rex gave me a questioning look and I elaborated. "If we can determine which vessel the bomb was in, and we can work out when it was set, we can also look at which ships were away from base during that time. Logically the crews of those ships couldn't have had access to the hanger during that time frame."

"And therefore can be eliminated," Rex finished with a gleam in his eye. "Huh. I never thought of that."

I gave him a cocky grin.

"See? Sometimes I'm worth keeping around just for my bright ideas."

He laughed properly at that, giving me a look of approval.

"I've always known you were worth keeping around."

"Aww stop it Rex, you're gonna make me cry."

He pinched the bridge of his nose and screwed his eyes shut, still chuckling.

"If you start, I think I might join you."

He paused tensely after the admission and began fiddling with his data pad as though flustered. I noticed that his cheeks were blushing beneath the soot. I shuffled to the edge of my seat, reaching out to rest my hands on the knee guards of his armour.

"Rex, you gotta get some sleep."

He faltered at the concern in my voice and shifted uncomfortably.

"I-I'm fine," he said brusquely, making to stand up. I gripped him harder to hold him in place and cocked an eyebrow at him.

"Like Hell you are."

The Captain shook his head, screwing his eyes shut tightly once again.

"Too much to do. I can sleep later once everything quietens down."

"Rex, things are about as quiet as they're gonna get round here," I said with a huffed laugh. "Besides, I can take over for a bit. Start going through that bomb report."

Again, the man stubbornly shook his head.

"I've been far worse than this before," he admitted, gently pushing my hands away from him.

I sighed in exasperation. Damn this man was so pig headed! I had thought Crosshair was bad enough....

"That doesn't make it ok, Rex," I chided softly. "Besides, if you collapse from exhaustion, who's gonna keep things going then?"

He paused at my comment, and I could see his tired brain struggling with the dilemma. I took the opportunity to form a second argument.

"Look, why don't you go take a shower, then you can come back here and get some shut eye in one of the chairs while I start reviewing those reports?"

Rex raised his eyebrows at me and folded his arms across his chest.

"Are you commenting on the way I smell?" His voice was almost humorous and I felt myself grinning at him.

"Yes, Rex. Yes I am. Now please just go before your stench makes me sick."

"That's no way to speak to an officer." His lips quirked at the corners and I offered him my most dramatic eye roll.

"As I've said before, you are not MY officer."

He chuckled before wearily dragging himself to his feet.

"Fine. But I will be back here in five minutes."

I nodded and waved a dismissive hand in his direction.

Rex was indeed back in five minutes, more or less to the second, and I wondered if he'd actually timed himself. He did look better for a shower and a clean pair of blacks, although the shadows under his eyes were still present and clearly the water had not been able to wash away his exhaustion.

The man hovered as though he was considering joining me by the table, but I quickly stood and gestured to the chair in the corner of the room. Rex actually looked like he was going to sulk, but when I wouldn't budge he conceded to my demand and flopped down into the seat.

"Just gonna shut my eyes for a minute," he muttered, fidgeting to get comfortable and leaning his head back.

I gave him a half smile before returning to my own spot.

"You do that Rex."

Soft snores filled the room within seconds, but I blocked out the noise as best I could and got back to reviewing the report as promised.

....................

Echo grunted softly and fidgeted in my arms. I smiled, listening as he slowly came around, savouring the last few moments I had before he fully woke up and we were forced back into the reality of life.

I had to admit, the man did look sweet when he was sleeping, his face peaceful and lacking the usual worry lines that normally creased it during his waking hours. I studied his features in the dim illumination of the emergency lighting and felt my chest tighten.

Finally, Echo opened his eyes, blinking sleepily as he came to. He saw me watching him and gave me a crooked smile, which I returned.

"How long have you been awake?" he asked quietly, stretching carefully so as to avoid waking anyone else.

"Not long."

"You should have woken me."

I gave him a vague shrug, slightly mesmerised by how his eyes glinted in the half dark.

"I didn't like to. You looked peaceful."

The man's eyes became tight and a familiar frown etched his handsome face.

"I should get up. See if I can help in any way, after last night."

Last night. That had been a pretty intense ordeal. I'd seen a fair amount of disturbing shit before, but the thoughtless destruction had been a bit much, even for me.

I could tell from the distant look in his eyes that Echo was dwelling on his fallen brothers, so I gave him a soft shake. His gaze came back into focus and met my own.

"In a minute," I said in a hushed voice.

Echo looked like he might be drifting again, and so I leaned down and kissed him gently, eager to distract him from his dark thoughts.

He murmured into my mouth, and I was surprised when he reached up to grab hold of the front of my tunic, holding me in place as though worried I would float away. I deepened the kiss and he reciprocated, slipping his tongue into my mouth and causing blood to surge to my groin.

I became accutely aware that curled on a pile of mattresses surrounded by the rest of the squad may not be the best place to make out. I broke apart gently, taking a deep breath and resting my forehead against Echo's. The man sighed, letting go of my shirt and moving to card his fingers through my hair.

"We really should get up," he mumbled, eyes locked on mine.

"In a minute," I insisted, planting a kiss on his cheek.

Echo chuckled throatily, the noise causing my already half hard cock to stiffen even further.

"No more minutes," he said, raising his eyebrows at me as though unamused.

He made as though to get up but hesitated, suddenly looking embarrassed.

"Echo?" I asked cautiously, giving him a bemused frown. "Everything alright?"

"Fine," he almost yelped, eyes wide.

"You sure?"

"Yeah. I just - err - can't get up just yet."

I blinked slowly, very confused as to why he was behaving so oddly.

"OK.....but I thought you just said you wanted to?"

"I do. I just - err - have a problem," he mumbled, and I thought I saw him blush in the low light.

I cocked my head questioningly at him, and noticed his eyes darting downwards. Following his gaze, I saw the bulge in his blacks and realised that he too was turned on by our little make out session.

I gave him a savage grin, which only seemed to make him more embarrassed, before gently laying my hand on his hip, inches from his crotch. Echo gave a sharp intake of breath, and my smile widened as I leaned in to kiss his neck.

"How about we slip into the fresher?" I asked, feeling a thrill at the prospect of a quick blow job. "Take your mind off things?"

I heard a soft groan, and, thinking it was Echo confirming his agreement to my proposal, made to roll to my feet.

Abruptly I heard a rustle from behind me and froze, suspended over Echo.

"Please don't," Hunter grunted irritably and I saw a look of horror flit over the face of the man beneath me. "I really don't care if you're kriffing each other, but please could you at least do it out of earshot? It's bad enough dealing with Crosshair and Gem."

It was my turn to blush furiously, and I was silently grateful that I hadn't engaged in anything more incriminating.

"Sorry," I said with a wince.

Hunter huffed in reply, and I lowered my gaze to meet Echo's again.

"Cold shower it is then, I guess."

....................

I heard the door of the command room open behind me, and was aware of soft footsteps approaching. I smiled to myself, able to recognise that stride anywhere.

Laying down my data pad, I cast a glance at Rex, who was still asleep, before rubbing my eyes, which already felt strained.

Crosshair came to a halt behind me, leaning forward to rest his elbows on the back of my chair, on either side of my head. I felt his breath brush my face as he peered over my shoulder at the mounds of discernable paper and other debris which littered the desk.

"Thought I'd find you here."

I rested my head back against his collar bone and felt a pang when he didn't draw back. The timid, affectionless Crosshair who not too long ago would flinch at the slightest contact seemed to have disappeared, and I felt a surge of pride at the progress our relationship had made.

"Sorry, I couldn't get back to sleep so I thought I might as well do something useful."

Over in the corner, Rex grunted and smacked his lips, lolling his head to one side as he shifted in his sleep. I saw Crosshair smirk at the Captain's lifeless form and he looked as though he was mentally filing the image away for future blackmail use.

"Nice to see our leader is taking his job so seriously," the grey haired man said with a heavy note of sarcasm.

I gave him a poke and a disapproving look.

"Leave him alone. He's exhausted."

Crosshair gazed down at me with a suspicious frown. I sighed and reached up to loop my arms around his neck, tugging him closer before he started getting insecure or jeleous for no reason.

The gesture seemed to distract him because he cocked a sharp eyebrow at me before lowering his face and sucking a kiss into my neck.

When I didn't push him off, he planted another, moving up to nip the underside of my jaw, half hanging upside-down as he loomed above me.

"Dont distract me," I groaned quietly, leaning back into the affection.

Crosshair hummed before grasping my jaw in one hand and kissing me forcefully on the lips. I whined quietly, chastising myself for my reaction.

He pulled away after a moment, staring down at me with an amused expression on his face, taking in my slightly open mouth and rosy cheeks.

"I wouldn't dream of it."

He moved around me to lean against the table, arms folded as he surveyed me. I swallowed, wanting quite badly to drag the guy away to an empty supply closet, but knowing I really did have to focus on the task at hand. Lives might very well depend on it. I ran a hand over my face and blew through my nose heavily.

"I'm sorry Cross."

Crosshair narrowed his eyes warily, suspicion creasing his angular face.

"For what?"

I gestured at the desk, the charts on the wall, and the literal mountain of data pads propped on one of the chairs.

"This. What with the bombing....Rex's project....it's gonna take up a lot more of my time."

The man's face suddenly became very serious, and I withdrew slightly at the intensity in his eyes.

"I can't say I fully understand what exactly it is that Rex has you doing," he said quietly, studying my features intently. "But I know it must be important. So you do whatever you need to do. And I'll be waiting on the other side."

It was such a simple statement but I felt myself beginning to well up. I reached out to touch his knee and to my surprise he clasped my hand in his own, gently running a thumb over my knuckles.

"I love you," I murmured, giving his hand a squeeze.

He tugged me to my feet, pulling me into his embrace and cradling me with his arms. I leaned against him, resting my head on his chest and listening to his slow, strong heartbeat.

I marvelled that, at least amongst all the chaos, I had his steadiness to ground me.

Chapter Text

A week had passed since the bombing and, thankfully, Jesse was making a full recovery under Kix's watchful eye. I had visited him a few times in the medbay, whilst on my way to or from the barracks. He was groggy still at first, but after a few days he looked like he might be ready to climb the walls of the infirmary out of boredom.

The second possitive point was that Rex's task force was making progress with the investigation.

We had determined which ship had held the bomb that had destroyed the hangar. Unfortunately, the vessel in question had been grounded for essential repairs weeks before the explosion, meaning that the window of opportunity for the spy to plant the bomb was very large. This then in turn meant that our list of potential suspects only lessened fractionally, seeing as there were only two others ships away from base on long term deployment for the whole time the bomb ship was grounded.

It was nonetheless a starting point, and we tried to remain hopeful.

The biggest break came when we began examining the wreckage from the blast.

The hangar, and every piece of salvageable scrap had been piled to one side of the airfield. Rex had sent Fives and I out in the middle of the night, equipped with portable scanners, to see what we could determine from the ruined machinery.

Fives and I crept around in the darkness, trying to keep a low profile so as not to be seen by anyone nearby. Fortunately for us, Rex had chosen an ungodly hour to send us on our task, and the remains of the hangar and landing pad were deserted.

The elemental scan had come up with some interesting results, most notably residue from the actual bomb itself.

I'd though Rex was going to bust something he was so excited when we relayed our findings. The chemical composition brought up no results from the data banks, and we concluded the explosive device was home made.

This opened up a whole new area to explore. The chemicals themselves were fairly common - most were found in cleaning fluids and could easily have been removed from any of the many supply cupboards. Luckily, strict inventories were kept of everything on base, and it didn't take us long to locate the specific storage room the chemicals had been taken from. As the supply records were updated every few days, we also had a time stamp and could determine that the items were stolen three weeks prior to the explosion.

This again meant that we could remove all personnel that were not stationed on Nasu during the three day period in which the supplies went missing from our list of suspects.

All in all, it finally felt like we were gaining some ground, although I tried not to let myself get too complacent as I knew such a mistake could be fatal if the spy struck again.

....................

I felt a pair of hands gently nudging my shoulder and jolted back into consciousness. I shook myself roughly, not even sure when I had dozed off.

Looking up, I saw Rex standing over me, peering down with concern in his tired eyes. I wiped the drool off my chin, and straightened the pile of papers I'd been using as an impromptu pillow.

"Sorry Rex. Didn't mean to fall asleep."

The Captain shook his head and leaned heavily against the table I was working at.

"It's late," he said croakily, his voice betraying his own tiredness. "You should head back to the barracks."

"I'm good for a bit longer."

He cocked an eyebrow at me and gave me a disbelieving look.

"No you're not. Dozing off means you could miss something. Go and get some sleep and start again tomorrow."

I hesitated, stubbornly wanting to carry on but also fully aware that I was too tired to focus anymore. I glanced at the communication logs I had been reviewing and sighed.

"Fine. But if I'm turning in, you should too," I said, giving Rex a scornful look.

He nodded, offering me his hand and pulling me to my feet.

"I'll grab a couple of hours in the corner," he agreed, indicating the makeshift cot we had set up at the far end of the room.

I grunted skeptically, and folded my arms in what I hoped was a no nonsense manner. It didn't seem to work however because Rex just gave me a confused look.

"Something wrong?" he asked warily, tilting his head to one side.

"No, just that I don't believe you."

He blinked dumbly and even in my tired state his indignant face was quite amusing.

"Excuse me?"

"I know you haven't been sleeping."

Rex gave me a frown before pretending to rearrange a pile of papers on the nearby desk.

"What makes you say that?" he asked innocently.

I made a scoffing sound and he turned to face me long enough for me to shoot him a pointed look.

"The bags under your eyes."

Rex unconsciously went to touch his face, as though to check the dark marks were really there. He caught himself, and turned the gesture into scratching his chin.

"They've always been there," he said with a small chuckle.

I peered worriedly at him and he shrank back a little at the scrutiny.

"I'm serious Rex."

"So am I."

I huffed irritably, tired and eager to get to bed and in no real mood to have this childish argument to try and get a grown man to take a nap.

"I don't mean about the bags," I growled, pausing to take a deep breath before I continued. "Don't think I haven't noticed. I leave for the night only to come back in the morning to find you looking worse than before."

"That's none of your business!"

"It is Rex, it is. Youre gonna kill yourself if you keep on like this. Then where would we be?"

He opened and closed his mouth a few times and scowled as though composing a counter argument.

"I'll be fine," he snapped, shifting his feet and clenching his fists. "I just gotta keep going a bit longer."

I took a deep breath, stepping closer and reaching out to grip his forearms. Rex's eyes went wide and took on a panicked look.

"You need to stop," I said softly, squeezing his arms. "You're not the only one who's involved in this. Me, Jesse, Fives - we can all pull our weight. You're not doing this alone Rex, so please try to remember than before you run yourself into the ground."

His eyes flickered between mine and his jaw was set tightly. He was angry I realised, although I couldn't tell if it was at me or his own inability to function at full capacity all the time.

"Gem, this person - this BASTARD - is hurting the people I care about. How can I sleep knowing that every moment I spend resting is a moment closer to losing another brother?"

His voice cracked a bit at the end, either from emotion or exhaustion I couldn't tell. The falter was so uncharacteristic that it caught me off guard. I stepped towards the man, moving my hands to cup his face, knowing full well that this was inappropriate and that Crosshair would fly into a jeleous sulk if he knew. But there was something about the darkness in Rex's eyes that was concerning.

Rex didn't move away from the contact, he merely eyed me suspiciously, as though not sure what I was doing or why.

"I know," I whispered sincerely, fixing my gaze on his amber eyes. "But you said it yourself: this is marathon, not a sprint. And if you collapse from exhaustion, how do you think that's gonna affect moral around here?"

He gave me a puzzled look.

"What do you mean?"

I sighed heavily and considered my next words.

"What I'm trying to say, is that you mean a lot to all of us, and none of us want to see you suffering, Rex. We all know how much you care about everybody on this base. You don't have to push yourself to an early grave to prove that."

I expected him to argue again but to my surprise, his gaze became downcase and he visibly deflated.

"I keep thinking about them all," he said, voice barely above a whisper.

It was my turn to look confused.

"Who?"

He swallowed loudly and his eyes took on a haunted quality.

"All those folks that got caught in the blast."

His voice was flat and emotionless, though I knew beneath the surface he was teetering on the edge. It was a testament to his character that he didn't just let himself fall over that precipice, because Maker knew, it seemed like the easiest option sometimes. I thought back to the day after the bomb, when we'd had to bury the fallen men in a mass grave, without pomp or ceremony, or even a stone to mark their names.

"They all knew the risks coming into this," I said firmly, running my thumb over Rex's stubbly cheek. "They all knew that going up against the Empire would be dangerous."

"I know, but it's my job to keep them all safe and I failed."

"Rex, we are at war. None of us are safe."

I was shocked at my own calm tone and wise words. I tried not to let my surprise show.

The Captain seemed to come around a bit then, and I could almost hear the gears in his head going round as he processed what I'd said.

"I just...." he paused as though considering his next words carefully, "I just wanted to make things better. For everyone, but especially for the other troopers. During the war, us clones were more or less slaves of the Republic. I just wanted my men to be free, to find their own places. And look where it got us. We're still fighting. Still dying."

I felt my heart clench at his confession.

"You're a good Captain, Rex," I said gently, "a good leader. You're men would follow you to the ends of the galaxy."

"That makes it worse. Every mistake - every death - is my fault."

"No it's not. Because you always put everyone else before yourself. You would never, ever, do anything if you didn't believe it was in the best interest of others. Mistakes happen. Bad things happen. That's just the way the galaxy works, and there's nothing you or I can do to change that. We just have to do what we can, and right now that means catching this fucking spy and putting an end to him. But you won't be able to do that unless you are fighting fit."

There was silence then while Rex let my words sink in. Finally he met my gaze and gave me a half smile.

"You're quite wise, you know that?"

"Piss off."

He chuckled throatily and I was relieved to see that his face no longer looked quite as pained as it had a moment ago. The darkness were still there, but the shadows no longer appeared to be in danger of swallowing him whole.

"Please just get some sleep Rex?"

He sighed heavily before nodding. I let go of his face and moved to take his hand, gently tugging him towards the cot. He followed sheepishly, embarrassed at his own compliance.

"Take off your armour."

"Wh-what?!"

I rolled my eyes at the Captain and gave him an amused smile. He seemed to be blushing with uncharacteristic furiousity.

"Relax, I'm not gonna take advantage of you," I said with a laugh. "But you won't get any decent sleep in all that gear."

Rex looked even more flustered than before. I busied myself with tidying some of the papers on the nearby desk as he seemed self conscious. I heard him shuffling behind me and the telltale thumps as he piled his armour on the floor.

There was a sigh as the man lowered himself into the bunk, and I turned around to see Rex wearily wrestling with the blanket.

"Come here."

I took the sheet and laid it over him so that he was sufficiently covered. He looked incredibly embarrassed at being mothered, but I really was too tired to care about his wounded pride.

I perched on the end of the bed and rubbed my grainy eyes.

"What are you doing?"

"Staying here until you fall asleep."

"Gem, I am a grown-"

"Quiet. Sleep time now."

He spluttered for a moment before huffing and wriggling about under the covers. Finally, he lay still and I rested my head in my hands, fighting the urge to drift off.

After a minute, I glanced around at Rex and saw that his eyes were shut and his mouth was open. He was already asleep. I carefully stood and studied the sleeping man for a moment, just to make sure he wasn't faking. When I was certain he was out for the count, I tiptoed from the room, turned off the lights and locked the door.

Leaning against the wall, I listened just to make sure I couldn't hear Rex leaping out of the cot once I'd left, before I wearily made my way to my own barracks.

....................

The lights were out when I quietly entered the room, and the only sound that could be heard were the deep rumbling snores emanating from the direction of Wrecker's rack.

I groped my way to my bunk, hastily removing my coat and boats, before sinking down onto the soft bed, feeling particularly drained after my conversation with Rex and eager to get some much needed sleep.

Except that, instead of the squidgy mattress, my ass connected with something lumpy and angular and I leapt to my feet in a heartbeat. Whatever I had sat on grunted irritably and I heard a rustle and the creak of springs as it shifted it's position.

"Bit of warning would have been nice."

"Fuck, Cross! You scared the shit out of me!"

I heard him huff and gingerly felt for the edge of the bed, carefully lowering myself so that I wouldn't sit on him again.

"What are you doing?" I hissed, still reeling slightly from the surprise of finding Crosshair in my bunk.

A momentary pause that was broken by a particularly drawn out rasp from Wrecker.

"Sleeping."

I tutted in annoyance, reaching out to trace the outline of his leg through the blanket.

"I meant in my bed."

He hummed, and I felt his bony fingers wrap around my forearms as he tugged me closer to him.

"Waiting for you."

I leaned back into the pull and settled down on the bunk beside Crosshair. He lifted the blanket and I wriggled underneath, pressing myself into him. The man made a huffing sound of mock irritation as I invaded his space, but it was my damned bunk after all and he was the intruder.

"Hey, you started this," I whispered, trying to get comfortable in the narrow bed.

"Beginning to regret that. You take up more room than Wrecker."

"Since when have you ever shared a bed with Wrecker?"

Crosshair chuckled softly, moving to wrap his arms around my chest tightly. I sighed contentedly, feeling myself relax into the warm embrace. My eyelids fluttered closed and I felt myself beginning to drift off.

The sniper shifted his hips slightly and my eyes snapped open as I felt something hard press against my ass.

"Um, Cross?"

"Hmmm?"

I fidgeted again, trying to put some distance between us, but the task was impossible in such a confined space. In response to my squirming, Crosshair pulled me in impossibly close. I swallowed, feeling my face heating up.

"Sorry to be blunt, but your cock is sort of distracting me."

There was a momentary pause, before Crosshair ground against me slowly, deliberately pressing himself into me.

"What's distracting about it?"

His tone was a low seductive purr. I bit my lip to hold in a groan.

Crosshair leaned forward to kiss the back of my neck softly, one of his hands slipping underneath my shirt and making its way to my boob. I did let out a noise then, as his thumb circled my nipple. His other hand reached out to wrap around my mouth firmly. Unable to make a sound, I rolled my eyes at the sudden stimulation, thoughts of sleep totally forgotten.

"Let's go somewhere quieter," I suggested, pulling his hand away from my face.

I heard him grunt into my neck and he gave another grind of his pelvis against my backside.

"'M comfortable."

"But the others-"

"-are all asleep."

I blew through my nose to calm my racing heart, accutely aware that Toby was lying just a couple of feet away from me. Thank fuck he was a heavy sleeper.

"Fine, just be quiet," I muttered, twisting so that I could kiss him properly on the lips.

Crosshair wasted no time in slipping his tongue into my mouth. We battled briefly for dominance before I finally gave in and let him press me into the mattress.

The hand which had been wrapped around my mouth moved to gently squeeze my throat and I whimpered pitifully. The noise seemed to do something to Crosshair because I felt his dick harden beyond all belief against my side.

I reached a hand down, ghosting the fabric of his shirt, trailing his abs and traveling over the v of muscle leading to his groin. My fingers slipped beneath the waist band of his blacks and I grasped his cock in my hand firmly. Crosshair stopped kissing me and moved to sink his teeth into the crook of my neck. I hissed at the pain and squeezed him harder. I could hear him grinding his teeth as I started stroking him.

After a while, the man let go of my neck and retrieved my hand from his crotch. I whined in disappointment, but the noise was cut off as Crosshair rolled me onto my side so that I was facing away from him. One hand wrapped around my shoulders and the other roughly pulled down my trousers. I shrugged the garments off all the way and kicked them out of the bed hastily.

Crosshair gripped my leg and pulled it behind him, hooking my ankle over his ass before two fingers tentatively dipped into me. I jerked my head back, almost headbutting him in the face, while I concentrated on not making a sound.

The sniper seemed somewhat wound up, and I could hear his ragged breaths brush my neck as he started nibbling my ear. I couldn't help but moan softly at that, and the hand that wasn't fucking me snaked back up to clamp over my mouth.

"Thought you said we needed to be quiet?" he whispered in my ear.

I whined pathetically around his hand.

He didn't spend too long working me up, for which I was grateful. I felt his fingers withdraw and he was then guiding his cock into me. The hand over my mouth was a blessing as I felt sure I would have sqealed in delight as he slid all the way in.

Crosshair was slow and yet firm, thrusting in and out all the while pinning my body to his and keeping me silent with his hand. The other moved to rub my clit and I grunted softly.

"Shhhhh."

The command sent a shiver up my spine and I tensed involuntarily, causing Crosshair to curse softly as I clenched around him.

"Fuck, sweetheart," he panted, nipping my throat hungrily. "I've missed this."

I guessed he must be pretty far gone to say something so needy, but nonetheless the confession caught me off guard and my muscles spasmed again, drawing out a groan from the man behind. I nodded in response, unable to speak around my impromptu gag. It really had been some time since we'd even had a moment alone together. Not that we were alone right now, I supposed....

The thumb pleasuring me pressed a little harder and I clenched my jaw so hard I thought my teeth would crack. I reached around to grab Crosshair's ass, giving him the signal that I was about to go over the edge. His motions slowed and his hips started snapping into me forcefully in the way he knew I liked.

Panting shallowly as a blissfully intense orgasm hit me, I arched my back so that my ass crushed against Crosshair's groin, pushing him in deeper than before. He gave a few more half hearted thrusts before he himself came, biting down on the collar of my shirt so as to muffle his moan.

We lay still for a few minutes as we floated back down. When I was lucid enough, I held my breath and listened for any sign that we had woken the others. But there was nothing to indicate anyone had been disturbed from their slumber, and quite honestly I doubted even Hunter's sensitive ears could pick up any sound over Wrecker's collosal snores.

We pulled apart long enough to redress before laying back down side by side. I hummed in complete satisfaction, pulling Crosshair's arm over my body and cuddling it like Omega did with her stuffed toys. He didn't object and I was just opening my mouth to wind him up when I heard soft snores coming from behind me.

Sighing, I closed my eyes and fell into a refreshingly dreamless sleep. It was a welcome change from the nightmares.

Chapter Text

"We need to implement tighter security protocols."

Jesse and Fives both nodded at Rex's suggestion but I hesitated as I considered his proposal. The Captain noticed my unease and gave me a questioning look, his eyes sharper for a good night's sleep.

"Do you not agree, Gem?"

The other two turned to face me and I leaned my elbows on my knees and met their gazes.

"No, I'm not sure that's a good idea at this point," I said with a sigh letting my shoulders sag wearily. Although I had enjoyed the fact that Crosshair had kept me awake most of the previous night, it now meant that I was dead tired and struggling to function.

Rex blinked slowly.

"What makes you say that?" he asked.

I shrugged and eyed Fives' nearby cup of caff. Although I couldn't stand the stuff I was desperately in need of a pick me up.

"I'm worried that if we implement too many extra security measures, it'll make our spy suspicious. If he thinks we're close to getting him, he might bail out. The Empire will most likely end up blowing up the base if they don't think they'll get anything more out of us."

Rex frowned and scratched his chin in thought.

"True, but if we don't tighten security then there's still scope for him to cause damage. If the Empire does make a move against us our long range scanners will pick up any fleet entering our orbit. It'll give us enough time to evacuate and slip away before they are able to open fire."

"Unless the spy is able to sabotage our scanners," Jesse added gloomily.

"Cheery," said Fives sarcastically, although I could see that his own brow was creased with worry.

"Which is why we need to go into lock down now," Rex replied firmly, teeth gritted in determination. "Issue all personnel with access codes for every area of the base. That way we can keep track of movements, and hopefully prevent our spy from getting in and out of too many places he shouldn't be. We'll recall all troopers and ground everyone for as long as necessary. We should also station guards at every entrance, just to make sure he doesn't escape."

"That's all very well," I said, meeting Rex's gaze, "but if our spy is as clever as we think he is, he could hack into our systems as he has been doing all along, and help himself to anyone else access codes. That would just cause more confusion."

"Which is why we won't be storing any of this information on any central system," Rex responded quickly. "It'll all be recorded by hand and the papers will be under lock and key at all times."

"Fine. But what about the consequences of grounding everybody for an extended period?" I asked, cocking an eyebrow at the Captain.

Jesse cleared his throat and wearily ran a hand over his tattooed head.

"If we go into lockdown now, we have enough supplies to last a month," the man said, scrolling through his data pad. "Maybe more if we're careful."

I grunted in acknowledgement, before moving onto my next point.

"And the guards? How do we know who we can trust enough to keep watch on the exits?"

"Easy," Rex replied with a smug grin. "The only troopers who will posted on guard duty will be the ones that were away from base when our spy stole that gear to make the bomb. We know it can't be any of them."

I held up my hands in defeat.

"OK, fine, I agree."

"Finally she gives in," Fives said with a cheeky smile.

I gave him a scathing look before reaching over to steal his cup of caff and take a swig, grimacing at the vile, bitter taste.

"Hey that's mine!"

"You snooze you lose."

Rex gave the pair of us a disapproving look as we bickered, but the atmosphere in the command room had changed significantly now that we had a firm plan.

I was no hunter, but it did feel as though we were closing in on our prey.

....................

Fives and I had been tasked with issuing all personnel with security codes, which would allow everybody access to certain rooms on base. Everytime a code was used, the information would be recorded on the central data base so that we had a record of which specific individuals had been accessing which areas. The information would be downloaded on data sticks every hour and the system would be wiped to prevent the spy being able to access too much information at any one time.

We had set up a makeshift area in the training courtyard to base ourselves in. It was damned cold, but we felt being outside would be safer as it was less likely that the area would be bugged.

It took less than a day for all squad's to report in to collect their security codes. There was a great deal of grumbling from both the troopers and civilians alike. Many of them did not like the idea of being regulated so heavily, but we assured everybody it was in the best interests of all to prevent any further incidents, and most eventually conceded, if a little grudgingly.

By the time Fives and I were packing up to leave the courtyard, the guards which Rex had organised were already stationed at the doors, and I marvelled at how quickly things had been put into motion.

The most depressing downside to the new security measures however was the fact that we now had twice as much data to go through everyday, what with the records now being kept of all personnel movement around the base.

Sitting at my spot in the command room, the full magnitude of the task finally sank in as I surveyed the stack of data sticks already threatening to spill over the edge of the table. I sighed heavily, knowing full well that I would be more or less confined to command for the foreseeable future, and hoping that Crosshair wouldn't get too cranky from lack of sex. Gritting my teeth, I picked up the first stick and got to work.

....................

"It feels like its going to be a pain in the ass having to enter access codes just to get in and out of every room," I grumbled as Echo and I made our way down the corridor in the direction of the mess hall.

Echo shrugged and bumped his shoulder against mine affectionately.

"I don't much like being reduced to a number again either," he said with a sigh, "but honestly, I get why we need to do this."

I grumbled for a bit longer and marched along sulkily. Echo shot me an amused look.

"What's your real issue with this?" he asked with a quirk of his lips.

I shook my head and grunted, feeling awkward and a little embarrassed.

"It's an invasion of privacy," I mumbled lamely, to which the other man barked a laugh.

"Privacy! No such thing in the army, I'm afraid."

He reached out with his scomp arm and poked me in the side. I scowled at him, which only seemed to amuse him further.

