“You are all absolutely unbelievable.”
Fives doesn’t even have the decency to look properly ashamed of himself. He, Jesse, Dogma, Hardcase, and Echo are covered from head to toe in flour and of the group, only Dogma looks even the slightest bit sheepish about it.
“The General loans us his kitchen, in his home, and this is what you pull,” Rex says.
“We’ll clean it up,” Dogma says quickly. “Promise, sir.”
“It was Hardcase’s fault anyway,” Jesse says.
“How as I supposed to know the bag would explode?” Hardcase grumbles.
“Oh, we definitely don’t know,” Fives says dryly, “but when you figure it out, you let us in on it.”
The war’s been over for three weeks and Rex already wishes he was back on the front lines. There’s still plenty to sort out, of course, that’s sort of an inevitable side-effect of the Republic’s Chancellor having orchestrated the entire war for his own benefit, but beyond waiting for orders about which Separatist holdouts still need to be cleared up, there’s not much they can do.
And besides, it’s Ahsoka’s lifeday and for years, the 501st has been talking about throwing her a party: baking a cake, coming up with gifts, singing her that stupid song all the civvies take such delight in. This is the first time it’s actually been a real and genuine possibility. Rex guesses he should thank Fox for that, whenever the Senate gets around to clearing him of any charges related to Palpatine’s very sudden and necessary end.
“All right, men,” Rex says at last. “We’ve got to pull ourselves together or this is never gonna get done.”
“I’ve never baked anything before,” Hardcase says. “I didn’t know it was gonna blow up.”
“Will you stow it already?” Jesse groans. “We get it: you didn’t think the bag would blow if you punched it. Well, guess what, genius? It did. It blew up and now it’s everywhere and we’ve got no flour for Ahsoka’s cake.”
“We could just go get some more,” Echo points out. Suddenly, all eyes are on him. “What?”
“I suppose you have credits for that,” Fives drawls.
“I do,” Echo says. “Hunter gave them to me. Tech’s really good at pazaak.”
Rex can feel the headache coming on already. “All right,” he says. “Echo, you, me, and Fives are on retrieval. We’ll go to the market, get the flour, and bring it back here. The rest of you, get this kitchen cleaned up. I want it in top shape, and I don’t want to hear any complaints from General Skywalker or Senator Amidala about it later. You got it?”
“Yes, sir,” Dogma bites out, which is better than the eyerolls Rex gets from Jesse and Hardcase.
“They’re gonna make an even bigger mess and we’re gonna be the ones that have to deal with it,” Fives says as they climb into the speeder. “What do you bet, Rex?”
“They’ll be fine,” Rex grumbles. “Just drive, Echo.”
“Whoa,” Fives says. Echo pauses; his finger hovers over the speeder’s ignition. “No, no, no. He’s not driving.”
“What is it with you and my driving?” Echo demands. “I drive fine.”
“No, you used to drive fine. Then you started hanging out with the Bad Batch and now you drive like you have a death wish.”
“I don’t have a death wish. I’m just trying to get us there faster.”
“I’ll drive,” Rex says mildly, and Echo scowls at Fives and moves over.
The market’s crawling with people. There are no other clones, besides a few of the Coruscant Guard keeping watch from a distance.
“So,” Fives says, “what’s the plan if they won’t sell to us?’
They were all thinking it. “They will,” Rex says, though it doesn’t sound as confident out loud as it did in his head. “I mean, why wouldn’t they?”
“Well, we’re the face of the war,” Echo says. A smirk plays at his lips. “All of us. We have the same face. Get it?”
Fives and Rex groan.
“Shut up. I’m a delight.”
“You’re not,” Fives says. “You’re a pain in the shebs.”
“We still need that flour,” Rex points out, “so cut the chatter unless you’ve got something useful to say.”
There are plenty of vendors scattered around the courtyard; it’s the largest outdoor market on Coruscant and the only one in the vicinity that carries the specific brand of flour needed for a Togrutan lifeday cake. “I’ll just go ask,” Echo says haltingly. “What else are we gonna do?”
