So here we are, again.
First of all, this is a sequel to my story, The Fighting Kind, so if you are not familiar with that fic, this one will probably be gibberish to you.
If you're familiar with TFK, this will pick up more or less where it left off, but there are many differences between this fic and that one. This is a slow story. Not a boring one, (I hope!), but there is not a lot of the action that there was in its predecessor. Fair warning: there is a goodly amount of angst and drama, as well as much romance, because that's what I enjoy writing. Overall, this is a story about putting a family together, about love overcoming all obstacles, and about holding on to hope in difficult times.
"Legal" mumbo-jumbo: I don't own Star Wars and am not making any money off of this labor of love. I do own my OCs, and if you'd like to use them, please PM me so we can discuss. Many thanks to LongLiveTheClones and Jade_Max for looking over this before it went live. :)
Lastly, I had a lot of reservations about this story, and at times it was very difficult to write, so any and all feedback is appreciated more than I can really say.
Enough of my blathering! Please read and enjoy. :)
Worth Fighting For
Save your love through loneliness,
Save your love through sorrow.
I gave you my only-ness,
Give me your tomorrow.
~"If I Were A Carpenter." Lyrics by Tim Hardin; the "inspiring" version sung by Johnny Cash and June Carter.
Above all things, this is a story about love.
Love is not just a feeling, nor is it solely an action. Love is not something that can be quantified and processed, or assimilated like so much intel – no matter how much my husband would wish otherwise.
It makes us stronger, makes us better, and it comes in many forms. So many pieces of my past that have been taken from my memory, but when I look upon the faces of those whom I love the most, certainty fills me, pours into me like rain from the sky. My love for them gives me strength to keep going through the darkness and doubt, while their love for me buoys me up, sends me to greater heights than I ever imagined were possible.
In so many ways, I am blessed beyond measure.
But as you can probably guess, it has not always been so; I've been asked to set down my story and so I will – what I remember, anyway. What I cannot remember has been reconstructed to the best of my ability, and anything that I describe which didn't happen in my presence was carefully recorded from the person who was there.
Even though things are vastly more complicated now than they ever were before, I am not afraid any longer. The fear has all but dissipated, replaced with joy, because when I look in the face of my husband and children, I know that I am exactly where I need to be. All of the hardship that brought us to this place doesn't matter quite so much, except to remind me how lucky I am.
Three months following the formation of the Empire...
Late summer on Alderaan was perhaps Brenna's favorite season.
It was the time of year where the ever-present, gusting wind faded to a mild shuffle and the sky was so blue and clear that it hurt to look at it; the halcyon days, so these weeks were called, and she found that it was one of the things about her homeworld that she loved.
"Mama, Rex ride pony?"
Even though she was safe in her mother's arms, Irini sounded concerned, and Brenna had to chuckle at the direction the toddler's finger was pointing. The main paddock in front of the quagga barn currently contained four quagga and six Humans; four mounted, riding in a messy circle around the two who stood at the center.
Jensine and Caith Damaris, Brenna's mother and brother, were attempting to instruct the clones in the basic principles of quagga riding. Rex, Jesse, Kix and Coric – all of whom had found their way to Brenna's mother Jensine's home on Alderaan in the aftermath of the formation of the Empire – were each astride a quagga, and as Brenna watched the determined set of Rex's jaw, she felt her smile widen.
The quagga he was riding gave a snort and a shake of her head, which caused Rex's eyes to narrow even as he bounced ungracefully in the saddle, his body's movements jarring against the rhythmic, light jog of the quagga as it trotted along. He was trying so hard – they all were – but riding was not a skill that could be mastered in a short time, even by a clone trooper with advanced cognitive and learning abilities.
From the center of the paddock, Jensine lifted her voice. "Don't put all of your weight on the stirrups, Rex. Move with your upper legs instead, and remember to keep your heels down. Coric, keep your hands still – don't confuse the poor thing with mixed signals. Jesse: don't plop back on the saddle like a bag of grain...ease yourself down, gently."
"If it helps, count along in your head with the quagga's steps," Caith added. "One, two. One, two. One, two...rise on 'one' and come back down on 'two.' Yes, like that...good job, Kix."
"Goo' job, Kix," Iri echoed, which caused Brenna to chuckle again, though a moment later her daughter twisted around from her place in Brenna's lap. "Iri ride pony?"
