Big, big thank you to InkStarsAndSteelSkiesfor writing the Vig that gave this bunny a chance to flourish within the boundaries of established guidelines.
I can only hope it meets the high standard that your Vig set for this relationship. It's a long Vig that covers a lot - so thanks in advance for reading.
Me? Prolific much? Nah... I just like to write and the bunnies keep eating my brain...
And imagine, I'm working on my next own original novel while doing all of this too. Yeash! I'm such a sucker for punishment!
Disclaimer:It's George's sandbox, I'm simply destroying the sandcastles
Title: Attachment's Forfeit
Characters: Ahsoka Tano, Captain Rex
Genre: Action, Angst, Romance
Era: The Clone Wars
Summary: Something goes horribly wrong and, when Ahsoka is faced with losing her precious Captain, circumstances reveal disturbing aspects about her character; more than she'd ever thought possible.
Notes: This is a companion vignette, written with permission from InkStarsAndSteelSkies to the fic "Mutual Misery". It takes place 3 weeks before the original Vignette. [You can find a link to either their profile or the story in my "Favorite Authors" and "Favorite Stories"]
Ahsoka glanced at Rex with a cocky grin. "I think Rex and I can handle it, Master." She assured Anakin as she folded her hands behind her back. "It's not like this is a complicated task."
"No, but it is a crucial one," Anakin chided her. "Rex."
"You'll need to cause enough of a distraction so my team one can infiltrate and blow the lab. Until that task is finished and the prototype destroyed, you need to keep the rest of the forces occupied."
"You can count on us, sir," Rex assured him.
"I know," Anakin's smirk was just as cocky as Ahsoka's before fading away. "If, for some reason, we're unable to gain entry, your secondary objective will be to blow the lab yourselves. Come equipped for both contingencies; your drop zone is near the front entry to the lab so I expect you'll have the heavier resistance."
"We'll be ready for it," Rex glanced at Ahsoka who grinned back. "Jesse's been dying to try out that new and improved issue droid popper."
"Then we'll give him his wish." Anakin pushed back from the tactical map. "Pick your squad carefully, Captain; we can only take two gunships, the rest of the attack force has to focus on the factory. We'll be on our own for most of this."
"Don't worry, Skyguy," Ahsoka returned cheekily. "We'll pick up the pieces when you're late to the party."
"Cute, Snips." His grin was tolerant. "We leave in thirty; be ready."
Anakin left the war room, Rex turning to Ahsoka. "Your orders, Commander?"
She stepped close, drawing him to the map and pressing a few buttons to zero in on the terrain they'd been assigned. "How many men can fit on a gunship, Rex?"
"Let me rephrase that," she slanted him a look, tongue in cheek. "How many men do we need to pull this off?"
"A dozen," he came back immediately, stepping next to her. "Unless you feel there's a need for more?"
"And second guess you on this? Not a chance," they shared a smile. "You mentioned Jesse, and I think Kix should be our medic."
"He's saved your skin more times than I can count, Rexster," she teased at his dry response. "Besides, you can't tell me you don't enjoy his company."
"He lets his role go to his head sometimes."
"As if you'd let any other medic on your personal squad?" She had him there and they both knew it. "So, besides Jesse and Kix, was there anyone else in particular we should have with us?"
"I can think of a few," he agreed. "I'll inform the men and we'll meet you on the flight deck."
"Then I'll see you on deck in twenty," she returned cheekily. "Don't keep me waiting."
"I wouldn't dream of it, Commander."
Leaving the room, Ahsoka made for her quarters, humming of soft tone to herself as she palmed open the doors and stepped within. She checked her lightsaber and shoto, confident they were in good condition and then, reaching to the side, she collected the backpack and tool belt that would accompany her on the mission and tossed it on her bunk.
Her supplies for infiltration were tossed next to it before going swiftly into the pack. Synth rope, a datapad, slicing tools for security systems – the clones would pick up explosives on the way to the hangar bay – and several miscellaneous items she'd learned had come in handy. Macrobinoculars, a grappling hook and filament, extra climbing filament, bacta patches, bandages, synthflesh and a re-breather were just a few of the items she checked.
They were packed away carefully and then, as she was lifting the sack, she grimaced, emptying it before taking stock again.
Fifteen minutes later she was still sorting through and examining the contents when Rex stopped by unexpectedly. The door opened as she was unpacking the pack yet again, the noise covering the swoosh of the portal.
"Is that the third or fourth time you've checked your gear?"
Her heart leapt as his voice, the same and yet so different to that of his brothers, filled her small cabin. She'd always know who was speaking before he identified himself and, lately, he hadn't bothered, seeming to catch the fact that she could, somehow, recognize him regardless of the identical tones. Ahsoka didn't examine the whys of it too carefully. She enjoyed his company and spent more time with the Captain than any other clone; why wouldn't she recognize him in a crowd?
She cast a look over her shoulder. "Why do you always assume I've done this more than once?"
He arched his eyebrows with a knowing look.
Catching it, she grimaced and turned back to her preparations, examining the macrobinoculars once more for damage. "It's neither," she finally admitted when he said nothing.
"Sixth," she admitted, knowing as she did she was giving away more than she should as to her state of mind. Rex, of late, had gotten surprisingly good at reading her mind. As showcased, she thought, suddenly sidetracked, by that kiss.
It had been fleeting, barely there brush of his lips over hers during a moment of high tension when they'd been pinned down alone together after she'd slapped a bacta patch on his shoulder; a thank you, he'd said.
But as unexpected as it had been, Ahsoka had realized later when she'd had a chance to reflect on it that she'd enjoyed kissing her Captain. And Rex, she knew from his own blunt admission later, had enjoyed kissing her just as much. He'd made it plain that he wanted to do it again but wouldn't push.
