Tucker was fast.
Although Rex was exhausted and sore from his capture he had no wish to be left behind, so he kept up the frenetic pace as best he could and hoped that their movements would be enough to keep the attention of the guards. Even with the bulky Katarn armor, Tucker moved soundlessly; luckily, Rex's lack of armor – while he felt vulnerable – allowed him greater freedom of movement, and he was not as pressed as the commando to keep his steps silent when they needed to be. After several minutes, the two men fell into a rhythm of sprinting down hallways, stopping to listen, ducking to let guards only catch the barest glimpse of them, then starting all over again.
Once, they were surprised by a pair of guards who must have caught sight of them and fallen back to intercept. It was by virtue of the guards' comms being down that the others didn't convene upon Rex and Tucker immediately, and both clones made certain that the Spaartis' attention would stay completely on them. As Rex disabled one of the guards with a swift jab to the throat, he watched as Tucker took out the second guard with brutal efficiency; one, two, three hits of his fists and the Spaarti crumpled to the floor, unmoving.
Thinking that some kit was better than nothing at all, Rex knelt and unclipped the Spaarti's utility belt to wrap around his own waist; once he did so, he glanced at Tucker, who was crouched with his blaster drawn, clearly alert. As Rex stood, Tucker looked his way, the blue visor glinting oddly in the crimson light. "Ready?"
A swift nod that the commando returned, and they were off again.
Several minutes later, as they were crouched behind a curving section of wall, waiting for another patrol to pass by; by now, Fives, Coric and Jesse should have made it to their ship, so Rex and Tucker had decided to switch tactics and avoid the guards completely, if they could. For now, it seemed that they'd managed to shake the worst of them, but Rex felt himself growing frustrated by the seemingly endless labyrinth that was this place. He knew they were taking "the long way," but each second that ticked by was one more where Brenna was waiting for him, one more where she was probably terrified and sitting on the edge of her seat.
Beneath him, his bent knees were starting to tingle from holding the half-kneeling position for so long, but he shook his own discomfort away and glanced at his traveling companion, whose head was tilted to the side in the manner of a soldier listening to his comm.
There was a pause, then Tucker replied in a curt voice. "Jaing says that the guards are catching onto his position – he's had to move our ship a few times to avoid being spotted. Sounds like Fives' girlfriend is okay where she's waiting, though; Jaing thinks your brothers have reached her."
Relief expanded in Rex's chest, and he gave a swift nod.
Tucker paused again, then glanced back at the captain. "Our way out isn't far...just down that next corridor and to the right. We're close, but we're also running out of time."
Rex tightened his grip on the deece even as the sounds of footsteps echoed in the corridor adjacent to their position. "Understood. Once this wave of guards passes, we'll make a break for it."
Silence, save for the clumping of nearby boots and the stutter of Rex's heart within his chest; adrenaline was coursing through his veins, but he held the feeling to run in check until he needed it. Suddenly, he heard the soft hiss of an unsealing bucket. When he looked back at Tucker, the other clone had rested his bucket on his bent knee – they were both crouching beside one another – and was studying him intently. There was confusion in his gaze, along with something that Rex identified as need, as if the commando was desperately trying to assess the captain.
"You're not bad in a fight," Tucker murmured. "You seem like you have a decent head on your shoulders. But you're a clone. You're just like me...what is it about you? What is it that she fell in love with?"
I didn't get her pregnant and then take off like a coward. Rex felt his jaw clench and his fists tighten around the grip of the deece. "We're nothing alike."
Tucker's face darkened. A moment later, however, he gave Rex another discerning look and shrugged, the movement painfully, deliberately casual. "Must be, I guess. She picked you, didn't she?"
"Why are you doing this?" Rex asked, not willing to get into a debate about Brenna's affections at the moment. "You and your friends could be captured, or worse. Why are you going through all this trouble for someone you seem to consider a rival?"
Okay, so he wasn't quite above a debate, but Rex thought it was a fair question, and they had a few minutes to spare. To his credit, Tucker didn't waste a moment to think over his response. "I'm doing it for her, di'kut."
