A/N: this one-shot occurs between the final two Season Five eps, (#19 & #20), and heavily references the events of the "Malevolence" story arc from waaay back in Season One.
I can feel, and I can see,
And the hidden part is the heart of me.
~ "Hidden Heart," by KT Tunstall, from Scarlet Tulip EP
From behind the shelter of his bucket, Commander Wolffe watched as Padawan Tano was led away from the gunship, across the landing platform towards the shadow of the Jedi Temple hangar. He didn't know what was going to happen to her now, and to be honest, he was past caring at the moment.
Later on, he'd mull over the events of the day and try to reach his own conclusions about her guilt or her innocence, but right now the only thing he wanted was a drink. It was perhaps the only thing that could soothe the restless energy coursing through his veins, itself equal parts irritation, confusion, adrenaline and exhaustion.
It had been one hell of a day.
Luckily, he'd been able to prepare for it, at least a little. Orders had come in shortly after Commander Tano's escape from the prison: retrieve the rogue Padawan and return her to the Jedi Temple, where she was to await judgment for her actions. Along with General Plo and a contingent of Coruscant Guards, Wolffe had spent the better part of the day searching for the commander, finally finding her in the bowels of Coruscant.
Not just her, though, he thought, grimacing at the memory of the encounter with Asajj Ventress. His shoulder was still smarting, but while the Corrie Guard medics had been seeing to the unconscious Togruta, he'd been able to ingest some painkillers which would – hopefully – kick in before too long.
Around him, the Coruscant Guards milled about ineffectually while they waited for Fox to issue further orders over their comm channel, but Wolffe was past caring about them, too. Perhaps they were more efficient than the Corrie Security Force, but they were not the battle-hardened soldiers he was used to leading and he was glad to finally be rid of them.
An exhale brought his attention to the man beside him, who'd not yet seen fit to replace his helmet as he watched the Padawan be escorted away by Generals Plo and Skywalker. Since Wolffe's own face was hidden, he felt free to scowl at the captain's open display of emotion.
Ever since Tano had been taken into custody, Captain Rex had been quietly seething, even going so far as to shoot Wolffe a few dark looks during the journey to the Temple. Even the rudimentary patching up that the unconscious Padawan received from one of the Corrie Guard medics had not seemed to pacify the captain. If anything, judging from the tension of his shoulders and the angry glare in his eyes, he'd only grown more agitated on the ride.
If either Jedi had noticed Rex's attitude, they'd made no mention of it, so Wolffe figured it was his job to address such a display. There were a few matters on which he wanted clarity anyway, so he figured now was as good a time as any to pull his subordinate aside and question him. This in mind, Wolffe stepped in front of Rex, blocking the captain's view of the Jedi, and leveled the blank gaze of his visor on the other clone.
"Time to head back to base, Captain," he said, indicating the transport behind them.
Rex lifted his chin, and Wolffe caught a flash of rebellion in the his eyes right before he nodded and turned to step aboard the buzzing larty. The commander followed and within moments they were airborne.
Just like the last time they were aboard this vessel, neither man spoke as they gripped the handles. It was only short ride to the Corrie barracks, where both their units were stationed while their Jedi were dirtside, so the blast doors weren't closed. As Wolffe watched the glittering skyline of the Core world skim beneath his feet, his thoughts were still in the underworld far, far below. What a kriffing mess it was, down there. How desperate would someone have to be to willingly run into that stinking pit? At least up here, he could see the sky. At least up here, there was more clarity.
Or so he wanted to believe.
Through the 180 degree vision of his HUD, Wolffe studied Torrent Company's renowned captain. Rex had been, for lack of a better word, desperate to find the young Jedi, and Wolffe had his own suspicions as to why such a thing would be so. The moment he and the Corrie Guards had encountered Commander Tano and Ventress – Ventress! – he'd figured that Rex would be cursing his name. Judging by the grim expression that the blond clone now wore when he seemed to know, somehow, that Wolffe's gaze upon him, Wolffe was right.
Within a few minutes the pitch of the transport's engines changed to a high-pitched whine as the repulsors kicked in, and the larty gently shuddered towards the duracrete grounds just outside the barracks. Though it was protocol for senior officers to exit a transport first, Rex hopped off before the vehicle had even touched down, so that Wolffe would have had to step lively just to catch up.