It left a warm feeling in her chest, a feeling she didn't fully understand but accepted, in the deepening of their friendship.
Rex was her solace; her anchor in the maelstrom of war that surrounded her and she could tell him anything. Say anything, and he accepted her. He let her be who she was and didn't expect anything more. It was showcased, more so than anything else, by the fact she spent an inordinately large amount of time in his company.
They talked, late nights and early mornings; after missions and before. This 'pre-mission' session in her quarters, with him at her door, had become almost ritual-like. It was his way of calming her nerves and hers of assuring herself she wouldn't let him down. For all her confidence, she was always that much more so when Rex was assigned to her teams – after the initial nerves.
Sometimes they didn't have to say anything and he could read her as easily as the reg manuals Echo had once poured over; she was at ease in his company and hid next to nothing. He was her salvation and promise all in one. The one person she could go to with anything, not just Jedi related things, and who would never abandon her.
Just as she would never abandon him.
The ring of his boot heels on the deck plates, closer than before, drew her from her memories and back to the present. The sound of the door closing behind him seemed to echo, as if announcing that they were well and truly alone; a rarity on a ship where a Jedi Master and a full battalion of clones lived full time.
It wouldn't last long, this solitude – it never did – and he was at her side within a few strides. He placed his helmet next to her equipment and looked at her. His hands, for once not yet encased in a battle gloves, reached for hers, flesh sliding over flesh as he stilled her twitching movements. One of his hands held both of hers and prevented her from continuing her packing compulsion.
"There is," he chided softly, his look intense, "such a thing as too much preparation."
She didn't immediately reclaim her hands, nor did she protest when he allowed one to go free, his fingers tangling with hers for a moment as he squeezed reassuringly, his thumb brushing over the back of her hand.
There was an intensity in his gaze made her breath hitch and she wondered if the 'again' had come; except Rex made no move to bend his head to hers as a part of her wished he would. The moment was then lost as he released her and reached for her scattered equipment, her pack now in his possession, packing it swiftly and efficiently. He did it without breaking their eye contact until he was done, looking away only to ensure he'd collected everything before securing the pack. Hefting it, he offered it to her.
She didn't take it right away as she watched his face.
"This is hardly your first time leading us, Ahsoka," his words were quiet, seeing to the heart of her packing regime without effort even as he acquiesced to using her name as she'd requested when they were well and truly alone, "you'll do fine; we'll be fine."
"I know, but you're usually with Anakin. Rex, I..."
"I'll watch your back if you'll watch mine," he promised.
He turned partially, his gaze flicking towards the door before his free hand came up to grasp the end of one lekku; like one might grasp the tail end of a child's braid. Only she was no child and a caress on her lekku held more meaning, not to mention more sensation, than any braid. He brushed his thumb over the end gently, once, before letting it go; a shadow of an embrace and a promise all in one.
Ahsoka didn't protest the soft touch, her eyes partially closing as he caressed the sensitive tip. Rex was not a demonstrative person and she'd come to savor the moments between the two of them. Moments of intimacy that hadn't any name she could yet identify; moments she didn't think too heavily on.
That they were close enough for this kind of trust was something of a novelty and one she enjoyed. One she was confident could be fully controlled - whatever might come of it; over confident, even blind. Unable to see beyond the situation and what she viewed it as, she was unaware of a deeper thread underneath.
They both were and, without meaning to in their innocence, had set a dangerous stage.
"I won't let anything happen to you," his words were soft, but heartfelt. "I promise."
Her lips twitched as she finally accepted the pack, her small smile one of confidence. "That, Captain," she assured him as she shouldered her bag and motioned for him to lead the way, "isn't something I'm ever worried about. Come on; I wouldn't want Anakin to beat us to the hangar bay."
Pausing only to collect his helmet, Rex fell into step with her as they exited her room. "The men are already there, Commander," he fell back into their command structure as they were once again in the public areas of the ship. "We're ready when you are."
"You mean when Anakin is." She slanted him a half smile. "You'd think after all this time, he'd learn to be on time."
"There's a fight brewing," Rex told her with an answering grin. "General Skywalker isn't one to miss it."
"You can say that again." Stepping into the lift that would take them to the hangar bay, Ahsoka's smile turned teasing as the doors closed behind them. She nodded to his helmet and the gloves she only now noticed were tucked into his belt. Their noted absence before hadn't prompted her to wonder what he'd done with them. "Did you need me to hold that while you put your gloves on?"
Rex handed her his bucket and tugged the gloves off his belt. "Thank you, sir."
She rolled her eyes at his formality, examining the helmet before teasing him. "I'd ask to try it on, but it's not really my size."
"Not without a haircut."
"Or a head transplant?"
"Never," his eyes danced even as his expression remained stoic, "hide under a bucket; you'd be doing the galaxy a disservice."
"A disservice?" Her echo was one of disbelief; Rex wasn't much for flattery but that was a little much. "Really?"
"Yes, sir," he agreed, his eyes still twinkling as he teased her. "After looking at the same face day after day, yours is a welcome change."
Shaking her head, for she sensed the compliment within the tease, she flashed him a smile. "I won't let that go too much to my ego since Master Skywalker's also seems to be and what does that say about the men, hm?"
They shared a look and a chuckle and it didn't take Rex long to slide his gloves on while they were speaking. Ahsoka was handing him back his helmet just moments before the doors opened. They stepped out into the short hallway together and made their way to the hangar deck. Once there, Ahsoka allowed Rex to take the lead, following him to one of the two ships that held a dozen troopers each.
"Commander," the medic grinned. "Rumor has it we're not joining the bulk of the attack."
"Rumor, huh?" she cast him a dry look. "You've never been one to listen to gossip."
