Far, Far Away
'Busy' would be an understatement.
But Captain Rex really couldn't think of any other word to describe the throngs of beings that swept by below the platform like a living river. A mass of nameless sentients hurrying from one place to another, each with their own apparently urgent errand to see to. Every species was aptly represented, though due to the sheer number and the rate at which they hurried it was difficult to tell anyone apart.
His eyes trailed up the gleaming towers of glass that reached skyward for thousands of meters. Weaving among the massive columns of durasteel were the forms of every aerial transport imaginable, running down invisible roadways that snaked their way from horizon to horizon. The sky was clear today - a rarity on Coruscant - and the layered network of speedways seemed to take the place of the clouds, or perhaps swarming insects, like those he had seen while trekking through the forests of Japarran.
Rex was, to be honest, a bit bored.
He had accompanied Commander Tano as she went to meet a contact in one of the underlevels. She went in alone, but he stayed nearby, in case something went wrong. Shockingly, nothing did - though admittedly the spacer's clamoring for anonymity was probably more due to his own fancying of himself as some sort of special agent, than to the sensitivity of whatever it was he was giving them.
Ahsoka's annoyed manner when she returned from the bar seemed to confirm his suspicion.
Well, at least nothing went wrong, for once. That is, nothing serious. They had reached the surface level, wandering their way to the parking platform only to find that their speeder had been siphoned of fuel. Figures; wouldn't have been a real mission if everything had gone according to plan. The Commander had headed off to a nearby shop were she apparently believed she could acquire liquid tibanna. Rex would have rather comm'd command for a pickup, but once the kid had made up her mind, it was no use trying to change it, no matter how trivial the issue.
So Captain Rex remained by the speeder, safely hidden behind his familiar duraplast armor – no pranksters would be messing with their transport now – watching the citizens of Coruscant go about their daily tasks. It was an interesting contrast; often clones regarded these people as some homogenous, soulless mass, whose only noteworthy attribute was their distinct 'non-clone-ness' - an accusation readily forgotten when it came to females of a few select species, of course. These citizens were all the same, many of his brothers would say. Overfed, greedy, ungrateful, and they would die for them.
In reality, that was mostly the image that clones who spent their time either shipboard or in and around Coruscant had developed. And to be blunt, the Coruscanti were not exactly the cream of the crop when it came to the Republic citizenry. Having seen many more worlds than most of his brothers, and interacted with many more people, Rex had noted that the fast-paced, always on, instant gratification lifestyle didn't bring out the best in a person. There were always exceptions, but in general it seemed the average middle-class Coruscanti were less appreciative of what they had. While Rex knew, from operations on Ryloth, Duros, and many other systems, that it was often those people that had little, who truly understood gratitude. He himself had been the recipient of many thanks from newly liberated families, and he knew several of his brothers had been as well.
Rex hadn't been thanked by a Coruscanti before.
At least, not one who wasn't a politician. Senator Amidala had many times personally given him what he trusted was heartfelt thanks, but still, she was a politician. Acting like something you weren't was part of the job description. Or so Commander Tano always said. General Skywalker always gets edgy when she says that, Rex thought to himself wryly.
But for all the stereotypes, Rex had to admit the Coruscanti were anything but homogenous. Human, Twi'lek, Rodian, Bothan... he could list the various peoples all day. With only a handful of exceptions; he didn't see a Hutt's skiff anywhere in the area. Or Togruta, he noted. Of course, the kid had told him before that her people tended to stick together on their home colonies – the only one he'd seen on-planet besides Commander Tano was General Ti, though she was usually stationed on Kamino.
Rex continued watching the parade of lifeforms coursing by. A Twi'lek couple approached, eyeing him warily, before moving to their own speeder. Rex watched lazily through his 360 viewing window as the pair seated themselves, starting up their vehicle and strapping in. By the looks of the lady's dress, and the nervousness of her partner, he wagered they were on a date of some sort, though it was a bit early for a dinner. Silently he wished the fellow good luck – the poor lad would have to work on his act if he intended to make a good impression. The speeder came to life with a subdued growl, before lifting off and beginning the ascent to merge with the overhead traffic.
Two people, going about their life, doing what must seem important to them, and for them.
