So... Rex decided that it wasn't fair Ahsoka got to tell her side of things and he wanted to tell his. This next Vig, also long, holds most of the same dialogue, but various different sequences from the previous fic. He's harder to write than Ahsoka, though - maybe 'cause I'm female? *shrug*
Let the games begin!
Once again a big, big thank you to InkStarsAndSteelSkiesfor writing the Vig that gave this bunny a chance to flourish within the boundaries of established guidelines.
The previous Vignette was from Ahsoka's narrow focused view; with permission - because the bunny nabbed my brain - I've now written the same story from Rex's narrow focused view. Enjoy.
Disclaimer:It's George's sandbox, I'm simply destroying the sandcastles
Title: Soldier's Sacrifice
Characters: Captain Rex, Ahsoka Tano
Genre: Action, Angst, Romance
Era: The Clone Wars [AU]
Summary: Rex always expected to die on the battlefield; he just never expected her to have to watch.
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.
"Get your gear, Kix; briefing in five, room two."
"Commander Tano has requested you join us for this mission," Rex told the medic succinctly as he paused by his bunk. His lips kicked into a half smile as the lower ranked brother snapped to attention belatedly, coming to his feet. "Says you can keep me in line."
"Only if you're injured, sir."
"Let's try to avoid that," he volleyed back dryly, not wishing to repeat the last time Kix had needed to work on him as he considered the team he was putting together. A dozen men to create and hold a distraction to allow General Skywalker to blow a factory that currently housed, and was in the process of developing, a potentially lethal new droid prototype. If the Separatists could get it into production. "I don't see Jesse and Boost."
"Last I heard they were in the mess hall, sir. Getting a bite before we drop."
"Good." He flicked on his comlink. "Jesse."
"Meeting room two in five; bring Boost."
"Yes, sir; we'll be there."
If there was reluctance in the other man's tone, Rex figured it was because he wouldn't get the chance to eat whatever tasty morsel he'd found to snack on pre-landing. Glancing around he found another pair of the brothers he was looking for nearby and raised his voice, cutting Sinker off. "Sinker; DB."
"-so I twisted the - er... Cap?"
"Join us," Rex ordered, shifting his gaze to scan the bunks, some full, some not; all of the men preparing for the upcoming battle in their own way.
He nodded to Kix and then proceeded to walk through the Torrent Company barracks naming those who would be on the team; brothers who lept immediately to their feet and began to gear up. He was careful in his selection, going for a balanced team, but also going for the best defensive formation should something, Force forbid, happen to Ahsoka.
"Slack; Oneshot; Slider." Another round of inquiries as the trio gave him their immediate attention. There were no questions as to the selection of his team, already having through it through while she and the General had been hashing out strategy. "Five minutes; room two."
A chorus of affirmatives followed him even as his thoughts continued to churn.
An injury to Ahsoka was unthinkable, the kind of errant scenario he'd had to force himself to squelch of late instead of consider; it was counterproductive and made him... angry? No, that wasn't the right word. The idea of her falling in combat wasn't the same as losing one of his brothers. The thought made his heart race - and not in a good way. The very idea of her going down under Separatist fire was abhorrent .
And not just because she was a Jedi.
Rex knew very well that Jedi were not infallible, but he'd seen few who were as good defensively, or offensively, with their blades as she. Since she'd taken to wielding two, he'd never seen a shot penetrate her defenses.
Defenses she'd put to use defending him on more than one occasion with great risk to herself; the last of which had produced an unknown and unquantified shift in their relationship. A shift neither of them had anticipated; a swing that had taken them further into uncharted waters they were in no rush to name as anything other than close friendship.
Just thinking about her, about the kiss she'd allowed, and later professed wanting to explore further, was enough to get him hot under the collar.
A part of him was eager to repeat the experience but he was wary of too much of a change between them. Right now they were comfortable and their interactions both logical and easy; this, whatever this was between them, was evolving naturally. He had no wish to alter that.
Jedi weren't supposed to fraternize; not that he saw it as such, per say.
She was his closest friend; more than that, true; unlike any friend he'd ever had. Unlike anything or anyone in his limited experience, never having been exposed to anyone like her before.
Ahsoka encouraged him to be more than just a rank or a number - much like her Master, General Skywalker – but more so.
A General who had been a Commander himself at the time, but upon discovering the clones privately called him 'Rex' - before names had become widely accepted - had insisted on calling him Rex from that day forward instead of his number. It had been an acceptance Rex had never anticipated or expected and, for that alone, he'd have followed Skywalker to the bowels of the nine Corellian hells.
Ahsoka took that acceptance above and beyond her Master's boundaries and for that alone he'd have followed her anywhere without hesitation.
"Slade, Kickback and Sidewinder; you're with me. Room two in five."
Another chorus of affirmatives and one 'gotcha' accompanied the sound of rummaging as he headed for the small room at the back were left in his wake. He didn't hear them as he entered, setting his helmet down and calling up the mission parameters that the men would need before insertion, studying the map without really seeing it.
It was a task he'd done by rote so many times, his mind wandered - as it had begun to do more and more - back to his Commander and the subtle shifts their relationship had been taking of late.
She'd come to know him, taking the time to talk to him and not simply because she'd been foisted off by her Master initially. Even after the General had come to accept that she was now his permanent shadow, she'd made time for him. Not only made it, but insisted upon it, sometimes forgoing sleep simply to speak with him or join him for a late night of silent, comfortable company. She teased him, something no one else dared to do, making it her mission to get him to laugh. She actively encouraged him to relax and, on rare occasions, relaxed with him.
Too lost in thought, Rex frowned, not hearing the question, his thoughts continuing along the path they'd chosen.
Somewhere along the line he'd stopped viewing Ahsoka as the company's little sister like his brothers and seen her as more. More than a Jedi; more than the 'kid' he'd once named her to be. He'd begun to see her as a woman; a woman he wanted to be closer to.
