Musical Recommendation: Much of this chapter was written to the Dharohar Project by Laura Marling and Mumford and Sons. Songs of specific interest would be Devil's Spoke/Sneh Ko Marg and Meheni Rachi. Male vocals in Hindi would be the inspiration for Kar's singing and female vocals in English would be the inspiration for Sheresh's singing. The music styles showcased in these two songs are also what I'm basing a lot of Miralian (Indian) and Alderaanian (Irish folk-ish) music off of, too. :)
"All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope."
Candeera and Rys took the still-sleeping Nau'ur back to the privacy and quiet of their own quarters shortly after the youngling's Naming. A contemplative silence had fallen over the group, as each sentient turned over the weight of Saa's Shistavanen tale in their own mind. Sol was the first to interrupt the gentle serenity with a pointed question toward the resident clan chieftain.
"You would incite defiance against the Empire?" the capacious Koruun drummed his fingers thoughtfully on the arms of his power chair.
"I would if it is able," Saa responded quickly, without pausing once to consider his answer. "I understand that our current Mandalor seeks the same."
"Fenn Shysa does indeed fight against Imperial brutality – but his concerns are limited only to Mandalor and to those of our people who are being pressed into slavery. His actions have caused little ripple in the galaxy at large," Sol glanced briefly over at Orar and Cody knew that the Arkanian was the source of most of the Vecuyan's knowledge of the wider worlds beyond the Anobis Borderlands. "It would seem, however, that your sights are on a defiance much larger than that of our Mandalor."
"It is," Saa was straightforward – as always – in his honesty. "But, I'm wise enough to know that my thoughts of rebellion are merely seeds that have to be sown patiently. A larger, organized rebellion against the Empire cannot possibly happen overnight."
"How do you propose that it begins at all?" Sol demanded softly; Cody could see that the former Cuy'valDar was intrigued by Saa's private machinations, but also cautious about the reality of what they discussed.
"We've begun it here, tonight," Saa waved an all-encompassing hand toward the gathering room at large. "In the Naming of a child – in her birth. Count the deserters in our midsts, Sol'ika," the alor's green eyes drifted thoughtfully over toward Cody and Fives, where they lingered for several moments. "Between my clan and yours, we have five. There is even the possibility of a sixth, in the clone who helped us escape safely from Creedee's freshly smoldering streets. Then there's a seventh – maybe more – who are waiting for release from an Imperial cell. Each of these deserters are strong, healthy, hearty men, capable of fathering children and creating their own families. Each of these men also have what many in the galaxy who rebel do not – they have military training and an innate understanding of what it takes to wage a war. Some, even, commanded positions of power in both the GAR and the Empire. In the ranks of the Mando'ad, they are a powerful potential for a defiant military force."
"And within the Mando'ad, they are also a hope of strength for the clans," Orar's soft voice calmly disrupted the silence that fell after Saa's persuasive speech. "As we have seen tonight, they are a hope of offspring and tradition – even if they are not the generation to win a war against the Empire, they are the ones to set the strategies in motion."
"You assume that all of us deserters would want to take part in this 'defiance'," Fives spoke up roughly; his dark eyes flashed mutinously. "You sit here and plan our fates as if we're not even present. At least have the decency to ask us what we want out of our own lives. I don't know about the rest of my brothers, but I, for one, am tired of others telling me what to do."
The former ARC lifted his chin defiantly, but he had a valid point. Kix made a quiet noise of agreement in the back of his throat and even Ferro had looked up from his glass, his sharp eyes measuring up both Sol and Saa with something like disapproval. Cody stayed silent, but he shifted restlessly in his seat and agreed quietly with his brother's argument.
He was shocked, then, when Saa turned the conversation over to him.
"Cod'ika," the weathered mercenary's voice was unusually neutral. "You held the highest rank out of all of your brothers present. What say you?"
A moment of sheer panic constricted Cody's throat – once, he would have thought nothing of having his opinion asked. In fact, Obi-Wan used to do so frequently, totally unbidden, and Cody had never shied away from the opportunity to confidently speak his mind. But, he had been a different man then – secure in his rank and in his own authority. Events since Order 66 had robbed Cody of much of his former "command presence" and he no longer saw himself as much of a leader, or really, much of anything. Saa brought up the rank he had once held as a gesture of respect, but it felt hollow to Cody. In his own eyes, he was the lowest of his brothers, the only one who had committed crimes in the name of the Empire, instead of standing up against it.
