Sith sabers are red, the 501st are blue, I don't own Star Wars but neither do you.
A/N: This last chapter was incredibly hard to get right - hopefully it lives up to all your expectations and explains why the boys of the 501st have an apparent death wish ;)
Echo's guts were all knotted up. In the firing lane, Fives and the crew hammered the Captain's armour with decee rifles, then Hardcase's rotary blaster, before finishing off with a bang. Beside him, Captain Rex stiffened more and more as the 501st's display progressed
When the smoke from the detonators cleared the target, Rex's armour was gone. Smoking droid parts and shards of plastoid were scattered all over the place. Echo was impressed, but also a tad concerned by the level of destruction that a grenade did to plastoid. Better steer clear of grenades from now on. Judging by the hush in the range, the rest of the boys felt the same way. The Captain, who was obviously the exception, strode to the partition control panel and punched the OPEN button so hard that it shattered. Alarms started up as the safety partition began to slowly rise.
Clones were designed to be the best soldiers in the Republic: bred to be fast, strong, and able to quickly recognise when a situation was going downhill. ARC troopers took that training and dialled it up a notch. However even ARC troopers Echo and Fives were taken off guard when Rex lunged forwards and hooked an arm around Fives' throat. The two went down in a clatter of armour and flailing limbs.
Hmmm, maybe this wasn't the best way to spring this on him, trust Fives and his 'oh the Captain can take a joke'. One of the benefits of his ARC training meant Echo could now tell the difference between a proper fight and rough housing. This fight was definitely the latter of the two even though Rex did look fairly unhappy. He stood back and let the two of them have at it for a bit.
Rex's inarticulate sounds of anger and outrage filled the range along with Fives' gasping. They were busy grappling for the position with the best leverage, shifting their weight perceptibly. But it seemed that the Captain's chokehold was as solid as the walls around them, and Fives wasn't shifting him anytime soon. The other clones seemed quite happy to watch alongside Echo, or just happy that it wasn't them that the Captain was beating up on - he couldn't tell. Fives was now trying to get to the pressure points in Rex's forearm. Normally armour meant that knowledge of pressure points was pretty useless but as Rex was wearing only his body suit, Fives might be able to give himself a breathing space. Probably just as well for Fives that Rex's has got a handicap – he looks pretty brassed off.
Echo was tempted to let the two of them duke it out on the floor for a bit longer, but the fight had probably gone on long enough. Can't let the Captain strangle Fives, he'd feel terrible about it the next day. Beckoning to Jesse for help, Echo tried to peel Rex off Fives. The Captain resisted their first efforts, jerking his shoulders out of the way of their hands and tightening his chokehold. Fives had scored some good hits, but looked fairly worse for wear.
In the end, it took all of them to wrestle Rex off the ARC trooper and firmly place him in the range officer's chair. It seemed the Captain wasn't quite ready for time out though and four clones were needed to return him to his seat. This time, Jesse and Hardcase pinned his arms and leant on him to make sure he stayed there.
Fives was still doubled over, gasping and massaging his throat. Kix gave Fives a quick check over, "bruised but nothing broken", before stepping back. Echo clasped Fives's shoulder—he'd take it from here. Fives paused to nod his consent then went back to sucking in air like it was going out of fashion. Rex was still thrashing about in his chair, spouting off orders and cusses, but Jesse and Hardcase's extra weight was keeping him down. Time to put him out of his misery.
It looked like the range controller had shorted out when Rex had punched the partition controls: back to doing things the old fashioned way. Echo looked around for someone who didn't look busy enough. "Denal, Charger – you'll have to bring it up manually."
The two clones hesitated for a moment, unused to Echo giving orders of his own, but a quick glance at Rex sent them scurrying off. Rex was still in his seat, praise to the powers that be, but looked no calmer. Come on boys, faster would be better!
"Don't think I've seen Rex this worked up since Saleucami." Kix noted with a touch of irony in his tone.
"We'd better hope he doesn't hold grudges then."
