Relax, it's all ther. I just didn't feel like dividing it up into seperate chapters.
I do not own Star Wars.
The first glimpse takes Anakin's breath away. It's nothing special. There's no dramatic backdrop, no explosions going off, no heartfelt music trembling in his ears. Only the sound of his Master's voice. Only the unadorned utility of the briefing room. Only four people who have never worked together before meeting for the first time.
And yet there is him.
He is attentive to Master Kenobi's words. The perfect soldier, clothed in armor, helmet under one arm, identical to the man beside him. But his face…
His face is a map of planes and angles, glorious cheekbones, a hard jaw with a full, soft mouth, and strong black eyebrows. His hair is cropped short, allowing Anakin to examine the plain of his forehead and the most gorgeous pair of brown eyes he has ever seen. They are more gold than brown, the color of honey and wheat and the emotion in them...
Anakin can feel him in the Force, more clearly even than his Master. Determination, loyalty, intense drive. And beneath it all, a ferociously suppressed grief. He feels young. He is young, a ten-year-old in an adult's body, desperately trying to fill the too large space, trying to be brave and unwavering as he teeters on the brink of a galactic war that he is expected to win.
He glances up. Their eyes meet.
This is the beginning of the end, though no one in this room knows it. The galaxy has fallen away from Anakin, leaving him floundering for support, spinning in free fall. He is terrified. And yet, he is not. Exhilaration fills him, an exhalation that he will never be able to understand because it is beyond understanding. He does not need to understand. He only needs to know. To know that this man is somehow more him than he is himself, though they have never met before until this moment.
This moment, this all too brief eternity, is flash-frozen in the young Jedi's mind, preserved in carbonite. Nothing will ever be able to touch it. Nothing will ever be able to change it.
He glances away, his attention once again on the older Jedi. Ever the perfect soldier.
His name is Rex.
That shy smile sets Anakin's heart spinning in dizzy giddiness. It has taken him time and effort to earn it, and he guards it jealously. It is only for him.
Months of fighting side by side, back to back, have brought them close. How could it do otherwise? They are the perfect team, complimenting each other's strengths and covering the other's weaknesses. They can read each other better than two Jedi linked through the Force. That did not take time. They were always sensitive to each other, moving in perfect accord, even in their first battle.
Anakin has been careful, so very careful. His former Master does not know of his growing feelings for his captain. His Padawan does not know. Palpatine does not know, though Anakin suspects that he has guessed there is someone, even if not who. He has always understood Anakin better than anyone else.
But sometimes, Anakin fears that he has been too careful. That these all-consuming, torturous, perfect feelings are felt only by him. Sometimes, he fears that Rex would not love him back, even if Anakin were to bear his heart and soul to the young clone and offer him everything that he is. That he could never love him back.
That rejection is something that Anakin knows he could not survive. He wouldn't want to. So he keeps his treacherous feelings in the deepest part of himself, where only he can see them. They burn him with their intensity, so powerful. They are eroding him from the inside out. He knows he has condemned himself to the most painful of deaths, slow and torturous. And yet, if it means he gets to see Rex smile at him one more time in that slow, shy way of his, Anakin knows that it is a burden he will gladly bear, for the rest of his life.
A life without Rex would be worse than death.
He can feel the general's eyes on him. From the moment Rex met the young Jedi in that deceptively bland briefing room he has been hyperaware of the man's presence, like there's some sort of tracking devise on Skywalker that is constantly updating itself directly into his head. Whenever another trooper wants to know the general's location, they come to him, because he always knows where the man is. It isn't that Rex is keeping tabs on his superior; he's just very conscious of Skywalker's movements, for the sake of efficiency. That's all.
Time and this war have thrown Rex and the general together on many missions. He has learned to trust the man on a level that borders on blind insanity. But then, much of what Skywalker does might seem insane to someone not on the ground in the midst of the terror-inducing insanity that is war. And Rex is still here, still fighting, so his trust hasn't been misplaced. Skywalker has always kept his word, has never given Rex reason to doubt him.
Rex does not believe he ever will.
But even as he trusts his general without reservation, loyalty does not blind him to his faults. Though Skywalker is older than him, Rex often feels that he is the more grounded of the two and wise enough to understand the Jedi better than he does himself. His general is not a perfect man: he is prideful, and moody, and quick to anger— but these faults are more than balanced by the greatness within him, his capacity for joy and cleansing laughter, his extraordinary generosity of spirit, his passionate devotion not only to his men but also in the service of every living being. He is a man who knows exactly what he wants and is honest enough to simply ask for it.
But…things are not as simple as he wishes they could be. Rex has felt a change in the air for some time. The easy, natural camaraderie that has sprung up between himself and Skywalker is not as effortless as it seems from the outside. Rex has been aware for a while now that the general has a special way of looking at him that he doesn't turn on anyone else, not even his pretty senator friend. He doesn't think anyone else has noticed, not even Kenobi.
But Rex has notice. And he is frightened.
He is frightened because, when he meets Skywalker's eyes, he can see the storm that is brewing on the horizon. It is dark and powerful and full of lightning. And it is coming steadily closer.
Jedi are forbidden to love. He knows this. General Skywalker knows it, too, but Rex is beginning to suspect that he might not care as much as he should. And that is more terrifying than the young captain can begin to explain, because it means the end of the first time in his life that he's felt truly at ease, truly safe. The all too brief summer of their easy friendship is drawing to a close, and the winter looks as though it will be a hard one indeed.
So Rex pretends that he doesn't see the way the general looks at him. He pretends that he doesn't feel the immense weight of those very blue eyes pressing down on him, doesn't notice the heat that their mere glance causes to rise in his skin. He desperately ignores the answering warmth that has begun to kindle in his chest, like a bonfire in its infancy.
Skywalker is a Jedi. Rex is a clone. Nothing good can come from this, whatever this is, no matter how dearly he might wish otherwise. Jedi cannot love. Clones know nothing but war. These two in combination promise nothing but heartache and misery. The men need their superiors focused on the fight, on keeping them alive, not on flitting around each other in a dance that will not—cannot— have a happy ending for any involved.
His brothers' needs have always come first, before everything else. That is simply who he is. So, for their sakes, Rex pretends. He willfully closes his eyes to everything that the future could offer, a future that he wants so much that the wanting itself is a physical ache. He builds walls between himself and Skywalker and his too-intense blue eyes.
He pretends, and in doing so, a little piece of himself dies.
Wrong. Everything is wrong.
The air is harsh, filled with acrid smoke from thousands of burning buildings. Burning people. There are screams, pleas for help, wails of despair, all twining together and rising into the sky with the columns of smoke. People fall as the Separatist forces mow them down. Fall into the adhering mud that sucks them deeper, clinging to them as they struggle to rise only to collapse back and gasp their last breaths into its ooze.
The planet is burning. It needs to be saved.
But Anakin cannot do it. Oh, he might be able to rally the resistance, to lead the charge, perhaps even beat back the enemy for a few precious hours before Republic reinforcements arrive. But he will not do it.
He will not leave Rex.
…Anakin felt the warning in the Force, an insistent tug at the back of his mind as the clone troops exchanged fire with the Separatist forces and rebel factions. Anakin ignored the feeling; he had been feeling ripples in the Force from the moment they had come to this Sith-cursed planet.
He pushed the sensation aside, concentrating instead on deflecting blaster fire, to protect his troopers as they hurried back to the beleaguered ship.
He staggered at a flare of pain in his mind. Shock, agony, intense, overwhelming; Anakin turned in time to see Rex crumple to the ground. Their eyes met for a second, Rex's tight with pain as he fell, one hand splayed out as though to snatch at Anakin's cloak….
They are huddled together in a small bunker beneath a storage shed. It is cold, damp, and dark, moisture seeping from the dirt floor into the seat of Anakin's pants. He doesn't care. He holds Rex cradled across his lap, head resting in the curve of Anakin's neck and shoulder. His breathing is weak, stuttering. It matches perfectly the beat of Anakin's heart. Rex is so cold.
…No. No. NO!
Anakin didn't know if he was screaming aloud, or if it was just the sound of his heart being torn in two. He didn't remember throwing Cody aside, didn't remember tearing back down the slope, or bringing his lightsaber into play. He barely registered fighting, didn't notice or care about the bodies he sent flying to gasp their last into the thick mud. His ears heard nothing but the soft whimper of pain from his captain as Anakin tugged Rex's limp body into his arms.
Rex's eyes fluttered open for a second, dull with pain and piercing Anakin's heart. Anakin felt the frantic pulse of his heart slamming in his ears, felt the blaster wound in Rex's lower back that had crippled his captain, and heard each ragged breath that the younger man took. Each one slower, fainter….
"I won't let him die," Anakin says to the darkness, voice tight with angry despair. "I don't care what you do. You can't have him." He's mine.
He begins to pour his life Force into Rex, synchronizing their heartbeats and their breathing, trying desperately to keep his captain alive. Wrapping his thoughts around Rex's own, cementing them together, until they are completely intertwined. Until, if Rex dies, he will take Anakin with him.
I am the Chosen One. I won't let this happen. I won't lose him.
It was a route. They lost the planet. They lost the entire system. They lost half of a battle group before reinforcements showed up to cover the survivors' retreat.
Padme can't understand how everything went so wrong. They had foreknowledge of the enemy's position, of their weaknesses. They had the support of the planet's rebel fighters. They had one of their best Jedi generals leading the assault. And yet the entire campaign was a resounding failure. It will take time for the Republic to recover, time that its beleaguered forces do not have. The Separatists are already pressing their unexpected advantage.
At least, Padme thinks, at least there were survivors.
At least Anakin is alive.
Anakin. Her relationship with the young Jedi is complicated, to say the least. Seeing him in Palpatine's office after ten long years…she didn't recognize him. But that's not entirely true. A part of Padme will always recognize Anakin Skywalker, no matter what he looks like or how long he's been away. Ten years is nothing. And seeing him struck a chord inside her, something that she was not expecting.
He grew up. Gone was the earnest little boy she met on Tatooine. In his place stood a powerful Jedi with a direct, piercing gaze that pinned her to the spot and stopped the breath in her lungs. She felt his tension when he was around her, felt an answering tension in her own stomach whenever she heard his voice. They kissed once, briefly, in the chariot on Geonosis, before they were taken out to face what they were both certain would be their deaths. She wishes that there had been more time to say the things that her heart has been whispering to her from the moment she laid eyes on him again.
'I'm not afraid to die. I've been dying a little bit each day since you came back into my life. I love you. I think our lives are about to be destroyed anyway, so I don't care anymore. I truly, deeply, love you, and before we die, I want you to know.'
But there was no time, and the words in her heart went unsaid. They were put aside in the rush of the unexpected rescue, of Dooku's betrayal, the arrival of the clone army, and the loss of Anakin's right arm. And by the time she remembered what she wanted to say, it was too late. Master Kenobi escorted her back to Naboo while Anakin recovered in the Temple's Halls of Healing. She never got her chance.
They didn't see each other again for many months, and when they did, things had changed. Not for her. Padme does not think that anything will ever change the way her heart flutters when she hears someone say his name, when she sees him smile. But things were different for him. She could see it in the purely friendly smile he gave her, happy but contained. She could feel it in the restraint with which he embraced her, and she knew that he was not holding back simply because Obi-Wan was there. The spark of passion that once filled his eyes when he looked at her was gone, replaced by warm, slightly strained affection.
The war changed him. It turned him from an emotionally unrestrained Jedi Padawan teetering on the brink of independence into a self-contained Jedi Knight with dark, smoldering eyes. It lengthened his hair, giving him the look of an older, more experienced man. It gave him a scar high on his right cheek that he will not talk about. This war has given him hardship and grief, responsibility far beyond what should be expected from a man so young. And it has given him something else. Someone else.
Padme didn't know who, but someone took her place in Anakin's heart in their long months of separation. It made her wonder if she ever really had a place there beyond a childhood crush that he somehow clung to throughout his Jedi training. He romanticized her, put her up on a pedestal so high that she cannot see the top. The girl he thought he loved was an ideal, not a person. An angel. Padme knows that she is no angel. Her skin gets chaffed by the cold, she gets dirt under her fingernails and grit in her eyes, and her nose runs when she cries, just like everyone else. The Padme Amidala that Anakin fell for simply does not exist.
Yet, somehow, she feels as though she's let him down by failing to live up to his impossible expectations. Sometimes, alone in her apartment at night, she will imagine what could have been if she'd said what was in her heart on that blisteringly hot planet, what could have been if she had only tried a little harder to match his unattainable vision of her. Her hand will reach out, and for a moment, she almost expects to find his warm body next to hers under the silken sheets. But the bed is large, and she feels only cool emptiness where he might once have lain, in another life.
She loves him. She does not think that she will ever stop loving him, and it hurts to see only cool regard where once there was an answering flame. But she still has his friendship, for which she is grateful. At least she can say that she holds a small piece of Anakin's heart, if not all of it. It is enough. It will have to be.
Padme still cares for him, and that is why it hurts her so much to see him in pain. He is sitting in her apartment, on her couch. His head is cradled in his hands and he has not looked up once since sitting down. She knows that the recent defeat to eating at him, that his failure to save the planet, to save its people, is haunting his dreams. Every death that he cannot prevent takes a little more out of him. Padme worries that one day there will be nothing left but a sad, tortured ghost of a man.
"Rex is hurt." When he finally speaks it is so silently that she can barely make him out over the gentle bubbling of the fountain. "He's hurt real bad, Padme."
The anguish in his voice is plain to hear. Padme's heart aches in sympathy even as her throat constricts with something that she doesn't want to name as jealousy, though that's what it is. She's heard quite a bit about Captain Rex over past few weeks, enough that she feels as though she's known the man for years, though in truth they've never met. It's a shame really, because he seems like an honorable man, one she could respect, even like, if given the chance. But that's just not possible now, not with the way Anakin brightens each time he mentions his captain, not with the way his voice caresses his name whenever it passes his lips. The most Padme will ever be able to feel for Rex beyond the hot jealousy that churns her stomach is a cool, grudging gratitude for keeping Anakin alive through this war.
Anakin has never told her outright that he is falling in love with Rex, but he doesn't need to. Padme can see all the signs. She sees the way the mere mention of the young captain's name brings a smile to his face and a bounce to his step. It is painfully apparent in the distracted way he is always checking his comlink for missed calls and jumping whenever it goes off. He is so obvious when his whole face lights up, meaning that Rex is on the other end, or his shoulders slump almost imperceptibly because it is someone else.
She watches silently, without comment, but her lips burn with the memory of that kiss they should never have shared. She wonders if Rex can give him as much happiness as she knows she could, given half a chance. Rex is young, so much younger than Anakin, and so inexperienced in the ways of the galaxy. And he is a clone. Is he even capable of loving anything beyond war?
She knows these are foolish questions, but she can't help but wonder.
In the end, there is nothing Padme can do for the man she secretly loves but offer silent comfort. He starts at the hand she rests on his shoulder, but then turns and buries his head in her hair and cries. He cries from guilt and relief and lingering pain. He cries until he is spent and falls asleep on her couch, leaning against her with his face still in her hair. And Padme holds him through it all, silent.
There is nothing else she can do.
There is darkness. It is soft, inviting. Let go, it whispers. Just close your eyes for a little while. You deserve rest.
Yes…he does need rest. There has been so little time to rest. Training on Kamino, and then the war. He cannot remember the last time he just sat down and closed his eyes. Rest would be nice…
The voice is faint, hard to make out through the ever growing weight of darkness that presses down on him. He wants to ignore it. He wants to sleep, sleep without dreams. It has been so long since he could sleep without seeing the faces of the dead watching him, without feeling their eyes on him. Is it too much to ask for a little rest?
"Rex, don't you dare leave me! I need you!"
The voice is insistent, urgent. It refuses to be shunted aside, instead shoving itself right in his face, like the voice's owner is shouting in his ear. Maybe they are. It's hard to tell.
He wants it to leave him in peace. Just this once he wants to be left alone. All his life, someone has needed him. He has been the unshakable foundation, the safe harbor in the storm, the strong shoulder to cry on, always. On Kamino, on Geonosis, on Coruscant, everywhere someone needs him. Isn't there someone else, anyone else, that could do the job as well has he can, maybe better? Why can't everyone just leave him alone for five vaping minutes and let him have some peace?
He isn't strong. Not nearly as strong as he needs to be.
And he needs, too. He needs to have a place where he can lay his head down, a place where he can close his eyes for a few seconds and not have to worry about surprise attacks, or moral, or…or anything. He needs…he needs quiet, and security, and a moment's rest from the demands of this war he was created to fight. He needs so many things, things he can't have.
The voice still won't leave him alone. He wants to ignore it, but in the end, he can't. That's just how he is. When someone needs help, he can't sit by and do nothing, no matter how tired. He has never been so tired, so bone-weary. Everything would be so much easier if he could just sleep…just for a little bit…
Rex wakes up slowly.
The room is sparse, a small curtained-off section of the much larger med ward. Soft beeping issues from the machines that are hooked up to monitor his vitals. Cody gives him a strained smile from his seat next to the bed.
"You really had us worried, Rex. Actually thought for a few minutes that you wouldn't pull through. Should've known better; nothing keeps you away when the general calls."