The silence in the gathering room was deafening, though, and Cody realized that the Mando'ad would wait patiently for as long as he vacillated. And, the truth of the matter was that the former commander knew exactly what he wanted to say in response to both Saa and Fives. In the privacy of his mind, Cody had long since decided what actions he would take to help set the balance of the galaxy right. It was time now, to speak those thoughts aloud – regardless of whether or not he was "ready" to share the truth of his convictions.
"I think Fives is right, in that we clones should be allowed to choose our own fates. We were all created to fight someone else's wars, without ever a single thought spared for the rights of our own sentience. You'll find that those of us who have deserted are indeed more defiant than most," Cody's eyes flickered toward Fives, who was watching him with narrowed, judging eyes. "But that doesn't mean that our defiance should be automatically interrupted as allegiance to someone else's cause. If we join the Mando'ad, it's a mutual choice," now his eyes drifted over to Saa, who nodded briefly in agreement. "The clan must choose us and we must choose the clan. We should also be careful to respect that association with the clans doesn't automatically equal allegiance to the clans."
Cody saw both Kix and Kar nod to themselves out of the corner of his eye. He knew that there was some pressure on Kix's part to join Clan Kelborn, but he was surprised by Kar's response. Had the smuggler, too, been asked to join the Clan? There was a story behind the Mirialan's thoughtful expression and Cody resolved quietly to ask him about it at some later time, should the opportunity present itself.
"However," the former commander paused; the weight of his words hung heavy on his heart and it took a moment for him to organize his thoughts. "I think that us clones should be careful about becoming selfish when asserting our independence," he looked down at his hands and his face twisted with the darkness of his memories. "We all destroyed this galaxy – regardless of whether or not we participated in Order 66. Our objective was always non-organic and we were carefully conditioned to focus on the tinnies and nothing else. But, we're only fooling ourselves if we refuse to realize that a lot of innocent civilians got caught in the cross-hairs of our cannons, blasters, and ships. We created a galaxy that was too broken to fight back when the time truly counted. While the choice to rebel against the Empire should be our own to make..." Cody paused and looked up, his eyes roving slowly around the room and all the faces watching him. "I for one have a past to redeem and a future to fight for."
"Well said, Cod'ika," Saa nodded firmly, his expression resolute.
"What's worth more than your own freedom?" Kix surprised everyone by speaking up; the medic shook his head slowly, his face uncertain.
"My freedom," Cody shrugged and struggled for a moment to explain his instantaneous response; once he found the words, though, his voice was solemn. "Do you think that the Empire's going to just let us slip through the cracks?" the former commander raised a slight eyebrow. "I've been an officer in the Imperial Army. I know better – they've set allowed a whole contingent of our brothers to operate seemingly independently of the Empire, just so they would have an excuse to collect the bounties on our heads. We all have a price," Cody glanced around the room, his eyes lingering on Kix, Ferro, and Fives. "We're not free brothers – we're as enslaved as the rest of the galaxy. We'll always be running and I find no freedom in that."
"Some of us don't have anywhere to run to," Ferro's voice was quiet; the ARC didn't look anyone in the eye, as he focused all of his attention on the floor beneath his feet. "I'd be interested in known, sir, what future you think is so important to fight for," the former captain looked up just once, just briefly, to meet Cody's gaze. "Some of us don't have one."
"Is there anyone out there in the galaxy – anyone at all, Ferro – that you wonder about? That you'd want to see living free and safe?" Cody's response was appropriately gentle; he didn't know what the ARC's story was and would probably never know.
He could tell, though, as a brother, that Ferro was deeply troubled by something. Perhaps it was something he had seen...perhaps it was something that he had done. The ARCs brow furrowed, but he remained silent, his eyes focused firmly on the floor.
"Is there anything you regret?" Cody practically sighed, the memories of his own faults and sins crowding hard against his heart.
Ferro nodded slowly, just once. He glanced up, his brown eyes miserable. Cody recognized the look – he had seen it in his own face before, in mirrors that he had once tried so desperately to avoid. It was the look of a man who was haunted by his past – who was desperate to do anything to redeem his beleaguered conscience.
