Fives sets Droidbait down onto the waiting stretcher as gently as possible amidst the chaos surging around him. Gunships come screaming into the Defender's hangar, smoke spiralling from their wingtips as they offload survivors. Dozens of medics and volunteers dash around with medical supplies. Shouts of pain and barked commands fill the air.
Fives can't remember Droidbait ever looking this small, even when they were cadets. Bacta practically covers his batchmate's entire left side. The sight of the gaping space where Bait's arm used to be makes something in Fives' chest buckle and cave, like his insides are being torn out.
Del and Hardcase help General Skywalker limp towards the waiting arms of a frazzled medic. Cutup and Echo hover over Commander Tano, who lies still on the stretcher next to Droidbait. The terrible gouges across her midriff aren't bleeding anymore, but that doesn't mean they won't start again. She bites her lip to keep from making any sound as Kix kneels to check on her.
Hevy comes to a stop at Fives' side, staring at Droidbait. His face is pale. "Force. Is this… what it was like when I was hurt on Geonosis?"
Fives swallows thickly. "Yeah."
Medical personnel swarm over them. Fives moves to follow as two assistants began to hoist Droidbait's stretcher away. Hevy trails behind.
Jesse stops them. "Stay here."
Defiance kicks weakly in Fives' chest, dulled by hours of fighting and grief. It takes him a moment to gather enough energy to protest. "But he might—"
"Commander Tano and General Skywalker are going to be in there with him," Jesse says, nodding as Kix and another volunteer begin to carry the Commander out. "They'll keep him safe."
Hevy sucks in a huge breath next to him and nods. Fives copies him, too tired to argue further. He doesn't have another choice, but he trusts the Jedi to keep his brother safe.
Hardcase and Del hurry back to join them. Droidbait and Commander Tano disappear with Kix through the blast doors, leaving Beta squad standing helpless in the middle of the hangar.
It's as if a switch has been flicked. Fives slumps. Adrenaline screeches to a halt in his veins. Exhaustion crashes down across his shoulders with crushing force. For the first time since Slick's transmission, his brain finally begins to catalogue the battle. Droidbait almost died. Still could die. Grievous is dead. And the Umbarans—
Nothing makes him feel more hopeless than recalling the sight of Umbaran fighters streaking overhead.
His heart stutters in his chest. He needs a distraction. Anything.
He whirls, making a beeline for the nearest medic, bent over a burn victim.
Footsteps echo behind him. "Fives, what are you—?"
"Give me a job," Fives says loudly. The medic glances up at him. "How can I help?"
"How can we help, he means." Cutup slides into place at Fives' side, followed by Echo, Jesse, Del—and then the rest of Beta squad. Fives takes a good look at his brothers. Their determined expressions waver with fatigue and grief.
"Help the injured disembark from the incoming ships!" the medic snaps. "Crates of bacta are by the hangar doors. Do what you can until medical can get to you!"
They don't need any more prompting. Beta squad scatters.
Fives loses himself in the sticky feel of bacta and the relief on his brothers' faces at the cool respite. The longer he can delay thinking about Umbara, the better. Gunship after shuttle after gunship comes pouring into the hangar with an endless supply of injured. There's no time to think. All they can do is keep moving.
Iota squad stumbles from a gunship, panting and disheveled. Fives hurries over to check them over, but apart from a few minor injuries and Mixer's loss, they seem fine. Tup even offers Fives a weak smile as he leans on Dogma to keep his weight off of a sprained ankle. Kano and Denal herd their younger squadmates towards the corner of the hangar, waiting to let the more gravely injured men into the medbay first. Vaughn and Sterling keep Redeye between them, offering silent comfort as Ridge passes around bottles of water. Flak comes in seconds after them, stumbling from exhaustion as he pulls himself out of a gunship cockpit and tears into an offered ration bar.
A shuttle passes overhead, towing an escape pod behind it. Del's head snaps up from where he had been piling bacta patches into Fives' arms. "Is it from the Resolute?" He doesn't wait for an answer, sprinting over himself. Fives can't watch, too busy bandaging an awful shrapnel wound. When he makes eye contact with Del a few minutes later, their squad leader only shakes his head in despair.
A gunship lands in the center of the room to drop off a fresh wave of maroon-clad medics. General Windu's men flood the hangar. Fives is in the middle of pressing a bacta patch to a shiny's head when a new medic gently nudges him away.
"Go sit down, trooper. You're shaking. We'll take it from here."
"Right," Fives says. He turns around to search for more injured, instead.
Six more escape pods are dragged in. Del checks each one diligently, but it isn't until the fifth that his cry of elation sounds above the din. Fives whirls around, barely daring to hope.
Coric steps out of the escape pod, carefully assisting another injured man as he does. The moment he passes the patient off to a medic, Del grabs him in a crushing hug.
Relief hits Fives so hard that he nearly staggers. Someone grabs his arm to steady him. He turns to see Hevy, Echo, and Hardcase.
Echo peers at Fives, brow furrowed. "Fives? You okay?" He waves a hand in front of Fives' face. A red tint clings to his glove.
Fives squints at him. "Yeah."
He's always been a bad liar.
His batchmates cluster closer, but it's Hardcase who steps in front. "Hey. You're running on empty. I think you really need to sit down. You don't look so good."
Back near the escape pod, Del leans in close to whisper something into Coric's ear. The medic's expression crumples. Fives grits his teeth. Coric may be alive, but Nax is still dead, and they haven't heard anything from Zeer or Tipper since the battle began.
He can't run from it anymore. He nods once, allowing his muscles to untense.
"Come on," Echo urges. "Mess hall, refreshers, barracks, in that order. I think we deserve at least a few minute's worth of rest."
The Defender hovers in Kamino's atmosphere with all the glory a Venator-class can possess, but to Fives, it still pales in comparison to the Resolute.
Fives scowls at the unfamiliar walls as he sits with his head between his arms on the table. This Venator is newer, less war-torn than the Resolute had been. The layout is identical, of course, but Hevy can feel the difference just by picking out different scuff markings on the floor. These barracks smell strange, too—like the fumes from the gallons of drying paint on the outer hulls seeped into the ship and refused to leave.
It's not home. The room feels empty, devoid of the tiny details that had made it theirs—the deck of sabacc cards eternally scattered across the floor, the extra can of paint Droidbait kept to mark his tallies, the nearly empty and carefully rationed crate of Attie's candies underneath Del's bed—
They've lost too much today.
He lifts his head at the sound of the door sliding open. Hevy, sprawled out on one of the bunks, blinks awake as Del comes through the doorway with Tipper and Zeer in tow. Fives sighs in relief to see them unharmed.
Del heads straight for Fives, sitting down opposite him at the table and removing his helmet. The sergeant has dark bags underneath his eyes. Zeer sits on a bunk near him. Tipper wanders closer to Hevy, greeting him with a weak smile.