"Fine!" I snapped irritably, rubbing the spot where he'd jabbed me. "I'm annoyed because this means we won't be able to sneak off to the supply cupboard anymore."

Echo stopped in his tracks and gave me a puzzled look.

"What do you mean?"

I turned to face him and leaned against the wall, glancing about to make sure no one could hear us. The hallway was deserted save for us two.

"I mean," I said, sulkily folding my arms, "if we have to enter access codes to sneak into said supply cupboard, that's gonna look real suspicious. And I really can't face having THAT awkward conversation with Rex about what we would be doing in a supply cupboard in the first place, can you?"

Echo blushed a little and looked to the side. I cursed myself silently.

"Hey," I stepped forward and rested my hands on his armoured waist. "It's got nothing to do with you. I truly don't mind people knowing about us. It's just that the thought of having any sort of sex talk with Rex actually makes me want to die."

He smiled half heartedly, still not looking totally convinced. I took the opportunity to pull him closer to me and wrap my arms fully around him. Echo tensed momentarily before relaxing into the gesture, resting his head against my shoulder.

"Guess we'll just have to find somewhere else to make out," he said softly and I smiled.

"That's the spirit."

He chuckled, pulling back enough to study my face and giving me a wolfish grin. I felt my stomach do a flip at the mischievous glint in his eyes.

"It's pretty deserted right here," he said cheekily and I cocked an eyebrow at him.

"What are you suggesting trooper?"

Echo tilted his head to one side briefly before pushing me back against the wall. I grunted from the impact and the man seemed to take great enjoyment from the look on my face.

He looped his arms around my neck and gave me a coy smile. I reciprocated by running my hands down his armour and resting them against his ass. I pressed my palms against the plastoid, drawing him further into my body. I could see a flush rising on his cheeks as I leaned down to kiss him.

I had to admit, a steamy snog in the corridors where anybody could walk by was exciting. I could tell by the way Echo ground his codpiece against my aching groin that he was equally as turned on as I was.

Neither of us made any moves to escalate the encounter, we were both quite happy to slowly make out against the wall. Deep down, I half hoped that Echo would break away to drag me off for something more intimate, but I had learned by now that the man was somewhat reserved when it came to the location for any sexual activities. He needed to feel totally comfortable in his surroundings for that, and I was happy to respect his needs.

I was so engrossed in the feeling of Echo's tongue in my mouth and his armour pressing into my crotch that I didn't hear the sound of approaching footsteps. When someone cleared their throat a few feet away we both jumped violently and Echo almost bit through my tongue.

We leapt apart guiltily as though scalded and twisted to eye the intruder.

The trooper called Fives stood with his arms folded and a shit eating grin plastered across his face.

"Well, well," he said, his features almost splitting in two. "What do we have here?"

I expected Echo to become flustered at the disturbance, but if anything he seemed to relax.

"Whaddya want Fives?"

Fives tutted dramatically and his smile vanished to be replaced by an innocent look.

"Nothing," he said casually. "I was just walking along, minding my own business, when what should I come across but my very own brother with his tongue down someone's throat."

"Stow it," Echo half snapped, looking irritated more than embarrassed.

Fives pretended to be shocked, laying a hand on his chest indignantly.

"What would Rex say? Making out in the corridors like some frisky shiney."

"Fives-"

"Alright, alright! Ill leave it alone."

Fives gave me an amused look and I shifted under his gaze. He shook his head before laying an arm across Echo's shoulder.

"Come on brother, let's go get some grub. You must be famished after all that snogging."

"Fives, I swear-"

"I'm joking!"

Fives lead Echo away towards the mess hall and I was left to trail along awkwardly behind, feeling a little bit put out that my boyfriend had been stolen away.

We reached the canteen, the smell of caff wafting invitingly through the open doorway. Echo made his way inside and I went to follow but was stopped by a firm hand on my chest. I looked down to see Fives leaning into me, his amused face replaced by one of stern seriousness.

"Don't hurt him."

I blinked stupidly, my brain taking a moment to process his words.

"Excuse me?"

"You heard me," Fives said, voice pitched low so as not to be overheard by anyone nearby. "If you ever break my brother's heart, I will kill you."

I scowled down at the shorter man, knowing by the intense, burning look in his eye that he was dead serious.

"I have no intention of it," I replied, ashamed that my voice faltered slightly.

Fives smiled tightly, but there was no humour in his eyes.

"Good. Then we won't have a problem."

He clapped me on the shoulder before stalking into the mess hall. I hovered in the doorway for a second before making my way inside, feeling like a kicked tooka.

....................

"Do you want to tell me what you and Crosshair were doing in storage room B-622 last night?"

I blinked at the screen of my data pad, feeling as though I had been hit with a stun blast. I could almost feel Jesse and Fives holding their breaths in anticipation.

I schooled my features before calmly laying the device down and meeting Rex's gaze. The Captain kept his face expressionless, though I did notice his eyes tighten, even from across the room.

"Logs say your access code was used at 2324, and his was used at 2336. Care to give me an explanation?"

"What do you think we were doing, Rex?" I asked, tone only slightly sarcastic.

Rex held my stare for a moment before turning back to survey the remaining security logs, face beginning to blush.

I heard Fives snort in the corner.

"Twelve minutes - not very impressive."

"Some people prefer a sprint to a marathon," I quipped, cocking an eyebrow.

"You said you were going to get caff," Jesse added with a perplexed look on his face, as though unable to believe that I had mislead him.

"I did," I said innocently, picking up my data pad once again. "I just took a detour is all."

There was a moment of silence before I heard Jesse groan.

"Aww, really?" he said, sounding disgusted. "We store rations in that room!"

I glanced over at Rex and saw that he was staring at the screen of his data pad, eyes unmoving and face extremely red.

The quiet was broken by Fives sighing loudly.

"Everybody's getting some but me," he said dramatically, hanging his head and sulking.

I huffed a laugh which only made the man pout harder.

"I don't think me and Cross count as everybody, Fives."

"Not just you two," the ARC trooper said irritably. "Echo and your friend are at it as well."

There was a brief pause in which I saw Rex blinking dumbly down at his data pad.

"Wait - our Echo?"

"Well who else?!"

"And Gem's Toby?"

"Hey!" I interjected quickly. "He ain't mine. I'm not taking responsibility."

"Yup," Fives continued in response to Rex's question, fidgeting irritably and drumming his fingers against the table. "I caught them making out in the corridor earlier. And it's not just them that are hooking up. Hardcase is seeing that lady mechanic, you know the one with the purple hair? And the other day I saw Kix with a massive hickey on his neck."

The man shook his head in disbelief. I glanced over at Jesse to give him a bemused look, but saw that the tattooed man was also blushing. I frowned in confusion, before putting two and two together - the tender moments I'd seen the Lieutenant and the medic share, the panic in Kix's eyes when Jesse had been missing after the bomb. I met Jesse's gaze and gave him a soft look, which only made the man flush more.

"Aww Fives," I said with feigned sadness, turning my attention back to the ARC trooper. "You feeling left out there buddy?"

"No!" he snapped a little too venenously.

I sniggered into my data pad.

"Don't feel bad," I said brightly, thoroughly enjoying the fact that two of these grown men were almost melting with embarrassment and the other was sulking because he wasn't getting any sex. "I'm sure you're not the only one on Nasu who's not getting laid."

Fives grumbled and folded his arms.

"In my defense there aren't many options on base."

Rex coughed loudly.

"Need I remind you all that we are trying to track down a spy here," he said tensely, still looking quite flustered by the subject of conversation.

"Sorry Rex," Fives and I both said in tandem.

The room fell silent for another minute.

"Hey Fives, if you get really lonely, there's always your hand."

I ducked as a bundle of papers flew over my head, scattering against the wall.

"For kriffs sake you two!"

"Sorry Rex!"

Chapter Text

Things on Nasu were rather dull without any prospect of immediate deployment.

I barely saw Gem at all nowadays: she spent most of her time locked away in the command room with Rex and the others. The rest of the Batch were starting to get restless, and I did my best to stay out of the way, not keen to have my head bitten off by a cranky, sex deprived Crosshair.

On the plus side, being grounded with the others meant I got to spend a lot more time with Echo. Not alone, of course: that was almost impossible since the implementation of Rex's new security measures. But it was still nice to be around him, even if there was no chance of being intimate.

We spent most of our time undertaking menial repair tasks on base. Echo was very good at fixing anything mechanical, and although I wasn't as skilled as he was, I was still able to assist, even if it was just passing him the appropriate tool. Or making him a cup of caff just the way he liked it.

One such morning, we sat together in the generator room on the roof of the building while Echo worked on maintaining some of the heating systems. It was blissfully warm in the confined space, and a welcome reprieve from the bitter cold outside. I watched quietly as Echo's nimble finger and scomp arm combo made quick work of locating and remedying various problems.

He caught me surveying him and gave me a self conscious smile.

"You don't have to sit up here with me y'know," the man said, shuffling forward to peer at a bundle of very complex looking wiring.

I shrugged my shoulders and moved my foot so that it brushed against his armoured thigh.

"I like watching you work."

Echo cocked an eyebrow at me.

"Uh huh."

"It's true," I replied innocently before grinning cheekily at him. "Watching you unpick circuit boards does it for me. Makes me think of all the other things you can do with those fingers."

"Dont be rude," Echo said, cheeks flushing a little.

I held up my hands in a placating gesture.

"Sorry, I just can't help myself."

"Please try. You're distracting me."

I shot him a wickedly impish look.

"I'm so sorry, Sir," I said, voice pitched low in an attempt at seduction.

Echo's hand slipped and he yelped as a sharp edge sliced his finger. He shot me a disapproving look, cupping his hand and blushing quite hard.

"I am actually sorry for that," I said with a wince.

He raised his eyebrows in disbelief and I shuffled closer to him.

"Here," I said, holding out my hand, "let me see."

Echo hesitated, before obliging. I tugged off his glove to reveal a shallow gash across the pad of his index finger.

"It's only a scratch," the cyborg said, looking embarrassed.

I made a tutting noise, lifting his hand to my mouth. I ran my tongue over his finger, slowing lapping up the spot of blood as I sucked the digit clean. He watched me wordlessly, a kind of obscene fascination on his face, his mouth slightly open. I gave him a mischievous wink as I sucked the finger, and I thought I saw his eyes widen slightly.

I pulled away, swallowing down the coppery taste and peering at his hand.

"There, all better now."

"Thanks nurse," Echo said, and I couldn't help but grin at the strain in his voice.

I replaced his glove, taking the time to adjust it so that it was comfortable.

"Do you remember when we spent the whole night up here?" I asked softly, rather enjoying teasing the man.

I heard Echo swallow loudly.

"How could I forget."

I hummed at the memory, my eyes unfocused.

"We should do that again sometime," I said cheekily, feeling my own face heating up at my candidness. "I'd like to repay the favour."

I looked up through my lashes and saw that Echo was watching me intently. I could see him panting slightly. I moved a bit closer, draping his hand around my neck and leaning in so that our faces were only an inch apart.

"What do you say, Sir?" I asked softly. "Would you like that?"

He nodded his head ever so slightly. I felt a thrill at his compliance and also at the fact that he appeared to be enjoying the exchange.

"I need to do some repairs on the Marauder," Echo said hoarsely, licking his lips nervously. "It could take all night. I would need your assistance, of course."

I grinned wolfishly at him before rubbing my nose against his stubbly chin.

"I would be happy to help," I said, feeling myself becoming aroused by the thought. "When were you thinking?"

"Tonight?"

His immediate response told me all I needed to know.

"Yes Sir!"

I heard the man groan softly. The noise became louder when I sucked a kiss into his throat. I vaguely wondered how uncomfortable it must be for him to be hard underneath his armour.

"Of course, once the diagnostics are running, we will have to find some way of entertaining ourselves." I said. Echo gripped the back of my neck harder. "How does an all night blow job sound?"

There was a pause in which I nibbled his jaw and heard his breath hitch.

"No."

I froze in place and became aware that my heart was pounding like I'd run a marathon.

"No?"

I pulled back slightly, feeling extremely uncomfortable and suddenly anxious. What did he mean, no? Did he not want me anymore?

Echo's eyes darted between mine and I saw his flush deepen. I made to move away but he pulled me back, arm wrapped around my shoulders in a vice grip.

"I want...." he cleared his throat quietly, "I want....more."

I blinked stupidly, feeling suddenly sick. Was he breaking up with me?

As if reading my thoughts, Echo shook his head and closed his eyes, as though by blocking out my face it would make whatever he was going to say easier.

"I want more.....of you," he almost whispered. "I want all of you."

A sudden rush of relief had me reaching out to stroke the side of his face with my knuckles.

"Sweetheart, you have me," I said, feeling a bit less panicky than I had a few seconds ago. "I'm all yours."

Echo scowled, eyes still tightly shut and shook his head firmly.

"I mean physically."

His words caught me off guard and I was unable to think of anything to say immediately. Echo opened his eyes, but wouldn't look at me directly, instead his gaze fixed on a spot on the wall.

"Echo, I want you too," I said, voice quivering with a mixture of nerves and excitement at his confession. "But I don't wanna rush you."

He finally lifted his head then, and I could see determination in his eyes, mixed with something that I could only describe as longing.

"You're not," he said firmly.

I squinted at him a moment longer before giving him a half smile.

"OK," I said, feeling my hands starting to tremble. "Tonight."

....................

After late meal we made our way to the remains of the hangar silently. My stomach was churning in anticipation and I had barely eaten anything all day. How could I, when I knew sex was going to happen?

The guards questioned our reasons for leaving so late in the day, but they seemed satisfied when Echo gave his line about needing to repair the ship, and, after comming Rex to check we were clear, allowed us to leave.

The Marauder was dark and still when we arrived. It was also annoyingly chilly, even once I'd raised the ramp and we were sealed inside. I glanced at Echo and noticed him shivering.

"Heating systems?" I suggested and the man nodded, ducking into the cockpit to flip the appropriate switches. I heard the hum as the warm air started blowing through the vents.

Echo returned, looking a little sheepish and we both stood, shifting uncomfortably, waiting for the other to make the first move.

Eventually, it was Echo that broke the silence with a deep chuckle.

"Why are we so awkward?" he asked with a lopsided grin.

I shook my head, moving closer and wrapping my arms around his waist.

"Who knows, but at least we're both as bad as each other."

He hummed in agreement, fingers twisting into the fabric of my coat. I held him for a while until I felt that he was no longer shaking.

"You warmed up now?" I asked, planting a kiss on his bald head.

"Hmmm."

"Good."

I moved my hands so that my fingers pressed between the cracks in his armour, gently caressing his flesh through his blacks. Echo sighed into my chest.

"That's nice."

I pressed a little harder, rubbing his tense muscles where I could. Leaning down, I kissed the crook of his neck, and felt a hand slip inside my shirt. I shuddered as Echo's finger tips traced across my stomach. I suddenly had an overwhelming urge to be naked, to feel him pressed against my bare flesh.

I disentangled myself from the man momentarily to shrug off my coat and shirt, ignoring the slight residual chill in the air. Leaning back in, I slowly kissed Echo on the lips and felt him push into the contact. His hand moved up my chest to my shoulder and back down to my abdomen, coming to rest on my hip. He gave a squeeze and I hummed in approval.

Carefully, I reached out to feel for the clasps of Echo's chest plate, removing the piece as gently as possible and tossing it to the floor. I felt the man grunt into my mouth before he was looping his scomp arm around my waist and pulling me in impossibly close, pressing me hard into his remaining armour.

I tensed involuntarily and felt Echo stiffen. He pulled back far enough to give me a worried frown.

"Is something wrong?"

I shot him an apologetic look, feeling my cheeks heat up.

"I have to pee. Sorry."

"Again?"

"I'm nervous!"

Echo snorted a laugh and gave me a soft smile.

"You're nervous! I haven't done this for an age! How do you think I feel?!"

I chuckled at him and kissed him on the cheek before ducking into the fresher.

When I emerged, Echo was standing by the bunks at the rear of the ship, stripped of his armour and wearing only his blacks.

I had to admit, the sight of him dressed in the tight fitting garments which left nothing to the imagination did something for me. I couldn't help but give him an approving look as I approached.

Echo smiled nervously before reaching out to lay his palm against my bare chest. I laid my own hand over his, squeezing tight, while the other curled around the back of his neck and pulled him in for another kiss.

It was deeper than before, more intimate, as we both explored each others mouths to the fullest degree. Echo's hand removed itself from my chest and guided mine to the hem of his shirt. I tugged the material up gently, removing myself from his soft lips to draw his upper blacks over his head, tossing them to the floor.

Echo self consciously wrapped his arms around his semi naked body but I firmly pulled his wrists away.

"I want to see you," I murmured, voice husky with desire.

I laid my hands on his waist, letting my fingers trail up his flat stomach, tracing the outlines of his ribs, which were visible beneath the thin layer of skin and muscle. He shivered when I brushed across the implant in his chest which controlled his respiratory system. One hand moved to caress his right arm, where flesh became machine.

"You're beautiful," I groaned throatily.

It was true. Every part of him - even the mechanical bits - was perfect, unique and distinctly him.

Echo glanced at the floor and scoffed, but I refused to let him wallow in self depreciation. I took his jaw in my hand and guided his mouth back to mine.

We stood in the hold of the Marauder, tangled together as we shamelessly explored each others bodies with our hands and mouths. Strangely, it was one of the most erotic experience of my life, feeling Echo's warm skin pressed against my own and losing myself in the intimate sensations.

I pushed him backwards gently, until he was leaning against one of the bunks. His hand was suddenly fumbling with the fastening of my trousers and I groaned as I felt his fingers brush against my dick through the fabric. After wrestling with my zipper for what felt like an age, Echo finally managed to peel off my pants while I kicked off my boots. My cock twitched in the cool air and I gasped faintly when I was pulled back against his body.

Carefully, I hoisted him onto the bunk so that he was perched on the edge, never once breaking the kiss. I tugged off his lower blacks unceremoniously, throwing them onto the growing pile of discarded clothing.

Once we were both fully bare, I pulled back to meet Echo's gaze. His pupils were wide and he was trembling slightly.

"Are you ok?"

He nodded and gave me a small smile.

"I'm fine."

"You still wanna do this?"

He looked me resolutely in the eye.

"Yes," he breathed, pulling me back in for a snog.

I grunted an affirmative, breath hitching at the ferocity of the kiss. I pushed him back to lay on the bunk, before climbing up with him, covering us both with a blanket.

"Where do you want me?" I asked as I mouthed my way down Echo's collar bone.

He carded his hand through my hair, groaning quietly as I pressed my naked body into his own.

"On top."

I sucked one last mark into his shoulder, before peeling away, shuffling out of the bunk and searching the discarded clothes for my coat. I pulled out the bottle of lube I'd swiped earlier from the medbay. I had no idea why the infirmary had lube, and to be honest I wasn't sure I wanted to know.

Climbing back into the bunk, I resumed kissing Echo again, propped on my elbows while my hands busied themselves with opening the bottle. I nudged his legs apart with me knee and was surprised by how heavy the cybernetics were.

Echo grunted as I slipped a finger inside of him and I paused, studying his face, which was pinched and pale in the dim light.

"Echo?" I asked cautiously, worried that I'd hurt him in some way.

"I'm fine," he muttered, voice strained. "Just go slow."

I nodded and did just that.

It took a while for Echo to relax but eventually his grunts of discomfort became gasps of pleasure as I slowly worked on him. I added another finger, to which he responded with a groan, causing my cock to harden even further. I ignored the sensation and the desperate urge to touch myself, instead concentrating on the man below me.

I twisted my fingers, searching for the spot that I knew would make his cybernetic toes curl. After a few attempts I found it, and Echo moaned loudly, arching his hips into me at the sudden intense feeling of pleasure.

"Kriff!" he panted as my finger tips brushed against his prostate. "Do that again."

I obliged, relishing the noises he was making, which set my heart racing at double time.

"Yes, Sir!"

Echo bucked into me again, throwing his head back and wrapping his arm around my waist.

Suddenly his eyes snapped into focus, meeting mine with an intensity I'd never seen before.

"Kriff me," he demanded, teeth gritted and voice heavy with want.

I cocked my head and paused my ministrations.

"You sure? I don't wanna hurt you-"

"Now."

I hesitated, watching him intently.

"If it gets too much or I hurt you, you gotta tell me-"

"Now!"

The commanding tone almost pushed me over the edge. I withdrew my fingers, scrabbling for the bottle of lube as though worried Echo would change his mind.

With all the self restraint I could muster, I slowly slid my cock inside of the man. Fuck, he felt incredible, and it took everything I had not to start humping him furiously.

I paused once I was fully inside him, taking a few deep breaths. Echo remained frozen beneath me, his eyes wide and his mouth slightly open.

"Just gimme a minute."

Echo nodded, fingers fisting in my hair as he dragged my lips down to his.

Once I was no longer convinced that I would go off at any second, and as soon as I felt some of the tension leave Echo, I gently started to move my hips. I felt the hand in my hair tighten to a vice like grip and gasped, the noise drowned out by the throaty moan that escaped Echo.

"Fuck, yes," he groaned softly, almost causing me to lose all self control.

"Echo," I panted, feeling sweat starting to run down my neck, "if you keep making noises like that, I'm not gonna last."

His eyes met mine and he almost looked like he was about to apologise. To save him the trouble, I took the opportunity to tentatively thrust into him.

The man threw back his head and arched his back, his cock twitching between the press of our bodies. The animalistic sound he made sent a shiver down my spine. I moved my hips again and he untangled his hand from my hair, moving instead to drag his fingernails down my back.

The sudden spark of pain caused me to jerk into him further than before, and he whimpered my name, rolling his eyes at the sensation of my cock prodding his prostate.

I did it again, and again, and again, each time pushing both of us closer and closer to an orgasm. I could tell by the way Echo was trembling, his pupils blown wide and frenzied, his body grinding against mine, that he was chasing his release.

"D'ya want me to touch you?" I breathed, struggling to form a coherent sentence as I fucked into him steadily. Karking Hell, this was amazing.

Echo shook his head, cheeks rosy and face clammy with sweat.

"No, so close," he groaned, screwing his eyes shut tightly. "Kriff, Toby, I think....I think.....I'm gonna....."

Echo came loudly, cursing so colourfully that I almost started blushing. His dick twitched against my belly as the warm stickiness splashed over my skin. I held him there, watching him as he orgasmed so intensely. I couldn't help the smug grin plastered on my face at the knowledge that I'd done that to him.

When he finally stopped climaxing and his eyes cleared, he was looking at me with something close to adoration.

"That was.... ." he panted, struggling to find the words. "Did you....?"

I shook my head, painfully aware that I was desperately close myself.

"Not yet."

"What are you waiting for?"

"Echo, I don't wanna-"

I cut off with a yelp as his fingers dug into my ass and he pulled me into him. He grinned crookidly, shuffling in the bunk so that I went even deeper.

Without even consciously meaning to, I found myself fucking him again, more urgently than before. Echo didn't seem to mind, in fact he was watching me mischievously as I neared the precipice.

"Oh Maker," I groaned, sweat stinging my eyes as my orgasm hit me with the force of a speeder bike.

I stayed suspended over Echo as the waves of pleasure crashed into me, almost threatening to pull me under.

Eventually, the sensation ebbed, and I leaned in to kiss Echo before pulling out and flopping boneslessly down onto the bunk next to him, panting as though I'd just had a near death experience.

"That was....." I spluttered, trying to stop my heart from breaking through my ribcage.

".....incredible," Echo finished with a satisfied sigh.

I grunted in confirmation. He wriggled closer to lean his head against my chest and I wrapped an arm around him, pulling him close and holding on tight.

We lay like that for some time, both coming down from our highs, breathing in the smell of sweat and sex. I felt Echo beginning to doze off and gave him a gentle nudge.

"We should shower," I said, aware that we were both sticky and uncomfortable.

The man grunted and fidgeted slightly.

"I don't wanna move."

"I know, but you'll feel better after."

With a sigh, Echo finally conceded and climbed over me to get out of the bunk. He paused beside the bed, totally naked, devoid of his usual self consciousness and with a dopey smile on his face.

"Come with me," he said, gripping my forearm and tugging it. "We can shower together."

I gave him a soft smile and pretended to roll my eyes.

"OK," I said, pulling myself out of the rack with a groan. "But no funny business. I don't have it in me."

"I promise," Echo said solemnly, before leading me to the fresher.

It was cramped with the pair of us in the shower together, but we managed. I found it strangely intimate, washing in such close proximity and couldn't help but shoot Echo affectionate looks when he wasn't looking.

Clean and still entirely unclothed, we both crawled back into the bunk, cuddling against each other under the blankets. Echo half rolled onto his side, draping himself across my chest and I pulled him close.

As I listened to the man fall asleep in my arms, I couldn't help but feel deliriously happy.

Chapter Text

I woke up to a dreadful churning sensation in my stomach.

I lay still in the dark barracks listening to the rest of the squad sleeping soundly, hoping that the nausea would pass and I would be able to fall back asleep.

If anything though, the queasiness only got worse. I distentangled myself from Crosshair, who had taken to sleeping in my bunk almost every night now, and made my way to the refresher.

I barely made it to the toilet before I was violently sick. I threw up until my stomach was empty and then spent a good deal of time dry heaving after that.

The door to the fresher opened with a soft hiss and I wiped the tears from my eyes and made an effort to stand, not keen on the thought of being caught in such a compromising position. I was doubled over again before I made it upright, gagging and retching into the bowl.

A hand laid itself on the small of my back and I winced, unable to escape.

"Do you need anything?"

To my surprise it was Hunter's gruff voice that spoke. I shook my head and took a few deep breaths to calm my stomach.

"'M fine."

He didn't say anything more but I felt the hand on my back rubbing soothing motions through the fabric of my shirt.

The worst of the sickness seemed to have passed, so I scrubbed my face with my sleeve and twisted to sit with my back against the cubicle wall. Hunter was kneeling down just behind me, dressed only in his blacks. I guessed I must have woken him and immediately felt a pang of guilt.

"Sorry," I mumbled pathetically, feeling even worse when I saw his face wrinkled in an effort to ward off the unpleasant smell of vomit, which must have been more potent with his enhanced senses.

Hunter gave me a tight smile, and it looked like he was trying to fight down the urge to gag. I reached up to flush and close the lid in the hopes that would make things less gruesome for him.

We sat in silence for a while, Hunter watching me worriedly. I rested my head against my knees, uncomfortable with the scrutiny. The tattooed man cleared his throat roughly and I jerked at the sudden noise, squinting at him in the glaring light of the fresher.

"How are you feeling?" he asked, clearly now fully back in control of his heightened senses.

I huffed an unamused laugh.

"Like shit."

Hunter's lips twitched but the gesture did nothing to mask the concern in his eyes.

"I think you should see a medic."

"I'm fine, Hunter."

"Gem, you don't look fine," he said with a sigh, shifting so that he was sitting opposite me with our knees touching.

I shook my head, feeling tears unexpectedly welling in my eyes. I wiped them subtly with my hand, annoyed with myself for letting my emotions overtake me.

"It's just stress."

"Stress can still do damage," Hunter said, bumping his leg against mine. "Just, please promise me you'll go and see Kix when you can?"

"There's no point," I sniffed, "I can't take any time off. I just have to keep going."

"Gem, you aren't letting anybody down by taking a break," Hunter said in his stern Sergeant voice. An irritated look flashed across his face and I saw him flex his fists. "Rex is expecting too much of you."

I felt a prickle of annoyance and scowled at the man.

"What do you know?" I snapped more aggressively than intended. "Life is one big break for you at the moment. You have no idea."

I bit my tongue, instantly feeling shitty for being so unnecessarily mean. I knew that the man did a lot more than I gave him credit for.

To my surprise, Hunter didn't look angry. In fact, if anything he just looked sadder than before, which made me feel even worse.

"Hunter, I'm sorry," I muttered, cringing inwardly. "I didn't mean that."

He held up a hand in a soothing gesture.

"It's ok-"

"It's not," I interrupted briskly. "That was uncalled for. And also not true. I'm just frustrated and tired. It's been weeks since the bombing, and we aren't any closer to catching this bastarding spy. And to add to that, what with the lockdown, our supplies are starting to run really low. And I've barely seen Cross over the past few weeks. Or any of you guys for that matter. And I'm just so damned tired."

I faltered, realising that Hunter was watching me intently as I rambled. I smiled weakly at him and fidgeted.

"Sorry. Again. I didn't mean to unload."

"Hey," the Sergeant said, poking my thigh with a finger. "Dont apologise. I'm always happy to listen."

"I'm sure you've got better things to do deal with my breakdowns," I replied with an attempt at a laugh.

Hunter shrugged vaguely and cocked his head to one side.

"You're part of our family now, and we look out for each other. So if you ever need to talk, I'll always be here."

I blinked as the full weight of his words sunk in, swallowing in attempt to clear the lump in my throat.

Abruptly I launched myself forward and wrapped my arms around the Sergeant. He hesitated, caught off guard by the gesture, before patting me awkwardly on the back.

"Thanks Hunter," I mumbled into his chest, fighting back tears.

He gave my shoulder a squeeze before I distentangled myself.

"Don't mention it," he said with a genuine smile. "C'mon, let's go get you some chow. I know you haven't been eating properly."

He stood and offered me his hand, pulling me to my feet. The man held me steady as I swayed slightly at the sudden blood rush. Once I was stable, he put a protective arm around my shoulder and led me towards the mess hall without saying a word.

....................

"Boys, we are gonna be in serious trouble soon if we don't lift this lockdown."

I shot a stern look around the room.

Rex sighed loudly and ran a hand over his face, which appeared more lined than it had a few months ago.

"I know," he said dejectedly, looking for all the world as though he carried the weight of the entire universe on his shoulders. "I know it's getting bad."

"At the current rate, we have enough rations left for another two weeks maximum. And I do mean maximum."

As if on cue, I heard Fives' stomach growl loudly. He gave me a sheepish look but didnt say anything. I knew that he too had been skipping meals in an attempt to conserve supplies.

"How likely are we to have made substantial progress by then?" Jesse asked, sounding utterly defeated.

Rex squinted at the data pad propped on his lap, as though he desperately hoped it would yield the answer he wanted.

"Hard to say," he said flatly. "We made good progress initially after the bombing, but since then things have slowed down."

"We have too much to go through," I snapped, waving at the mound of data from this morning alone that still needed to be reviewed.

"Is it worth bringing others in?" Fives asked, scratching his chin thoughtfully.

"We run the risk of compromising this whole objective if we do that," Jesse replied. "The more people that are in on this, the more chances the wrong information will filter down to our spy."

"We've come too far to let that happen," Rex said, face suddenly determined. "Fellas, we've gotta stop getting caught up in all this intel. What do we know so far? What have we learned for certain about this spy?"

There was a moments pause while we all accessed our tired memory banks.

"That he's been accessing our central systems without us knowing," Jesse said slowly. "At least, in the beginning that's how he was gathering information."

"But we know he wasn't hacking in remotely or forging access codes," Fives continued. "That sort of thing leaves a trace which we would have been able to find by now. So the only way he could have gotten in would be by plugging in directly from this room."