“You’ll get swindled is what you’ll do,” Fives said. “Have you ever bought anything before? Let Rex do it.”
Echo blinks at him and shrugs. “All right,” he says. “Rex, you’re up. Show us how it’s done, sir.”
Rex warily accepts the credits and scans the crowd for the correct vendor. As soon as he finds it, he shoulders his way through, conscious of Fives and Echo at his back.
The vendor is an old Togruta woman. She looks them up and down and blinks at them, unimpressed. “You got credits?” she asks suspiciously. Rex bites back the urge to sigh. Everyone knows they don’t get paid (and no one does anything about it).
“We do,” Rex says a long beat later. “How much?”
“How much you got?”
“How much are they?”
“That depends on how much you’ve got,” she says, annoyed.
“How are we supposed to pay you if we don’t know how much it is?” Fives asks. “I mean, come on.”
“That’s how it works here,” she shrugs. “How much you got?”
“Just tell us how much,” Rex says. “…please.”
She screws her face up but seems to realize it’s the only answer she’s going to get. “Twenty credits,” she says slowly, like she’s testing them. “For the little bag.”
That’s all they need. Rex very carefully hands her the correct amount. She tosses the bag at them. “Thanks,” Rex says, but she doesn’t answer them: she’s already moved on to talking to the next customer.
“That wasn’t so bad,” Echo says, once they’re back at the speeder. He gingerly settles the bag in the dashboard compartment and clicks it shut.
Ten minutes back to Skywalker and Amidala’s apartment. The others should have the place cleaned up by now. Assuming Kix doesn’t get swept up in more post-war paperwork, he’s supposed to extricate Ahsoka from Kenobi and the 212th and bring her over by 1800.
So that leaves them three hours to make, bake, and decorate the cake when none of them has ever baked anything in their lives.
At least it comes with instructions.
Rex whips the speeder around the corner – and promptly brings it to a screeching halt. There are vehicles lined up as far as they can see up the lane.
“Shab,” Echo says. “What happened?”
“Crash, probably,” Fives mutters. “They were probably driving like you do.”
Rex gives it ten minutes. At twenty, they’re still sitting motionless. The speeder behind theirs has started revving its engine off and on like that’ll somehow make the pileup shift into motion.
They don’t have time for this.
“Where are you going?” Fives asks as Rex pulls out of the lane. Rex doesn’t answer him, just puts the speeder into a sharp incline and guns it.
“Rex, this is a military lane,” Echo says.
“And we’re military personnel,” Rex shoots back.
“In a civilian speeder!”
“Speeder, identify yourself. You are in a restricted lane.”
Fives is plastered to his seat but he still manages to reach forward far enough to hit the blinking comm. “This is Captain Rex,” Rex says easily, heedless of Fives’ scowl. “We’ve…commandeered a vehicle and are using the lane for passage.”
“Roger that, Captain. Carry on.”
“You’re lucky Fox is locked up right now,” Fives says through gritted teeth, “or he’d have your head for this.”
“That was Thire on the comm,” Echo says. “I’m pretty sure he’ll report it.”
No one wants to be on traffic duty. Rex wonders what Thire did to get stuck with it.
“Let’s hope not,” Rex says.
“Please slow down,” Fives snaps. Rex glances at him: his eyes are squeezed shut. “You and Echo and your shabla driving. It’s like no one taught you how. Ever.”
“Relax,” Rex says. “We’re f—”
Rex swerves just in time to avoid the Coruscant Guard swoops ripping across the lane. “Wonder who they’re chasing,” Echo says.
“Slow down!” Fives barks. “Damn it, Rex, I don’t want to die again.”
By the time Rex sets the speeder down back at Amidala’s apartment, Fives is shaking. He stumbles out of the speeder and wobbles across the platform.
“Hey, Fives,” Jesse says, poking his head out the door. “You all right?”