"There's always something worth fighting for, Ferro," Cody spoke for experience and the weight of that lent a great depth to his words. "Even if it's just to set right what you can."
Ferro just nodded again, but something wistful had crossed his face. It wasn't exactly hope, but Cody could tell he was thinking about something. A part of him was curious to know Ferro's story, but the former commander had never been the prying type. If the ARC wanted to pull him aside and tell him what was weighing so heavily on his mind, then he would. But, if he didn't want to share his secrets, Cody would leave him to it. He knew from experience that there were some things that could only be shared with certain people and some things that could never be shared at all. The heart was a dark place and it wasn't easy to just lay one's past out to random stranger – brother or not.
"You make a compelling case, Cody – on both sides," Sol finally interjected and the conversation slowly came back around to what had started it off in the first place. "I would agree that the choice to rebel – or, to ally ones self with those who would – is a personal choice. I, for one, would not want to pressure a compliance that was not one's own decision. Rebellion is a often a fight to the death. As a warrior, I want no one fighting on my side, who is not committed wholly to my cause."
"And, it should be noted, that for now, all of this hypothetical at best," Drali spoke up for the first time; her voice was clear and assertive, as the sole matriarch present from either clan. "You males always want to speak of war and the politics of war," her smile belied the gentle scolding of her words. "But, the truth of the matter is, that we have time for allegiances to be made and for decisions to weighed. If we are to fight, then we fight to win. And, as any Mandalorian will tell you, fighting to win takes time and it takes careful planning."
"Dra'buir is right," Sheresh agreed; her kitar lay across her lap, momentarily forgotten. "I want to see the Empire broken and I want to see it pay for what it's done," a darkness drifted across her face and in that moment, Cody plainly saw the deadly warrior that lay beneath her pretty face. "But, many of us have lost enough already," her eyes flickered briefly to Fives and Cody felt a sudden curiosity that demanded to be answered. "If we're to fight, if we're to rebel, then we will pay the price for rising up. Let's at least pay our respects to the loved ones we've already lost and make sure that their sacrifices aren't for vain."
Her message was clear - "let's think before we act." There had been enough wasted lives; Cody glanced at Fives himself and thought of Echo, thought of Waxer. He couldn't agree more.
"Dra'buir also brings up a most excellent point," Orar's voice was soft, as it always was, but every eye in the room turned toward the resident diplomat. "She mentions 'allegiances' – and such a thing would be crucial for the success of any rebellion. Surely, those of us of Clan Par'jain and Clan Kelborn, as well as those of you who have deserted from the Empire all together, are not alone in our desire to fight back. There would be others, scattered throughout the galaxy. Other deserters, other Mando'ad, and – more importantly – others, perhaps, who would have the resources to finance such an ambitious endeavor."
"Who would you suggest?" Sol leaned forward in his power chair in interest; he knew his son's face best and clearly, the thoughtful look on Orar's pale features lead his father to believe that the spy may have a potential ally in mind.
"I'm actually not certain," Orar glanced briefly at Sheresh and Cody was puzzled by such a random choice; the two looked at each other, then, but the Alderaanian Mandalorian merely lifted a slim red eyebrow in silent curiosity. "I do not speak of allies until I am sure of their commitment. To do otherwise is foolish," the Arkanian finally looked away from Sheresh and shifted on his cushion as he turned to address Sol directly. "But, I have a few possible leads in mind."
"Then search for us, ad'ika," Sol calmly delivered his verdict. "We will lay low, for now, gathering our forces and quietly preparing our own for war. You have all spoken words of great wisdom tonight; for now, we will raise our daughters," his dark eyes flickered briefly to Cody and then to Saa, who nodded thoughtfully at Sol's next words. "We will adopt our sons. And," those bottomless eyes turned toward Kar, who leaned back on his cushion and matched Sol's gaze evenly. "We will test the strength of our allegiances.
"In the meantime, ad'ika," he finally turned back toward Orar, the Arkanian's mission clear. "Search for us. Evaluate your 'leads' and let us know when you've found an ally worth our loyalty."
Mandalorians, Cody learned, could swing almost effortlessly from solemnity to celebration with an ease that was almost enviable. Sheresh later explained to him that it had a lot to do with the Mandalorian view of life – sorrow could cut through the heart one minute and be followed by inexpressible joy the next. Death, birth, joy, sorrow, life, and lust could coexist in equal measures, according to what little Mandalorian philosophy there was. Once the moment for seriousness had passed, there was nothing to hold back the Mando'ad from moving smoothly into joviality.