Rex thought that his face must have shown surprise, because the commando gave a heavy sigh and scrubbed his forehead with his hand, the motion seeming to convey an overwhelming sense of loss. "I know that she doesn't love me as I love her. I know that nothing I can do now will fix what I did in the past...but still. I have to do something right, even if it's too little, too late. Even if it's helping the likes of you."
"I suppose that's where we're similar," Rex replied at once, frowning over the realization.
The commando's eyes tightened. "Could you do the same thing, if our roles were switched?"
It was Rex's turn to answer without hesitation, and as he spoke he could see Bren and Iri in his mind's eye. "If it meant keeping Brenna safe – and keeping my daughter safe – I'd go to any lengths. Nothing would be too much; nothing would be too difficult. If she or Iri was in trouble, nothing in this galaxy could keep me from protecting them as long as I could draw a breath."
For a moment there was silence, even the sounds of footsteps had stopped, then Tucker inhaled once, swiftly, as if he were about to speak.
However, he was prevented from doing so by a burst of blaster-fire on either side of the men that made Rex and Tucker both swear loudly; they'd been distracted by their conversation only to be ambushed by the guards. Without the sound dampers that would have been in his kit, battle was kriffing louder than he recalled.
For a few moments Rex's world shrank to the corridor, to the shrill call of weapons and to the furious, adrenaline-fueled lash of his heart against his ribs; if he died now, if he fell here and did not get up from this fight, he would never see Brenna again.
Terror snagged at his hands, urged them to tremble and ruin his aim, but he held the feeling at bay and kept his aim steady. When it came down to it, this was a situation that he'd been in any number of times, except this time he had something real he was fighting for. It didn't matter that he was without his kit or his brothers; Rex was determined to survive and see the woman he loved, no matter what. He fired on the Spaartis, ducking and rolling to avoid their answering rounds, blinking every so often to clear his eyes of the smoke and hiss of burning plasma that threatened to blind his sight. The air was acrid and thick. Something pricked his shoulder, but he hardly felt the pain of the graze.
Beside him, Tucker was a dervish.
Rex had never fought alongside a commando before; they were strictly spec-ops guys, working in small, tightly-knit squads on missions that were a far cry from the full-scale battles with which he was familiar. There were jokes among the ranks that commandos were a breed apart from the "regular" clones like Rex and Fives, with the only others holding that distinction being the original, Jango-trained ARC troopers, and – of course – the famous Nulls.
Too good for the rest of us. They were words said with an odd mixture of pride and resentment, and Rex had felt a similar sentiment echoed in his own heart on more than one occasion.
Now, though, he saw that there was some truth to the words, if not the sentiment. Tucker moved faster than almost any clone the captain had ever encountered, even encumbered by the armor as he was. Rex was no slacker, not by a long shot, but there was something unreal about the commando's movements, all of which were diamond-sharp and deadly. There had been at least a dozen guards who'd set upon the two of them; several minutes into the battle, only two remained, and Rex counted most of the bodies in front of the commando.
The last two guards fell, and for a moment Rex and Tucker stood in the abrupt, after-battle haze of curling smoke from spent muzzles and the final groans of soldiers, then they looked at each other.
Tucker's nose was bleeding; he absently wiped the crimson trickle away with his glove and nodded to the passage behind Rex. "Let's move out."
As they turned to leave, they heard another clone voice behind them, several meters from their position. "Stop right there, traitors. Drop your weapons."
"More of them?" The commando sounded irritated as he and Rex glanced over their shoulders to see another contingent of guards. "Can't these barves take a hint?"
A quick glance at his power-pack indicated that his weapon was at half-charge; it wasn't ideal, but it was better than nothing. "We can do it," Rex murmured, holding the visored gaze of the guard who'd spoken. "We just have to-"
Tucker shook his head; he hadn't had time to replace his bucket, and it swung at his side at the movement. "We've wasted enough time. Go."
The commando exhaled and raised his blaster as if he was about to surrender. "Did you hear me, or are you defective? Go. Now. I can handle them long enough to cover you."