Cody talks on, but Rex can't remember most of it, only bits and pieces. He's just too tired to focus.
He has been in a bacta tank for two weeks. He nearly didn't make it. He nearly died on that Force-forsaken planet. General Skywalker was here until the doctors had General Kenobi come take him back to Coruscant. He wouldn't leave Rex's side.
They lost the planet, the entire system. Half the battle group was destroyed. Torrent Company has been decimated. There are only three survivors, not including himself. The losses are even worse than at the Teth monastery.
The news hits Rex like a vibro blade to the gut, sliding past his worn defenses and piercing his stomach with cold ice. Three survivors. His entire company, gone. The system lost. His brothers died for something that they couldn't even keep.
His recovery is a blur of visiting faces and forced smiles. General Skywalker comes often. Rex finds relief in his general's presence, an ease he can't find even with his brothers. Simply by being there, the man calms him.
And yet, Rex can't allow himself to take comfort in Skywalker's company. He remembers the voice in the darkness, and he knows, he knows that it was Skywalker's voice. He would recognize it anywhere. He knows that this is the man who saved him, who kept him alive long past the point that anyone else would have given up.
He knows that this is the man that left his brothers to die. To save him.
This knowing is a betrayal of the highest degree. Skywalker is a Jedi, their superior officer. He is sworn to keep his men safe. And yet he abandoned them all to save only one. For this reason Rex cannot bring himself to relax in the general's presence. He can't let his guard down, can't find the ease and comfort he so desperately wants from this man, because if he lets his barriers slip for even a minute he knows that he will do the inexcusable.
He will forgive Skywalker.
Rex doesn't know how it happened, or when. But somewhere amongst all the easy banter and warm friendship, he has…developed feeling for his general. He doesn't even know what kind of feelings they are. All he knows is that he wants to see Skywalker be happy. That has become the most important thing in his life, more important than orders, more important than victory, more important than brotherhood. All his pretending was for naught. The infant bonfire in his chest has caught a spark, and long past is the time when it could be put out.
So he does the only thing he knows how to do. He pretends that everything is all right, as if anything can ever be right again. He pretends to smile at Skywalker, pretends to be at ease when inside he feels as though he's dying.
He has let his brothers down. In every imaginable way, he's let them down. He should have been quicker. He should have called for a retreat as soon as things went wrong. He shouldn't have allowed himself to be injured. He shouldn't have let Skywalker sacrifice the entire company just to save one man.
He should never have fallen in love with his general.
Rex knows that there is only one thing to be done. He must leave. He will put in for a transfer as soon as he is discharged. Torrent Company will be better off without him. Without him, General Skywalker will be able to focus on the mission and keeping their men alive.
He doesn't want to go, but there is no other choice.
"Do you understand your error, young Skywalker?"
That voice, so severe, so disapproving. The echo of it has hung over him from the moment he entered the Temple. Even after the Council agreed to let Obi-Wan train him, even after all these years, everything he's done for the Order, everything he's sacrificed, Master Windu's wary baritone still fills the dark corners of his mind with its doubts. Don't get complacent, it whispers, you might live under this roof, you might wear our clothes, you might even carry a lightsaber, but you will never be a real Jedi.
Even now, when he is a Knight in his own right, with a Padawan of his own, that mistrusting voice will not leave him. It sends cold shivers down his spine. Anakin wants to shout a denial, to scream at it that he is a Jedi. He wants to point back to all the successful missions, all the lives he's saved, everything that he's given up in order to become a Jedi. But his throat remains sealed shut against the biting words. It would not be proper to point out all his past accomplishments, it would not be respectful to tell the former Master of the Council to go vape himself. He would only cause Obi-Wan embarrassment and set a poor example for Ahsoka. It would not be the Jedi thing to do.
So instead of saying the scalding words that are crowding inside his head and pressing against the back of his tongue until it is almost a physical effort to hold them in, he bows low, head bent in contrition, and sees his Padawan echo his movements. That was a low blow, insisting that she be here for this reprimand. The decisions, and therefore the blame, where entirely his. But Master Windu insisted.
Anything to put me down. Every chance he gets.
"Yes, Master," he murmurs. "I understand."
And he does. He does not need the Council to tell him that he made a grave error in allowing the Separatists to take control of the system. He doesn't need Master Windu to point out that the Republic is already running short on troops and supplies, and they're not even a year into the war. He knows that every clone trooper lost is one more expense that the Senate cannot afford, one less body to throw against the seemingly endless waves of Separatist droid forces. He knows that he let good men die, men that he was sworn to protect, and each and every loss eats at him.
He feels like a flag left out on its pole for too long. He is ripped at by the wind and rain, pummeled from all sides by the demands of this war. All the lives riding on him tear away at him until he is more hole than cloth, and the wind is only growing stronger. He wonders if the Council can see that he is only connected to the pole by the weakest of strings. The next strong gust will rip him away and leave his spinning in the gale's heart, at the mercy of the elements.
Yes, he feels grief for his actions, feels bitter, biting regret so strong that it is a physical ache in the pit of his stomach. And if given a chance, he would have saved them all.
But he couldn't. In the end, it came down to a simple choice: save his men, save the planet…or save Rex.
Between those two options, there can be no contest.
So he stands before the Council, and the regret he feels for the lives lost is real. He will morn them until the day he dies. But understand his error? The real reprimand here is not that he lost the engagement, but that he allowed his feelings, his attachments, to influence his decisions. The real source of disappointment in Mace Windu's eyes comes not from the waste of good, brave soldiers, but from the fact that Anakin cares enough about one man to do anything to keep him alive. No, it is the Council that doesn't understand.
Don't you judge me, Masters, he thinks. Until you've held the man you love dying in your arms, with no way to save him, don't you dare judge me.
His body might be on Coruscant, standing in the Council Spire, but his mind and heart are parsecs away at the Kaliida Shoals Medical Center near the Naboo system. At this distance he can't get anything specific from Rex, only a general feeling of exhausted grief that makes his stomach clench and his eyes burn. If he could take all of his captain's hurts and cares away and onto himself, he would do so without a first thought. But Rex is a stubborn man, and rigorously self-disciplined. He never allows his distress to show. Anakin feels it nevertheless, feels it like a weight on his own shoulders, a weight on his heart.
He needs to see Rex. As soon as he can get away, he will take his fighter and go to the medical center to check up on his troops. No one will find it odd; he has always been a hands-on kind of leader. Maybe he will even take Ahsoka.
But there is no time. No sooner has the Council finished their official reprimand than they are telling him about his next assignment. Anakin fights down his despairing anger, his desperate need to see Rex again, alive and well, and once more bows to the Council's wishes.
He wonders how much longer he will be able to do this before something inside him breaks beyond repair.
No, no, this can't be happening. There must be some mistake; I can't be losing him!
These are the only thoughts in Anakin's mind. They chase each other in frantic circles like a swarm of angry insects, incensed, terrified, but with no visible target on which to release their pent up emotions. So they circle endlessly, droning their fear in the back of his mind until he is almost mad with it.
The transfer orders came through not four standard hours ago. Captain Rex requested relocation to another company, under a different general. He cited "personal issues" as his reason, nothing more. Moments after receiving the message, Anakin left Ahsoka with orders to carry on without him and was in his fighter and making for Coruscant with all due speed, pushing the ship to its limits and beyond.
He thinks frantically, trying to find a reason, any reason, for Rex to leave, but his mind is drowned in panic. He cannot think. Simply breathing has become a laborious task. His mind, his will, his entire being is focused on the city planet drawing steadily nearer through the blue swirls of hyperspace. He can almost sense the infinitesimal spark that is his captain, even amongst all the chaos of life that makes up Coruscant in the Force.
His mind is on fire with black dread. He can only hear one thought, a thought that has haunted him since Qui-Gon's murder at the hands of the Sith, since Padme's return to Naboo, since his mother's death on Tatooine. It has hung over him all his life, a desperate whisper that never leaves him, yet goes unheard by those that matter most.
I love you. I need you. Don't go. Don't leave me.
Tears blur Anakin's eyes until the blue fire beyond the fighter's viewport fades from his sight. All he can see is Qui-Gon running after the tattooed Sith. All he can smell is Padme's perfume as she embraces him in farewell. All he can hear is his mother's voice, cracked and weak from pain and too little water, telling him how she knew he would come for her.
He can't lose Rex.
But as Coruscant draws nearer, realization slowly dawns. Anakin feels the shift, a subtle change in the Force. He understands suddenly that he has made up his mind about something that he did not even know he was contemplating. It has been eating at him since he first met his captain, and that nearly fatal mission simply solidified his inevitable decision.
He is going to tell Rex.
His mind is made up. He can no longer stand beside Rex, see him smile and feel his warmth in the Force and be content to leave things as they are. His mind is screaming at him not to do this, he can't lose Rex, he can't, he can't. But what he absolutely cannot do is continue to live this lie. This lie that he has constructed to make it appear as though he sees his captain as nothing more than a good friend; the lie that his heart does not stutter in his chest when Rex touches him, that he does not feel the soring currents of love that he does when Rex is in the room, that the thought of being without the young clone leaves a cold, terribly empty place in his chest where his heart ought to be. The lie that he would not have died himself on that terrible planet if Rex had not survived.
Anakin does not know if this is a desperate attempt to keep Rex with him out of guilt or duty, or if he simply cannot let the young clone leave him without telling him first. Whatever the reason, he knows that Rex cannot love him back. He does not live in some fairytale. He long ago stopped believing in happy endings.
With these thoughts swirling like a tornado in his mind, Anakin races for Coruscant.
Rex tugs his sleep shorts on. Even after being discharged and returned to Coruscant, his movements are labored, lacking their characteristic confident grace. His back still twinges when he bends over too far. The doctor says it will fade with time. She gave him pain meds to help on the bad days. But however helpful the medication is for his back, it can do nothing for the ache in his heart.
He has yet to receive his new assignment, but these things take time. Rex will continue to live in his small private quarters in the now deserted section of the barracks that Torrent Company once occupied with their buoyant laughter. He does not have much, and what little he does is already stowed in his kit bag at the foot of his bed, ready to leave at a moment's notice. General Skywalker is away on deployment, so there is little chance of running into him. Rex expects he will be long gone by the time his general returns.
Something cold in his stomach twists a little tighter at the thought of sneaking out on his general without even a goodbye. It feels like a betrayal in its own way, an admission of guilt. Rex balls his hands into fists, but there is no energy in the gesture. He is too exhausted, too heartsick to be angry.
He doesn't want to leave. Even the thought of it, of never seeing Skywalker again, makes his traitorous eyes burn and his heart spasm. He wants to be angry with Skywalker, he should be angry. But something inside of him simply cannot do it. If his general where to walk into the room at this very moment, Rex cannot honestly say if he would punch the man or kiss him.
Such thoughts leave an acrid taste in his mouth. Kiss Skywalker. What a weak, childish wish. It is thoughts like this one that have landed Rex where he is now. It is thoughts like this one that have gotten his brothers killed. The hatred Rex feels in this moment is aimed entirely at himself for allowing such desires to influence him in any way. He cannot allow himself to be human, not even for a minute, for he knows that if he lowers his barriers and lets himself actually feel the grief at his brothers' deaths, the guilt at not preventing them, the love that burns so strongly in his heart for Skywalker that he would forgive him even this, Rex knows that he will break. And he does not know if he will be able to put himself back together again.
A sudden chime at his door announces a visitor. Rex looks up in confusion. He isn't expecting anyone, doesn't even know if anyone is back at base yet. He doesn't know if he can face another being right now without screaming at them or bursting into tears. The chime sounds again, more insistent this time.
Against his better judgment, Rex unlocks the door and lets his unknown visitor in.
The barracks are quiet, almost deserted at this time of night. Anakin slips down the hall, cloaked in the Force and invisible to all those that he does not wish to see him. The door to his captain's room slides open at the second chime.
Rex is there, perched on his bed. He is pale, tired. This war has worn him down. As it has them all. His sleep shorts hang low on his hips. He's lost weight since leaving the bacta tank.
Rex looks up, surprise on his face at Anakin's sudden appearance. And then just like that, Rex shuts down. Anakin feels it in the Force like a door being slammed in his face. It takes great effort not to visibly flinch.
Obi-Wan is always telling him that he allows his emotions to cloud his judgment, blinding him to what is right in front of his nose. Only now, with Rex looking at him with such careful blankness, does Anakin begin to realize the depths of the divide that has sprung up between them. And he knows that there is no one to blame but himself. He can rail at the Separatists until the end of time, but it will accomplish nothing. He is the one who has done this. He is the one that put that emotionless expression on Rex's face where once there was a welcoming smile. By sacrificing so many of his brothers to save Rex, Anakin has killed what little chance they had at happiness as surely as a well-placed sniper shot.
The realization makes Anakin sick, nearly sends him to his knees.
When Rex speaks it is without any inflection, simply a bland statement that lacks even the intonation of a question. "Sir. What are you doing here."
Anakin intends to say something meaningful, something to take the pain away, but nothing comes out. It feels as though all his words have died, consumed in the inferno that is his ever present fear. His thought to tell Rex how he feels suddenly seems childish, egotistical. How can he be thinking of his own pain when he knows, final knows, that Rex is hurting so much more. And it is his fault.
What can he say in the face of such a realization? Sorry is such an inadequate word, and cannot even begin to convey the depths of Anakin's anguish over what his blind, selfish actions have allowed to pass. But he cannot simply let Rex pass out of his life without a fight. He has to do something.
"I need to tell you something." The worlds stick in his throat. It is a battle simply to force them to his tongue and out into the open air. Once there, they cannot be taken back.
"Tell me what, sir."
Still no emotion. The man he sees in front of him might as well be a droid for all Anakin can sense from him in the Force. He might as well be dead.
It is this thought more than any other that jumpstarts Anakin into action. He is moving before he is consciously aware of doing so. He crosses the space between them in three quick strides and brushes his fingers against Rex's cheek in a caress that expresses more than words ever can. In this one simple gesture he conveys the depths of his misery, that he was the one to cause Rex any kind of pain. He shows his remorse for the lives he failed to protect, for the brothers that he could not bring home safely. And he finally lets the searing love he feels for this man course through him unchecked, burning like star's fire, terrifying and mesmerizing in its intense beauty.
Anakin sees when something changes, feels it in the Force like a thunder clap. Something in Rex's tense posture breaks, then crumbles to ash. Suddenly the young captain is shouting in rage, his fists beating at Anakin with mindless fury. These are not the errant strikes of some peeved senator. Rex is a trained soldier, and these blows hurt.
He cannot make out what Rex is screaming, if he is even using words. It is simply blind animal pain kept bottled up inside for far too long. He doesn't try to stop the punches, instead lets them fall. Anything is better than that dead, droid blankness.
Just as rapidly as the beating starts, it stops. Rex is suddenly slumping back onto his bed, sobbing like his heart is about to break. Answering tears are falling from Anakin's own eyes as he crawls onto the bed and pulls the younger man into his arms, uncaring of the way his ribs twinge when he breathes, the way his shoulder aches when he moves it the wrong way. They cry together for every life lost before its time, every fallen world, every moment of pain and sorrow that they have caused each other.
It seems perfectly natural in this moment to tuck his fingers under Rex's jaw, tilt his head up, and brush their lips together in the softest of kisses. It is an unconscious gesture, one meant only to comfort, but it sends fire racing through Anakin's vanes. Rex stiffens against him.
Anakin pulls away, suddenly breathless, feeling both mind-numbing terror and an odd triumph. The Force sings around and through him in a way it never did the only time he kissed Padme. If anything validates his feelings, it is this one perfect moment. But does Rex feel the same?
Looking into his captain's eyes, Anakin sees doubt, confusion, and lingering anger all mixed up in a nauseating tangle. He knows that he owes Rex an explanation at the very least. But he is suddenly uncertain if he can give one.
How can he put these feelings into words? Words mean so little, are such an inadequate way of expressing the depths of the all-consuming love he feels for this man. How can words say that Rex is his life: the marrow in his bones, the air in his lungs, the beat of his heart, the rush of blood in his ears, and the darkness behind his eyelids? How does he say that without Rex, the person that is Anakin Skywalker might as well not exist?
"From the moment I met you, all those months ago, not a day has gone by that I haven't thought of you." Once they start the words come easily, rushing forward to throw themselves over the edge and into the empty space beyond as Anakin tries to build a bridge between himself and his captain. Tries to make Rex understand. "Every day that I'm with you, I'm in agony. The closer I get to you, the worse it gets. The thought of not being with you...I can't breathe. I'm haunted by your very presence."
He is choking now. He cannot take these words back. They burn his throat, leave his mouth blistered and raw, but he cannot stop them.
Rex goes very still. He is scrutinizing Anakin with great intensity, like cornered pray watching the predator approach. As the words sink in however, something like despair enters his eyes. Anakin cannot bear it.
"If you're suffering as much as I am, please tell me." He commands, begs, pleads with Rex to give him an answer. Before his very soul goes up in flames.
Rex jerks away as if burned, then starts to his feet, pacing franticly across the length of the room and back. Waves of agitation, anger, and despair roll off him and crash against Anakin, nearly dragging him under. He wants to shout at Rex, to scream at him, but he remains silent.