And, so it was, once Sol had spoken his peace, that those gathered in the Kelborn gathering room moved their attention guiltlessly toward revelry. It confused Cody at first – after all, they had just been talking of allies, adoptions, younglings, and rebellion – but he soon realized that the transition was a natural one to the Mandalorian mind. The Mando'ad did not linger, he discovered; they accepted what was present and reveled in every moment that passed by.
The evening's celebrations unfolded in rare form. Once the younglings had been safely tucked away in bed, the adults settled happily into their cups. Sheresh picked up her kitar again and Kar surprised everyone by bringing out a small, hand-held drum. This encouraged Rowin to whip out a small, silver, rectangular instrument that he referred to as a 'mouth organ'; it was, apparently, a traditional instrument among the Lepi. Ka'ra, Kar, and Sheresh took turns singing and before too long, hands were clapping and even Cody's feet were tapping in time to a fast-paced Alderaanian reel.
Alcohol flowed freely and what was left of the food in lesser amounts. Requests for songs flew, one right after another; the demands came from as much from a desire to hear certain songs, as it was to test just how extensive the musicians' repertoires were. There were Zygerrian jigs, Lorrdian ballads, Koruun war chants, Alderaanian sea shanties, and Anobian reels. As the night moved on, Sheresh and Kar – in particular – started to pick up on each other's natural strengths and began weaving their different traditional styles together.
For one memorable song, Kar shocked everyone by showing off a rich, well-trained vocal range in his native language. He opened up the song with nothing more than his voice, then Sheresh joined in with her own clear alto and accompanying kitar. The two played off of each other – Sheresh setting the pace with her kitar, the smuggler keeping up with his drum. They would both takes turns singing, Sheresh in Galactic and Kar in the exotic notes of Mirialan. As the two wove their wildly different styles together in an impressive composition of considerable skill, Cody realized that the two had to have been giving each other subtle cues through the Force, in order for something so complex to come together without rehearsal.
As a half-Zeltron and a full-blooded Mirialan, the two were both naturally Force Sensitive and the former commander watched with something akin to awe as the two created a frolicking sound effect throughout the confines of the intimate gathering room. A quick glance to his left, though, revealed a quietly seething Fives, who was watching Kar with all of the intensity of a dangerously trained soldier who was plotting a not-so-quick-and-painless-death.
The tune was catchy, though – Cody had to give Sheresh and Kar'eth that much, at least. Their voices complimented each other quite spectacularly and for days afterwards, Cody would have Sheresh's lyrics stuck in his head:
"I am from a country land
Where beauty only grows,
And though I'd dream to leave one day
I'd dare not ever go..."
The joint effort between the two musicians seemed to inspire something in the rest of the gathering. However, Cody soon learned that when two Mandalorian clans started to talk about joining forces, it didn't stay entirely collaborative for long. Inevitably, the Mando'ad's natural competitiveness intervened and turned the evening's activities into something of a friendly rivalry.
It started off between the two respective patriarchs. As Kar and Sheresh launched into another, even more enthusiastic reel, Saa and Sol clasped their right hands together and began to test each other. Heads kept bobbing in time to Sheresh's fast-paced strings and Kar's undulating vocals, but every eye turned with interest toward the two clan leaders. The contest was surprisingly short-lived – much to the amusement of Clan Kelborn.
Saa gritted his teeth and narrowed his eyes in a singular concentration; he had rolled his sleeves up past his elbow and the muscles in his forearms strained with an impressive effort. But, Sol was an armorer and had spent his entire life building up his upper body, thanks to his profession and his disability. Saa – as scrappy as he was – didn't have much of a chance. Sol overpowered the Par'jain alor without any real visible struggle.
Kar and Sheresh concluded their second song with a rousing flourish of strings and drum, just as Sol overpowered the straining Saa and pushed the mercenary's arm down against the arms of his power chair. Clan Kelborn hooted in triumph and Sol easily pulled Saa's forearm into a firm clasp of friendship. Former Cuy'val Dar and spy grinned at each other and shook on Sol's all-too-easy triumph.