"I'm glad you're both okay," Hevy says quietly. Fives nods in agreement.
"We didn't have much trouble," Tipper says. "We had just about every weapon in Kamino's armory at our disposal. The droids didn't stand a chance."
"Sounds fun," Hevy says, though the comment falls flat. Tipper offers him a half-grin for the attempt. Fives hunches his shoulders. Silence swallows the room.
When Fives makes eye contact with Del, he almost immediately regrets it. It makes something in Fives tremble. What right does he have to be so unstable over something of the past when Del and Zeer have just lost a squadmate?
He wishes Echo were here to help him find the right words to say, but Echo and Cutup are watching over Droidbait. They can't help him.
He searches for his voice. It comes out hoarse. "Del. Zeer. I'm so sorry about Nax."
"Thank you." Del's words sound hollow and practiced. "He would be happy to hear that Grievous is dead."
Zeer tips his head back to stare sightlessly at the ceiling. His fists clench around the loose blanket beneath him. Fives hopes that Del, or maybe Tipper this time, will be able to keep him from the training mats for the time being so that he doesn't kill anyone. Or hurt himself, like last time.
"Are you alright, Fives?" Del asks. There's a strange weight to the question that makes Fives pause, honestly considering.
"I feel like every good thing I've ever touched is two seconds away from dissolving in front of my eyes." He's not sure how else to put it, if any one word is even close to describing the way his soul trembles with every inhale.
Del stares at him wearily. "Well, then. We must feel remarkably similar."
Hevy bows his head. Zeer just nods. It makes Fives choke up. He drops his head to hide it.
Del closes his eyes. "I like to think that Attie and Nax had a happy reunion somewhere out there. I'm sure Nax is happy about finally getting to rest. Maybe they've met up with the rest of our original battalion."
"No death," Zeer murmurs under his breath. "Only the Force."
Fives tries to picture them embracing somewhere among the stars and wonders if they're watching right now. Attie had certainly believed so.
"I wish I could have done more." Del slumps. "I don't think it will ever get easier."
"It won't." Unbidden, memories that Fives keeps under lock and key squeeze loose. Waxer, slumped on the ground as a tear trails down his cheek, choking on his final breath. Hardcase's most dazzling smile, brighter than any before to hide the fear behind his eyes as he preps the explosives. The pistol in Rex's hand, shaking as he takes aim at Krell's taunting figure, until Fives feels the tug of his own gun being removed from its holster. Jerking a hand up to stop Dogma fast, but not fast enough.
It never gets easier.
Zeer gets up with a grunt. "I'm leaving. Need to clear my head."
"We just got here, though," Tipper complains.
"Del likes to talk things out. I just work until I feel better." Zeer swings towards the door. "You know this."
Tipper sighs, getting to his feet. "Yeah. I'll come with."
Del points at Zeer. "Don't go near the training rooms. If you hurt yourself again, Tipper will knock you out."
Zeer scowls. "The range, then."
When Del nods, Zeer stomps for the door. He and Tipper disappear.
They sit in miserable silence for a while. Fives can't quite bring himself to look at Del until the Sergeant eventually sighs, drawing himself up.
"Tell me about Umbara."
Fives recoils. "What?"
"Tell me about it."
"Why?" It's one thing to remember it. It's another thing entirely to recount.
"It doesn't take a Jedi to know that you're one bad comment away from snapping, Fives."
Fives winces. He feels selfish, and entirely unworthy of comfort. "What happened on Umbara doesn't even come close to what losing a squadmate feels like."
Del levels Fives with a sorrowful, yet compassionate look. "That doesn't mean it's not important."
Force. Fives is the one that should be offering comfort to the Teth survivors. Not the other way around. He straightens his spine. "It's fine."
"That's not what you said a minute ago. Besides, I've said my piece. It won't do me any good to talk about it more. Mourning takes time. And the only thing that got me through Attie's death was remembering that I still have men to take care of. Listening to you will help me more than you know."
Fives' head spins. He doesn't want to talk. At the same time, something in Del's voice strikes a chord in him. Fives threw himself into patching up his brothers in the hangar earlier when he needed a distraction. He can imagine that Del's motives now are similar. The Sergeant's way to distract himself from loss is to help the rest of his squadmates.
Hevy gets up from his bunk and crosses the room to sit at the table. Fives had nearly forgotten that he was still in the room.
"Fives… you hid Fox's involvement in your death from us for a long time. You don't need to hide this, too."
Fives takes a deep breath. "If I could never talk about Umbara again, I would be a happier man." He hopes that it will be the end of it, but Del and Hevy just look at him. Their expectant gazes make words well up in Fives' throat, spilling over faster than he can contain them. "Everything felt hopeless. We fought because we didn't know what else to do. Thinking about it now… brings back those feelings. It shuts me down. I try not to remember it very often. Now I don't have a choice."
His voice trembles. His eyes burn, too, but he doesn't allow himself to lose control any more than that. Hevy starts to reach for him, then hesitates, pulling back for the time being.
"Kix was practically hysterical every time we went into battle. He wasn't allowed to do anything to help the wounded. Hardcase chose to sacrifice himself because we didn't have a better option. We lost more men to suicidal plans every day. We were tricked into massacring our own brothers. There was one kid—practically a shiny. It was only his second campaign. I can't even remember his name. Krell snapped his spine in one move. None of us could get there fast enough to help."
Hevy makes a strangled noise in the back of his throat. Del just listens, expression unreadable.
"I finally understood what it meant to be a clone. What it meant to be disposable. And I fought to change that, to convince Rex that we needed to push back. He listened, because he's a good man, but it scarred all of us. We never thought of the Jedi the same way. We realized they weren't nearly as infallible as we were taught on Kamino." Fives stops to take a deep breath. "I didn't sleep well for months afterward. Until I died. I stopped trusting anyone who wasn't a brother. I've been fine until now since we woke up again, but seeing their ships—it all came back."
He's done. He doesn't want to say anything else. There's more he could say. But the main points are already there, and his chest already feels a bit lighter.
"Are you afraid of Umbara?" Del asks.
Fives grits his teeth. "I'm afraid of what it taught me about the galaxy. I'm afraid of how the war started to go downhill from there. I'm afraid that we'll lose more brothers for the same pointless reasons as last time if we go."
"We might not ever go," Hevy says. "Things are changing every day now, even if the Umbaran forces are becoming more proactive in the war."
Fives nods slowly. That might be true, but there's a strange little warning nudge in his gut that refuses to let him rest. He hopes it isn't the Force, but he isn't ignorant enough to dismiss that as a possibility. "We'll see."
He thinks they will go. He dreads it.
"If we go," Del begins slowly, "what would you do?"
Fives has considered this before. He's still not entirely sure of the answer. "It's just like you said, Del. I still have brothers to take care of." He grits his teeth in determination. "Trauma didn't stop me from helping General Skywalker turn Grievous into a fireball. I'm not going to let it stop me from protecting my brothers if we go to Umbara, either. It just… it will be hard on me."