But he didn't bother, instead addressing the other man via a closed comm-channel. "Captain Rex."
There was a fraction of a second where Wolffe thought the captain would ignore him, but Rex's shoulders tensed as he froze in place, as if awaiting orders. Helmet still tucked under his arm, face forward, chin lifted, the captain seemed every inch an ideal soldier.
But as the commander approached him, Wolffe saw that there was still a coldness to Rex's eyes that had not been borne on the battlefield, and it was directed his way.
Rather than answer immediately, Wolffe swept his gaze around the barracks; both Torrent Company and the Wolfpack were within, in their separate sections, likely waiting for their officers' return. There would be briefings to give, questions to address, reports to write...
But after today's harrowing events he was in no mood to deal with any of that just yet, so he glanced back at Rex. "Come on."
The captain regarded him with eyes like durasteel. "Where to, sir?"
There was absolutely no respect in the honorific, and Wolffe couldn't help but bristle. "I can make it an order, Captain."
"That won't be necessary," Rex replied after a beat.
Following this, the captain shoved on his bucket and gave a sharp salute that Wolffe swore held a note of sarcasm. He chose to ignore the sarcasm, though, and instead made his way through the empty space that served as both training yard and hangar for the barracks, heading for the courtyard's edge. It was quiet; there had been some chatter over the comms a bit ago, so Wolffe knew that most of the other clones were either off-duty after a long and difficult day, or still in about the underworld, searching for Ventress.
Thoughts of the Sith made his shoulder ache again, so Wolffe pushed them away and quickened his steps so that he reached the massive wall at the courtyard's edge, Rex on his heels. He paused at the security door, entered the code that would allow them access, and stepped through once it slid open. From there, it was a brief journey through the silent corridors and up the stairs until they reached the door that opened up to the barrack's roof.
Nighttime on Coruscant was neither dark nor silent, but rather a miasma of lights and colors that indicated the throb of activity that never ceased. From this vantage point, the clones had a relatively unobstructed view of this section of the Core world. Above their heads, atmo-scrapers towered into the sky, glittering quietly even as they competed with the few visible stars for dominance; below their boots, the cavernous city threaded down forever, buildings and all they contained disappearing into a haze. Vehicles sped through the night air, adding their own steady stream of activity to the vibrant backdrop.
Few places on Coruscant held any appeal for Wolffe and this wasn't one of them, but it would suffice for now. As he leaned against the wall that housed the door they'd just exited, he removed his bucket and clipped it to his belt, then reached beneath his kama and withdrew the flask of Bilbringi Bracer.
Rex stood three paces away, ostensibly looking at the city but probably watching Wolffe's movements through his HUD, and at the sound of the cap unscrewing his head swung the commander's way. However, Wolffe paid the other man little regard as he took a swig of the flask's contents and savored the way the burn of liquor honed his focus and smoothed away his agitation. At first he let the feeling wash over him, silently grateful he'd had the foresight to bring it along, today of all days. After a few moments he offered the metallic flask to Rex.
Even though Wolffe couldn't see the captain's expression, he imagined that Rex was gaping at him, so he gave the container a slight shake, causing the contents to slosh while he regarded the other clone. There was another pause, then Rex slipped off his bucket and clipped it to his belt before accepting the flask.
His movements were careful, as if Wolffe was handing him a live bomb, and now the commander couldn't suppress an eye-roll. "If there was ever a night for a drink, this is it."
"Isn't this against regs, Commander?" Rex asked, examining the flask.
If his kriffing shoulder hadn't been aching so badly, Wolffe would have shrugged. "There's no shame in indulging – occasionally, and in moderation."
Wolffe took a measure of satisfaction at the way the captain's nose wrinkled when he sniffed the contents, and another, stronger one when the other man grimaced at the whiskey's bitter taste, but he kept his expression neutral. "Good, isn't it?"
Rex shrugged and passed the flask back. "It's got a bite."
"Bilbringi Bracer."Wolffe paused, then added: "General Plo provided it to me after Abregado." A ripple of wind passed over him and he suppressed a shiver at the memory of the cold, suffocating blanket of space that had been far too close. It'd been the first battle he'd thought he'd not walk away from, and had it not been for the actions of the Jedi – Commander Tano, included – he knew he wouldn't be standing here, now.