That set the stage for the rest of the night. Drali teasingly suggested that Clan Par'jain and Clan Kelborn try to even the score on behalf of their leaders, but the flash in her eyes belied her love of challenge. The thrill of conquest was shared by all, however, and even Cody didn't protest as the two clans separated into opposing teams. Despite the competitiveness that seemed an intrinsic part of the Mando'ad, no one seemed upset by Sol's easy triumph over Saa, or by the ensuing contests of skill and strength. The friendly matches remained just that – friendly – and Cody realized, as he watched the almost-playful dramas unfold, that this was simply how Mandalorians tested the worth of one another and strengthened the bonds between their clans.
It fascinated Cody to see how the clans divided themselves – or, rather, to see who was claimed by each clan. Kix, Kar, and Ferro were all enthusiastically encouraged to come sit with Clan Kelborn on one side of the gathering room. That left Kil, Rowin, Fives, and Cody on the side with Clan Par'jain. Fascinated by the developing dynamic between the clans and their respective allies, Cody leaned back against the blanketed cushions behind him and settled in for the show.
The first pair to rise to the challenge was – surprisingly – Rowin and Ka'ra. The brash female Zabrak practically swaggered into the center of the gathering room, where such feats of skill apparently took place, and challenged the gangly Lepi to as many shots of tihaar as he could keep down. Cody practically groaned into his hand, when Rowin bounded to his feet and accepted.
"This isn't going to end well," the former commander glanced over at Fives, who seemed suitably distracted from his own private jealousies, now that Kar and Sheresh weren't sitting together.
"Huh," Fives snorted and crossed his arms over his chest; the former ARC lifted a wry eyebrow. "My bet's on the Lepi. I've seen him drink. You?"
"Ka'ra, for sure," Cody shook his head with a quirk of his lips. "I've seen Mandalorians drink."
"Ten credits?" Fives proposed, as Rowin and Ka'ra settled down, cross-legged, and squared off against each other.
"Make it fifteen. And throw in a little self-disclosure for good measure," Cody haggled; Fives shot him a puzzled look.
"Yeah," Cody nodded; Rowin took his first shot of the infamous Mandalorian liquor. "Answer some questions about the course of life since Umbara. Winner's discretion."
Ka'ra tossed back two shots of tihaar in rapid succession, to the encouraging cheers of Clan Par'jain.
"Umbara?" Fives kept his eyes fixed forward, but he frowned slightly. "Why Umbara?"
"That's when I kind of lost track of you," Cody shrugged; he didn't dare glance toward his brother. "Always wondered about what happened to you afterwards."
Apparently, the game involved some sort convoluted scoring system that Cody wasn't able to keep track of while carrying on a conversation with Fives. Each opponent had to up the ante on the other, though, or so it would seem; Rowin knocked back three shots and tried to suppress a shudder. Cody chuckled softly to himself – it had been quite some time since he'd tasted tihaar, but he remembered it well. Depending on the mix, it could go down as smooth as frill syrup, or it could burn like Ryloth pepper juice. It would seem, based on the rather disapproving set of Rowin's whiskers, that the current batch between him and Ka'ra was more along the lines of pepper juice...
"So, fifteen creds and self-disclosure?" Fives seemed to be giving the deal some serious consideration.
"Yup," Cody nodded; Ka'ra knocked back four shots with ease and Rowin wasn't looking quite so thrilled about upping his own count.
"Deal," Fives agreed abruptly, as Rowin grimaced and dutifully downed his five in rapid sequence. "And if I win, you're disclosing how in haran you ended up with the likes of Healer Marr."
Cody winced slightly at the thought of having to share the intimate details of his relationship – or, more specifically, the intimate details of how he had come to have a relationship in the first place. Fives' hostile reaction on first contact had made the former commander a little reluctant to share his past around the volatile ARC. Fives could be an uncompromising opponent – that much, Cody had gathered over the years – and the interim between Umbara and now seemed to have made the one-time trooper only more judgmental.
Cody sidled a glance over at Fives, as Rowin sputtered around his seventh shot. The odds seemed stacked in the Lepi's favor – he was not handling the tihaar as effortlessly as Ka'ra. By the looks of thing, he'd be losing his bet to his brother and Cody had to wonder if sharing the secrets of his past would earn him respect, or further repudiation.