When Rex finally faces him there is something so desperately angry and sad in his eyes that Anakin's heart nearly breaks.
"Sir, I-I can't. We can't. It's just not possible…" There are tears in his eyes again, shining in the dim lights of the small room. "You're a Jedi, I'm...I'm a clone. If you…you can't feel this way about me. You can't give up your future for me."
Sudden rage mixed with blackest despair fills Anakin's heart. "I don't give a damn about my future!" he shouts, jumping up from the bed to stand before the other man. "I don't have a future without you, Rex. There isn't a me without you. Don't you understand? I don't care what the Jedi say; I don't care what anyone says. I love you!"
Rex's answer is a strangled curse followed by a wretched sob. His eyes are squeezed shut, but tears fall down his cheeks anyway. "But you can't," he whispers. "You're a Jedi; you can't feel anything for me."
"But I do." It is the simple truth. It transcends all boundaries, all limitations. That the Jedi Code forbids attachment does not matter. That Rex is a clone, bread only to fight and die does not matter. The Republic could fall, the Sith could win, the Force itself could end and it would not matter.
Anakin loves Rex. Nothing can change that.
Rex shakes his head violently, trying to deny the truth that he hears in Anakin's words. "It doesn't matter what we feel for each other," he insists, ignoring the tears still running down his face as if he doesn't even know they're there. As if he's been crying inside all his life and this is simply an inevitable outward expression of that inner pain. "No matter what we feel, what we wish, this can never happen. It's a future that can't exist, sir. So stop reaching for it before…before something breaks that we c-can't fix." Despite his best efforts, his voice breaks on the last word.
But Anakin moves forward, buoyed up by a certainty that he cannot explain. His hand reaches out and touches Rex's cheek, his fingers curled under his chin. His captain glares, but doesn't pull away, allowing the touch.
"But you do feel something for me."
A shake of the head. Not a denial, just a show of frustration. "You don't understand, sir. That has nothing to do with—"
Anakin silences his captain with a look. That has never happened before, but then these are not normal circumstances. His thumb touches Rex's bottom lip, stroking. "It's simple in the end," he murmurs. "Do you love me?"
"Do you love me, Rex?"
Those heartbreaking eyes finally look at him, finally see him, and something inside them crumbles. "Yes," Rex whispers, shoulders slumping in defeat. "I love you, General. Anakin. I love you more than I ever should."
Anakin laughs sharply, a disbelieving sound that catches in his throat. It is as though a sudden weight has been lifted from his heart, leaving him feeling like he could dance through the air without the Force supporting him. He is suddenly possessed with the wild thought of running through Coruscant, skipping and laughing and yelling for the sheer joy of life.
Instead he leans forward, closing the breath's distance that separates them. Slowly, ever so slowly, giving Rex every chance in the world to back away, Anakin brings their mouths closer together. He could have cried for relief when their lips finally touch. Everything turns to light and the Force sings, shining bright as a young star against the gloom that shrouds the galaxy. But that gloom cannot touch this place, this moment. It has no power here.
Anakin trembles with emotions that he is powerless to hold back. All is light, and life, and Rex. Nothing else can exist in this moment. Nothing else would dare try.
"I love you," Anakin whispers to this most precious of beings. "I love you. I know you. You hold my heart, hatari. You are my heart, my life. I love you."
They fall onto the room's small bed with no memory of how they got there. Anakin slips the emotionally exhausted clone against his side, marveling at the way Rex's body fits so perfectly against his. He falls asleep to the faint sound of Rex wheezing as he slumbers, tucked safely beside him.
The end has begun.
Few things in life are simple. Rex knows this. He has known it from his earliest memories on Kamino, watching his batch's KE-8 care-taker droid evaluate him and his brothers for the slightest defect. He knows it from witnessing countless battlefield strategies blow up in their planers' faces. He knows it from seeing hundreds of beings going about their lives and wondering why he can't have a life like that, why he is so trapped when others are free to do whatever they want.
Loving Anakin Skywalker is not simple. It is messy, and dangerous, and stressful. Rex finds new grey hairs in the mirror each morning.
Skywalker—Anakin—is not a subtle man. It is not in his nature. He is forthright, direct, and truthful to a fault. In a field commander, this is a strength. He can see the objective and is not afraid to go after it with all guns blazing. But that sort of approach will not work in every situation. When it comes to conducting an ill-advised liaison with a fellow officer, some subtlety is called for.
Rex knows that having to hide their relationship frustrates Anakin. He sees it every time the Jedi glances at him, eyes bright and fierce, and so intensely blue. It is in every secretly stolen kiss, every suddenly aborted embrace because another person happens around the corner. The frustration lurks in Anakin's tightly restrained shows of affection when others are about and causes an ugly crease to form between his eyebrows.
He understands his general's—now his lover's—aggravation at having to hide the truth from everyone around them. He feels the burden of it, like an extra twenty kilos added to his survival pack, every time he talks with his brothers, jokes with them about sex and kissing, things that many of them have never experienced. He feels like he's somehow betraying them by having these things in his life and not at least telling them about it. Sometimes, the urge to confide in them is almost overwhelming. He wants to hear Coric's glib assessment of Anakin's idea of a romantic dinner, laugh self-consciously with Fives at their first clumsy attempts at physical intimacy, even endure Hardcase's inexhaustible supply of lewd jokes, more than half of which the younger clone doesn't understand. But knowledge of what discovery would mean for Anakin keeps his mouth shut and a false smile on his lips. Rex can only imagine how hard it must be for the young Jedi to keep this a secret from Kenobi and Ahsoka. They are the closest thing he has to a family.
But Rex also understands the high price that Anakin will pay if their relationship is discovered. Expulsion from the Jedi Order. His name slandered in thousands of holozines. The Republic that once looked to him as a hero condemning him as an oath breaker, the next big scandal, merely the latest piece of juicy gossip. Anakin deserves so much better than this. He has sacrificed so much for the Republic, put his own sweat and tears into winning this war. It makes Rex livid simply thinking about it. The possibility of what might happen to himself rarely, if ever, crosses his mind.
So their secret must be kept just that, a secret. Rex knows this, but Anakin is frustratingly blasé about the entire affair whenever he brings it up.
"Let them find out," he says with that infuriatingly brash, wonderful smile. "It won't change what matters: how we feel about each other."
No, Rex wants to point out, it won't change that, but they can certainly see to it that we never see each other again. But this would only put more stress on Anakin, and Rex doesn't want to fight, so he gives up and loses himself in the other's strong embrace. If Anakin will not worry about this, then he will simply have to worry enough for them both.
Yes, loving Anakin Skywalker is anything but simple. It is hard, and vexing, and frightening, full of terrifyingly new experiences and tangled messes that Rex never dreamed existed.
But there is joy. Oh, there is such joy. And laughter, and love, and those rare, incredibly precious slow mornings when they can just lie in each other's arms, trading lazy kisses, and forget about the rest of the galaxy. He doesn't know if it is about the little things, the big ones, or all of them. He doesn't know if it's about moments or a full shared life, about the fights or about the reconciliations, about his smile or about his voice, but he has never felt this way about anyone before in his short life.
Loving Anakin is not easy, but Rex would not trade this for anything else in the universe.
It is one of those rare evenings where no one has any pressing business to take care of. There is no frantic rushing about, no silent tension, no sharp comments that always come from poorly concealed anxiety. No, tonight everyone is relaxed, with nothing to worry about beyond the bolo ball game score and getting to bed early enough. It is one of those evenings that are commonplace for so many beings across the galaxy, barely worthy of notice and dull in their regularity.
But to Rex, a clone born—if it can be called that—into a legacy of war, where getting shot at is an almost daily occurrence, evenings like this one are painfully few and far between. For once he does not have to worry about the next assignment, when his men next ship out. He is free to relax in the Coruscant barracks' rec room and watch his brothers goof off and get into small, harmless tussles.
He settles back into his chair with a little sigh, so at ease that he is almost dozing. Everything comes to his through a sleepy haze, the friendly chatter, the sounds of the game on the holoplayer, the quiet thwack of the ping pong game being played with old fashioned wood paddles, none of that new-fangled holographic osik. It all condenses into a warm miasma of soft sound and settles on him like a blanket. He is in danger of truly falling asleep.
Rex pushes himself up from his slouched position and surveys the room with a benevolent eye. The men are settling in nicely, the awkwardness that always follows reforming a company practically from scratch having eased almost to vanishing. At the memory of that burning planet where almost all his men died, save for three—Coric, Kix, and Jesse—his throat tightens painfully and his eyes burn. He misses the others so much. Sometimes it feels like his stomach is tearing itself apart from all the pain he keeps bottled up. But even though he feels he might cry from the grief at his brothers' deaths, the simple joy of being surrounded by living, breathing men who take such delight in living and being together fills him with a fierce love that is just as strong as his heartache. He doesn't know what to call these feelings. Bittersweet doesn't do them justice. There doesn't seem to be a word in Basic, and if there is one in another language, he doesn't know it.
A line from a song he once heard resurfaces in his mind: the good times of today are the sad thoughts of tomorrow. Maybe so, but that doesn't mean that he can't enjoy them while they last.
An elbow bumping gently against his shoulder draws his attention back to the physical world. Coric is perched on the arm of his chair, a slightly concerned expression on his face.
"You okay, sir? You looked a little out of it for a second. You're not getting old on me, are you?"
Rex scrubs at his face self-consciously. "We're all entitled to our senior moments, Coric. I'm okay, just a little tired."
"You ought to get more rest, sir. You're no use to us dead."
It might sound unfeelingly callus, but Rex smiles.
"Aye, aye, sergeant."
Their conversation is interrupted by a loud argument on the other side of the room.
"I'm telling you, Zeltrons are so much better."
"And what would you know, you di'kut? You've never even kissed a girl."
"Doesn't matter. You can just tell. And who says I haven't?"
"Believe me, we would all be very aware if you had."
"Hey! I can be discreet. And besides, you don't know any more about it than I do, so you're one to talk!"
"Oh, we'll see about that!"
Simultaneous shouts of "Captain!" draw Rex's attention to where a red faced Hardcase and an agitated Jesse are standing in front of two of the more suggestive posters that the boys have put up. One is of a purple-skinned Twi'lek in impractical lacy undergarments regarding the camera with smoky eyes. The other depicts a female Zeltron, red skin contrasting brightly with the blue silk couch she is draped over. Rex isn't sure he wants to know how this argument started, or even what it's about, but he is the captain, and it's his duty to mediate all disputes, no matter how ridiculous or trivial.
"Okay, what's the problem?"
Hardcase speaks up quickly. "Sir, this idiot thinks that Twi'leks are better in the sack, if you know what I mean." And he waggles his eyebrows suggestively, only managing to make himself look ridiculous. "'If you like your humanoids flexible, svelte, enthusiastic, and in multiple shades of red, then the most beautiful people in the galaxy are Zeltrons.' See? It says so right here." He trusts a holozine under Rex's nose, so close that the screen blurs into indistinct shapes and colors.
"It also says that they all produce potent pheromones, like Falleen, which enhanced their attractiveness and likeability. And they're sort of telepathic, so they can feel your emotions and tell if you're having a good time."
Rex carefully removes the holozine from his personal space. "It sounds like you've done some extensive research on this, brother."
Hardcase blushes and pulls the holozine self-consciously to his chest. "Well, sir, we all have to have our dreams, don't we?"
This one statement, so simple and heartfelt, hits Rex like a punch to the solar plexus. His mind instantly jumps to Anakin, somewhere in the admin block finishing up a debrief with Yularen. He thinks about their stolen moments alone together, the brief kisses, the knowing looks, the feeling of having someone that, in a way, belongs to you, just as you belong to them. He thinks about the rare nights that they spend in each other's arms and of waking up to that smiling face and those bright blue eyes. He thinks about things that most of his brothers will never experience, though not from a lack of wanting.
Suddenly the warmth of comradery is gone from the room. The conversation carries on over his head, but he isn't paying attention. Rex suddenly feels so alone in this moment that he almost tells them everything. He almost spills his guts and tells them about his relationship with the general. He knows that most of them would be supportive, maybe even happy for them. But there are the few, like Dogma, for whom regulations are everything. It only takes one person to bring the entire precarious arrangement crashing down on them, and Rex cannot bear the thought of what it would mean for Anakin if that were to happen.
So he stays silent and listens to Hardcase and Jesse argue about things that they have never experienced, but desperately want. It is more than just a longing for physical encounters. They want the feeling of belonging with another, really, truly belonging. They want to know what it's like to fall asleep to someone else's heartbeat and wake up in the morning knowing that the other person will be there with you; that they would never want to be anywhere else. This is what they truly want, even if they don't know it.
Rex didn't know it himself until he found it.
He is saved from his unhappy thoughts when the door slides open, revealing a tired looking General Skywalker. The argument stops instantly; some things are just not meant for commanding officers' ears.
The Jedi scans the room with worn-out eyes and comes to a stop on Rex. "Captain, I just have few things I need your input on, then I'll let you go for the night."
That is what is said out loud, but Rex can hear the unspoken message meant only for him: I'm tired, I'm fed up. I need sleep, and I need to hold you.
He leavers himself out of his chair carefully, mindful of his still painful back. "That's okay, sir. I was just about to turn in anyway." I'm here. Whatever you need, I'm here.
They leave together, and no one thinks anything of it. They often finish work together in the evenings before Rex retreats to the relative privacy of his own small room and the general returns to the Temple. What no body knows is that as soon as the base's main lights are shut down for the night, Anakin returns, much more discreetly than he left, and they fall asleep together in Rex's much too small bed. It is not an ideal arrangement, but it is more than he ever thought he'd have, so for him it is perfect.
The door finally slides closed behind Anakin, shutting out the now dim lights in the hall. The young Jedi groans in relief and takes Rex into his arms and simply holds him, nose buried in his newly grown hair.
Rex is still a little self-conscious about his new hair style, which is silly, because it is the same as many other clones', plane black and neatly clipped, if a little longer than regulation. Anakin likes it longer.
His hair started growing out while he was in the bacta tank, and bacta has a way of sucking the dye job right out. In a way, Rex is glad. If his hair hadn't been different when he woke up, he might have changed it himself. He recognizes this reaction for what it is: a coping mechanism. His need to somehow be someone else, if only on the outside. It is the only way he knows how to deal with his grief. His hair is something easy to change, and the simple black crew cut is somehow soothing. It reminds him of his training days on Kamino, before he had the lives of his brothers weighing down on his shoulders. So he keeps it undyed and long.
They change into sleep cloths—Anakin has a pair hidden in the back of Rex's drawer—and crawl into bed together. There are no heated kisses or lustful touches tonight. They are both too tired, too weighed down by private cares. So they simply hold each other, share a light, loving kiss, and find peace in the other's presence.
Morning will come all too soon.
Sometimes, life is simple. Anakin often needs reminding of this. He is constantly surrounded by complex issues, political quagmires, and moral grey areas. He longs for the clarity of childhood, when everything was black and white, and good and evil did not change clothes and play hide and seek with his conscience. Even on Tatooine, growing up a slave in Mos Espa, he knew that slavery was bad and Jedi were good. Everything was so simple.
He still knows that slavery is bad, but he sometimes finds himself wondering about his second childhood absolute.
Since the start of the war, the Jedi have fallen from their vaunted pedestal as galactic peacekeepers and have taken charge of a slave army to save a Republic that is not as spotless as it would like everyone to believe. The longer the war lasts, the more tarnished the Jedi's gleaming armor becomes, until Anakin has trouble recognizing the order of luminous beings that he once believed would put an end to slavery.
He sometimes wonders if he's even on the right side.
But even as these dark thoughts creep up on him, threatening to drown him with their insistent whispering, he feels a strong, warm hand gripping his bicep, and he turns over in the bed to meet those beautifully familiar eyes, dark nut brown shot through with lighter amber rays around the pupil. It is like looking at an evening sandstorm that has obscured the sun. He feels Rex in the Force, his presence washing over Anakin like waves of golden light, soothing him. His captain draws his back from his dark thoughts with just a look, just a touch.
Just by being himself, Rex saves him.
Only when Anakin is with him does the ache in his heart ease. Rex makes sense of his life: without him all is chaos, violence, the agony of loss. Sometimes, often, he marvels that Obi-Wan never suspects anything. How can he love Rex so greedily, yet keep that devouring love hidden from one of the two men that know him best?
I guess I really am a powerful Jedi.
He loves Rex in every way, but best like this: eyes sparkling, cheeks flushed, hair tousled and sticking up all over. His face might be identical to every other clone's, but when Anakin looks at him, he sees only Rex, the loyal soldier, the recklessly brave captain . . .
He only has to look at him and the burden of guilt he feels about living this lie, deceiving Obi-Wan and Ahsoka, betraying the vows he'd taken with such solemn intent, eases almost to vanishing.
Because this is right. They belong together.
Rex reminds him that life can be simple, full of little joys like feeling another's hand in your own, smelling someone else's familiar scent on your pillow at night, waking up next to your lover who is absolutely certain that morning is something that happens to other people and grumbles at you like a sleepy nexu when you try to wake him up before he is kriffing well ready. He reminds Anakin that there are good, simple people in the galaxy that deserve to live their lives free of fear. He reminds him that he is human, that it is all right to lean on someone and let them take some of the burden. Every day, through all the little disasters and the big ones, Rex holds him together.
