Hey guys. Been bouncing around a plot idea in my head after re-reading the part at the end of Republic Commando: Order 66 between Scorch and Boss. Then I figured that Boss was probably feeling a whole lot of guilt, as team leader, and then I read a Boss/Niner fanfic online, and, well…it spiralled out of control. :P

Just to clarify, I don't really class this as romance. The hints of Boss/Niner are only there if you squint really, really hard…but still it's pretty easy to just pretend it's not, if you're not into that.

So, without further ado…

'"Did you get a chance to ask Dar why he's still here?"

Boss paused. "Yeah."

"And?" Scorch expected news of Etain. His stomach clenched. "What, then?"

Boss swallowed. Scorch heard it. "All he said," Boss whispered "was that he couldn't leave Niner behind."

Scorch knew Boss well enough not to ask him how that made him feel.

He felt the same way.'

- Republic Commando: Order 66, by Karen Traviss

Survivor's Guilt

Staring at the Delta-lead's armoured back, ramrod straight as he stood to attention along with all the other commandos in the briefing room, was not, Niner decided, the best way to get his attention.

Why Niner wanted to get Boss's attention, he didn't quite know.

The truth was that although he and the Delta lead had completely different approaches to being squad leader, and had clashed countless times over their conflicting opinions, Niner felt that the two of them were not quite as different as they both thought. Both were carrying around the burden of being the reason their brothers were here, split from the other. Niner still felt responsible for what remained of his squad. If he hadn't fallen at Shinarcan, Darman wouldn't have stayed to be with him, and would at least be with his son, if he couldn't be with his wife.

And Boss was the reason Delta hadn't gone after Sev.

Niner tried to imagine what it would be like if he had ordered Corr and Atin to bang out and leave Darman stranded. It hurt.

In all fairness, he reminded himself, Boss had only been doing as he was ordered. If he hadn't, and they had retrieved Sev, they would have been in serious trouble for violating command. It hadn't been his fault, entirely. Her had been looking out for the majority.

The perfect soldier that was bred into them would never have allowed anything else.

Niner knew he wasn't really to blame for what had happened to himself and Darman. He was just compensating for the lack of a physical entity to blame it all on. It had been nobody's fault; just an occurrence of badly timed accidents people often referred to as 'fate'. Boss couldn't do that. He would always be part of the reason Sev wasn't there with his vode. He would be reminded of that fact every day, every time he turned around to check his squad, every time he rolled over in his bunk and found a stranger sleeping opposite him. Every time Sev should have been there, and wasn't.

Which was why Niner felt inclined to ask him how he was holding up.

How exactly Boss would react to this was another matter entirely. The last time Niner had been on an op with the Delta lead, he had spent the entire time in a huff about having his power taken away from him, and had growled at Niner in monosyllabic tones throughout. It had all boiled over once, at a meeting, where he had lashed out harshly at the Omega lead. Niner had snapped, pinning Boss against the wall and had been ready to drive his fist into his face, as sheer rage overcame his usual composure. The memories of his old squad had been too much. Skirata had forced them to shake hands, a truce. That had lasted as far as now.

Niner had reprimanded himself for losing his temper so easily. He had not been the solid, cool-headed leader his squad always saw him as. But something – no, everything – about the Delta lead enflamed him. Every move of his muscled frame, every syllable from his accented tongue, every glance of his trained eyes, seemed to be placed just so that it would catch Niner's attention and drive him mad. Like he was purposefully showing Niner who was the better. Challenging him to do something about it. Because he knew Niner couldn't, without losing his composure. That would make him even madder.

So something about the way Boss's back was directly facing him, his posture set and straight, bugged Niner. To an outsider, Boss would look just like any other clone standing in line with him. To a clone, and one who knew the other well enough, there was something off about it. Niner couldn't know what exactly, but he had guesses.

No, he corrected himself, calculated judgements. Not guesses.