He didn't know when it had happened, simply that it had and he'd begun to analyze her far more than he should.
She was ferocious and passionately driven but at the same time compassionate. Open and honest and, with him, completely herself; just the way she should be. She'd grown into herself and pushed him to grow with her; to explore who he wanted to be, not just who he already was.
He privately thought her to be the most breathtaking woman - and not just because of her looks - he'd ever met, bar none.
"Captain Rex, sir?"
Drawn from his thoughts, Rex realized he was leaning against the holo display with both hands, staring at it blankly; if anyone had asked him what he was looking at, he wouldn't have been able to say and he mentally shook himself.
He knew better than to let this, whatever it was, distract him.
Looking about the room, he found everyone assembled and focused instead on the briefing. He ignored the look Kix sent him as he gave them a rundown of the mission.
The gathered troopers exchanged glances when he mentioned that Ahsoka - Commander Tano - would be leading them and not the General, Kix's confusion suddenly seeming to disappear. Focused on the mission and its hazards, Rex barely noticed.
"Commander Tano, sir?" Oneshot's grin expanded. "It's sure to be a party."
It was a polite way of saying that things tended to be more interesting under the Commander than the General. Rex frowned, straightening, and pinned Oneshot with a hard look. "Are you disparaging the Commander, trooper?"
"No, sir," Oneshot snapped immediately to attention at his tone. "I wouldn't dream of it, sir."
Considering the trooper for a moment, Rex let the matter go; Oneshot had worked with Ahsoka before and, like him, would have taken a blaster bolt in a heartbeat for her. "Glad to hear it; at ease. Any other questions?"
There weren't any.
"We've seven minutes until drop; I'll see you on deck at gunship seven seven alpha."
Thus dismissed, the troopers collected their gear and departed.
"A mission with the Commander?" Sinker's comment drifted to Rex as his brothers exited the room. "Who's ready for a little fun, boys?"
"The Commander and fun?"
Rex believed the speaker to be Sidewinder just by the perplexed tone and Slider chimed in immediately. "You're in for a treat, brothers; being assigned to the General is one thing. Being assigned to the Commander is a whole other level of clanker demo!"
They were in good spirits, anxious to get started; it was a good sign.
Rex paused onto to collect his helmet before following, detouring towards the crew quarters as the others headed for the deck. He stopped to wash his hands, a private pre-battle ritual, and tucked his gloves into his belt before exiting the barracks.
A spring entered his step, anticipation spurring him forward at a slightly faster clip as he approached the room where Ahsoka would be making her preparations.
It didn't take longer than a couple of minutes before he was outside her door, palming the controls without knocking. The door slid open to reveal her standing before her bunk with her back to him, the supplies she thought she'd need for the mission spread out across the bed.
He took a moment to admire her unobserved from the doorway, his gaze traveling from the top of her montrals, down over the matching chevrons of the single lekku that lay along her spine and beyond. The indent of her waist; the flare of her hips; the long, graceful lines of her legs – he swallowed hard, dragging his gaze back upwards and firmly brought his thoughts back to the present; now was not the time.
Another, shorter and more clinical look revealed what he'd expected to find before his mind had wandered. From the way her shoulders were held, he knew this wasn't the first time she'd examined her kit.
It never was.
"Is that the third or fourth time you've checked your gear?"
She didn't so much as jump though he suspected he'd caught her unawares by the way her hands twitched. Looking back at him over one shoulder, her tone was amused. "Why do you always assume I've done this more than once?"
He arched his eyebrows, looking at her pointedly as of to ask, 'Why else?'
She caught his meaning and grimaced before turning back to her task, scooping her macrobinoculars into one hand. He watched as her supple, calloused fingers traced over the lines of the casing, searching for damage, able to see her actions as she held them up to the light, her sack dangling clearly forgotten in one hand.
He said nothing, knowing she was nervous, as she always was, before leading men into combat. Once on the field her nerves would settle but, for now, she was at her compulsive best. It amused him, on some level, to see her so out of sorts; she was only this way with him.
"It's neither," she finally admitted.
Straightening, he regarded her carefully. Six times? That was unusual. Normally he caught her at four and, by then, she was already sorting her way through the pre-battle jitters. He knew she was uneasy when he was assigned to her missions, she'd admitted as much along with the fact she had no wish to disappoint him. It was one of the reasons he'd begun dropping by the see her privately before. She needed the reassurance and he was glad to give it; no one, not even her Master, was able to boost her confidence her like he could.
But six times was a little much.
Entering her quarters, though he hadn't been invited, he let the door close behind him as he strode to her side. Placing his helmet on her bunk next to her equipment, he reached for her hands, grasping them in his own. Flesh slid over flesh, her fingers cool under his own heated ones, as his gaze locked with hers and he folded her hands between his. She didn't seem to notice as one extracted her pack from her fingers, the other keeping her hands together without any force; she could have broken the hold if she'd wanted.
She stilled as he took her hands, unexpected prey to his predator, and he shook his head once. "There is," he chided softly, "such a thing as too much preparation."
Ahsoka said nothing but she didn't have to; he could see he'd made his point and released her hands. One slid free and he caught the other, tangling their fingers together for a moment as he brushed his thumb over the back of hers. Her skin was soft, supple, and – if he wasn't careful – a distraction he couldn't afford. Yet he did it anyway because he knew she'd take heart from the touch, squeezing her fingers as he looked down into her eyes.
She was close, closer than she'd been since their last mission together, bare inches separating them and he had the urge to bend his head to hers, one he swiftly stifled. The mission ahead would be tricky enough without the added diversion of that particular memory; it was something to anticipate for their triumphant return and he tucked the memory and intention away for later.