Denal and Charger were busy winching up the second droid through the target loading hatch in the floor.
Echo had to hand it to the Republic's anonymous ship designer: things were much simpler with targets stashed under the floor. Pop-up targets sharpened the reflexes in a way that the normal lunge-from-the-side targets couldn't. Shame about the power requirements.
Fives (who was breathing normally now) went to stand in front of Rex, blocking the Captain's view. Echo cut the lights so that the only illumination came from the emergency lights placed along the bottom of the walls. At the other end of the firing range he could hear Denal quietly muttering to himself, probably nothing complimentary, as he and Charger lugged the target to the set-up point.
Echo hit the lights and Fives stood aside for the big reveal.
Rex blinked rapidly, temporarily blinded by the sudden change in lighting. In front of Rex stood, well, to put it bluntly, himself. A set of white and blue armour shone dully in the light. It looked just like the set that had just been shredded into toothpicks. A pauldron sat on the droid's left shoulder. A stripe of blue marched down each arm to the backs of the gauntlets. Another stripe of blue covered the knee pieces. A new kama was slung around the droid's hips, festooned with double DC-17 holsters. The utility belt, now that was different, it looked like every handheld goodie that the GAR had to offer was stashed in the compartments. On the droid's head, a T-visor outlined in blue stared back at him. So…. what did the boys just wreck? Was it actually my armour or did they just blow up some random set of armour just to yank my chain?
"Meet your new Phase II armour." Fives was apparently in charge of the reveal. "We know you don't like the look of the Phase II armour…."
"Heard it only about a million times," muttered Jesse sotto voce. Rex was taken aback; surely he hadn't been that vocal with his opinion.
Fives levelled a look at Jesse and continued, "so we kept all the bits of Phase I that you like but with all the added stopping power of the Phase II plate. We had to scuff it up a bit to make it look respectable—can't have you being mistaken for some shiny. One of the techs jimmied the bucket so it's just like your old one. He added in a few extras, but we thought you'd like them." Fives grinned wickedly. "We even got him to make up a spare Phase II bucket, just in case you get tired of looking old fashioned."
Jesse and Hardcase got off him and without realising he'd moved, Rex found himself standing in front of familiar looking jaig eyes.
Rex walked around the droid, looking the armour over—even the scrapes he'd earned at Teth and Ryloth had been duplicated. He absent-mindedly ran a finger over them.
Up close, he could see that something was unusual about the blue stripes – they looked just like his old ones except…. Peering closer at his rerebrace, Rex made out a name painted over the bicep in a slightly darker shade of blue: 'Kix'. On his forearm was 'Charger'.
"We each painted a bit in your colours and apparently artists are supposed to sign their work. This way, Captain, you know that we've always got your back." Fives explained.
"And your sides." That was Jesse.
"And your shebs." Hardcase stuck his oar in. The group erupted into raucous laughter and Rex felt the tension melt away.
Rex swallowed hard, more touched that he was willing to let on. He knew he should say something, acknowledge their efforts somehow, but the lump in his throat was making things difficult.
"Every brother's armour tells a story, we didn't think it right that you should lose yours Captain." Kix's words were soft but the conviction behind them was anything but.
Rex eyes were definitely wetter than normal but he was fairly sure he could blame it on the lingering grenade fumes.
The pause lengthened. Someone fidgeted behind him, Hardcase no doubt. The others looked nervous again. They're probably not sure if they're going to get punched or court martialled right now. Rex belatedly pulled himself together and made an effort to regain his composure. "Thank you, boys. I'm not sure that the build-up was quite warranted though."
Rex raised an eyebrow and the gang broke into grins, nudging each other with their elbows and clearly pleased with the success of their prank. "I appreciate your efforts on my behalf. I would like to know who was in charge of this… ah, 'outing'."
"That would be me."
"Or rather, that would be Fives and I." Echo chipped in, stickler for the truth as always. The terrible twosome strike again.