"Good thing you're not alone, then." Del smiles. "Good thing none of us are alone. Even if it is during awful times." His grief shines through as he turns his head to stare at the bunk that, on the Resolute, would have belonged to Nax. "It's better to mourn together than to mourn alone."
Fives breathes out. "You're right." He looks at Hevy, who tries to school his expression into something less worried before Fives can notice. Fives feels a surge of gratefulness. His brothers have always made sure that when one of them is struggling, they aren't alone.
They lapse into silence. Fives dips his head and lets himself grieve for Nax, for Umbara, for Kamino, for Droidbait's arm. This time, he uses his brothers as a grounding point. He's still afraid, but at least they're still fighting together.
Droidbait blinks his eyes open.
A beautiful woman leans over him, filling his vision. Long green hair billows down her back. A gold dress flutters softly around her despite the lack of wind. Her skin glows with light.
Droidbait stares at her in incomprehension. Something about her feels familiar. Warm. The sensation is overwhelming. His eyes sting with the threat of inexplicable tears.
The woman's expression softens. "You are brave, young warrior. Braver than most." Her voice is layered, like many of her speak at once. It echoes strangely around him.
"Am I dead?" His voice comes out as a croak.
She smiles, and reaches out to take his hand. She pulls him to his feet. Heat spreads from where their palms connect, racing up his arm and tingling through his chest. He gasps.
"Not yet. Your brothers still need you. And so does your Jedi."
He glances up to see a sprawling sky, full of more stars than Droidbait even thought was possible. The ground beneath his feet ripples like water, reflecting the glittering galaxies above. His mind whirls. "Are you the one that sent us back?"
"I am only a messenger of that which sent you back."
"You have never been so close to death. But there is still more you must do if this galaxy is to be saved. It is not your time."
The blinding blur of Grievous' lightsaber slashes across Droidbait's memory. He cringes. "Please, explain what you meant. Tell me what we need to do next. We're trying to fix things, but there's only so much we can do!"
"And you are doing well." The praise washes over him in a soothing wave. The longer he clings to her hand, the stronger he feels. "I cannot tell you what to do. But I can offer you my continued aid."
Droidbait opens his mouth to press for answers, for advice, but the ground suddenly trembles.
The woman grips his hand a bit tighter. "You will wake soon."
"No—wait, wait! Please, there must be something you can tell me!"
Her eyes narrow. "There is one thing you must know. Your General is nearly ready to break free from the dark forces influencing him. But there is one last trial he must pass to break his trust in those who would enslave him. His actions and realizations must be formed by his own decisions. If he is cheated in these things, he will fall again." Droidbait sees a flash of colors: clashing blue sabers, a burst of orange lava, angry yellow eyes—
Her hand slips away. She reaches up and taps his forehead with a finger.
He tips backwards. His stomach drops as if flung from the highest tower of Tipoca City. He lands on his back on a cushioned surface, staring up at the winking stars. Wings rustle above him, and some kind of bird that he doesn't recognize lets out a long, mournful cry.
"Wake up, Droidbait," the woman says.
So he does.
The heady scent of antiseptic floods his nose. Droidbait arches his head back against the bundle of soft cloth beneath him, eyes squeezed shut. He tries to draw in a deep breath and chokes on nothing.
"Thank the Force."
He stills, reluctant to open his eyes. Who knows what he'll see if he does. His last memories of consciousness weren't exactly pleasant.
"Bait, can you hear me?" The brother sounds hoarse, as if he hasn't spoken for a while. Droidbait steels himself, blinking his eyes open with a grimace. The light burns. A face swims in front of his vision.
"Wha—?" Droidbait croaks. Hands settle over his shoulders, squeezing gentle but firm. Somehow it's the most comforting gesture Droidbait could have asked for at the moment. He squints against the medbay lights until the face in front of him comes into focus. "Cutup…"
Cutup pulls back. His jaw hangs open a little, and his eyes shine. He wears only his blacks. The last time Droidbait saw this much relief on one of his batchmate's faces had been when Hevy returned home from Coruscant.
"You kriffing idiot." Cutup wipes his eyes with the back of his hand, so the bite of his words lessens significantly. "Force. We thought you were dead. Are you—" He hesitates suddenly, gaze darting down the length of Droidbait's body. "How do you feel?"
Droidbait's mind still feels stuffed with fluff. He shrugs. His arms feel weird. Lopsided, almost. That's not too alarming, though. A concussion could have knocked out his equilibrium.
"Okay." Cutup's hesitation fades fast. Droidbait can't make any sense of the expression that replaces it. "Okay, that's good. Just stay right there, alright?"
"M'not going anywhere," Droidbait says, and then coughs.
Cutup's face screws up like he wants to laugh but can't. He lifts his comm to his mouth. "Echo, he's awake. I need you." Echo's response is too soft for Droidbait's buzzing ears to process. "No, he hasn't, uh… noticed. He woke up barely a minute ago."
Noticed…? Noticed what? He picks his head up a little, shifting his weight. He wants to sit up.
A hand presses against his forehead. "Hey, none of that." Cutup guides Droidbait's head back to the pillow. "Echo's coming right now. Just sit still for me."
"Feels weird," Droidbait manages. His tongue feels too thick for his mouth.
"Yeah, I know. You've been on the best painkillers the GAR can legally approve. And, uh, maybe some that it can't. Kix wouldn't say."
Droidbait reaches up for Cutup with his right hand, hyperaware of the way his fingers tremble. Cutup grips his hand tight. For a moment his gaze settles on Droidbait's opposite side, but it flits back just as quickly.
Cutup sighs. He offers Droidbait a weak smile. "Bait. We've done some pretty stupid things as a squad. But throwing yourself at a lightsaber-wielding cyborg goes pretty high up on the list."
Droidbait should feel indignant. He can't really muster up the energy. "Wasn't about to let him get any of you." He blinks. Coherency creeps back little by little. The tight muscles in Cutup's jaw stick out. "Cutup…?"
"Just a minute more," Cutup says. His expression contorts. "Echo's coming."
Droidbait frowns. Something's wrong. He fights through the fog of lingering drugs. "I don't… Tell me about Grievous. After Grievous attacked us. Is…" He has to pause to heave for breath. "Is everyone alright?"
Cutup closes his eyes.
Droidbait's stomach drops. "Who?" When Cutup hesitates, Droidbait squeezes his hand tighter. "Tell me."
"...He got to Nax before any of us could do anything. After that, the only casualty was you."
Still one too many. Droidbait's throat constricts. Force. He didn't act fast enough. The tattoo on the side of his head seems to burn in retribution. He grits his teeth so hard that a flare of pain shoots into his skull. "What about Del?"
"He's… not doing too well. But he's safe."