He gestured towards the computer bank against the far wall, which stored details on every aspect of the rebellion on Nasu.

"We also know he stole supplies from one of the store rooms on the lower level," I said, trying to be helpful. "Although that doesn't help much seeing as anyone on base had access at that point."

"True, but he must have known the equipment he needed would have been there in the first place," Fives added with a scowl. "If he'd been wandering around base, someone would have noticed."

"But he's obviously very good at blending in," Jesse stated with a huff. "We could walk past him everyday and not know it."

There was another heavy pause.

"We're guessing he made the bomb himself, right?" I asked to which Jesse grunted.

"He must have. The residue left over from the blast is not typical of anything military. Plus the chemical composition matches the items taken from supply."

"Then we know he's smart. And resourceful."

"And how does that help us?" Jesse almost snapped at me. I didn't react because I knew the man was exhausted and short tempered as a result.

"I'm just pointing it out."

"Well don't."

"Easy Jess," Fives said wearily. "We're all tired."

Jesse scowled at his hands but didn't say anything more.

"How are we getting on with the communication logs?" Rex asked as he stiffled a yawn.

"They've taken a back seat at the moment," I replied, "we've been concentrating on keeping an eye on personnel movements."

Rex paused thoughtfully, pushing himself up straighter in his chair.

"We should start looking into those again."

I nodded in agreement.

"I'll do it."

The captain gave me an approving look and grunted.

"Good. Fives, Jesse, I want you to concentrate on personnel access on base. I want to know whenever anyone accesses an area that isn't the barracks, mess hall or refresher. That should cut down the volume of data you have to go through."

Fives and Jesse nodded, looking more that a little relieved that things seemed a bit more manageable.

"What about you, Rex?" Fives asked, stretching in his chair.

"I'll be compiling a rota of all personnel on base, their shift patterns and past deployment schedules. It'll give us something to compare to if we do pick up anything suspicious."

"That's.....not a bad idea," I conceded. Rex cocked an eyebrow at me and gave me a scathing look as though I was personally attacking his intelligence.

"Yes, well," he muttered, picking up his data pad once again. "You all have your marching orders. Let's get to work."

....................

"How goes your work with Rex?" Hunter asked as he sipped his caff.

I laid down my spoon and pushed away the remains of gruel left in my bowl. Swallowing, I fought down the urge to vomit once again.

This had become a daily ritual. I would wake up early, feeling pretty shitty most days, and on these occassions Hunter would sit with me in the fresher while I threw up or just generally felt rough and curled on the floor in a ball. The man had an unnatural knack for knowing when I was feeling unwell.

After I felt a little better, he would escort me to the mess hall where he would watch me carefully as I forced down some sort of food. We were usually alone on these occasions, being as it was often long before dawn. But it was nice, in a way, to know that the Sergeant was looking out for me.

He'd gently hinted on several occasions that I should see Kix, but in truth I wasn't prepared to waste the poor medic's time on something as trivial as a stomach bug.

To my knowledge, Hunter hadn't mentioned our routine or my sickness to any of the others, for which I was grateful. I couldn't face the thought of having to deal with their worried looks and Toby's fussing at the moment.

I shoved the bowl a little further away and grimaced at the half eaten contents.

"Sorry, what did you ask?" I said weakly as my system struggled to digest the slop that I had just eaten.

Hunter shuffled his mug in his hands and gave me a look of concern.

"Still feel sick?"

I shrugged my shoulders vaguely.

"A bit but it'll pass. It usually does."

His mouth was a tight line across his face as he blew heavily through his nose.

"Have you been to the medbay yet?" he asked gently, trying to mask his worry and sound casual.

"No," I replied, "there's no point. It's just stress, or a bug, or a combination of both. Probably this damned sorry excuse for food they keep serving."

I gave him a lopsided smile which he returned, if a little pathetically.

"Hmmm. Only so long the body can survive on rations alone," Hunter agreed, although he didn't sound totally convinced.

My stomach gave a twist and I swallowed loudly, taking a deep breath.

"Can we not talk about food?" I asked with a groan.

Hunter chuckled quietly and raised his cup to his lips.

"Your assignment with Rex, how's that going?"

I shrugged and reached for my tea in the hopes that the refreshing taste would settle my queasiness.

"Fine, I guess," I replied vaguely. "Tiring and boring. Not much more to say really. How about you guys? What have you been doing?"

Hunter noticed my attempt at deflecting his question but didn't query my response. Instead he leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms.

"We've been assigned to assist with repairs to the hangar," the Sergeant said cooly, and I could tell by his tone that he wasn't particularly enjoying said assignment. "Tech, Echo and Toby are working on repairing some of the ships that got damaged in the blast. The rest of us are trying to fix up the building as best we can."

"I bet Wrecker's in his element," I said as a mental image formed of the giant casually tossing heavy machinery about.

Hunter grinned widely and peered into his empty mug thoughtfully.

"He's thrilled. Crosshair not so much."

I huffed a laugh.

"What else is new?"

There was a pause while I finished my tea.

"How is he?" I asked casually, feeling a pang of guilt that I'd barely seen the sniper in recent weeks. My only real contact with him came when I tiredly crawled into my bunk at the end of the night, only to find the man already fast asleep, so much so that he rarely even stirred when I lay down beside him.

"Cross?" Hunter asked, raising an eyebrow at me. "Snarky, cranky, short tempered."

"Again, what else is new?"

"He's gotten worse," Hunter said with an amused half smile. "Almost unbearable some days. And it's got nothing to do with the fact that Rex has him doing manual labour."

He shot me a knowing look and I rolled my eyes dramatically.

"He never does well without sex."

"That's not what I meant," Hunter said with a grimace.

"Well, it's true. He hasn't been getting any lately."

"I did not need to know that."

I grinned, amused at just how uncomfortable Hunter was becoming.

"Well, you started this conversation."

"I don't think I did...."

We were quiet for a little bit while Hunter composed himself and attempted to quell his blushing.

"I miss him." The confession surprised even me as soon as it left my lips.

Hunter smiled softly, studying my face.

"He misses you too."

I scoffed a laugh and fiddled with my mug.

"Pretty sure it's just the sex he misses."

"It's not. He misses you, Gem. I'm his brother, I know these things."

The Sergeant gave me a sly look and tapped the side of his nose with a finger.

I felt guilt welling up inside of me, knowing that I was neglecting many areas in my life at the moment. Hunter must have sensed my unease somehow because he reached over to squeeze my hand firmly.

"Hey," the Sergeant said firmly, "you concentrate on this mission of Rex's. Cross knows how important it is. We all do. And we'll all be here when you come out the other side."

I nodded, not able to meet his gaze, instead fixating on a mark on the table.

"Gem, I mean it."

"I know." I raised my head and gave the man a tired smile. "Thanks Sarge."

Hunter gave my hand one last squeeze, before getting to his feet and gathering the dirty dishes. He placed them on a nearby counter and stretched his arms above his head with a groan.

"Well, duty calls," he said, tone only slightly sarcastic.

I nodded and huffed a laugh, pushing myself away from the table and standing.

Everything suddenly went blurry.

I vaguely heard Hunter say something to me before I blacked out and landed on the ground hard.

Chapter Text

The first thing I became aware of when I regained consciousness was the incessant beeping.

I opened my eyes, blinking dizzily in the stark light. Something was tugging at my left arm and I twisted awkwardly to distentangle myself from whatever it was.

"Woah, woah, woah," a voice firmly barked nearby. "Take it easy."

My vision cleared enough that Kix's face swam into view above me. Glancing around, I saw that I was lying in one of the beds in the medbay, wires running from my arm and hooking me up to some sort of machine.

How the fuck had I ended up here this time?

"Kix?" I said thickly, voice slightly slurred.

"Yeah, it's me," the medic replied, fiddling with one of the dials on the nearby machine. "Hunter's here too."

Pushing myself to my elbows, I could now see the Sergeant leaning against the wall opposite my bunk, arms folded and concern etching his handsome features.

"What the kriff happened?" I asked, scowling as I tried to remember the events prior to waking up here.

"You passed out," Kix said flatly, resting his hands on the mattress and leaning forward slightly. "Not for very long. Hunter brought you in."

"Oh." I paused so that I could sit up and felt the room lurch. "Why?"

Kix studied my face for a moment before replying.

"Low blood sugar," he replied as he busily fiddled with something beside my cot. "You'll be ok, once the IV I gave you starts working."

"Low blood sugar?" Hunter asked, moving so that he was standing just in front of me and shooting the medic a suspicious look. "But she ate a few minutes before this happened."

Kix didn't respond, instead he seemed to become fixated on rearranging my blanket.

"Kix?" I asked, suddenly concerned for my own wellbeing. "What's going on?"

The man stopped his movements and licked his lips nervously. He shot a pointed look towards Hunter, whose gaze was flicking between me and the medic.

"Whatever you wanna say, you can say it in front of Hunter," I said, voice wavering slightly. "I trust him."

The man nodded but still wouldn't meet my eye.

"I....I found something."

My stomach lurched and my heart started leaping wildly in my chest. My life began to flash before my eyes.

"What? What Kix? Tell me?"

I pushed the blanket off myself, suddenly feeling clammy.

Kix cleared his throat roughly and finally looked at me.

"You're pregnant."

I huffed a laugh and swung my legs over the side of the bunk so that I was perched on the edge.

"Good one, Kix. Now tell me what's really going on because you're actually scaring me."

"I'm serious," the man said, and I noticed a hint of panic in his eyes.

I blinked dumbly at him and the room started spinning again. I felt a pair of hands push me back into the bed, but I was too out of it to notice if they belonged to Kix or Hunter.

After a while, I finally found my voice and regained some semblance of lucidity.

"B-but, how?"

Kix cocked an eyebrow at me.

"Are you kidding me? What do you mean, how!?"

"No, I mean, my implant....I shouldn't be able to....how?"

I trailed off, unable to find the words

Kix shrugged vaguely.

"I don't know."

"Whaddya mean, you don't know?!" I snapped, voice quivering with emotion. I felt hot tears prick the corners of my eyes.

The medic held up his hands in a placating gesture.

"Hey, I'm a field medic, not a doctor. They don't exactly train us to deal with this sort of thing on Kamino. Besides, we were always lead to believe that us clones were created sterile."

A couple of tears rolled down my cheek and I scrubbed them away, not fully certain why I was crying. I finally looked at Hunter and saw that he was staring at me wide eyed.

"How-" I paused, swallowing down the gritty feeling in my throat, "-how far along?"

"My scans suggest a few weeks. No more than 8 or 9."

I nodded. Scowling, I tried to recall when I had last had a period, but truthfully, I couldn't even remember.

Kix gave my arm a squeeze before straightening.

"I'll leave you to process for a bit," he said softly. "I'll be back to unhook you when the IV runs out."

The man left me alone with Hunter, who stoicly stood vigil by my side as my whole world came crashing down around me.

I thought of Crosshair and how he would react to such news. Children had never been something either of us had spoken about. In truth, neither of us lived the sort of lives conducive to raising a family. Crosshair was abrasive, impatient and more than a little selfish. I knew that the sniper would not be thrilled by the prospect of fatherhood.

I drew a ragged breath and felt myself start to cry again.

"What am I gonna do Hunter?" I asked, biting off a sob. "What am I gonna tell Cross?"

The man sighed heavily and perched on the end of my bed, massaging the bridge of his nose as though warding off a headache.

"I dunno, Gem. I dunno."

....................

I left the infirmary before midday, with specific instructions from Kix.

"Take it easy," the man said as he unhooked the machine from my arm. "Make sure you eat, and rest as much as you can. I don't wanna see you here again anytime soon."

I smiled at the medic, wiping my face clean.

"Thanks Kix. Promise me you won't say anything to anybody?"

He nodded solemnly and gave me a sad look.

"I promise. Once you've decided what you want to do, let me know. Rex has contacts who may be able to help. Whatever you choose to do."

I swallowed and jerked my head in confirmation, unable to speak for fear of losing my last remaining shreds of control.

Hunter escorted me from the medbay, hovering just behind me as though worried I would suddenly keel over again without warning. He made as though to head back to the barracks, but I caught his arm. He paused, looking back at me questioningly.

"I'm gonna head to the control room," I said as steadily as I was able.

Hunter scowled and shook his head firmly.

"You heard the Reg," he said warily, eyes flicking down the corridor to make sure no one would overhear us. "You need to rest."

"I know, but I also need a distraction," I replied with a weak smile. "And I can't be around Crosshair right now."

The man sighed heavily, eyes searching my face before he eventually nodded somewhat grimly.

"Fine. But I think you should tell him."

"I will," I said, feeling my bottom lip start to tremble. "I just need to get my head around it all first. And I'm not even sure if I'm gonna keep it. There's no point causing any trauma until I know for sure."

Hunter nodded again and to my surprise pulled me in for a hug. I tensed for only a moment before melting into the contact.

"I won't say anything," he whispered softly in my ear. "Just know that whatever you choose, I'll support your decision."

He gave me one last squeeze before removing himself and heading off down the hallway, leaving me standing alone, confused and more than a little terrified.

....................

The next few days passed in a haze.

I avoided Crosshair at all costs, even going so far as to sleep in my chair in the control room so as to stay away from the barracks.

Rex noticed, of course, but if he had any thoughts on my sudden change in routine he didn't share them. Even when he'd returned from the refresher one morning to find me puking into a mop bucket, the man hadn't said a word other than to enquire if I needed a glass of water.

I poured all my energy into reviewing the communication logs in an attempt to divert my mind from other more personal matters. I knew that it wasn't a healthy coping method, but it was working in the short run.

Hunter came to visit me at least once a day, and I had the sneaking suspicion he was keeping an eye on me. I hadn't seen the rest of the Batch, Toby or Omega for several days, and I wondered what the Sergeant had said to them to keep them away. I supposed it didn't matter, I was just grateful for the fact that I didn't have to face any of them right now. I missed them of course, particularly Omega, but I felt like I was permanently on the edge of having a breakdown and didn't think it fair to subject anyone else to my mood swings.

Poor Fives and Jesse were usually on the receiving end of my hormonal outbursts. I was fortunate that neither of them took my moodiness personally and seemed to blame it all on tiredness.

One particular afternoon, following an incident in which I'd bitten Fives' head off for making a really irritating clicking noise with his tongue, Hunter swung by to see how I was doing. He took one look at the ARC trooper sitting sulkily in the corner, taking note of the tight lipped expressions on Rex and Jesse's faces, before raising an eyebrow at me.

"Wanna go for a walk?" the Sergeant asked casually.

I grunted at him and shook my head.

The man sighed, before pulling my chair away from the table and plucking my data pad out of my hand.

"Hey!" I snapped, shooting a murderous look in his direction.

Hunter didn't seem phased by my resting bitch face. If anything, it appeared to amuse him, which only served to irritate me further.

"C'mon, let's get some air," the Sergeant said, offering me his hand, which I batted away.

"I'm fine," I spat venenously.

"You'll feel better for getting out of here for a bit."

"Leave me alone, Hunter."

"Ten minutes, come on."

"I said, NO!"

Hunter stubbornly stood his ground, mulling over his words.

"Crosshair's at the firing range," the man said and his tone was almost coaxing. "He'll be there until it gets dark."

I narrowed my eyes, realising that he wasn't going to fuck off until I gave in.

"Fine," I snapped, surging to my feet and ignoring the confused looks of Rex, Jesse and Fives. "Ten minutes."

I stormed out of the room, and was sure I heard at least one of the other men make a noise of relief.

Hunter caught up with me further down the corridor, catching my arm and steering me towards the hangar.

"How are you feeling?" he asked quietly as we walked along side by side.

I grunted in response, annoyed by the fact that the man seemed to feel the need to coddle me. It had been endearing at first, but was now edging towards annoying.

"Have you made a decision yet? About what you're going to do?"

I stopped dead and levelled my gaze on the Sergeant, hands pinned to my hips in disapproval.

"Hunter, for fucks sake, please stop," I said through gritted teeth. "I don't wanna talk about this now."

He opened his mouth as though to argue.

"I mean it."

Pausing, he finally shut his jaw with a click, nodding curtly at me before gesturing for me to resume walking beside him.

The hangar echoed with the soft bustle of men at work, and I couldn't help but admire the amount of progress that had been made towards repairing the area. The space would never be the same again after the blast, but a decent attempt had been made to patch the walls and parts of the roof, so that at least the area would one day be usable again.

I caught sight of Wrecker nearby, bending out sheets of scrap metal with his bare hands. Omega hovered nearby, holding some sort of cutting tool in her small hands. The kid caught sight of me and her face lit up.

"Gem!"

She dropped the tool and ran over, colliding with my midriff and wrapped her arms around my waist.

"I missed you!"

Hunter looked like he might chastise the girl for being too rough with me, but I shot him a filthy look before he could even open his mouth.

"I missed you too, sweetheart."

I ruffled Omega's hair as Wrecker made his way over. I glanced about but couldn't see any of the others so guessed they must be occupied elsewhere.

The giant of a man grinned crookedly as he approached and flung his arms wide. I held tightly to Omega so that he wouldn't be able to sweep me up in a collosal bear hug. I felt sure that I would vomit if he squeezed me too hard. He settled for patting me on the shoulder, which still made my knees buckle but was preferable to being smushed into his chest.

"Well look who it is! Finally managed to put that data pad down long enough to come see your old squad?"

I chuckled softly, raising both eyebrows at the man.

"You're still my squad. I've just been too busy to come see you guys."

"Yeah yeah," Wrecker said, rolling his one good eye. "Too important more like."

I punched him playfully on the arm, feeling lighter than I had in quite a while. Hunter studied the exchange from a distance, a soft look on his face.

I cleared my throat, casting a cautious look around for Crosshair who was thankfully nowhere to be seen.

"I see you've made good work on the repairs," I said, lifting my gaze upwards to survey the roof. "Looks good."

Wrecker gave me a coy smile and fidgeted with his hands.

"Aww, it wasn't just me," he said, surprisingly bashful. "Some of the other troopers helped."

I cocked an eyebrow and peeled Omega off of my hip. She took my hand and tugged me towards the area they had just been working on.

"I helped too," she said quickly. "I'll show you the bits I worked on if you like."

I looked down at the girl affectionately and followed her lead, Wrecker and Hunter following at a distance.

Omega pointed to a tattered panel on one of the walls and puffed her chest proudly.

"I did that bit. Well, Wrecker held the panel and I did the welding. Most of it. Hunter wouldn't let me do the bits up high."

I tried to look really impressed and couldn't help but smile warmly at her enthusiasm.

"It looks great, Omega. In fact I think it's my favourite part of the whole hangar."

The girl grinned madly and I saw her cheeks turning pink at the praise.

I tried not to look at the charred patches on the floor which remained from the bomb blast. Omega, sharp as ever, noticed me averting my gaze.

"The damage wasn't too bad," she said, sounding for all the world like she was older than her years.

I grunted, suddenly feeling grim as I thought about all the men that had died in this spot.

"It could have been much worse," Hunter added as he approached us, joining me in gazing at the residual scarring to the building.

"It was bad enough. A lot of people died."

"Hunter's right," Wrecker said, picking Omega up in one hand and settling her to sit on his shoulder. "Under the circumstances, we got off lucky."

I turned to look at the giant, eyes narrowing in a frown.

"What do you mean 'under the circumstances'?"

Wrecker shrugged, carefully so as not to dislodge the girl.

"I mean, the bomb didn't do as much damage as it could have."

I blinked, feeling a tingling at the edge of my consciousness.

"Elaborate Wrecker. Please. How could it have done more damage?"

A manic glint appeared on Wrecker's eye and I realised that talking about explosions was one of his favourite past times.

"Well, the ship that blew up was up against this wall here-" he gestured with one massive paw, "now if it had been somewhere else, like in the middle of the hangar, it probably would have brought the whole base down."

The tingling became a whirring and my mind started to race.

If Wrecker was right, the blast could have caused ten times the destruction. So why hadn't it? Why had the spy pulled this punch? Was it accidental, or had the bomb deliberately been set to only destroy a handful of ships? Or one in particular?

It was as though a light bulb flicked on in my brain and I stared at Wrecker, enraptured.

"Wrecker, you are a genius!"

I stumbled backwards, heading back towards the main building.

"Aww, thanks, I guess," I heard Wrecker call. "Can you tell Tech that?"

Hunter called out but I didn't hear him because by that point I was running in the direction of the control room.

I burst through the door with such force that Fives' actually yelped in shock, shooting me a panicked look.

"Gem, what-"

"I get it!" I almost yelled to the room at large, slamming the door shut behind me so that no one outside would hear. "It makes sense!"

The room was so silent you could hear a pin drop.

Rex cleared his throat briskly and looked worriedly in my direction, perhaps thinking I'd totally snapped.

"Care to explain?" he asked warily.

I snatched up my data pad, frantically scrolling through the data logs.

"Something Wrecker said, about the bomb. About how if it had been in a different location it could have wiped us all out. Got me thinking."

"Uh huh," Jesse grunted, offering a concerned look at the Captain. Clearly they both feared for my mental stability, and I couldn't blame them. I did sound a bit barmy, even to my own ears.

I found the com log I was looking for and opened the file.

"Wrecker said that if the bomb was positioned somewhere else in the hangar, it could have brought the whole place down. Which made me start to wonder why the spy set the bomb where he did. If the goal was to cause damage, he could have achieved that more effectively by other means. Unless that was never his goal. Unless he was trying to cover his tracks."

I glanced up at the men, who looked baffled. I felt a stab of annoyance that they were apparently too slow to keep up. I tossed the data pad to Rex and pointed at the screen.

"Look, here, this log. It's from the ship that blew up. Look at the past outgoing transmissions. I can't believe we didn't see this sooner! That was how our guy was feeding intel to the Empire. That's why he blew up that ship and made it look like a terrorist act. But he must not have considered that we would download all the com logs prior to that point."

I paused, breathing heavily and feeling excited at the prospect of a break in the case. I watched Rex's eyebrows threaten to join his hairline as he read through the report.

"She's right," he finally said, passing the data pad to Jesse. "Look at the transmissions off world. There's definitely a pattern there."

Rex gave me a curious look as though not quite able to believe I was intelligent enough to unravel one piece of the puzzle.

"Good work."

I found myself grinning from ear to ear at the praise. After the emotional roller coaster of the past few days, the satisfaction was a welcome relief.

Chapter Text

Rex had me analyse the outgoing transmissions from the bombed ship four times, just to make sure nothing was missed.

"Are you sure you have the time stamps right?" the Captain asked for what felt like the two hundredth time.

I rolled my eyes and groaned, tired and irritable at such a late hour. Fives and Jesse had retired to bed long ago, too exhausted to carry on. Which just left me and Rex and our worn out brains to fathom the new information.

"Yes Rex, I am certain. Every Taungsday, without fail. Between 1100 and 1130. That's when our spy made his outgoing transmissions."

Rex scratched his chin thoughtfully.

"I have to admit, that is bold. Making those sorts of transmissions in the middle of the day in a hangar full of people. I'll give him that."

"Yes, yes, we both agree he is a ballsy fucker," I huffed, waving my hand absentmindedly. "But how does this help us?"

There was another pause while Rex considered the data.

"Well, with that sort of rota, he must be a civilian," the Captain said slowly. "None of our troopers have the capacity to keep a time frame that accurate. Not when they're being deployed irregularly."

The relief in his voice was almost palpable, and it occurred to me that the thought of one of his fellow troopers betraying us all caused him physical pain.

"OK, so he's a civvie. How can we narrow that down even further?"

Rex leaned back in his chair which creaked ominously.

"We could look at the various teams of personnel we have on Nasu. See if their duty rostas tie in somehow."

"OK, then let's do that."

Rex nodded tiredly, plucking his data pad from the table and squinting down at the screen.

I was just in the process of searching the detritus for my own pad, when I heard the door open behind me. I glanced over my shoulder, expecting to see Jesse or Fives returning from a refreshing nap.

I was most certainly not expecting to see Crosshair.

A stack of papers toppled as I scrambled around to face the man. He looked tired, annoyed and concerned, although not necessarily in that order. The toothpick clamped between his lips wriggled as he cast his steely gaze over Rex, and then me.

"Cross," I said briskly, giving him a half smile which may well have come across as a grimace. "What are you doing here?"

The sniper didn't answer, instead he shot Rex a look of unrivaled intensity. I was surprised to see the Captain flinch slightly under the gaze. The man cleared his throat and got to his feet wearily.

"I'm going for caff," he said, trying to sound like he was leaving of his own volition, although his tone lacked any real conviction.

I silently willed the man to stay but he was gone in a heartbeat, closing the door softly behind him.

I glanced at Crosshair before pretending to busily search for something on a nearby desk. My hands were shaking and I hoped the grey haired man wouldn't notice.

"Why are you avoiding me?"

His tone was soft and yet surprisingly sharp at the same time. I swallowed loudly, shuffling so that my back was to him.

"I'm not avoiding you-"

"Yes, you are," Crosshair interrupted, "don't play dumb."

"I'm not!" I snapped, feeling my heart rate pick up and my legs start to tremble. I was not ready for any of this.

Crosshair made a scoffing noise and I looked fleetingly over my shoulder to see him scowling at me, arms folded defensively.

"I've been busy."

"Too busy to spend a second in my company?"

"To busy to spend a second in ANYBODIES company."

"Apart from the Regs?"

My fingers fumbled on a sheaf of old maps and I dropped them with a soft thud. I should have known keeping my distance would give him the wrong idea. I mentally cursed myself for being so short sighted.

"Don't start that again, Cross," I snapped, feeling overwhelmed and cornered. "You know why I'm spending all my time here."

I literally heard the man bristling behind me.

"Do I? You won't tell me the truth, so how the kriff should I know what's going on?"

I took a deep breath and screwed my eyes shut, praying that I could just dissappear.

"You said you were happy to take a back seat while I was working on this project," I said tensely. "You said you were ok with it."

"I am. What I am not OK with is you avoiding me like the blue shadow virus."

"I said, I'm not ignoring you."

"And I say, you are. So my question is, why?"

I didn't answer and I could tell Crosshair was getting angrier by the second. After a moment, I heard his soft footsteps and felt a hand grip my shoulder, forcing me round to face him.

For the first time in a long time, I met the man's gaze. His eyes were sharp, but there was an underlying hint of pain there as well, barely concealed beneath the surface. I swallowed loudly and tried to calm my racing pulse.

"Look, I'm not avoiding you, I truly have been busy. I've barely left this room for days for kriffs sake!"

"And yet you managed to find the time to come down to the hangar earlier. Specifically when I wasn't there. Almost as if you were avoiding me."

I felt my stomach clenching. Busted. How was I going to get out of this one. I opened and closed my mouth a few times, searching for the words.

Crosshair scowled even harder at my hesitation and shook his head with a huff.

"If you don't want this anymore, just say."

I blinked stupidly, fighting down the urge to vomit.

"What are you talking about?" I said shakily, tears threatening to spill at the implication of his words. "Of course I still want this!"

"Really?" His tone was scornful and loaded with sarcasm.

"Yes."

Crosshair spat the toothpick out of his mouth and I felt the grip on my shoulder tighten.

"Prove it."

I couldn't help but gape at him in shock.

"Excuse me?"

"Prove. It."

I huffed a humourless laugh, unable to believe what I was hearing. The strain and stress, the torrent of emotions, and my fluctuating hormones, all of which I'd been trying to keep in check for the last few days, threatened to break free and overwhelm me. I couldn't deal with this as well. It was all too much.

"Are you fucking kidding me? What, you want me to suck you off? Let you kriff me against the table? Will that prove that I still want to be with you?"

The bastard actually sneered at my suggestions.

Something inside me snapped.

I heard the sound of my palm connecting with his cheek before my brain even registered that I'd slapped him.

Crosshair staggered slightly under the impact. His eyes went wide and he looked momentarily horrified. The horror quickly disappeared, to be replaced with a burning kind of fury that made my breath catch in my throat.

He shoved me away from him and spun on his heel, stalking towards the door.

"Cross, wait," I called, hot tears trickling down my face at the suffocating cocktail of emotions coursing through me. "Let me explain-"

"Don't bother," he snapped, pausing at the door and casting a final look over his shoulder at me. "I guess I have my answer. I won't bother wasting anymore time when you clearly don't give a fuck about whatever this is. Whatever this was."

The door closed behind the man and I just stood there, staring at it dumbly.

I didn't realise my legs had given out until my ass connected with the floor.
I cradled my head in my hands and cried bitter tears of misery.

For the first time since Kix had broken the news of my condition, I thought about the baby growing inside of me. I wondered what it would be like to have a kid of my own. Images flashed through my mind: teaching my child to fly, to swim, to read and write. Movie nights on the couch, the whole bunch of us squashed together, Wrecker cradling his Lula doll to his chest at a particularly scary moment and Omega handing out fistfuls of mantel mix and laughing brightly. Hikes through the woods, following Hunter as he sniffed out the trail of some animal, pausing every so often so that Tech could study the local flora, the kid's listening, enraptured, as he dipped into his encyclopedic knowledge. Echo teaching my child how to maintain the systems on the Marauder, Toby watching and adding his credit's worth at every opportunity.

I realised with a jolt that Crosshair was a part of all of these fantasies.

I had to fix this.

Leaping to my feet, I charged from the room, wiping my face on my sleeve. I almost tripped over someone just outside the door and cast my gaze back to see one of the maintenance personnel, stooping to pick up his fallen tools. I mumbled something that was supposed to be an apology before trotting off down the hallway.

I rounded a corner, my mind clearing for a moment amidst the turmoil. I hadn't locked the control room door. Fuck. I paused, conflicted between carrying on and turning back.

In the end, I found myself spinning on my heel and jogging back to the control room. If Rex found that I had abandoned my post and not even bothered to lock up, he would go absolutely berserk.

The door was open as I approached and I instantly tensed, bracing myself for an earful from the Captain about responsibility and my obvious lack thereof.

I stepped through the door, hands held up.

"I know, I know, I forgot to lock-"

I stopped dead in my tracks. Rex wasn't in the control room. Nor was Jesse or Fives.

Someone was hunched against the far wall, hovering near the central computer. I saw the trolley full of tools and cleaning equipment.

The maintenance man I had fallen over not minutes before gave me a fleeting look of panic.

It was only brief because before I could even blink the man had pulled a blaster out of his pocket and was aiming it at me.

I should have reacted but quite honestly I was too dumbfounded. The maintenance man was our spy? The maintenance man!? Not a criminal mastermind, but a nobody. Somebody who's vocation was scrubbing floors had almost brought the rebellion to its knees. Had killed so many.

And yet, the more I thought about it, the more sense it made.

Who better to act as a spy than somebody that others wouldn't even notice? Somebody who could move about the base freely without being questioned? Hell, we probably even let him into the control room under the guise of a repair man. Where he could easily help himself to any information he needed.

And who else would be able to freely access any supply cupboard, under the guise of stocking up on cleaning supplies? How easy it would be for that person to slip in a few others items? Say, the chemicals needed to create a bomb?

And the final piece of the mystery, that I had felt elated at uncovering? The maintenance staff on Nasu all worked tight shift patterns.

All these thoughts jumbled together in my mind in the space of a split second before I jolted back to awareness and realised that a man was pointing a pistol at my chest.