Rex frowned as the guards began to inch forward, blasters trained on the two clones in their midst. To stall, he raised his own hands as if he were surrendering as well. "We have better odds if we fight together-"
"Sithspit," Tucker growled. "That's a load and we both know it. Look-" Here, he paused and shot Rex a glance that was filled with remorse. "I don't like you, not even a little, but she loves you...and I made a promise. Get back to her."
The guards drew closer, seemingly mollified with the "surrender." For the briefest moment, Tucker's eyes closed, and when he spoke again his voice was soft and very full. "Take care of my girls, Rex."
Eyes open again and upon him, Tucker's gaze was searing. "Please."
There was nothing Rex could do but nod. "I will."
With that, the commando's movements became a blur. He nodded once, shoved his bucket on his head and began to open fire on the guards even as he plummeted towards them, causing many of the Spaartis to jump back in alarm. For a moment they were all distracted with what was essentially a one-man-army, too much to notice Rex as the captain took a breath and turned away, towards the corridor that he knew would lead him to safety.
As he sprinted, he glanced back once. At first he couldn't make out Tucker; at first all he could see were streaks upon streaks of blaster-bolts, until a guard stepped to one side and he caught sight of a gray armored form collapsing to the floor, buried beneath a hail of plasma.
It was late afternoon on Alderaan.
Brenna watched the sun start its descent to the mountains; she knew that within a few hours it would sink behind the rocky peaks and bathe them in golden light, after which the sky would darken to indigo and stars would appear above her head like scattered chips of diamond. A gentle breeze tugged at the hem of her shirt, sending the hairs on her arms to standing up despite the warmth of the sunlight on her back, and she fought back the urge to wrap her arms around her waist. Instead, she hugged Iri closer to her chest and breathed in her daughter's scent.
It was the only thing that served to ease her frayed nerves, because Rex should have already been back. Fives had comm'd – briefly – to say that they'd all made it off Coruscant safely, but the transmission had been cut off before he could give an ETA, and Brenna didn't know how much more not knowing she could handle. The plan was for the clones and Marliss to land on her mother's ranch, itself on the outskirts of any civilized area, so that they would remain undetected.
Well, once she had Rex in her arms again she could think about the next step, but for now she couldn't consider anything beyond that singular goal.
Once her part of the rescue had been completed, Brenna's only obstacle was to wait; she thought that slicing into the RJC systems from Alderaan in order to muck up their comms was far easier than waiting.
At this rate, I'm going to age twice as fast, right along with Rex.
"Mama?" Iri's face was worried; she'd been remarkably quiet, watching the sky with Brenna for about half an hour now, but it was only a matter of time before her attention flagged.
There was a pause, then Brenna felt a light touch against her cheek; Iri's eyes, honey-brown and wide, met her own. "Mama cry?"
Brenna glanced down at Iri's fingers and noted that they were wet. A brush with the back of her hand against her eyes revealed the source. She wanted to shelter her daughter from this moment, but her heart was too heavy with fear, and the look in Iri's eyes indicated that the little girl knew something was wrong. "I'm scared," she admitted, looking back at the sky. "I don't know where Rex is. I don't know if he's safe."
Iri nodded sagely, then leaned forward to embrace her mother's neck. "Rex okay, Mama."
It was a strange thing to laugh even as desperate fear clutched at her heart. "I hope so, sweetheart."
There were footsteps behind her; a glance over her shoulder revealed the forms of Caith, Edme – a small, dark-haired boy holding her hand – and Jensine approaching through the grassy pasture from the direction of the main house. As her family surrounded her, Caith placed a hand on her shoulder and Jensine stood at her side, one hand lifted to shield her eyes from the slanting sunlight.
"No sign of them yet, I take it?" Caith asked. Brenna shook her head and he nodded, squeezing her shoulder. "We've got the rooms ready to go; Ed and I brought enough food to feed a small army."
"Which is what we're getting, by the sounds of it," Jensine added, shooting Brenna a speculative look. Once Brenna had learned that Rex would be accompanied by Fives, Kix, Jesse and possibly more clones, she'd fallen into a slight state of panic, because they needed medical care and food and shelter...none of which she was able to provide.
However, her mother had surprised her by insisting that the clones stay in her house for the time being – rent-free, though Brenna was working out how to slip her mother the necessary funds to pay for all of this – and Caith and Edme had offered to stay a little while and help the men settle in.