"Tipper and Zeer?"
"They made it back to the ship just fine, too. They got deployed on the opposite side of the city than we did, by the armory. They're with Del. Bait, you need to lay still. Don't strain yourself."
Droidbait lets go of his batchmate. "What's wrong with you? You're… off." He starts to sit up.
"No!" Cutup yelps. He practically shoves Droidbait back down. "I'm serious, Bait, just wait a second!"
Frustrated, Droidbait knocks his brother's hands away and reaches for the bedframe with his opposite hand, the left one, so that Cutup can't stop him. He tries to prop himself up, but his arm doesn't hold his weight. He slams back into the pillow.
Something in Droidbait's mind pings in warning. He glances down at his arm.
He can't comprehend it at first. A short, gauze-wrapped shape juts from his shoulder. He stares at it and shrugs slowly. The lump connected to his shoulder moves, too.
Cutup swears. "Hey, hey!" He grabs Droidbait's chin. "Look at me, okay? You're alright. I promise you it's alright."
Droidbait shakes his head. "I don't—"
It slams into him like a speeder. He tears away from Cutup to stare at his—his arm, kriff, what arm, there's nothing there anymore—
"Sithspit. Bait, come on, stay with me!"
Droidbait can barely hear him, fixated helplessly on the stub of his left arm. His kriffing arm. It's gone completely, shorn clean off by one of Grievous' lightsabers—the green one, he remembers it so vividly, the bright flare of color before everything had gone white—
Force. Force. What good is a clone without an arm? He won't be able to keep up. He'll be decommissioned for sure, sent away—or maybe even kept here, but left absolutely useless, forced to watch as his brothers disappear for campaigns and come back dwindling more and more in numbers each time—
His chest heaves. He can't get his breathing under control.
The door sliding open barely registers, but the clatter of armor dropping to the floor does. A helmet bounces across the floor. Echo steps in front of him, grabbing Droidbait's shoulders again so he has no choice but to look his brother in the eyes.
"Breathe, Bait. Just breathe. Come on. With me."
Echo's chest rises and falls in long, exaggerated breaths. Droidbait latches onto the movement desperately, struggling to follow along. It takes a few minutes. He holds Echo's gaze, comforted by how in-control his older batchmate seems. Echo looks down at his mangled limb, stares it down, and then looks back to Droidbait completely unfazed. It does just as much to calm him as the breathing does.
"There you go. That's good."
Someone moves behind Echo. Droidbait sees the medic symbol first, and when he glances up to the face—"Coric?"
The medic smiles. It doesn't reach his eyes. "Hi, Bait."
"We—we didn't know if you were still alive!"
"I got lucky. We got most of our patients into escape pods, and I went with some of the more unstable men to keep an eye on them. Lots of others weren't so fortunate."
"Oh." Droidbait swallows down the lump in his throat. There's a dull edge to the medic's voice that makes something in Droidbait's stomach clench. Nax is dead. He can't imagine what Coric feels right now.
Coric hovers closer. "Are you in any pain?"
"Not… really? I don't know. I can't—" Every time he tries to think of anything related to his own body, his gaze starts to travel to the remains of his left arm involuntarily. He can barely concentrate on anything else. He balls his fist.
"That's alright," Echo soothes. "You're allowed to be upset, Droidbait."
For some reason, anger wells up in his chest at the comment. Droidbait tries to contain it, but it comes spilling out anyway. "My arm is gone, Echo, of course I'm upset!"
The room falls into silence. Droidbait glares for a moment longer before the full realization of his outburst hits. His mouth drops open.
"It's okay. I get it." Echo just watches, expression heavy with sympathy. Or rather… empathy. A chill runs up Droidbait's spine. Echo understands better than almost anyone.
"I'm sorry," Droidbait says. "I didn't mean that, I don't know why I said that, I'm not—"
"You're allowed to be upset," Echo repeats. "That includes anger, if you need it."
Droidbait winces. He doesn't want to be angry, not at his brothers. The moment he threw himself at Grievous, he knew what he was asking for. He knew what he was risking. An arm is a small price to pay for the lives of his brothers. So many others have paid much more than that.
Grievous is the one that did this, after all. The familiar boiling heat of a grudge flares up in his chest. "I'm not angry at you guys."
"Would it help to know that Grievous is dead?" Cutup says softly from behind Echo. Echo throws him a look of gentle disapproval as Coric brings a scanner to wave over Droidbait's injury.
"He's dead?" Droidbait blinks frantically. That… definitely changes things. The mounting anger dissipates, as well as the budding grudge. It's hard to hold a grudge against a dead man. "What's changed? Force, how long have I been asleep?"
Echo sighs. "Not long. Only a few hours. Nothing massive has changed. Our forces are occupied with repairing Tipoca City and medical care right now. We didn't want you worrying about this yet, though."
"General Skywalker held him down, and we killed him," Cutup mutters softly. "It would have been cooler if I hadn't been three yards away from getting decapitated, though."
Droidbait snorts. Echo can't hide a tiny grin, either.
"Bait…" Cutup slides closer. "I'm sorry about earlier. I panicked, I didn't know how to help you—"
Droidbait cuts him off in favor of hooking his arm around Cutup's shoulders in an awkward hug. From a tilted angle, he gets another look at his missing limb and feels a pang of dread. What will happen to him now? He can't leave his batchmates. He thinks it might be a fate worse than death. He clings to Cutup a bit tighter. "It's alright. We're okay."
For how long, though? Grievous is dead. Droidbait can't imagine what his death will do to change the upcoming events of the war. He pulls back from Cutup, suddenly worried. "Where are Fives and Hevy?"
"Resting. They'll be happy to know that you're awake. Force knows we're all desperate for any sort of good news right now."
Echo comms a large number of people in a very short amount of time. Hevy and Fives come sprinting through the doors just a few minutes later, followed by Del.
Coric groans as they clamber around Droidbait's bed. "Kriff me. This medbay has a two-visitors-at-a-time rule, you know!"
Droidbait ignores him, mostly because he's too relieved to see the rest of his batchmates to really care. He offers Del a gentle one-armed hug that the sergeant readily accepts with a sad smile before heading over to Coric.
Rapid footsteps echo outside the medbay. Coric jerks, lunging for the door. "Oh, no you don't—"
He's too late. The door bursts open again to admit Tipper and Zeer, then Jesse, Kix, and Hardcase. It doesn't surprise Droidbait to see Tup and Dogma sneaking their way in, too, ducking behind Beta squad as they slide in. Coric huffs, not fooled in the slightest, but he submits to the chaos at a gentle elbow from Del. He does level a ferocious glare at Kix, who merely grins.
"I'm off duty, sorry! In two hours when my shift starts I'll be happy to help you kick everyone out!"
Droidbait nearly chokes on a laugh at the expression on Coric's face. Beta squad plus Tup and Dogma settle around him, careful not to jostle Droidbait too much. Cutup accidentally nudges him with an elbow and nearly dives to the floor to catch him when Droidbait tips over at the contact.