There really was no way of knowing which way Fives' opinion would swing. The ARC had shown a wide – and rather puzzling array – of contrasting emotions over the last handful of days. He had been violent, hostile, aggressive, and sullen, only to turn those interactions around in better company. He was still suspicious, still hyper-vigilant, still uneasy, but he had relaxed during his time in the kitchen and seemed to be enjoying himself immensely.
With, of course, the exception of Sheresh and her admirer. Cody glanced over toward the two in question and saw that they were whispering to one another; Kareth's lips were a little too close to Sheresh's ear to be considered entirely honorable, his hand a little too bold in its calculated placement on her upper thigh. Dreading Fives' reaction, Cody glanced back toward his immediate companion, but Fives didn't see to have noticed Kareth's continued advances; the ARC's attention was solely fixed on the drinking game in front of them.
Rowin lost, with a full-body shudder and a vehement declaration of "not another damn shot of that gut-burnin' ship fuel!" The entire room burst out laughing and Cody – who had worried that ill-feelings might have been engendered by the outcome of the game – was pleased to see that in the eyes of the Mando'ad, a friendly rivalry wasn't anything to be taken personally. Rowin acquiesced to Ka'ra's victory with something akin to relief and Ala was gracious enough to run to the kitchen and fetch the space-rabbit a tall glass of water.
A round of cheerful, good-natured ribbing ensued, which Rowin took in good-humor. Ka'ra beamed and teased Rowin gently -
"Never tried to out-drink a Mandalorian, eh, rabbit?"
"Nope," Rowin wiggled his ears disapproving in her general direction as he accepted his water from Ala. "An' I'm-a thinkin' I'll not be tryin' that ever again, either," his whiskers stiffened indignantly. "I mean, really...you lot think that kriffin' naphtha is actually potable?"
No one answered him, as every last Mandalorian started laughing anew. Rowin shook his head, his long ears flopping about his shoulders and muttered something in his native tongue into the contents of his mug. If it was unsportsmanlike like, Rowin didn't offer to translate it and no one pressured him to repeat it in Galactic; if anything, the merriment only doubled and he was slapped heartily on the back by those around him.
"Fifteen creds," Fives interrupted Cody's focus with an outstretched hand; the former commander sighed and shook his head.
"Give it a minute, Fives. All my money's with my armor, back in the room," Cody gently grabbed his brother's wrist and pushed it away from him; when Fives gave him a skeptical look, the would-be Mandalorian reassured him with all of the sincerity at his disposal. "I'm good for it, I promise! I just -" Cody paused and shrugged, as he waved vaguely at the room around them. "Don't want to miss anything."
His case was helped by the fact that it looked like Kil and Kix were now the next being paired off. Kil – as usual – had been silent the entire evening and because of it, had been practically hidden in the background. In fact, Cody had forgotten about the one-time Jedi and was a little surprised to see her calmly take center stage. It appeared, though, that Kix had called her out while he had been negotiating the time of his payment with Fives; suitably distracted, the ARC dropped the subject and the two watched in companionable silence as a board, five cups, and a pair of dice were placed between the two new opponents.
"What's this?" Fives frowned after a brief, puzzled pause.
"Looks like a memory game," Cody leaned back against his cushions again and stretched out his long legs. "Used to play a game like that with -" he suddenly halted to a stop and couldn't find it within himself to continue; the memory of Rex simply hurt too much.
Fives gave him a strange, searching look and then surprised Cody with an unexpected display of perception.
"Captain Rex?" he finished the sentence simply and for several moments afterwards, Cody could only nod.
"Yeah," he cleared his throat and gathered his composure.
Why does it hurt so much all of a sudden?he wondered, as Kix hid one of the dice under a cup and then started switching it around the board with the other assembled cups. Is it because I'm stuck with Fives, now?
Fives was, undoubtedly, his own man, but Cody would have been lying to himself if he didn't admit that having Fives around reminded him of the 501st – and, conversely, of Rex. Left to their own devices, Rex and Cody were often loners, comfortable in their own roles as leaders and separated by the duties of their command. But, because of how often their respective generals worked together, the two had found an unlikely friendship that had persisted in spite of their differing ranks. In fact, in three years, Cody had rarely found cause to "pull rank" on Rex and on those rare occasions that he had, it had been necessitated by their immediate situations and not by anything even remotely personal.