Later when he didn't have to focus on mission objectives and getting them all back in one piece.
Deliberately shifting his focus, he released her hand and, using his peripheral vision, collected her equipment. Synth rope went into the pack first followed by a pair of goggles he doubted she'd need, a couple other miscellaneous items following it along with a cloak and spare gloves, slicing tools for security systems and, finally her datapad on top for easy reach.
The macrobinoculars he tucked into their designated pouch on her waist, an action he wasn't sure if she even noticed before he broke eye contact and swept the bed with a keen eye. Seeing he hadn't missed anything, he closed her pack and offered it to her.
She didn't accept it, not seeming to notice that he was finished, for her gaze hadn't let his face. Within the oceanic depths of her eyes, he could see her trepidation for the mission ahead and wanted nothing more than to soothe her.
"This is hardly your first time leading us, Ahsoka," his words were quiet, using her name to drive home his point. It wasn't often he got to use it and it tripped off his tongue like a caress; he couldn't help it, "you'll do fine; we'll be fine."
"I know, but you're usually with Anakin. Rex, I..."
Despite his assurance, her words were full of trepidation. Hating to see her doubt her abilities for all she'd be confident later, he shifted a fraction closer, letting her see the promise in his eyes. "I'll watch your back if you'll watch mine."
She still didn't look completely satisfied and his gaze broke from hers, flicking to the still closed door.
They hadn't much time if they wanted to make their ride planet side, but there was, he decided, time for this.
Lifting one hand, he gently took the tail end of her right lekku between his thumb and fingers, giving it a gentle tug. It was warm in his hand, firm and supple - much like the rest of her - the subtle pulsing in the flesh an echo of her stuttering heartbeat. Her eyes drifted shut and she swayed towards him and, before he could break his prior vow to himself, he made her aware of it with his hand.
His thumb deliberately caressed the tip, once; a shadow of an embrace and a promise of intent all in one before he reluctantly let his hand drop, the lekku sliding from his fingers in a caress all its own. Her eyelids fluttered and she opened her eyes to meet his gaze fully once more.
"I won't let anything happen to you," his words were soft, heartfelt and held a vow that he held close in his heart. He'd take a blaster bolt before he saw her fall. His smile was as soft as his words. "I promise."
There was a moment between them as he let his vow sink in before he took a step back and offered her the pack once more; in indication that their time was up. It was also a reminder that this, whatever this was between them, had a time and a place and it wasn't right before a mission.
This time she took it, her lips twitching, and the moment was lost to memory.
"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. It was as necessary as breathing. While their friendship wasn't exactly a secret, he doubted the General would approve of his less than friendly, steadily growing focus on the young woman. "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 as he stopped outside the lift that would take them down to the hangar deck and hit the call button. "General Skywalker isn't one to miss it."
"You can say that again."
The doors opened and they stepped inside, Ahsoka half facing him, her smile turning teasing as she nodded towards him. "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 as he slid his fingers into the confine of his left gauntlet. Her tease caught him by surprise for all he was quick with a comeback.
"I'd ask to try it on, but it's not really my size."
"Not without a haircut."
"Or a head transplant?"
"Never," his expression remained deliberately stoic even as his words were only marginally teasing. He meant them but didn't want her to think he did, "hide under a bucket; you'd be doing the galaxy a disservice."
"A disservice?" Her echo was one of disbelief. "Really?"
"Yes, sir," he agreed and his tone turned blatantly teasing as he adjusted the fasteners to the one glove. "After looking at the same face day after day, yours is a welcome change."
She flashed him a smile even as she shook her head, bemused. "I won't let that go too much to my ego since Master Skywalker's face also seems to be - and what does that say about the men, hmm?"
Her look clashed with his and Rex chuckled with her; what indeed! He pulled on his right gauntlet and snapped the fasteners closed with practiced movements. He held out his hand for his helmet, which she promptly returned, as the lift came to a halt.
It was a sign that their teasing was at an end; outside those doors was duty and purpose. Outside those doors they were Captain and Commander and they had a job to do.
The doors opened as he tucked his helmet comfortably under his arm and stepped out together, Ahsoka falling back as they made the hangar deck, following him towards the two ships that held a dozen troopers each. Her pleasure was obvious as she greeted the first of his brothers.
"Commander," the medic grinned. "Rumor has it we're not joining the bulk of the attack."
"Rumor, huh?" she cast him a dry look that made Rex want to smile. "You've never been one to listen to gossip."
"A reliable rumor then?"
Rolling her eyes, Ahsoka stepped into the middle of the clones and Rex lost sight of her face. He didn't however, miss the way her head turned as she looked at the troopers for barely a fraction of a second each and then greeted them by name. He was always proudest of her in these moments; she treated the men as individuals and inspired a kind of almost fanatical zeal in those she led because of it.
He was no exception.
"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. Rex settled for a smile; it was her way of putting everyone at ease despite her own doubts, "I'll be the first to agree with you. I'm afraid I haven't had the honor of meeting the rest of you."
Her words made the four men who'd never worked with her before exchange glances. No Jedi, Rex knew, would have called making their acquaintance an 'honor' before now. They'd heard about her from others in the Company and now were about to get some hands on experience.
Stepping to stand beside her, he pointed to each of the men in turn; they were relatively new to Torrent Company but came with excellent recommendations and he was confident they were right for this task. "DB, Slack, Kickback and Sidewinder."
She nodded to each one, welcoming him to the team and Rex watched her assimilate their differences in her short examinations. She wouldn't, he knew mix them up like some other Jedi; she never did.
"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 as she flashed them an anticipatory smile, "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?"
That was his cue.
Nodding to her once, he pulled on his helmet. "You heard the Commander; load 'em up!"