"It's fine, I'm fine," Droidbait says, reaching awkwardly to comfort him. "I just… lost my balance, that's all." His entire body feels off-balance. He catches himself attempting to move normally, nerves firing off like his arm is still there. His stump arm flexes weakly in response. His elation at seeing his brothers fades. Nausea replaces it. Beta squad seems to pick up on the shift.
"Bait… you're gonna be alright." Fives' eyes are red-rimmed. Droidbait musters up worry, but Fives just offers him a worn smile. "We're not going to let anything happen to you."
Hevy snaps his fingers. "Yeah, remember when I got shipped off to Coruscant to get my back fixed? That was… well, okay, that trip didn't actually turn out so well, but they fixed me up just fine before I got into trouble. I came back better than ever."
Droidbait knows for a fact that Hevy's back still aches sometimes, but otherwise, his brother has a valid point. If paralyzation wasn't enough to remove Hevy from the squad, he'll probably be fine.
But his arm is missing, not damaged. It's not as simple as nerve repairs. He bites his lip hard to quell his fear.
The door slides open. The assembled clones jump in surprise when General Skywalker himself strides through, with the Commander not a step behind.
"Sir!" Jesse gasps as the men leap to attention. Droidbait does his best to straighten from his spot on the bed.
General Skywalker waves a hand. "At ease, men." His expression softens. "We're here to check up on Droidbait, too."
"Echo, you commed the General?" Hardcase asks incredulously.
Echo shrugs. "He asked to be notified, same as the rest of you."
They all go quiet when the Commander takes a step forward. A swath of bandages winds around her midriff. Her eyes shine with unshed tears. She takes a deep breath. "Men… I'm sorry for failing you on Kamino. I should have—"
Beta squad cuts her off in explosive protest. Even Droidbait, as unsteady as he feels, manages to voice his denial.
"All due kriffing respect, sir, but you're the only reason why we're still alive," Fives says fiercely.
She wavers. "But I wasn't there the whole time. I couldn't save Nax, or Droidbait's arm—"
"Commander…" Del steps forwards. "It's alright. To us, you don't need our forgiveness. But you have it regardless."
The Commander blinks at him. Her nod seems a little relieved, but still a bit uncertain. She moves closer to Droidbait. "Bait? Are you okay?"
He manages a grin for her sake. "I'm okay, sir." He can see in her eyes that no amount of reassurance is going to stop her from blaming herself, even if they don't condemn her in the slightest. The best he knows how to do is to reach out and grip her forearm, just like he would with any other brother. "I'm glad you're recovering. We're all here if you ever need to talk."
Her expression shifts into something far more genuine. Hurt and guilt still hide behind her eyes, but she finally relaxes, allowing the men to comfort her.
"Rex will be happy to hear that you're awake," General Skywalker says to Droidbait when they're done. "He and Commander Ponds are helping Colt and Blitz manage Kamino. Otherwise I'm sure he'd be here as well. Eventually either Rex or myself will need full debriefs from each of you, Beta squad, about both how this assault compared to your first lives and what happened with Grievous. But those can wait until we've all recovered. Force knows you boys need it."
Cutup waves a hand for attention. "What about you, sir? How are your injuries?"
"Healing," the General says. "It's nothing I haven't had before." He glances at Droidbait's awful wound and frowns. "I'm sorry. I can't imagine that was fun to wake up to."
Droidbait's breath catches in his throat. "No, sir."
"I came here with an offer for you, Droidbait."
"The prosthetic that they gave me after Dooku cut my arm off on Geonosis shattered the first time I tried using it during actual combat. They're fine for civilians, but little more than scrap heaps for anyone on the front lines. I don't know if you've considered that yet, but I wanted to offer to make you one similar to mine."
Droidbait's brain stalls. Force. He can't remember ever seeing a clone with a prosthetic besides Commander Wolffe. They're expensive. More expensive than clones, typically, which is why it's not really even considered as an option.
"Actually, I wanted to mention that to you. I'm sure there are others who are in similar need." General Skywalker glances over at the medics. "Give them the same offer. Send them to me, if they want. I'll fix something up for them."
"Master… are you sure you can handle that?" Commander Tano asks. "There's probably… a lot of them."
"I'll get in contact with a prosthetics specialist. We'll hire one for the battalion, if necessary. I'll have Rex look into adjusting our budget to pay for it. Until then, I'll do as many as my schedule allows." His expression darkens. "We used to send them to Kamino for recovery. We were always told they would be reassigned somewhere there."
"Sometimes they were," Dogma says, voice nearly a whisper. "Sometimes not."
General Skywalker scowls. He seems to reel himself in a moment later, turning to Droidbait as he slides the bantha-leather glove from his prosthetic hand.
"Oh." Droidbait stares at it, torn between curiosity and horror. Gold plating gleams in the medbay lights. Wires weave between each intricate joint, running through the plate of the palm and up the fingers. It's beautiful, in a terrible sort of way. Droidbait glances at what remains of his arm and tries to imagine a prosthetic attached. It makes his stomach squirm with nerves.
"It's your choice, Bait. I've added strengthened alloy ligaments and shielding to the design so that it won't break even if it gets knocked around. We can adjust it to fit into your armor, or add tally marks. We could even do a dermal graft and put synthetic skin over it, if you want. Or you can wait, and I'll make sure you have work around the bridge while you decide what to do."
"I do want it," Droidbait says. He refuses to be separated from his batchmates at such a crucial time. But the change scares him. "It's just… a lot. I never thought…"
"I know," General Skywalker says. Echo nods in solemn agreement.
They wait for Droidbait to make the call. He appreciates the opportunity. To see a prosthetic in front of him is jarring. This will be his life, for as long as he continues to live. He searches for Echo's gaze, half hoping that his brother will tell him what to do.
Echo just shrugs. "I can't really help you. I never got to choose. The Techno Union gave me my limbs. This is all you. But whatever you decide, we'll be right with you the whole way. Don't forget that."
"I could never forget." Droidbait reaches over with his hand to feel tentatively at his mangled limb. It tingles a little. If he concentrates, he can almost feel his nonexistent fingers wriggling in response.
With a start, he remembers the glowing woman from his dream. He'd been so out of it upon waking that he'd nearly forgotten about the encounter entirely.
"Your brothers still need you. And so does your Jedi. There is still more you must do if this galaxy is to be saved."
He believes her. And he has a feeling that he's going to need his arm back if he's going to be of any help.
He looks at the General. "I'll do it, sir. I trust you."
General Skywalker's eyes widen for a moment. Then he smiles. "Thank you for your trust, Droidbait. I'll get to work on a skeleton model, and then you and I can discuss the final details once that's further underway."
"Atta boy, Bait." Jesse pounds Droidbait's back enthusiastically.