If Boss feeling the way Niner thought he was feeling, he may feel more comfortable talking about it with someone who hadn't been there, and so couldn't pass judgement. It had been weighing on Boss recently, he could tell – the Delta lead was quiet, more so than he had been before, not engaging in the light conversations his squad mates tried to entertain. His concentration was off; talking to him seemed to snap him out of some trance; and Niner could tell simply by looking at the way he stood that the weight he bore was heavy on his shoulders.

The group of commandos dispersed, the meeting over.

So he hadn't really been listening to a thing Holy Roly – Melusar - had been saying. Dar could tell him later.

He noted Scorch and Fixer wander off in the direction of the mess hall, Boss a little way behind them. Darman nudged Niner with his elbow.

"You coming, ner vod?"

Niner paused, torn. Shab. Don't do this to me now, you chakaar. He looked over to see Boss disappearing through the doors, and made his decision fast.

"I'll catch up with you in a bit, Dar."

Before his brother could ask him where he was off to, Niner strode purposefully after the Delta lead.

What he was going to do when he caught up with him, he still hadn't figured out.

Boss hadn't, as Niner had thought he would, followed his vode to the mess hall. Instead, he took a path Niner hadn't been down before. The longer he walked, the less people he passed by, until it was only the odd service droid that met him coming in the opposite direction. Boss seemed completely sure of the way, suggesting to Niner that perhaps Boss walked this route quote often, which meant he was maybe further gone than Niner thought. That concerned him. He didn't worry about keeping especially quiet, as Boss seemed so preoccupied with his own thoughts that he probably wouldn't have noticed if Niner had stood in front of him. Eventually Boss stopped at a door, and Niner watched from around the corner as he went inside and shut the door quietly behind him.

Niner considered the options. Having never really explored the service and maintenance part of the barracks, he had no idea what lay behind the door. For all he knew, Boss could be doing all sorts of things in there he didn't want to know about. Not to mention that explaining why he was there would be close to impossible with Boss's damn superior smirk studying him curiously. Once he was in, there would be no easy way out.

But something about the way Boss had been recently, and his strange behaviour, and, admittedly, lack of damn superior grin, affected him on a deeper level than he was ready to acknowledge. Even if the two of them didn't have the friendliest of histories, they were, in some sense of the word, brothers. Vode an. In these changing times, you had to hold on to whatever remained of your family and heritage and your life before it all. Boss was part of his life before, no matter how small a part he had played.

He took a deep breath, walked up to the door and pressed the command to open it.

The room was dark. And somewhat loud.

The only light came from an overhead shaft, and as the suns were setting it was a faint, soft light that cast eerie shadows over the moving rotor blades and pistons that gave the room its mechanical noises. Steam was filtered out of the room by vents, though the room was a couple of degrees warmer than it had been in the corridor. Niner assumed it was some sort of boiler or ventilation room.

It took a while for Niner to see Boss. The new uniform black armour they had been issued meant he blended into the shadows of the room, his distinctive orange streaks gone.

It seemed the war had stripped everything from Boss.

He didn't know what he expected to see, but what he did see was a shock, even to him. Boss was seated on a low box, hunched over, his head in his hands, completely oblivious to the fact that Niner was standing less than two metres away from him. His hands were clawing at his hair in anger and frustration, his hunched frame shook with silent – sobs? Niner couldn't be sure. It was so unlike Boss to cry, to break down like this, that Niner had to do a triple take. Either way, the whole situation was frankly awkward. He couldn't just stand there forever, and plus he was obviously interrupting something private - the fact that Boss carried it out in a ventilation room by himself at odd hours of the night meant he probably didn't want anyone to know. He was just considering turning around and leaving, when Boss's shaking form froze and he lifted his head to look right at Niner.

His eyes were red-rimmed and wet, though no tears escaped their rims. They were also very, very angry.