"A reliable rumor then?"
Rolling her eyes, Ahsoka stepped into the middle of the clones, making note of the ones she knew and the ones she wasn't fully familiar with. "Jesse; Slade; Oneshot; Sinker; Boost; Slider - good to see you're with us on this one."
"Wouldn't miss it, Commander," Jesse assured her. "With the Captain going with you instead of the General, things are bound to get interesting."
"If that's another way of saying my missions go sideways," Ahsoka cracked, making the men laugh, "I'll be the first to agree with you. I'm afraid I haven't had the honor of meeting the rest of you."
"DB, Slack, Kickback and Sidewinder."
Rex pointed to each of the men she hadn't yet met and she nodded to each one, welcoming him to the team even as she noted their distinguishing marks and abilities. It was a point of pride with her that she never mixed up her troopers. Two were heavy gunners, one carried an explosives satchel and the last looked like a heavy equipment specialist; a tank killer.
"Glad to have you aboard. The mission is distraction and, if necessary, infiltration. The Captain has briefed you on our objectives," there were nods all around, "and we'll hit the ground running. The zone will likely be hot when we land and evac is not an option until the lab is blown; understood?"
There were no questions.
"Let's do this; Captain?"
"You heard the Commander," he snapped, pulling on his helmet. "Load 'em up!"
The rest of the troopers followed his lead and piled onto the gunship. Ahsoka got on last, stepping next to Rex. The jostling of the ship would knock her briefly into the clone and, if she had to bump hips and elbows with anyone, she'd rather it be Rex. He, unlike the others, at least attempted to cushion the contact.
Whirring as they kicked in, the engines raced quickly to full power and Ahsoka noted with some amusement as the gunship was lifting off the deck that her Master was only then entering the bay. She nudged Rex, drawing his attention to it, and grinned as Anakin lifted on hand in an acknowledgement of their look. She lifted hers back and gave a little wave.
They'd tease Skywalker about his tardiness later.
The doors to the gunship closed as it made for the atmospheric barrier that held space at bay. The Resolute would land when it was safe to do so, after the main attack force had eliminated the anti-aircraft emplacements. It meant the bulk of the force had to be flown in, the Skywalker and Tano special teams being no exception.
Ahsoka gripped the overhead strap, feeling Rex's hand cover hers when sudden turbulence jostled them and they entered the atmosphere. It had become another of their rituals; a touch for reassurance and support. A touch for affirmation; they were in this together and had each other's back.
Confidence blossomed into an anticipatory grin on her face, her earlier nerves about the mission dissipating. Looking at the helmeted heads around her, she could sense the clones reacting to her excitement and let out a whoop.
"Here we go!"
The clones couldn't hear her over the engines, but they seemed to get the gist of her expression as the ship powered through the upper edged of the atmosphere, jostling everyone sharply as they emerged from the turbulence. Rex's hand tightened on hers and then released when the turbulence dissipated, and he addressed the rest of the troopers, using the hand that had been on hers to identify to whom he was speaking and the formations he expected.
His voice, unlike hers, carried over the steady thrum of the repulsor engines from behind her.
"We land in two; hit the deck running and find cover. The Commander and I are out first, then the heavies, Kix; you're in the middle. Clear the LZ as quick as you can. General Skywalker will be coming in on our heels and landing on the other side of the facility; it's up to us to ensure we keep their attention on us and not the other strike team; understood?"
"Sir, yes sir!"
There was a round of acknowledgements before Rex continued, the gunship being jostled by flack as the antiaircraft emplacements began to fire.
"Kix, when we hit the ground, find a triage area and mark it; Kickback, Oneshot; you're his cover."
Rex looked to the other clones. "The terrain is an unknown factor; blind gullies and valleys that drop into box canyons. Check your gear; thirty seconds to LZ!"
The gunship rocked suddenly as it was struck, careening to the side before straightening back on course.
Ahsoka didn't need the head set in the clone's helmets to hear what came before Rex's next order.
"Brace for impact!"
The gun ship rocked again, the screaming whine of the engines as they revved up unchecked drowning out anything else that might have been said.
Ahsoka, much to the surprise of several men in the gunship, released the safety strap, stretching out her hands towards the deck. Rex's arm slid about her middle, bracing her as her eyes closed. He knew what she was doing; they'd been in too many crashes over the years and long experience had taught them to trust one another. Crashing, as it turned out, was a great way to expand and test her Force abilities.
When it worked.
Kix stepped in, bracing himself on her other side lest Rex's grip slip, but Ahsoka was only peripherally aware of any of it, the durasteal-like band of Rex's arm across her middle a comfort instead of a restraint as she reached for the Force. Stretching out with her senses, she slipped into the eddy of life, feeling the death of the pilot as the gunship was rocked by more flack, the engines suddenly cutting out even as their momentum sent them hurtling towards the ground.
Exhaling even as she mourned the pilot somewhere in the back of her mind, she focused so completely, she barely registered the rolling and pitching of the gunship; twelve other lives were depending on her. She could feel the ground fast approaching and stretched out with her hands towards the deck plates.
The gunship jerked as it was caught in the sudden backlash of the Force push, throwing the clones off their feet as they clung to the straps tightly. One snapped, Kickback careening into Onshot and then wall as the other trooper lost his grip.
Ahsoka had no time for them, her whole focus on the ground that was still rushing towards them at an alarming rate. She pushed again and then again, the gunship bleeding off speed as it jostled and bounced in midair, finally plowing into the ground, one last push from Ahsoka mitigating enough force to land them hard but without the force to kill.
Thrown around like rag doll, the clones held on grimly as they were tossed haphazardly around the interior, careening into one another as the ship hit the ground. Rex curled upon impact, his body absorbing both the impact of the crash and Ahsoka's as she was thrown roughly back in his grip and he lost his hold on the safety strap. They landed hard against the opposite wall, his armor taking the brunt of the impact.