"Final details? May I suggest a grenade launcher in the wrist, sir?" Hardcase pipes up. The General laughs as he tugs his glove back on.
Beta squad cheers in approval. Cutup shoves his way to get closer, patting Droidbait's arm in reassurance. Fives smiles in relief. Hevy whirls to Hardcase to suggest a flamethrower, instead.
Del slides close, leaning in to be heard over the cacophony of noise. "Attie would definitely be making more arm-related jokes than actual comments right now. And Nax would tell you to lock the prosthetic in a rude gesture and leave it around for someone to find." He huffs a tired laugh. "They would be proud of you. Just like I am."
Droidbait's chest swells with warmth. "Thanks, Del." Then, because Del brought it up, he grins. "You know… now I'm not just Droidbait… I'm an actual droid. Who is also bait."
Tup smacks him upside the head. "That was so bad that it can't even be considered a joke."
Droidbait is too busy grinning at the groans he caused to care.
The chime of Echo's communicator cuts through the room. The ARC holds up a hand for silence as he answers. "Yes?"
"Echo! I got your message! Is he—is he awake? An'—an' his arm, how is it?"
Droidbait gasps. He would recognize that voice anywhere.
Echo grins wide. "He's alright, Ninety-nine. We've found a decent solution for his arm, too. You wanna talk to him?"
Droidbait grabs Echo's arm to speak into his comm at Ninety-nine's agreement. Excitement and elation buzz in his chest. "Ninety-nine! You alright?"
"Better now that you're awake," the old clone says. Across the room, Fives lets out a relieved sounding chuckle, shoulders dropping. Echo's smile turns fond. "The General kept us safe until enough of the 501st arrived to take over for her."
Ninety-nine died on Kamino last time. Droidbait sighs in silent gratitude that it hadn't happened again. He can't think of anyone else who has such a reassuring impact on their squad. Already he can feel his nerves settling. "I'm glad you're okay."
"You boys did good. All of Kamino is talking about how your squad took out the head clanker." Ninety-nine pauses for a moment, and when he speaks again, something in his voice trembles. "Droidbait… your arm…"
Droidbait takes a deep breath. "General Skywalker is working on a prosthetic for me. So it'll all be okay. It's a little sad. But it was worth it." He means it, too. If he had to do it over, he would.
"Oh. Good, that's good. I would have enjoyed your company. If you had been sent back to Kamino, that is. But, uh, I'm glad you weren't. You and your squad need to stay together."
Droidbait smiles. "Thanks, Ninety-nine."
"So… how does this change things?"
Smiles slide off of faces as quickly as they'd appeared. Echo mutters a quiet curse. "We… don't know. We're taking things one at a time as we recover. That's all we can do for now."
Droidbait pulls his remaining limbs closer to his body. Worry gnaws at his stomach. He has no idea where things could go from here.
Based on the silence from the rest of his batchmates, they're similarly clueless.
From the viewport of the mess hall, Tipoca City is barely visible through the pounding rain. Hevy stares down at what little he can see of the silver domes and tries not to imagine shattered incubation pods and tiny helpless cadets.
From what he remembers of Fives and Echo's recounts, things are worse this time around.
Next to him, Echo picks at his food, glancing around the room every few seconds. Hevy feels the same odd restlessness. Even now that Droidbait has been awake for an entire day, it's difficult to convince his body that there's no need to be on high alert anymore. Even the slightest sounds still make his heart pound in preparation to bolt. His back aches way more than usual. It's normal to feel that way to some extent after a bad fight, but it's ten times worse when a squadmate hangs between life and death at the end.
A group of maroon troopers move past behind them carrying trays of food. Windu's men are a welcome relief for the exhausted 501st. Hevy shifts to make more room for them.
"Thanks, brother." The clone who speaks glances up at Hevy's face with a nod of appreciation and suddenly freezes.
"No problem." Hevy frowns when the clone only gapes at him. "You alright?" He smooths a hand over his chin self-consciously to make sure there isn't any food there.
Hevy frowns. "Uh, yes?"
"Kriff me." A second 91st man leans in, eyes flitting over the tattoos on Hevy's cheeks. "I would recognize those tattoos anywhere!"
They're starting to call attention to themselves. More 91st men drift closer, eyes wide.
"You and Senator Amidala are heroes!" the first clone says. Hevy's face heats up when the younger clone reaches out and grabs Hevy's hand, shaking it furiously. Hevy can barely reciprocate. "Thank you, thank you so much—"
Behind them, Echo tosses back his head and laughs. "They're a little star-struck, Hevy, the least you could do is shake his hand back!"
Hevy jerks into motion. "Yeah, yeah, of course. I, uh, I'm just glad I could help." He rubs the back of his neck awkwardly.
As soon as the first clone steps away, another takes his place. "Force, thank you so much. My batchmates and I really look up to you! You changed how the galaxy thinks about us and how we even think about ourselves, too!"
Hevy's face burns like he's just stepped in front of a podracer's rear thrusters. "I—uh, I'm so glad, thank you very much—"
There's no end to them, now that they've started. Men crowd around for the chance to talk to him. A large number of troopers that greet him are younger, chattering excitedly, but one veteran just tugs Hevy into a grateful hug, eyes wet, and another salutes until Hevy hastily pulls him out of attention. Echo sneaks into the crowd, and Hevy is so distracted by the hubbub that he doesn't even notice he's shaking his own batchmate's hand until he lifts his gaze to see Echo's mischievous grin.
Two shinies stand in front of him for a solid three minutes arguing about where Hevy should sign their armor. Hevy opens his mouth to tell them that isn't quite how it works when suddenly the mess hall goes quiet.
Captain Rex approaches the crowd, helmet tucked under his arm. A second kama-clad 91st member walks with him. For a moment, Hevy wonders if he's about to get chewed out. Then Rex guides his companion closer. The shinies back off as the two higher-ranking officers come to a stop right in front of Hevy and Echo.
"Captain," Hevy says, saluting cautiously. His eyes sneak over to the other officer. "Sir…?"
Rex lifts his chin. "This is Hevy."
Hevy can't remember a time when his name was spoken with such gravity. He nods for lack of knowing what else to do.
The other officer removes his helmet. Hevy doesn't immediately recognize him, but something in his expression looks strangely familiar—
"My men are alive because of you," the new captain says, voice thick. " I don't know if you know me, or if you saw the video that my scout sent to the Senate, but my name is—"
"Kyber," Hevy whispers. "You're—" He cuts himself off, eyes widening. This man bled and choked and suffered in the name of keeping his brothers safe from Krell. He and his men risked everything to send evidence to the Senate. Hevy can't imagine the horrors he's experienced, the sorrows he's seen, the abuse he suffered—
Hevy straightens into the most formal salute he can muster. "Sir. I can't even begin to thank you for your bravery."