The rest of the troopers followed his lead and pulled on their helmets as they piled onto the gunship, Rex the last of the twelve to board, grasping the straps before turning towards the entrance, deliberately leaving space for her next to him. Ahsoka climbed in last, sliding into that open spot instead of further down by Kickback and Oneshot and he smirked behind the cover of his helmet.
When given the choice, she always stood next to him, mission or not.
Whirring as they kicked in, the engines raced quickly to full power, lifting off the deck. An elbow to his gut drew his attention back to her and Ahsoka pointed towards the deck where the General was just now entering and speaking with his troopers. As Rex watched, Ahsoka lifted her hand in response to her Master's acknowledgement of being seen; her wave was impish and impudent.
Just like their relationship.
"Hold on to your sun bonnets boys!" the pilot's voice crackled clearly over the speakers in Rex's helmet. "It's going to be one hell of a ride!"
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.
The gunship jerked when sudden turbulence jostled them and they entered the atmosphere, passing through the barrier towards the planet and Rex shifted his grip, covering her hand with his and squeezed. She didn't look at him, but didn't have to. Her fingers twitched, tightening under his, accepting the miniscule embrace and, he knew, drawing strength from it.
It was his way of affirming his earlier vow; he would not let anything happen to her.
As always, once they got underway, her nerves seemed to disappear and she grinned at him, looking about the interior of the gunship with eyes that sparkled in anticipation. She let out a whoop that carried over the sound of the engines and Rex could see the men shift restlessly as they reacted to her excitement even as her words were lost in the whine of the engines.
The ship powered through the upper edged of the atmosphere, bumping everyone sharply as they emerged from the turbulence. He tightened his grip on hers, as much to keep her from falling or being shaken free of the strap as to affirm that this was real. Below them battle waited with all its dangers and pitfalls.
The other gunship carrying Skywalker and his team checked in, reporting two and a half minutes out from their LZ and Rex acknowledged it on the internal channel. Once they landed, he'd check in again.
"Two minutes out, Captain,"the pilot informed him a moment later and thus started the countdown.
Releasing his grip on her hand as the turbulence dissipated, and he addressed the rest of the troopers, pointing to the men he addressed with the hand that had been on hers. His voice, unlike hers, carried over the steady thrum of the repulsor engines and he used the external speakers for her sake rather than the internal comm. channel.
"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 he 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, knowing they knew as much as he did but needing to reiterate it anyway even as the thirty second call came through his speakers. "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.
The call came through clearly over his helmet comlink even as the ship yawed to the side. Rex's hand convulsed on the strap automatically, the snapped order as automatic as it was sharp. "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. Even as it pitched, Rex was reaching for Ahsoka, his arm slipping about her waist and drawing her back against him as she released her safety strap. He tightened his grip, both on her and the strap as she seemed to go limp, falling into the Force as he'd seen her do so many times before.
He knew what she was doing; they'd been in too many crashes together over the years and long experience had taught them to trust one another. It had also taught him that she would always put the safety of the men over her own - which was why he'd taken to bracing her with his body.
Over his headset he heard a series of crackled and the odd word, barely making out that Skywalker's team was making for their LZ and a minute out. The transmission cut off and static filled his ears before going dead. He smiled grimly, tightening his grip on the small Togruta, knowing their lives counted on her now; they'd been too far up when hit to have much chance of surviving the crash.
Kix stepped in, bracing himself on Ahsoka's other side lest Rex's grip slip, and Rex shared a brief, tight nod with the medic. They knew what was coming and weren't disappointed. Ahsoka stretched her hands towards the deck plates as the gunship was rocked by more flack, the engines suddenly cutting out even as their momentum sent them hurtling towards the ground.
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 the wall as the other trooper lost his grip.
"Safeties on!" Rex snapped the order as a blaster shot went off harmlessly to the side to bury itself in the interior of the hull behind him, bracing his feet on the deck to hold Ahsoka steady.
The gunship lurched and then lurched again, 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. Cries crossed the internal comm. channel, curses suddenly cut off as bodies slammed into one another.
The impact was enough to break Rex's grip and take him off his feet. Still clutching Ahsoka tightly, he curled his body about hers absorbing both the impact of the crash and Ahsoka's form as she was thrown roughly back in his arms. They landed hard against the opposite wall, his armor taking the brunt of the impact. His head was thrown back as hers connected with the underside of his helmet, knocking it into the hull.
A few moments of silence were broken by a groan and then a curse, but the familiar sight of twisted metal didn't greet his gaze as Rex blinked and shook his head to clear it. Ahsoka lay against him, her legs and arms twisted with his, but appeared to be, thankfully, unharmed.
Kix appeared in his line of sight and crouched next to them bare moments after the gunship finally settled looking no worse for wear. "Captain? Commander?"
"Fine, Kix," Ahsoka's voice was raw as she coughed and groaned, her hands pushing against Rex's chest plate and he noted the rueful smile she shot his way before she accepted the hand of the medic. Using it for balance, she untangled herself from his limbs as she gained her feet. She nodded to Kix and then turned, offering Rex her hand the way the medic had offered his. "Rex?"
He took a moment to take her in, noting a cut along one arm where his armor had likely dug in when she'd been thrown against him, but otherwise she appeared unhurt. Satisfied, he pushed away from the wall, taking her hand in his, clasping his fingers tightly around her forearm as she grasped his, and let her pull him to his feet.
A quick visual inspection showed he was unharmed as well, his head throbbed a little but his helmet had taken the brunt of the impact. A mental check revealed further aches but nothing serious enough to take him out of the mission. Nothing, he knew, was serious enough to take him out of a mission while she forged ahead; he'd be dead before he abandoned her.
Smiling under his helmet he offered her a tight nod. "Good to go, sir."
"Good; anyone injured?"
Surprisingly, there were almost no injuries; DB had dislocated his shoulder, something Kix put to rights immediately while his brother cursed and swore at him, and Slider had a broken wrist.