Just like all of these people, Rex mused. They were anything but homogenous. Every single one, with things they needed to do, things they hoped to do. Every one with their own dreams and desires for something good. Every one with their own fears and nightmares of what might happen. With the war still raging across the galaxy, there was a lot more of that. It wasn't expressed outright, and politicians and the media worked in rare harmony to sweet talk the conflict into a glamorous march to certain victory, but the undercurrent of fear was very real. Commander Tano had told him she could feel their fear in the Force, that it clouded the "signatures" of these busy citizens. Rex took her word for it on that aspect, but he didn't need to be a Jedi to know that these people were worried and anxious, just like every Republic citizen. You could see it in the stiff mannerisms, the way everyone resolutely minded their own business, taking little notice of those around them. Every one of them hurried to do whatever was so important to them, because of the unspoken fear that one day, they wouldn't be able to do so.
Silently Rex hoped that day would never come.
A taxi pulled up over head, hovering for a moment before slowly descending to the parking platform. The droid driver announced their arrival, opening the speeder doors. Two humans exited, a fairly well-dressed woman, maybe 35 years Rex guessed, and a little boy he assumed would be her son. Maybe, five, six years old? I'm not so good at guessing the kids. The woman's shoulder length hair was a rich brown, matching her similarly colored eyes, which despite faint lines beneath them seemed warm and friendly enough. The fellow sported a full head of curly red hair, and a matching red sweatshirt adorned with starship stickers. Though he couldn't understand why someone would want little pictures on his shirt, Rex couldn't resist a grin under his helmet. I guess it's not much different than painting your armor, he thought, subconsciously glancing upwards within his jaig-eye striped bucket. The boy held a duraplastic watergun, empty, which he promptly stuck barrel first under the elastic waistband of his trousers. My kind of lad, Rex thought smugly for a moment, though he also felt a strange turning in his stomach at the thought. Must not have eaten in a while, I guess.
The pair made their way past him, towards a small booth on the far end of the lot. Probably waiting for someone to pick them up. Suddenly the boy turned and noticed him. His gray blue eyes seemed to bulge with awe. "Mom!" he cried excitedly. "It's a clone! A real clone!" He tugged at his mother's hand, pointing a chubby finger at Rex's relaxed figure.
A real clone, eh? Rex thought amusedly. I guess that'd be me. The boy's mother appeared horrified at her son's exclamation, and began desperately attempting to hush him, saying something about bad manners. Strange, Rex wondered. I mean, it's sort of obvious I'm a clone – I don't see any harm in that. "Ma'am," he called over her lecture. "It's quite all right, I am a 'real clone', after all."
The woman gave him a tired smile. Rex returned it, then realized she couldn't see him under his helmet. He quickly removed it, tucking it under his arm. "I'm terribly sorry for my son's impoliteness," she began. "I'm trying to teach him good manners, but he get's excited so easily."
Wow – she's either got a strange sense of respect for clones, or this boy's living in one stiff home. Despite his surprise, Rex smiled reassuringly at her. "No harm done ma'am." He gave a friendly smirk at the boy. "You want to see a real clone, eh lad?"
The boy's face was a strange mixture of eagerness and disappointment, but he nodded, and pulled his mother along to stand in front of Rex. The Captain dropped one knee to bring himself eye level with the boy. "What's your name, lad?"
The child was nearly trembling with excitement, and looked up at his mother for reassurance. She prodded him to answer, "Go on, Jasen," she slyly slipped her son's name out for Rex's benefit. "You wanted to meet him, you tell him your name."
'Jasen' looked back at Rex, then back at his mother, than Rex again, before opening his mouth shakily. "Ja... Jasss..."
Rex patted the boy on the shoulder, "Ja... sen?" he suggested, winking at the woman.
Jasen nodded excitedly. "Yeah!" He turned towards his mother again. "He knows my name, Mom!"
Rex and the mother exchanged amused glances, before the woman offered her his hand. Rex stood, taking a moment to decide exactly how to respond to the gesture, but finally cautiously clasping her hand in his own, following her lead as they shook for a couple seconds, then quickly releasing when he felt her relax the grip. They don't cover casual greeting practices in flashtraining, Rex thought to himself. He never knew if he was supposed to take the hand, shake it, kiss it, or do something else entirely. A clone wasn't meant to have this much interaction with the normal citizenry.
