Because I love y'all, here's a preview of Worth Fighting For, the sequel to The Fighting Kind. It (and many other stories!) can be found on my author page.
Several hours later, Rex and his brothers were gathered in one of the pastures about a klick from the Damaris house, waiting for Fives and Marliss to return. The day was overcast and a little cooler than the previous one, so Rex was thankful for his warm coat and hat, though he did enjoy the feeling of the brisk air on his cheeks as he peered up through a pair of electrobinoculars. Beside him, standing with his hands in the pockets of his own jacket, Jesse squinted up at the cloudy sky.
"How much longer, do you think?"
Finding nothing, Rex lowered the 'electros. Since he wasn't certain just how the quagga would react to the sight of the freighter that his brother and Marliss had acquired, he and the others had taken a speeder and a few bikes out to the landing-site, itself located at a low gully at the center of the pasture; even though Rex knew that the nearest neighbor was about twenty klicks away, he hoped that the dip in terrain would prevent the ship from being spotted by anyone. "Fives wasn't exactly sure, but I wouldn't think it'd be too much longer, Jess."
At his other side, Coric shaded his eyes with his hands and looked up as well. "I hope not. From what you said, it sounded like Chopper was in pretty bad shape."
"It'll be good to see him again, though," Jesse added, nodding to the 'electros in Rex's hand; the former captain passed them along and the tattooed clone took to peering through them at the sky. "Both of them."
"It will," Coric replied. "I thought the worst had happened to Chopper, I must admit."
Kix nodded but said nothing; all four of them studied the sky for a few moments more, waiting. Since that morning, when Rex had received the somewhat harried comm call from his brother, everything had happened very quickly.
Rex was thankful that Jensine had insisted that Chopper be brought here so that he could recuperate, though he was aware that another pair of hands – when the clone was healed, of course – would come in very handy around the ranch. He was also thankful that there was room on the Damaris ranch for another clone, though he wondered how Chopper would take to civilian life. Brenna and her family were at the house; Rex had thought it might be best to introduce Chopper to them slowly and not immediately surround him with strangers.
Beside him, Kix's voice sounded, quiet beneath the wind. "You said he had other news, too?"
This made Rex's brows knit, for he remembered well enough what had happened the last time that his brother had brought news, but he nodded slowly. "Yeah. Didn't say what, though."
"I suppose we'll find out soon enough."
"Look," Jesse lifted his hand, raising the electrobinoculars to his eyes again. "I think that's their ship."
Sure enough, the clones heard a low buzzing sound that heralded the approach of Fives and Marliss' light freighter that they'd come to know well these last few months. About a minute later, Rex spotted the rounded shadow of the ship as it moved through the lower-level clouds and began the final descent towards the Damaris' property; all of the clones braced themselves as they were buffeted by the wind and dust that the repulsors kicked up when the ship settled onto the grass several meters from their position.
While the whine of the maneuvering thrusters began to lessen, the loading ramp at the ship's side lowered and all the clones watched as Fives emerged, another clone leaning heavily against the former ARC as he shuffled down the ramp. As the trio descended, to be met by Coric and Kix with their medical supplies, Rex caught Fives' eye and gave his brother a relieved smile; it was always a little nerve-wracking waiting for Fives to return, but when he was here Rex couldn't help but feel like his family was complete again.
Fives grinned at him as well, and the group of clones met several paces from the freighter. Immediately, Coric and Kix greeted Chopper then began to assess him for injury; other than a few bruises and scrapes – and a messily-wrapped bandage on his right leg – it appeared that the scarred clone was intact, though Rex caught him flinching as the medics looked him over. During this there was relative quiet. Once the medics had pronounced Chopper fit for the time-being, Rex reached for his brother's right arm, clasping it in his own in a firm gesture of greeting and trying not to notice how stricken the scarred clone seemed as he glanced around with wide, mismatched eyes. "Glad to see you again, vod."
Chopper swallowed and nodded, his grip tightening after a pause. "Me too, sir. I mean, I'm glad to see you, that is..."