Kyber shakes his head. He reaches up and pulls Hevy's hand away from his temple. "Don't do that. Not for me. It was my men who were responsible for sending the video. I—" He hesitates, pulling away a bit. "I was too afraid to try."
"But you protected your brothers from that monster every single day." Hevy grabs his arm. "Don't sell yourself short, sir." He remembers the snarl on Krell's face as he had tormented and belittled his battalion. "You're playing right into Krell's hands if you do. That's what he would want, and you're far more than that."
Kyber inhales sharply. He holds Hevy's gaze for a moment, eyes impossibly wide. Then he reaches out, gripping onto Hevy like a lifeline. Hevy hugs him back.
"Thank you," Kyber breathes. "Force, thank you."
Hevy swallows around the lump in his throat and squeezes the other clone tighter. "Thank you." The phrase can't even convey a hundredth of the emotion burning in his chest, but words are all he has.
When Kyber pulls back, he takes a steadying breath and straightens back up again. The surrounding clones, some of which must be Kyber's own men in 91st colors, creep closer. One man places a gentle hand on the officer's back.
"I want to give you something," Kyber says, voice hoarse. "Please. We owe you so much, and this doesn't even come close to paying you back. But it would mean everything to my men." He reaches for his own arm, unsnapping the clasp of his maroon-painted left vambrace and easing it free. He offers the armor piece to Hevy.
Hevy's mouth drops open. To give away one's armor is equivalent to giving up a part of your very soul. His orange-painted boot, lost to the depths of Kamino's sea with the Resolute and the rest of their armor, is a testament to that. "Sir, I—I couldn't possibly—"
Half-panicked, he glances around for help. He locks eyes with Rex, standing behind Kyber in the circle of respectfully assembled men. Rex doesn't say a word, but his eyes brim with pride. The Captain nods once, then jerks his head back towards Kyber.
His approval is all Hevy needs. He takes a deep breath. "I… would be honored, sir. But not without something of mine in return." He unclasps his own vambrace and holds it out in offering. "It's yours, as long as you let me paint it blue first."
Kyber's eyes go wide for a moment. Then a smile breaks out across his face. "I will wear it with pride, Hevy."
Hevy glances over at Rex. "The Defender has to have paint somewhere, right?"
Rex smiles. "I'll have some brought up right away."
Later, once Hevy has painted careful blue fire onto his vambrace and clasped Kyber's own onto his arm, he glances down his white armor and realizes that once he repaints, he'll have three colors, along with the bold symbol of the Coruscant Guard. The realization makes him hesitate, but only for a moment. Rex hadn't seemed bothered by the armor exchange. And if his superior officer doesn't say anything about it, Hevy won't worry.
It means more to him to wear the gifted armor parts than to fit in perfectly with the 501st. And it isn't as if he's leaving his home battalion behind. But now things are far bigger than just one small group of clones.
In some ways, ever since the Senate, Hevy belongs to every battalion. He can't think of any better way to demonstrate it than to wear their armor with all the pride that such a meaningful gift deserves.
Time moves slowly for Droidbait. He can walk around, but his batchmates don't like it, and the medics won't let him leave until at least three days have passed. Restlessness sets in mere hours after he wakes up. His desperation prompts several spontaneous meditation sessions in the medbay. It's during one such meeting that Droidbait finally remembers to mention his strange dream. His batchmates, as well as the Commander, sit in various spots around his bedside. Even Hevy sits with his back to the wall, face screwed up in concentration as he attempts to meditate.
"Commander," Droidbait asks, "Are there any Jedi with green hair?"
"Oh, you mean General Fisto?" Cutup says immediately, a gleam in his eyes that says he knows exactly what he's doing.
Echo's head shoots up from where he had been peacefully seated. His massive inhale promises a vicious lecture on Nautolan biology.
Fives slaps a hand over Echo's mouth before the tirade can begin. He yelps a moment later. "Echo! Did you just lick me? The Commander is right there!"
Commander Tano collapses into giggles. Cutup grins in triumph. Droidbait rolls his eyes.
"His tentacles aren't hair any more than my montrals are." She lets the tip of one lek bend upwards a little, like a tiny wave. "I don't know any Jedi with green hair, though. Why do you ask?"
"Um... " He hesitates. "I'm not sure if it's safe to tell you."
Her eyes go wide. "Is it about your past life?"
"Something like that."
She pouts, unsatisfied, but knows better than to press for more details. Most of his batchmates glance over at him curiously. Droidbait resigns himself to a long explanation later.
He had been certain that the strange woman from his dream was a Jedi. Though it was completely possible that the Commander just didn't know everyone in the Order…
Hevy groans in frustration, cracking one eye open. "I'm trying to focus, guys. I'm new to this, remember?"
"Yeah, yeah. Sorry. You'll get it." Echo gets to his feet slowly, arching his back. "You've just got to be patient. It didn't come to any of us naturally."
"Except maybe you, and Cutup," Droidbait says with a huff.
Hevy wrinkles his nose. "Go figure."
"Just relax," Commander Tano says. "Your mind feels like a Velusian Fursnake. It's all coiled up and waiting for something to attack."
"Isn't that the point? Aren't you going to attack me once I'm good enough at this?"
She waves a hand. "Sure, yes. But it's a different kind of anticipation. There's a difference between being afraid of an attack, and being prepared."
Hevy heaves a sigh and closes his eyes. Fives shakes his head in fond amusement.
Echo meanders closer to Droidbait. "How's the arm?"
"You mean the arm that doesn't exist?"
Echo elbows him gently. "You know what I mean, Bait."
"Ugh. It's… alright. Sometimes it hurts, even though there's nothing there."
Echo winces. One hand reaches up to grab at his opposite arm. "Yeah, I remember. It's kriffing awful."
"And… what if I won't be able to use ARC signs anymore?" Droidbait's heart sinks at the possibility. "Some of the signs can be done one-handed, but there are plenty that require two. Will a prosthetic be able to handle such complex movements?" The loss hits harder than he would have expected it to. As newly resurrected shinies, Domino squad had spent weeks speed-learning ARC signs on Rishi. Droidbait remembers entire days where Fives and Echo had refused to speak, only responding to the rest of their batchmates if ARC sign was used. The teaching method caused both incessant jokes and plenty of frustration, but it's a fond memory.
"We can come up with some one-handed shortcuts, if you'd like. But odds are that the General will be able to make you something that can keep up." Echo's voice is so gentle that Droidbait almost can't meet his gaze. "It might take some practice, but the General's hand moves so fluidly now that you can't tell it apart from the other if you don't already know. Don't let yourself panic, okay?"
Echo's right. Echo is always right, but Droidbait can't always convince himself to believe that. "I… yeah. Easier said than done."
Cutup yelps. Fives swears. Echo spins around, hand darting down to where an ARC holster would have rested a lifetime ago. Droidbait cranes his neck out to see.