Rex gave him a curious look but did not voice the obvious question. However, Wolffe was feeling generous so he offered an explanation. "At the time, he told me 'some things are meant to be shared, Commander,'" he said with a slight shake of his head. "And we shared a drink."
"Did it help?"
"A little. Also gave me one hell of a headache the next day, which the general called a 'lesson in moderation.'" Unexpectedly, Wolffe felt a smile coming on. It was faint, but it was there, and its appearance surprised him, so to conceal the expression he took another small sip.
However, the captain's eyes were steadily fixed on him, and Wolffe thought that Rex had caught a glimpse of what he'd meant to keep hidden.
Both officers were silent for a few moments until Rex spoke in a careful tone. "With respect, how could you do it, sir?"
Again, Rex held his gaze, unflinching. "I heard everything over the comm-channel. You stunned her before she had a chance to speak."
A speeder skimmed above their heads, the buzzing sound loud enough to make Wolffe wait a beat before replying, so his words would be clear. "What difference would it have made? There's nothing she could say to me that would change anything."
"She was unarmed. You had her in your custody, Commander. Was it necessary to add insult to injury?"
"I stunned her because that was what we were ordered to do, and she was hardly unarmed," Wolffe said, scowling at the memory of that dark alley and getting his shebs handed to him by the Sith witch, sans lightsabers. "She had the Force."
"She didn't use it," Rex pointed out. "Or her lightsabers. Not on you. Not on any clone."
"I saw the casualty numbers too, Captain. I know she didn't kill any of the men who pursued her during her initial escape; just the ones in the prison."
A better man than Wolffe would have resisted the urge to roll his eyes again, but Wolffe was just himself. "You seemed to think otherwise when you issued that all-points bulletin."
The captain's back straightened and anger flashed across his face. "I was relaying General Skywalker's orders to the entire base; it would have been pointless to offer my personal commentary."
"From where I'm standing, that's exactly what you did," Wolffe replied, crossing his arms before his chest. "Why else would you have repeated what Commander Fox said about the murdered troopers, unless you thought it was true?"
In Rex's hand, the flask seemed to quake as the captain's grip tightened over the metallic container. "She's innocent. I know that, now."
"But you didn't, then?"
A strange look crossed the captain's face and he glanced at the flask, swirling the contents around as he seemed to consider something. Finally he looked up at Wolffe and shook his head once. "Seeing those men cut up like that-" He shuddered and lifted the container to his mouth briefly, then passed it back to Wolffe. "It was Umbara, again."
Umbara. Every clone worth his salt knew the reports by heart and Wolffe considered offering condolences; the losses that had occurred on the shadowy world had resonated through the ranks of the entire army, and had unsettled more men than just those who'd been present for them, himself included.
But he'd not come here to lament the past, so he merely waited for the captain to continue. At last, Rex sighed and looked away, back into the city. "At that moment, I doubted her."
The words were so quiet, Wolffe was pretty sure they weren't meant for him, so he only took a drink, slowly, savoring the bite of the liquor and considering. General Plo had been taciturn on the matter, so he wasn't sure where his CO stood on the commander's guilt or innocence, and Wolffe didn't know the young Togruta terribly well, so he did not feel qualified to make a judgment call based on his own observations.
But Captain Rex knew her, or so Wolffe had always understood.
Finally he broke the silence that had strung between them a moment too long. "You don't doubt her now."
Still facing the city, Rex nodded in agreement. "I don't know why she ran," he said in a grim voice. "Escaping like she did...it's beyond incriminating. On top of that, I don't know who killed Fox's men and I have no clue why she teamed up with Ventress. But I do know Commander Tano is not a murderer."
The mention of the Sith sharpened the pleasant burn of liquor to a painful fire, and as he replied, Wolffe scowled at his own memories of the bald woman, the worst of which he'd gotten a few years ago. "There were no casualties. Not one man fell who didn't get up again, and if I hadn't seen that particular fight with my own eyes, I'd never have believed it really happened."