Rex gave him a smile. "No 'sir,' Chopper. Just Rex."
"Right." Chopper glanced beside him at Fives, who was still helping to support his weight. "Can I walk, now?"
"Don't even think about it," Coric broke in, slipping himself under Chopper's other shoulder. "That leg needs to be properly wrapped, and you need a set of crutches."
"And we all need to talk," Fives added, glancing behind him at the ramp to the freighter, from which Marliss was emerging with a pack slung over her shoulder. Rex nodded to her; in response, she gave him a wry salute and a smile, and he chuckled, thinking that Bren would be happy to see her friend again.
The blonde woman came up to them and put her hand on Fives' waist though she spoke to Rex and the others. "He's right. We have some news."
"Not bad," Fives amended, seeing the looks on the others' faces. "Just...well..."
"Interesting," Marliss offered, and the former ARC shot her a grateful smile as he hugged her closer to his side. From there, it was decided that they should reconvene to the house itself, as much to give Coric and Kix a chance to work as to give them all a more comfortable place to speak. Once Marliss was satisfied that her ship would be fine, the group loaded up into the speeder and bikes, then set off for home.
About half an hour later, Chopper was seated at the Damaris' kitchen table, his leg propped up on an adjacent chair while Coric and Kix bent over him, cleaning and wrapping what looked to be a rather nasty gash. At the entrance of the clones, the "civvies" had vacated the house to tend to the quagga in the paddock, though Bren had paused to kiss Rex on the cheek, mentioning that she had 'good news,' and offer Chopper a wide smile before she whisked Marliss away. Iri had been in her mother's arms, and Rex had felt a gleam of pride when Chopper's eyes had flicked from the little girl to the former captain, though the laconic man didn't say anything about the child.
Chopper hadn't said much at all, actually, but Rex knew that was just his way; he figured that Chopper would speak about his ordeals over the last six months soon, but that it was better to give him space for the time being.
Jesse had put on a pot of caf a little while ago, and for a moment things felt oddly normal, for which Rex was grateful. As Fives sipped his caf, he glanced around the room with appreciation. "It's nice to be on the move, but it's also good to be back here," the former ARC said, his eyes falling on Rex. "Either way, I'm doing things on my own terms."
"We all are," Rex replied, adding another helping of sugar to his caf before drinking. "It's strange, sometimes, but it's a good kind of strange."
Nodding, Fives sat up and cleared his throat; when the others' eyes fell on him he lifted a brow at Rex. "Do any of you remember a long-neck by the name of Nala Se?"
Having finished bandaging Chopper's leg, Coric and Kix exchanged looks, then nodded simultaneously. "She was stationed on Kaliida Shoals MedCenter during the Wars, right?" Kix asked as he began to clean up the remnants of the supplies they'd used. "I remember her. She was one of the more...tolerable Kaminoans."
"The chief physician, if memory serves," Coric added.
Fives nodded. "Word is that she fled Kaliida Shoals after the Wars ended. There are rumors – only rumors, mind you – that she's living on Cyrillia, working on a way to normalize our accelerated-aging."
For a moment the silence was so thick Rex thought he'd misheard. As it was he blinked and gave a slight shake of his head as if to clear his ears. "What?"
The former ARC's mouth lifted into a smile. "You heard me, Rex." He sipped his caf again, seemingly calm, though Rex could tell that his brother was inwardly delighted that he was sharing this news. Indeed, a moment later, Fives spoke again. "I've a mind to track her down...see if she needs any help. What do the rest of you think?"
It was almost unreal; it was the closest thing to an answered prayer that Rex had ever experienced, so – naturally – he was uneasy to trust it. If it was true, he knew that he'd want to find her, but if not...well, he was unwilling to risk his new family's safety and stability based on a rumor. "Do you have any more information? Any way to validate the truth of all this?"
"No," Fives replied, shaking his head and glancing down at his mug. "But Mar and I are determined to look into it."
Coric and Kix looked about as skeptical as Rex, and Chopper was expressionless, as if he'd heard all of this before. Jesse's eyes were wide and his voice was a little awed. "But if it is true..."