No matter what happens, Rex will always save him.
"Captain, down! Get down!"
Fear makes Anakin's voice come out an octave higher than normal, makes it shrill and tight like a wire about to snap. The grenade explodes, sending rock and debris from the mountain's slope raining down on one of the clones' fortified positions. For one terrible moment, Anakin thinks he's lost him.
Then the ruble stirs, and a familiar figure covered in dust emerges supporting another clone. Rex's voice, rough with dust and tight with suppressed pain, comes from Anakin's comlink. "I'm okay, general, but we've got two men wounded and one that needs a medevac right now."
It is an effort to bight back everything he desperately wants to say—You idiot! Don't do that to me, please! Don't you know what it would do to me if I lost you?—and he can only snap a terse "understood, captain," before he must concentrate on deflecting enemy fire away from his men.
He pays little attention to the rest of the engagement other than making sure all his men come home safely. The shuttle is surprisingly silent, especially considering that it is packed full of wounded and exhausted men. There is barely room to stand up straight. Anakin finds himself wedged in a corner with Rex's armored shoulder digging uncomfortably into his chest. It is an effort not to follow his instincts and wrap the foolishly brave man in a tight hug, but he is very aware of the rest of the troopers in the small space with them. So instead, he concentrates on his captain in the Force, feeling for any injuries. What he finds doesn't please him, but he isn't surprised.
Nothing major. The worst injury is a twisted ankle and some bruising on his left thigh. But there is a sharp pain in his lower back that has Anakin worried. He can find no recent injury, only the echoes of an old wound already healed.
The idiot. Those men would have been fine on their own. He needs to stop throwing himself at danger before he does something that gets him killed.
This is one aspect of Rex that Anakin has trouble accepting: his insistence on throwing himself into danger, as though he's somehow decided that his life is going to be short and violent and so sees no point in even trying to prolong it.
He knows this isn't a fair assessment; Rex is a soldier, has been from the time he was decanted, and being a soldier necessitates a different kind of mindset from that of a Jedi. A soldier has to be a team player, putting the others in the unit ahead of himself and must be willing to die for the sake of the objective, while a Jedi is—or was—primarily a solo agent, carrying out individual missions. They are rarely encouraged to put the mission ahead of their own survival because there simple are not enough of them to sustain high casualties. Yes, Anakin has worked with people in the past quite often, but he has never had to rely on someone other than his Master the way the clones rely on each other. He and Rex come from two very different worlds, and it is inevitable that there will be complications.
But Anakin cannot accept that the mission is ever worth the lives of any of his men, especially Rex. The mere thought of sacrifices for the greater good makes him sick with anger. This is simply one part of Rex that he cannot bring himself to love unconditionally, and that fact makes his heart ache.
Rex knows that Anakin is mad at him; he always does. And he is obviously annoyed with his general, if his clipped, no-nonsense replies are anything to go by. That evening in Anakin's quarters he is icily civil, as though the men are still around. By now Anakin is fed-up with this silent non-argument. He wants it to end.
He just wants to hold his lover.
Everyone has a bit of knowledge that they hold in reserve. A secret hard-earned and well-kept, to only be taken out in extreme emergencies.
And as Anakin looks over at the man sitting at the desk across from him furiously editing a mission report and growling at the datapad, he knows it is time.
He sets his own datapad down and pads across the room as Rex starts to curse in Rodian. Ever so cautiously, he leans over the young clone's shoulder and unleashes the secret that could have been the undoing of the great Captain Rex many times over. He likes to call it the Master Plan.
First, he gently breathes on the back of Rex's ear.
"Gaugh!" The datapad clatters to the desk, and Rex practically scrambles out of his seat. "Anakin. Geez. Look… I…" There is an appealing flush on his face, and he rubs behind his ear as if it itches. The annoyed look hasn't left his eyes. Yet.
On to the second part of the Plan. Anakin corners him against the desk, fingers skating along his ribcage as he slides his hands under Rex's sleep shirt.
"Anakin… Ana... wait waitwaitwait." Rex squirms, clearly trying not to laugh as he clambers back onto the desk. There is the faintest scrape of gooseflesh in the wake of Anakin's nails. "Not fair, this isn't… Gah!"
Now the hardest, but most rewarding part of his Master Plan—shoving Rex down on the desk to blow the most undignified raspberry in history against his stomach.
Rex is laughing so hard his eyes are watering, finally dragging his fingers through Anakin's hair and guiding him away from ticklish skin. The Jedi grins, climbing on top of him and nuzzling their noses together in a Wookiee kiss.
Rex is still chuckling as he strokes Anakin's cheeks, exuding an odd mixture of love, amusement, and aggravation. "Fine, fine, but only because if I don't you'll keep tickling me. I don't think we want poor Chopper to come running to your room asking if you hurt yourself again because he heard me shriek. Hiding under your bed is not comfortable."
The war rages on. All across the galaxy, the places left untouched are few and far between, only the darkest, most remote corners where even the bravest of space farers dare not venture. Neutrality is a word that ceases to have meaning. Either you are with the Republic, with the Separatists, or you are the enemy. There is no room for a middle ground.
This frightening way of dealing with the galaxy, seeing everything in absolutes, black and white, this or that, them or us, is not confined only to the battle field. It has pervaded the Senate as well, turning beings that were once friends and allies against each other. They jockey for position, for Palpatine's favor, desperate to get every advantage they can lay their grasping fingers on to protect their worlds when the inevitable comes to pass and General Grievous's malevolent gaze falls on them.
Padme can't blame them. She understands that they are frightened. She is frightened, and she has faced dangers that many of her colleagues can only imagine. But seeing what her beloved Republic is turning into fills her with angry despair. Once, she was proud to serve in the Senate, proud to say that she was a representative of her people in the greatest democracy the galaxy has ever known.
Once, she was proud of herself.
Now though, when she sees the depths to which the Republic has allowed itself to fall—to which she has allowed it to fall—she feels only shame.
She pulls herself away from such dreary thoughts and focuses out the window of the public transport. It is raining. Water running down the glass smears the usually inspiring view of Coruscant into something warped, blotched, and not at all lovely.
Coruscant's true face, Padme cannot help but think.
Once more she turns from her dark musings and focuses on her destination: the GAR spaceport. Anakin is back from a three month long deployment in the Mid Rim, and she thought it would be nice to surprise him. They have not seen each other in so long.
Even now, after almost three years of being nothing more than good friends, Padme's heart still stutters at the thought of the young, handsome Jedi. She long ago gave up hope that he would look at her with the same desire that once filled his eyes, and, as a storm eventually runs out of rain, the sharp-as-a-knife pain in her heart has eased with time to a dull, constant ache. Most days, she doesn't even notice. She can now bear to look at his face and not feel as though she might burst apart from all the longing and bitterness that once filled her.
The military spaceport is surprisingly empty when she arrives, the troopers and officers already gone back to the barracks for food and rest. Only a few troopers and non-clone personnel linger, and they are clearly anxious to leave. Padme scans the hanger, looking for a familiar figure in dark robes. And there he is, standing in the shadow of a pillar, in deep discussion with one of his clone troopers.
Padme decides to wait until he is done. She watches to two unobtrusively from a spot where she will not be in the way. Anakin looks tired, but invigorated. There is energy in his movements that she has not seen since the earliest days of the war. His robes and hair are damp from the rain, hanging in dark blonde tangles around his handsome face. The clone—obviously and officer based on his shoulder pauldron—watches the Jedi's face intently. His skin is dry, but there is still moisture on his armor, beading together and running in rivulets down the white and blue painted surface.
Something about how they are standing catches Padme's eye. They are not being unprofessional and are standing no closer than necessary to have a private conversation. No, it is not that. It is more the way they are standing, the way their bodies are inclined a fraction toward each other's, as though drawn together by an invisible force.
Then Anakin reaches up in one of his instinctively friendly gestures and clasps the young clone's shoulder. It is nothing unusual, at least not for him, but the hand lingers longer than it should, then slides further up until it cradles the other man's neck and jaw gently in its large gloved palm. The clone's intense look softens to one of gentle, fond regard. They stay like this, frozen for a small eternity, and Padme is certain that for them, in this moment, the rest of the galaxy has ceased to exist.
Her breath catches and the dull pain in her heart throbs suddenly like an old battle wound reawakened. In this one gesture is so much love, and yearning, and sad regret that she feels answering tears prickling in her eyes. Quickly she turns away and moves into the hanger's adjoining monitor room. Padme takes several deep breaths, trying to control her emotional reaction. A hand presses to her mouth to stifle the sole sob that escapes.
Padme has known for some time that Anakin is in some sort of relationship with his captain. It is imposable not to know; they are good friends, and she is not above keeping tabs on him for her own peace of mind. Until now though, she didn't know exactly what that relationship entailed.
Despite the pain she feels that it is not her that brings that gentle, loving expression to Anakin's face, she is happy for them. For him.
To tell the truth, she has been worried about the young Jedi. During the brief private time they are able to steal away from work and duty, she sees a change in him. He is troubled, less able to shake off the defeats and taking more grim pleasure in the victories. The war is putting so much stress on him, and it is beginning to affect his relationship with his Padawan and former Master. Padme has watched him slowly push two of his closest friends away. He is not even aware that he is doing it, but there is a gulf growing steadily between them. Anakin is more prone to brooding and sudden flares of temper, and he says that he is not sleeping well.
Something about nightmares.
Seeing the way the war is changing him hurts more than watching the Senate fall under the control of conniving, money-hungry politicians. Anakin is good, so bright. Padme cannot think of a worse fate for him than seeing that light smothered by war and hardship.
So no matter the old jealousy she feels, Padme thanks the Force for Rex, because she can see now that the young clone really does make Anakin happy.
They make each other happy.
That is all anyone can ask for.
Anakin lurches upright in bed, body shaking, lungs constricted, covered in sweat. He struggles to breathe. It feels like he is suffocating, like he will never breathe again, until, with a sudden muscle spasm, his chest unclenches and he is able to gasp a lungful of desperately needed air. He half turns, and Rex is with him, lying curled on his side in the narrow bed with the blankets pulled over his head so only tufts of black hair can be seen. And when he sees the long rise and fall of the blankets with the cycle of his breathing, he turns away and buries his face in his hands and sobs. The tears that run between his fingers then are tears of gratitude. Rex is alive, and he is with him.
Silently, so as not to disturb Rex's sleep, Anakin disentangles himself from the sheets and gets up. Slipping quietly from Rex's room and passing through the barracks unseen is not a strenuous feet for a Jedi of his power, and he soon finds himself on the deserted rooftop.
He stands silently, letting Coruscant's night wind cool his heated skin, letting the sounds of the city that never sleeps wash over him, and looks off to the east where he can just make out the spires of the Jedi Temple rising against the sky.
So little distance separates them, yet it might as well be the entire galaxy. Every time he has to leave Rex is agony. It is like a wound on his heart, which only begins to heal when they are together, is ripped open afresh. Even when they are on deployment together, they can't let on to anyone how deep and all-consuming their relationship is. It is torture, having to stand there passively next to the man he loves, unable to hold him, touch him, kiss him. Rex is his second heartbeat. He is his air, his light, the very force that holds him together and binds him to the galaxy, which gives him, Anakin Skywalker, meaning.
But now this dream…
Anakin doesn't know how long he stands there staring. He feels damaged, broken in battle, stained with darkness. He can't bear to look at anything: the Temple, the lines of air traffic, even the faint stars, so he closes his eyes, trying desperately to block everything out. But when the darkness descends behind his eyelids, the dream returns.
There is nothing distinct, just blurred impressions filled with pain and panic. A tearful voice that he can't make out yet recognizes instantly. Arms tight around him, clinging desperately. The sound of a single blaster shot close to his ear, a strangled sob, and behind it all, the heat of flames.
At the end, a single phrase is whispered in his ear, and the loss and agony in it make his heart shudder violently in his chest.
Anakin, I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry. Anakin, I love you.
He jerks his eyes open with a desperate gasp, staring sightlessly at Coruscant's endless cityscape. He feels Rex's presence before he hears him. The young clone can be amazingly silent when he chooses to be. He doesn't turn around. He simply stays where he is and absorbs Rex, his presence in the Force shining gently in his mind, exuding warmth, soothing him.
At the sound of that cherished voice Anakin finally turns…and forgets how to breathe. Rex is standing just outside the maintenance hatch that leads to the roof. He looks like he has just woken up, with his mussed hair sticking up in all directions, barefoot and face blurred with sleep. His sleep clothes are rumpled and one of Anakin's sleep shirts is hanging loosely off one bare shoulder.
Anakin has never seen anything so beautiful.
Rex comes to him, putting a gentle hand on his shoulder. "What's wrong, love?"
Anakin turns away, staring sightlessly at the city, and searches for the right words.
"I had a dream," he says finally. "Like the ones I had about my mother." Rex nods silently. Anakin has told him about everything that happened on Tatooine.
He can't bring himself to continue. He feels that if he talks about the dream out loud then he is giving it power, acknowledging the possibility that it just might be true. And that is something he cannot bear.
Rex waits in silence, not pushing him, content to wait until Anakin is ready to tell him. He can feel Rex's patience and trust, and is so grateful for both that his throat clogs with tears. Everyone, the Jedi, the Senate, even Palpatine, demands something from him, regardless of whether it was something he is ready or willing to give. But not Rex. He waits, not pushing, willing to let Anakin tell him when he is ready and to listen with his full attention when he is.
Anakin suddenly feels sick to his stomach. How can I serve a government that sees Rex and his brothers as nothing more than droids made of flesh, expendable and easily replaced? And I'm no better than they are. I've never hesitated to use the clones when I thought the situation demanded it. I've never hesitated to use Rex. He deserves so much better.
He turns to Rex and his eyes catch a small hit of grey in his black hair, right at the temples. Anakin's eyes narrow and he searches his captain's face for any other signs of premature aging.
Rex is painfully young, only thirteen really, and he will die long before he should. Something dark begins to coil in Anakin's gut. Something vile, vicious. Hatred for the Kaminoans, who condemned his love to far too brief an existence. Hatred for the Republic and the Jedi, for using Rex without regard for his life or wishes. And hatred for himself, for never having questioned before the morality of using a slave army.
He is brought back to himself with a jolt by Rex's hand on his cheek, his touch warming Anakin's chilled skin. Unconsciously, he raises his own hand to cover Rex's and finally looks his love in the eye.
"I had a dream," he repeats. "It was about you."
Rex accepts this with a slow, serious nod, waiting for him to continue. Anakin swallows thickly. His voice is raw and hoarse, as though he's been shouting all day. "I couldn't stand it. I can't stand it. I saw you wounded on the battlefield. I tried to heal you, but…I couldn't save you. You died."
Rex blinks slowly, then nods, seeming to absorb all Anakin has said. "All right."
How can he take this so calmly? He has only a short time left to live; they have only a short time left to love each other. He will never live to see the end of the war, to see real peace, and all he says is all right?
Seeing the disbelief in his eyes, Rex sighs. "This is war, Anakin. People get hurt and people die. You and I understand that better than most. It's happened to so many of my brothers, it was only a matter of time before it happened to me." He gives a small, sad smile. "To be honest, I never expected to live to the end of this war."
He can't take it. He can't watch Rex be calm and accepting about his own death.
Desperation and terrified anger fill Anakin, and he clutches at Rex, pulling him close. He grabs Rex's head with both hands, cradling it, and presses their foreheads together so that Rex has to look into his eyes, so that he understands that he means everything he says. He even puts a little Force-command behind his words.
"But it will be different for you," he hisses. "I won't let you get hurt. I'll keep you safe. This dream will not become real!"
But even as Anakin speaks, Rex closes his eyes. Anakin sees tears slipping from beneath his long lashes.
And he understands.
Even if he keeps Rex safe through the war, they will still be ripped apart all too soon by Rex's cruelly short life. In the end, his dear one will still be stolen from him.
It's not fair, he thinks bitterly. It's not fair.
But those are weak, helpless thoughts, so he pushes them away. Rex is with him now, alive and safe. The dream is nothing more than his deepest fears; and even it if it is a vision, he has knowledge of it in advance. He will do everything within his power to protect Rex.
No one will take his heart from him.
"I swear to you, Rex. I'll keep you safe. And after we win the war, I'll find a way to give you a full life. One we'll share together. No one will be able to tear us apart, not the Senate, not the Jedi, not even the Force itself. I swear to you."
Rex nods, tears still leaking from his closed eyes. Their lips meet, and the universe becomes, for one last time, perfect.
Padme has never seen him like this. No, that is not entirely true. She has seen this, this frantic pacing and helpless clenching of fists. She has seen it before on the ship from Naboo to Tatooine, on the way to rescue his mother from his nightmare. They arrived too late then.
Anakin paces the length of her living room, stops as if angry to see the wall in his way, then turns and starts the desperate cycle all over again. He has not stopped moving since he arrived, so full of nervous energy, unable to even contemplate sitting down. Padme wishes for something to do, anything to ease the deep lines on his forehead and around his mouth, but until she knows what is wrong, she can do nothing.