Niner watched in some sheer form of panic, a distant part of him peculiarly fascinated by the transformation taking place, as Boss straightened up, his eyes hardened and his hands balled into fists at his sides. He shot up from the box at an alarming speed and Niner suppressed the urge to make a terrified sprint out of the door. But part of him knew that Boss needed help. And if he couldn't offer it, who would?

He opened his mouth to explain, but he never got the chance. Boss's fist connected with his jaw in a sharp right hook, and Niner fell to the ground with the loud clanging of armour against the grates on the floor, a trickle of blood wetting his chest plate. Before he could even wipe it free, Boss was on him again, his gauntlet colliding with Niner's nose. He heard the crunch of bone, and felt the splash of more blood that ran into his mouth, tasting of copper. Now he was mad. Hadn't he come here to help Boss? Hadn't he decided to do the other clone a good turn? And what did he do? This.

Composure. That was another thing they both had in common. Whenever a mission went awry, whenever a brother made a mistake, whenever plans were turned inside out, as squad leaders, they kept their composure. They stayed calm, unemotional and patient. Composed. There was nothing composed about them now, rolling on the floor, scrapping at each other, knowing nothing but the feel of their fists colliding with noses, jaws, the contact of their bone-cracking lashes. Some disconnected part of Niner, the part of him that always gave him a hard time for losing it, was aware that what remained of Niner's composure was in shreds, his careful control lost. But the rest of Niner didn't care. He was humiliated, incensed, irate. And he really wished Boss would stop hitting him.

All he could see was red, red blood on Boss's face, his own in his eyes, the red tint of rage. Niner managed to force Boss off him with his remaining strength, spitting blood. Boss stumbled, and Niner took the opening and kicked him hard in the midriff. Boss tumbled, hitting his head hard against a pipe as he fell, and half-sat, half-leaned, dazed, against the pipe.

For a while all Niner could hear was the frantic beating of his heart, the blood pounding in his ears, his breathing fast and laboured. Once the adrenaline ebbed, he could bare to sit up. He watched cautiously as Boss blinked and tried to haul himself upwards, grunting and sniffing through what was likely a broken nose. As far as he could tell, there was no lasting damage, as both had aimed sorely for their faces, as the armour didn't allow for much else. Niner was worried that Boss could have a concussion, though, from hitting his head. Niner got to his feet and went to help Boss up, but Boss hit his helping hand away. Niner sighed.

For a moment they both stood looking at each other. Boss was obviously waiting for an explanation, though after how he'd treated Niner, he was inclined to simply walk out on him.

Don't be so stupid. No matter how much of a di'kut he is, he's your brother. You can't just walk out on him. Not when he needs you.

So Niner didn't walk out. He looked Boss right in the eye.

"You okay, ner vod?"

Boss spat eloquently and turned away with a scowl.

"Don't call me that. I'm not your brother."

Niner tried not to lose his patience. He shrugged, watching Boss closely. He chose his words carefully, speaking slowly. "Brother or not, it's been pretty obvious that there's something wrong with you these days."

"I'm fine," Was the short reply.

Spending you nights alone in a ventilation room, distancing yourself from your brothers, lashing out at people who try to help you…Oh yeah. You're 'fine' all right.

"Don't." It wasn't begging. It was closer to a command.

"Don't what?" Boss turned around again, his eyes flashing dangerously.

"Don't try to treat me like I'm stupid."

Boss looked as though he had a cutting retort on the tip of his tongue. Niner saw his lips form in a ghost of his usual smirk, his tongue form the start of a word behind his teeth. But instead, he froze, searching Niner's face for a fraction of a second, before his face crumpled and his hands came up to burrow in his hair again.

Alarmed, Niner went to comfort the Delta lead somehow, but Boss turned away from him and rubbed his eyes, sniffing.

It was barely a whisper, but Niner caught every word.

"Sev used to talk like that."

A shudder went up Niner's spine. He hadn't thought the loss of Sev had been weighing on Boss as heavily as it obviously was. The crying, the anger, the distance…had it all been because of Sev?