Ahsoka obviously hadn't intended to call attention to her scratch, but Rex did and he was promptly put to work by the medic to slap a line of synth-flesh over it - to avoid infection, Kix said. The excuse to touch her with an audience, despite the knowing look in Kix's eyes while he was setting Slider's wrist and splinting it, for such an official reason was too good to pass up.
Urging her to sit, he removed his gloves and pulled the field kit from his belt.
"It's just a scratch, Rexster," she objected, but did as she was told. "Better than the break I had on my first attempt."
"If I'd known then what you were going to do," he chided, "I would have been better prepared to catch you."
"If you'd known," she shot back knowingly, "you'd have tried to stop me."
True enough; he let it go. "Hold still."
She'd been fidgeting but stilled as he took her arm in his hands and cleaned it with an antiseptic. With more care than even Kix would have taken, Rex wiped away the bubbles, disinfected it a second time, pleased when it didn't foam as much and then a third. The fourth swipe had her laughing softly when it didn't so much as fizz.
"I'm not going to lose my arm to a scratch."
"It's been known to happen," he countered, baiting her. "Then how would you perform your Force tricks to keep us safe?"
"I'd think of something." She grinned but remained still through his ministrations. "Master Skywalker makes it work after all."
"There is such a thing," he admonished, drying the cut, "as being too much like the General."
It made her laugh as he applied the synth-flesh, using the brush within the bottle to paint it carefully on her skin rather than apply it to a bandage and slap it on as most clones did. The wound disappeared, well and truly covered and sealed against infection, Rex generously and painstakingly covering an area that was larger than necessary.
It took him almost as long to doctor her small scratch as it did for Kix to splint Slider's wrist and Rex had just finished putting away his supplies as Kix was tying off the last of the bandages on Slider.
"Medic in training?" Ahsoka inspected Rex's handiwork curiously. "You might have another calling."
"I prefer Captain; I couldn't watch your back as a medic"
"I prefer you as Captain too," she admitted, as she flexed her arm. "Thanks, Rex."
"You're welcome." He offered his hand, pulling her to her feet when she accepted. She released him almost immediately and turned around as if searching for something. He watched her as she turned back to the area where they'd been thrown and lifted one of the metal plates that had come loose in the crash.
Sliding his gloves back on absently, he scanned the wreck and took stock. He was impressed; there was almost no damage to the gunship on the inside, the crew compartment completely intact save from some dents and impact fissures. Without Ahsoka's timely intervention, he suspected they'd have all been dead. He didn't even bother trying to keep the admiration from his voice. "Good job, Commander."
Ahsoka glanced back at him 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 but didn't dwell on it, his mind already turning to the men and the job ahead. It was then, as he examined the jammed door critically that he noted, beyond the enclosed walls of the downed gunship, all was quiet
Kix straightened from doctoring Slider. "All done here, Captain," he reported, packing away his supplies.
"Everyone on your feet," Rex ordered, nodding to two of the uninjured men. "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 they sought to free themselves from the tomb the gunship had the potential to be.
"Save your strength, sir," he cut her off without turning his head to look her way, darting a glance at her through the corner of his faceplate. He'd seen the kind of toll heavy Force use had on the wielder before and he wasn't about to risk her. "You got us down safely; we'll handle this one."
She seemed about to protest then thought better of it, changing the subject. "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?" she tried her comlink and got static. "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," there wasn't any other option and even with Slider's wrist he was certain they'd make it. Clones were bread to be hardy and could take quite the beating before they fell. The head's up display on the interior of his helmet warned him that time was ticking away, though, and he brought it to her attention. "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 troopers all but threw it away with a grunt and cry of success.
Over the comlink in his helmet, Rex recognized Boost's smug tone.
"That'll teach you to try and stop us you sorry excuse for a gunship!"
Ahsoka, shoto suddenly in hand, grinned at Rex. "Then what are we waiting for?"
Her bound towards freedom didn't surprise him; Ahsoka, like himself and General Skywalker, liked to lead the charge. He pulled one blaster, following her lead, and was out into the crash site within moments. Scanning the area in one direction as she took the other, he noted that it was still quiet; too quiet.
Their crash couldn't have gone unnoticed but, somehow, they weren't yet under fire.
The rest of the team emerged from the downed gunship, Kix going to check the pilot only to shake his head when Rex looked his way; no good - the pilot was dead and they didn't have time to honor him. Once everyone was in the clearing, gear in hand, Rex did a visual inspection. Banged up but good to go; proud of his men, he liked what he saw.
He made no move to inform Ahsoka of the fate of the pilot; there'd be time for that later.
"All right," she drew their attention as she glanced over her shoulder with an irrepressible grin, pointing off in the direction they'd come from via gunship, "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. Rex didn't challenge her lead as Kix stepped to his side, blaster in hand, at the front of the group. They walked in silence for several minutes before Kix broke it.
"This wasn't the first time she's done that, is it.
"You've seen her do it before, haven't you?"
"No sir; but I have read your mission reports on previous incidents. I've never seen a Jedi do anything like that."
"The Commander isn't just any Jedi, Kix," he admonished. "I thought you knew that by now."
"So did I, sir."
Rex grinned behind his visor at Kix's slight bewilderment. Ahsoka continually amazed the men with the depth of her caring and determination to bring as many of them as she could back alive. It was but one more reason he admired her.
The medic shook his helmeted head as if to clear it. "I never thought I'd see a downed gunship like ours land so softly," which was rather an understatement.
Based on how high Rex suspected they'd been when the gunship had been hit and how quickly they'd lost their pilot, it was no wonder. After viewing the crash site, he was confident they should all be dead.
"No impact deaths; I never seen a crash like that. Especially a time and a half rollover without casualties."
Rex nodded to Ahsoka as she rejoined them, weapons were in hand but un-ignited, part way through Kix's comments and fell into step.