But Anakin seems unable to talk. He paces in silence, only growing more frantic as time wears on. It is as though he is desperately trying to escape from some terrible beast, but the faster he runs, the closer it comes, and now he feels its hot breath on his neck. He cannot stand still, and he cannot get away. He is trapped, the world is closing in around him, growing smaller each passing minute until either it must stop shrinking or he must break.
Finally, Padme cannot take the silence any longer.
"Anakin, what's wrong? What is it?"
Her voice startles him. He jumps, and she cannot remember the last time she saw him do that.
"Nothing," he says, but when he meets her gaze he looks away. "Everything. I don't know. I can't…I can't tell you."
It is then that Padme knows that this has something to do with Rex. There is nothing else he can't—won't—tell her. She will have to tread carefully. He mustn't know how much she suspects. He is under enough stress already, and in this unbalanced state, she is not entirely sure how he would react if he knew how much she has guessed about his relationship with his captain. The old Anakin, the one she knew before the war, would stutter and deny, but eventually admit to the truth, perhaps even welcome someone to share the burden with. But this Anakin pacing across her living room is a caged animal ready to attack at the first provocation. The war has changed him from an honest, easy-going young man into a battle hardened killer who won't hesitate to eliminate a threat to those he loves. And in his obviously distraught state, Padme is not certain which category she would fall into: loved one…or threat.
Anakin stops suddenly in front of the curving transparisteel window that covers an entire wall, offering a magnificent view of Coruscant in all her nightly splendor. He stares at the tableau, but he doesn't see it. His blue eyes see something far away that Padme cannot begin to guess at, but whatever he sees fills his face with a broken despair that makes her own eyes burn in response to seeing him in such pain. She wants only to go to him, wrap him in her arms, and offer comfort, but she cannot. It is not her right. That privilege belongs to another.
But he came to me, a tiny voice whispers deep in her chest. He's here with me, now, tonight, not at the barracks, not with Rex, but with me.
She so wants to believe that this must mean something, but her common sense insists that he has come only because she is his friend. He cannot go to Obi-Wan about this, so he comes to her. That is all.
The dark little voice inside her continues to whisper its desires, ignoring her common sense. That small, easily overlooked voice has always been there, deep down, hidden inside her jealousy and bitterness. Those feelings never left, no matter what she told herself. She only became more skilled at disregarding them, shoving them to the side, pushing them down until they were lost from sight. But not gone. Never gone.
And now, seeing him so distraught, on the verge of screaming or tearing the world apart, and yet so handsome in the wash of Coruscant's nightlights, she cannot hold herself back. She touches his shoulder, and her fingers burn at the contact even through the cloth of his tunic. They do not burn as much as her lips, parted to draw in quick gulps of air. They only shared one kiss, just one, but it haunts her still, scorching her like the hot Geonosian sun.
He turns to face her, and his eyes are burning as well, twin furnaces of blue flame beneath his drawn eyebrows. She searches his face for something, any hint of the passion that he used to feel. That she still feels. But there is nothing warm in his features, only cold, frozen grief that she cannot begin to fathom.
For some reason, her heart breaks. It is only now, in this quiet moment alone with him in her apartment, that she truly understands that she has lost him utterly. These three years she has watched him love another, watched him struggle and toil and finally succeed. She told herself she was happy for him, for them, and she was. But only now does the reality hit home that he is in love with someone else. It seems silly that it should take so long for her to understand, but hope is a resilient creature, finding nourishment in the most unlikely of places, and a part of her always hoped that he would come back to her.
She understands now that he never will.
The kiss surprises even her. She did not mean to kiss him; he is not hers to kiss, he belongs to Rex. But she cannot stop herself any more than she can stop the tears that fall from her eyes. His lips are thin and dry, cracked from being worried at incessantly by his teeth. They are just as she remembers them, and that only makes her cry harder.
If anything, she intends it to be a goodbye kiss, a farewell to all her childish fantasies, and more than likely, to him. She does not push for more. The only points of contact are their lips and the hand she has laid on his shoulder. She can feel his shock running through him in a small, continuous tremor. But just as she steels herself to pull away, to break her connection to him forever, he moves.
Suddenly there is a hand in her hair and another at her waist, pulling her closer. They are not gentle touches; they are tight and desperate, and the hand on her waist will most likely leave bruises, but she doesn't care anymore. The reasons behind his sudden response don't matter. He is here, he is kissing her, and, for tonight at least, he is hers. No matter what the morning might bring, she will always have this moment. Nothing can take that away.
The night passes in a blur of sensations, only a few of which she can recall with any degree certainty: his lips on her neck; his mechanical hand cold against her stomach; her own hands smoothing down his bare, strong back; his tears dampening her hair and falling on her face to run down her cheeks as though they are her own; his voice, rough and hoarse with grief, only speaking one word the entire time—Rex.
Morning dawns grey and listless. The weak sunlight illuminates the large bed, the silken sheets, the rumpled pillows.
Padme is alone.
She finds only a terse message on her private terminal saying that he has been called away to the Outer Rim sieges and that he hopes she has a good day at work. Padme's hand falls unconsciously to her stomach as tears of anger and regret fill her eyes.
She does not see him again for nearly nine months.
As he steps off the shuttle at the Senate building and gets his first real look at Coruscant in almost nine months, Anakin has trouble recognizing the planet that he has called home for thirteen years of his life. He sees the Senators' expectant faces, the eager expressions of the holonet reporters with their droid cams floating above them, and cannot make a connection between the now and the has been. He looks around him at the impossibly tall buildings wreathed in smoke from the recent battle, at the afternoon sunlight that sets such an odd contrast to the sirens that still echo from the burning sectors, and everything seems washed out somehow, devoid of the vibrancy that once defined it.
Coruscant doesn't seem entirely real anymore.
Maybe he is simply tired. He has been weary for what feels like many lifetimes, but is only a handful of months. Anakin rarely allows himself to sleep anymore, because he knows that the minute he closes his eyes he will hear those heartbreaking sobs and feel the heat of flames. Instead, he occupies the night cycle hours in deep meditation, searching the currents of the Force for anything that might prevent his nightmare. When he is too exhausted, rubbed raw from almost constant submersion in the Force, he watches Rex sleep. These are the only calm moments he finds anymore.
Anakin doesn't want to be here. Someone else could play poster boy just as easily has him, but Obi-Wan said that he would make the report to the Council, and Anakin couldn't every well refuse without a plausible reason. He and his former Master still pretend that nothing has changed since the start of the war, when in fact, everything has. Now that they are finally back on Coruscant, Anakin desperately wants to go to the Jedi Archives and throw himself into his research. Perhaps the ancient records will have the something that he has not been able to find in his own search of the Force. Something to save Rex.
Over the past nine months it feels as though ice is slowly creeping its way through his veins and toward his heart. The burning desperation he first felt after the dream has turned to a frosty dread that is eating him alive. He can't bear to have Rex out of his sight on the battle field, because each blaster shot might be the one in his nightmare, the one that will steal everything from him. He can't let that happen, but all his nights of searching have found nothing.
The recall to Coruscant in light of Palpatine's capture at the hands of General Grievous did something to finally break the icy advance. Palpatine has been a father to him from the moment he set foot on Coruscant, always ready with a kind hand on his shoulder or an encouraging word. His danger allows Anakin to briefly set aside his numbing dread and focus on what he does best: saving people.
In a guilty way, Anakin is grateful that Palpatine was captured; if not for that, he and Obi-Wan might have been stuck in the Outer Rim for who knows how long. Now that they are home he can do proper research into the deepest mysteries of the Force and find a way the save Rex from his nightmare. He must save him; there is no other option.
A figure catches his eye, someone standing beyond the edge of the group of admiring senators, lost among the large columns. She is small, almost swallowed by a voluminous dark green senatorial gown, and unnervingly familiar. He turns his head away quickly in an uncomfortable mixture of guilt and shamed anger. He will not think about that night, he will not dwell on it, he will not think about her. He has done everything in his power to forget about it, just short of mind-rubbing himself. His actions that night came from grief, need for physical comfort, and a brief wish for simpler times, when he thought he loved the fiery senator from Naboo and believed that the Force would work everything out in the end.
Anakin turns his attention back to the crowd around him and finds himself shaking hands with Antar's senator. Her gown is a foggy pale grey…like the eyes of the bodiless corps that was once Dooku. They had been brown eyes in life, heavy with mockery whenever they sliced over him. In death they went glassy, so glassy as to be colorless, at least in his memory. They stared at him, not accusing, not pleading, but with the blank all-seeing of mirrors. "Know what you've done and what you are."
Anakin pulls himself away from such thoughts and forces a smile for the Antaran senator. No, think of something else. What's done is done.
As soon as this war is over, he will leave the Order. He and Rex will find a home together, maybe start a farm the way they always talk about when they dare to imagine a life for themselves beyond war. They will be happy, perhaps adopt a few children, and raise them as they themselves should have been raised, far from broken oaths and condemning stares. And Rex will never die.
He closes his eyes and tries to imagine his lover with their hoped for children in his arms, glowing so brightly in the Force, but all he can see are the eyes. All he can hear are the cries from his nightmare.
His mechanical hand clenches into a fist. He has to remember Palpatine's words. He has to listen to Palpatine, or he will go crazy. "It's only natural."
And I am natural. I'm not a white-washed Jedi like Obi-Wan. I don't belong in this pure and holy Order. Pure and holy. Dehumanized. I'm natural. I love and I fight and I kill. I had a mother and I have a lover. Nothing to be ashamed of. I would kill for either of them. Have killed for one of them. And I have a father. I've killed for him too.
He looks away from the eyes. Father. A figure he, supposedly conceived by the Force, can only choose for himself. Which does he mean, Palpatine or Obi-Wan?
He isn't sure.
I should forget it. There are so many other things I have to worry about, without reawaking the dead.
"Anakin, my boy, are you quite all right?"
He looks up in surprise at the voice, sees Palpatine's kindly concerned face, and manages something close to an actual smile. "I'm all right, Chancellor. Just a little tired."
"That's quite understandable, given what you've just gone through. If I might have a moment of your time, however, there are certain things I want to discuss with you."
Anakin bows respectfully. "Of course, Chancellor."
Palpatine strides away in the direction of his office, robes of state billowing darkly around him like an umbra.
"Rex, I can't—" There is a pause, a huffing sigh that comes like a burst of static over the comm. "Listen, Rex, something's come up. I have to spend the night at the Temple."
Rex fights down his initial surge of disappointment. "Oh... well, all right, Anakin. I'll miss you."
"I'll miss you, too." A swallowed. "I miss you already."
"We'll be together tomorrow?" He hopes he doesn't sound nearly as whiney over the comm as he does to his own ears, but he misses his lover.
"Yes. And soon, for the rest of our lives. We'll never have to be apart again."
He nods, though there is no one to see him. "Rest well, love."
"I'll do my best. You, too."
Rex stays where he is long after the call ends, seated on his bed, about to crawl under the covers. It is a small bed, only meant to hold one person, but it has known the warmth of two bodies entwined together for so long now that when one is missing, it feels dreadfully empty.
He shakes the thoughts from his mind and slides under the covers. Being a soldier means knowing when not to ask questions, and Rex has never been anything but a soldier. But a part of him feels as though he ought to have asked Anakin what is keeping him at the Temple when they haven't really seen each other in the two days they've been back on Coruscant. He is always running off to Council meetings—he's on the Council now, and Rex couldn't be prouder—or late for a consultation with Palpatine. He and the Chancellor have been seeing a lot of each other.
The loneliness he feels makes Rex scowl in reprimand at himself. He has no right to monopolize the general's time. Anakin has important things to attend to, and duty must always come first. He has no right to feel cheated out of what little time he and the young Jedi have together when he has something that so many of his brothers will never experience. He has no right to wish for more time with the man, because no one knows when they will die, even if they aren't fighting a war, even if they don't age as fast as clones do.
He has no right…but he misses Anakin.
Rex buries his face in the pillow and the smell of the other man overwhelms him, raspberry shampoo and dried sweat, with just the faintest hint of machine lubricant, and his throat tightens with the sudden, unexplained urge to cry. The loneliness becomes an abrupt ache in his chest that makes him gasp into his pillow, desperately trying to muffle any sound so one of his brothers doesn't get curios and come to investigate.
He misses Anakin. It's absurd, the man is on the same planet, they just finished talking to each other over the comm. They've gone much longer than two days without seeing each other, and Rex has always managed, even if it is more difficult to fall asleep in an empty bed. He can't explain this irrational yearning for a man who isn't gone, but Rex misses him with a desperation that's almost a physical ache.
Perhaps he is only now noticing the symptoms of a disease that started months ago.
After they were shipped off to the Outer Rim sieges, after the nightmare, Anakin started changing. It was such a small thing that Rex didn't notice it at the time, but looking back now he can clearly see the shift. The gregarious young man, so free with his displays of affection, so quick to tease a smile out of his usually grim captain, began to disappear. In his place is someone much more withdrawn, with flinty, tired eyes and insomnia to match. The man Rex fell in love with is being replaced by a stranger that looks exactly like him.
Rex squeezes his eyes closed and calls up a memory to fend off his loneliness. He and Anakin are relaxing in bed on the Resolute after lights out, playing at being a normal couple and planning a vacation that they both know they'll never take. But maybe they will. The future is always changing, isn't that what General Yoda says? Despite Anakin's nightmare, Rex believes that there is a chance they will see the end of the war, and be happy together for however long they have. He has to trust in the future, if only because he is so uncertain that one actually exists.
He turns over in his too small bed that is at the same time terribly vacant and lets himself dream of an indistinct future, shaky and unclear, yet full of laughter and light. Long before morning his pillow will be dry.
Nothing makes sense anymore.
That is all that Anakin can think as he sits in his room at the Temple, a room he has lived in since the age of nine. The familiar marble floors, the sparse furnishings, even the view through the single window of Coruscant's cityscape are all slightly off. It is like being in the middle of a dream that you know isn't real, yet you can't make yourself wake up. It seems impossible that only days ago he and Rex were relaxing in bed on the Resolute after lights out, playing Sabacc. He remembers letting Rex win just to see that triumphant smile and faint flush that victory of any kind brings to his face.
Then the call came that Coruscant was being invaded, and the Chancellor was kidnapped. He and Obi-Wan saved the day, saved Palpatine, and everyone came home safely.
Except Dooku. He will never come home again.
And then there is the nightmare. Like the ones he had about his mother, only worse, because this is even less clear. He can never remember exactly what happens. He is only certain of one thing.
Someone dies. And he knows that that someone is Rex.
He needs Mastership, now more than ever. It is not about vanity, or even what he feels is owed to him after all his service and sacrifices. Only a Jedi Master has unrestricted access to the most sensitive Archive information. All the most powerful holocrons, all the Order's hidden secrets, kept under lock and key and seen only by Masters. Anakin is certain that if there is any way to save Rex, he will find it in the Archives' restricted section.
But when he is granted a seat on the Council, he finds out too late that they have short changed him. Palpatine said that he would be put on the Council, and he is, but not as a Master. He is only the Chancellor's representative, able to express Palpatine's wishes, but with no vote and no status.
It is the ultimate betrayal, and the only thing that keeps him from raging against the Council is Obi-Wan's stern look. But even that familiar quiet disapproval is not enough to drown the anguish that fills his heart.
Rex. Rex is the only thing that matters. He doesn't care about Mastery, not really, and he doesn't need the Council's approval. He only cares about saving his captain, his lover, from that horrible dream.
It is then that he realizes that he is only a Jedi in name. He doesn't know when the break began, but it has progressed to the point where the only thing keeping him in the Order is his need to find a way to save Rex. If it weren't for that he would gladly leave, and good riddance. Even Ahsoka isn't enough to make him stay. Not anymore.
On the heels of this realization comes even more bad news. Obi-Wan pulls him aside after his first Council meeting and tells him the true reason that he is even allowed to sit in that chamber.
"The Council," Obi-Wan says slowly, "approved your appointment because Palpatine trusts you. They want you to report on all his dealings. They have to know what he's up to."
"They want me to spy on the Supreme Chancellor of the Republic?" Anakin blinks numbly. "Obi-Wan, that's treason!"
"We are at war, Anakin." Obi-Wan looks thoroughly miserable. "The Council is sworn to uphold the principles of the Republic through any means necessary. We have to. Especially when the greatest enemy of those principles seems to be the Chancellor himself!"
Anakin's eyes narrow and turn hard. "Why didn't the Council give me this assignment while we were in session?"
"Because it's not for the record, Anakin. You must be able to understand why."
"What I understand," Anakin says grimly, "is that you are trying to turn me against Palpatine. You're trying to make me keep secrets from him—you want to make me lie to him. That's what this is really about."
"It isn't," Obi-Wan insists. He looks wounded. "It's about keeping an eye on who he deals with, and who deals with him."
"He's not a bad man, Obi-Wan—he's a great man, who's holding this Republic together with his bare hands—"
"By staying in office long after his term has expired. By gathering dictatorial powers—"
"The Senate demanded that he stay! They pushed those powers on him—"
"Don't be naive. The Senate is so intimidated they give him anything he wants!"
"Then it's their fault, not his! They should have the guts to stand up to him!"