At this, the captain glanced back at him and Wolffe lifted his hand as if to indicate something that was playing out before them, adding in a dry voice: "Asajj Ventress isn't known for her compassion."
There was a gleam of satisfaction in Rex's eyes. "She's not. I'd wager that was all the commander's doing."
Nodding, Wolffe glanced at the flask in his hand and frowned. "Commander Tano was adamant that no clones be killed. But when I caught sight of Ventress-" The frown sharpened into a scowl. "After that, I was ready to kill that bald witch, and anyone with her."
"Our orders were not to shoot Commander Tano." Rex's words were filled with ice. "That was made explicitly clear. We were only supposed to stun her. Sir."
"Which is exactly what I did," Wolffe replied sharply, though a beat later, he sighed. It was a heavy sound; even his armor felt heavy, right now. The climate-controlled air felt too cool, the wind too sharp. Nothing felt right. Perhaps a bit more self-medicating was needed tonight. But only a little. Only enough to let him think clearly.
That in mind, he exhaled and tried to force away his discomfort by simply ignoring it. "Since that moment, it's been difficult for me to set my personal feelings aside and come to an understanding about the whole mess."
A faintly amused expression crossed Rex's face and he leaned back against the wall. "You make it sound like it should be simple."
"It should be," Wolffe replied slowly. "Commander Tano broke the law. All the evidence points to her being guilty."
Rex took a small drink and handed the flask back, as if gesturing for Wolffe to continue. "But...?"
Despite the casual nature of the conversation, this man was his subordinate, which meant that Wolffe did not have to answer immediately, or even at all, if he didn't want to.
So he sipped the flask and savored the warmth in his gut, choosing to let the moment stretch out while he sifted through his memories and gathered the strands of the past and present, trying to weave them into some semblance of order. He thought of Abregado, of the young commander's compassion; he thought of that moment hardly an hour ago, when she'd faced him with fear and desperation written in her gaze and across her entire, battered body.
When he began speaking again, he passed the bottle to Rex, and noted how the other man accepted it almost absently. "Like I said, if I hadn't seen what happened with my own eyes, I'd never have believed it. She didn't kill any clones today."
"Do you think she's guilty?" The captain's voice was calm, as if he already knew the answer. "Do you think she killed Fox's men, and that woman in the Republic prison, and all the other things that are being said about her?"
"Perhaps," Wolffe said as he studied Rex. "I think she's capable enough to pull that stuff off. Any Jedi is. And I'm having a hard time looking past Ventress' involvement."
It was Rex's turn to scowl. "You don't know Padawan Tano like I do, Commander. Perhaps she could have done those things, but there's no way – no way in haran – that she ever would, no matter who she was with."
"Yeah, you do know her," Wolffe replied, dropping the pitch of his voice to a more serious register that he knew would get the captain's attention. This was an important matter, and he needed to understand the truth at the heart of it. "You know her better than any other clone, don't you?"
Rex's face blanked. The effect was as if he'd shoved on his bucket even though it remained clipped to his belt. He took a drink from the flask before he spoke, and when he did, his voice was softer than Wolffe had heard before, but held a trace of warning. "Are you implying something, Commander Wolffe?"
"I've admitted that my own personal feelings about Ventress are preventing me from reaching a suitable conclusion about Commander Tano's guilt – or innocence," Wolffe replied, watching as Rex's expression seemed to grow more shadowed with each word. "And I'm curious, Captain, if something similar is taking place within you."
The Torrent Company captain did not answer immediately. However, he did not fidget or shift his feet, as many other clones would have done when faced with the harsh, mismatched regard of Commander Wolffe, but Wolffe could see a tightening around his eyes and in the line of his jaw that indicated he was unsettled and trying to hide the fact.
Finally, Rex exhaled and met Wolffe's eyes, seeming to have reached a decision. "I've heard the rumors, Commander," he began. "I know what the others say about my...attachment to Padawan Tano."
"Are they just rumors?"
Rex took a casual swig of the flask before passing it back to Wolffe. "Why do you want to know, sir?"
The implication was, of course, that Wolffe was questioning him in order to find out if Captain Rex was a traitor. The blond clone was known as one of the more unorthodox officers in the GAR. However, his service record was exemplary and in Wolffe's mind, that mattered above all else. No matter what his personal opinion was of the captain, there was no evidence to show that Rex was disloyal.