Kix crouched next to them when the gunship finally settled, having managed to maintain his grip and his feet. Not everyone was so lucky and the clones were slowly righting themselves and collecting their gear.
"Fine, Kix," Ahsoka assured him with a cough and a groan, accepting the hand that lifted her free from Rex. Their limbs were tangled together and she had a cut along one arm where his armor had dug in when she'd been thrown against him, but was otherwise unhurt. She gained her feet and glanced back, offering him her hand the way Kix had offered his. "Rex?"
Pushing away from the metal wall at his back, Rex grasped her hand and she pulled him to his feet. He did a visual and mental inspection before offering her a tight nod and easy assurance. "Good to go, sir."
"Good; anyone injured?" Surprisingly, there were almost no injuries; DB had dislocated his shoulder, something Kix put to rights immediately, and Slider had a broken wrist which was promptly bandaged. The medic even had Rex slap a line of synth-flesh over her scratch - to avoid infection, he claimed. Rex had taken more care than was probably necessary and the scratch was well and truly covered.
Outside, beyond the enclosed walls of the downed gunship, all was quiet.
"Good job, Commander."
Ahsoka glanced back at Rex and grinned as she dipped to collect her pack from the wreckage at the back. "You too; thanks, Rex."
He nodded once, sharply; he understood she wasn't just thanking him for the compliment. "Everyone on your feet," he snapped the order. "Jesse, Boost; get the door."
The clones immediately set to do his bidding, putting their shoulders against the jammed door. Sinker and Slade joined them after a couple of moments without being asked, the metal groaning under their combined effort but not shifting completely. It was slow going as the clones sought to free themselves from the tomb the gunship had the potential to be.
"Save your strength, sir" Rex cut her off without looking her way, though Ahsoka felt his gaze through the mirrored visor even though she couldn't see it. "You got us down safely; we'll handle this one."
It wasn't the first time he'd shown an understanding of the toll heavy Force use had on the wielder and, while knowing she could speed things up, Ahsoka was grateful for the reprieve. It gave her a chance to regroup and think. "Any word on Master Skywalker?"
Rex shook his head. "Last I heard they were inbound but not where they landed. There's a lot of interference."
"Master, can you hear me?" Ahsoka tried her comlink and got static. She grimaced. "We must have crashed in the canyon that was beyond the landing zone. They'll have tracked our descent but there are few large points for extraction down here."
"Then we'll have to climb our way out," Rex's confidence made her smile. "The window for that diversion is rapidly closing, sir, we should get sta-"
There was a sudden shrieking sound as the door suddenly popped free and out, letting in dust and light as the clones all but threw it away with a grunt and cry of success.
Ahsoka, shoto suddenly in hand, grinned at Rex. "Then what are we waiting for?"
First out, Rex close on her heels, Ahsoka held only the shorter of her two blades to start. She felt no hostility from beyond the downed craft which wouldn't, she knew, last long. Already she could feel the net closing in; their crash landing hadn't gone unnoticed.
"All right," she turned to glance back over her shoulder with an irrepressible grin, "if I read my terrain map correctly, we're about a kilometer or so past where we should be on the first terrace of a blind canyon, that way. Follow me."
They double timed it away from the wreck site, Ahsoka leading the men as she darted forward and around, keeping careful watch and sending Slider and DB to scout further on before going back to join Rex and Kix. Her weapons were in hand but un-ignited.
"-ver without casualties," Kix was saying as she fell into step. "That has to be some kind of record."
Rex nodded to Ahsoka as she joined them. "The Commander's been perfecting the technique," he told the medic with a wry note in his voice. "We have a tendency to get shot down."
"A good trick, sir," Kix told her, his voice full of approval. "I prefer triage to stretchers and body bags any day."
"Me too," she agreed. "Captain, a word?"
Kix, knowing he wasn't needed, slowed his pace to give the Captain and Commander from privacy.
"We need to talk about scaling the cliffs," she told him, her voice pitched so not to carry even as her eyes darted ahead of them. "It's not going to be easy."
"We're not trained for 'easy'," Rex reminded her, his grin in his voice. "Just tell us when and where; we'll get the job done."
"I know you will, Rex, but," shaking her head in frustration, she turned her gaze his way, "the top of the ridge above the installation is heavily fortified. The reason we chose our LZ was because it was under the guns. Coming up that cliff we're going to be exposed - badly. We got everyone planet side without casualties," she stole the term from Kix, "I'd like to keep it that way as long as possible."
"We all would," he assured her, "but if the only way to the original LZ is up those cliffs, then we go up the cliffs. We'll deal with the resistance when it happens."
She made a face. "I wish we had the rest of Torrent backing us up," she referenced Rex's primary command which would be participating in the main assault without them. "I'd feel better knowing there were more of us."
"Don't worry, Commander, we'll do our part and finish the mission."
Reassured by his confidence, which was the whole reason she'd wanted to speak with him, she darted ahead again. Their trek to the main ridge was uneventful, despite her senses screaming at her that they were being watched. Upon reaching the cliff below their original landing zone, Ahsoka called everyone together as she was pulling her grappling hook from her belt and unfolding it.
"All right boys, this is it. At the top of this cliff is our original landing zone. We're going to be coming up under heavy fire so watch yourselves; if you take a direct hit from one of the big guns, there will be little Kix can do to save you." She looked from one to the other. "If our intel is any good, there will be a series of lower rock shelves we can use to get close but be advised that this is also a part of the canyon we're currently in. The ground, stable as it looks, might give way at the edges if you're not careful."