"Either way, it's worth investigating," Chopper said suddenly, causing all eyes to fall on him. "It's something to hope for."
There was a bitterness to the scarred clone's words, and as much as Rex wanted to console his brother and hear about Chopper's experience since the Wars ended, he glanced back at Fives. "When are you leaving to start looking?"
"We were hoping to at least stay the night, here," Fives replied with a shrug. "After that, we're planning on doing a little more investigation as to the truth of the rumor; if it is true, we can come back and pick up anyone who wants to tag along on this adventure."
He said the words with unusual seriousness, and something in Rex's stomach twisted. Yes, it was what he'd hoped for, but the thought of leaving his family was...
But it's for the greater good, he told himself with an inhale. Not just for us, but for all clones, everywhere.
"There's more." Fives shifted in his chair and sipped his caf. "We heard from Ahsoka again a few days ago."
The mention of his friend's name made Rex's breath catch; he'd known that she was still alive, but that was about it. "And?"
The former ARC paused, then leaned forward and wrapped his hands around his mug, meeting each clones' eyes in turn. "She's working with Bail Organa, and Mar and I are thinking of joining."
Rex knitted his brows, but it was Jesse who voiced the question. "Joining what?"
Again, silence filled the room. Finally, Fives leaned back in his chair, his expression thoughtful. "It's early days, yet, but there is a resistance to the Empire forming even as we speak. Ahsoka's teamed up with Senator Organa; they're trying to organize everything, and she asked me if I thought I'd like to tag along. I said I'd keep it in mind."
All the clones exchanged glances, but no one said anything for a moment. Rex's mind was reeling; in many ways it was an appealing idea, and he knew that he could definitely be useful to such a worthy cause. But his life – such as it was now – was here, and he didn't think he could leave.
"Anyway, that's about it," Fives replied with a shrug, sipping his caf again. "Oh, except Mar and I got married on Zeltros a few weeks ago."
Now, Rex was certain that his brother was relishing the stunned silence, for even as the other clones' jaws dropped – even Chopper's – Fives smirked and leaned back in his chair, setting his mug down so that he could fold his hands behind his head. After a beat, Jesse laughed and slapped Fives' back, the others getting up from their seats to do so as well; when Fives caught his eyes, Rex smiled and shook his head, though his gut had twisted again at the word 'married.'
Jesse lifted his mug and they all toasted their brother. "Married? You? I can't even begin to imagine..."
"Yeah, well..." Fives' face actually flamed. "It wasn't a big to-do, just a simple Mando'a phrase, you know? But we figured...why not? We love each other and we wanted to. In the end, it was an easy decision-"
"But it's not an easy decision," Rex interjected, unable to keep quiet any more. "It's a huge responsibility, and there's so much to consider."
Fives arched his brow. "Like what?"
Rex exhaled and shook his head rapidly. "Like the fact that you're going to age at twice a normal rate from her, Fives. What happens if this lead on the long-neck is false, and you die well before she does?"
There was quiet for a moment, and Rex watched with satisfaction as the former ARC frowned as if in consideration. Finally, Fives shrugged and sipped his caf again. "We each live life by our own rules," he said at last, meeting Rex's eyes. "Mar's well-aware of my aging, which is one of the reasons she's so keen on finding Nala Se." He grinned. "Guess she likes having me around. Who knew?"
Again, Rex frowned. Fives' logic was so far-removed from his own point of view, it was impossible for him to understand how his brother could be so cavalier about the aging issue. But, he reasoned, Fives didn't have a child – not yet, Force willing – and therefore might be able to play things a little...looser than Rex could afford to.
With that thought, the wavering sense of calm that he'd felt last night in Bren's arms faded, and he realized with certainty that he would never be able to stop worrying about the pace of his own aging; among all of the other doubts he had about his ability to be a father and husband, the fact that he wouldn't be able to live out a normal life-span with his family was a fault that he couldn't overlook.
He had too much to live for, and not nearly enough time.