"That is what we're asking you to do, Anakin."
Anakin has no answer. Silence falls between them like a hammer.
The next words are said quietly, as though someone might be listening in. "Master Windu traced Darth Sidious to Five Hundred Republica before Grievous's attack—we think that the Sith Lord is someone within Palpatine's closest circle of advisers. That is who we want you to spy on, do you understand? If Palpatine is under the influence of a Sith Lord, he may be in the gravest danger. The only way we can help him is to find Sidious, and to stop him. What we are asking of you is not treason, Anakin—it may be the only way to save the Republic!"
How can he say no to that?
The conversation with Palpatine at the Mon Calamari ballet is uncomfortable to say the least. He is certain that the Chancellor can see the guilt eating away at him and dreads the inevitable question. Palpatine has always been able to read him like an open database. Their awkward discussion takes a surprising turn, however, when the Chancellor reveals a more than cursory knowledge of the Sith.
"Anakin, are you familiar with The Tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise?"
Anakin shakes his head.
"Ah, I thought not. It is not a story the Jedi would tell you. It's a Sith legend, of a Dark Lord who had turned his sight inward so deeply that he had come to comprehend, and master life itself. And—because the two are one, when seen clearly enough—death itself."
Anakin sits up. Is he actually hearing this? "He could keep someone safe from death?"
"According to the legend," Palpatine says, "he could directly influence the midi-chlorians to create life; with such knowledge, to maintain life in someone already living would seem a small matter, don't you agree?"
A universe of possibility blossoms inside Anakin's head. He murmurs, "Stronger than death..."
"The dark side seems to be—from my reading—the pathway to many abilities some would consider unnatural."
Anakin finds himself half out of his seat, fists clenched and trembling. He forces himself to relax and sit back down, and he takes a deep breath. "I need you to tell me: would it be possible, possible at all, to learn this power?"
"Well, clearly, not from a Jedi."
The dark side poisons everything. You think to use it for good intentions, for the best of reasons. It extends a hand to help you, and then never lets go. Tighter and tighter it grasps you, and slowly, slowly draws you in, and whispers in your ear secrets you never told, knowledge it should never have. It is a smiling stranger, but this stranger knows your name, knows your history, knows your thoughts, knows your every desire and fear, and it will tell them to you, as it draws you close. Then comes the plunge into ice, and the screaming.
True darkness does not come about suddenly. Like the onset of night it is a gradual thing, creeping slowly forward, growing greater with every angry thought, every selfish impulse, every petty vice, every derisive comment, every proud act, every blow meant to hurt, not disarm or gain necessary victory but hurt. It moves slowly, so slowly that looking right at it blinds one to its movement, makes it appear to be only a harmless shadow that will pass when the sun shifts. This shadow is anything but harmless, and when you turn your head away, content in your certainty that the darkness is temporary, that is when it moves, rushing head long and overtaking you before you can even draw breath to scream.
"What have I done?"
Dark flames cloud his vision, swallowing everything that he once knew to be absolutely, unshakably true.
"What have I done!"
A roaring fills his mind. There are no words, just the terrible sound.
"You're following your destiny, Anakin. The Jedi are traitors. You saved the Republic from their treachery."The voice is gently familiar, cutting through that unbearable noise and calming the agony inside him. But only temporarily. He needs more, needs to do what the voice says, or he will go mad.
But his friends.
He can't believe his friends would…that Obi-Wan and Ahsoka would…and he can't…he can't…
"It's them or me, Anakin. Or perhaps I should put it more plainly: It's them or Rex."
And just like that, his torment falls away. No longer is there any doubt within him. There is no room for it. Not anymore.
If this is what it takes to save Rex, then so be it.
"Kneel before me, Anakin Skywalker. It is your will to join your destiny forever with the Order of the Sith Lords?"
The answer comes without hesitation, without thought. "Yes."
"Then it is done. From this day forth you shall be known as Darth…Vader."
The blackness inside him intensifies, swirling madly, but he is the one in control now. He is the one who controls his fear. And before long, he will never have to fear anything again, because he has the power now, he wields it, and he will never lose Rex.
"The Jedi are relentless. If they are not destroyed to the last being, there will be civil war without end. To sterilize the Jedi Temple will be your first task. Do what must be done, Lord Vader. Do not hesitate. Show no mercy. Leave no living creature behind. Only then will you be strong enough with the dark side to save your captain."
He will do what must be done. But first…
In a quite alcove of the Senate Building a dark robed figure bends its head over a device that appears to be a comlink.
"Rex, can you hear me?"
"Anakin, what's going on? The Chancellor just issued Order Sixty-six. Are the Jedi rebelling? Are you safe? What's happening?"
"I'm safe, my love. You don't have to worry. But it would be best if you stayed in the barracks while the Jedi are dealt with."
"What? I can't do that. I can't sit on my shebs while my men fight, while you fight. I won't!"
"I'll make it an order if I have to. I'm still your general. Please, Rex, stay in the barracks where you're safe. For me."
"Alright, Anakin. I'll stay. But you better come back in one piece, do you hear me?"
"Yes, Rex, I hear you. Stay safe. I love you, so much."
"I…I love you, too."
The Temple looms before him, a behemoth of marble and duraplast, a monument to peace and serenity that no longer exist. Not for him. Now there is only focus, drive, and darkness. Jedi fall before him, gasping as he pulls his saber from their bodies. He does not really see any of it. None of it is really happening. That is what he tells himself as he slays Padawans, younglings, beings he has known all his life, has lived with, has played and laughed and bickered with. Rex is the only real thing in the universe, the only thing he allows himself to see as he slaughters his family.
But then he looks down, and there is a little girl staring up at him. Her eyes are wide, frightened, and so green that it hurts to look at them. She is staring at him, at his blade, and it is all suddenly every real indeed. The truth of what he is doing hits him like a cruiser, nearly sends him to his knees, but he must do it. He must kill them all, or Rex will die. It is just like Palpatine—Sidious—said: them, or Rex.
He has already made his choice.
He cuts her down, hears her whimper of pain, and nearly becomes sick. But he must keep going, he must, and so he does, killing and killing, trying to out run his fear, his anger, his love. Everything becomes a blur, faces are no longer distinct, and it is a relief. He can no longer recognize those he is executing, so it ceases to be personal. It is like slaughtering the sand people on Tatooine, with their masked, alien faces.
Strangers, not friends.
Enemies, not family.
Meat, not living beings.
As he turns the corner he catches sight of a class room and recognition hits him. He attended knot class in there. Tru Veld helped him learn how to tie a Bantha slip. They spent hours coming up with ridiculous names for various knots base on their shape and laughing at their own inventiveness.
And here, in this alcove, just hidden from sight behind a tall statue, was where he and Darra Thel-Tanis shared a first awkward kiss. He remembers the way her ginger hair kept tickling his nose and the bright purple ribbon she had woven into her Padawan braid.
And this was the dojo where he beat Ferrus Olin in the Padawan tournament. He was certain then that this was what it felt like to concur the galaxy. Ferrus was so angry.
He pushes the memories away. They belong to another person, one that no longer exists. Anakin Skywalker is dead. There is only Vader now.
Vader keeps killing, but now there are tears running from his eyes, falling down his twisted face. More memories flood him, good and bad, happy and angry, such a confusing mix of emotions. He tries to shut them out, push them away, burry them. They burn him, they burn, and he cannot carry on if he lets himself see them. But he must carry on.
Rex. I'm doing this for Rex. Rex, Rex, Rex, Rex.
He chants the name silently in his mind like a charm to ward off evil. Repeats it incessantly until it becomes a constant drone, a sound with no real meaning.
He keeps killing.
Turmoil does not even begin to describe what he is feeling. It feels like…he isn't sure. Nothing has ever prepared him for this, not training, not real world experience, and he doesn't know what to feel, let alone what to do. All that remain are orders. Orders keep you alive, protect you from things that you can't see, and so you follow them without question because to hesitate means not only your death, but the deaths of all those who serve with you.
But right now, orders are what are keeping Rex from fighting alongside his men. They are out there in the Coruscanti night, facing down the Jedi traitors, fighting, dying, and he isn't with them.
He paces frantic circles around his room until he feels as though he will suffocate if he is trapped in this small space for one moment longer, then moves his pacing to the nearest rec room, the one with the posters of various female beings in suggestive poses and impractical undergarments. He doesn't see them, the walls they're hung on, the furniture that he skirts around. All that exists right now is the smoke he can see rising from the Temple out the window.
Rex stops and presses a hand to his mouth. The gesture is not meant to suppress a sound—the barracks are empty, and there is no one to hear if he screams his head off—it is a gesture of helpless anguish.
The Jedi…how could…how could they do this to us?
He does not believe that all Jedi are traitors. Anakin obviously isn't; he stayed loyal. Rex cannot believe that Kenobi…that Ahsoka…
No, they are not traitors, he is certain. They can't be.
They can't be.
Time passes like molasses on a cold day, slow and so thick that you could drown in it. Rex comes perilously close to disobeying Anakin's order to stay in the barracks, actually has most of his armor on before training kicks in and stops him. He holds his helmet in trembling hands, staring unseeingly at the familiar blue markings, then hurls it against the wall with a wordless cry and sinks to the floor sobbing like a terrified child.
None of this is happening, it can't be happening, why won't someone save him from this nightmare?
The sound of familiar footsteps has Rex on his feet and heading for the door an instant before it opens and the person outside steps in.
Rex freezes. The man standing before him is tall, dressed in dark Jedi robes, with long blond curls and a scar high on his right cheek. He looks exactly like Anakin Skywalker, and no one who saw him would be able to dispute it, not even another Jedi. But all the small nuances that clones use to tell each other apart in a sea of identical faces are telling Rex now that this person is most definitely not Anakin. This is a stranger, someone who looks exactly like his lover, and yet, in a hundred small ways, not like him at all.
Then he smiles, holds out his arms, and the mask of alienness falls away to reveal Anakin, tired and careworn, but still Anakin, still the man he loves. Rex goes to him with a choked sob and holds him tightly, desperately, and is held just as securely in return. And for one blissful moment everything is all right.
"Anakin, you're all right." The worlds come without thought. "You're all right."
"Of course I am." He can hear the smile in the other's voice. It has been so long since he heard it, and he trembles in exhausted relief.
Anakin leads him over to one of the scruffy couches and sits with him, an arm around his shoulders. For a moment Rex allows himself to rest his head on his lover's chest and hear his heartbeat. It takes enormous self-discipline to push away and get back to business.
"The men, Anakin? How are they?"
The look of good humor falls from his general's face. "We lost some while taking the Temple. Kix, Attie, Punch, Coric. More wounded, but most will recover."
Rex closes his eyes against a new flood of tears trying to force their way out of his already red eyes. A gloved hand brushes his cheek and he leans into the caress. "What about Kenobi and Ahsoka?"
The hand on his cheek stiffens minutely. "The Jedi are traitors to the Republic, Rex."
He pulls away from the hand cupping his cheek and turns to fully face the other man. "But...are you sure? It seems so... unbelievable..."
"I was there, Rex. It's all true."
He isn't really expecting any other answer, but to hear it said with such certainty…Rex feels like his lungs are starting to crumble under the pressure of disbelieving grief that settles on his chest. "What happens now?"
"All Jedi are required to surrender themselves immediately," he says. "Those who resist... are being dealt with."
"Anakin—they're your family—"
"They're traitors. You're my family. You're all I need."
"How can all of them be traitors—?"
Something in Anakin's expression hardens and, for a moment, Rex is staring at the stranger that has his lover's face. "They're traitors because Palpatine says they are. That's all there is to it."
Rex pulls away, stands abruptly. "Is that how it works now?" He can't keep his disbelief out of his voice. "People are traitors because Palpatine says so? What about my brothers? What about me? What will the Chancellor do with us when we're of no more use, declare us traitors and have use executed?" His mind flashes back to Cut on Saleucami, Cut who deserted the army so he could have a family. What would happen to him?
"Palpatine and I have discussed you already. You're in the clear, so long as you avoid... inappropriate associations."
"How am I in the clear?''
"Because you're with me. Because I say you are."
Rex stares at him as if he's never seen him before. "You told him."
"There's no more need for secrets, Rex. Don't you see? I'm not a Jedi anymore. There aren't any Jedi. There's just me." Hereaches for his captain's hand. Rex lets him take it. "And you."
"Then we can go, can't we?" And he feels like a traitor for even suggesting it, for even thinking about leaving when his brothers are trapped here, but desperation and fear force the words from his mouth anyway. "We can leave this planet. Go somewhere we can be together—somewhere safe."
"We'll be together here,'' he says. "You are safe. I have made you safe."
"Safe," Rex whispers, and the word tastes like ashes in his mouth.
Anakin reaches for him, but he moves away, goes to the window and leans his head against the cool glass. He can't see the smoke against the darkness.
"The Separatist leadership is in hiding on Mustafar. I'm on my way to deal with them right now."
His stomach tightens and his eyes burn again. He doesn't bother to wipe them clear. The world would still be just as distorted.
"This is an important mission. I'm going to end the war."
He doesn't look away from the glass as it starts to fog up from his warm breath. "You're going alone?"
"Have faith, my love." Rex feels the familiar warmth at his back and finally turns around. Anakin is staring at him like he is the most precious thing in the universe. Once that look made him melt inside, made him feel special. Now it only makes his tears fall all over again. Anakin reaches up with his gloved prosthetic hand and catches the drops of moisture, stares at them like they are something indescribably valuable. "I love you," he says. "This won't take long. Wait for me."
A sob catches in Rex's throat as he lets himself fall into his lover's strong embrace. "Always, Anakin. Forever. Come back to me." My love. My life. "Come back to me."
He smiles down at him. "You say that like I'm already gone."
Padme doesn't know how long she stands and watches the Jedi Temple burn. It could be hours, days, years, and still it burns, once a monument to peace and now a smoldering torch that lights the night with hell fire. The babies inside her kick, echoing her own distress, and she puts a hand on her stomach in an unconscious effort to sooth them. But the fire does end, eventually, or at least grows dimmer with the early light of morning. Jedi rebellion or not, there is still work to be done and bills to be signed. Padme tries, she really does, but her mind won't stop wondering about one question.
Is Anakin all right?
She has only seen him once since their night together, in front of the Senate Building, surrounded by eager admirers. She hoped to catch his eye, maybe talk to him. He ought to know that he will be a father, even if he won't have anything to do with raising the children. But when their eyes did meet, he looked away quickly as though ashamed. Padme wasn't surprised really. For him, seeing her can only be a reminder of the one time he was unfaithful to the man he loves. Any children that result from the union will only be permanent, living symbols of that night he wishes never happened. It wouldn't be fair to him to ask him to take on that burden, just as it would do the children no favors to have a father who sees them only as marks of his own guilt.
No, better that he not know about them.
But now, with the Jedi rebellion, everything has upended itself. Things are coming together far more quickly than Padme expected. There is an urgent notice on her terminal saying that Palpatine has called an emergency meeting of the Senate and attendance is mandatory. She is gathering her things, thankful for the small distraction of movement, when C-3PO shuffles hurriedly into her office.
"Mistress Padme, oh, Mistress Padme, come quickly! It's Master Kenobi. He's here, and he won't go away!"
It takes a moment for the words to make sense to her sleep deprived mind, and then she is running, faster than she has run in months. And there he is, standing in her living room, smoke stained and weary beyond belief, but he is alive, thank the Force, he is alive. She trips, nearly falls, and he catches her and holds her when she clings to him, sobbing her relief. But he isn't here for her.
"When was the last time you saw him, Padme? Do you know where he is?"
She blinks at him, her relief turned to confusion. "Where's who, Obi-Wan? Who are you talking about?"
His face is tight with something that she is afraid to name. "Anakin. Where is he? I need you to tell me right now where he is, Padme. Please."
"I don't know where he is."
He doesn't believe her. "Padme, you must help me," Obi-Wan says. "Anakin must be found. He must be stopped."
Coldness settles in Padme's stomach and the babies kick agitatedly. She has no idea what Obi-Wan is talking about, but for some reason he believes she knows where Anakin is. But she doesn't. She hasn't seen him face-to-face in nine months. "Why do you need to find him?" she asks, and her voice sounds brittle to her own ears.
Obi-Wan looks away for a moment, a haunted expression crossing his face. "He has turned against the Jedi, Padme. The children in the Temple were murdered. I saw it. They were murdered by Anakin."
Her first impulse is to laugh, it's such a ridiculous idea, but the sound catches in her throat. Anakin…murdered younglings. No, that can't be right. He would never—could never—do anything like that. Not her Anakin.
But Obi-Wan is looking at her with such grave certainty. He has never had much of a sense of humor, and if this is a joke, then he has chosen the worst possible time to try and be funny.
She knows that he isn't joking, however. Not about this.
Oh, Anakin…what have you done?
The shock makes her knees go weak. Obi-Wan has to help her sit on the nearest couch and places a worried hand on her shoulder. The babies' kicks grow frantic in her belly.
Master Kenobi's voice is soft and slow. "He must be found."
Padme's lips feel numb as she speaks her next words, "You've decided to kill him."
"He has become a very great threat."
Her face feels hot, the skin too tight. Her eyes are burning as if she poured acid in them.