"That has to be some kind of record."
"The Commander's been perfecting the technique," he told the medic wryly, glancing her way through his visor. "We have a tendency to get shot down."
"A good trick, sir," Kix told her, his tone full of approval with a barest hint of relief. Rex was certain she didn't catch it. One dead for that landing was monumental. "I prefer triage to stretchers and body bags any day."
"Me too," she agreed without hesitation. "Captain, a word?"
Kix, knowing he wasn't needed, slowed his pace to give the Captain and Commander from privacy. Smart man that Kix. Rex focused his attention on the Jedi girl who'd become so integral to his world. "Yes, Commander?"
"We need to talk about scaling the cliffs," her voice was pitched so not to carry. "It's not going to be easy."
"We're not trained for 'easy'," Rex reminded her, knowing his grin was in his voice. Sometimes she forgot just how hard they'd been trained for this kind of thing. "Just tell us when and where; we'll get the job done."
"I know you will, Rex, but," shaking her head, she turned her gaze his way and he could see the frustration shimmering in her eyes, "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; 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. I'd feel better knowing there were more of us."
So would he but he'd never tell her that. He went for confident reassurance instead, seeing that was what she needed more. His words, as a result, were slightly cocky. "Don't worry, Commander, we'll do our part and finish the mission."
She laughed, flashing him a smile before leaving him to scout ahead again. Rex dispatched Boost and Slack to watch their flanks as they moved swiftly on towards their destination.
Their trek to the main ridge was uneventful.
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."
An unwelcome reminder that the main cannons were a prototype that fire an energy based wave that could tear them apart from the inside out upon impact; a kind of bolt Ahsoka wouldn't be able to deflect. An image of her standing tall before such a blast flashed to life unexpectedly in his mind's eye and Rex forcefully dismissed the thought as his hands curled tightly about the grips on his DL-17s, focusing on her words and the now.
He wasn't going to borrow trouble; enough waited for him on top of the ridge line and he couldn't afford the distraction. As it was he missed part of her speech
"-as it looks, might give way at the edges if you're not careful."
Her holo display of the area was tossed on the ground and Rex took a knee beside the map, studying it carefully as she spoke, outlining 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, the men taking their cue from her. "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 Rex reached forward as he stood, sweeping the holo recorder off the ground and hanging it to her. She tucked it 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," her dry observation as she slanted a look at him made the others chuckle, "if you'll join me?"
Even he smiled, though she couldn't see it, at her droll invitation; as if there was any doubt?
Rex took his position as point man seriously; he couldn't guard the Jedi he worked with unless he was at their side but he also disliked being the last to a fight. Giving it to the clankers wasn't just a job, it was also a passion.
Turning, he pulled his own grappling hook from his belt and aimed as she did. Their hooks sailed high over the cliff face beyond before finding purchase. They scaled the cliff together, Ahsoka glancing down and making a motion to Jesse to start bringing the others up and he didn't contradict the command; she'd simply beat him to it. He reiterated it anyway.
"Jesse," using the internal comlink, he contacted his second as she resumed her climb towards the top. "Bring the men up; two meter intervals."
"Copy that, sir. I'm on it."
It took several minutes before they reached the edge, every step, every hand shift, drawing a sudden tension within him tighter and tighter until he was on edge, waiting for the other foot to fall. They should have been attacked by now.
He stopped below as she scaled the last few feet by herself, peeking over the top and careful to not allow her montrals to give her away. The sight would have been slightly comical if the situation hadn't been so serious. Somewhere over that lip lay Separatists with a mission to kill him and his men - once they realized they were here.
Her look wasn't very long before she retreated and slid back down to join him, her forehead furrowed with concern as she shook her head. "This is too easy; too quiet."
He didn't say anything, silently agreeing with her; the skin on the back of his neck was prickling, screaming a warning, his instincts telling him that going over that cliff face was a bad idea. Everything within him was coiled for action and said it should have already happened.
Yet - thus far - nothing.
"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, but that wasn't the point. Regardless of how much his own instincts were telling him otherwise, their objective lay beyond that ridge and, wanting to or not, they had to go over. "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, knowing from experience he couldn't keep up with her no matter how badly he wanted to. He simply couldn't match her speed and agility and made light of the fact. "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 back to him, nodded and lept. He watched her disappear over the lip of the canyon, waiting to hear the ignition of her blades; for the blaster and cannon fire that was supposed to rain down upon them.
Silence greeted his expectation, winding the knot in his gut that much tighter.
Only the sound of his brothers as they scaled the cliff, Kix and Jesse helping Slider, came back to him. A faint sound of something scraping above him and one of his DL-17's practically lept into his grasp. A battle droid came hurtling over the cliff and he snapped off two shots in quick succession, ending it before it could call for help.
Holstering his blaster, he kicked off the wall and climbed quickly, hand over hand, practically walking up the cliff side. The half a minute the climb took felt like much longer as he strained to hear what was happening only to have the silence continue.
He didn't like this; it felt like a trap.
Ahsoka's protective stance when he came over the top, her blades still unlit to avoid drawing attention, was exactly as he expected it to be; she looked as tense as he felt. She could sense it, he knew as he gained his feet, sweeping the area with a look as he crouched low to join her.
Blasters in hand he covered her flank, gesturing for the other troopers to move aside swiftly into cover as they came over the cliff. Using the internal channel, along with hand signals, he urged them forward. Taking the lead as was his right, he darted forward to the nearest rocky outcropping, meeting no resistance, and then ran to the next. Carefully scanning about him, he was almost through the sparsely covered area towards what would have been their LZ before Ahsoka darted forward to join him.
It was still quiet; too quiet.
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."
The order was unexpected and, for once, he didn't follow her line of thought. "Demolitions, sir?"