Now Boss had let it out, his words tumbled over one another in a torrent of emotions, "He always used to look at me like that, tell me to stop treating him like an idiot when I tried to keep things from him. Eventually I learned that it was useless, that he'd find out anyway," His voice was gravelly and low and thick, as though he were holding back tears, "Even though I used to treat him like he would never know better than I did, he was my brother. Is. Is my brother. Oh, by the-"

Boss broke of and hunched over, dry sobs racking his body. Niner felt helpless, like he always did when people he knew and cared about were upset. He had no idea what to do or say to make Boss feel better about what he'd done.

Gently, he reached out and clasped Boss's shaking shoulder. For the first time that evening, Boss didn't try to brush him away.

"It wasn't your fault." It was all he could manage.

Slowly, Boss stopped shaking and straightened up. "As squad leader, it was my decision that holds responsibility for what happened that day. If I had listened to Scorch, if I had ordered the squad to go after him-"

"You'd all four of you be dead for insubordination. You were just following orders, making sure you all made it out-"

"But we didn't, did we?" Boss snapped. Niner was silent. Deep down, he knew what Boss would say next, his voice a hoarse whisper.

"Somehow being dead with him sounds better than living without him."

There was nothing Niner could say to that. It was exactly the same way he had felt when he had thought Fi would never come back. Orders were orders, but sometimes they hurt. Especially when they made you choose between loyalty to your brothers and loyalty to your cause.

Not that the Republic was all that great of a cause any more.

It never had been.

You couldn't call it survivor's guilt if you weren't surviving.

Not that Sev was dead. He wasn't, he was Sev. He could survive anything. They all told themselves that. They knew Vau made trips to Kashyyyk, though what he had found no one knew. All they did know was that Sev wasn't here. And that he should be.

Outsiders could blame whomever they wanted, but it wouldn't bring him back.

"They'll find him. And until they do, you can't keep holding yourself responsible for things out of your control," Niner swallowed. "You're not the only one who feels guilty for leaving him."

He thought back over the recent weeks in the new Imperial Army. To a degree, Boss hadn't been the only one with survivor's guilt. Scorch and Fixer shared meaningful looks whenever Sev was mentioned. And Darman…that was a whole other story. Because now Darman was lost to his guilt. Darman was his Sev. And that meant Niner had survivor's guilt too.

Boss turned and looked at him. "I know."

It was then that Niner noticed where they were standing. A loud whirring started up in the room. The grate they stood over began to vibrate slightly, and then all of a sudden a large gust of warm air blew out of the vent, as though they were standing underneath a giant fan. They both looked down in surprise, then looked at each other. Boss's hair was blowing upwards with the force of the air, his eyes were full of startled surprise. Niner supposed he looked quite the same. He blushed, embarrassed to be caught looking so flustered.

Then there, in that tiny boiler room, in the army barracks, on a planet where no one knew what they did for them, in a galaxy that would never know, the weight of guilt was lifted.

Niner watched as Boss tilted his head back and closed his eyes, letting the air lift his arms slightly and rush through his hair. Then, to Niner's stupefaction, through the bloodied face, matted hair and tear stains, a smile appeared on Boss's face.

And for once since the reformation, Niner felt safe enough to smile back, letting the gust of air lift his arms and his spirits, his heart fluttering in his chest.

Boss looked at him and said something, but the rush of air in his ears meant Niner could only see his lips moving. But it was enough.

"Vor entye, ner vod."

Thank you, my brother.


Hey! So, let me know what you thought. It was funny, while typing it I kept making typos that ironically turned it romantic, so I had to keep going back to correct it…I think the first part is probably the most 'romantic' it gets, and from then on you can kind of ignore it. Also, it kind of felt like the end was really rushed when I was doing it…like it doesn't fit in? Do you think so? Anyway, thanks for reading and please, please let me know what you thought. :) Also, the bit with the fan/vent is copied from Grey's Anatomy…without the kissing, ha ha. Anybody getting it?

Thanks again,