"My name's Karina," she said warmly. "I'm just waiting for my husband to come pick us up."
Rex nodded, remaining silent for a moment before he realized she was expecting him to tell her his own name. "Captain Rex, s- ma'am," he winced at his near slip. "I'm just awaiting my Commander's return."
Karina smiled, motioning to her son who was still nervously fidgeting, but still displaying excitement at seeing a clone trooper. Rex dropped a knee again, grinning at the boy. "So, Jasen, what do you know about clones?"
Jasen's conflicted look of excitement and disappointment returned. He forgot his shyness for a moment. "Can you put your helmet on?" he asked suddenly.
Rex's brow furrowed, a bit puzzled. Doesn't like the face, maybe? He glanced up at Karina, who was wincing in frustration. "It's the posters," she explained apologetically. "He has posters of clone troopers in his bedroom, and they always have their helmets on." She turned to her son. "Jasen! Please, don't be so rude!"
Would you believe it? Didn't know they had us on posters now. "No offense taken, ma'am" Rex interrupted, his smirk returning. "We clones sometimes feel the same way." He dramatically lifted his helmet above his head, giving a wink to Jasen it dropped over his face, giving off a slight puff of air as it sealed. He cocked his head, and gave an exaggerated faux salute. "Awaiting orders, sir!" he announced, teasingly.
Jasen looked like he was about to shriek with joy. "He's real!" he said again, clasping his hands together.
Rex held back a laugh. He'd never seen someone thrilled at seeing a clone, so casually. I really could get used to this. But again, that thought caused him to feel some strange twist in his gut, though he pushed it aside for now.
The poor boy appeared almost beside himself, and probably wouldn't have spoken for the rest of the time, so Rex took the initiative. "Would you like to try on the helmet, Jasen?" he asked, pointing at the boy's head.
Jasen's eyes widened, before he looked up at his mother. She frowned worriedly, addressing Rex. "Are you sure? I don't want him damaging something."
"Won't be a problem, ma'am." Rex said quickly, releasing the helmet. "These buckets are meant to take abuse – I don't think Jasen here can hurt it." He removed the helmet, extending his arms to hold it over Jasen's head.
Jasen flinched, gripping his mother's hand tightly, but finally nodded at Rex, who slowly lowered the helmet over the boy's head. It was far too large, so Rex kept his hands on it to prevent it from sliding and jarring Jasen's head, as well as to support its weight. It was an amusing sight – the helmet was about a fourth the size of the boy, and nearly wide enough to fit over his shoulders. Jasen tensed for a moment, then relaxed, as the familiar outside view returned through the HUD. "Can you see, Jasen?" Rex prodded.
Jasen nodded vigorously, but the action was completely lost within the oversized helmet, a slight twitching of his shoulders the only visible sign of his affirmation. He reached out his arms, as though trying to touch the various windows and indicators superimposed over the display. "No, Jasen," Rex chuckled. "Those aren't really there. They just show up inside on the screen." He thought a moment. "It's like a picture you paste over a window."
"What's it for?" Jasen asked, his voice slightly modulated through the helmet's external comm.
Rex paused thoughtfully. "It tells me what's going on around me, without making me look all around." He motioned towards the upper left corner of the visor. "See that box? It's like a mirror on a speeder, let's me see who's sneaking up behind me." Jasen giggled as Rex waved one hand behind the helmet, and reached forward to grab at his finger. "No, it won't work. I'm actually behind you." The boy clumsily extended his arm behind his back, nowhere near Rex's hand, but the Captain rewarded him anyway by bringing his gloved palm into Jasen's fumbling grasp.
"How do you shoot?" Jasen asked innocently. Rex swallowed, glancing at Karina. I guess it's natural he'd want to know that, but I'm not sure his mother would appreciate it. She had a concerned look on her face, but seemed content to let Rex answer. He'll be a man someday – I guess it wouldn't hurt to show him.
"Let's get the helmet off first, Jasen." He lifted his bucket off of the boy's head, moving to set it on the ground, then recalling Jasen's earlier request and sliding it back over his own head. It's cooler with it on anyways – it's a bit warm today. "Okay Jasen, I'm going to show you how I shoot, but you have to promise me that you'll do exactly what I say, nothing more. You do that?"