I stiffened, eyeing the guy warily. He was small and weedy and unassuming, mousy hair unkempt and framing his narrow face. Even his clothes were unremarkable, not even so much as a defining blemish on the grey overalls.

The man noticed my gaze roving over him and the grip on his weapon tightened.

The sound of slow footsteps reached my ears and I felt a small shard of hope slide into my soul.

I half turned towards the door, foolishly taking my gaze off of the spy.

"Rex?" I called tentatively, hoping that the Captain would pick up on the panic in my voice.

If I had been in my right mind, I would have realised just how stupid it was to turn my back on the man with the gun.

I quickly learned this though when I felt an arm wrap around my neck in a chokehold and the cold muzzle of a blaster press into my ribs. I yelped, twisting to try and see the man behind me but he held me with a surprisingly firm grip.

Rex entered the room with a mug of caff halfway to his lips. He must not have heard me calling because he looked totally unprepared for the scene laid out in front of him.

His eyes went wide and the cup fell to the floor with a clatter, spilling its dark contents in all directions. I saw a gloved hand reach for one of the pistol holstered at his hip but a sharp grunt from behind me caused the man to pause.

"Uh uh," the spy said, speaking for the first time. His voice was flat and emotionless. "I wouldn't, clone. Or she dies."

Rex licked his lips as he considered his options. His gaze flickered between my own and the man holding me.

"Just shoot him, Rex," I hissed, cutting off with a yelp as the arm round my throat started cutting off my air supply. I looked at the Captain, wide eyed and panicking, silently begging him to do something, to get me out of this situation.

Rex hesitated for a moment longer, fingers twitching. With a sigh, he raised both hands above his head and my heart dropped.

"If you hurt her, you'll regret it," the Captain said, his voice a menacing growl. For the first time I noted the anger etching his features.

The spy huffed a sickening laugh and Rex bared his teeth at the noise.

"Wise move," the man said smoothly. "Here's how this is going to happen. You're going to drop your comm link on the floor, back away from the door, and let us pass. Then I'm going to lock you in this room. If you do that without incident then I'll let the girl go once I've made it to the hangar."

There was a pregnant pause in which I held my breath.

"Do you understand, clone?"

Rex tensed his jaw and nodded once. It was a testament to how much he valued me that he didn't leap at the spy and tear him to pieces at the man's condescending tone, regardless of the consequences.

Obediently, the Captain moved back into the corridor, removing the comm link from his gauntlet and dropping it to the ground, before placing his hands above his head once again.

I felt the man behind me sneer and he was then half shoving, half dragging me towards the doorway, blaster still firmly wedged between my ribs. Rex gave me a look of mingled fury and sorrow as I shuffled past him.

The spy paused once we were both clear of the room, keeping me between him and Rex at all times. The Captain made to move towards the control room as requested, but paused a few feet from the door.

"You won't get away with this."

"Oh, but I will."

His tone was slimy and disturbingly casual. I saw Rex stiffen and knew what he was about to do before he even twitched a muscle.

Rex's hand made it as far as gripping his blaster before the spy had pointed his own weapon at the man and pulled the trigger.

The shot rang round the confined hallway. I didn't see the bolt land but Rex went pitching backwards to sprawl across the floor.

I opened my mouth to scream, but the man behind me was suddenly dragging me away from my fallen friend, knocking the air from my lungs in the process. As we rounded a corner, the Captain hadn't moved and I felt a sob rise in my thtoat.

The spy roughly forced me to quicken my pace as we neared the hangar. I could hear shouting behind me and guessed that others had heard the commotion and gone to investigate. I felt another surge of hope and silently prayed for help.

Unfortunately, none came. The way to the hangar was clear and the only people we met were the two guards stationed at the exit. The spy shot both of them dead before they could even confront us, not breaking his stride as he shoved me out into the open space, almost throttling me in his haste to vacate the base. His pace faltered as he surveyed the small collection of ships lined on the dock, but it was only a momentary pause before he was once again wrestling me across the deck.

He chose a battered rigger, which was closest to our position and which appeared to be in flying shape. The man punched the door release and almost threw me up the ramp. I stumbled and fell to my knees, scrabbling in an effort not to face plant into the floor. I heard the door close behind me and I whimpered as the spy grabbed a fist full of my hair.

I screamed, lashing out with my limbs in an attempt to break the hold. One of my fists connected with the man and he grunted softly, before the hand tightened even more, forcing my head down and slamming my face hard into the deck plate.

....................

The blow must have knocked me out because when I awoke I was bound and gagged, my hands and feet tied together with thick cables.

I swallowed and tasted blood, wincing at the pain in my face. My nose felt like it was broken, and I guessed a couple of my teeth must have been knocked loose.

From my position on the cold plasteel floor, I could just make out the pilot seat silhouetted against the bright blue light of hyperspace flashing through the viewport. I saw the mousy haired head peeking over the top of the chair and stiffled a sob, feeling hot tears spill down my face and sting my open wounds.

Even in my pain dazed and emotional state, I knew deep down that I was well and truly fucked.

Chapter Text

A bright, jarring light woke me up with a start.

I blinked at the intrusion and suddenly became aware of movement all around me. Someone roughly shook me and I flinched.

"Toby!"

It was Echo's voice.

My Echo.

And he sounded damned near panicky.

I bolted up in bed, catching sight of his pale face hovering over me.

"Echo? Whats going on-"

"Get up. You have to get up. We need to leave. Now."

I could feel the waves of fear and anxiety rolling off of him. Glancing around, I saw that the rest of the Batch were on their feet, hastily shrugging on their armour and holstering their wide array of weapons. Omega was curled on the edge of her bunk, fully dressed, cradling her collection of stuffed animals and looking terrified, her eyes large and wide.

Abruptly from somewhere in the base an alarm started wailing, low and booming, and I realised then that something was very, very wrong.

Throwing the blanket off of myself I rolled to my feet smoothly.

"Echo-"

"No time. We're leaving. Grab whatever you can. Just do it quickly."

I stammered for a moment before I realised he was deadly serious. The man stalked across the room to his own bunk and hastily started fumbling with his rucksack, struggling to pack up his own gear with one hand.

Feeling scared and confused, I pulled on my boots and coat and holstered my blasters. As far as personal items went, that was it. I noticed Gem's vibro saber resting on the chest at the foot of her bed and grabbed the weapon, stuffing the scabbard into my belt. I could give it to her later once I worked out what the fuck was happening.

By this time, the rest of the squad was fully kitted out and had gathered by the door. Somebody grabbed my hand and looking across I saw that it was Echo roughly dragging me towards the rest of the group.

Hunter cast a brief look around the room, his face grim, surveying his team before nodding his head towards the door.

"We're gone."

I felt a sickening sensation settle in the pit of my stomach.

"Will someone please tell me what the kriff is going on?" I asked, voice trembling as we filed out of the barracks.

Hunter and Echo exchanged worried looks and neither of them would meet my eye. In the end it was Tech that answered my question.

"We're bugging out. The base has been compromised."

He stated it so flatly that I actually didn't fully grasp what he'd said at first. Once his words sunk in, I stumbled and would have fallen flat on my face if not for Echo's vice like grip on my hand.

"Wh-what? What's happened?" I asked, ashamed at how panic stricken I sounded.

"It would appear that Rex was correct in his assumption that we had a spy in our midst."

I faltered momentarily before Echo pulled me on down the hallway.

"What does that even mean? Will someone PLEASE tell me what is going on?"

A group of fully armoured troopers trotted past us towards the hangar and Hunter quickened the groups pace.

"His cover was blown," Echo said, voice steely. "The spy I mean. He escaped and is no doubt on his way back to the Empire. Which means the Imps won't hesitate to raise this place to the ground now that they're precious mole is safe."

Oh shit. We were leaving Nasu. I felt a pang if sadness at that. I had become comfortable here, and didn't like the thought of drifting once again.

"Wait - where's Gem? Is she meeting us at the hangar?"

The group was deathly silent and I knew something awful must have happened.

"The spy took her," Hunter finally said as we walked out on to the landing platform, which was swarming with troopers and civilians frantically moving to man their respective craft.

"WHAT?!"

"Don't worry, we're getting her back. But first we have to leave Nasu and regroup."

I cast a look at Crosshair, who was abnormally pale and looked ready to murder someone.

At least half the ships had already left, and the remaining half were filling fast. After the bombing, the number of sound vessels had greatly reduced and as a result, it looked as though it would be a squeeze to get everybody off of the planet.

The Marauder was waiting for us, her engines already idling and her ramp lowered. I was surprised to see Fives hanging from the doorway, nervously watching the other ships depart.

I noticed both Hunter and Tech bristle at the sight of Regs on their ship, but they must have realised they didn't have much choice on the matter and didn't voice their issues out loud.

"Boys," Fives greeted the group with a casual salute.

We piled onto the Marauder and I found that Fives wasn't the only reg present. Hardcase and Tup were hovering uncertainly near the cockpit, and Jesse was leaning over the nav console. At the rear of the ship, I saw the medic, Kix, standing solemnly beside the bunk in which a figure in white and blue armour lay.

"Rex?!"

Kix held up his hands as Echo strode forward towards the fallen Captain.

"Easy," the man said, gripping the trooper's shoulder as he peered around the medic. "He's sedated. Let him rest."

"What happened to him?" Omega asked, slinking past everybody and reaching Rex's side. She gripped hold of his vambrace and held tightly, face etched in concern.

"He took a blaster bolt to the chest," Kix said flatly, "from that damned spy no less. Fortunately his armour took the worst of it, but he still has internal damage."

"Will he be ok?"

"Yeah kid. He just needs some rest and he'll be on his feet again in no time."

I heard the ramp close with a thud and Fives brushed past everybody into the hold. It was tight with so many bodies crammed into such a small space.

"Everybody here?" the man asked, eyes gliding over the group as he mentally counted. "Everybody accounted for? Good. Tech, get us out of here."

The bespectacled man made his way to the cockpit.

"I will require the coordinates of the rendezvous site-"

"Already programmed into the navi computer."

Tech took his spot in the pilot's seat, and Echo shot one final look at Rex before joining him in the cockpit. I felt the ship lurch as Tech guided her off of the ground.

The rest of us stood crowded awkwardly around each other in the hold, adrenaline still coursing through our bodies and none of us too sure what we should be doing.

My mind drifted to thoughts of Gem and her current predicament. Closing my eyes, I reached out with my mind and felt for her. She was alive - battered, bruised and scared - but alive none the less. I swallowed down the lump forming in my throat.

"So, what's the plan now?" I asked to the group at large, trying to keep my voice from shaking.

No one answered me straight away. I saw the lights from the cockpit fade as we left the atmosphere, and shortly after there came the familiar punch as the Marauder hit hyperspace.

Fives and Jesse exchanged an unreadable look.

"We need to regroup," Jesse said, casting his gaze around the rest of us.

"What about Gem?" I asked firmly meeting the man's gaze.

There was another pause and this time it was Hunter that spoke up.

"We're going back for her."

"Yeah," Wrecker added, growling at the back of his throat. "Just let me at those Imperials! I'll teach them what it means to mess with us!"

"You'll get your chance, Wrecker," Jesse said with a comforting gesture. "But first we need a plan."

I heard Crosshair snarl from his spot leaning against the far wall of the hold.

"We need to go back for her, now."

It was the first time the man had spoken that night and now, looking closely, I saw the telltale signs of the stress he must be feeling. His eyes were tight, teeth gritted and hands gripping his rifle so tightly that his fingers must hurt.

Jesse shot the sniper a filthy look and waved a dismissive hand.

"We need a plan first. Not a half cocked one either, but an actual plan."

"Fuck your plans."

"We don't even know where she is! The spy could be halfway across the sector by now!"

"Even more reason to hunt them down now. Before they get too much of a head start."

I could sense the tension in the air and Hunter must have felt it too because he looked like he was gauging the distance between the sniper and the Lieutenant, in anticipation of having to dive between them.

"He's right," I said, stepping into the fray and standing beside Crosshair. The man gave me a peculiar look but it was only brief and he was back to staring daggers at Jesse within a heartbeat. "If we don't move now, we might lose them. We might lose her."

Jesse gave me an incredulous look, as though he couldn't believe that I was being such an idiot.

"And how do you propose we track them down?"

"Need I remind everyone that we have limited supplies," Fives added calmly, eyes flickering between Jesse and Crosshair. "And we don't have the hardware for a frontal engagement."

"So we just leave her?" I asked, feeling myself growing angrier and frustrated by the second.

"You have no idea what the Empire'll do to her," Crosshair spat, taking a step forward menacingly.

Hunter had intercepted him in a split second, taking up a position in front of his brother.

"Crosshair, calm down," the Sergeant said, laying a hand on the other man's pauldron. Crosshair shrugged off the contact and turned his molten glare on the tattooed man.

"You're siding with the REGS!?"

"No, but they're right. If we don't stop and think about this, things could go badly wrong. Besides, we need a way of tracking down the spy."

Tech, who had left the pilot's seat and was standing near the doorway to the cockpit, cleared his throat quietly.

"I believe I may have a way of locating the ship he stole," the man said, fiddling with his goggles nervously at the apparent volatile, emotional state of almost everyone on board. "However, I would need access to long range tracking equipment, which we do not have on board."

"Good. That's good Tech. Where can we find the gear you'll need?" Hunter's tone didn't change, but his posture relaxed slightly at the prospect of a plan.

Tech pinched his chin and frowned in thought, causing his goggles to sit lopsidedly on his face.

"I believe the scanners on Dantooine could be an option."

"Good. Dantooine it is. We can stock up on any other equipment while we're there."

"Hold on," Jesse interrupted, looking annoyed that no one had consulted him. "We can't just saunter up to Dantooine. Not when we know the spy has been feeding the Empire information. Who's to say he hasn't given them the coordinates for all rebel bases on our data banks? We could be walking into a trap."

"You got a better idea?" Hunter asked, his tone almost threatening. Jesse scowled but kept his mouth shut. "Anyone else got an objections? Good. Tech bring us out of hyperspace and recalculate for the jump to Dantooine."

As instructed, the man scurried back into the cockpit.

Crosshair gave one final death glare to everybody on board, before shoving his way to the rear of the ship and climbing into the gunners mount. I saw Hunter sag a little with relief that his brother hadn't started a fight in the confined space.

The others made themselves as comfortable as possible and hunkered down for what would be a long flight.

I couldn't help but pace slowly up and down the hold - much to the annoyance of the Regs - too anxious to rest. At one point, Omega distentangled herself from where she was curled on Hunter's lap, and trotted over to hug me tightly round the waist. I hugged her back, knowing that she must be just as scared and confused as I was.

I found myself glancing towards the gunners mount from time to time, but Crosshair had yet to emerge. I felt a pang of empathy towards the emotional turmoil he must be in.

Sighing, and knowing full well that I would regret this in a matter of seconds, I made my way towards the rear of the ship.

Crosshair was seated on the floor of the gun nest, knees pulled up to his chin and arms wrapped around his legs as he stared vacantly into space. He didn't acknowledge me when I pulled myself up to sit opposite him, but I knew by the way his jaw clenched that he was aware of my presence.

We sat in silence for a while, watching the blur of hyperspace from the canopy. It was oddly soothing, and I felt some of the nights tension leave me.

"She's alive, Crosshair."

The man's eyes flickered towards me before returning to study the blue blur beyond the ship.

"She won't last long once the Empire gets their hands on her."

His voice was totally flat and devoid of any emotion. I balked slightly at the emptiness, but supposed it was just his way of coping.

"We'll get her back," I said firmly. "As soon as Tech tracks her down, we'll go after her."

I was saying it for me really, as much as the sniper, trying to convince myself that, despite the mounting odds, Gem would survive this.

Crosshair gave a slight nod of his head in acknowledgement of my words.

"The....the last thing I said....if anything happens to her...."

I was staggered by how frayed the man sounded, like he was barely clinging on to his composure. It was unnerving to see him so shaken, his snide remarks and arrogance replaced with palpable fear and an almost overwhelming sense of dread.

I reached out to nudge the man with the toe of my boot. He recoiled at the touch, shooting me a filthy look and I was relieved to see some of usual abrasive attitude returning.

"Gem's tough," I said with a half hearted smile. "She can handle whatever the Empire throws at her. I pity the poor bastards actually."

Crosshair grunted in response and his gaze darkened.

"They're going to try and squeeze whatever information they can out of her, by whatever means," he said, a guttural growl forming at the back of his throat. "Once they realise she doesn't know anything more than they do, they'll kill her."

My stomach twisted sickeningly. I knew the man was right, and I prayed to the Maker we found Gem before that point.

"We'll just have to make sure we get there quickly then," I said, more to myself than to Crosshair, as though by saying the hope out loud it would come true.

"The Empire has already taken so much from me," the grey haired man spat, baring his teeth and looking more than a little terrifying. "I won't let them take her too."

I couldn't help but believe him. Of all his unappealing qualities, his possessiveness towards Gem had always been at the top for me. But now, watching the man seething in bitter anger and raw pain, I realised that it may in fact be a blessing. I knew that he would die to save my friend if necessary, and although I didn't always like the man, I couldn't help but admire his loyalty.

....................

I wasn't sure how long we stayed in hyperspace.

Curled on the floor and bound tightly, it felt like weeks, but in reality it was probably only a few hours. Which I supposed was a blessing. It meant that we were close to Nasu and any potential rescue.

I tried to keep my thoughts positive because I knew how easy it would be to give up and slide down into that dark hole.

I imagined my friends mobilising to come and get me, gearing up and embarking on the Marauder to track me down. Hunter would have some crafty plan for extracting me from my current predicament. Rex would be there too, joking that even a blaster bolt couldn't keep him down. Toby would give me an earful about worrying everybody for nothing. And Crosshair and I would spend hours making up in the fresher. I'd tell him about the baby, tell him everything, and he would say something sarcastic and pretend that he didn't care, but his eyes would shine and his face would split into a grin.

I tried not to think about the alternative - that no one was coming for me.

The spy hadn't spoken a word to me since I'd woken up, which I supposed was a good thing because I was scared and angry enough that I would probably end up saying something I might live long enough to regret. He'd stepped away from the cockpit a couple of times, striding over to me and crouching down to check my bonds were still tight enough. I couldn't help but flinch whenever he touched me, knowing those hands had indirectly been responsible for so much death.

The man always noticed my discomfort and would give me a satisfied look as though I were some great prize. The dead eyes and sour face set my teeth on edge. I actually found myself looking forward to arriving at our destination, just so I wouldn't have to be in confined quarters with the creep.

The familiar pop as we left hyperspace had my stomach churning and I tasted bile. I was hungry, I realised, and thirsty, although I felt indescribably nauseas and knew there was little chance I would manage to keep anything down. Whether it was the baby growing in my belly or just the suffocating sense of fear, I couldn't tell.

I ducked my head once the blue glare died down and squinted past the pilot. Through the viewport, I could see the looming oppressive bulk of an Imperial cruiser, an angular lump hanging in space, all gun turrets, proton torpedo mounts and ion canons. And we were flying straight towards it, I realised with dread.

I had never seen a star destroyer up close, and I had to admit, it was an intimidating vessel. I started counting the weapon turrets as we approached, but quickly stopped because the mounting number could mean only one thing.

There was no way in all Hells the Batch could get close enough to rescue me.

Chapter Text

Things became a blur once the stolen G9 docked with the star destroyer.

As soon as the rigger touched down the spy was on his feet, stooping to grab hold of me and cutting the bindings on my ankles, the man dragged me towards the ramp even before the engines were fully offline.

I weakly tried to fight but truthfully, I felt so drained that I could barely muster the energy to stand, and a hard shove sent me pitching onto the stark, plasteel floor of the shuttle bay. Hands wrapped around my arms and I was hoisted to my feet by two white armoured men. I thought for a minute that they might be clones, but if they were then their attitude was much different to my friends on Nasu.

I couldn't see the spy and I guessed he had extracted himself to debrief whatever prick was in charge on this giant floating death machine.

The two troopers marched me from the shuttle bay and pushed me roughly into an elevator, squashing me to the rear of the compartment with their bulky bodies. It was suffocatingly claustrophobic in the space, and I couldn't stop myself from fidgeting anxiously. One of the Imps quickly ceased my movements though with a well placed elbow to my ribs.

Fortunately the journey was a short one. The doors to the lift swished open to reveal a barren grey hallway lined with sealed openings on either side.

The troopers escorted me to one of the hatches. The man to my right swiped an access panel on the wall and the door slid upwards. The other trooper wasted no time shoving me inside and hitting a switch to raise the ray shield.

I found myself alone in some kind of holding cell. The room was stark and empty save for an unfurnished bench against the far wall, and a sink and toilet against another.

As soon as I was sure that the troopers weren't coming back I let go of my last shred of composure and started crying.

I cried for Rex, convinced that the blaster shot would surely have killed him. I cried for Omega, and hoped she wouldn't think I'd abandoned her. I cried for Crosshair, recalling our last conversation and wondering if I'd ever get the chance to apologise. I cried for my friends, knowing that, with their spy back in safe custody, the Empire would surely no longer hesitate to crush the rebellion on Nasu. Lastly, I cried for myself and the thought that I wouldn't live long enough to meet the child growing inside of me.

I curled in one of the corners of the room and sobbed pathetically, rocking myself in a vain attempt at self soothing and straining against the cables cutting into my wrists. The fuckers hadn't even bothered to remove them, which meant that either I was not intended to be a guest for very long, or the Imps didn't give a shit about my comfort.

I had no idea how long they left me in the room as I had no way of marking time. I dozed off a couple of times and got up once to use the fresher so I guessed it must have been hours. My stomach started to knot uncomfortably and I felt hollow from hunger, realising that it must have been at least a day if not more since I'd eaten. I knew that wasn't healthy in my current condition but there wasn't much I could do besides call half heartedly for the guards in the hopes they might respond to my plaintive shouts.

No one came though so I gave up once my voice started to crack and went back to rocking in the corner.

I didn't notice the movement at first. It wasn't so much movement, I supposed, more like a constant pressure that hadn't been there before. Laying my head against the floor, I could feel the vibrations through the deck and guessed that the cruiser had entered hyperspace, though being so deep in the belly of the ship it was hard to tell for certain.

Finally, at the point that I started to become dizzy from hunger, I heard the sound of footsteps approaching.

The ray shield blinked away and I sat bolt upright and scrambled back as far away from the door as I could in the confined space.

Two white clad troopers entered my cell. Whether they were the same two from earlier I couldn't tell because they had no discerning features.

One of the men had a blaster pointed directly at me and I flinched involuntarily, thinking that this might be the end. It was a short lived fear though because the other guy followed behind carrying a tray, which he promptly threw on the ground.

"Admiral says we have to feed you," the man drawled, possitively dripping with contempt. I felt an odd kind of relief that his voice was not the characteristic lilt that the clone troopers spoke with. Clearly he was no clone.

The other trooper shook his head and kicked the tray towards me forcefully, spilling some if the contents, which looked to be a grayish kind of mulch.

"Seems a shame to waste rations on a piece of rebel scum like you."

I could only summon a glower in their direction and even then the gesture was weak. I shuffled towards the proffered meal, unable to contain myself and driven by desperate hunger. I hooked the toe of my boot over the tray and was just tugging it towards me when one of the troopers kicked out again, sending the entire plate of slop flying against the far wall.

The troopers laughed nastily and I grunted in frustration, feeling as though my stomach was going to wither away to nothing.

"Asshole!" I spat at the men, which only fueled their amusement further.

I eyed the ruined food and one of the men must have noticed my hungry gaze because he moved so that he was literally standing in the puddle of gruel.

Shakily I rose to my feet, leaning against the wall for support and wondering how long I had before my legs gave way. I stared venemously into the visor of the nearest soldier but he only huffed a chuckle.

"What are you gonna do, rebel?"

Before my mind could form a reasonable response, I found myself surging towards the trooper and aiming my foot at his groin. I stumbled after the first step and the man didn't hesitate to grab me by the throat as soon as I was within arms reach. He promptly threw me to the ground mercilessly and my face smashed against the deck, splitting open the half healed wounds.

I lay on the floor, eyes watering from the pain and biting my lip to hold in a sob. I tried to push myself up with my bound hands but a heavy boot stomped between my shoulder blades and pinned me to the ground, driving the breath from my lungs.

"Is that all you got, rebel?"

I grunted and struggled a bit more, but to no avail. I heard boots approaching and the other trooper's feet came into view.

"Pathetic."

"It's no wonder they keep losing to the Empire."

"Kriffing weakling traitors, all of them."

"Well, they won't be our problem for much longer."

"Ha! You hear that, rebel? The Admiral's set a course for Nasu! He's going to order an aerial bombardment and vaporise your precious base, along with everyone in it."

"Good riddance, I say."

"You said it! My only complaint is that I was looking forward to blasting the heads off of a few of those clones myself."

"Freaks, the lot of them."

"It's about time they went extinct."

"Should have been decommissioned years ago."

I listened to the two men standing over me, taunting me, the one holding me down grinding his heel against my spine painfully hard. I would have cried but my tired body didn't have anything left to give.

I must have zoned out because when I slipped back into awareness I was alone again.

I should have felt ashamed by the whimper that escaped my lips but I was too depressed to care. I thought about what the troopers had said about Nasu, and wondered if it was true.

It must have been, I concluded, because I felt a lurch as the ship dropped out of hyperspace. Lying on the cold deck plate, I felt the vibrations as the ships batteries opened fire.

For the first time in my life, I begged the Maker to spare my friends, and hoped with every fiber of my being that they had already evacuated the planet below.

Curling in on myself, I started howling like a wounded animal and didn't stop until my breath gave out and I collapsed from exhaustion.

....................

At some point during the journey to Dantooine, Rex woke up.

I heard him groan loudly and glanced up from my spot on the floor. Omega, who was curled at the foot of the bed with her head rested against the wall, jerked awake, rubbing her eyes tiredly and hopping to the ground at the disturbance.

Kix had been huddled at the rear of the ship with Jesse, and the man leaped to his feet and was by the Captain's side in moments, closely followed by the remaining clone troopers. Save for Crosshair, who was still brooding in the gunners nest, and Tech, who was flying the ship.

I stayed where I was, not willing to crowd the poor man, and also feeling more than a little resentful that he had been the one to drag Gem into this whole mess in the first place. Primarily though I felt guilt that the man had been injured whilst trying to protect my friend. If I'd have been there, maybe we wouldn't be in this predicament.

There was a shuffling noise, followed by a bitten off curse.

"Kr-kriff. Gem? Wh-where is she? Wh-what happened?"

"Easy, Captain," Kix said, and I saw him reach over to gently push the man back into his bunk as he attempted to stand. "You were shot in the chest."

"Wh-what - ow! Where are we?"

There was a pause while everybody exchanged worried looks. In the end it was Hunter that spoke up.

"On the Marauder. On route to Dantooine."

"Dantooine? Why? Wh-what happened?"

Another heavy pause.

"The spy blew his cover," Fives said slowly, rubbing the bridge of his nose and staring at the floor. "He shot you when he escaped. And he took Gem. Don't you remember?"

"He WHAT?!"

"Rex, please," Kix pleaded, struggling to hold the man down as he writhed in the cot. "You'll open up your wound again!"

The Captain made a snarling noise though it didn't seem to be directed towards the medic. Eventually, with the full weight of both Fives and Kix draped across his body, the man finally went limp and I could hear him panting heavily in the relative quiet.

"Where is he?"

"We don't know yet," Fives said, gingerly disentangling himself and watching the blond man warily. "But we have a plan to find her."

"Tell me."

"You need to rest, once you're healed-"

"Thats an order!"

I heard a heavy sigh, although I couldn't say for certain who it emanated from. Echo cleared his throat.

"Tech has a plan," the cyborg said calmly. "To use the scanners on Dantooine to track down the ship the spy stole."

"OK," Rex panted through gritted teeth. "That's good. Then what? How are we gonna get Gem back?"

The ship was silent save for the hum of the engines and the nervous shuffling of boots on the deck plate.

"Well, that's as far as we got," Fives said sheepishly.

"Are you serious?!"

"We're doing our best."

Rex growled again and butted his head against the pillow in frustration. I heard him take a couple of deep breaths before he continued.

"I know," he said with a grunt that could have been either pain or worry. "I know. I'm sorry. We'll work on that part. Once we know where she is."

Rex made a soft noise which might have been a whimper as he fidgeted in the rack.

"We're still a few hours off," Kix said, eyeing the Captain in concern and stooping to reach into his pack. "Get some rest and we'll wake you when we land."

"No. No, I need to be thinking of a plan to get her out of this."

"Rex, if you get some sleep now your wound will heal twice as fast," said the medic, straightening with a syringe in his hand.

"You don't understand, it's my fault, I got her into this mess," Rex snapped. His tone suddenly became wary as Kix approached. "Wait, what are you doing? What's that?"

"Just something to help with the pain," Kix said, making a soothing gesture with his hand.

"I-I don't need anything, I'm fine."

Kix gave a long suffering sigh.

"I wasn't asking."

"Kix, I order you not to drug me!"

It would have been funny if we weren't all so on edge.

Kix paused before meeting Fives' eye and giving a short nod.

"Sorry, Captain, but when it comes to the health and wellbeing of the men, I outrank everyone."

Fives suddenly dived on top or Rex, pinning him to the bunk at exactly the same moment as the medic jammed the syringe into his neck. Rex made an angry bleating noise.

"You...." he stammered, slowly going limp as the sedative kicked on. "You..."

He slumped back onto the bed, unconscious.

"That went better than usual," Kix said in a disturbingly bright tone as he packed away his medical supplies and Fives slithered off of the Captain.

The rest of the men dispersed shortly thereafter.

With the excitement having died down, I rested my forehead against my knees and tried to coax my tired brain into thinking up a battle strategy for rescuing my captured friend. After a few minutes, I heard heavy footsteps approach, followed by the sound of someone sinking to the deck beside me.

"Hey," Echo said quietly, nudging me gently with his elbow. "I brought you some caff."

I raised my head and met his eye blearily.

"Thanks," I croaked, taking the proffered mug and giving him a weak smile.

Echo studied me as I took a swig of the dark, bitter liquid.

"How are you holding up?" he asked softly, moving his hand so that it was resting on my knee and squeezing comfortingly.

I shrugged and made a vague sound in my throat. Glancing at Echo out of the corner of my eye, I saw that his mouth was a thin line and his eyes were creased with worry.

"Toby?"

"I'm fine," I barked, more forcefully than I intended.

Echo flinched slightly at my tone and made to withdraw. Feeling guilty, I reached out and grabbed his hand, holding it tightly in my own.

"I'm sorry," I murmured, shuffling a little closer to the man. "I didn't mean to snap."

"It's alright," he replied, running his thumb over my knuckles and smiling sadly. "It's been a pretty intense night. Are you doing ok?"

I swallowed and nodded my head.

"Just a bit much."

Echo sighed quietly and let go of my hand, wrapping his arm around my shoulders and pulling me into him.

"We'll get her back," he murmured into my hair, leaning in to kiss the top of my head softly.

We were silent for a while, both just enjoying the comfort that the other brought.