Although none of them knew what would happen to the clones in the newly-formed Empire, it was likely that they'd be treated as deserters, and thereby be wanted men, men whom it would be dangerous to shelter. Brenna had explained all of that to her mother; Jensine had stubbornly refused to be cowed, and then had told Brenna to make herself useful and air out her old room, then collect every bandage and bacta-swab she could find.
The truth was, Brenna had no idea if her mother was doing all of this to further the peace between them, or if she just wanted the extra hands – talk had been made of having the clones help out with the quagga if they wanted and were able – but for most of the past day she'd been too worried to care much about her mother's reasons. Ultimately, she trusted Jensine and that would have to be enough.
Brenna shifted the toddler's weight to her other hip and glanced at her mother again. "Thank you for being so accommodating, Mom. I know this a lot to spring on you at the last minute."
Jensine lifted her hand in a dismissive gesture. "It's the least we can do, Brenna. You know I've never been one to turn folks in need away. Besides," she added with a tilt of her head towards the quagga stables. "It will be good to have a full house again, I must admit."
Iri glanced between her elder relatives, then looked back at Brenna. "Full house, Mama?"
Something within Brenna's throat was tight and her eyes were hot, but a deep breath helped her collect herself. "Rex is bringing some of his brothers," she explained, shooting her mother a grateful look over Iri's blonde baby-curls. "They need a place to stay for a little while."
Suddenly, Edme lifted her hand and gestured to the sky, towards the sun. "What's that?"
Everyone squinted. They'd had a few false alarms already, and while Brenna told herself not to get her hopes up, not to get too excited, because if it wasn't him she'd be crushed all over again, Iri began to squirm in her arms. "Ship! Ship!"
Brenna tried to calm her, but Iri continued shrieking. "Ship! Mama...ship!"
If she strained, she could hear the distinctive growl of a repulsor; moments later, a dark blotch seemed to loosen itself from the sun and began to approach the pasture that surrounded Brenna and her family, themselves standing at the foot of Zephyr Mountain.
It was a roundish, dingy-looking freighter of some kind, but Brenna hardly noticed the shape of the vessel; as it came to rest on the ground, the grass rippled beneath the landing struts, and when the hatch began to lower she found herself moving forward with Iri still in her arms. There was steam from the hydraulics that powered the descending ramp, but it was immediately brushed back by the ubiquitous Alderaani wind.
The wind swept the steam away and revealed the man she loved.
Brenna's heart leaped to her throat when she saw Rex exiting before the other clones and Marliss. At first he edged down the ramp carefully, squinting in the light, but she knew the moment that his eyes fell on her because his entire face changed. Caution fled, replaced by a joy that matched her own. As she gripped Iri tighter, she began to run full-throttle across the grass.
They met in the swaying grass, meters from the ship. One moment the space around her and Iri was empty; the next they were surrounded by Rex's arms and his mouth was on her own. It was real, he was there, it wasn't a dream. Brenna wanted to cry but she was too busy kissing him, too grateful to do anything but kiss him and wrap her free arm around his waist even as the force of his embrace picked both her and Iri off of the ground.
For one moment she was weightless.
When he set her down, they pulled apart and looked at each other; she realized that his face was wet, too, and that he had a few new cuts and bruises, but otherwise he looked as he had the last time she'd seen him, sans armor. Relief, overwhelming relief swept through her even as she watched him assessing her in much the same way.
However, when he opened his mouth to speak, Iri giggled again. "See, Mama? Rex okay."
Rex gave the child a look that was filled with warmth, and something within Brenna unfurled with happiness at the expression on his face as he regarded her daughter. "I am now, Iri."
This was originally "the end," but it felt a little abrupt and there were some things that I wanted to start establishing so that this fic and the sequel will sort of "flow" into each other, hence the next two chapters.
Tucker. Sigh. You probably saw his death coming, but I hope it still made an impact; he's a good guy, after all. I hated to kill him off, but it needed to happen for a number of reasons, and I am rather fond of his "last words," which will play a role later on.
Next time: what's the best way to start a new life? With breakfast, of course! ;)
Thank you for reading!