Obi-Wan stands and frowns down at her, speculative. "Anakin is the father, isn't he?"
She can only look away. Tears leek from her eyes and burn their way down her cheeks. So this is what it feels like to have your world break around you. It's much quieter than she imagined. There ought to at least be sirens, but the only sounds are the bubbling of the fountain and her own heartbeat thundering in her ears.
Obi-Wan believes that she and…that she and Anakin are lovers. If only he knew the truth.
The Jedi Master says, hushed, "I'm very sorry, Padme. If it could be different..."
She only shakes her head, once. "Go away, Obi-Wan. I won't help you. I can't." And that is the truth. She knows no more about Anakin's whereabouts than he does. "I won't help you kill him."
He moves away, backs toward the landing platform. "I'm very sorry." Then he is gone, swallowed up in Coruscant's early morning traffic.
As soon as she is certain she is alone, Padme sends a notice to Bail letting him know that she won't be attending the meeting and asking him to make her apologies to Palpatine. She bids a worried C-3PO to tell anyone who asks that she is feeling ill and doesn't wish to be disturbed, then rushes to the hanger and her private speeder. She might not know where Anakin is, but she knows someone who does.
The trip to the GAR barracks is a short one. Her security clearance gets her inside easily, but once there, she is at a loss. The place is enormous, bigger than the Senate Building, and she has no idea where to find the man she is looking for. On impulse she approaches a wall terminal and enters a number in the search bar: 7567. The computer hums quietly to itself, and then displays a message on its screen: block C35, level 2, room 67-Z8.
The room looks just like all the others she has passed, but the number on the door matches the one she scribbled on her palm. She hesitates. Should she knock? This is his home, and it would be rude to barge in. She almost laughs at herself, thinking of manners and niceties that have ceased to have any meaning and yet run her life even now.
The door opens.
Padme doesn't know what she is expecting. She has seen clones before, has worked with them occasionally, but this clone is different, so he ought to look drastically unlike his brothers. But he doesn't.
She sees a young man with a handsome face, longish black hair, dressed in grey fatigues that all clones wear in their down time. There are a few scars that mark him as more than a simple copy of the face that she has seen all over the GAR compound, but if one thing really sets him apart from his brothers, then it is his eyes. They are dark with pain and anxiety, slightly red as though he were recently crying, though his face is dry. He looks vaguely puzzled at her appearance in front of his door and stands a little straighter.
"Ma'am, are you lost? Do you need assistance?"
For some reason his civility feels like a slap in the face. She has spent three years resenting him, envying him his place in Anakin's heart. He ought to know who she is; he ought to despise her for sleeping with his lover, for carrying the children that by rights should have been his. Some part of her was expecting recognition, maybe a cold silence, maybe even gloating. Not this strained but entirely genuine politeness.
He blinks at her, and some recognition crosses his face. "You're…Senator Amidala, right, ma'am? The general's friend? Do you need anything?" Then with a quick glance down at her obviously swollen belly, "Do you need medical assistance? I can call for a med droid if you—"
He stops when she rests a gentle hand on his shoulder and gives him tight, sad smile. "I'm all right, captain, thank you. May I come in? You and I have a lot to talk about."
He honestly isn't certain what to do with a woman in his room. Perhaps he should offer her something to eat, but he has no food. Rex cannot stop the feeling of dread that slowly creeps up on him like the rising tide lapping at his toes, cold, dark, and insidious in its advance.
He stands at parade rest and watches as she inspects his small living quarters. There isn't much to see. A precisely made bed. A desk with flimsy stacked and filed in proper order. A set of drawers, closed, with no indication that all the clothes in them aren't his. A kit bag, the top left open and showing the battle scared armor packed neatly inside.
Padme is just as uncertain as he is. She bights her lip, folds her hands tightly over her rounded abdomen, and inclines her head to him politely.
"I don't think we've ever been properly introduced. I'm Padme Amidala."
For some reason her formality strikes him as hilarious, and he finds himself fighting the hysterical urge to giggle. It takes a moment before he can respond.
"Captain Rex of the five-oh-first. A pleasure, ma'am."
She nods vaguely, and they stand facing each other in uncomfortable silence. This is a new experience for Rex. There have never been awkward silences with his brothers; plenty of awkward moments, but none of them were silent. And with Anakin the silences have always said just as much as the moments filled with conversation, even from the first days of their friendship.
Padme finally shakes her head and gestures to the bed. "Why don't we sit down, Rex. I think that might make this a little easier."
And there is the dread, once more tying his stomach into knots. Icy water laps around his ankles now, and it will only climb higher as time passes. The tide is coming in.
They sit on the bed, leaving a polite distance between them. Rex studies the way the sheets crease under his weight. It is easier than looking at the senator.
"I…honestly don't know what to say," she says at last. "It's all so…I don't know where to start."
"I find that the beginning is often the best place," he offers, eyes still trained on the sheets. She chuckles weakly, even though he wasn't trying to be funny.
"A good idea, I suppose."
The conversation is not an easy one. In fact, it is one of the hardest of Rex's short life. He stays seat through most of it, but as emotions rise in his throat and choke him, as he feels the dark waters inching their way steadily higher, he has to get up, has to move, or he will kill something. He paces the room just as he did only hours earlier, when it was the dark of early morning out the window instead of night. How can a whole day not even have passed when it feels as though he has aged five hundred years in the last half hour?
Bits and pieces of the conversation filter to him through the water that now laps around his ears, filling them with its dull roar.
"Anakin…has done a terrible thing, Rex. At the Temple he…he k-killed…killed younglings…"
No. Not his Anakin. He would never…he couldn't…not children.
The Jedi might be traitors, but Anakin said they would be given a chance to surrender.
"He's turned against the Jedi, Rex. He betrayed them to the Sith. He's killing them all. He's fallen to the dark."
He wants to destroy the sound of that voice, destroy the poisoness words that it's saying. They can't be true, they can't be true. But the words are all that he hears.
"Obi-Wan came looking for him. He's going to…he's going to kill him, Rex. I d-don't know what to do. I don't know where he is. But you do, don't you? Can you tell me where he is?"
He bights the inside of his cheek, forcing back the choked scream that struggles to escape, bights until he can taste blood. That salty metallic flavor awakens memories he thought long buried. The crack of an automatic rifle; pain just below his ribs, forcing its way into his lungs; red wetness in his mouth, bubbling with each breath, until he is drowning in his own blood.
And he is drowning. The black waters have closed over his head, shutting out all light. He can't tell down from up, doesn't know which way the surface is. His lungs refuse to take in air; his vision is splotched and blurry.
His world is ending, swallowed by cold, black water.
Rex finally forces himself away from the wall he has been leaning against for support. His muscles ache from staying in one position for too long; he doesn't know how much time has passed. He looks down at Padme's rounded belly with bleary eyes.
"They're…they're Anakin's. He doesn't know."
Honestly, after the day he's had, this is the least surprising revelation. He should probably be mad, feel cheated, but his heart is too busy breaking for him to feel anything other than detached curiosity. He puts his hand on the curved surface without thinking, feels nothing, but…there. The slightest movement, and then…a kick.
He has never felt anything so wonderful.
When Rex looks up, however, he sees tears in Padme's eyes. Afraid that he accidently hurt her he tries to pull his hand back but is stopped when she places her own on top of his.
"It's okay," she whispers in a hoarse voice, her own eyes bright. "Can you feel them kicking? That's probably Leia. She moves a lot more than Luke."
Rex mouths the names soundlessly to himself as he gingerly strokes Padme's stomach, feeling the gentle, rhythmic beat of the infants' kicks. So strong. So vibrant. Apparently beautiful things can still exist in a galaxy swallowed by darkness.
He glances up, and his eyes catch Padme's. They are brown on first inspection, but this close he can see that there is more to the color, flecks of green and gold that make him think of deep evening forests. Her eyes are more than they appear, just as she is, this senator from Naboo, so small in stature yet so great in spirit. As tough and capable as any soldier and that in itself is enough to earn his respect. And still there is more to her. She loves Anakin, he can see it. She loves him selflessly, has no promise of any compensation, and yet she loves him. Rex cannot fault her for it; he understands the general's magnetic charm that seems to draw people in. He himself has fallen victim to it, but he has something in return: Anakin's utter devotion. Padme has nothing now, not even his friendship, but that does not change how she feels in the slightest. Rex sees her courage, and he admires her for it, even respects her.
In this moment, this instant of perfect understanding and communion between two people bonded by shared love and grief, Rex feels it. A spark of connection like static electricity passes between them. It pummels his already bruised insides and leaves them scattered in a tangled heap, leaves him shaken. He looks away, an unexplained blush heating his damp cheeks, and focuses once more on the gentle movements within Padme's belly.
If only…Anakin could feel this.
They never talked about children, never brought up the topic, but Rex knows that his lover would have loved to be a parent. He himself has harbored a secret longing for younglings of his own after meeting Cut's family. To be able to guide small beings, teach them about loyalty, honor, duty, love. He can think of no higher calling.
But not now…never…
Rex pulls his hand back abruptly and stands, moving over to the window. "I'm sorry," he whispers. "I can't tell you where he is." He doesn't turn to see her expression. He can feel her anger, her disappointment, her fear, and he understands them completely, because he feels them, too. His world is drowning in them. He's trapped in a terrible nightmare that he can't wake up from.
Rex has never felt so alone in his life.
Come back to me, Anakin. I need you, now. Please. Come back.
"But you have to! Please, just tell me—"
He turns back to her and presses his spare comlink into her hand. He wishes he could do more for her, for them, but this is all he has to give. "If you ever need anything, my number's on there. Now, please…just go."
He wonders if she can hear the tears in his voice.
She stares at him, searches his face for answers, but Rex keeps his expression carefully neutral. It is an act that he perfected during his training on Kamino. Don't let them see what's really going on. Don't let them know what you're really feeling. Don't let them find out how broken you truly are.
Padme finally admits defeat. There are tears in her eyes as she goes to the door. She pauses, looks back.
"I love him, you know. I always have."
He expects the words, but they hit him like hot shrapnel nonetheless. "I know." He swallows with difficulty. "So do I."
With that she is gone.
He waits until the door is closed, then waits some more, counting silently in his head the number of steps it takes to get from his door to the lift. He has it memorized, just like he memorized every Standing Order during training, just like he memorizes everything worth knowing: how many second it takes him to strip down and reassemble his DC; the name of every brother he has served with, living and dead; Anakin's smile.
Once the lift is closed, once he is as alone as he will ever be in the empty barracks, Rex lets go of his fragile self-control. He screams, first Anakin's name and then simply a high keening wail that echoes off the walls and resonates inside his skull. He screams in the silence of his own private purgatory until he can't scream anymore. Finally he drops onto his bed, exhausted beyond belief, mind numb and heart shuddering in his chest. He stares sightlessly at the ceiling and lets his mind wander where ever it wishes.
He remembers when Jesse brought a stray aak back to the barracks. The poor thing was half starved, so he fed it and washed it and let it sleep on his bunk. The entire company enjoyed having it around, and Jesse loved it, but it started going crazy and attacking everyone. Jesse had to shoot it. The poor animal had a brain tumor; it wasn't itself. Killing it broke Jesse's heart, but he couldn't let it carry on, not just for everyone's safety, but for the animal, too, because it was absolutely wretched.
Rex tries to remember Anakin's face the last time he saw the young Jedi smile. The memory is there, but blurred around the edges, like an old photograph stained by water. A memory of a dream of a moment long past. He can clearly see the deep lines that recently began to etch themselves into his lover's face. He remembers to hollow, haunted look that Anakin often gives him when he thinks Rex isn't looking. Ever since that Force-cursed nightmare, Anakin has slowly been poisoned. Poisoned by fear.
Only now does Rex finally begin to understand that Anakin Skywalker, the man he loves, is dead. The pain he feels now is not from betrayal, but from grief at a loss that he wasn't even aware of. Anakin is gone, and that stranger, the one with the cold eyes and lying smile, has taken his place. He pretends to be Anakin, wears his face, speaks with his voice, loves with his heart, but he isn't Rex's general.
Anakin is gone, and that thought leaves Rex so utterly miserable that, for a moment, he can't see the point of even bothering to take his next breath. Living seems altogether too much trouble to go about, but dying takes too much of an effort.
But even now, at the lowest point of his life, Rex is still a soldier. And soldiers don't give up, even when it would be so much simpler to surrender. Slowly, so slowly that it is barely perceptible, he forces his breathing to calm, makes his thundering heartbeat slow, wills his body into an upright position. Once standing, he moves away from his bed and stares dully out the window, not really seeing anything. His mind churns sluggishly, trying to put pieces of shattered truth back together into something he can bear to look at.
Rex knows that Kenobi is going to try to kill Anakin, and that he probably has a better chance of succeeding than most if he can find him. He knows the older Jedi will kill him out of cool pragmatism, because he is a threat that must be stopped. The only thing that will be in his heart is detached regret, not because he does not love Anakin, but because Jedi fear allowing their emotions to influence their actions in any way. Rex doesn't know if motives make any difference, but he likes to think they do. If someone has to kill Anakin—and he must die, if only because the true Anakin is long gone—then it should be because they love him, because they can't bear to see him suffer one moment longer in the hell he has trapped himself in.
When the reality of these thoughts finally sets in, he can't keep himself on his feet. Rex sides down the wall, hot tears falling from his eyes and burning their way down his cheeks. He has already cried so much, but he will never have enough tears for this, this horrid reality that fills him with black, mind-numbing dread, that makes his limbs so heavy that he cannot even lift a hand to clear his tear-blurred vision.
He feels something inside his chest crack, then shatter into a million pieces, and he knows that it is his heart breaking beyond repair.
His lips, swollen and numb from relentless tears and worrying teeth, can only whisper one phrase over and over again to the uncaring night.
Anakin, I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry. Anakin, I love you.
Darth Vader stands on the command bridge of the Mustafar control center, hand of durasteel clasping hand of flesh behind him, and gazes up through the transparisteel view wall at the galaxy he will one day rule.
He pays no attention to the litter of corpses around his feet.
Eyes closed he breaths in, letting the dark side fill him to the brim. This is the ultimate power at his fingertips, running through his vanes, humming in his ears. He could drink from it for the next millennium and still not quench his thirst.
He cannot wait to get off this miserable planet. Even here in the climate controlled control center he can feel the heat from the lava outside, and it makes him uneasy. It reminds him of the cursed nightmare, the one that belonged to Anakin Skywalker, and even now it has the power to make his stomach knot in apprehension.
He will die, you know, whispers a voice that has haunted him for years. The voice of his fear.
He shakes himself, scowling. Impossible. He is Darth Vader. Fear has no power over him. He has destroyed his fear.
But it still whispers to him, and now he feels that it is close, breathing down the back of his neck, about to sink its fangs into his unprotected flesh. He whirls around, one hand on his lightsaber, but nothing is there. He is the only living being in the room.
A beam of light appears suddenly across the Viceroy's body, and the unexpectedness of it makes Vader glance out the ray-shielded view wall. Somewhere high above the endless clouds of smoke and ash have parted enough to allow a solitary sunbeam to reach Mustafar's charred surface and brighten the ever present gloom. Something about this ray of light calls to a deep part of Vader, one he thought extinguished along with the Jedi Order. But this fleeting sunlight echoes inside him and awakens…something. Only a dream, really, but so vivid and so familiar that it might as well be a memory of something that simply hasn't happened yet.
…Soft morning light fills the room.
Rex is grabbing a pan, putting it on the stove, starting to make his delicious pancakes. He is wearing his sleep clothes, a gray pair of pants, already faded and torn in places and a gray shirt that used to belong to Anakin and is far too big for him. His hair is tussled, beautiful strands sticking out adorably, and a soft smile adorns his face.
Anakin approaches him and wraps an arm around his waist, getting a slap on his hand when he tries to reach for the delicious mass forming on the stove.
"Hands out of the pan," murmurs Rex, leaning on his chest. Anakin laughs softly, kisses Rex's neck…
Vader shakes himself from the vision and is shocked to find tears in his eyes. He swipes them away with an angry fist, furious at having let Anakin's dreams get the better of him.
Rex will not die; he will not allow it. They will be together forever. And when the time is right, when he has learned everything that he can from his Master, then they will throw him down and everyone will hale them as heroes. They will rule the galaxy side by side as the ultimate power for peace and order. They will be together, they will be happy, and they will never die. That is the only dream he needs.
A silvery flash outside catches Darth Vader's eye, as though an elegantly curved mirror is swinging through the smoke and cinders, picking up the shine of white-hot lava. He knows that ship.
He spends a moment reassembling his Anakin Skywalker face: he lets Anakin Skywalker's love flow through him, lets Anakin Skywalker's glad smile come to his lips, lets Anakin Skywalker's youthful energy bring a joyous bounce to his step as he trots to the entrance over the mess of corpses and severed body parts.
He'll meet him outside, and he'll keep him outside. Vader has a feeling he wouldn't approve of the way he has... redecorated the control center. Best that he not see it.
With that last thought he goes out to meet the lone figure that descends from the ship's ramp.