Commander Tano's lightsaber hangs halfway disassembled in the air, suspended by her extended hands. The pieces orbit around each other, but it doesn't look like she has very much control. Next to her, Cutup rubs the back of his head in confusion. Echo relaxes.
"I'm so sorry!" the Commander cries, bringing her hands closer to her chest. The metallic pieces obey, drifting closer until they gravitate closely around her. "I don't know how that happened! It's usually so easy! Are you bleeding?"
Cutup checks his hand. "No, you're fine." He eyes the pieces warily. "You didn't hit me with a sharp one."
"What's going on? That's never happened before!" she says. "I made this hilt, I can assemble it in my sleep!"
"I mean… if you've never meditated like that before, I can see how it might be hard to get the hang of," Hevy says. "There's a lot of moving parts to it. Literally."
"But we build our lightsabers like this as younglings. It's simple as long as you're in tune with your kyber crystal. Something doesn't feel right." She closes her eyes, and the parts begin to move again, swirling around each other. Some click into place as Droidbait assumes they're supposed to. Others clatter and grate against each other, spinning out of control. Cutup scoots away, putting some distance between himself and the chaos.
"Anything we should be worried about, sir?" Fives asks warily.
Her brow furrows, but she doesn't open her eyes. "No, it's fine. It won't do anything, I just need to figure out what's wrong. Give me a minute."
Echo sighs, turning back to Droidbait. "Anyway, don't stress too much about that. We're not leaving you behind no matter what, even if it does mean we have to change a few things about how the squad operates."
"But why the question about Jedi with green hair?"
"That—oh." Droidbait spares a furtive glance towards the Commander, lowering his voice. "I had a strange dream while I was still unconscious."
"Like… a Force dream?"
"It must have been. There was this woman there. She was… I don't know how to describe it. My entire body felt light when she grabbed my hand. She told me that—"
Commander Tano shrieks. Metal clatters against the floor. Domino squad scramble for weapons. Droidbait throws his body forwards to sit up. Force, he's defenseless, he needs a gun, what happened to the Commander—?
The clones relax when nothing leaps out of the vents to attack them. Instead, Commander Tano sits slumped on the floor, jaw dropped and eyes wide. The kyber crystal of her lightsaber sits in her palms, split jaggedly down the middle. Droidbait winces as her panic lashes against his unprepared mind.
"Oh, kriff," Cutup mutters, hands outstretched helplessly. "Um…"
"Master Skywalker's going to kill me," Commander Tano whispers. "Oh, no. Oh, no—I broke it, how did that even happen—?"
"Will it still work?" Fives asks a bit frantically. "Here, grab the parts, maybe we can figure out a way to, uh, fix it, I don't know—"
Droidbait's batchmates dive into motion, recollecting the scattered parts. Droidbait frowns, swinging one leg over the bed to help, but Echo shoves him back.
Hevy pats Commander Tano's shoulder. "It'll be alright, sir. General Skywalker will know how to fix it." He does a good job of sounding convincing. Senator Amidala trained him well.
"That's the problem!" the Commander says, voice high. "He always says that this weapon is my life, and I broke it! He'll be so disappointed!" She can't seem to tear her eyes away from the split crystal in her palms.
"He's bound to understand. You were trying to fix it, you couldn't have known this would happen." Droidbait hopes to soothe her, but she looks more and more panicked by the moment.
A heavy weight drops over his mind like a boulder. Droidbait gasps, clutching at his head. Cutup does the same. Fives swears. Hevy doubles over with a cry. Echo freezes. Droidbait shoves up his mental walls as he's been taught. The pain fades, but he can still feel the pressure of a colossal Force presence nearby.
General Skywalker hurtles through the door, lightsaber glowing brilliantly in his hand. "Snips! What's wrong? Are you okay?"
"Master…" the Commander says, voice trembling.
General Skywalker blinks, taking in her guilty expression and Domino squad around her. His fierce expression fades, as does the mental assault. "What happened?"
"I was trying to meditate, but something just… felt wrong. And then my lightsaber…" She holds up the two pieces of the kyber crystal.
General Skywalker deactivates his lightsaber with an impressive Huttese curse. His hand drifts down to hover over his healing wound. "Force. You scared me. I felt your panic and I thought you were under attack."
"I'm sorry," Commander Tano says. Her expression crumples. "I don't know how it happened, I was trying to put it back together like always and it just… split."
Droidbait holds his breath as the General inspects the pieces, brow furrowed. He's unsure if he's about to see a reprimand or not. The General seems more confused than anything.
"Master?" the Commander says tentatively.
"I've heard of this before," General Skywalker finally says. "Just never seen it. Obi-Wan would know more."
"Is it… did I ruin it?"
The General offers his padawan a grin. "No, Ahsoka. It's alright. Crystals are finicky sometimes. They can be purified and repaired if necessary, but sometimes they split for a reason. It's our job to trust in the Force and find out what that reason is."
"Thank the Force," Cutup mutters. Commander Tano slumps in relief.
"Oh," Fives says, a bit too loudly for the quiet room. Everyone turns to look at him. Fives shrugs. "I just realized something, that's all. Don't worry, Commander. This is a good thing."
She gasps. "Wait. You told me once that I knew jar'kai in your past life!"
"We did," Echo says.
The General smiles. "Sounds like you've got some work to do, Snips."
"I… yeah. Yeah!" She accepts the pile of lightsaber hilt parts from Hevy, visibly brightening. "Do we have spare parts for another hilt?"
"I keep some around just in case. It works out well, then. I'll work on Droidbait's arm, and you can work on a shoto blade."
Commander Tano bounces on the balls of her feet. She turns to Domino squad, clutching a piece of the split kyber crystal in each hand. Her eyes brim with determination. "I'm going to get stronger. I promise you I will. I won't let what happened to Nax and Droidbait ever happen again."
Droidbait believes her. The Commander already fights bravely, as competent in battle as any company of clones. With a second lightsaber, he can imagine her tearing through ranks of battle droids as easily as flimsi.
He thinks of his dream, of the warnings from the strange woman, and decides it's for the best. A new lightsaber will suit her well.
He has a sinking suspicion that she's going to need it.
A/N: The concept of a kyber crystal breaking apart for a second lightsaber is something explored in the canon game "Jedi Fallen Order", and I really liked the idea of it! Also, I didn't want to write in a trip to ilum so this was a pretty convenient explanation ha!
So... I will guiltily admit that I totally forgot about Tipper and Zeer last chapter. I'll make some small changes to include them when I get the chance, but hopefully the events of this chapter were enough to smooth that over, ha, sorry!
This chapter was super interesting because I wanted to advance the plot a lot, but every time I tried, I found myself getting stuck since there was a lot of emotional stuff that I felt needed to get worked through. So this chapter was the result!
As always, thank you for your patience, I'm so grateful for your kind words and support! You guys are the best! I hope this update will brighten your weekend a little!