A/N: Having a bad day? This story was written for a friend who said her day could be going better. I intended it to be "fluff," but it actually came out more as "muddy" and "sticky" than "fluffy." Still, as the esteemed Yoda would say, "Intellectual reading, this is not." So, lean back on your gimer stick, grab an extra large piece of uj cake, and enjoy.

Naked Clones in the Jungle
Part 1

The heat was oppressive. Choking. It felt like a living, breathing thing. It was almost as if it was trying to strangle the life out of those in its grip.

Gree tried to hang on. Wanted to hang on. But, the heat. He wasn't sure he could stand much more.

Barriss rushed through the jungle in search of the missing clones. She was alone in what seemed like an impossible task.

I am a Healer Jedi, yes, but I am also a warrior. I can do this. I can find them.

The sun was merciless. Gree would have given anything for shade. He started fantasizing about lying beneath the lush ample branches of a shady tree. He closed his eyes and visualized the endless forests on the planet Dinlo.

Actually, there were some gigantic holes in that forest now.

He sighed, and opened his eyes to the punishing light again, preferring not to think of the sorry state in which they'd left the beautiful forested world. It was easier to let his eyes blur and defocus, rather than let the battle memories start taking over.

Barriss stopped and closed her eyes.

Which direction now?

She tuned in to the living Force, looking for guidance and direction.

Gree missed his armor. He tried to remember what it felt like to be in his temperature-controlled suit, and not be hot or cold. But, right now he was so uncomfortable that he simply could not relate to that sensation. As much as they roasted during the day, they froze at night. They were forced to curl up together to share body heat.

Gree sighed. He glanced down briefly at his sunburnt, naked skin. He didn't have any issues with having to lie completely nude around so many of his others brothers.

It wasn't like they had any choice in the matter, since their captors had stripped them of all their gear. It was a survival technique taught they all learned in training.

But, their sun-damaged skin was so painful to the touch it was intensely uncomfortable to be sandwiched between two brothers.

On the second night, he'd volunteered to be one of the brothers "on the end," just to avoid the misery of having his skin scraped and rubbed all night long as they huddled for body heat.

He could barely move the next morning from exposure to the cold, but the numbness had relieved the heat on his skin for a few blissful hours. The relief didn't last long, though. All too soon, the sun had risen to its' full zenith in a maddeningly, cloudless sky.

He raised his head and looked around at his men. They didn't seem to be faring much better. Even with their tough, natural composition, their bodies couldn't take much more.

Gree was starting to lose track of how long it had been since they'd been captured. Everything was beginning to blur together in a haze of blistering days and freezing nights. He dimly remembered a battle in which they were horrifically outmatched, and droids seemed to swarm over the 41st Elite like a hive of Fefze. He shivered, despite the heat, remembering wave after wave of green-striped armor falling beneath their onslaught.

Then, surprisingly, the droids switched from red blast bolts to blue stun charges.

For what reason could they possibly want us alive?

Gree stared around at the grim faces of his brothers, and knew what they were thinking. His brothers that had taken the red bolts were the lucky ones. Whatever the Separatists had planned for them would be a fate far worse than dying of a blaster wound.

Maybe we'll be used as human shields.

He swallowed, trying to reveal the burning dryness in his throat. He gave up with a gasping cough.

He stared around at the surviving members of the 41st Elite baking in the same metal pen where he was confined. Row after row of dark haired clone sat huddled on the ground, or lying on the dry, hard-packed earth. Even without meaning to, his men were automatically lying about in some kind of orderly fashion, neat rows, just from a lifetime of habit. Gree's exhausted eyes scanned his men once again and did another headcount. He wasn't sure whether he should be elated, or disheartened. Hundreds of them had survived.

The whole human shields thing won't work.

To discourage further use of that little stunt, clone commanders and Jedi alike had agreed there could be no more attempted rescue of clones being used as human shields.

At the time of that meeting, I'd thought I'd feel differently if I was one of the ones being used as such a shield, but a quick air strike would come as a relief right now.

Unless I'm not being held as a shield, and they have something else in mind…

Gree decided to shut down his mind, and go back to just staring out aimlessly at the merciless heat.

Barriss wasn't getting anywhere asking the Force to tell her the location of the missing clones. So, she decided to try a different approach. She took several deep breaths, and reached out to the tough, no nonsense clone commander who'd taken her under his wing when she and her Master had begun working with the 41st Elite.

Gree collapsed. Exhaustion, dehydration, and fatigue finally won out and his battered body slid back onto the hard, cracked dirt of the metal cage. He let his dry, gritty eyes slide shut. Dying wouldn't be so bad.