And in any case, sussing out Rex's loyalties wasn't the reason for this excursion. With a sigh, Wolffe lifted the flask to draw Rex's attention. "This isn't an interrogation, Captain. It's a...personal inquiry."
Rex didn't seem quite convinced; if anything, there was more tension in his posture than had been present on the larty. "You didn't seem like you cared about what happened to her, down there."
"It's not my job to care about her."
At this, Rex made a noise of disgust, which Wolffe ignored as he sipped the liquor – only a small sip, as he wanted to keep a relatively clear head. Thankfully, the pain in his shoulder was finally ebbing, replaced with a warm, languid feeling that set him slightly at ease, so he continued. "It's your job. But caring can be a hindrance to a man's judgment."
"Caring can be an asset, too."
Perhaps that was true, but experience had shown Wolffe that it was dangerous to care too much about those around you, as they had a tendency to die. The long years of the Wars had proved this much. Wolffe knew that General Plo would probably take issue with this mindset, but decided that this was, perhaps, his own shortcoming to conquer. This in mind, Wolffe made a noise of assent, but did not offer any further verbal acknowledgment of the captain's words.
After a few moments, Rex turned his face to the city again, crossing his arms before his chest. "I do care about Commander Tano, just not like you're thinking. Not like the rumors say, but enough, I suppose, to have started them in the first place."
Wolffe exhaled and resisted the urge to rub his forehead. This was getting far more complicated than he'd prepared himself for, so his reply was sharper than it should have been. "So you admit you can't be objective about any of this."
"Of course not." Rex's voice flattened as he looked back at the commander. "And to be honest, sir, I don't see how a decent man can feel any other way right now."
It was a thinly-veiled criticism, and the languid, easy feeling dissipated, replaced with firm conviction. Wolffe leveled his most commanding glare on his subordinate. "I saw how you looked at me on the ride back here. I know you think I'm cruel, and you're not the only one with that opinion. I know you wonder if the heart was burned out of me, along with my eye."
"By all means, Commander," Rex replied, spreading his hands in a slightly haphazard manner that suggested he was feeling the effects of the flask's contents. "Prove me wrong."
Unwilling to back down from this particular challenge, Wolffe straightened his spine and ensured his voice was clear. "It's a fine line we walk, with our Jedi. We have to care enough to keep them alive, but not so much that we can't make correct judgment calls when it counts the most. It's a difficult line to walk, especially when the Jedi care too much: about us, about each other, and about things they can't change. But if you and I are to do our jobs effectively, it's a line we must walk. We must be able to make the correct, necessary decisions, and to do that, we shouldn't be swayed by our emotions."
There was a beat of silence as Rex absorbed the speech; the captain's next words held a trace of amusement. "'Our Jedi?'"
Clear as any holo-vid, memories of past missions with General Plo played out in Wolffe's mind. There had been many times when he'd been prepared to sacrifice himself and his men so that the Kel Dor Jedi would survive, yet such a thing had never come to pass. It was not solely by virtue of the Jedi's skill that he was standing here; the commander knew that he owed his life to his general's compassion, probably a hundred times over. General Plo had stood by him, loyal as any brother, through the very worst that the Wars had thrown his way. He had Wolffe's six, always, and Wolffe had no reason to doubt that it would continue be so, as long as they served together.
It was a truth he'd come to realize even before his eye had been taken. It was a truth he'd been shown, again and again, since his earliest days of service. Illogical as it was, his general cared about him.
In her way, he supposed Commander Tano did as well, if Abregado was any indication. Certainly her actions tonight – some of them, anyway – had emphasized that fact.
At last Wolffe shrugged, though he regretted the action when he felt the searing ache in his shoulder. "I never said I didn't care about General Plo. I'd lay down my life for him, without hesitation."
"I'd do the same for Commander Tano," Rex replied, nodding slowly. "And General Skywalker. Not because it's the most logical decision, but because it's the right one." He seemed to debate something, then offered the commander a tentative half-smile. "In my experience, trust doesn't always have a basis in logic."
The scowl of irritation crossed Wolffe's face of its own volition. "No, it doesn't."