There was no sound, but Ahsoka could sense their unease with that fact. It was tough enough to be fighting an enemy you could see without worrying if your footing would be compromised at any second.
Pulling up a holo map, she outlined the base terrain other than the rock outcroppings before ending her briefing. "Lastly, there's what looks like a defensive position here," she pointed to the southernmost part of the installation's ridge. "If we can get there and hole up, Master Skywalker should rendezvous with us when his mission is successful."
"Are we to take out the guns, Commander?"
"Why; are you feeling especially adventurous today, Jesse?"
"Just want to try these new and improved droid poppers, sir. See if they're everything we've heard about them."
"You'll get your chance; intel suggests there's at least a company inside the base, possibly two, of droids and who knows what else. Various pirates are also known to work in the facility; if you can, focus on the droids."
"Unless they start shooting at us."
"Right," she grinned as they laughed, glad they were in good spirits. "The extraction point is where we are now; except up there," she pointed upwards, indicating it would be a jump to gunships. "Once Master Skywalker joins us, we'll pull out and blow the place from space. Any questions?"
Again, there weren't any and Ahsoka tucked the holo device back into her belt before attaching the filament for the climb to her grappling hook. "Captain, I know you're big on leading the charge," she slanted a look at Rex, making the others chuckle at her dry observation, "if you'll join me?"
He did so, their grappling hooks sailing high over the cliff face beyond before finding purchase. Together, Ahsoka and Rex scaled the cliff, Ahsoka glancing down and making a motion to Jesse, Rex's second, to start bringing the others up. She resumed her climb, side by side with Rex as they made for the top. It took several minutes before they reached the edge.
Pausing at the lip before tilting her head sideways, Ahsoka took a long look - and frowned.
The area looked deserted save for a single sentry. Sliding back to where Rex had stayed just out of view, she shook her head. "This is too easy; too quiet." He didn't say anything, but she knew he agreed with her. "I've got a bad feeling about this, Rex."
"You sound like General Kenobi."
She smiled at the faint tease. "Well, he's never wrong is he?"
"Not usually," he agreed and Ahsoka wished she could see his face, "but bad feeling or not, we've got a job to do."
"Don't we always?" Exhaling she glanced back up and pulled her shoto from her belt once more. "We go over together?"
"You go first," he offered, "you're going to use those Jedi powers of yours anyway."
"I could give you a boost."
"If there's something waiting for us up there, it wouldn't do for our best defense to be distracted. Go; I'll be right behind you."
She flashed him a smile, and glanced down. Waiting for several long seconds as the rest of her men got closer, she finally looked to Rex, nodded, called on the Force and leapt.
Coming up over the lip of the canyon, Ahsoka landed with her blades in hand but un-ignited. Stretching out, she caught the single visible droid in a Force grip and pulled, sending him flying above her and over the lip of the cliff. The muffled sound of blaster fire below made her grin.
Her men understood her; she'd recognize the sound of Rex's DL-17s anywhere.
Standing where she was, ready to defend her men, she was tense even when Rex joined her a half minute later. The sound of the others climbing over the cliff and gaining ground without being shot at made her tense further, her fingers digging into the handles of her blades.
Rex directed the men, pushing them swiftly forward, from cover to cover as he led the way towards the shelter Ahsoka had designated on the holo map. Darting forward to join him, she paused at the last of the rocky outcroppings before what would have been their LZ. All was still quiet and, by now, the sentry should have been missed. Not to mention they should have been under fire from the half dozen heavy gun emplacements above the lab – and weren't.
"Have DB and Sinker join us," she told Rex softly.
Nodding, she didn't take her gaze off the area before her and reached for the macrobinoculars in her belt. Scanning the area, she zeroed in on the main doors. "Anakin's somewhere inside already and we're behind schedule. We need to draw attention to ourselves - and keep it."
"Here?" He looked about dubiously. "There's not much cover; we won't last long."
"There are three hundred yards between us and those doors, Rex." She shot him an impish smile. "I can draw them in, but I'd rather make an entrance if we can. It's a surefire way of making sure they can't ignore us."
"And the cannons?"
"One thing at a time, Captain," she assured him. "If we're lucky, they'll remain as silent as they've been thus far."
"And if we're not?"
Something in his voice alerted her to the fact he was laughing at her and she pinned him with an arch look. "Did I say something funny?"
"I have it on good authority that Jedi don't believe in luck."
So that was it.
"Jedi may not, but the men do." She gave a shrug, accepting it. "Keep your head down and whatever you do, don't get hit head on by one of those cannons if they start to fire."
"We'll do our best, sir," he assured her, the grin still in his voice. He was silent for a moment, looking back over their team, and then DB and Sinker joined them.
"You called, Cap?"
Ahsoka blinked at Sinker's informal address but Rex ignored it and got right down to business. "Commander?"
Using her finger, Ahsoka drew a rough map in the dust. "We've three hundred yards, give or take, between us and the door. I need an explosive trap set here, here and here along with a line of detcord around the door; can you do it?"
The two troopers looked at each other and nodded. "Sir yes, sir."
"DB, how's the shoulder?"
"Almost good as new, Commander," he assured her. "Don't worry; we'll get the job done."
"When you're finished rigging the explosives, meet us over there," she pointed across to the gap to the sheltered area they'd use for cover as they waited for Anakin.
Acknowledging her orders, DB and Sinker slunk away, darting from cover and into a nearby shadow. The rest of the team gathered around and Rex gave them direction.
Breaking from cover at the same time DB and Sinker arrowed into the first point where Ahsoka had indicated, the rest of the team went in waves. Three and four at a time, Kix joining Rex and Ahsoka as they broke for the nearest shadows, working to get under the cannon emplacements.