“Rex should be relieved of his command,” Fives mumbles, letting Echo lead him inside, “until he learns how to pilot a kriffin’ speeder.”
Jesse giggles. Rex glowers at him and shoves the bag of flour against his chest. “Keep Hardcase away from it,” he says. “We are not doing that again.”
“Red means stop, by the way,” Jesse says with a wide grin. “Saw you coming down the lane. You blew through the traffic signal, Captain.”
“Get that cake made, Jesse.”
By some miracle, the cake comes out fine. Rex suspects Dogma was a very large part of that particular outcome, just like he’s sure Echo’s steady hands are the reason the frosted lettering is at all legible; it’s blue on a white background, for the 501st: Happy Lifeday, Ahsoka.
“There is an ‘h’, right?” Fives says, furrowing his brow.
“Yes, there’s an ‘h’,” Rex says. Echo heaves a sigh of relief. Behind him, Hardcase is balancing on Dogma and Jesse’s shoulders to hang up the last of the streamers and balloons.
“Ten minutes,” Echo says. “If Kix is on schedule.”
“Give him plus another ten,” Fives says, folding his arms. “He gets caught up pretty easily.”
The door clicks open. They spin as one. “General,” Fives says. “Welcome back.”
“Don’t call me general when I’m at home,” Anakin says, wrinkling his nose. “Really, Fives.”
“What are we supposed to call you…sir?” Dogma asks.
“You can call him Anakin,” Padmé says, sweeping through the door. They haven’t exactly been the most subtle about their relationship since the news of Palpatine’s treason came down the line, but then, Rex very much doubts the Jedi Council has the time to care right now. They’re too busy dealing with the fallout of an almost-Order-66.
And the fact that Fox and Fives, not the Jedi, were the ones that stopped it.
Everyone’s hair is still growing back from having their chips removed.
“Yeah, no, that’s not gonna work for us,” Jesse says. “What else is there?”
“Ahsoka used to call him Skyguy,” Rex says with a smirk. Skywalker scowls at him.
“No. Not that,” he says. “You can call me Anakin. You’re just gonna have to figure out how to make it work. Now hurry up and hide. Ahsoka and Kix were five minutes behind me so they’re gonna be here any second.”
Amidala clicks the lights off. Rex huddles behind the couch with Echo and Fives. Jesse and Dogma duck behind the overstuffed chairs.
“I think it should be open,” Ahsoka says from outside the door. “Anakin usually leaves it unlocked if he knows I’m coming by.”
“Sounds hazardous,” Kix says. Rex rolls his eyes. Beside him, Fives jumps slightly. He stills him with a hand on the shoulder. Not yet.
The door swings open. Amidala hits the lights. “Surprise!” they bellow, and Ahsoka’s face goes from startled to delighted.
“Happy lifeday, Ahsoka,” Anakin grins, and drags her into a hug. She holds on for a second and then Jesse’s elbowing his way in for his turn. Rex hangs back and waits until the others have had their chance. Ahsoka beams at him.
“Happy lifeday, vod’ika,” Rex says, and pulls her close.
“We made you a traditional Togrutan cake,” Dogma says proudly. “With the right flour and everything.”
Ahsoka’s eyes are shining. Rex hoists her up onto his shoulders. “Come on,” he says. “We barely managed not to burn the thing.”
“I’m sure you did fine,” she says.
“Well, it was mostly Dogma. Echo did the frosting.”
“I picked the sprinkles,” Hardcase says, following after. “They’re silver. Just because.”
Fives cuts the cake unevenly, Echo picks at him for it, but none of their bickering seems to bother Ahsoka. There’s a brightness to her eyes that Rex hasn’t seen since the first time he met her on Christophsis. The others are crowded around her, doting and stacking the gifts they brought beside her so she can open them later. Skywalker’s arm is around Amidala. He’s wearing a wide smile.
They’re safe, they’re happy, and they’re so very alive.
For the first time in his life, Rex’s heart is light.