Rex stumbles down the boarding ramp, his legs shaking so badly they can barely carry him. Heat hits him like a blow to the gut, and when he breathes in it makes his already sore throat burn. His eyes are hotter still, red and watery because once inside the ship, his tenuous emotional control had finally shattered and he had sobbed the whole way there, crying from relentless mind-shredding dread and unbearable heartbreak.
Now he sees Anakin coming to meet him, and the sight alone is enough to set him off all over again. He is alive. He is bounding across the landing deck to meet him, he is still strong and beautiful, and his arms are still warm around him and his lips are soft against his hair.
Rex finally gives up trying to keep himself together. He shakes and sobs, and he is probably ruining Anakin's clothes with his tears and snot, but he doesn't care. He looks up at his lover, trying to memorize his face, the way one side of his mouth crooks up slightly higher than the other, the light scattering of freckles across his cheeks, the crinkle of amusement at the corners of his eyes.
He will never be lovelier than he is now. They will never be here again.
"Shh. Shh, it's all right." The sound of his voice, hoarse and deep and so achingly familiar is almost enough to break Rex's resolve. Anakin strokes his hair until his trembling begins to fade, then cups his chin and gently raises his face so their eyes meet. "You never need to worry about me. Didn't you understand? No one can hurt me. No one will ever hurt either of us."
And Rex wants to believe that, he really does. It would be so easy to pretend that everything will be all right, to pretend that nothing has changed. They still love each other, don't they? That's all that really matters, right?
Anakin smiles down at him in bemusement. "Rex, what are you wearing?"
He glances down, having almost forgotten about the foreign clothes he changed into before commandeering the Twilight from the GAR hanger. The knee-length dark blue coat is a little on the large side, but the plain white shirt and long grey cargo pants fit perfectly. It all does an excellent job of hiding any weapons he might be carrying, and that was the only criteria that mattered in its selection.
He looks back up at Anakin, at the love of his life, and his stupid mouth won't stay shut. "Kenobi's alive." He doesn't know why he says it, what he can possibly hope to gain, but a small part of him still hopes that there is some way to make everything right again.
He searches Anakin's face for surprise, maybe confusion, but he sees only reflections of lava and flames.
"Obi-Wan's alive?" His voice has dropped an octave, and has gone colder than thechills that are spreading from the base of Rex's spine.
"Y-yes—he, he said he was looking for you..." Something tells him that he shouldn't mention Padme.
"Did you tell him where I am?"
"No, Anakin! He wants to kill you. I didn't tell him anything—I wouldn't!"
A disbelieving stare that pierces him to the heart. Anakin doesn't trust him anymore, that much is obvious.
"Where is he now?"
"I don't know." And that is the truth, Rex has no idea where General Kenobi went after talking to Padme. Anakin still seems doubtful.
"He's a traitor, Rex. He's an enemy of the state. He has to die."
Something already wound to the breaking point inside Rex twists impossibly tighter. "Stop it," he says. "Stop talking like that... you're frightening me!"
"You're not the one who needs to be afraid."
"It's like—it's like—" Tears brim again. "I don't even know who you are anymore..."
"I'm the man who loves you," he says, but he says it through clenched teeth. Whatever was familiar and loved in his face is gone, replaced by the stranger's hard, angry eyes. "I'm the man who would do anything to protect you. Everything I have done, I have done for you."
Rex chokes, and now he knows for a fact that he is dying. It shouldn't be possible to feel as much pain as he does right now and still keep breathing.
Anakin is smiling again, but there is nothing joyful or loving in it, only cold calculation and a fierce possession. He holds out his arms, inviting Rex to come to him, and he does, stumbles into those arms and sags against his lover's body because all his strength has fled, leaving him a broken, empty shell that only continues to live because it has no other choice. Again Anakin presses a kiss into his hair, and his arms are tight about Rex, holding him up with frightening ease. He bends his head so that his breath ghosts across the young clone's ear and whispers two words that have the power to end the universe.
A red vale descends over the world, and Rex closes his eyes as the tears that now seem to be an integral part of him increase in their intensity. He presses close to the warmly familiar body, wraps one arm tightly around Anakin's waist to hold him close for the last time, and, with the other hand, draws the blaster he had concealed in his clothes. The one he brought with him for exactly this purpose.
He turns his head, tears from his own cheeks dampening Anakin's, and presses a kiss to thin chapped lips. His mind, before crowded with panic, now echoes hollowly with misery. He can only think the words that he fears will haunt him for the rest of his life.
Anakin, I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry. Anakin, I love you. If only…
But that if only will take him to a place that he cannot bear to go.
"Yes." Unbearable grief squeezes his voice down to a whisper: small, and fragile, and very young. "I'll marry you, Anakin Skywalker. I'll fight for you. I'll die for you." I'll kill for you. Even you.
But he isn't sure he has the strength to live for him.
"I love you."
Anakin smiles then, and it is the truest smile that Rex has seen on his face in what feels like many lifetimes. He is happy, no, he is joyous. He draws Rex close, and he can feel Anakin's heartbeat opposite his own as he has before on countless nights, separated only by a fragile layer of skin and muscle. Anakin presses his face into Rex's hair, lets out an almost disbelieving laugh, so similar to the one he uttered on the night they first came together.
Rex counts their heartbeats as he raises his blaster, counts them like the last grains of sand spilling from an hourglass. He closes his eyes as the nozzle lines up with the base of Anakin's skull, only inches away.
I'm so, so sorry.
I love you.
He pulls the trigger.
The sound of the single blaster shot, close to Anakin's ear, is lost in the roar of the lava flows. It is the slight breath that escapes Anakin's lips like a surprised gasp that deafens Rex.
He catches the dead weight that his general's body has become and lowers it to the soot stained landing deck. His face wears an expression of mild surprise, as though an unexpected friend just tapped on his shoulder. There is no sign of pain.
Rex steps back and simply stares. He feels too numb for words. For some reason he expected his heart to stop the moment Anakin's did, but he can still feel it in his chest, beating out the countdown to his own eventual death. When that may be no longer matters.
Nothing matters anymore. It is all gone, all of it, and it has left him hollow, washed out, and alone in the dark.
He understands now, in a way, why Jedi fear attachment. At some point—maybe in a few minutes, maybe years from now—this numbness will fade and he will be forced to confront his knife-edged emotions head on. He doesn't know if he can. How can he live every moment of his life with this absence in him, where the other half of his heart use to be, constantly reminded of Anakin's mistakes and how he was too late to save him?
The future stretches out before him, vast and terrible, because he knows that as long as he breathes, and longer, Anakin will be dying by his hand, over and over in his mind, a constant playback loop with no possibility of stopping it. Air pops out of Rex's lungs in convulsive gasps, as for an instant, the Force lets him grasp the magnitude of eternity.
I'll always be losing him.
As expected, the memories come, not in a flood, but trickling in. They are vivid and cutting in their clarity, each one piercing him through the heart until it is more hole than whole.
…The warm water of the shower cascaded around them.
"I love you," Anakin said softly.
Rex answered with a gentle kiss that deepened as they started falling into each other. Anakin moaned softly in pleasure, his tongue flicking against Rex's lips, pleading admittance. Their tongues collided as they rushed to explore each other's mouths. Their tongues fought a brief duel before slipping past each other.
Anakin's hands glided over Rex's wet body, leaving trails of shivers on the younger man's skin in their wake.
Rex pressed their foreheads together.
"I'm yours." …
…"Hey, Rex. Rex. Rexie…"
All Anakin received was a groan as the other man squirmed away from him and burrowed deeper into the covers of the small bed.
"Come on, love," whispered Anakin, giving Rex's ear a playful nibble. "Don't you want to watch the meteor shower with me? It's supposed to be spectacular."
"No. Seen 'fore," was the sleepy reply.
"Please, Rex? For me?"
"Leave me 'lone."
Anakin frowned. This wouldn't do at all. Looking around the room, his eyes alighted on his pillow and a wicked grin stole across his face. He reached for it and, raising the feathery weapon above his head, brought it down on Rex's backside.
His captain yelped, jerking upright in bed and turned to glair at him. He smiled innocently.
"Well, you're up now, so we might as well—"
He never finished that sentence. A pillow hit him in the face with enough force to knock him right off the narrow bed. By the time Anakin had gathered his wits and managed to sit up, Rex had already vanished back under the covers. Anakin stared at the lump in the bed for a moment, then chuckled softly.
"Okay," he murmured, "you win."
Climbing back into bed, he slid under the covers and wrapped himself around the already dozing clone.
Outside the window, Coruscant's night sky came to life with streaks of fire...
…"So, what do you think?"
Anakin stared expectantly at Rex from where he sat next to the young captain on the bed. Rex chewed slowly, cautiously, before swallowing the mouthful of—well, he wasn't quite sure, but it looked like burned Gundark—with a suppressed shudder. He used to boast that he could eat anything, but Anakin's recent foray into the art of cooking was making him doubt himself. He cleared his throat with a few dry coughs before answering.
"It could…uh…use a little more seasoning."
Anakin frowned, puzzled. "Really? I could have sworn that I followed the recipe exactly."
"Well," said Rex, trying to be diplomatic even as he felt his stomach clenching in warning, "maybe the recipe simply didn't take into account the—"
He broke off abruptly and sprinted to the trashcan where the meal came up with a vengeance. Anakin winced in sympathy and followed his lover. He put a gentle, supporting hand on Rex's back.
"Maybe we'll stick to mess hall food."
Rex gave him a shaky smile. "Don't worry, Anakin. I'm sure there's some use for your cooking. Maybe we could sneak it onto Dooku's dinner plat and let nature take its course."
Anakin threw back his head and laughed until his ribs ached…
It takes some effort to carry the body down to the lava flow. This close the heat is enough to make sweat roll off him in buckets, but he hardly notices. A small repulsor platform that seems to have lost its droid pilot drifts by close enough to shore for Rex to get a grip on it. He hauls it in and dumps Anakin's body on it, does his best to arrange him in some pose of dignity. When he is done, he bends down and lets his lips brush across Anakin's one last time, tasting soot and ash.
"I'm so sorry," he whispers. "I love you so much. I always will. I'm sorry."
A shove sends the repulser lift back out over the lava flow. It is caught up in the heat currents and travels along just above the flaming orange surface. There is no droid to steer it away from the lava fall, so when it reaches the massive pouring of molten rock, it continues over the edge, taking its burden with it.
…Rex sighed faintly as his back grumbled at him again, twisting in an attempt to pop his spine. The old injury was acting up again, sending burning tendrils of pain lancing through his back. There were soft footsteps as the door to his room on board the Resolute slid open and then closed, and then warm hands settled on his shoulders, pressing gently.
"Hey…" Rex murmured, turning back to meet Anakin's eyes.
"You're in pain," Anakin replied, his hands massaging gently where they rested on Rex's shoulders. He urged his captain to roll over onto his stomach before settling closer to him on the bed, his hands moving down the presented flesh in massaging caresses.
Rex shrugged beneath the touch. "It's normal, nothing I can't handle. If I could just get my back to pop…"
His words were cut off in a groan of pleasure/pain as Anakin applied pressure to his spine, earning a series of snaps and pops. The Jedi returned to massaging the tense muscles, a smile spreading across his lips as Rex practically melted beneath his hands. "Is that better, love?"
"Force, you have no idea how much better that feels…" Rex groaned, turning his head to look up at his lover. "You are amazing, have I told you that?"
Anakin's smile grew smug. "Yes, quite often."…
Rex stands on the black sand shores for so long that his hair begins to crinkle with the heat. His voice is lost amidst the thunder of the falling magma.
"I'm alive, you're dead. I'll remember you, so you're eternal…Anakin."
…He wasn't used to waking in slow degrees. Since taking command of Torrent Company, waking up usually meant the buzz of the alarm, a red alert, or an urgent com at oh-you're-kriffing-kidding-me-thirty. It was a heavy groan and bleary eyes or an adrenaline-fuelled launch from the tangle of sheets.
The warm hand streaking a slow path up his chest and the press of dry lips at his throat was a nice change. He kept his eyes closed to enjoy the feeling fully and felt a sleepy smile glide across his face.
"I know you're awake, Rex."
He'd never get tired of hearing that voice purring into his ear and in his self-imposed blindness the beauty was clearer. He could pick out the distinct measures of some foreign diction on the Basic, a clipping of consonants and melting of vowel sounds, that slight roll on the r. Smooth and perfect, he'd proclaim it his favorite sound if he thought his men would ever let him live it down. It would remain a secret treasure.
He let his smile grow wider and turned his face to catch the lips before they moved away. A soft press, lightly parted lips allowing their breath to mingle, exchanging Anakin's spiced tea and his own slightly sour caf flavors in a mutual sigh. The roaming tickle along his side tightened into a loose grip on his hip, not demanding but still possessive in its absolute confidence.
A very nice change.
He cracked his eyes open when he rolled to his side, keeping himself just far enough away that Anakin's amused face filled the whole of his vision.
"Good morning, Rex."…
He finally finds the energy to trudge back up the steep incline and work his way back to the landing platform. Just as his feet come to rest on the ship's boarding ramp, his comlink beeps.
When he answers, the voice that filters through the speakers is so small and far away. It sounds very lonely, and it says only three words.
"I need you."
Rex's reply is so soft that it is doubtful whether or not the comlink's sensors can pick it up, but he knows that she can hear him anyway.
The field of amaranth flows from silver to ruby as the wind from the southeast bends the ripening grain in waves. The man kneels down and feels the loose soil, lets it run between fingers calloused from years of holding farm tools and, before that, weapons of many kinds; a little on the dry side, but that is normal for this time of year. The autumn rains will be coming soon to turn the light brown earth dark with moisture and release the pungent, earthy scent of ripe amaranth into the cooling air.
He pushes dark hair sprinkled liberally with grey off his forehead and wipes his hands on work-stained coveralls. His face, tanned and weathered from nearly six years of exposure to the elements, is too old for his age. Eyes like evening sandstorms stare from beneath strong black eyebrows. There are deep lines around his eyes and mouth, lines that come only from a life of great hardship or one of great joy.
Young voices carrying on the wind cause his head to turn and a smile of gentle amusement to come to his lips. A little girl, all scabby knees and muddy hands and sparkling forest brown eyes, scampers out of the garden and charges for the perceived safety of the man's legs, giggling her triumph.
Seconds later a small boy, his hair bright and mellow as evening sunlight and now dark and tangled with mud, appears and looks wildly for his tormenter. When he sees her hiding behind the man's legs, his outraged expression changes to one of sulky petulance, blue eyes full of angry tears.
"Leia threw dirt at my head again," he complains, a slight wobble in his voice.
The girl, little arms wrapped around the man's legs, sticks her tongue out at her brother. "Stop being such a baby," she taunts. Undisciplined brown curls tumble over her eyes.
"Now, ad'ike," the man murmurs, his voice a warm rumble. He bends down and scoops up the little girl and, after a moment of hesitation, the boy takes her place clinging to the man's legs. He peers out at the shifting field of grain, muddy hair momentarily forgotten.
"When do we harvest, Papa?"
"Not for a long time, Luke. We need to wait for the fall rains. Then, just as the leaves are turning gold and the chenziks are growing their winter coats, that's when we harvest the amaranth. Get it too early, and it isn't ripe enough; too late and the rot has already set in. It takes practice. I ruined a few crops before I figured it out."
"Oh." He frowns, speculative. "Can we help?"
"Sure, if your mother says yes."
"If I say 'yes' to what?"
They all turn to face the new comer as she steps down from the house's wide front porch. A small woman wearing simple working clothes, brown curls like her daughter's pulled back in a functional braid, so different from the elaborate styles she use to wear. Her skin is tanned like the man's, and her face, like his, bears lines etched deep from a life of great emotional extremes, from the heights of transcendent joy to the depths of crushing heartbreak. In her arms she carries a sleeping baby wrapped in a handmade blanket, thick black hair brushed loving back from his little forehead.
The man smiles and, after setting his daughter on the ground beside her brother, moves to the woman and gives her a light kiss on the lips before bending and repeating the gesture with his son. The baby gurgles and cracks a brown eye to investigate this disturbance to his nap.
"We want to help with the harvest," the girl announces.
The woman smiles indulgently. "We'll see," is all she says.
The boy tugs on his father's large hand. "Papa, it's almost time for dinner. That means story time. Can you tell us another one about General Skywalker? Please?"
"Yes!" the girl exclaims in excitement. "Tell us about the time he got stuck in a cave with a Gundark and Commander Tano saved him. That's my favorite!"
Chattering excitedly, previous argument forgotten, the children race each other into the house. After sharing an amused glance with her husband, the woman follows their rambunctious offspring, calling after them to go wash up before they track mud everywhere.
The man pauses on the front porch, the sounds of his small, happy family fading to a distance. He looks back out to the field, and beyond, to the forests, to the sky and the star Rennoe as it sets behind the green gas giant Hessia. He feels the wind tug at his clothes and shuts his eyes against the sudden heat of old, familiar tears.
But he doesn't finish the thought, leaves it hanging in the late evening air, and turns to go inside and rejoin his family.
Note: "If you like your humanoids flexible, svelte, enthusiastic, and in multiple shades of red, then the most beautiful people in the galaxy are Zeltrons." Got this from Wookieepedia. I used a lot of dialog from the movie "Revenge of the Sith", as well.