Jasen nodded nervously. Rex tilted his head in acknowledgment, before slowly and deliberately withdrawing his left-hand DC-17. The boy's eyes widened at the worn weapon, but he obediently held his hands back as Rex handled the blaster. Rex triple checked that the safety was on, then, just to be sure, removed the powerpack. Taking no chances here. He hooked the cell to his belt, gesturing towards Karina to reassure her of the weapon's emptiness, before holding out the gun towards Jasen, the barrel aimed at the pavement.
"You can touch it if you like," Rex spoke seriously, keeping his finger down on the safety. Jasen reached out carefully, laying his small hand on the weapon. He's so timid about it – nothing like the cadets at Kamino. Rex grimaced; he didn't know how old Jasen was, but he knew for sure that he had been handling live fire weapons much younger. Somehow seeing this little boy handle one made his stomach churn again.
He swallowed, pushing the feeling down for now. He wasn't going to ruin this little guy's dream. Well, up till he wants to actually shoot something with it. Jasen would have to be content with the water gun for that.
Rex reached with his right hand to guide Jasen's fingers around the handle, keeping the safety lever clamped tight – the blaster wouldn't fire anyways without a cell but Rex felt better knowing the trigger wouldn't depress at all. "This is a dangerous tool, Jasen" Rex spoke solemnly. "It's not for children, but one day when you get bigger..." Rex's words stuck in his throat. Surely a kid like this won't ever have to use a weapon of this sort... will he? He decided to change the subject. "Uh... it won't feel so heavy," he managed awkwardly, avoiding the mother's glance. I don't think this was a good idea.
Jasen was oblivious to Rex's stilted correction, still admiring the pistol. "Okay, I need to put this away now," Rex announced, the queasy feeling in his gut resisting his attempts to steady himself. Jasen nodded, his gaze never leaving the blaster as Rex slipped the cell back into its socket and holstered the weapon. No, definitely not a good idea.
"When I grow up," Jasen announced determinedly, eyes still on the blaster, "I want to be a clone."
Rex froze. Karina gasped, obviously trying to somehow take back her son's statement but at a loss for words. Rex took a deep breath. It wasn't that he was somehow offended, or put off by the boy's naivety. Rex had seen that and worse, many times. At least this fellow wasn't grilling him on whether clones could reproduce, ah, biologically.
But the little boy's absurd aspiration hit Rex on so many levels. First of which was the obvious fact that "being a clone" really wasn't a choice. You were or you weren't. It definitely wasn't on a volunteer basis. Then he was reminded of his own 'upbringing' – you couldn't call it a childhood. I was ready to be deployed when I was his age, except for the command training. Envisioning little Jasen, out on the front lines, facing a hail of blaster bolts... Ugh. Rex felt a surge of protectiveness come over him. He couldn't wish that life on this child. That 'protectiveness' seemed to awaken some other feeling within him, something he couldn't put his finger on, but it was making him feel sick to the stomach.
Rex forced himself to calm down. He couldn't think all that straight anymore, but he had to somehow respond to Jasen's little dream. He cleared his throat. "Well Jasen, you can't be a clone, and you shouldn't want to be. You're special the way you are."
Jasen frowned, hanging his head slightly. Rex gulped again. I hope I'm saying this right. "But you know Jasen, the job of a clone is to protect people. We protect our brothers, we protect our leaders, and we protect people like you, and your parents." Rex placed a hand on the boy's shoulder again. "Jasen," he spoke somberly. "Someday you will grow up, and it will be your job to protect people. You'll need to protect your mom, and your own family." He lightly clapped his hand on the boy's back. "You going to do that Jasen?" he asked encouragingly.
Jasen's eyes immediately lit up. "Yeah," he answered, brightly but seriously. He pulled his water gun from his waistband. "Nobody's gonna hurt my mommy and daddy," he said, scowling at some imaginary evil doer.
A strange combination of pride, satisfaction and... something else again, that strange feeling he didn't know how to describe yet knew he had felt before, fell over Rex. He gave Jasen another pat before rising to his feet. "You do that, Jasen. You'll be a good man."