Brenna, Iri, Edme and Tavi – Caith's wife and son – were seated on a few old, upturned barrels outside of the paddock, as Brenna had wanted to ensure her daughter would be a safe distance away should any of the quagga become agitated. Not that she was expecting anything of the kind, but Iri's safety was too important to risk. At her daughter's words, Brenna shook her head. "No, sweetheart. You're not big enough, yet."
Iri pouted, but before she could argue, Rex and his mount circled around towards them, and the toddler's attention switched to watching the blond clone seated atop the striped equine. "Rex ride pony!"
As he passed, he shot Brenna and Iri a somewhat pained smile, though Brenna had to laugh when he managed to tilt his hat in their direction. Beside her, Edme chuckled as well. "They're all going to be so sore tomorrow."
Nodding, Brenna's mind immediately went over all the ways she could help alleviate some of the discomfort that Rex would surely be feeling in his lower body, as all beginning riders did; as it was, the sight of him in civilian clothes, astride one of the quagga and looking like he knew what he was doing was...
It was warm outside, but that didn't account for the heat that had suddenly appeared in her face, because she did miss his armor, but this sight about made up for the fact.
"He's not bad," Edme added with a nod to Rex. "Him and Kix...but Jesse looks like he's about to topple over."
The clones hadn't been in the process more than a few weeks, but already it was easy to see that some of them were taking to riding better than others. Rex and Kix seemed to have more of an affinity for the quagga than Coric, but poor Jesse was almost hopeless. Indeed, as Brenna watched, Jesse seemed to lose his balance for a moment and swayed precariously in the saddle, his quagga flicking her ears backward as if irritated.
"Jesse, don't forget to grip with your legs," Jensine called out, but it was too late.
The tattooed clone swore sharply in Mando'a – the language that most of the former soldiers were familiar with to some degree – as he toppled out of the saddle and landed on his backside in the dusty paddock, only a few meters from where Brenna and the others were watching. Immediately, and with varying degrees of difficulty, the other clones managed to slow, then halt their mounts so that their brother wouldn't be trod upon while Caith hurried over to help him to his feet. Wincing, Jesse rubbed at his backside, then began to slap his trousers to remove the worst of the dirt.
"Kriffing, shabla thing," he muttered, looking up at the quagga he'd been riding, who – in a credit to Jensine's training – had not abandoned her rider.
"It's not the quagga's fault, Jess," Rex said as he brought his mount around. "You just lost your balance."
Jesse grabbed at the reins that he'd dropped, which were hanging in the dust. "Yeah, yeah...I know. But I've never fallen off of a speeder, and this seems like it should be less complicated."
At this, Rex glanced towards Jensine, who'd been conducting the training session. "Perhaps we should take a break?"
The wiry, fair-haired woman nodded, though her gaze on the clones was thoughtful, and she said nothing as the rest of the soldiers began to dismount. "Don't be discouraged," Caith said as Jesse gave a heavy sigh. "You all only just started this a little while ago; it took Brenna months to manage not to fall off at the slightest gust of wind."
With this, he shot his younger sister a teasing grin. In return, Brenna stuck her tongue out at him, which made Iri giggle in her lap. Jensine sighed and lifted her eyes to the sky. Beside Brenna, Edme smiled at her husband, who returned the look even as Kix asked him a question about the quagga.
As the others began to speak, Rex looped the reins of his mount around the paddock fence so that she would be secure, then slipped through the wide gap between the wooden slats so that he could reach Brenna and Iri, the former of whom got to her feet to greet him. Now that he was close to her, Brenna could smell warm leather and trace amounts of dust that had clung to his cotton shirt, and she slipped her free arm around his waist to kiss his cheek.
"You're looking good out there," she said as Rex tousled Iri's blonde curls with affection. "Very good."
There was a pause, then he glanced her way with an inquiring look on his face as he indicated Irini. In response, Brenna handed him Iri, watching with unconcealed delight as the man she loved took her daughter in his arms and smiled at the little girl, who beamed up at him like he was the the sun itself. She could tell that he was still a little uncertain about holding Iri, but she appreciated that he was making an effort to get close to her daughter because right now, standing together as they were, it felt like they were a true family.
After giving Brenna the half-smile that made her heart skip a beat, he glanced back at Iri, who was reaching up for the wide brim of his hat. "What do you think, Ir'ika? Do I look like I know what I'm doing?"
The toddler giggled at the Mando'a nickname and her honey-brown eyes were wide as she looked up at the former captain who was holding her securely. "Rex ride pony," she said sagely.
"I'm trying, kiddo," he replied with a sigh, tilting his head down enough so she could grab at his hat but not enough for her to pull it off of his head. "It's..."