Gree!

The red-haired clone's eyes snapped open, with a painful scraping against his fluid-deprived cornea. He looked around in confusion.

- Commander Offee?

Gree pushed himself up to one elbow. He knew that voice that had spoken so clearly into his mind. It was the same sweet voice that would heal him in the infirmary each time he was injured. With a great effort, he forced himself to a sitting position.

I'm coming for you.

Gree closed his eyes briefly, as the voice washed through his mind again. It felt like the sip of cool water that he was craving so intently. He wished it would come back again, but just as briefly as it had been there, it was gone again. He wished he knew how to respond. After a long moment of trying to savor the sensation and commit it to permanent memory, he forced his eyes back open.

A few of his men, all lying prone on the ground, looked up at him curiously.

When he spoke, his voice was gritty and raw. His first attempt at speaking resulted in a coughing fit, and he had to swallow against the parchedness in his throat and try again. He inhaled carefully, and then managed in a dry, but commanding tone, "Be ready, boys. The Jedi are on their way."

The effect of his words was electric. He saw a ripple pass through his previously lifeless men. The despair… the certainty they were going to be tortured and killed… was metamorphosized into hope.

Barriss was amazed at how easily she had established a connection to Gree. He was alive.

At least, I know I am not making this mad trek in vain.

She grimaced as she thought of what her punishment was going to be for going against orders from the Council.

This rescue mission was not authorized.

Their exact wording had been: "Await further instructions."

But, no further instructions had been forthcoming. Barriss had been cut-off from the main force of clones, and had made her way back to their ghostly, silent camp. She was already without her Master, who was off on a separate Mission.

Three days of being told to: "Stand by," and the "Council is occupied with other matters," and "The Council is well-aware of your situation. However, there are critical situations occurring elsewhere. You must be patient."

The padawan had finally reached the limits of her patience. She was not normally impulsive like her friend, Ahsoka. But, ghosts seemed to be calling out to her from everywhere in the huge camp that had previously housed the 41st Elite. So, here she was, setting off across the jungle to raid the enemy encampment.

Alone.

She'd tried to reach the site of the battle to search for survivors, but was immediately cut-off by droid patrols. She'd managed to destroy all of the droids before they could alert any others of her presence. However, after three attempts to reach the battlefield site, she resigned herself to the fact that her best bet to be reunited with the 41st Elite was to go after the prisoners.

During the brief time she'd been connected to Gree, she'd caught a glimpse of what Gree was seeing. She saw his men, stripped of all their gear, and not moving. They were penned up outdoors, and their skin showed signs of severe sun exposure. The healer in her was already forming a plan to treat all of them.

They were still alive. Hundreds of them. From a distance, she'd seen the droids taking prisoners, but she didn't know if they'd still be alive after three days of the Council "standing by."

The glimpse through Gree's eyes also gleaned some more useful information. She recognized a distinctive, jagged landmark structure behind them that helped determine their location. She checked her bearings, and hastened her pace.

# # #

Gree heard the sound of blaster fire, and the sound of a lightsaber. The battle droids outside his cage immediately went on alert.

"What's that?" one of the droids asked, turning its silver, snout-like head to the other.

"Why don't you go check it out?" Gree suggested, grabbing on to the bars to pull himself to a standing position.

"There's no talking! And, sit down!" the droid said, waving his blaster at Gree in a wild manner.

It's a wonder it doesn't drop the thing, Gree thought, wondering, not for the first time, why they didn't simply build the weapons into the droids. B-1s, the clone shook his head in disgust. Why did they continue to mass manufacture such obviously inept droids? It was almost as if someone wanted the kriffin' war to drag on as long as possible. However, the nice thing about B-1s, is how gullible they are…

"It's hard for me to sit. My butt is sunburnt," Gree complained, making a big show of pointing to his damaged posterior, "could I get some salve?"

The droid came closer to examine the area of complaint. Gree obligingly pointed his posterior toward the B-1 to give him the best view possible.

When he got to within arm's reach, Gree whipped around, stuck his arms through the bars of their metal cage, and snapped off the droid's head in one swift movement.

The clone commander hissed as his sunburnt arms came into contact with the hot metal bars of the cage, but he didn't slow his movements. Without even pausing to pull the blaster out of the droid's inert grip, he spun the weapon around and aimed it at the second droid.

Kriff.

The second droid was already taking aim at him. He fired at the second droid, taking him out a split second before the droid managed to get off a shot at him. The metal bars next to him melted into slag, as Gree dove for the dirt.