"What if we don't?" I finally asked, voicing the fear that had been pawing at the back of my mind since we left Nasu.

Echo tightened his hold on me.

"We will," he said firmly. "None of us are prepared to give up on her. Besides, have you met Crosshair? Talk about stubborn! And Rex is no better."

I knew the half hearted jokes were meant to make me feel better, but I still couldn't shake the knawing feeling in the pit of my stomach.

"This is all my fault."

Another pause, and I felt Echo stiffen.

"How?" he asked slowly. "How is this on you?"

"I should have been there."

"And what would that have achieved? Apart from you probably getting shot as well?"

"I'm supposed to protect her," I sniffed, feeling a lump forming in my throat.

"Toby, she's a grown woman," Echo said with a reassuring half smile. "She knew what she was getting into. She knew the risks. You can't watch over her all the time."

"It's what I've always done," I said flatly. "It's what WE'VE always done. For each other."

He stroked my hair and sighed softly.

"I know, but you're not alone now. You've got us. And we never leave one of our own behind."

My eyes started to mist over and I had to take a couple of breaths to calm myself. I was exhausted I realised, totally drained mentally, physically and emotionally.

Echo must have mistaken my panting for sobbing because abruptly he pulled back, tilting my chin up with his scomp arm.

"It's gonna be ok."

I actually believed him.

Echo twisted himself so that his scomp was tucked under the crook of my knees. Gently, he lifted my legs so that they draped over his and I was half sitting on his lap.

I shifted so that I could face him and gave him a weak smile which he returned. To my surprise, he leaned in to kiss me on the mouth, moving his soft lips against mine intimately.

It was a surprising gesture, seeing as we were sitting in the hold with absolutely zero privacy, surrounded by his brothers who could all see and hear everything that was going on. But it was a welcome distraction from my worries.

We broke apart after a while and I moved so that my head was resting against his collar bone. I felt Echo fiddling with a strand of my hair and sighed, grateful for the contact.

"Get some sleep," he whispered, the tone of his voice leaving no room for argument. "I'll be here when you wake up."

As if on command, I felt my eyelids start to droop and nodded.

Leaning back, I shuffled to get comfortable. Echo's heartbeat was steady against my ear, the constant thrum like a lullaby which quickly sent me into a fitful slumber.

Chapter Text

When I came to, the ship was once again still and I guessed that Nasu was no more.

I shed a few quiet tears at the thought.

Sitting upright and leaning against the wall, I took a moment to evaluate my condition. My face hurt, and I gingerly felt my nose with the tips of my fingers. It was most definitely broken, but there wasn't much I could do but swallow down the pain and bear it. I was clammy, bathed in a cold sweat and shaking profusely, partly from hunger but mostly from fear.

Summoning whatever brain power I had left, I reached out with my mind and felt for Toby. It was perhaps a foolish move, to waste the last of my energy in such a manner, but I had to know.

I felt the brush of his consciousness against mine and sobbed. He was alive. Which meant there was a good chance the others were too. It was a thin sliver of light in an otherwise dark world, but it was something to cling on to.

Never, in all my years of taking on questionable jobs, nor in the recent months of being part of the rebellion, had I ever imagined being at the mercy of the Empire. Let alone facing their wrath on my own, with a baby growing in my belly. But such was the hand that I'd apparently been dealt.

The worst part about the whole thing was the monotony. The same four grey walls staring blankly back at me for hours at a time. It was what I imagined madness felt like.

Finally, after I was starting to go loopy from hunger and boredom, I heard the pang of footsteps approaching my cell. I stiffened as the ray shield was lowered and shakily attempted to stand. I made it as far as my knees before giving up.

A group of four white clad troopers entered the room and instantly I knew by their number that something was different. Four men wouldn't be required just to feed me.

My assumption was correct when two of the men brought their blasters to bear.

"Up!" Barked the one at the front, gesturing with the muzzle of his weapon.

The other two moved into position on either side of me, stooping to lift me up by my arms and gripping me with a staggering amount of force, as though they were convinced I would suddenly float away at any moment. In truth, my legs were trembling so badly I wouldn't even have been able to stand without the two soldiers, so escape was not an option, even if I did have some way of getting off this Hell hole.

The troopers half dragged, half carried me from my cell, the other two flanking them, their fingers caressing the triggers of their weapons.

I could feel my heart pounding in my ribcage, the blood thumping in my ears to an almost inaudible level. My mind started to wander as I speculated as to where the Imps were taking me. Surely, it would not be somewhere pleasant. I tried to mask my fear as best I could and did my utmost to keep my features smooth. There was no point panicking anyway, and I wouldn't give the bastards the satisfaction of showing off my terror.

We reached a lift, the troopers crowding in around me and almost crushing me with their bulk. I awkwardly contorted myself around their hard bodies and propped myself against the wall. Fortunately, the journey was a short one. We emerged from the lift into a corridor identical to the one we had just been in.

This section of the ship seemed to be more populated than the area in which my cell was located. I spied dozens of white clad troopers, a couple of droids and more than a handful of grey uniformed officers. A few heads turned to survey me with undisguised disdain. I set my jaw and walked with my head high. If this was the end, at least I would go out with whatever shred of dignity I had still intact.

The soldiers escorted me through a set of double doors, into a much quieter hallway. We marched for quite some time, until I totally lost track of all the turns and started to become increasingly disorientated. This part of the cruiser, wherever it was, was deathly silent, and the only sound came from the sharp footfalls of the troopers and my own unsteady footsteps.

Abruptly, the men dragged me through a doorway to my left. I bit off a yelp at the sudden change in direction, chastising myself for making any sound at all.

The room was cold and stark to the point of being clinical. Against one wall stood a small plasteel table laid with various instruments, which I could barely make out, let alone recognise. In the very centre of the room was some sort of contraption which set my teeth on edge. It was roughly the height if a person, and resembled a medical stretcher that had been twisted to stand vertically on its short edge. The thing was adorned with straps, cables and wires and I instantly balked at the sight of it.

At my hesitation, one of the troopers shoved me roughly with the butt of his blaster and I stumbled forward. One of the others grabbed me by the scruff of my neck before I could fall, and I found myself being manhandled into the contraption in the centre of the room.

The bindings around my wrists were cut, but the relief was short lived because my arms were immediately strapped into the device, along with my ankles, with another strap tightened around my neck. I could feel myself really panicking then, and gave the troopers wild looks, which they ignored.

Once I was completely immobilised, the men departed the room and shut the door behind me. Left alone, I finally let my fear take over and started hyperventilating, tears streaming down my face as I struggled futiely against my confinement.

Eventually, exhaustion got the better of me and I gave up fighting, slumping against the back of the contraption, utterly defeated.

Some time later - it felt like hours but most likely was only minutes - the door slid open again and two grey clad men walked into the room.

I knew by the way they carried themselves that they were senior officers. From the badges adorning the chest of the one on the right, I thought he might be an Admiral, but I wasn't familiar enough with Imperial insignia to know for certain.

Both men surveyed me with a sort of cool ambivalence that was disturbing in its detached nature. The one with fewer badges, who was considerably smaller and slighter than the other, made his way towards the table. He paused to consider the contents, before plucking up a small device which resembled a primitive data pad. I watched him cautiously, feeling certain that things were about to get much, much shittier.

The other Imp moved so that he was standing just in front of me, pose stiff and regimented, his hands clasped behind his back.

"Good afternoon."

His voice was smooth and emotionless, and his polite manner caught me off guard. I found my gaze snapping to his and he held it without flinching. His eyes were dark - almost black - and bottomless, his hair was well groomed, but other than that, the man's features were unremarkable.

The officer paused for a moment as though awaiting a response from me. When he didn't get one, he continued somewhat briskly.

"I am Admiral Yarun of the Imperial Navy."

Again, I did not respond, instead settling for giving him a defiant look, which was somewhat ruined by my tear streaked face.

"I understand from our operative stationed on Nasu that you were a part of the rebellion there."

Ah. So the spy had already given up everything he knew. Which meant that I didn't stand much chance of lying my way out of this.

Admiral Yarun appeared to realise this, because he gave a faint sneer in my direction.

"I also understand that you were in fact privvy to a great deal of the rebel's intel which our operative was unfortunately unable to extract."

Oh shit. Oh shit shit shit. There was only one way this was going to go.

"I am, however, confident that you will provide this intel to me."

If my mouth wasn't so dry I would have spat at the man.

"I ain't giving you shit."

The Admiral's smile widened, although it did not touch his ebony eyes.

"I was not asking."

The other Imp moved away from the table to stand beside the Admiral, and I could see a sick sort of anticipation on his face, as though he were enjoying my current predicament. I felt myself tense involuntarily and realised I was holding my breath.

Yarun gave a curt nod and the man tapped the data pad once.

Pain.

Unimaginable, excruciating pain.

I registered a haze of blue light all around me and every nerve in my body felt like it was on fire.

As soon as it had started, the agony stopped and I slumped as best I could in my bindings, panting and shaking.

The Admiral stepped forward and cocked his head to one side.

"Now, let's try that again shall we?"

I grit my teeth against the spasms still wracking my entire body.

"Fuck.....you."

The wheezing curse had barely left my lips before the pain started again.

I tried to scream but I couldn't tell if any sound came out.

....................

The command to evacuate had obviously reached the rebels stationed on Dantooine because the place was absolutely deserted.

Hunter made Tech do a sweep of the area around the listening post four times, just to be certain there were no Imperials lying in wait. Once the Sergeant was satisfied that we were in no immediate danger, the Marauder landed in the camp that, not so long ago, we had been stationed at.

I waited with trepidation as the remaining men finished gearing up and began to gather in the hold.

Rex was on his feet, if a little wobbly, and looking decidedly worse for wear. He stubbornly refused any assistance from anyone and tried to contain his grimaces of pain for when he thought no one was looking.

Crosshair had also finally extracted himself from the gunners mount. He hadn't said a word to anyone since emerging, and the black marks under his eyes suggested he hadn't slept a wink. He stood stiffly by the top of the ramp, face grim and his precious rifle cradled in his arms.

"Alright," Rex said to the squad at large as the engines powered down, motioning for the others to come closer. "We have no idea if or when the Empire's gonna show up, so we need to be quick about this. Tech, Echo, I want you to plug into the long range scanners and find that ship. Hunter, Jesse and I will go as escort. Tup, start refuelling the ship, quick as you can. Fives, Wrecker, Hardcase, you're on supply duty. We need weapons, ammo and explosive, as many as you can find. And as many medical supplies and rations as you can carry. Kix, you're in the cockpit. If the proximity sensors go off, I wanna know about it."

Rex paused, fidgeting in discomfort as his damaged armour pressed against his half healed injury. He pointed a finger at me and Crosshair.

"You two - stay here with the ship and cover us in case we need to make a quick exit."

Crosshair scowled and looked like he might argue, but Hunter stepped forward and put his hand on the taller man's arm, shooting him a warning look. The sniper must have realised that arguing would waste precious time, and so he shut his mouth with a snap.

"What about me?" Omega asked, stepping around Echo so that she could face Rex. "How can I help?"

There was a pause while Rex glanced at Hunter questioningly.

"You're with me, kid," said Fives, winking at Omega.

The girl gave him a tired grin and trotted over to his side. Hunter shot the ARC trooper a look which suggested that Fives would be in for it if anything happened to the kid.

Rex cast a quick glance around the group as the ramp lowered.

"I want everyone back here in half an hour. Keep your comm channels open at all times. Now, move it troopers!"

I had to admit that Rex was quite intimidating when he used that authoritative tone.

I smiled at Echo briefly before he shoved his helmet on and disappeared down the ramp with the others. Crosshair and I followed, taking up positions on the airfield close to the ship, where we had a good view of the surrounding area. I kept my pistols up and my eyes sharp for any signs of movement in the surrounding jungle.

Things seemed to be going well at first. The trooper called Tup finished refuelling the ship in record time. I heard Fives comm in that they had found the required supplies and were on their way back to the ship. And Echo and Tech relayed that they had hacked into the scanners and were searching for the stolen vessel.

It was at that point that the fucking Empire showed up.

Kix's voice suddenly came over the link, his urgency coming through loud and clear.

"Rex, we've got company. An Imperial light cruiser just exited hyperspace."

"Kriff!" the Captain snapped with uncharacteristic frustration. "I hoped we'd have more time! Are they moving into attack position?"

"Negative. They're scrambling fighters."

I heard a groan on the other end but couldn't tell who it had come from.

"Everybody back to the Marauder, now!"

"We have not yet located the stolen vessel," came Tech's matter of fact voice. "We need more time."

"Tech, we are OUT of time."

"Rex, we're almost there!" It was Echo that spoke, sounding so fiercely determined that my heart clenched.

A groan over the comm.

"Fine! We'll hold them off as long as we can. Hunter, Wrecker, take the Marauder and try and lead their fighters away. The rest of you, take up positions and prepare for a ground assault."

I saw Fives and the rest of the supply team running into view, dragging and carrying various crates in their wake. They made it to the ship and began unceremoniously dumping the cargo into the hold. Moments later, Hunter came sprinting from the underground bunker.

"Wreck! Let's go! Omega, you're coming with us."

"On it, Sarge."

"Yes, Sir."

I heard the engines idle into life and quickly looked around at the others, unsure of what I should be doing. Crosshair was heading for the watch tower at the far side of the camp, and the others were positioning themselves around the complex and making use of whatever cover was to hand.

I roused myself into motion and joined Fives, who was crouching behind a pile of rusty crates beside the entrance to the underground bunkers.

An eerie silence followed the departure of the Marauder. I could feel my heart hammering in anticipation, my palms were clammy and my mouth was dry. My stomach churned uncomfortably, and I had the sudden, desperate urge to pee. This wasn't the first scrap I had been in, not by a long shot, but it was the first time I'd ever intentionally gone up against the Empire. I found myself thanking the Maker that I was surrounded by seasoned soldiers who knew what they were doing.

Abruptly, the sound of engines could be heard on the wind and I hunkered down behind the crates, hastily checking my pistols and keeping my eyes up.

Six Imperial fighters streaked across the sky, evidently in pursuit of the Marauder. Following slowly behind were two shuttles, which peeled away from the main group and circled around, looking for somewhere to land.

"Everybody, keep out of sight," said Fives quietly over the comm. "Wait for them to land and unload. As soon as those troops are out in the open, let 'em have it."

"This is gonna be fun!" Hardcase chuckled way too enthusiastically from across the landing pad. I heard him grunt as he hefted the enormous laser cannon he carried and could imagine just how itchy his trigger finger must be.

The transports came closer and began their descent, wings folding up as they touched down on the airfield. I found myself holding my breath as the ramps lowered and white clad soldiers started marching out into the camp. They clearly did not know that we were on the ground, because they didn't appear even remotely on edge. At least we still had the element of surprise.

I heard Fives scoff beside me as the troops kept pouring out of the shuttles.

"Ha, TK troopers. These'll be easy pickings."

I didn't know what the fuck that meant, but as I counted at least two dozen soldiers disembarking the craft, I felt that the man's assumption would be misplaced. We were vastly outnumbered.

The troopers spread out and started making their way towards the bunker in a patrol formation. I fidgeted with my pistols and tried to stop my hands shaking. Glancing over at Fives, I saw him cautiously peering around our meager cover. I was half tempted to look myself, but was sure I would be spotted.

A shot cut through the stillness, ringing around the compound and nearby forest.

"Now!"

I leaned over the top of the crates, blasters in hand, as chaos erupted.

My first shot missed the trooper I was aiming for and I cursed my nervousness. The second shot hit the guy in the shoulder and he staggered but didnt fall. I was just taking aim for a third when the man dropped to the ground limply with a smoking hole through his helmet. The one to his right went down in a similar fashion, and I found myself in sickening admiration of Crosshair's skill.

Blaster fire rent the air noisily and I couldn't make out much as I concentrated on ducking back behind cover after every few shots and trying not to get killed. Fives was taking a similar approach and we coordinated our leads so that one of us was covering at a time. I could hear someone yelling over the comm, and the telltale stuttering of the gatling gun as Hardcase ripped into the poor TK troopers.

The white clad men recovered quickly and at least half of them scrambled to cover, crouching behind the two shuttles as they regrouped.

"Watch them!" Fives called, changing position to get a better view. "They'll try and flank us."

Sure enough, the Imps broke into two groups and started circling around. I squeezed off a few shots before realising that I would have to move or be exposed once the men came about. Fives must have come to this conclusion too because he caught my eye at the exact same time that I looked over at him.

"I'll cover you. Head towards Hardcase and Tup's position."

I gave him a confused look and he jabbed a thumb in the direction of an abandoned assault vehicle behind which the two clones must have been hiding. I nodded briefly.

"Go!"

At the command, I staggered to my feet and ran, full pelt, towards cover. I could hear shots behind me but couldn't tell if they were coming from the ARC trooper or the Imps.

I had almost made it to safety when something bit into my leg and I went pitching forward, landing hard on the ground. Momentarily winded from the fall, I just lay there, stunned for a heartbeat before a plasma shot zipped past me, so close to my head that I felt my hair stand on end. I scrambled to my feet and tried to run the last few paces, only to crumple again from a sharp pain in my right thigh.

I barely even had time to register that I had been hit before someone was dragging me roughly by the collar of my coat. There was a guttural yell, and I realised it had come from me.

"I got you, buddy."

I couldn't tell who had me, but whoever it was pulled me behind cover and dropped me on the ground. I spat out a mouthful of dirt, before pushing myself up to lean against the rusting vehicle.

Glancing down, I saw a smouldering hole in the leg of my trousers, just above the knee. I touched the wound gingerly and winced at the pain. Fortunately, the blaster bolt had cauterised the flesh and so I wasn't bleeding out too fast, but it still hurt like a mother kriffer.

Abruptly, I came to my senses and realised that the fight was still raging on all around me. Gritting my teeth, I twisted to lean around the edge of the assault craft and let off half a dozen shots before Fives slid behind cover beside me.

"You OK?" he asked as he himself tried to drop a trooper or two. Unfortunately, the white armoured bastards had found cover of their own, and getting a hit in was becoming difficult.

I gave him a pained smile.

"Been better."

Fives huffed a chuckle, which was drowned out my Hardcase stepping around cover to let loose a long burst in the direction of the Imps.

"Just don't die. Echo'll kill me."

I laughed loudly, on the verge of becoming hysterical. I must have looked pretty bad, because Fives cocked his helmeted head at me before barking into his comm.

"Rex, we're taking heavy fire."

"I know, hang tight, Jess and I are coming up."

"We are almost there," came Tech's voice. "Just another moment."

A particularly drawn out round of fire had us all cowering behind our respective scraps of cover.

"We don't have a moment!"

"Almost there...."

"Tech, hurry up!" Crosshair drawled, and I could just about make out the man diving from the watch tower as several bolts sent splinters flying from the platform.

Rex and Jesse had arrived, and were offering support from the cover of the bunker entrance.

"Got it! We have the ships last location. We should be able to track it from there over a short distance."

"Thank kriff for that!"

"Don't celebrate too soon Tup, we still gotta get out of here!"

The words had barely left Rex's mouth, before there was an almighty noise directly above us and I looked up just in time to see the belly of the Marauder as she passed over head.

"The cavalry has arrived!" Wrecker laughed maniacally over the comm.

"We lost the fighters," Hunter added tensely, "but they'll be back. We gotta go, now!"

"Little busy down here!" Rex shouted as he let loose a volley in the direction of the troopers, who looked like they were making a move to advance on the bunker.

The Marauder came about again, lower this time, the downdraft from her engines kicking up a cloud of dust.

"We can help with that."

A blast rippled through the air, closely followed by another which was accompanied by hoarse yelling.

Glancing at the ship, I saw Wrecker leaning from the ramp, lobbing thermal charges in the direction of the white clad troopers, who were scattering in all directions in an effort to evade the aerial assault.

Hunter lowered the ship towards the ground while Wrecker still hurled explosives and laughed like a mad man. The noise was absolutely deafening, and I almost didn't hear Rex over the cacophony.

"Now's our chance! Everybody move!"

From their various locations across the camp, the others made a break for the Marauder while Wrecker continued to distract the Imperials.

I pulled myself to my feet with a groan of pain and was surprised to find Fives by my side, wrapping a hand around my waist and dragging my arm over his neck as he hauled me inelegantly towards the ship.

The pain in my leg was excruciating as I limped along and for an awful moment I thought I was going to pass out. Fortunately, the man beside me help firm and took more of my weight on his shoulders, for which I was grateful.

The others had already made it aboard by the time we had half crossed the distance, and the white clad troopers seemed to be recovering enough to shoot the occasional bolt in our direction. The remainder of our squad was arrayed around the ramp of the Marauder, providing as much cover for Fives and I as they were able.

"I'm slowing you down," I panted as one blast came particularly close, causing Fives to falter his stride.

"Don't tell me you're gonna start being a kriffing hero," the ARC trooper hissed through his teeth, twisting to return fire.

It was true though, we were dreadfully slow, and I knew the fighters would be back any minute now. A particularly agonising moment caused me to trip and fall to my knees with a bitten off yelp. Fives swore colourfully beside me as he attempted to pull me up and provide cover fire at the same time.

Suddenly, I was being lifted into the air and for a heart wrenching second I thought the blast from one of Wrecker's bombs had gotten too close for comfort. Looking up however, I saw the giant himself, grinning down at me madly as he threw me over his shoulder like a sack of jogun fruit.

My face was ground into Wrecker's back plate and I felt a jarring motion as though the man was running, before I was suddenly flung, quite literally, into the hold of the Marauder.

"Oh fuck me!"

White hot pain as I landed awkwardly on the deck plate. I took a few deep breaths and tried not to be sick everywhere.

"Sorry buddy!" Wrecker called as he hoisted himself up beside me, squeezing off a few last shots before the ramp closed.

"Everyone accounted for?" Rex snapped with urgency. "Good. Get us the kriff off this planet."

Never before had I agreed quite so much with a sentiment.

Chapter Text

By the time Yarun finished with me I was silently wishing I was dead.

Every fiber of my body was screaming in agony, even after the device was shut off and I was being hauled back to my cell by two white armoured men.

I couldn't recall whether I'd confessed under the torture. My brain was hazy and overloaded from the pain, but I felt sure the only thing that had passed my lips were curses and screams. A selfish part of my lucid mind hoped that I had spilled all my secrets, just so that it would all end. At least I wouldn't have to endure another session like that.

By the time I drifted from my self pitiful thoughts, I was back in my cell, alone.

Curled on the floor, I vaguely wondered whether anyone even cared about my current predicament.

....................

"Tech, for kriffs sake! Get us outta here!"

"I am trying, but until those fighters get off our tail I cannot make the jump to hyperspace."

Hunter growled deep in his throat and gripped the nav console harder as the Marauder rolled sickeningly.

Sitting on the floor of the hold, I tried my very best not to throw up.

As soon as we had left the camp on Dantooine, the Imperial fighters had been on our ass, hard. Tech refused to break the atmosphere for fear of being pinned between our pursuers and the cruiser hovering in orbit above us.

I knew he was right. That we would only get a split second once we were in open space to make the jump before coming into range of the destroyer. That Tech would have to divert all power to the hyper drive in order to make the jump. That we would be vulnerable for the fraction of time that would take. But it didn't make his current aerial manoeuvres any more enjoyable.

A shot rocked the ship and we all braced ourselves.

"Karking Hell, that was close!" I didn't fail to notice the concern in Echo's voice. "Wrecker, what are you doing back there?!"

"I'm trying my best!"

Wrecker grunted from his position in the gunners mount and fired off another volley. From his lack of excited hollering I guessed he had missed.

Crosshair, who was sitting in one of the crash seats nearby, scoffed and rolled his eyes. He finished stuffing a wad of steriplast into the gap between his pauldron and chest plate, where an Imperial bolt had apparently hit him during our earlier fire fight, and got to his feet.

"I'll do it," he drawled, pushing past the others and making his way to the rear of the ship. "Wrecker, move!"

I had to admit, having the sniper on the tail gun did make me feel a little safer. Or at least, not like I was about to die at any second.

The ship gave another slinky jig and I almost toppled into Kix. The poor medic, assisted by Omega, was kneeling on the floor beside me, trying his best to patch up my wounded leg whilst being jostled about something awful. I found myself admiring his calm composure when everything around him seemed to he going tits up.

The man caught my shoulder and barely glanced up at me as he continued to work.

"Almost done. Need something for the pain?"

"No," I lied hoarsely. It was bad, really bad, but I found the throbbing sensation grounding and wasn't prepared to let my guard down just yet.

There was the sound of something exploding, followed by a whoop from Wrecker which told me Crosshair had taken out one of the fighters. Just a few more to go.

Rex pushed himself away from the nav console, and staggered towards the cockpit, desperately trying to keep his balance as the ship lurched again.

"There should be a gorge up ahead," the Captain said, leaning against the back of Echo's chair and hanging on for dear life. "It should be narrow enough that the fighters will have to follow in single file."

"I see it, Cap," came Tech's reply. "I would suggest that everybody straps in. Things may get a little bumpy from now on."

"A little bumpy?!" Fives huffed as he threw himself into one of the crash seats and pulled down the safety bar. "What the Hell do you call this?!"

Kix finished bandaging my leg and helped me into one of the other seats, before taking the one beside me. Omega took up position to my other side, and I was surprised when her small hand slipped into my own. I squeezed tightly and tried not to let any of the terror I was feeling inside show on my face.

Abruptly the Marauder dropped into a steep nose dive and my stomach did a little flip at the sudden change in altitude. I heard another blast and a cheer and briefly wondered how many more fighters were pursuing us.

The ship leveled out as quickly as it had fallen, and I leaned forward to peer down the length of the hold and into the cockpit. Through the viewport, I could see rocky cliffs rising to either side, with a tangle of trees just below us. I started to feel really queasy at that point, once I realised how fast we were going and how narrow the ravine was.

"How's it looking back there, Cross?" called Hunter from the cockpit, where he had hunkered down in one of the spare chairs.

"Four fighters still in pursuit."

There was another crashing sound and I felt the deck plate tremble beneath my feet.

"Correction: three fighters still in pursuit."

"There is a large outcrop coming up," came Tech's voice over the comm. "It looks to be unstable and perhaps a well placed shot may result in spontaneous collapse."

A pause while the sniper let out a short lead of bolts.

"What?"

I heard Hunter groan.

"Shoot the cliff to make it fall down," the Sergeant said slowly.

"Why didn't he just say that?" The annoyance in Crosshair's voice was apparent.

"Because it's Tech!"

"I feel that my explanation was sufficient-"

"Boys," interrupted Rex with unconcealed exasperation. "Please, let's save the arguing for later. You know, when we're not in imminent danger of being BLOWN UP!"

There was a bit more barely audible griping over the comm channel, but whoever was grumbling quickly shut up when the ship swerved to avoid a particularly tall tree.

"We will be passing under the cliff.....now!"

A single blast was all it took to crumble the outcrop, and Crosshair must have aimed well because I distinctly heard the sound of rubble hitting craft in mid flight.

"Got 'em," Crosshair said, not even bothering to hide his conceited tone.

"Affirmative, heading for the atmosphere now."

I felt the pull as the Marauder pitched upwardly, hurtling towards open space as fast as her old engines would allow. I gripped the edge of my seat and Omega's hand hard and stared out the forward viewport, watching as we broke through the shell of blue sky into the black abyss beyond.

The Imperial cruiser was waiting for us as we left the atmosphere, a heavy wedge hanging lazily in the vacuum of nothingness.

"Preparing for hyperspace jump," Tech said calmly, and I heard the power being cut to the engines as the drive was brought online.

Just in time too, because the star destroyer was wheeling about to bring her guns to bear as a cloud of fighters burst from the hangar.

"Now!"

The brief sensation of weightlessness heralded the jump, and then we were surrounded by the blue blur of hyperspace.

I let out a breath I didn't know I'd been holding, and was glad to hear some if the others do the same. Even ARC trooper Fives chuckled nervously to himself as he removed his restraints.

"Good work boys." Rex limped tiredly from the cockpit, looking a little green around the edges. "How long until we arrive at our destination?"

"Not long," said Echo, scomping into the ships computer and briefly checking for any damage to the primary systems. "It's close. A couple of hours tops."

"I programmed the coordinates to bring us out of hyperspace a few parsecs from the spy's last know location," added Tech, swiveling his chair to face the rest of the squad. "The tracking beacon was stationary when we located it, which would suggest that the vessel has docked with an Imperial craft. However, I do not know what we will be facing when we arrive."

"We'd better keep our distance," said Rex, scowling at no one in particular. "Scope the area first, see what we're up against. We can come up with a plan from there."

Over the heads of the others gathered in the hold, I caught Crosshair's eye. His gaze was tight, and there was a desperation there which I was sure must be mirrored in my own.

We were so close to getting Gem back.

I could only pray we were not too late

....................

I lost count of how many times I was hauled before Admiral Yarun.

Each time it was the same. I was strapped into his fucking torturous contraption while he asked me stupid questions, cranking up the intensity of the machine until I was on the verge of passing out. At that point I was returned to my cell to rest for a little while before the cycle began again.

I would have expected to become immune to the agony after a while, but that was not the case. It felt like each time was worse that the last, and I couldn't tell if it was merely the fact that my body had half forgotten the pain by the time they started again, or if I was just becoming weaker with every passing hour.

Most probably the latter, I concluded, as the troopers dragged me back to my cell by my armpits. I could no longer support my own weight, and I had gone past fearing for the baby inside me.

Sometimes, when I was alone in my cell, I would drift off into a daydream in which I was back on Nasu, surrounded by my loved ones. Things were good, safe, happy. On the odd occasion, those daydreams would become fully fledged hallucinations. Sometimes, these figments of my imagination were the only things keeping me from losing it all together.

In between the bouts of torture, I would imagine Tech rambling on about the specs for this type of cruiser, or Hunter telling me the best way to disarm the guards next time I had the chance. In my moments of questionable lucidity, Wrecker would joke about how many of my captors he could crush in one hand, and Echo would talk softly to me, willing me to stay calm. Crosshair on the other hand, never spoke at all: his presence was just there, just at the edge of my consciousness, as unyielding as the man himself. Omega or Toby's appearances were always the worst: the former would cry and beg me not to go, while the latter just apologised over and over and over again until I wished I'd pass out just so I wouldn't have to hear any more.

It was unhealthy, I knew that, but it was how my mind had chosen to cope with my current situation.

Even in my addled state though, I knew that my chances of holding out much longer were becoming slimmer with every trip to the upper levels I made.

....................

We pulled out of hyperspace at the coordinates Tech had provided.

We all crowded into the cockpit, eager for some confirmation that this whole journey had not been in vain.

The expanse of dead space yawned all around us, and for a heart wrenching moment I thought we were too late, that the stolen rigger had moved on and we had lost the trail.

Then I saw it, in the distance, barely discernable against the blackness.

"As I thought," Tech said smugly, peering over at the ships scanner. "Imperial star destroyer at coordinates 47:22. We are currently just outside of scanning range."

"That must be it," said Rex, squinting through the viewport. "I'll bet that's where our spy docked."

"You are correct, Captain. The transmitter from the stolen vessel is indeed pinging from inside that cruiser."