DB and Sinker made good time, laying the first two charges as Ahsoka motioned for the last of the group to move. They were just passing into the shortest range of the guns when Rex paused, his hands at his hips, blasters sliding into his hands, his whole posture poised for action.
A rumble beneath them was echoed in blaster fire as Rex shot a bolt shot off to her left and Ahsoka whirled, her lightsabers igniting as Rex's blasters repeated the attack.
"Ambush!" Her voice rang out across the field as she dove in to take the first of the droids that popped out of the ground and turn it to slag. "It's an ambush!"
Blaster fire quickly littered the area as droid after droid burst through the ground to be cut down. DB and Sinker were just reaching the doors when they opened, catching the two clones in close quarters with the company of battle droids and super battle droids.
Charges were activated and tossed, explosions rocking the lines of droids, but blaster fire cut the two down within the opening salvo. Ahsoka, caught in the act of deflecting blaster fire from two angles, had not time to worry about them; they were out in the open, exposed, and outnumbered.
"Rex; get them to cover!"
"You heard the Commander," he snapped to the clones as she twirled and spun, deflecting blaster bolts back along their original courses. "Move it!"
"You too, Captain," she ducked, coming up swinging as one of the droids who'd been in the field drew near, her blade cleaving it neatly in half.
Rex hesitated for half a second before doing as she bid and following the men who were in the middle of a running fire fight. Backing away from the droids, Ahsoka took off after Rex with Force enhanced speed, sprinting her way through a line that threatened to cut her off from them.
Slade went down, shot in the head in the first frantic meters. Kickback and Slack took multiple shots to the chest, dropping as Ahsoka whirled about the ground like a neon dervish. They had no time to check the clones as they carried on forward, but Ahsoka could feel they were dead. They no longer echoed in the Force.
A physical blow from the side knocked her sideways, rolling with it, as a small droid walker unburied itself from the ground directly in her path. She sliced downwards, jumping to the head, and killed it before it could take a shot with its heavier blaster.
Sidewinder and Jesse were each hit bare meters from cover and Ahsoka paused long enough to create a shield of whirling blades for Kix and Boost to pull them to their feet and back into cover. Rex remained at her side, picking off the droids who attempted to go around her and laying down cover fire.
"Rex, call Master Skywalker and let him know we're here. I'll hold them!"
Blaster fire erupted from behind them as the clones, now under cover, picked their targets. The heavy blasters of Sidewinder and Oneshot resounded with repeated and prolonged fire, droid after droid falling to their fire, droid walkers exploding to devastating effect within their ranks.
Reassurance for Ahsoka that Sidewinder hadn't been too badly hurt.
Rex disappeared behind cover to make his call, and Ahsoka jumped forward. With all of the clones under cover, she took a chance and went down in the middle of a series of super battle droids, blades a whirling pattern of destruction.
She didn't have time to be relieved that he'd answered her. "If you want to try those new droid poppers," she lunged in to block a low bolt that would have entered their cover. "Now's the time!"
The response was enthusiastic and, within moments, twin detonators came sailing over her head. Striking quickly to end a super droid, Ahsoka back flipped out of the way as they went off, giving her a momentary reprieve. It lasted long enough for her to inhale before she was stepping forward to block more blaster fire from the droids who'd been outside the radius.
Wave after wave of droids advanced; far more than intel had stated were in the area.
"The General's met heavier resistance than expected, sir," Rex informed her as he rejoined the fight a few moments later. His blasters rang out as they fired left and right, picking off the inactive droids and those that were coming in from further away. Off to the side, he provided flanking for her defense as he filled her in. "Says they can finish the mission but it will take longer."
"Great," she blocked another shot. "We're already half shy and..." a familiar and unwanted noise brought her up short. "Death balls! Fall back!"
Droidekas deployed, the rolling droids coming in from the sides. "Oneshot!"
Before the first of the droidekas was able to unroll, it was struck by a heavy blaster bolt and then another, destroying it. The heavy blaster sounded again and again in quick succession, Oneshot showing he wore his name well. The clones were able to take down two more before the first was up and running, Ahsoka back tracking and parrying the dual bolts for all she was worth.
Behind her, Rex focused on the other droids, shot after shot eliminating those who would come close.
And then the unthinkable happened.
Ahsoka turned, her eyes widened with horror as a scene from her darkest nightmares unfolded before her.
As Rex was turning to fire, a dual shot to the chest and body slammed into him from two sides, the force of the blaster shots knocking him up and back. Time seemed to slow to a crawl as his body jerked with the impact, his feet lifting off the ground as he was tossed like a child's broken play toy into the air. His blasters left his hands, flung wide as his hands slackened, releasing his grip.
"Rex!" She took two steps towards him, steps that each felt like she was crawling through sugar syrup, but couldn't reach him. "Rex!"
He hit the ground, hard, and lay limp as time resumed its normal speed. He didn't move; didn't so much as twitch or groan. Parrying another shot, Ahsoka's frantic call went unanswered.
"Rex!" Ahsoka cried again, whirling into a dance of death, concentrating on eliminating the most immediate threats as she leapt in to shield Rex's fallen form. Her blades ducked and weaved as she called out desperately behind her. "Kix!Rex is hit!"
There were a few moments more that felt like an eternity before Kix's reassuring voice reached her, telling her what she wanted to hear.
"I've got him, Commander."
She'd never been more relieved in her life to hear the other clone. Continuing to parry and deflect, Ahsoka concentrated on what needed to be done, giving Kix the time to pull Rex's disturbingly lifeless form from the field.
I won't think it, she told herself firmly. Rex would be okay; he'd taken worse hits and come back fighting. She'd seen the evidence even if he'd never taken serious damage around her before. Kix has him, she told herself firmly, trying to stem the fear that was eating away at her resolve, his lifeless image strong behind her eyes, the sight of him being struck by bolts replaying over and over as if on repeat. He'll be fixed up in no time, watching my back.