All of Gree's men were up on their feet now, ready for action. One of his sharpshooters, Buzz, reacted the fastest. He rolled to his feet and grabbed the second blaster free from the downed droid's grip.

The clone commander had no time to register the discomfort of his severely sunburnt skin colliding with the hard-packed earth. The tactical part of his brain immediately sprang back to life,

fed by adrenaline, and overrode everything else. He no longer felt his thirst, dehydration, exhaustion and battered exterior.

"Down, down!" Gree yelled to his men, as a slew of droids rounded the corner and began sending bright blue bolts in their direction. One of the shots barely missed him, singing right over his head.

Frak! So much for wanting us alive!

His eyes desperately scanned their surroundings, but there was absolutely no cover.

We're sitting nunas in this cage!

One of his men cried out, hit in the shoulder with a blaster shot.

Gree continued to pump out return shots, his eyes desperately searching for some kind of way to free them from their cage. But, he knew it was futile. He'd set all of his men to thoroughly searching every meter of their cage when they'd first been imprisoned. The locking mechanism was not to be found. If he had more time, maybe he could use the blaster to try to blast through the bars. But time was not something he had at the moment.

Now that the droids were firing at him, and his men, he had no choice but to try to desperately defend them. They had just two blasters against… how many? More droids came around the corner.

Kriff. B-1s might be stupid, but amassed in great enough numbers, they could be quite deadly.

Out of the corner of his eye he saw another of his men get hit, but he made no sound as he fell. The shot had caught him directly in the face. Gree continued to squeeze off shot after shot, making sure he took down each droid with a single blast.

We are not going to last long at this rate!

Out of the corner of his eye, he caught the flash of a lightsaber.

Jedi! Great timing!

He expectantly waited for telltale blue blaster fire amongst the flash of the lightsaber, but none was forthcoming.

Wait! Where's the rest of our rescue team?

He sank to one knee, for better balance, and kept up his steady stream of fire. Gree watched the one Jedi that he knew better than any other, Barriss Offee, work her way over to him. She fought magnificently, taking out droids with leaps, spins, dives, and amazing acrobatics that only Jedi could accomplish.

"Commander, look out!" one of his men, he thought it be Morris, gave him a warning yell.

A trio of B-1s had maneuvered in close and was taking aim upon Gree and those directly around him. Gree leapt up, firing a spread of shots as he did so. He managed to hit all three droids, but not before one of them squeezed off a direct shot at him.

He felt something hot, even more fiery than his burning skin, tear into his chest. Gree fell back to the ground, clutching the hole in his stomach.

"The Commander's been hit!" Morris yelled.

Another of his men tried to grab the blaster from his hands. Gree's hands instinctively clutched the blaster.

"It's OK, Commander. It's just me, Cade. You take a rest. I've got this."

Gree blinked up at Cade's familiar face. He nodded, releasing the weapon.

"Where's Bryce?" someone shouted.

"Here!" their company medic belly-crawled to his side, still keeping low to avoid the cross-fire. He pushed Gree's hands away from his stomach wound. "Sir, I need to take a look at this."

Gree just managed to nod as his eyes drifted shut. The sounds of the battle began fading away. Bryce examined the wound, and then looked at the other men gathered around, also on their bellies, low to the ground. He shook his head grimly. They had no medical supplies, and no way to treat his wound.

"Where are those shabla Jedi?" Bryce grumbled, feeling for a pulse at Gree's neck.

"Right here," said a familiar voice, at the door of their cage.

Bryce breathed a sigh of relief, "Commander Offee."

With quick felling downstrokes, Barriss began cutting through the bars of the cage with her lightsaber.

"Commander," Bryce began shaking Gree gently, "Help has arrived. It's the Jedi. Just like you said."

Gree was completely unresponsive. Bryce felt for a pulse at his neck, as the others looked on grimly. He leaned his head down to listen for telltale signs of breathing, while the men looked on in silence. Bryce shook his head sadly, and then lowered his head in grief.

The metallic bar fell to the dirt with a 'clang,' startling the silent clones. Barriss squeezed through the opening, surprised at how grim the men looked, considering they had just been rescued.

"Where's Commander Gree?" she asked, her eyes scanning the hundreds of dark haired men.

The men shook their heads. Barriss felt their emotions; a ripple of dread went through. A number of men were kneeling, clustered around a still form on the ground. Barriss hurried over, recognized Gree's red hair, and then saw how still and unmoving he was.

"No," she breathed the one word in denial, as if she could reverse the awful reality of what had just happened.

Commander Gree was dead.

She was too late.

# # #