Nodding, she didn't take her gaze off the area before her and reached for the macrobinoculars in her belt. Scanning the area, he watched as 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 with a critical eye, not liking what he was seeing and said as much. To stand and fight for twelve men required different tactics than those for one hundred and forty four. "There's not much cover; we won't last long."
"There are three hundred yards between us and those doors, Rex." She shot him another of her impish smiles. "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."
He almost laughed, caught off guard by the surprising statement. Luck? He hadn't heard Jedi speak of luck except to say it didn't exist. As tense as the situation was, he found her reference amusing and couldn't keep that out of his voice. "And if we're not?"
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."
"Jedi may not, but the men do." She gave a shrug, accepting it, accepting them and their beliefs and his respect for her, incredibly, rose another notch. "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, unable to wipe the grin from his lips. Switching to his internal comlink he called for the men she'd requested. "DB; Sinker. Get up here."
"On our way, sir." DB's response was immediate; Sinker's was a simple click.
Several moments later, DB and Sinker joined them.
"You called, Cap?"
Rex ignored Sinker's informal address and got right down to business, turning her way. He still didn't know why she'd asked for the demolitions men. "Commander?"
She glanced at him and then, using her finger, 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."
Rex studied the map, seeing where she was going with this. If they could pull it off, it meant eliminating a large part of the opposing force they believed to be inside.
"Can you do it?"
The two troopers looked at each other and nodded, chorusing their confidence to her. "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 the General.
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.
"This is our target; there's what appears to be an outcropping we can use and fortify until General Skywalker joins us. They should be inside and on their way to fulfilling their objectives. Ours is first to get under those big guns and avoid their fire. Our second objective is distraction; once we're in position, we can unleash Armageddon. When DB and Sinker move, so do we. Commander, Kix – you're with me; Boost Oneshot and Slider are next, then the rest." He glanced to Ahsoka who nodded her agreement; her hilts were still in hand and she looked primed to use them. "Follow our lead - Commander?"
She joined him, Kix doing the same and Rex looked towards DB and Sinker. Giving them a hand signal, they acknowledged and moved as he, Ahsoka and Kix did the same, darting forward to the next mount that could be considered cover.
Long shadows filled a part of the canyon, the walls casting some oddly shaped splotches of darkness. They used these as they emerged into the open area that should have been their landing zone.
DB and Sinker followed Ahsoka's plan, making good time, and they were just moving the last group of men forward to rejoin the others when Rex paused to scan the area, the sensation of being watched, of being targeted, danced up his spine. His blasters lept into his hands, primed for action and he turned in time to catch a shaking and shifting of a mound of dirt near Ahsoka's left. He didn't think as his hands came up, both blasters sounding as the bolts plowed into the ground as a droid tried to dig its way free.
She whirled as he fired again, stepping forward to ensure it was dead, her lightsabers leaping to life as more droids erupted from the earth, blaster fire coming their way and Rex ducked, whipping his pistols left and right to down as more droids burst free from their hiding places.
"Ambush!" Ahsoka's voice rang out across the field behind him as she dove in to take the first of the droids that popped out of the ground after his attack 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, the clones quickly forming a protective circle, Rex lined up back and to Ahsoka's left as they watched the other's backs. "DB, Sinker," he snapped over the comm. "Fall back!"
"On our way, sir, I... What the he-"
There was a scream and then dead air, the sound of charges being activated and other explosions somewhere beyond Rex's line of sight but he knew they were lost. He had not time to worry about them; they were out in the open, exposed, and outnumbered. They needed to get under cover now if they wanted any hope of survival.
Ahsoka read his mind and beat him to it. "Rex; get them to cover!"
"You heard the Commander," he snapped his men, as she twirled and spun, deflecting blaster bolts back along their original courses, his blaster singing along side her sabers as they worked in tandem to clear a path and guard their backs simultaneously. "Move it!"
"You too, Captain."
He hesitated for half a second, everything within him screaming that he couldn't possibly leave her behind, before gritting his teeth and doing as she bid. Only the knowledge that if he stayed they had a less likely chance of escape drove him to leave her. The men were retreating, heading for the shelter she'd described at the cliff face, and he sprinted to catch up with them, past them, using his blasters to take down the droids that were most obviously in his way.
He trusted Ahsoka to take care of herself and follow him; he had to.
Slade went down ahead of him, shot in the head, and Rex was force to vault over his falling body, grimly shooting the droid who'd got him in kind. Kickback and Slack took multiple shots to the chest, dropping as Ahsoka caught up and whirled about the group like a neon dervish, unable to reach them to deflect the bolts in time.
Rex watched her sprint ahead, clearing a path even as his steps followed close to hers, widening what she'd begun, the others on his heels. They had no time to check the fallen as they carried on forward, no time to stop and grab them as they fought for their lives.
Ahsoka was sent sprawling to the side as a small droid walker unburied itself from the ground directly in their path. Blaster bolts ricocheted off the armor plating as Rex led the men around it, ducking another shot from a different droid as he returned it. Ahsoka's blades hummed angrily above the chaos of combat as she regained her feet and lept to the walker's back.
He didn't see her kill it as they approached the sheltering rock face, Jesse letting out a cry as he was struck in the arm and knocked to the ground, Sidewinder taking a bolt as he bent to help his brother.
Rex whirled, leaping over the prone clones as Ahsoka rushed in and turned to create a shield of whirling blades for the men to pull the injured to safety. He laid down suppressing fire to the right and left of the Jedi as the droids attempted to get around her; to gain an angle. Grimly and with lethal efficiency, he fired blast after blast to keep her clear, another blaster joining in as they slowly backed towards cover.
"Rex, call Master Skywalker and let him know we're here. I'll hold them!"
His first thought was that she needed him there but blaster fire erupted from behind them as his brothers, 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 onslaught, droid walkers exploding to devastating effect within their ranks.