"The question is, is Gem on board?" asked Jesse to the room at large.

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. She was there alright. I could feel the connection, stronger than before, and from past experience I knew that it meant we were in close proximity to each other.

"She's there."

A few pairs of eyes turned to regard me but I stared stoicly ahead, focusing on the tiny blip that was the Imperial destroyer and trying to ignore the dull ache in my wounded leg. Echo had been frantic when he'd noticed my blood stained clothes, but I'd done my best to assure him that I was alright, and I tried to keep any trace of pain off of my face.

"We can't be sure of that," said Hunter, ever the skeptic. "Much as we all wanna believe it."

"Trust me," I said firmly, gripping the back of Echo's chair hard. "She is on that cruiser."

"How the kriff would you know that?" Jesse asked, not even bothering to hide his disbelief.

"I just know. Please. You'll just have to trust me."

There was a moment of silence and I could sense the others looking at me like I was insane. I didn't care at this point: as long as we got Gem back, they could think whatever they wanted.

"OK," said Rex finally, "we don't have any other leads, so we have to assume Gem's on board. Is there any way to access their prisoner logs remotely?"

"No," said Echo with a shake of his head. "We would need to board the ship to do that. I can scomp in and find her, if she is there, but I would need access to an Imperial terminal."

"So we need to get on board that ship as a priority," said Rex, running a hand over his scalp and frowning in concentration. "Any ideas?"

"We would not survive a direct assault," Tech said flatly, "so we will need to employ stealth if we are to succeed."

The cockpit was silent for a moment while everybody wracked their brains for an idea.

"What about plan 47?" asked Wrecker loudly, cocking one scarred eyebrow at Hunter.

"How would that work in this situation?" Crosshair snapped irritably, crossing and uncrossing his arms restlessly.

"I'm just trying to help!"

"Well, don't! Why don't you leave the thinking to those of us with more than half a brain."

"Hey!"

"Enough!" barked Hunter, squeezing himself between the two men and giving them both withering looks. "Stow it, both of you. We can't afford to waste time arguing."

Crosshair spat out his toothpick and Wrecker looked guiltily at the floor, but neither said another word.

"What about disguising ourselves as an Imperial shuttle?" Omega suggested, standing on her tip toes so as to feel more involved in the discussion.

"That will not work. The Empire will expect docking codes, which we cannot provide." Tech adjusted his goggles, before noticing the disappointment on Omega's face. "But it is a good suggestion."

"How about what we did on Anaxes?" Rex asked, but Echo was shaking his head even before the man had finished speaking.

"That was only successful because I had access to the Separatist's systems. I'm not familiar enough with Imperial code to trick them into thinking we check out."

"So we'll sneak on board," Hardcase said, cracking his knuckles and looking like he couldn't wait to beat up some Imps.

"Yes, but we would be scanned by the Empire before we got close enough," Kix retorted with a dismissive wave.

"Unless we shut off all power so the Empire can't see us on their scanner," Fives sighed heavily. "But we would have to do that a long way away so as not to be detected, and that would mean we would have no control over our approach."

Another pause, while the others wracked their tired brains. The last few days had been exhausting and we were all rapidly running out of juice.

"Could we put ourselves in the flight path?" I asked, leaning forward to get a closer look at the ship. "If we got into position and shut off the power, they would fly right over us without being able to scan us."

"Again, we would then need to power up to manoever into position and lock onto the hull." Fives gave me an apologetic look, as though feeling bad for shooting down my idea.

"That would not be the problem," Tech conceded, pinching his chin and screwing his eyes shut in thought. "The scanners on these newer destroyers are not as sensitive as the previous models. They are designed for long range, and I believe that if we got close enough they would not be able to detect us."

"You believe, or you know?" Rex asked warily.

Tech shrugged his shoulders.

"My assumption is based on data gathered from various sources. I have no first hand experiences to compare to. However, I believe that there is at least an 80% chance that my theory is correct."

Hunter chuckled softly and ran a hand through his hair.

"Well, we've worked with lower odds than that."

"There is one problem with this plan," Tech interjected quickly. "In order to pass under their radar we would have to be very close to their trajectory. Which would mean that we would be close enough to be seen with the naked eye should someone happen to be looking out of one of the viewports."

"Could we disguise ourselves?" asked Rex hopefully. "Make the Marauder look like an abandoned craft?"

"I do not think they would fall for that. There is a good chance that they will pull us in with the tractor beam and investigate."

"We won't need to disguise ourselves," said Crosshair abruptly, moving closer to the canopy. "We can hide in that debris field."

I squinted hard, and was glad to see that I was not the only one doing the same. Aside from the blackness of space, and the small outline of the cruiser, I couldn't make out anything else.

Echo gave his brother a curious look, before tapping a few of the controls.

"Crosshair's right. There is a large debris field at point 42:17."

Damn. I knew the guy had good eyesight, but that was something else. I caught Tup's eye and he raised his eyebrows at me in mirrored approval.

Tech hummed as he reviewed a data read out on the dashboard.

"If my calculations are correct, that debris field is on the cruisers projected path. Unless it changes course, the ship will pass right through the middle of the field."

"Yeah, but it'll go round it right?" Jesse asked, his voice a mixture of excitement and disbelief. "The Imps won't risk damaging their cruiser by flying through a debris field."

"I do not believe that the vessel will alter its course," said Tech is his usual matter of fact tone. "The destroyer's shields will protect it, and the wreckage does not appear to be substantial enough to cause damage. Besides, it will take too long for them to alter course at this point."

"Hmm," said Hunter, grinning crookedly. "Looks like we have a plan."

I felt my heart skip a beat at the thought that this might all be over soon. One way or another. But either way, it was better than the damned waiting.

Rex clapped Tech on the shoulder and cast his eye around the rest of the group.

"Good work. Tech, bring us into position. It's time to play dead."

Chapter Text

"I will ask you again," Yarun said smoothly, his thin mouth twisting into a sickening sneer. "Where will the rebels go now that Nasu has been destroyed?"

Panting from the recent bout of interrogation, I shook my head wordlessly.

Another jolt of searing agony and I convulsed in my restraints, willing this to be over.

I couldn't do it anymore.

I just wanted it all to end.

A brief interlude from the pain and I was sagging in Yarun's torture device. Licking my lips, I tasted blood and grimaced.

"Come now, rebel," said the Admiral in a falsely friendly tone. Underneath, I could hear that his patience was barely holding by a thread. "You must know where the survivors have gone?"

I blinked dumbly a few times to clear my vision.

"I don't know."

I was ashamed of how pathetic my voice sounded.

More pain, this session longer than the previous. So long that I almost forgot to breath.

When it stopped I could hear myself screaming. I thought at first the sound was in my head, but the burning sensation in my throat told me it wasn't.

"Our spy managed to gain access to a great deal of information during his stay on Nasu. Including details of all rebel bases within the Nasu cell. However, aside from a small rebel force on Dantooine, none of the locations from your data banks have yielded the secondary site. Which would suggest that the information was known only to a select few."

I sobbed pitifully as I thought about Dantooine, of the poor civilians and engineers which had been stationed there. If the Empire had encountered them, I was certain that they would have shown no mercy.

Yarun was pacing now, back and force across the room, slowly and deliberately, but still showing his frustration none the less.

"I understand that you spent a great deal of time in Nasu command."

He flicked a button on his data pad and I threw myself against the bindings as more liquid agony seeped into my bones.

For a second or two I blacked out. A sick part of me hoped that was it and that I wouldn't wake up. But unfortunately, my stupid, stubborn body didn't seem to want to stop functioning quite so easily.

"You have to keep fighting."

I jerked upright, pulling on my restraints and gasping loudly. Not Omega. Anything but Omega. I screwed my eyes shut so I wouldn't have to see the tears start to fall.

"Please."

Her tone was forceful and my heart clenched at the determination that was apparent.

"Keep fighting them."

I shook my head and felt tears break my closed eyes and run down my cheeks.

"I don't want to," I croaked, voice almost cracking from emotion and lack of use.

The sound of footsteps coming closer.

"You don't want to what?" Yarun almost barked and I jumped at the sudden proximity. "Tell me the location? I'm afraid if you don't divulge the information soon, I will have no choice but to dispose of you."

Everything was so confusing.

What was even real anymore?

Yarun was speaking again, but I couldn't focus on his words.

"Rebel, this is your last chance. Where is the secondary base located?"

I shook my head, which was getting so fuzzy. And heavy.

"I don't know."

I wasn't sure if the man had heard me at first. By his huffed sigh, I guessed he must have.

I distantly heard a beeping noise, like the kind a comm device made.

"Leitenant Crouw. This is Admiral Yarun. I request that you attend interrogation room 14B. I require you to terminate the prisoner."

....................

There was something desperately unnerving about floating dead in space while an Imperial star destroyer slowly crawled towards us.

Glancing around at my companions and registering the varying looks of worry on their faces, I was strangely glad to see that I was not the only one so concerned. We were all putting a great deal of trust in Tech, something which, for me, was an unfamiliar concept. I trusted Gem of course, with my life, but this was something wholly different.

The cruiser came closer, close enough that I could begin to make out the gun turrets peppering the sleek hull. A lump of scrap floated in front of the viewport and I was relieved because I wasn't sure I wanted to see any more of the Imperial vessel.

Tech had been correct in his calculations though. I had to give him that. He'd chosen the densest part of the debris field to hide the Marauder in and from the angle of the approaching ship I guessed that it would shortly be passing directly over the top of us.

"Right," said Rex, blowing into his hands in an attempt to warm them up. It was desperately cold on the ship with the power and life support cut. "We'll be going in blind for this one so everybody keep your wits about you. As soon as Tech locks onto the hull we'll cut an access point. Once on board, we need to find a terminal as quick as we can. Everybody ok with the plan?"

A murmur of agreement. I saw Wrecker grinning and rolling his shoulders as he fondled the string of explosives slung around his torso. I wished I could have shared his excitement, but I just couldn't shake the overwhelming sense of impending doom.

I caught Echo's eye and he gave me a soft smile. It wasn't much, but it was enough to calm my nerves slightly.

The cockpit fell into darkness as the destroyer passed overhead.

"I would suggest that our plan is working," said Tech, quietly as though he was afraid the Imperials would hear him across the vacuum of space. "They would have opened fire by now if they had detected us."

"Let's just hope the next part works as well," Fives said in an uncharacteristically grim tone.

I stared through the viewport at the belly of the ship as it slid past. It was damned close, and I was frankly quite amazed that they hadn't noticed our presence.

"I will begin powering up momentarily," Tech muttered with a look of absolute concentration on his face.

A few agonisingly long seconds passed, in which all I could hear was my own heart beat and the sound of Echo's teeth chattering.

Abruptly, Tech flipped a switch on the control panel and the engines gurgled to life. Without wasting any time, he steered the Marauder upwards towards the cruiser. At the last moment, the man swung the ship upside down, and I heard the thunk as the magnetic clamps sealed onto the hold.

We all paused and held our collective breaths, but fortunately nothing happened to indicate that the Empire was aware of our presence.

"The ship is secured," Tech said, and I was slightly concerned by the relief in his voice, as though he himself was not 100% sure that this plan would work.

"OK," Rex said quietly, "let's go. Omega, you stay here."

"But I can-"

"Omega," Hunter cut in, "it's not up for discussion."

The girl looked a bit sulky but didn't otherwise argue.

We filed after Rex towards the porthole hatch in the floor of the hold. Hunter's hand hovered over the release switch for a moment before pressing it, as though he half expected for the seal to be insufficient and for us all to be sucked out into space.

Thankfully, the mag locks held once the hatch was open. Fives and Echo both stooped down to begin cutting through the hull of the destroyer with the handy fusion cutters which the squad apparently kept on the Marauder for just such occasions. The rest of us drew our weapons and gathered around.

The cutters made short work of the durasteel and within minutes, Fives was pushing out a perfect, still smouldering hole. The ARC trooper was first through the opening, followed shortly by Rex, who paused momentarily before giving the all clear signal. The rest of us followed in no particular order. As I crawled through the breach, there was an awful moment of disorientation when down became up as my body adjusted to the artificial gravity of the destroyer.

Shaking my head to dispell the dizziness, I glanced around to find myself in a grey corridor, bare of any discernable features. It was, I was relieved to see, empty, and I supposed it was unlikely that anyone ventured down to these lower levels very often.

I took up position next to Hunter and covered one end of the hallway. My hands holding my blasters were trembling from the adrenaline coursing through my system.

Wrecker was the last to board and seemed to be having difficulty squeezing himself through the opening, which was a little on the narrow side.

"Tech, which way," Rex asked quietly, glancing up and down the corridor we were in as Wrecker finally heaved himself onto the destroyer, panting and grumbling to himself.

"I would suggest that it does not matter. There is an even chance that we will find a terminal if we venture in either direction."

Rex huffed something under his breath.

"Fine, we'll go down this way," the Captain indicated the opposite direction to the one I was facing. "Tup, Hardcase, you stay here to guard the breach point, in case we need to make a quick getaway."

"You got it boss," Hardcase replied, hefting his laser cannon onto his hip and taking up position on one side of the hole.

We fell into formation and followed the Captain down the hallway. I kept to the back of the group, flanking Crosshair with Wrecker and Tech just in front. The pain in my leg flared as we set a brisk pace away from the entry point, but I ignored it as best I could and limped after the others with grim determination.

We advanced cautiously, taking turnings almost at random. I tried my absolute hardest to keep track of the changes in direction but it was difficult when every hallway we ducked into looked the same as the one before.

The Force must have been with us because we met no one as we made our way through the corridors. I thanked the Maker and anyone else who might have been listening and prayed that our good luck would hold.

After a few minutes, we came to a cross junction and I felt an enormous sense of relief at the sight of a data access point located on one of the nearby walls.

"Echo, scomp in," Rex ordered quietly, "everyone else, form a perimeter."

Echo moved forward to kneel in front of the terminal, and I heard a soft whirring as he plugged in. The rest of us arranged ourselves to cover every direction, just in case a patrol happened to venture to the lower levels.

"Anything?" Rex hissed softly, shifting his feet restlessly.

"Give me a second," Echo replied, his voice sounding strained through the modulator in his helmet.

I briefly wondered what it must be like for him, scomping into the Imperial network like this, his mind bombarded with information. Did it hurt? How did he know what to look for? I gave myself a shake and realised that my mind was drifting, which was dangerous in our current situation. I would ask Echo later, if we survived this whole ordeal.

"Echo," Hunter said, and there was a warning note in his voice. "You need to hurry up."

"I'm trying," the cyborg grunted through gritted teeth. "The firewalls are more complicated that I thought. Just give me a minute."

"We may not have a minute," the Sergeant straightened his back and cocked his head to one side. "There's an Imperial patrol heading this way."

"Kriff," Rex muttered under his breath, "how many?"

"Not sure. A handful at most."

"We'll need to get rid of them. Can't risk them stumbling across the Marauder and alerting the whole base."

"We'll handle this," Hunter replied, jerking his head towards the nearest corridor. "Crosshair, Wrecker, you're with me."

"I'm coming too," Fives added, joining the three troopers as they stealthily made their way from the group, honing in on the approaching soldiers.

That left Rex, Jesse, Kix and I behind with Echo scomped into the terminal and Tech hovering just behind him.

I heard a muttered curse behind me.

"Would you like assistance?" Tech asked as Echo huffed a sigh. It was obvious from the tone of the bespectacled man's voice that he thought he could do better.

"No, Tech, I'm fine."

"It would be quicker if-"

"Tech, stow it! I know what I'm doing."

"I am not insinuating that you don't, I just believe that-"

"Boys," Rex growled, as blaster fire reverberated sharply from the nearby hallway, "can we argue about this later?"

"I am not arguing, I am merely trying to be efficient and-"

"Tech, I swear, this is hard enough-"

Echo abruptly cut off with a drawn out yell and I spun to face the man, bringing my pistols to bear and ready to blast whoever was hurting my boyfriend.

But the hallway was empty save for the six of us, and Echo was convulsing rigidly from his spot kneeling on the ground, sparks flying from the scomp point as an alarm started pealing.

"Unplug him!" Rex shouted but Tech was already leaping forward to jerk his brother away from the terminal.

Echo stopped siezing as soon as he was free and merely slumped to the ground limply. I thought my heart might have stopped beating and I just stood numbly by, unable to make my feet move.

"What happened?" Jesse asked as Kix kneeled on the floor and tugged off Echo's helmet.

"He must have triggered a protected circuit," Tech said, voice raised to be heard over that damned siren.

"He's alive," Kix tucked away his medical scanner, "the power surge has no doubt damaged his neural network and he's unconscious but he'll live. We need to get him back to the Marauder."

I finally breathed then, stepping forward to hover over the injured man. He was alive.

"Tech, can you shut off that alarm?"

"I can Captain, however I cannot do anything to reroute the troops which will no doubt be converging on our position."

Tech stepped over his brother and within seconds of plugging his data pad in the wailing sound had stopped, to be replaced by a painful silence.

Abruptly, footsteps rounded a corner and several weapons were instantly trained on Hunter and the others as they skidded to a halt a few steps away.

"Woah!" the Sergeant called, hands raised in a peaceful gesture. "What happened?"

"Echo accidentally tripped a firewall. He'll be ok, but we need to get him back to the ship before any Imps show up." Rex stood, gave the man on the floor one last look, before regarding the rest of the group. "Tech, find where they're holding Gem. Kix, do you think you and Toby can get Echo back to the Marauder on your own?"

Kix looked up at me but I shook my head quickly. Much as I wanted to make sure Echo was ok, Gem needed me more at this point.

"No, I'm going with you," I said as firmly as I could manage. "You might need my help to find her."

To my surprise, no one argued, and there was only a slight pause before Jesse spoke up.

"I'll go with Kix. We'll stay back at the ship just in case the Imps locate the breach point."

"That would be wise," Tech interjected, his fingers flying across the screen of his data pad. "Several squad's of troopers will shortly be converging on this location. Unfortunately, I do not know the appropriate Imperial protocol codes to redirect them."

"We'll have to draw them away," Hunter said without hesitation. "If they find the ship and impound it, it'll be almost impossible to get out of here."

"Are you volunteering?" Rex asked, watching Jesse and Kix hoisting Echo off the floor and setting off towards the infiltration point with him carried awkwardly between them.

"Why not? Wrecker, you wanna come and have some fun?"

"Yeah!" the giant of a man yelped with child like enthusiasm.

"Fine, draw them as far away from the breach point as you can, and keep them occupied while we track down Gem. As soon as we've extracted her, we'll give you the signal."

Hunter gave a half salute before setting off down one of the corridors with Wrecker in tow, excitedly yelling something about blowing things up.

"I believe I have located Gem," Tech said in the wake of the others departure. I saw Crosshair stiffen nearby and didn't miss the tightening of his finger on the trigger of his rifle.

"And? Where is she?" Rex asked.

"She is being held on level 14, detention block D, cell 3342."

"Can you direct us?"

"One moment. I am just syncing my data pad with the Imperial network. I should then be able to access the systems remotely."

There was a beeping sound, and Tech unplugged his device.

"Synchronisation complete. There is a lift two corridors over which will take us to the correct level."

"Then let's go." Rex indicated for Tech to lead the way and the smaller clone trotted off in the other direction from which Hunter and Wrecker had left by, data pad clutched in his hands. The rest of us followed, now accutely aware that we had to get this done, fast.

Tech was indeed correct, and we located the lift without any difficulty. The others made to move towards it but I hesitated, and I saw Crosshair do the same. Peering up at the dial above the opening, I saw that it was counting down.

"Wait!" I hissed, causing the others to twist around to face me. "Someone's coming down, look!"

Rex cocked his head at the dial and I heard him grunt something under his breath.

"Everybody find cover."

We ducked back into a nearby corridor and I plastered myself to the wall so that I could just about see the opening for the lift. Within seconds, the doors slid open and half a dozen white clad troopers emerged into the hallway we had just been standing in. To my horror I saw them split up and half of them making their way towards our current location.

Suddenly, an explosion sounded in the near distance. I thanked the stars for Wrecker and his penchant for blowing things up because the distraction worked. The Imps wheeled around and made off in the opposite direction, away from our position.

I turned and gave a thumbs up to the men crowded behind me, and we quickly jogged the distance to the lift. It was a squeeze with all of us crammed in there, particularly with the clones and their bulky armour, and I was more or less squashed right against the wall. Tech punched in the codes on the control panel and the lift rumbled to life and ascended to level 14.

"Tech, is there any way of knowing what we'll be walking into up there?" Fives asked, shifting slightly so that he was facing the doors, in preparation of them opening.

"Unfortunately, I cannot access the necessary files to view patrol schedules without time, which we do not have. However, I have been able to slice into the security network so I am able to access the security cameras and should therefore be able to avoid any incoming patrols."

"Good thinking," Rex said as the lift started to slow it's ascent. "Problem is, the Imps will also be able to track our movements at the same time."

"Not anymore," Tech said briskly and there was an air of smugness about him. "I have intercepted their feed, so they will not be able to see us."

"You did that just now?" I asked, more than a little impressed.

Tech shrugged vaguely and drummed his fingers against the side of his data pad.

"It was not difficult."

Sometimes I found the man's intelligence disturbing but at times like this, I had to admit, Tech's brain was a real asset.

Tech hunched over his pad and hummed softly.

"There will be two troopers stationed just outside the lift. I would suggest stunning them to avoid detection."

Rex nodded while he and Fives, who were closest to the door, got into position.

The lift slid to a halt and the doors swooshed open.

The two Imps didn't even have time to turn around before the stun bolts hit them in the back and they dropped to the ground in a heap of plastoid.

We stepped over the limp forms and into the hallway, heads swivelling for signs of movement.

"We should hide them," I suggested, nodding at the two prone men.

"The cells along this section are vacant," Tech said casually, stooping to remove a key card from the belt pouch of one of the soldiers and swiping it on a nearby terminal.

The door to the cell rose quickly and Tech stood aside while the rest of us dragged the unconscious men along the hallway and unceremoniously threw them inside.

"Where now?" Rex asked, panting slightly from the exertion and pressing his palm to his chest in a way that told me his wound hadn't yet fully healed. My own leg was aching dully but the adrenaline coursing through my system was enough that the discomfort was bearable.

"Detention block D is two blocks over," Tech replied smoothly, squinting at the small screen in his hands. "We will need to take a slightly longer route to avoid the guards, but I believe I can get us there with minimal exposure to Imperial troops."

"Lead on."

We followed Tech through the monotonous hallways, pausing every so often so the man could survey the security cameras.

On two occasions, we had to duck into nearby cells to avoid patrols, but other than that Tech did a good job of keeping us away from the Empire's minions.

It was a damned round about route though, and I was just starting to wonder how much longer it could possibly take and why the Hell the Empire needed so many damned prison cells when Tech brought us to a halt in front of a set of heavy blast doors.

"This is block D," the man said, adjusting his goggles and nodding towards the door. "Gem should be at the end of the first hallway on the right."

We nodded collectively and I tightened my grip on my blasters, heart pounding in anticipation now that we were so close to rescuing Gem.

Crosshair was first into the corridor closely followed by Rex. I came just after, counting the numbers of the cells we passed. 3332, 3333, 3334.

Just a bit further.

Crosshair stopped abruptly in front of cell 3342 and I almost ran into the back of him.

The door to the cell was open.

The room was completely empty.

We paused for a moment to take it all in and I felt my chest tighten ominously.

I heard Fives curse fluently behind me and the sound of him angrily kicking the wall.

"We're too late!"

Chapter Text

It felt as though someone had sucked all the air out of the narrow corridor.

It took me a minute to realise I was quietly hyperventilating in panic.

"She's not here!" Rex was the first to state the obvious.

Fighting to control my breathing, I glanced at Crosshair who was standing rigidly in front of the open cell. I could see his chest rising and falling rapidly and knew that he too was experiencing the same sort of panic as I.

"This can't be the right cell," the sniper said, and I couldn't fail to notice the very apparent tremor in his voice.

Tech peered up at the number and then back down at his data pad.

"According to the ship's data log, this is the correct cell. Although it would appear that Gem is not here."

I was only mildly surprised when Crosshair swung to grab his smaller brother by the scruff of his blacks, because Tech's nonchalant tone had roused a similar kind of anger in myself.

"Then where is she?" the grey haired man demanded, towering over the other clone, his voice coarse with barely contained emotion.

"I do not know. Perhaps she has been moved to a different location and the log has not been updated. Or perhaps....perhaps....Crosshair, she may already be....."

"She's not dead," I interjected firmly, cutting the man off because I had a suspicion that Crosshair was going to lose it completely if the idea was spoken out loud. "She's not. I can still feel her. She must still be on board somewhere."

Crosshair's grasp tightened momentarily before he finally let go of the bespectacled man.

"Could they have moved her to another cell?" Fives asked cautiously, tugging off his helmet, his gaze flickering between the two enhanced clones as though he expected them to start scrapping at any moment.

Tech adjusted his collar and eyed Crosshair curiously as though intrigued by the man's reaction.

"Perhaps, although there is no logical reason for them to do so. More likely she has been removed from her cell for a specific reason."

"And what would that be?" Rex asked and by the tightness of he voice I guessed he already knew the answer.

There was silence, while everybody waited for someone else to say it.

"They want information," Crosshair finally spat, gripping his rifle a little too tightly, "and they'll do whatever they need to do to get it from her."

My stomach clenched at the sickening thought.

"There is an interrogation suite on level 52." Tech spoke softly, carefully, as though by lowering his voice the words wouldn't be as painful. "That is most likely where they will have taken her."

"Then get us there," Rex ordered sharply, "and quickly. Hunter and Wrecker won't be able to distract those Imps forever."

Tech tapped away at his data pad for a minute or two, before raising his head and cocking it to one side.

"The most direct route will take us too close to the officer's quarters," the man said, drumming his fingers against the pad as he thought. "However, if we can access the ventilation shaft, we should be able to avoid detection whilst bypassing the most populated areas."

"Lead the way."

We hurried back down the corridors the same way we had just come, moving as quickly as was safe to do so. This time, we only encountered one patrol before reaching the lift, and Fives didn't even break his stride to stun the two white clad men. We left them in a crumpled heap in the corridor, too short of time to bother trying to hide them. There wasn't much point anyway as the Empire already knew we were aboard.

We piled back into the lift, Rex jamming the buttons harder than was necessary.

"Captain," Tech piped up as soon as the doors had shut, "it would be sensible for us to relocate to the top of the lift carriage. That way we will avoid detection once we reach level 52. It will also be easier to access the crawlspace from the lift shaft."

Rex nodded an affirmative and tilted his head to look up at the hatch in the ceiling. It was small, though appeared large enough for even the clones in their armour to fit through. Tech tucked his data pad into his belt while the rest of us holstered our weapons.

"I'll give you a boost," Fives said, bracing his back to the wall and bending his knees.

Tech went first, standing precariously balanced on the ARC trooper's thigh as he reached up to remove the grille and push it onto the top of the lift. He quickly pulled himself through the gap and disappeared onto the roof of the carriage.

Crosshair went next, followed by Rex with me bringing up the rear. I felt the elevator begin to slow as I scrambled through the hatch, and hurriedly reached back to grab Fives' outstretched hand. With the help of Rex, we managed to haul the man up beside us, and Crosshair hastily replaced the cover before the lift ground to a halt.

It was terrifyingly claustrophobic in the lift shaft, even more so than the lift itself. Glancing up, I saw the blackness stretching indefinitely and shuddered.

The carriage stopped completely and I heard the doors slide open ready for the now non existent passengers to depart.

To my horror, I heard footsteps below and glanced down through the grate to see two white armoured men entering the elevator. I gave Tech a wild eyed look through the gloom, but the man already had his data pad in hand and was tapping furiously. I heard one of the troopers press the control panel. Nothing happened. He pressed it again, then a third time, and still the lift did not move.

"Must be a malfunction," I heard one of the men say. "Mark it for maintenance."

I breathed a heavy sigh of relief at the sound of the Imps vacating the lift. Tech must have jammed the elevator remotely, I realised, and felt a surge of comfort for his quick thinking.

Silently, Tech scanned the opposite wall before pointing out our access shaft. It was just above chest level, a dark opening narrow enough that we would have to walk doubled over.

One by one we crawled into the tunnel as carefully as we could to avoid making too much noise. It was pitch black inside, and I was glad for the torches on the clones' helmets because without them it would have been impossible to see anything at all.

We had been shuffling along for a few minutes when Rex's helmet comm went off. He called a halt, listening carefully to make sure there were no Imperials directly below us, before answering.

"Rex, how's it going up there?" In the silence of the shaft, we could all faintly hear Hunter on the other end of the link, even muffled by Rex's helmet.

"We've had to make a detour. We're on our way to the interrogation suite. What's your position?"

There was a momentary pause before the line crackled back into life.

"We've made it as far as the reactor core, but I don't know how much more time we can buy you."

"Affirmative," grunted Rex softly. "Do what you can. We'll let you know when we've found Gem."

I was glad for his optimism because I was starting to panic that we would never be able to locate my friend in the vast belly of the star destroyer.

Rex motioned for Tech to lead on and we quickened our pace.

Abruptly, the smaller clone held up his hand to indicate we should stop, before peering down at his data pad carefully.

"We will shortly be above the interrogation rooms. According to the ship schematics, this shaft runs directly above, so we should be able to see from here whether Gem is present."

We all nodded wordlessly and started moving much more cautiously along the tunnel, ears straining for any sounds of movement below.

The first grille we came to most definitely suggested that the room below us was used for interrogation. Even squinting through the narrow grate, I could make out an impressive array of devices lined up along one wall, and from the look of them they were not designed to inflict pleasure. Unfortunately, the space itself was empty of any living being, and so we moved along to the next.

The shaft we were in was long and straight, and we passed room after room, all of them seemingly unoccupied. I started to feel clammy at the thought of another wasted venture, and I knew by the way the other's quickened their searching that they were also starting to feel concerned.

After surveying another empty suite, I felt a prickle of panic and made to move onto the next one, feeling an ever increasing sense of urgency, when I heard a faint rustle in the room directly underneath me. I paused, holding my breath as I listened intently. Another soft creaking sound, followed by something which could have been a gasp or a sob.

I plastered myself flat to the tunnel and peered through the grate, twisting so as to get a better view of the room.

At first, I couldn't see anything, and I began to wonder if I was so desperate for a sign that I was imagining things. I had just about convinced myself that my mind was playing tricks on me when I caught a glimpse of movement.

It was a slight and barely discernable motion, but the more I focused, the more I was able to pick out the top of a head, bowed limply, the hair plastered to one side with so much blood that the blond pigment wasn't even discernable any more.

"She's here!"

The hiss echoed down the shaft and I heard a sudden scramble of movement as the others immediately converged on my location. Four helmeted heads jostled for a better look, and from such a close proximity I could hear their shallow breathing.

Crosshair noticed Gem first and I saw his hand, which was resting on the side of the tunnel, ball into a fist. He tensed for a fraction of a second before lunging forward.

"Wait!" Rex growled, reaching out to snag the sniper's arm, but it was too late. Crosshair's momentum carried him forward through the metal grille, which gave way beneath his weight, and he landed heavily on the floor below.