Another speeder pulled into the pickup booth. Rex turned to glance towards Karina; she was rubbing her eyes, and Rex judged she must have been crying while he was talking with Jasen. She seemed pleased, though, to Rex's relief. I hope I didn't say too much. She looked up, smiling at the lone figure in the speeder. She turned to her son. "Daddy's here, Jasen. It's time to go." She motioned towards Rex. "Say goodbye to the Captain."
Jasen looked at his dad in the speeder, then at his mom, then back at Rex. He paused, as though considering something, before stepping closer to the Captain. "Can you take your helmet off?"
"Jasen!" Karina sounded exasperated.
Rex laughed slightly. "No problem, ma'am. It's just fine." He removed his helmet again, hooking to to his belt before offering his hand to Jasen. The little boy took it, giving it a firm, if somewhat vertically challenged shake.
"Goodbye, mister Captain Rex," he said, staring intently into Rex's eyes.
Rex suddenly wished his helmet was on. He cleared his throat again, blinking rapidly for reasons he didn't want to know. "Goodbye, Jasen," he responded. He had meant to say something more memorable, but his mind was blanking out. "Take care of your... mom. Parents, I mean," he said finally.
"Okay," Jasen replied with a dutiful nod, before turning to head for the family vehicle.
Karina lagged behind for a moment, extending her hand again to Rex. "Thank you, Captain," she said quietly, as he released her hand. "Thank you for visiting with Jasen, and for..." she paused. "Protecting us," she said finally. "You, your brothers. Thank you all, for everything you do for us." She smiled, her eyes still slightly reddened from tears.
Rex was silent for moment, trying to take in her gratitude. "Thank you, ma'am," he answered slowly. "It means a lot to hear that."
"I wish I could do more," she continued sadly, wrapping her arms around herself.
"You've done plenty, ma'am. Just knowing someone cares... well, that's all I need." Rex motioned towards the retreating form of the boy. "Take care of Jasen for me," he winked.
She didn't answer, but smiled warmly again. She turned and followed her son.
Rex stood silently, watching the small family reunite and strap themselves into their speeder.
"I have a duty, but it's to my family."
Family. They looked so right together. So happy. It reminded Rex of the time he really 'saw' a family for the first time. Over a year ago now, that fateful night on Saleucami. Only that family belonged to one of his brothers. They weren't alike at all, really. Karina was nothing like the indisputably Twi'lek Suu, nor did Jasen have much in common with Cut's adopted son Jek, other than the same boyish enthusiasm. But there was something about a family, that was the same regardless of the difference in circumstances or personalities. Something Rex didn't really understand, but he knew it was good, and he wanted to protect it.
"If we fail, then our children - and their children - could be forced to live under an evil I can't well imagine."
It was why he fought. Ever since that night, when he realized just why his duty was really important. That he was doing more than just following orders, more than just going there, shooting that, and trying to make it back. He was fighting to protect. To protect Cut. To protect Karina, and Jasen. To protect the countless other families and individuals that struggled to live in peace amidst a galaxy torn by war. To thwart whatever great evil it was that was threatening innocents from the Core to the Outer Rim. It was his drive, his purpose.
To make sure Jasen never needed to learn to use a blaster. Never needed to learn how to kill.
"Nobody's hurting my mommy and daddy." Brave lad, that Jasen. Rex hoped the boy would never be forced to stand between danger and his family, but it was good to know he would. Like his deserter brother.
"I know you think I'm a coward Rex, but believe me, I'll fight to my last breath to keep them safe."
Rex nodded absentmindedly, watching Karina strap Jasen into a child restraining seat. Cut was no coward. Neither was Jasen. It was good to know that, even if Rex couldn't stop every threat that might come their way, there were brave fathers - and sons - that would stand in the gap.
Father. Son. Rex shook his head. That same twisted feeling was welling up inside him again, but now, as he watched Karina's husband pat Jasen on the head, then turning to kiss his wife, Rex had a gnawing realization that he knew what that feeling was.
It was the same feeling he had felt on Saleucami. When for one night, he watched Cut be a father to his children. He'd never seen a brother so happy in his life. They were beautiful kids, sure. But they weren't the first good looking children Rex had seen, and they weren't even Cut's true biological offspring. But it didn't matter. They were Cut's children, to love, to care for, to play with, and to fight for. It was a foreign life to Rex, one he hadn't thought a clone was capable off. One that he would have thought a fantasy.