They had fought together, eaten together, planned together, watched over their Jedi together, even drank together. Like General Skywalker and General Kenobi, the two had been over the length and breadth of the galaxy together. Their experiences had brought them together and forged a friendship that had seemed almost impossible to break.
Until Order 66, at least. That was when the two had gone their very different ways. Cody had stayed obedient, compliant, enslaved to his rank and his dogged loyalty. Rex – ever the wild card – had defied his orders, defied his training, and defied the responsibilities of his rank. It had taken over a year for Cody to find his name on the Wanted Lists and even then, it was for all the wrong reasons. Rex's name had been featured at the very top of the Wanted Lists from the very beginning, as worse than a deserter, as a rebel.
There were moments when Cody longed for Rex's friendship and their effortless companionship once again. But, then those moments were always followed by doubt and shame.
Would Rex even want anything to do with Cody anymore? Their brotherhood had been forged in the fires of war and mutual loss...but had Order 66 destroyed even that?
"Cody?" Fives called the former commander's name and Cody blinked rapidly as his brother's voice dragged him out of his reverie.
"Hm?" Cody glanced over at his companion, momentarily sheepish; Fives' dark eyes were thoughtful, as if he were silently evaluating Cody in a new light.
"It never gets easier, you know," Fives astounded Cody with genuinely benevolent encouragement; there was an awful knowing in the ARC's eyes, though, that Cody wished desperately had never found cause to be there in the first place.
"What does?" Cody asked softly; he thought he guessed the answer, but he dreaded it all the same.
"Losing a brother," Fives admitted softly; he turned his face forward and broke eye contact with Cody.
The former commander knew immediately that the ARC was merely trying to save face. He dropped his own eyes and looked down in his lap; cheering erupted all around them and he looked up just in time to see Kil look up from the board between her and Kix with a softly triumphant expression on her handsome face.
Cody didn't have any time to really process what had just happened, most particularly not what had just taken place between him and Fives. The ARC's attention had moved on pointedly toward the scene of triumph on their side of the gathering room, as Kil made her way back to her cushion with fluid grace. Cody eyed her thoughtfully as she settled down between Saa and Rowin; the former Jedi was tall and willowy. It was the first time he had really gotten a chance to see her in some state other than sheer panic and he was impressed by how the Corellian carried herself. She moved with a confident certainty that he had only ever seen in a rare kind of Jedi, or in royalty. Kil was mute, scarred deeply from her experiences and by Order 66, but the core of her spirit was as yet unbroken.
Cody had learned that much could be told about a sentient by the way he or she walked. As Kil settled down, back straight and mouth curved up gently in the first genuine smile he had ever seen on her, Cody realized that Kil had full possession of the indomitable willpower that had made her people so great.
As Kil proclaimed the winner of the game between her and Kix, Cody turned toward Fives again. The former commander didn't know what he was going to say, or even what it was that he wanted to say, but he didn't want the moment to pass without at least acknowledging what Fives had lost. Cody had long been troubled by what had happened at the Citadel, had long been bothered by the seeming indifference the loss of Echo had been to the others who had participated in the jail-break. Obi-wan and General Skywalker had taken Fives aside and expressed their sympathies to him, but there was no effort made to retrieve Echo's body, or to honor his sacrifice. In Cody's mind, the difference between Rex and Echo was a stark one and as much as he appreciated Fives' unexpected comparison of their losses, Cody didn't want the ARC to think that they were quite the same thing. If anything, Fives had suffered the greater heartache.
But, Cody never got the chance to verbalize what he felt and later, in retrospect, he would surmise that perhaps that was for the best. He was still uncertain of words and wasn't sure that he would have been able to express his thoughts without sounding patronizing. Really, at the end of the day, he would find some way to come to terms with Rex's disappearance and he would find a way not to mourn the loss of a friend. At least Rex was alive somewhere, still doing good in the galaxy, probably cavorting far and wide with Ahsoka at his side.
Echo? Echo had never had the chance.
Orar interrupted Cody's intentions of continuing the side-line conversation with Fives. The Arkanian offshoot challenged the former commander to a timed variation of dejarik. Cody had spent many boring hours on the Resolute playing dejarik and other similar strategy games against Rex and a part of his heart twinged at the seeming cruelty of Fate.