Rex's visor turned to regard the rest of us, and I heard Fives sigh loudly beside me.

Then, without further consideration, I too slithered from the ventilation shaft and into the room below.

....................

This was it then.

This was the end.

Never in my darkest nightmares had I imagined I would go out like this.

Strapped to this fucking contraption, tortured to the edge of insanity, broken and bleeding.

Alone.

Despite my previous subconscious pleadings for death, now that it was actually going to happen, I felt sick to my stomach.

I had heard it said before that in the moments before dying, a person's whole life flashed before their eyes.

That was a load of bollocks.

All I could think about were the things I would miss the most. The things that I would no longer be a part of. The lingering regrets of an untimely demise.

Omega's childish enthusiasm. Hunter, the big brother I'd always wanted. Fives' cheeky remarks. Wrecker's snoring. Tech and his insatiable need to narrate everything. Rex's stoic wisdom. Echo's softness, barely concealed beneath the surface. Toby, dear Toby, who'd always been there for me, always had my back, even when things looked bad. I'd never fully appreciated everything he did for me, all the sacrifices he'd made. I would never get the chance to thank him. And Crosshair, the first person who had ever truly made me feel like I was special. Like I meant something. His last memory of me would be one of pain. He'd never get to know about our baby, of the future I'd imagined for us. For all of us.

Following Yarun's departure, as I waited for his lackeys to arrive and put me down, memories, fragmented and distant, fluttered through my mind like the embers of a dying fire.

It was painful, and yet oddly peaceful. A last piece of comfort before everything went dark forever.

I heard a clatter nearby and instinctively closed my eyes tight. I was ashamed to admit that I was afraid. I didn't want to see the end coming.

No, I though stubbornly to myself as more indistinguishable noises erupted around me. I was not going to let these Imperial bastards think they'd won. I needed to be brave.

I took a deep breath and gritted my teeth as I slowly lifted my head. At the very least I was going to look my killer straight in the eye.

Toby was standing nearby, only a few feet away, and I was grateful for his presence here at the end. At least I wouldn't be alone.

I realised he was speaking but I couldn't make out the words. I felt a hand on my face and stirred slightly at the unexpected contact. That was new. My hallucinations had never physically touched me before.

I quickly cast around for the Imperial prick that would be my executioner, but my vision was becoming so blurry that I could only just make out vague shapes around me.

Something tugged at me, and I jostled roughly against my restraints.

There was a moment of weightlessness before I limply crumpled.

I heard the blood pounding in my ears and a distant humming before everything went black and I died.

....................

Crosshair was slowly pulling himself to his feet when I landed beside him, much more nimbly than the sniper had.

I stepped forward, towards the centre of the room.

Gem was strapped to some kind of standing torture device, the thick bindings seemingly the only things holding her upright. Her face was deathly pale beneath a layer of dried blood, her head bowed limply. She didn't even seem to stir as I walked closer, stopping just in front of her.

I heard the sounds of the others dropping into the room, and it was only then that Gem moved, lifting her chin slightly and peering up at me through foggy eyes.

"Oh Maker," I muttered, feeling something hot and wet on my face and realising that a tear had broken free. "What have they done to you?"

Crosshair was beside me in an instant, as if my words had snapped him back into reality. He reached out with a shaking hand and rubbed away some of the grime from Gem's cheek, so gently it was as if he expected her to crumble away to nothingness under his touch. I glanced at the man but it was impossible to know his expression underneath his helmet.

"Is she.....?" Rex asked, trailing off as the others began crowding around us.

Crosshair and I shook our heads firmly, and it was Fives that sprung into action then.

"We need to get her out of here before we're discovered."

The ARC trooper made his way behind Gem and started tugging at the straps holding her in place.

As soon as she was free from the restraints, she crumpled pitifully and would have fallen completely had Crosshair and I not reached out at the same moment to grab her.

"I've got her," I muttered to the sniper, who to my surprise conceded control with nothing more than a curt nod of his head.

As carefully as I could, I lifted Gem in my arms and held her tight to my chest.

A hiss sounded behind us and I twisted in time to see an Imperial trooper, clad in black armour, enter the room.

He had barely made it through the doorway, and didn't have the opportunity to bring his rifle to bear, before there was a muffled punch beside me and the man fell backwards into the hallway, a smouldering hole through his helmet. I glanced across to see smoke curling from the barrel of Crosshair's rifle.

Rex reacted first, moving forward to grab the troopers ankles and drag his body back into the room.

"Tech, seal this door. The rest of you, back up into the ventilation shaft."

Crosshair was the first back up into the tunnel, sweeping the nearby counter of its array of devices and dragging it under the hatch to gain access. I followed, carefully balancing on the surface and passing Gem's limp body up to the sniper before hoisting myself up too. I took possession of my friend once again, draping her over my shoulders as the others crowded in behind us.

"This way," Tech hissed, leading on as the rest of us began shuffling after him.

It was hard going, doubled over and trying to hurry, and Gem's added weight put an awful strain on my half healed leg. But there was no way in all Hells I was going to complain. She was alive. And that was all that mattered.

"Hunter? We've got her. Get to the infiltration point, we'll meet you there."

I heard Rex's helmet comm crackle and the sound of blaster fire before Hunter's voice could just be heard in the confined space.

"Thank kriff for that. Is she ok?"

"Just get to the Marauder," Rex snapped, apparently either too stressed or in pain to answer the Sergeant's question.

There was a pause over the line before Hunter came back on.

"Yes, Sir. We'll hold them off and wait for you to arrive."

After that the line went dead and we unconsciously quickened our pace.

We had almost made it back to the lift when a siren started blaring from somewhere deep in the base. I jumped at the noise, catching Gem before she slipped from the sudden movement.

"Shit. I guess they found that dead death trooper," Fives panted to no one in particular.

"Indeed," Tech replied, pausing to quickly survey his data pad. "I am unable to override the lockdown protocol remotely."

"What does that mean?" Rex grunted in frustration.

"It means that it's going to get very difficult to get off this ship," Crosshair drawled, kicking out the access hatch leading to the lift shaft.

The man hesitated in the opening and I heard him groan softly.

"The lift isn't here!" he growled, twisting to peer up and down the vertical space.

"Well of course it isn't," Tech said calmly, adjusting his goggles beneath his helmet. "This entire cruiser has now gone into lockdown. Which means that the lifts will not work without the appropriate override codes."

"Fuck!" Crosshair punched the side of the tunnel and the noise bounced and reverberated down the confined space.

"How the Hell are we gonna get down?" Rex asked, and I was impressed at how steady his voice was because I could feel myself starting to panic. We had come too damned far for things to go tits up now.

"We will repel our way down," Tech responded in a tone which suggested that Rex was an idiot for not recognising the obvious choice. "Crosshair's rifle has a grappling attachment. We will have to descend one at a time, which is not ideal, however this appears to be the most efficient egress."

I glanced over at the sniper to see that he was already fitting said attachment to the barrel of his rifle, and I had to wonder from the fluidity of his motions whether they had used this mad idea before.

Crosshair leaned out of the opening and, bringing the rifle to his shoulder, fired the grapple into a bulkhead above us.

"Wait, we're going down a fair way," Rex said and for the first time I noted the concern in his tone. "You sure this cable is long enough?"

"Only one way to find out," the grey haired man replied, removing the ascension clip from the cable and giving it a tug to make sure it was secure. "Who's going first?"

There was a momentary pause while everybody balked at the thought of dropping fifty odd floors with little more than a plasteel thread to support their weight.

"I'll do it," Fives finally said with a sigh, reaching out to take the clip from Crosshair and attaching it to his belt. He edged himself over the side of the tunnel and took a deep breath. "Here goes nothing."

The cable went taught as Fives pushed himself off, and I was relieved to see the grapple held. I heard the hum as the ARC trooper descended.

Thankfully, the attachment must have been long enough because within seconds Rex's comm link went off to signal that the man had reached the bottom of the shaft. There was a whir as the clip automatically reeled itself in.

"Toby, you take Gem down next," Rex ordered as the clip appeared back in view.

I licked my lips nervously and shuffled closer to the mouth of the shaft.

"Are you sure this'll hold both of us?" I asked, feeling clammy and nauseas at the whole prospect.

"It'll hold," Crosshair said softly as he attached the cable to my own belt. "Keep your finger on this button to let the line out, and press this green one to send it back up once you're at the bottom."

I nodded wordlessly, afraid that I might be sick if I opened my mouth. Crosshair cocked his head at me before peering at Gem. Gently, he brushed a lock of hair from her face as I maneuvered myself into position.

The sudden pulling sensation of gravity as I lowered us both into the lift shaft was terrifying. I let myself dangle for a moment, carefully adjusting Gem's weight on my shoulders so that we would be better balanced for the journey down. Taking a deep breath, I pressed the button.

"Oh fuck," I gasped as we suddenly plummeted into the black space. "Fuckfuckfuck!"

Before I could really start panicking my feet his the bottom of the shaft with a metallic thud and my legs gave out at the sudden contact. Falling backwards onto my ass, I barely managed to tighten my hold on Gem's limp form to save me dropping her.

"I've got you," Fives grunted, and looking up I saw him leaning out of the open doorway just above me, gripping the cable tightly in his hand.

Steadying myself, I unclipped the device and sent it back up as requested, taking Fives' proffered hand and hauling myself into the corridor.

"That was absolutely terrifying," I stated shamelessly, giving myself a shake.

Fives huffed a chuckle as he took up position on one side of the opening to the lift shaft.

"Remind me to tell you about the time we extracted Echo from Skako Minor some day."

The sound of boots thudding behind us announced the arrival of Tech.

"Ah yes," the bespectacled man said as he joined us, "that was indeed an interesting mission."

"Interesting!" the ARC trooper snorted incredulously. "After that stunt with the Keeradak's, I don't think I've ever been the same!"

Tech raised his gaze from his data pad and squinted at Fives through his goggles.

Whatever counter argument he had however was lost when a plasma bolt scored the wall just above the man's head.

We all ducked unconsciously and I found myself drawing a weapon as more shots rung out around us, diving back into the lift shaft with Tech and Fives as a squad of Imperial troopers rounded a nearby corner.

The three of us returned fire as best we could, but it was difficult to get a good line of sight from our position.

"We need to move, before they circle round us," Fives shouted over the din, squeezing off a shot and dropping one of the soldiers.

I grunted in agreement and leapt to one side as Rex almost landed directly on my head.

"We cannot leave without Crosshair," Tech said as he huddled against the side of the doorway.

The line made it's way back up as the Captain joined the rest of us, drawing his pistols and adding to the barage of shooting.

"Relax, we're not leaving anyone behind."

There was a momentary lapse in the firing and I let out a breath, hoping that the Imps were retreating, or that we had downed the majority of them.

That notion was quickly squashed however when half a dozen more troopers appeared at the entrance to the hallway directly opposite the lift.

The white clad men immediately opened fire and I barely made it back behind cover before the blasts were cutting up the back of the lift shaft and leaving pock marks on the plasteel wall.

"Oh great," Fives quipped sarkily. "Just what we need."

"Anyone got any charges?" Rex asked and we all shook our heads blankly as the onslaught continued. Over the din I thought I could hear footsteps and guessed the troops must be advancing.

Without warning, the sound of blaster fire was drowned by an almighty cacophony of noise. I felt my ears pop at the pressure, which was such that even the wailing of the distant siren could not be heard.

Just as quickly as it had started, the sound died, leaving an incessant ringing in its place.

Shifting Gem to a better position, I cautiously leaned around the doorway, eager to know what the kriff was going on.

Through the heavy smoke, I saw two looming shapes approach and almost shot at the figures. It was only the size of one of the men that made me pause.

Wrecker and Hunter stepped through the haze and into our direct line of vision, just as Crosshair made it down to our level.

The Sergeant cocked his head to one side as he sheathed one of his vibro blades.

"You boys done hiding in there?"

I thought I heard Rex mutter something under his breath but I couldn't be certain because my ears were still humming from the blast. The Captain hoisted himself into the corridor, and the rest of us joined him quickly, eager to get off this fucking ship.

"Nice one, Wrecker," Fives said, casting an approving look over the downed Imperial soldiers.

The giant lifted his helmet and grinned at the other, though his smile looked pained and it was then that I noticed a few char marks on his chest plate. I guessed it must not have been an easy feat, keeping the Empire's forces away long enough for us to get Gem out.

Hunter gave Gem's form a brief glance over, before jerking his head back down the corridor.

"More Imps will come. We need to go."

I couldn't agree more.

We ran, as fast as we could, away from the lift, and towards our escape, following Hunter, who seemed to have an innate sense of direction.

Over the wailing alarm, I thought I heard the sound of footsteps on the deck behind us, but I didn't dare look for fear of breaking my pace or tripping under Gem's weight.

We rounded a corner and were almost blown away by a trigger happy Hardcase, the rounds fortunately going wide and hitting the far wall.

"Heh, sorry," the man said with a forced chuckle, lowering his gatling gun and shifting his feet. "Thought you were Imps."

"Everybody on board," Rex barked, turning to squeeze off a couple of shots behind us. I guessed our pursuers must be closing in.

Tech disappeared through the breach point, eager to get the Maraunder's engines online, with Tup and Kix hot on his heels. The rest made a perimeter to provide covering fire for the rest of us to make it aboard.

I kneeled by the opening and pushing Gem through, quickly following behind. There was a familiar lurch as everything went upside-down and I reeled for half a second before composing myself and dragging my friend away from the opening so that the others could come through.

Echo was sitting, propped against the nav console with his head in his hands. He looked up at me briefly as I boarded, but his eyes were bleary and I wasn't sure if he actually saw me.

I noticed Omega hovering nearby, her hands over her mouth as she stared at Gem's unconscious body. It occurred to me that the kid probably thought she was dead.

"Omega," I said briskly, "help me get Gem into the bunk so Kix can treat her wounds."

The girl blinked, swallowed loudly and nodded. I scooped my friend up into my arms and carefully lifted her to place her on the bottom rack, Omega reverently arranging the pillow and blankets to make her comfortable. Before the kid had even finished tucking her in, Kix had brushed her to one side. The girl took up position at the foot of the cot, with Crosshair hovering near the head.

As the medic began scanning Gem's injuries, I glanced behind me to see Hunter slip through the hatchway.

"Tech, get us away from here!" the Sergeant called, punching the control panel and sealing the hatch. Looking around the hold I was relieved to see everyone accounted for.

"That may prove problematic," Tech replied from the cockpit as the magnetic clamps disengaged and the Marauder disentangled herself from the star destroyer. "As soon as we get far enough away from the ship, the Empire will open fire."

"Oh, that's not gonna happen," Wrecker boomed, clapping Hunter on the back and causing the smaller man to lurch.

"Yeah," the Sergeant chuckled, removing his helmet and setting it to one side as Tech brought the ship out from under the belly of the cruiser. "Wrecker left the Empire a little present."

I cocked an eyebrow at the man, who was grinning savagely. As the shuttle swooped away from the Imperial vessel, Hunter gestured to the giant if a man.

"She's all yours Wreck."

It was at that point that I noticed the detonator.

The blast was impressive.

I heard rather than saw it, felt the smaller ship riding on the shock wave as Wrecker's gift cut through the cruiser like it was made of flimsy.

Tech, totally unfazed by the explosion jostling the Marauder, casually peered over his shoulder as he steered us away from the flaming wreckage of that Imperial Hell hole.

"Where to now, Captain?"

There was a pause as those of us gathered in the hold turned to Rex, waiting for some kind of guidance.

"Now," Rex said, leaning heavily against the wall. "We join the fleet."

I caught Hunter's eye and was glad to see he was just as confused as me.

"We have a fleet?"

Chapter Text

Fleet was perhaps an exaggerated term for the dozen or so vessels orbiting a backwater moon in the outer rim.

As we pulled out of hyperspace at the coordinates Rex had provided, it was a somewhat anticlimactic greeting. Most of the ships I recognised from Nasu, and the remainder had been recalled from long term deployment.

This was all that remained of our rebellion, although I found myself thankful that anything remained at all.

"Are you sure the Empire doesn't know we're here?" Hunter asked for possibly the hundredth time as Tech guided the Marauder closer to the cluster of space craft.

Rex blew heavily through his nose and I saw a vein throbbing in his temple.

"Yes, I'm sure." I was surprised by how calm his voice was. "As I explained earlier, the coordinates for this emergency rendezvous were known only to myself, Fives and Jesse. They were only to be divulged to the rest of the personnel in the event that Nasu fell."

A brief pause while Hunter fidgeted, twirling one of his vibro blades in his fingers and leaning back against the doorway to the cockpit with a suspicious scowl on his face.

"But you're sure that the spy couldn't have known about this place?"

I edged towards the door, keen to extract myself before someone exploded. We were all still slightly on edge since making it off the star destroyer, and the cramped confines of the cockpit felt like a primed charge ready to go off at any moment.

"No. The coordinates were never recorded, so he would never have had access to them."

Hunter sheathed his knife and pinched the bridge of his nose.

"I just don't wanna lead my squad into another dangerous situation."

Rex huffed loudly and I slipped into the hold before the two men could start arguing.

I glanced at Gem, who was still unconscious in the cot at the rear of the ship. She hadn't stirred since we'd extracted her, and I swallowed loudly at the thought that she may not wake again. Kix had warned us of that possibility. Her body was so badly damaged, and the trauma ran so deep that her consciousness had just shut down. The medic had stabilised her, to the best of his abilities with the limited resources we had available, so I was at least grateful for that. At the moment, there was nothing I could do for my friend, and so I pushed the somber thoughts to the back of my mind. She was going to be ok. I just had to keep believing in that, or risk losing it completely.

Omega and Crosshair had stationed themselves by Gem's side, the girl only having unfurled herself from the foot of the bunk once or twice to use the refresher. She wouldn't eat, even when Hunter had begged her, and every so often she would start crying softly.

Crosshair hadn't moved at all, not once that I'd noticed since we'd rode the blast wave away from the Imperial cruiser. He sat, perched on the edge of a crate right by Gem's bedside, one hand resting against her shoulder. He displayed the perfectly honed patience of a sniper, and yet I couldn't help wondering how long he could keep his stony vigil before he either cracked, or collapsed from exhaustion.

I sighed heavily and made my way over to the nav console.

Echo was sitting on the floor with his back to the wall, resting, stripped of his armour and wearing only his blacks. His mishap on the cruiser had really fried some of the circuitry in his cybernetic implants. Despite Tech doing the best he could, he'd only managed to partially repair the systems with the tools he had to hand. It would take specialist equipment and time for the damage to be rectified. The cyborg was in a sorry state, but at least he was alive, and he seemed to be making improvements with every passing hour.

As I approached, Echo opened his eyes and gave me a tired smile.

"How are you doing?" I asked as I kneeled down on the deck in front of him.

"Better, I think. The pain isn't quite so bad. I made it all the way to the fresher just now and my legs only gave out twice."

He blushed slightly, embarrassed at the concept of being so feeble.

"That's good," I said encouragingly, resting my hands on his knees. "Do you want me to see if I can scrounge up some pain killers?"

Echo shook his head firmly.

"No. I'm fine, honestly. Besides, Gem needs them more than I do."

I nodded soberly and moved my hands to rest on his thighs, just above the attachments for his cybernetics, my fingers rubbing soothing circles into the tense muscle.

"Can I do anything?"

Echo groaned faintly and leaned his head back with a sigh.

"That feels nice."

I pressed a little firmer, knowing that his legs must be aching from the extra strain of trying to support both his own weight and that of the malfunctioning cybernetics. After a few minutes I felt the man relax a bit, and his hand reached out to rest over the top of one of my own.

"Where are we?" he asked as he tilted his head and peered towards the cockpit.

I shrugged vaguely and started working out the kinks in the flesh part of his scomp arm.

"Dunno. Some sort of emergency rendezvous according to Rex. The rest of the ships from Nasu are here."

Echo grunted in acknowledgement.

"It's good that they made it out."

We sat in silence for a little while, listening to the vague murmur of conversation drifting from the cockpit. Echo shifted his weight and gave me a pleading look.

"Will you help me up? I wanna see."

I paused for a moment, knowing that the man aught to be resting, but also fully aware that he was getting bored of sitting around helplessly.

"OK, but only if you promise you'll hold onto me."

Echo gave me the ghost of a grin.

"Such a hardship."

He looped his arms around my neck and I gripped his waist tightly as I stood and pulled us both to our feet. The man swayed slightly while his damaged cybernetics adjusted to the sudden addition of his own weight.

"Stupid kriffing body," he muttered through gritted teeth, gazing off to one side and blusher a bit deeper.

"Hey, you can't help being injured. Besides," I smiled crookedly, lowering my voice to create the illusion of privacy, "I happen to like your body."

As if to prove my point, I ran my hands over Echo's ass and gave a cheeky squeeze of appreciation. His eyes widened and he huffed a laugh.

"Do you think you're gonna be able to control yourself around the others?" he asked in mock seriousness.

I gave a theatric sigh and maneuvered so that his scomp arm was draped over my shoulder and I could support him better.

"No promises."

By the time we had made it to the cockpit, the Marauder was already weaving her way in and out of some if the smaller vessels located on the outskirts of the cluster. It was an odd array of ancient shuttles, old transports, and half modified freighters, but at least they weren't Imperial, and for that I was grateful.

"There," Rex said, pointing through the canopy to an older model corvette. "Head for that ship, Tech. It'll have an infirmary, at the very least."

"Bringing us in now."

The corvette must have scanned the Marauder's signature because the larger ship hailed us on our approach.

"Havoc Marauder," crackled the voice over the comm channel, "this is Concorde Prime. Please state the reason for your approach."

Rex leaned over the console and cleared his throat roughly.

"This is Captain Rex," he replied in his most authorative tone. "We got a little waylaid during the evac, but we've got wounded on board and are in need of a medical facility."

There was a pause before the pilot of the Concorde Prime responded.

"Captain Rex, please proceed to the starboard docking port. We'll have a med team on standby."

There was a collective sense of relief that we had not been mistaken for Imperials and blown out of space.

Things seemed to be looking up.

....................

The crew of the Concorde were a ragtag bunch of civilians, engineers and clone troopers, most of whom I recognised from Nasu, although I was ashamed to say that I couldn't put names to all the faces.

We were greeted at the air lock by the pilot, a small and unassuming Mirialan, and the most senior trooper on board, a rather bland looking clone named Buzz.

Rex, Jesse and Fives were quick to accompany the helmsman to the bridge, so that the latter could fill the Captain and his men in on the current situation. The trooper, Buzz, offered to show the rest of us to our barracks. Only Hardcase and Tup accepted, the rest of us hovering by the air lock as two medical droids ventured onto the Marauder. They returned minutes later with Gem's lifeless form carried on the stretcher between them, Crosshair and Omega her ever present chaperones and Kix keeping a close eye on his patient.

In silence, we escorted the droids to the medical facility on board the Concorde. The room itself was small, but clean and surprisingly well equipped. As the stretcher disappeared through the sliding doors, with Kix following closely behind, the rest of us began piling into the medbay. We'd barely made it a few feet in before the medic rounded on us, a stern look on his face and his hands resting on his hips.

"What do you think you're all doing?" he asked, voice pitched low and broaching no nonsense.

"We need to make sure Gem's ok," Wrecker was the first to speak, the giant craning his neck to get a better look at our fallen companion.

"We're staying with her," I added firmly, widening my stance and drawing myself up as best I could with Echo still leaning heavily against me for support.

"She's in good hands," Kix said firmly, making as though to shoo us out of the room. "But you need to give the droids space to work."

Some of the others shuffled backwards, but I saw that Crosshair was standing his ground.

"I'm not leaving her," the sniper growled, shooting a dangerous look at Kix. "You'll have to drag me away, Reg."

The medic bristled and his eyes narrowed slightly, but he didn't take the bait, instead keeping his mouth shut and meeting Crosshair's gaze levelly. Hunter, sensing perhaps that his brother was about to start something, immediately stepped between the two men.

"He's right, Cross," the Sergeant said quietly, resting a hand against the man's chest plate. "We'll just be in the way in there."

The grey haired man didn't soften his steely gaze, and continued to try and stare down the medic.

"I won't leave her."

"You're not," Hunter insisted, edging so that more of his body was blocking Kix from view. "You'll be right outside the door. As soon as they've finished patching her up, we can go back in."

Crosshair hesitated, weighing up his options and calculating his chances of winning this argument. Finally, after a few tense moments, he conceded, shooting the medic one last flat look before backing from the room.

The door sealed itself, and we were left in the corridor outside.

The others made themselves as comfortable as they could in the tight hallway. Only Crosshair remained unmoving, staring at the closed door as though he had x-ray vision capable of seeing into the room. Hunter watched him for a while, before eventually deciding that it wasn't worth the effort to try and drag his brother away.

I felt a pull at my arm as Echo started tugging me away from the infirmary. I half carried him a little way down the corridor, before carefully lowering him to the ground. He grunted with relief as soon as his legs no longer had to hold him up. I sat down beside him and peered at him in concern.

"Echo," I muttered in a warning tone, "you need attention too. Let me go and see if Kix can help?"

The man shook his head wordlessly and I sighed. I couldn't bear to see him struggling so much, and not allowing me to do anything. It made me feel so damned helpless.

"Please," I muttered, quietly so as not to disturb the others, "please, let me take you back to the medbay."

Soft footsteps rung on the deck behind me and I twisted to see Tech staring down at us, helmet discarded as he adjusted his goggles and surveyed Echo with critical eyes.

"I believe that medical assistance would be of no use, at this point," the man said briskly. "As the majority of Echo's physical body is mechanical, it would be more sensible to find an engineering bay."

Echo didn't react to the comment, but I felt myself bristling at the words.

"He's a PERSON Tech. Not a machine."

The smaller man blinked at me and gave me an odd look, as though he couldn't fathom the cause for my outburst.

"I meant no offence," he said slowly, eyebrows slightly raised. "I was merely stating that it would be beneficial for Echo's cybernetics to be repaired. The rest of his organic parts will then heal on their own, with time and pain relief."

I held his gaze for a little longer, angry with the man for being so damned insensitive. I knew just how insecure Echo was about his damaged body, and comments like that didn't help.

I glanced at the cyborg, who was watching me with a pained expression on his face. When he met my eye, he smiled, although I couldn't fail to notice that the gesture did not reach his eyes.

"He's right. Once all of this-" Echo motioned with his hands, incorporating his cybernetic parts, "-is working properly, the pain will go, and I'll be fine."

I hesitated for a while, before finally nodding. Echo knew his own body best after all.

Tech turned back down the corridor and motioned for Wrecker to join us. The large man gave his brother a puzzled look, before hoisting himself to his feet and trudging over.

"What's wrong?" he asked, his one good eye flicking between Echo slumped on the floor with me crouching beside him, and Tech who was standing passively to one side.

"Echo needs to be relocated to an engineering suite in order that I can make the necessary repairs to his cybernetics," the smaller man said, pulling out his data pad and squinting at it for a few seconds. "There is one on the level above us. I require your assistance to get him there."

Echo was scowling at his brothers now, and I could hear him grinding his teeth.

"I can walk," he said indignantly, making as though to stand, "I just need a bit of help-"

The man cut off with a yelp as Wrecker stooped and gathered the injured man in his arms, lifting him to his chest as though he weighed nothing. Echo's eyes went wide and he spluttered in embarrassment, but eventually he must realised that he had no hope of escaping Wrecker's grasp. He went limp, blushing slightly and looking sulkily at Tech. I felt a pang of sympathy, knowing just how much he hated feeling like a burden.

"Tell me where to go, Tech," Wrecker said brightly, adjusting his grip on Echo so that he could carry him more comfortably.

"This way. Follow me please."

Echo gave me a wounded look which I returned with a sheepish smile.

"Do you want me to come?" I asked, reaching out to squeeze the cyborg's arm comfortingly.

"I don't need an entourage," he snapped moodily, before softening somewhat and looking apologetically in my direction. "I'll be fine. You stay here, just in case Gem needs you."

Echo gave me one more helpless look before Wrecker carted him off in Tech's wake. I watched until they rounded a corner, before turning back to join the others.

Crosshair still hadn't moved an inch, and if anything he looked tenser than ever. Hunter was casually leaning against the wall, keeping a close eye on his brother, with Omega sitting beside him on the floor.

I folded myself to sit beside the girl, reaching out to ruffle her hair softly. She gave me a lopsided smile, before moving to rest her head against my side. It was a startling gesture, and I found myself hesitating, unsure of how to comfort the child. In the end, I settled for wrapping an arm around her shoulders and squeezing softly.

An hour passed, and then another, as we waited patiently for confirmation that Gem was going to be ok. At some point, Tech, Wrecker and Echo rejoined the group. I was pleased to see the latter on his own feet, Tech evidently having been successful in his repairs.

Finally, long after my ass had gone numb from sitting on the cold floor, the doorway to the medbay slid open and Kix appeared, looking exhausted to an infinite degree.

"She's still with us," he sighed tiredly. "The Empire really did a number on her. There was a great deal of internal damage, but she should make a full recovery. I've kept her sedated for now, just until her vitals pick up, but you can go in and sit with her if you want."

Crosshair didn't move at first. He visibly seemed to sag at Kix's assessment, and I heard him let out a ragged breath, before he brushed past the man and into the infirmary.

The medic cast his eyes over all of us, lingering longer on Hunter than the others. They exchanged an unreadable look, and the Reg shook his head slowly. It was an odd exchange, but I was feeling too overwhelmingly relieved to care. Gem was going to be ok. After everything, she was going to be fine.

I was shaking I realised, as I raised myself to my feet. It was as if a tidal wave of emotionwas washing over me, and I didn't know whether to cry, vomit, or laugh hysterically.

I felt a hand snake around my waist and started at the contact, before realised it belonged to Echo. The gesture was grounding, and I found myself giving him a grateful smile of appreciation.

We solemnly filed into the medbay after Crosshair.

Gem was lying in a bed at the far end of the room, dressed in medical garb and covered in a soft blanket. Her eyes were shut and her face was pale, but she at least looked peaceful, and the steady rise and fall of her chest was a comfort.

Crosshair had already positioned himself at her side, leaning heavily against the cot and hands fisted on the sheets as he stared unblinkingly at my friend.

The rest of us arranged ourselves around the bunk in a protective semi circle, with Omega settling herself on the bed where she proceeded to take one of Gem's hands in both of hers and held tightly.

Silently, we kept vigil over our unconscious friend and waited for her to come back from the other side.

Chapter Text

The afterlife was not at all what I expected.

I had always imagined that death would be cold and dark and peaceful. Whatever this was, it was bright and loud and PAINFUL.

I couldn't help but wonder what I'd done to the Maker to deserve this.

Drifting into awareness, I realised just how much I hurt. Every part of me ached dully, as though I'd been run over by a stampede of mudhorns. In these lucid moments, I cried bitterly and prayed to anybody that would listen that this wouldn't be my lot for all eternity.

It occurred to me after some time that perhaps I was in Hell.