Around her the droids were closing and, effective as her small band was, Ahsoka could see they needed help to get out of this mess. Rushing forward, she dodged the prolific blaster bolts and slid in, down and under one of the droidekas; a move she'd seen her Master use. Within the shield, she lunged upwards, destroying it, before rolling and flipping back to a defensive position, ready to do it again as she parried another volley.
Jesse's voice stopped her.
"Commander!" his call rang out. "You'd best get back here, sir!"
Something in his voice send a shiver down her spine, a cold feeling settling in the pit of her stomach. Doing her best to ignore it, she twirled and blocked, keeping the droids from the make-shift bunker. "I'm a little busy, Jesse!"
"Kix's orders, sir; it's about the Captain."
She needed no more prompting. Reaching to the Force, she called it to her grasp and, in a split second, sent a wave of Force energy out across the field. Droids went flying as she whirled, darting back to the shelter they'd taken. While she'd been out in the field, the clones had swiftly fortified it, creating a defensible and relatively safe place to take cover.
Sidewinder and Oneshot filled in the gap she left, Jesse tossing the occasional droid popper between firing his blaster; injured but not yet out of the fight. Next to him, Slider and Boost had arranged themselves to fill in the remaining gaps. Diving through the only entrance she could see, Ahsoka rolled to her feet and searched the area, spying Kix working over Rex with a grim expression.
"How is he, Kix?" He looked up and Ahsoka's heart jumped into her chest at the expression on his face. "He's going to be all right, right?"
"I've patched him up for visible injuries, Commander," he returned bluntly, his expression and tone disheartened. "But he's bleeding internally; there's nothing more I can do."
"Nothing..." Something within her tightened, twisting, pulling into an unbearable strain and came out in a plea filled order. "We'll call for evac, get him back to the ship."
"It won't be enough, sir."
"It has to be," she stressed, her voice rising in pitch as the forbidding look on his face triggered an unexpected alarm, in the back of her mind. It couldn't be as serious as he said; could it? She didn't wait for Kix's response. "Jesse!"
She didn't turn as she kept her gaze on Kix's. "Call for emergency evac and reinforcements; we're going to need their help getting out of here!" There was a pause, only the sound of the blaster battle waging behind her penetrating the look she shared with the medic. "Are you sure there's nothing more you can do? You're a medic!"
He let out a breath and shook his head, sorrow in his every move. "I'm sorry, sir," when he spoke, it was colored with regret, "it won't be enough. By the time they arrive to evac us, it will probably be too late."
"Too late." Ahsoka echoed the words, staring at Kix without really comprehending. Her mind refused to accept his implication; that Rex was dying. Rex couldn't die. He was Rex; indomitable, indestructible, Rex. Pain surged through her with the thought, alarm on its heels and she fought it, struggling with the surge of emotion that came from within her. It was strong, stronger than anything she'd felt before, threatening to cripple her if she let it, the words were like a vibro knife to the gut.
Kix didn't sugar coat Rex's fate for all he obviously regretted it. "He'll be dead by the time they get to us, Commander."
"Then do something, Kix," she snapped, looking to Rex's prone form, her voice holding a note she couldn't identify. Kix had taken Rex's chest armor off and she stepped towards him, falling to her knees beside the prone soldier. His lips were flecked with pink, his chest rising and falling slowly and shallowly. She reached for him, wanting to hold him, but didn't touch. "Stabilize him; do what you need to give him the time he needs." Her plea was heartfelt and almost shrill, spoken without thinking about the words. "Help him; I can't lose him!"
"All I can do is make him comfortable, Commander; I've done all I can. I'm sorry."
The words held the weight of a sudden impact with the ground, resounding through her being and forcing the thread of control that had slowly been shredded with each passing moment, with each denial of Rex's survival, to its breaking point.
Anguish struck her first, nearly bending her in two from the agony he thought of losing Rex ripped through her, the strength of it almost sending her to her knees. The void that opened up within her with the knowledge was terrifying; it threatened to swallow her if she let it - threatened to drown her in her own terror. On the heels of that pain and fear was rage; all emotions she'd been warned against but was helpless to control.
Buffeting her from all sides, the emotional maelstrom threatened to tear her asunder with the certainty that Kix couldn't hide in his eyes. Rex was beyond help and the medic knew it; couldn't hide it – didn't try to. With that knowledge came disbelief and denial, both shattered by the reality of the Captain's prone form before her.
Rex was slipping away from her, every breath drawing him closer and closer to that final one. Rex was dying.
"No," the word slipped through clenched teeth as she stared at Rex, tears streaking unchecked and unnoticed down her cheeks.
She wasn't going to let Rex die; she wasn't going to sit here and watch as he breathed his last. Couldn't. She couldn't lose him when she needed him so much! "You can't die, Rex," she told him, choked, floundering in her emotional coil. "You can't..."
"Commander, there's nothing I can-"
The word echoed around in Ahsoka's head like a death knell; Rex's death knell. If Kix did nothing, which was all he could do, Rex would die. If she did nothing...
Without consciously being aware of it, Ahsoka stretched to the Force, the terror lending her strength, the agony lending her focus as she unwittingly immersed herself within the fear. That fear blossomed into terror as the reality of the situation sank in. Something shattered, breaking, within her. As if her heart had taken a direct hit and been crushed with the thought of losing the one person who meant more to her than anyone else.
Images flashed before her eyes as to the repercussions if she did nothing, the numbness spreading through her as the fear and panic set in. A part of her died as it crossed her mind, as she considered a future without Rex. She envisioned entering combat without him at her side, without him watching her back and the cold feeling that engulfed her was all consuming, numbing; killing.