He trailed off, because in that moment Brenna's comlink began to chirrup with the cadence that indicated a text-only message was incoming. Reaching in her pocket, she pulled out the device and frowned when she saw the source. "It's a message from Marliss and Fives," she said, glancing up at him again. "Mar says she's forwarding you a voice-only transmission...and it's in Mando'a?"
Rex's forehead creased and his expression flickered with curiosity as he nodded. Although Fives and Marliss had enjoyed a brief sojourn on Alderaan with the other clones, it hadn't taken the couple very long to head back for the stars, seeking adventure. While Brenna missed her friend – and she knew that Rex missed his brother, his vod – she was pleased that Marliss and Fives had one another. Additionally, the fact that they were traveling meant that they had access to a wider variety of information than could be found on the HoloNet.
At the moment, Brenna wasn't certain if that was such a good thing, though for what reason she couldn't have said exactly.
The comlink chimed again, indicating another message; she reached for Iri, but Rex shook his head and shifted the little girl so she was in one arm, which was when he took the comlink from Brenna with his free hand. Moments later, the voice-only transmission was activated, and Brenna heard the sound of Fives' voice, his normally jovial tone incongruously serious against the beautiful day.
Most of the transmission was in Mando'a, though there were a few words of Basic sprinkled in. As far as she knew, the majority of the clone army had been passing familiar with some of the language, but there were a few clones, like Rex and Fives, who'd taken quite strongly to the Mandalorian language, assimilating it as a part of their heritage and history, since their progenitor, Jango Fett, had been a member of that warrior culture. Brenna didn't know Mando'a, but because Rex did – and because it was a part of Iri's heritage as well – she'd been trying to learn. Now, as she listened to the recording and was only able to catch an odd word here and there, she wished she'd been able to learn faster.
As the message progressed, Rex's expression faded from curious to open-mouthed shock, then a harrowing mixture of anger and confusion. Additionally, the other clones, seeing their brother and former captain listening so intently, had gathered around; within moments their expressions matched Rex's, and Brenna was struck with fear.
"What is it?" she heard herself whisper, but Rex didn't answer. In his arms, Iri appeared to be listening to the message as well, her face confused but attentive.
Caith's voice next to her ear nearly made Brenna start. "What's going on, Bren?"
Learn, something...my brother...the army...
Still trying to pick up what words she could, Brenna shook her head; her throat was dry and her stomach was suddenly in knots. The sunlight that had once been so comforting now felt overly bright and glaring; the endless stretch of blue sky seemed oppressive, and she was filled with an unnamed sense of dread, because now Rex looked...
Frightened, like he'd looked when they'd first met a year ago on Mimban, but more so. Now, he looked like he was being broken from the inside out.
The other clones matched him: Jesse's mouth was open and his brows were raised; Coric's fists were tight at his sides and Kix's eyes were closed as if in mourning.
At Fives' next words, Rex's mouth twisted into a grimace, like he was torn between punching something and collapsing where he stood. "Jehaatir...ner vod, it was an jehaatir. I'm sorry to have to tell you this, Rex."
Brenna was vaguely aware that Jensine, Edme and Tavi had come to stand around her, all of them watching the unfolding drama before them with no knowledge or understanding of what was going on. Just when she didn't know how much more she could take, the transmission ended and the group was left in silence.
Eyes fixed on the comlink in his hand, Rex's face had gone completely blank, which frightened her more than any of his other expressions, because she couldn't read this one, couldn't get a sense of what he was thinking. Brenna opened her mouth to ask – again – but her daughter, who was still in Rex's arm, beat her to the punch.
"Why Rex sad?"
He blinked once, then looked at the little girl in his grasp as if seeing her for the first time. Brenna stepped forward, reaching for him because she had to do something. "Rex...what is it? What did Fives say?"
She embraced him and her daughter, but he held still and his entire body was tense. The comlink fell out of his hand into the dirt and his eyes were open but unseeing. "A lie," his said in a hoarse voice that wasn't his. "Jehaatir. It was a lie."
Her entire family, new and old, was all around her, but Brenna only had eyes for Rex, who even now was passing Iri back to her with trembling hands, as though he weren't sure he'd be able to support the child's weight. Brenna swallowed and hugged Iri to her chest. "What was a lie, Rex?"
When his eyes finally met hers, they were shadowed. Haunted. "Everything."
Welcome to the new story! Thanks for reading. :)
Next time: dealing with the fallout.