Everything blurred into one vague cycle of white noise and harsh light and discomfort to an extreme degree. There were moments when I could have sworn I heard voices, murmering in the distance, stilted and fractured like shards of light hitting silicax. They came and went and came again, until I was certain that this was the torturous work of some divine entity.

At times, the voices sounded almost familiar and I screamed and howled from the torment, knowing that I was alone.

But the whispering persisted, distant, and yet so close I could almost hear the words. Almost recognise the cadence.

I opened my eyes.

White hot light, so bright that I gasped and tried to shy away. Except that I couldn't move.

I heard ragged breathing and realised that it was my own.

I was breathing.

What was happening?

I blinked, startling myself with the realisation that I had eyes.

Things shuddered into sudden clarity and I cried out.

Faces swam around me and above me, swirling in and out of sharp definition.

Toby. Omega. Crosshair. Kix.

"You're dead," I moaned, feeling tears running down my cheeks. I could feel. "You're all dead too."

Something curled around my fingers and held tightly.

"What's happening?"

I jerked at the voice, which was alarmingly clear. It echoed hollowly and reverberated through my consciousness.

"What's wrong with her?"

Something tugged at my arm.

"She's disorientated."

I sobbed and bit my lip.

"She's been through a lot."

I could taste blood. Sharp and metallic.

"You're all dead."

A tingling sensation on my face. A palm pressed against my skin.

"No one's dead, Gem."

The use of my name was oddly grounding and I felt a stillness settle over me.

I wasn't alone.

"Don't leave me."

Warmth, radiating into my core and a constant pressure by my side.

"No one's going anywhere."

More tears, flowing freely now.

"We're all here."

I wasn't alone.

....................

The first thing I consciously became aware of was a constant beeping sound, close to the left side of my head. It was incessant, high pitched and extremely irritating.

Next came the smell, or rather, the lack of any. The air was sterile, unnaturally so, and dry, the only discernable scent being a faint tinge of antiseptic.

Finally came the sensation of touch. Something was pinching my left arm, just at the crook of my elbow, and it was painfully tight. There was a weight also, wrapped around the fingers of my right hand. It was a warm, even pressure which only became firmer when I wiggled my fingers.

My eyelids fluttered open and my pupils were accosted with an uncomfortable brightness. My head was pounding, but it felt clearer than it had in a long time. I blinked slowly, letting everything settle, before coming to the realisation that I was lying on my back, staring up at a stark, white ceiling.

This was most definitely not my cell, and by the position of my body I knew that I was not strapped into Yarun's sick torture contraption. I wondered vaguely why the Imps had moved me.

"She's waking up."

I stiffened as the voice, soft and high pitched and oh so familiar. Something about it was different to my previous hallucinations though. More tangible. More present. More real.

"Omega?"

The girls face swam into view above me, her face pinched with worry and her eyes puffy as though she had recently been crying.

Abruptly, I felt a pair of arms wrap themselves around me, a sudden weight crushing me as the girl threw herself at me, burying her face into my chest. I started at the contact and froze, not fully understanding when my hallucinations started weighing so damned much.

"Careful, Omega," came a second voice soft and chiding. "She's still healing."

I heard a sob against my bosom and became aware of wetness on my skin. It took me a second to realise that I was crying too.

This was no torture fueled hallucination.

This was REAL.

I tried to move my arms, to hold the girl tightly to my body, but my limbs were so heavy that I couldn't lift them.

Another face appeared in my line of sight, bright green eyes and tousled black hair.

Toby cocked a weary smile at me and I felt his finger tips brush my forehead.

"Good to see you back in the land of the living."

I felt Omega shift off of me and heard her sniffling nearby.

I closed my eyes, taking a few deep breaths and willing the tears to stop. When I opened them again, I fully became aware of the others gathered around me.

A crowd of faces, all etched with a mixture of exhaustion, worry and relief. Hunter looked like he'd aged at least ten years since the last time I'd seen him, and Wrecker's eyebrows were drawn into a permanent pout, his face uncharacteristically glum. The marks under Echo's eyes made him look even more gaunt than usual, and his mouth with a thin line. Tech met my gaze with a concern that I'd never seen touch his features.

Of all of them, Crosshair looked the worst for wear. His skin had an unhealthy grey palour to it, and his eyes were misty and glinted wetly from the shadowy sockets. It looked as though he hadn't slept in days, and the angles of his face suggested that he hadn't eaten for just as long.

As soon as he noticed me staring at him, the man blinked rapidly several times, as though to clear his vision, before shuffling closer towards me.

Without warning, Crosshair leaned forward and locked his lips onto mine.

I was do startled by the rare display of affection that I tensed involuntarily, my eyes going wide. It was a soft kiss, gentle and unintrusive, and yet deeply meaningful.

He broke away quickly, roughly clearing his throat and shooting a warning look around at the others, as though daring them to say something. No one spoke a word, for which I was grateful, because I knew how he would react if anyone made a comment about the moment of vulnerability.

I swallowed loudly, trying to work some moisture back into my mouth, which felt drier than the dune seas of Tatooine.

"What happened?" I croaked, my voice sounding frail and liable to break at any point. "Where are we?"

It was Hunter that spoke, stepping forward to rest a hand on my knee.

"On one of the ships that made it out if Nasu," the Sergeant replied quietly. "We pulled you out of the Imperial cruiser. Do you remember?"

I tried to shake my head, managing only the barest of movements.

"I remember being abducted by that spy," I whispered coarsely, feeling my chest tightening at the memory. "Being strapped into that machine....and then...."

I did break then, my feeble voice cracking and fresh tears welling at the corners of my eyes.

"You're safe now," Echo said softly, as calm and firm as I remembered him from my hallucinations.

I felt myself on the verge of a panic attack, and was grateful for the distraction of a nearby door sliding open, and the sound of footsteps approaching.

"You're awake," Kix said with a genuine smile, carefully brushing past the others so that he could get a closer look at me. "How do you feel?"

I swallowed back the tears and smiled pathetically.

"Like shit." I attempted a chuckle, desperate to alleviate some of the somber tension in the room.

"You're going to feel pretty awful for a while, I'm afraid," the medic said with a sympathetic grimace. "But the good news is that you will heal with time. Physically, at least."

He cast me a worried look, before turning to the others.

"I need a moment alone with her," Kix muttered, quietly as if he didn't want me to hear.

Hunter nodded briskly and began the task of gathering up the others. Crosshair looked like he was going to demand to stay by my side, but in truth he seemed barely able to stay upright for much longer, and in no shape for an argument. He conceded to the request, albeit reluctantly, and I was left alone with just Kix and the incessant beeping of the medical machines around me.

The man cast an eye at the door to make sure it was closed, before busying himself with replacing the IV bag hooked to my arm.

"You really gave them a scare," he said soberly, and the fact that he wouldn't meet my eye made me aware that something was wrong.

"Kix?" I asked tentatively, doing my best to keep my voice steady.

The clone stopped what he was doing to lean against my bed, his eyes downcast as he struggled to answer my unspoken question.

"I'm sorry."

I blinked dumbly, feeling a numbness creep over me.

"For what?"

The medic sniffed and cast a quick look at the door again.

"You miscarried," he said flatly, suddenly extremely interested in checking the wires sticking in my arm. "There was nothing I could do. The Empire, whatever they did to you....the damage....I tried. But it was too late by the time we got to you."

He swallowed audibly and finally met my eye.

"I'm so sorry, Gem."

It was as if I'd been thrown through an airlock. The room suddenly felt cold and lifeless and devoid of oxygen and I couldn't fucking breath.

Kix squeezed my shoulder and held onto me as I spiralled into a black hole of pain and misery and guilt and anguish.

I sobbed bitterly as the gravity well of despair pulled me in.

A part of me had known, had realised at some point during the torture that the baby would die. But it didn't make hearing it out loud any easier.

After an eternity, I finally cried all the tears I had and was left to whimper pitifully to myself.

Kix, to his credit, stayed by my side while I fell to pieces, holding onto me and silently keeping me company through the agony.

Eventually, once I had felt so much that I couldn't feel any more, he let go of me and left me alone to process the final shreds of reality.

....................

The Batch, Omega and I were bivouaced with the remaining clones of board the Concorde.

The barracks themselves were located on the upper level of the ship, and comprised of little more than a long, thin room lined on either side with bunks which were built into the walls. It was minimalist to an extreme, but I supposed I was at least grateful that we all had somewhere warm and relatively comfortable to sleep.

Gem remained in the medbay while her body healed and her mind processed the trauma that the Empire had inflicted upon her. I went to visit her regularly, often sitting and reminiscing on past escapades that we had undertaken. Doing my very best to keep her thoughts away from the darkness which I knew must be lurking at the edge of her consciousness.

Crosshair was almost always by her side, only removing himself occasionally to use the communal refresher. He had even taken to sleeping in the infirmary, curling himself on one of the vacant beds and falling unconscious only when he was too exhausted to watch over her any longer.

When I wasn't keeping my friend company, I helped out around the ship wherever I could, not that there was much to do all the while the fleet remained in limbo.

Rex and his officers had yet to come up with our next move, and we all waited with varying degrees of patience to see where the Captain would lead us next. I supposed it was a good thing really, that they were spending such a great deal of time deliberating on where we should settle next. But it didn't make the waiting any more interesting.

After a couple of days, several squads were sent with some of the smaller ships to make supply runs. We were running dangerously low on everything, and it was only a matter of time before we starved. The troopers were, fortunately, successful in their endeavours, and it occurred to me just how damaging the spy's influence had been while he had stationed himself on Nasu.

I took solace in the fact that the bastard had been blown to smithereens, along with every Imperial prick aboard that star destroyer.

One of the few light spots, aside from Gem's progressing recovery, was the amount of free time I had to spend with Echo. The man had healed from the incident aboard the cruiser and was now back to his usual self, if a little worn around the edges. It was refreshing to have his solidity and steadiness amongst the uncertainty which surrounded us all, particularly the endless sensation of aimlessness which had settled over the ship now that we didn't have a home, a purpose, or a plan.

We didn't get many opportunities to be alone together, but when we did we exploited them to the fullest degree. It felt wrong, really, making love to Echo in the confines of some lower level storage hold when Gem was lying in the medbay still healing from her horrific ordeal, but if I was being honest I needed the distraction to keep me grounded. Something about the whole ordeal on the star destroyer had made me realise just how temporary everything was. Just how much I needed to enjoy every moment I could, with every person that meant something to me.

I had a feeling that Echo felt the same, judging by his sudden lack of self consciousness when it came to our relationship. He no longer shied away from intimacy as he previously had, and he rarely seemed embarrassed by public displays of affection anymore. He was quite comfortable kissing me in front of his brothers - or anyone else for that matter - wherever the fancy took us: in the mess hall, the corridor, even in the barracks.

The sex had gotten so much more fulfilling as well, not to mention imaginative. Echo's usual hesitation had been replaced with a self assurance which left me barely able to control myself around him. He was becoming more dominant in bed, which was a refreshing change for me. There were the softer moments too, when he'd wrap his arms around me just because he wanted to, or lean up to kiss my cheek without needing a reason.

One evening, not long after late meal, Echo lay draped over my prone form as we slowly made out in my bunk. The barracks weren't deserted, but nor were they busy, the only other inhabitants being Wrecker, Tech, Tup and Hardcase, as well as a handful of over clones who's names I had yet to learn. Most were either lying in their bunks or sitting on the floor, chatting with each other, listening to music, dozing or cleaning and mending their kit. The end of the room in which I slept was quiet, the bunk opposite mine having been assigned to Crosshair, who never used it anyway.

Echo moaned contentedly into my mouth as I flickered my tongue against his, moving his flesh hand to tangle into my hair and tug gently to show his approval. I couldn't help but grin at the bubbling feeling of affection in my chest.

Abruptly, Echo broke apart, pushing himself back slightly and surveying my face, a startling intensity in his soft brown eyes. I froze, wondering what I'd done to deserve such scrutiny, before extracting my hand from where it had been subtly secreted down the front of Echo's trousers.

"What's wrong?" I asked cautiously, casting an eye about to make sure no one had approached while I'd been distracted.

The look in the man's eyes didn't change, but the corner of his mouth did quirk with the ghost of a smile.

"Toby?" he asked tentatively, meeting my gaze levelly.

I waited for a moment for him to finish his question but he hesitated, licking his lips as though nervous.

"Yes?" I replied, hoping to prompt the guy into a proper response.

Echo cleared his throat quietly, and suddenly became quite interested in a loose thread on the collar of my shirt.

"You....you do know how much you mean to me, don't you?"

I blinked slowly at the confession, feeling that cosy feeling swell inside me once again. I fought down a grin, which threatened to crack my face in two.

"You mean an awful lot to me too, Echo," I muttered, tracing his jaw with my thumb.

A smile flitted across his lips, and I saw his face blush slightly.

"I just....after everything that's happened recently....I just wanted you to know."

I leaned in and brushed my mouth against his.

"I love you too."

We went back to kissing intimately in the bunk, and for a little while it felt like we didn't have a care in the world. The unspoken confession, which had hung between us for some time, had found it's voice, and everything was as it should be.

Chapter Text

Once I was no longer totally dependant on being fed via a drip, Kix finally discharged me from the infirmary.

It was a bittersweet moment, in truth. Part of me was glad to finally leave the sterile environment of the medbay, where I was under constant scrutiny and wasn't permitted to do anything for myself. The other part of me didn't want to leave the safe confines and rejoin the real world. Where I would have to deal with Crosshair and the fallout of my stay on that Imperial cruiser.

The man had been by my side every waking moment since I'd come to in the medical suite. He sat guard stiffly while my body healed, barely speaking to me save to occasionally ask if I needed anything. We hadn't had a proper conversation since leaving Nasu, and there was a tension between us that made me uncomfortable. I knew that, sooner or later, we would have to hash it out. Things had been left badly, and after our previous fight I didn't know where we stood anymore. Whether we were even still together.

I was in two minds as to whether or not I was going to disclose the details of my pregnancy to Crosshair. On the one hand, he deserved to know the truth. On the other, it would just cause him unnecessary distress, which didn't seem fair considering he had been through so much already. Part of me felt that it was my trauma to carry, and I was prepared to carry it alone if necessary.

I'd had constant visitors during my recovery: the Batch, Omega, Toby, Fives and Jesse had all popped in whenever they could to see how I was doing, and I felt privileged by their thoughtfulness. I hadn't had a chance to speak alone with Hunter about the miscarriage, but I guessed by the soft, sad looks he directed my way every so often that he already knew.

No guest was more of a welcome sight though than Rex.

I'd thought I'd been hallucinating again when the Captain walked through the door, or that Kix had drugged me silly. But the man was very much real and very much alive, if a little frayed around the edges, and I had to swallow down a few tears of relief. The last I'd seen the trooper, he'd been laying motionless on the floor outside the command room on Nasu, and I'd feared the worst. Evidently though, Rex was a tougher bastard than I'd given him credit for. There was a lot that I wanted to say to the Captain, a lot I needed to thank him for, but with Crosshair ever present, I felt too self conscious to get the words out. I made a mental note to catch the man alone at some point, just to let him know how much I appreciated him, and how glad I was that he was alive.

A veritable entourage escorted me from the medbay once I was finally free. Wrecker had offered to carry me, but I declined, grateful for the opportunity to use my own legs for a change. The Batch, Toby and Omega seemed more excited than I that I would be back amongst their ranks again, and I felt more than a little guilty at the thought that I'd caused them so much grief and worry.

I was sad to admit that the cramped, basic barracks we had been assigned were not as comfortable as those on Nasu, nor did they have as much personality. But truthfully, I had lived in much more depressing places than this, and I was at least grateful to have somewhere to sleep at all.

I spent a great deal of time in the barracks, dozing on my bunk while my body continued to heal. I was still exhausted, both mentally and physically, and more than a bit melancholic. It was peaceful there, most of the time, and everybody seemed more inclined to leave me alone. I knew I needed to buck up, because I was no good to anyone all the while I was moping, but I just wasn't ready to face everything yet.

Crosshair remained my ever present shadow, even despite the fact that I was no longer in imminent danger of dying. I supposed there wasn't much more for the man to do onboard at present: all the while Rex and the others searched the star charts for a new planet for us to call home, we were literally on standby with little to keep the men occupied. But something about the sniper's body language, the way he would sometimes just sit and stare at me for hours at a time when he thought I was napping, told me that he was loitering with a purpose. What that purpose was, I couldn't say, but I knew that sooner rather than later we would have to deal with our unresolved issues.

I awoke late one morning from a horrific nightmare in which I was still strapped into that fucking torture machine, still a prisoner of the Empire, while they electrocuted and questioned and did unspeakable things to me. I bolted upright in my bunk, gasping for air and whimpering pitifully, the agony from the dream still present. I shuddered, pulling my knees to my chest and leaning my head forward so that the tears and beads of sweat running down my face dripped onto the frayed blanket. I took several deep breaths, fighting to control myself and hold back the tide of panic that threatened to drown me.

A hand enveloped my shoulder and I flinched away from the contact, jerking my head up to see Crosshair kneeling down beside me, his hand still outstretched and a tight expression on his face. I took one last deep breath and wiped my face on a corner of the sheet.

"Sorry," I murmured, not able to meet the man's eye. "I didn't mean to overreact."

There was a pause in which I heard the sniper sigh softly.

"'S ok."

I gave myself a shake, clenching my hands into fists to stop them shaking. Crosshair didn't withdraw, instead he remained crouched next to me, watching me intently. I took the opportunity to cast a quick look his way, and saw that he was unusually tense, poised as though ready to fight or run in a heartbeat. A sinking feeling washed over me as I realised that it was time to talk. We couldn't put it off any longer.

"Do you want to sit with me?" I asked, trying my best to keep my voice level.

The man paused, his eyes flicking between mine, before nodding curtly. He uncoiled himself in one fluid motion, folding into a sitting position on the mattress beside me.

We sat in silence for a while, each waiting for the other to speak first. I could feel my heart beating rapidly in my chest, and my head started to swim dizzily.

"I'm sorry."

My voice sounded calm to my own ears, for which I was grateful because inside I was brimming with anxiety. At least I'd said it now. No matter what else happened, I'd got that confession off my chest.

Crosshair cleared his throat roughly, darting his gaze at me before becoming fixated on his hands resting on his thighs.

"Those things I said.....back on Nasu.....I didn't mean any of them." He hesitated, and I could see him flexing his fingers as though fighting with himself. "I was just....I was....afraid."

His confession caught me off guard, and I found myself peering over at the man, with what I'm sure must have been an expression of shock on my face. Crosshair fidgeted, blushing slightly under my scrutiny. I smoothed my features quickly and turned away.

"Afraid of what, Cross?"

He didn't say anything at first, and for a minute I didn't think he was going to answer.

"I was afraid....that I was losing you."

I steeled myself to prevent me from gawping at the grey haired man again. I knew he was insecure, but his insecurities usually took the form of aggressive outbursts, and he rarely if ever expressed his vulnerability out loud.

"I'm sorry if I gave you that impression," I murmured softly, shifting slightly so that I was leaning against Crosshair's side. "And I'm sorry for pushing you away."

He sagged a little at my words, and I felt him press against me a bit more, as though seeking comfort.

"I thought you didn't want this any more," he said flatly, and I knew by the way he tensed every muscle that he was worried I still might not. "I thought you didn't want me anymore."

I reached out a hand and laid it over one of his, squeezing gently.

"It wasn't that at all. I was just....trying to deal with some things.....and I needed space to sort everything out."

I heard Crosshair grunt, and saw him clench his jaw out of the corner of my eye, his brows furrowed in that all too familiar expression of anger and hurt.

"And you didn't trust me enough to talk to me?"

The betrayal was thick in his voice and I drew back, moving my hand away so that I could wrap my arms around myself in an attempt at offering some sort of protection from the pain that he was aiming in my direction.

"I do trust you," I said insistently, my voice beginning to wobble. "I just didn't know how to tell you. I still don't."

Tears began to prick the corners of my eyes as the pain and loss rolled over me again. Crosshair was staring at me now, a look of mild confusion on his face, and I came to the realisation that I would have to tell him the truth. I'd held stuff back for too long and he deserved to know. It had been his baby too.

I let out a shuddering sob and twisted, shuffling around and lowering myself so that I was curled on the bed with my head in the man's lap. I didn't want him watching me when I confessed everything.

Crosshair started at the sudden movement, freezing for a moment while I made myself comfortable. I thought he might shove me away if he was feeling angry, but he didn't, instead he moved one hand to rest on my shoulder. I started crying quietly, overwhelmed but also relieved at the thought of not having to hide anything anymore.

"I was pregnant, Cross," I started, my tone weighted with emotion. "I found out not long before that spy took me. I didn't tell you because I wasn't sure if I was going to keep it or not, and I didn't want to risk losing you over it. By the time I'd made up my mind that I actually wanted to have your baby, that fucking spy had abducted me and I didn't think I was ever going to see you again."

I felt the hand on my shoulder tighten it's grip, and I started to regret opening my mouth. This was either going to cause Crosshair pain or destroy what was left of our relationship entirely. But I'd already opened that door and there was no way of closing it now.

"It didn't survive all those things the Empire did to me. And then, when I came back, I didn't tell you because I thought you'd hate me for getting pregnant in the first place. Or if by some slim miracle you'd actually wanted the kid, that you'd hate me for losing it."

I cried a few more bitter tears, sobbing noisily and not even bothering to hold back the sorrow anymore.

Crosshair was absolutely silent, not saying a word in response to my confession. I began to wonder whether I should get up and leave because I was absolutely certain that he wouldn't want to be near me right now. I was just drying my eyes on my sleeve and making to move away when he spoke, finally breaking the sharp stillness.

"I could never hate you."

I froze, poised on the edge of withdrawing. Crosshair sighed quietly, and his fingers dug into my flesh as he tightened his grip on my shoulder.

"I wish you'd told me."

His voice sounded simultaneously hollow and yet full of emotion, and I could not fathom what the man was feeling.

"I didn't want to hurt you."

"You shouldn't have gone through all of that alone."

"I thought it would just be more painful for both of us if you knew. And I was scared."

Crosshair swallowed loudly and moved his fingers to brush the top of my head, fisting my hair and holding tightly.

"I'm sorry I wasn't there."

My eyes grew misty once again and I blinked quickly to clear them. The silence returned, and I sensed that we both still had more to say.

"Crosshair," I said, after a little while, deciding that I may as well get my question out there. "If you want to end this, then I understand."

I felt him tense beneath me and I became aware that I was holding my own breath.

"Is that what you want?"

His voice was soft, almost resigned, as though he expected me to confirm his fears.

"No," I replied quickly, shaking my head awkwardly to reiterate my feelings. "Not at all. But if you don't want to be with me anymore, after everything, I won't blame you."

I felt a tugging sensation on my scalp and lifted my head, meeting Crosshair's gaze reluctantly. His eyes had lost their abrasive edge, instead the sharpness had been replaced with a soft kind of sorrow which made my heart ache. I wished I could have taken the words back, but there was no way we could ever move on if I wasn't honest with him.

"I want...." he hesitated, searching my face as though the it held the answer he needed. "I want things to go back to the way they were. Between us."

I sniffed and wiped my nose of the back of my hand in an extremely inelegant manner.

"I'm not sure they can ever be the same. Too much has happened."

Crosshair nodded soberly but there was a glimmer of hope in his eyes. Hope that we could maybe move back from the shadows. Together.

"Change doesn't have to be bad. Just because something's not the same, doesn't mean it's worse."

I gulped loudly and lifted myself up so that our faces were on a level. I felt the urge to cry again, though this time the desire was born of joy rather than sadness. Things were not over yet.

I gave the man a watery smile, the gesture feeling foreign in my depressed state. Crosshair arched an eyebrow at me questioningly.

"This is the most I think I've ever heard you speak," I said with a forced chuckle, the sense of relief almost overwhelming me to the point of hysteria.

Crosshair quirked his lips at me and rolled his eyes in his trademark fashion.

"See. Change can be good. You've made me realise that. I just hope that you can see it too."

Taking a deep breath, I closed my eyes to prevent any further tearful outbursts. It was easier to keep control of my emotions when I didn't have Crosshair staring into my soul.

"I promise I won't keep any more secrets from you," I said firmly, feeling lighter than I had in an age.

Hands moved to cup my face and I opened my eyes. Crosshair leaned forward, resting his forehead against mine.

"That's all I've ever asked."

We stayed like that for some time, holding onto each other as if by letting go we would be sucked into the void. It was comforting, feeling the warmth radiating from Crosshair's hands into my cheeks, and his steady breaths on my skin. For the first time since leaving Nasu, I felt safe, like nothing bad could ever happen to me again.

The door to the barracks slid open and the sound of Tech and Wrecker arguing broke the spell. We moved apart, pausing for just a moment to smile softly at each other.

I heard footsteps approach the bed and twisted away from Crosshair, tilting my head as Hunter paused beside my bunk.

"Everything OK?" he asked warily, catching sight of my tear stained face and the tightness in Crosshair's eyes.

I glanced at the sniper one last time, seeing the look of affection he directed at me and taking strength from it.

"Everything's fine," I said briskly, giving the Sergeant a reassuring look. "It's all going to be fine."

Chapter Text

"I still don't like this."

Crosshair stood in the doorway to the barracks, his arms folded tightly across his chest as he shifted his weight slightly from foot to foot as though agitated.

I flopped down onto the nearest bunk with a sigh, leaning forward so that I could pull my boots on. Even the mere act of getting dressed had sapped my strength, but I wasn't going to let the sniper know that. He was on edge as it was, and I didn't want to waste more energy than necessary trying to hide my exhaustion from him.

"For the last time," I muttered through gritted teeth as I struggled to put my shoes on the right feet. "I am going to the bridge. I can't stand to lay around here any longer. At least up there, I might be of some use. Besides, Rex might need help finding us a new base."

I straightened, covering my dizziness by running a hand over my eyes. I stood, slowly to hide the tremor in my knees.

"That's what I'm afraid of," the sniper growled, rolling his shoulders as though preparing for a fight. I hoped it wasn't with me, because I honestly could have been taken out by a moth at that point.

"Hmmmm?" I asked absentmindedly, as I shrugged into my coat and made my way to the door.

Crosshair rolled his eyes subtly and squared his stance so that more of his narrow frame blocked the opening.

"The last time you helped Rex, you got abducted and almost killed. I don't like the thought of you putting yourself in a similar situation again."

I smiled fondly up at the man, secretly quite thrilled that he was being so protective of me. It was nice to be cared for, and cared about.

"Cross, sweetheart," I said, leaning up to wrap a hand around the back of his neck. "I get why you're worried. But honestly, I'm as safe on the bridge as I am in here. Nothing's gonna happen. The only risk to my wellbeing at the moment is that I might actually die of boredom unless I have something to occupy me."

Crosshair studied my face for a moment but did not look like he was going to back down. I moved forward so that I was inches away, carefully standing on tip toes and pulling his face down to brush my lips softly against his. The man leaned into the kiss, deepening it slightly and uncrossing his arms to wrap them around my waist.

He broke away quickly, and I knew he was worried that he'd get carried away if he wasn't careful. Since our heart to heart a few days ago, we had kept our intimate encounters restricted to cuddles, soft kisses, and sharing a bunk to sleep. I knew that Crosshair wanted more, but my mind and body didn't feel ready for that yet, and the man respected my wishes.

He eased his stance slightly from the contact, but still did not step aside. I ran my fingernails through his hair and sighed loudly.

"If you're that bothered, come up there with me," I said with a half smile. "You can be my body guard."

Crosshair arched an eyebrow at me and gave me an uncharacteristically mischievous look.

"That's a body worth guarding."

"I'm serious!"

"So am I."

I shook my head in mock exasperation, although deep down I was actually rather enjoying the light hearted interactions I'd shared with the man of late. I knew he was trying his best to bring me out of my recent funk, and the effort was appreciated.

"Are you coming with me or not?"

Crosshair scowled in thought for a few seconds before moving aside.

"Fine. Just as long as I don't have to talk to any of the Regs."

"Be nice. They're ok really."

He grumbled something under his breath but I ignored him and instead pushed my way from the barracks. The man was on my heels in a heartbeat, looming over me like a lanky, grumpy shadow.

The bridge itself was peaceful, most of the stations were vacant as there was little to do all the while we slowly orbited the nearby moon. A couple of civilians were present, maintaining and repairing some of the systems while they had the chance, but other than that the only other occupants of the room were Rex, Fives and Jesse.

Fives spotted our approach first, his face cracking into a genuine grin.

"Well, well, look what the tooka dragged in."

At his words, the other two twisted round so see me, and I was secretly touched by the warms looks they gave me. Even if they were slightly doused by the icy ones they shot in Crosshair's direction.

"Glad to see you back on your feet," Jesse said, moving to clap a hand on my shoulder in a friendly fashion. From the corner of my eye I saw Crosshair stiffen, and started to wonder if it had been a sensible idea to bring him with me.

"Gem." Rex's tone was unusually short, and he quickly turned back to the holo map projected from the console in front of him. I balked slightly at his brusqueness, but I supposed that he was probably tired and stressed and in no mood for idle chatter.

"Boys," I said by way of greeting, smiling at Fives and Jesse and casting a look at Rex's back. "How goes it?"

Fives nodded his head, indicating for me to come closer. I obliged, Crosshair following a few paces behind me. I cast a look back at the sniper and saw that he had his arms folded, a toothpick clamped between his teeth and a permanent frown on his face. I gave him what I thought was a reassuring smile, but he didn't return the gesture.

"It could be worse," Jesse said in response to my question. "But it could be better."

"Thank you for such a comprehensive answer," I replied, rolling my eyes and giving the tattooed man an unamused look.

"What Jess means," Fives added, joining Rex as he studied the star charts in front of us, "is that we have enough fuel and supplies for a couple of weeks, and we have the capacity to send out ships to retrieve more. But unless we find somewhere else to base ourselves soon, we run the risk of being stumbled upon by the wrong people."

"What are our options?" I asked, also casting my eye over the map. Althought I'd been to a few planets in my time, almost all of those had been populated, and I wasn't particularly knowledgeable when it came to the best places in the galaxy to hide from the Empire.

"We've narrowed it down to a handful of potential locations," Fives explained with a shrug of his shoulders. "A couple of old Republic outposts, and an abandoned mining facility. All on backwater planets of course. The deeper into the outer rim we go, the better."

"So where do we start? What's the plan?"

I saw Rex give me a side eye and he leaned forward to switch off the projector, still apparently reluctant to face me. His distance made me uncomfortable, and I started to worry that I'd done something to hurt him.

"Its uneconomical to drag the whole fleet around the outer rim to rec the potentials," the Captain said, tone still quite sharp. "We'll be sending out small scouting parties soon."

"Can I help?" I asked, hoping that by being helpful Rex would forgive me for whatever I'd apparently done.

Fives opened his mouth to say something, but the Captain cut him off.

"No," he said bluntly, "you'll get your orders when it's time to deploy."

I blinked, feeling a little deflated and somewhat put out. I felt my cheeks growing red, as though I'd been told off.

"Oh. OK. Well if I can do anything-"

"- we'll let you know if we need your assistance. But I doubt we will in the near future. "

It was uncharacteristically hurtful, and made me feel more worthless than I was already feeling.

I heard a c