A future without Rex, a future without-
"No!" she pushed to her feet, the word stronger than before as the fear fed her determination, the terror filling her with power.
She could feel him slipping away as his body shut down; his life force ebbing, the eddy of it breaking and wavering as he grew weaker by the moment. It surged, briefly, but waned further than before. He fought valiantly, but he was losing.
Feeling his faltering strength as if it were an echo of her heartbeat, as a thread within her own soul, she knew what she had to do. Her instincts guided her, pushed her, demanding she act; demanding she do anything, to go any lengths to save him.
And she would.
She wouldn't let Rex die; couldn't.
Rounding on Kix, her eyes flashed and he took a step back, startled by her grim expression. "You can't," she told him in a dark, agonized voice he'd never heard before, her eyes flashing green-blue, almost yellow. Her determination as her fears refused to be contained and, as a result, denied, were plain in her features. "But I can."
Taking several steps, she leapt clear of the makeshift bunker, her hands outstretched, she grasped the droids in the surrounding area, her only thought to clear a path to the evacuation zone. In the back of her mind, she was conscious of Rex's heartbeat with every inhalation and exhalation she took, feeling it as if it were within her own chest. A faltering clock that ticked away precious seconds as she surged forward on the field.
There was a shrieking, screaming sound as metal folded in on themselves when Ahsoka closed her hands. Lifting the droids into the air, she flung the metallic balls towards their fellows, slamming the metallic soldiers together and causing furrows in the ground.
A scream echoed across the field, a sound that came from her own throat but went unrecognized, the unearthly and agonized wail as Ahsoka felt Rex slipping further from her with each passing second holding a force all its own. This was taking too long, taking…
Wind whipped about her as she advanced, the sonic wave of her scream slamming into the droids with the force of a duracrete wall. Sparks flew as the droids succumbed to the almost physical nature of the assault. Pirates and droids alike fell before her, the wet, squishing sound of flesh being pulverized with no more than the strength of her thoughts as they were crushed within it not registering beyond the fact that time was running out.
The screams of the pirates caught in her surge of death echoed the shrieks of the twisting metal of destroyed droids; within the hurricane of death, the heavy cannons above the installation shattered, exploding outwards. Surging forward, Ahsoka was barely conscious of the men behind her, rushing to follow in her footsteps, Rex in their grasp.
Rex, whose heartbeat was faltering; Rex who was slipping away
Grabbing the droids as they surged into the middle of the open area that would have been their LZ, she crushed them with barely a thought, sending them careening away even as the sound of an inbound gunship reached her ears.
Lightsabers flashed with no recollection of her drawing them as Ahsoka bolted forward in front of the clones, a whirlwind of death as she cleaved into the ranks. The agonized sound of twisted metal echoed across the battlefield, Ahsoka taking a blaster hit in one arm but not noticing.
The Force within her, fueled by the terror that Rex would die before she got him the help he needed, accepted the hit and turned it back on its line of fire. Without seeing whom she was attacking, she reached, delving deep within her untouched potential, and expanded in a wave of pure, unmitigated terror filled rage.
It blasted outwards from her, slamming into the ranks that cut them off from the evacuation zone, and slammed every obstacle between them and the gunship that was angling in to pick them up, to the ground. Red smears where living being had once been and sparking parts were all that were left of the opposition.
"Move it!" The words were torn from her throat in a voice she didn't recognize as her own, turning to drive the clones forward.
The remaining men under her command did as she ordered, their weapons holstered, sprinting behind the dervish she'd become to catch up but she'd raced too far ahead and, to her eyes, they moved too slow. Lifting the clones with the Force when they didn't move faster , she sent them swiftly towards the gunship, slowing their speed at the last second.
Kix and Boost, holding the unconscious Rex, landed first, the others close behind before Ahsoka called once more on the Force, practically teleporting to Rex's side, landing and taking a knee.
"Back to the Resolute," she snapped at no one in particular, the order cracking within the confines of the gunship like the retort of a heavy cannon. It brokered no argument. "Now!"
The gunship angled swiftly into the skies, Ahsoka bracing herself against Rex, Kix nearby but giving her room as she touched him for the first time since his injury. Don't die on me, Rexster, she begged silently, holding him tightly, as if to keep death at bay by her very presence, I need you!
The turbulence through the atmosphere was violent as the gunship didn't brake as it normally would have, Ahsoka feeling Rex rally for a moment as the ship hit space and then, just when her hope surged as they were within help's reach, she felt him go slack.
"Rex?" Shaking him, intense panic struck her, manifesting in her voice as she tried to call him back. "Rex! No, no, Rex, don't do this, hang on!"
Ahsoka was unceremoniously pushed out of the way as Kix set to work on his Captain, the gunship pulling up to dock in the main hangar. There was a flurry of activity as the ship landed and Kix began ordering clones about like a General. Within moments, the skids having barely touched the deck, Rex was hauled off the grunship deck and away from her.
Terrified he wouldn't make it without her, Ahsoka stumbled from the ship as they were placing him on a gurney. "No!"
Kix spared her no time, the gurney that was carrying Rex already in motion, an oxygen mask over Rex's face. Without giving it conscious thought, Ahsoka followed them, needing to see, to watch, petrified that if she let him out of her sight, she'd never see him alive again.
It was that thought alone that drove her to follow; to threaten the medical personnel when they'd deemed him an 'unsalvageable'; to order that he be put into bacta following a lengthy surgery. It was that thought that drove her to stay in the medical ward, one hand pressed against the glass of the bacta tank, her eyes never leaving the still form within. It was the driving force behind a bedside vigil that lasted for days.
It was the driving force that would eventually, after everything she'd done to save him, tear them apart and change their relationship forever.