It all seemed so very real now. And so very far away.
"If you were to have children, of course... but that would be against the rules, wouldn't it?"
Rex sighed. It was against the rules, he knew that. There wasn't room for family in the GAR. His brothers of course, they were his family, his flesh and blood, but... It isn't the same. As fiercely as he cared for and defended his fellow clones, it wasn't the same. It was duty. It was brotherhood.
It wasn't love. It wasn't children. And it wasn't really family.
As much as he tried not to admit it, Rex wanted all of those.
They were settled in, and the man started the vehicle. It rose gently above the pad, and Karina and Jasen began to wave. Rex returned the farewell. Karina leaned to say something to her husband, and he joined in the waving, giving the speeder's traffic horn a quick honk. Rex met the stranger's eyes. A husband. A father. Take care of them, brother, Rex thought to himself. The family craft accelerated and began its upward climb. Within a moment's space, it had all but disappeared in the crowded skylanes high above him.
So real, so near. And so very far away.
"Hey Rexter! Guess you couldn't take off without me, this time."
Rex turned to acknowledge the Commander's arrival. "Got the fuel, sir?"
"You think?" she huffed, setting a rather large canister down on the pad next to the speeder. "I asked Jie'six for a smaller can, but this was all they had." She let out an exaggerated sigh. "Hopefully we can make it back by 1600 if the traffic isn't too bad. Skyguy's going to kill me if I miss practice again." She began to unwind a length of fueling hose. Rex would have offered to help, but experience had taught him that she was much better with machinery than he was, and she preferred doing it herself.
"So, what did I miss, Rex o' boy?" Ahsoka asked as she crawled under the speeder, fuel line in hand.
Rex fingered his helmet, absentmindedly. "Not too much, kid. Chatted with a little boy and his mom awhile."
"Huh, " Ahsoka responded.
Rex looked up to watch the crowds of people, now starting to thin slightly as the day grew old. "Yeah, good lad, the boy. He acted starstruck to see a 'real clone', as he put it."
Rex resisted chuckling. The Commander wasn't very talkative when she has busy with something. But he continued, more to himself then to her. "His mother actually thanked me for our service to the Republic; first Coruscanti to say that to me."
"Huh... blast! What did they do to this thing?" She began to address whatever was causing her such frustration by listing off an impressive string of obscenities.
"Something wrong, Commander?" Rex looked concernedly at the form lying under the speeder.
"Huh? I mean, no, I got it..."
Rex shrugged. "If you say so." He turned to look at the the skylane where Jasen's family had disappeared. "They were a sweet bunch, all of them. A mother, father, and their son." He let out a low sigh.
I wonder what it'd be like to have a real family.
He stood there silently for some time, that strange twisting in his stomach having turned into a sobering sense of... longing? He couldn't name it, but for once he didn't push it away. In a couple moments Ahsoka had hooked up the damaged line and refueled the speeder. As she finished she came and stood next to him, rubbing her hands on an old rag while watching the busy scenery that swept past them above and below.
"Sometimes I wonder that too," she spoke wistfully.
Rex looked at her somewhat startled. She's getting way too good at this Jedi thing. Ahsoka didn't meet his gaze at first, just stared towards the bustling crowds, but with a distant look that told him she wasn't really looking at them. Her face was far too serious; not at all that of the mischievous and, well, 'snippy' kid he knew her as. She seems... almost grown up, when she does that. The thought was unsettling, in much the same way his short visit with Jasen was.
Finally she sighed, meeting his eyes with a sidelong glance. "Well, ready to move out, Rex?"
"Yes sir," Rex answered dutifully, turning towards their vehicle. They quickly took their seats, Ahsoka behind the driver's wheel. In a moment, they were accelerating away towards the merge.
Neither of them spoke much, that day.
Disclaimer: I own nothing, except Karina and Jasen. But I don't really mind if you use those, as long as you don't copyright them and sue me.
Author's Note: Just a little idea that popped in my head one afternoon. I didn't proof it very well - it might be quite buggy for all I know.
I'm toying with the idea of this being the first of a series of one-shots involving various SW characters thinking about family. Right now I have Waxer and Cut L. in mind, and maybe even Han Solo one of these days. We'll see - it depends on my inspiration, and I'll gladly listen to suggestions.