Fives ruefully scratched his head. "The General and the Commander did mention in my hearing that they were unhappy to hear you were risking yourself by using less than the best armour. However I may've taken, uh, 'creative liberties with the truth' when I said it was orders from on high." A faint flush graced Fives' cheeks.
"Commander Tano was all set to drag you down to the armourer," Echo explained. "Kit you up in a shiny new set. But we figured that we can't let our CO go around looking like he's just been shipped out from Kamino: gives the 501st a bad reputation. So we,"—he jerked a thumb at Fives and himself—"told the Commander that we'd take care of it."
Rex was floored. Commander Tano hadn't been aboard for at least a couple of weeks now. The effort they'd gone to on his behalf was staggering and he was more than a little impressed that they'd managed to keep this surprise under wraps for so long, especially in a ship with a grapevine as good as the Resolute's.
Unable to think of another response, Rex fell back into his officer mode, grasping at regs like a drowning man. "I see you've all had your fun now, and left quite a trail of devastation behind you I might add." More snickers and grins. "All of you turn in for the night, I want this range cleaned up by 0900 tomorrow."
Groans heralded this announcement. Rex dropped his bombshell: "And as for your 'creative' ringleaders, as it so happens, somewhere on board this ship is a maintenance sergeant with a toothbrush and rather a lot of waste chutes to clean. I believe he could use a hand."
And with that, Rex left them to it.
Rex strapped the last piece of his armour in place. Every piece fit like a glove, a rarity with newly issued armour, and he marvelled anew at his company's attention to detail. He couldn't fault the boys on their effort, that's for sure. Disappearing inside his bucket, Rex headed out of his room. The HUD flickered into life, the familiar data streams overlaying the world. It looked just like his old one and was skies better than the Phase II HUD.
He noticed three new symbols were showing up on his schematic of the Resolute, Cmd T…. Gen S…. Gen K….. Each with a distance marker beside it that decreased as he walked along the corridor.….. Aha. Rex grinned, having deciphered the new feature. Looks like Commander Tano and General Skywalker wouldn't be sneaking up on him again anytime soon.
Turning a corner, he almost ran down Commander Cody of the 212th Battalion. Too bad I don't have a marker for him! Both clones nodded in greeting, falling in step as they headed towards the briefing room.
Cody opened a private com channel. "New kit? Looks good. I see your boys did a good job."
Rex's eyebrows almost hit the top of his bucket and the last piece of the puzzle finally clicked into place. "You told the Generals I was still using Phase I armour," he accused. "And only another command clone would have clearance to access my room."
"Yep. Although in your defence, we did spike your dinner with a sedative that Kix provided. It would've put a bit of a crimp in the plan to have you wake up prematurely."
They entered the turbolift in silence. Mental note – assign Kix to the mess as a potato peeler for a day or two. When the doors opened, Rex picked up the conversation again. "It's not like you to rat out a brother to the Generals."
Cody took on a lecturing tone. "The Commander's got a point though. It's no good getting attached to substandard kit. Your men need you in one piece and if that means sneaking into your room in the middle of the night, stealing your armour, then sending you on a wild bantha hunt through the ship, well, a brother's got to do what a brother's got to do."
Cody's face was hidden behind his bucket, but based on his body language Rex was fairly sure his brother had a grin from ear to ear. The two officers turned the last corner before the entrance to the bridge. The sentries on the door snapped to attention as they recognised the CO of the 501st and 212th Battalion approaching.
Rex paused in front of the doors. "Thanks, Cody."
"Don't mention it." Gesturing flamboyantly in an imitation of General Kenobi, Cody indicated Rex should precede him. "Now let's go and find this missing Jedi General then shall we?"
Massive thank you to all who spurred me on with their reviews at the time; AL0T0, laloga for her fantastic advice, ACEamazombie, TheStoopeds182, MetaKnight1500, MacDukey, and sachariah.
Also thanks to all those who have left a review since then. It's great to see the story is still being enjoyed months and months after the fact.