With no good reason not to follow her orders, he retreated into the stone shelter. Kix was tending Jesse's arm as his second in command was using the other and a boulder to allow him to continue fighting. Behind him, he heard Ahsoka's impish call, a thread of uncertainty in it. "Jesse!"
"If you want to try those new droid poppers," there was suddenly exhilaration in her words that had been missing in the open field; a confidence now that all her remaining men were under cover and Rex found himself smiling as she used one of General Kenobi's favorite lines. "Now's the time!"
Shaking his head, he kept one blaster in hand, taking the odd pot shot at the droids who came in range and activated his comlink. "General Skywalker, come in."
"Skywalker here; I'm a little busy, Rex."
"Commander's orders, sir; I'll keep this short." He caught a glimpse of Ahsoka through a crack in the rock face as she whirled and spun, moving blindingly fast as Jesse threw his new toys with devastating effect. They had it well in hand for the moment and Rex turned most of his attention to the transmission. "We've established the rally point and are awaiting you here, sir."
"Glad to hear it," there was a pause and the sound of a lightsaber cleaving through something solid on the other end. "We've met heavier resistance than anticipated, Rex,"Anakin reported succinctly, not having time for long conversations.
"Do you require assistance?" The inbred need to help made him offer but a swift glance back at Ahsoka through a fissure in the rock face to see her sweeping through the battle droid hoard gracefully made him wonder if it was even possible. At the rate the droids were advancing, they'd soon be completely cut off and in need of rescue themselves.
"Negative; we can complete the mission but we won't be able to do it quickly. Hold out as long as you can; we need that evac zone!"
"Yes sir; we'll be here."
The link went quiet, indicating that the General had terminated it and Rex pulled his other blaster pistol once more. Taking a running start, he used one of the boulders by Jesse's nearly prone form to vault back over the entrance. He took one look at the sweep of the battle as he landed at a run, breaking to the left behind Ahsoka and raised his voice even as he took up a better position to take advantage of her twirling blades. "The General's met heavier resistance than expected, sir."
She flashed him a look which said she was listening but too preoccupied for conversation.
"Says they can finish the mission but it will take longer." Even as he spoke, Rex was taking in the layout of the battlefield and widening his arc of fire. The new droid poppers seemed to be effective and Rex took the opportunity to destroy those inactive ones closest to him. Even inactive droids could eventually be a threat.
"Great," she blocked another shot as droids further out began to advance into effective weapon's range. "We're already half shy and..." a familiar and unwanted noise brought her visibly up short. "Death balls! Fall back!"
Droidekas deployed, the rolling droids coming in from the sides.
Rex didn't even think about his orders, snapping off the call before he thought about it. "Oneshot!"
"On it, boss!"
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. A glance her way and a sudden movement from the other side, just out of the corner of his visor had his head whipping around even as he ducked and returned fire back the other way.
Two of them.
He'd not seen any others on the battlefield but, compared to all of the other threats combined, this one outweighed it. A threat that was angling in on Ahsoka back and left from his blind side, intent on the Jedi and ignoring him. They were both carrying modified weaponry; both with the obvious same intention.
Eliminate the Jedi.
Rex wasn't going to let that happen.
Time seemed to slow as he assessed the situation, giving him time to think; to act. His breathing echoed in his ears as he inhaled slowly and Rex knew what he had to do.
Milliseconds lengthened, his heartbeat pounding in his temples as he forced himself to concentrate. Leveling his blasters, he took careful aim and, in the process, left himself dangerously open.
There was no help for it; he was the only one with an angle on the commandos - the only one who could see the threat. He'd only get one shot before they were in position to ambush her and, with the droidekas keeping her busy, she had no hope, even with Jedi reflexes, of avoiding both of them.
Exhaling softly, he pulled the triggers like an extension of his lungs, both DL-17s speaking at once, slamming into one of them, its head exploding in a shower of sparks and steel. He was moving then, stepping in to cut off the angle, blocking it with his body even as he turned to fire on the other, planting himself between her and the commando droid as his blasters fired a moment before the droid's.
His bolt struck first in the heartbeat before the droid's, obliterating its head and dropping it to the side.
The return bolt connected with his chest, the sudden and excruciating pressure stealing the breath from his lungs even as a second bolt slammed into him from the other side where he'd left himself open. The dual bolts of the droideka's heavy blasters impacted low against his torso.
He was thrown into the air, his whole body convulsing from the unexpected strike. A sudden roaring sound in his ears did nothing to drown out Ahsoka's frantic call.
His feet left the ground, something he only registered dimly somewhere in the back of his mind as agony ripped through his body, tearing at his insides. Something within his chest cavity tore under the stress; something important enough that he felt it and was aware of what it meant. Before he struck the ground, he knew. This would be his last battle; his last stand; his last moments with her.
This was where it ended.
His last thought was of Ahsoka; of her spinning blades and of her voice ringing in his ears, crying his name so desperately. No matter the fear packed into that single syllable, he knew he could die gratefully. He was sorry his death pained her, but he didn't regret it; couldn't.
He'd taken the bolt she'd never have seen coming; a bolt meant for her.
She was alive; nothing else mattered.
Time never resumed its flow for him and Rex never felt his body hit the ground. His last, fleeting regret as his vision darkened for the last time, was that he'd waited for a later that would never come.
Rex woke unexpectedly almost two weeks later in the infirmary on the Resolute.
What he woke to was a changed reality and a drastic shift in the relationship between him and his Jedi Commander, one he didn't understand.
It tore apart his world and sundered their friendship, forcing them back into the roles they'd once played in the initial days of her becoming the General's Padawan with one minor exception. She no longer went out of her way to speak or spend time with him and instead avoided him; actively.
And no one could tell him why.
That really is the end of it this time; promise!