As he settled down in the center of the gathering room, the former commander reflected briefly that the night was apparently one of remembrance for him – of what he had gained and what he had lost, since Order 66. On one hand, the room full of rowdy Mandalorians, spacers, and refugees made him long for Tay and the unspoken hope of a family to call his own. On the other hand, the camaraderie and friendship that flourished between the two clans brought to mind memories of Rex – the closest thing to a true brother that Cody had ever had in a sea of men who shared his very own genetic composition.
Perhaps it was the nature of his thoughts, or the heaviness that suddenly weighed at his heart, but Cody didn't do half as well at dejarik as he had in days gone by. Or, perhaps it was the fact that he hadn't played the game in nearly three years and that he had never played the game against the clock. Or, perhaps it was simply that Orar was just that good.
The variation they played was set for thirty minutes. At first, Cody was almost positive that he could beat Orar in such a seemingly generous allotment of time. But, Orar was a crafty player and it wasn't until it was too late, that Cody realized that the Arkanian had subtly manipulated him toward complete and utter failure. While Cody had been distracted by a calculated series of advancements made by pawns and rooks, Orar had been drawing out the former commander's queen with specific intent.
It wasn't until Orar calmly moved his own queen and checkmated Cody in the center of a still half-full board, that the clone realized that he'd been had. Clan Kelborn erupted in cheers and the former commander glanced across the length of the checkered dejarik board to grin ruefully at Orar's triumphant face.
"Well played," Cody couldn't help but laugh as he glanced at the chrono someone had set on the ground next to him – if he hadn't been so cocky, he'd have had ten more minutes to pay better attention and make better moves.
"I play dejarik often," Orar was gracious, as he waved a pale hand dismissively with a smile. "It did not occur to me until now that perhaps we pitted you against a game in which I had an unfair advantage."
"We're even," Cody shook his head and offered Orar a small smile back in appreciation for his chivalry. "But, while we're both still here at Vecuyan, we should play together a few more times."
"Certainly. It would be an honor," Orar nodded; the two shook hands and then moved back to their respective places.
There was a brief lull, during which Cody mulled over the change in his mental skill set. The tragedies of Order 66 and its aftermath, coupled with his addictions, had apparently had a deeper affect on his psyche than he had first assumed. He'd been clean for well over six months now, but he still found himself forgetful, was still susceptible to intense cravings, and had to fight nearly every day against depression. Now, he discovered that skills that he had honed and incorporated into his self-image as a clone commander, had faded and dimmed.
He was no longer the man he used to be, that much was certain. For a moment, Cody considered being discouraged, but then he thought of Tay and tried to think on what she would say on the matter.
She would tell him not to give up, to play against Orar as much as he could while the Arkanian was around, and find ways to train his mind back to the sharpness it had once possessed. Strategy was something one learned – it was not an inherent gift, just randomly given out at conception. Cody had spent hours being drilled on the basics of strategy and tactics as a child, growing up in the clinical laboratories of Kamino. He had then been selected out of a narrow pool of peers to receive even further training on strategy in advanced commander training with Alpha-17.
His training and development since his earliest memories had been a carefully plotted process. And, as Tay would say, processes could be duplicated.
He had forgotten so much, it would seem. But, with time and patience, he could regain at least most of what he had lost. Of this, Cody knew both Saa and Tay would be certain. The trick was fully convincing his own self that such was so.
A/N: Well...in true Rabbit-y fashion...it's taken me months to finish this chapter. However, much love and thanks to those who reviewed and favorited this story (and others of mine) in the interim. Special thanks to Kiana Tavers-Mereel, laloga and Jade-Max for their most excellent reviews on chapter 18. Kiana and laloga especially...you two are much of the reason why I keep plugging along at this epicness. To the three of you - thank you for being friends and thank you for never giving up faith in my ability to keep picking up where I left off. One couldn't ask for better friends. *hugs to all*
Can't say I have much to say at this point... Life has sort of run me over, but things are slowly starting to turn around for the better. I (and my Muse) just have to take it one day at a time right now. Divorce is not exactly conducive to creative productivity. T_T Thanks, as always, to ALL of you who have hung with me this far and who will continue to read/review my work in the days to come. You're all an absolute inspiration.
Love it? Like it? Hate it? Lemme know...(review!)!