Life would be easier if it did, of course. Trust, like compassion, was one of those unquantifiable elements that could never be measured, yet Wolffe found that he relied upon it a great deal. If he didn't know that General Plo Koon would have his back, he'd make different judgment calls in the heat of battle; if he didn't trust that the Jedi would ensure his and his troopers' safety whenever possible, his life would be very different.
A quiet sloshing sound broke him out of his thoughts. Wolffe glanced over and saw that Rex was offering the flask, which he'd nearly forgotten about. "I think I'm going to call it a night," the captain said as Wolffe accepted the container. "Unless you have something else you want to add, Commander."
Nodding, Wolffe twisted the cap back on and clipped the flask to his belt, beneath his kama. "Actually, there is one more thing, Captain."
"The way you kept glaring at me back on the larty was inappropriate," Wolffe said, crossing his arms and fixing his eyes on the blond clone. "Look, I don't give a kriff what you do behind your bucket, but if we're going bare-faced around the Jedi, you're to conduct yourself with professionalism. That means eyes ahead and no glaring like a damn shiny who's not getting his way."
The expression on Rex's face seemed to waver between incredulity and amusement. "Is that the reason you brought me up here, Commander?"
"One of the reasons." Wolffe surveyed the gleaming city spread out before them. "Would you rather have had this conversation in the barracks?"
Wolffe glanced back at the captain and patted his kama, where he'd stowed the Bilbringi Bracer. "I also thought we could both use a drink after tonight, Rex."
As he'd expected, the use of the captain's nickname took away the bulk of the reprimand's sting, and even caused the captain to chuckle quietly. "You were right, Wolffe."
With that, he turned and made his way for the door that led back to the barracks; it slid open at his approach, but he paused before he stepped across the threshold and glanced back at Wolffe. "Sir, I have to know...do you think she's guilty, or not?"
Above his head, a speeder passed by, closer than it should have been to the base, and Wolffe felt the wind of its passage brush his face. Even with the warmth of liquor pooling in his gut he was still too cool, though thankfully his shoulder didn't hurt so much anymore. He was also still tired and kind of irritated by the whole night, not to mention thoughts of whatever this night's aftermath would hold. Facing Ventress again would probably give him nightmares, like the kind he used to get back when she'd taken his eye, so he was in no hurry to return to his bunk.
Wolffe realized that his eyes had closed, so he opened them and looked at Rex. "No, I don't think she killed Fox's men."
"What about the rest of it? Do you think she's a traitor?"
"A little. But not as much as I did before." It was a decision he could live with, one that would allow him to welcome a little bit of sleep, whenever it finally came.
There was a look of satisfaction on the captain's face as he nodded, though he still did not step through the door. At last he sighed and shook his head. "For what it's worth, Commander, I don't think you're cruel. I've never thought that."
"I'm not cruel," Wolffe replied, closing his eyes and leaning his body against the solid wall behind him. After a beat he gave a wry chuckle, the first he'd been able to muster since he and General Plo had been pulled into the whole mess. "But I can be a real shabuir, sometimes."
There was a moment where he wondered if Rex would think that Wolffe was mocking him, but when he opened his eyes, he saw that there was the faintest trace of a smile on the captain's face before he slipped through the door. "Copy that, sir."
FYI, "shabuir" is Mando'a for...let's go with "jerk," though the meaning here is a bit stronger. ;)
Other Mando'a words: haran (hell) and shebs (rear, butt, posterior - take your pick. :P)
Many thanks to impoeia for looking this over! If you're looking for some fan-kriffing-tastic Commander Wolffe writing, check out her fics, The Colours We Wear, and chapter four of Shreds and Ribbons. Amazing stuff! :D (Actually, all of her writing is phenomenal, and I urge you to take a look.)
This story came about because I thought that Commander Wolffe needed a voice in all of the craziness of Season Five's final arc. I wanted to try and humanize him, as well as show Wolffe and Rex trying to reach an understanding across their seemingly opposing points-of-view. Both of these guys are close to my heart, so I hope I did them justice.
Shameless plug: if you like Wolffe and my handling of him, check out my story Fire and Ice: Protection. ;)
Feedback is welcome and encouraged. Thank you for reading!