“Three days,” Cody answered.
Rex glanced up. He was straddling the bench in the Resolute’s mess hall, methodically replacing the details on his helmet; it had become a ritual, for Rex, after their messiest battles, to clean and polish his armor and then lay down another layer of paint. If he could trap the blood and gore and the aching, aching loss between the pigment, it would stay there—it would leave him be at these hours, the young hours, when he should have been sleeping. He’d forgotten he’d asked Cody a question at all, lost as he was in the curving lines of his paint, the sharp black lines of his T-visor.
Cody raised a brow and took a deep drink of his caf. There was no real reason for Cody to be on the Resolute, same as there was no reason for Rex to have any kind of friendship with him; but General Kenobi and General Skywalker were tied together in ways that reached down the parts of someone’s soul, and for all that they were Jedi, and for all that the Jedi had their rules about brotherhood, they seemed to wear it as their badge of honor. If General Kenobi was the official leader of the Open Circle Fleet, General Skywalker was its unofficial second-in-command, and when General Kenobi wasn’t around, Cody answered to General Skywalker just the same, as Rex would for General Kenobi. The 212th and the 501st were brother legions, for brother generals. And so the commander of the 212th was sitting across from him, in General Skywalker’s flagship, across from General Skywalker’s captain, all wrong place and wrong time and not an ounce of mind paid to any of it.
“Your question,” Cody said. “You asked me how long I’d seen General Kenobi go without stopping. Three days, and then I have to carry him off of the battlefield.”
Rex snorted. That, probably, wasn’t at all an exaggeration; General Kenobi was somewhat infamous for his distaste for medical, which hadn’t endeared him at all to Rex’s brothers who worked as medics. A couple times, Cody had commed Rex to see if he could lightly suggest General Skywalker make his way to the Negotiator’s medbay, because General Kenobi would behave himself if Skywalker bickered him into it. No doubt, Cody had dragged General Kenobi a great number of places, thanks to the man’s inability to quit.
“You’re asking because of General Skywalker,” Cody said.
“I can try and sic Kenobi on him, if you think he needs to slow down,” Cody offered.
Rex glanced up from the glimmering wet blue line he’d laid down. “Do you think he needs to?”
Cody shrugged. “He’s always seemed a bit fast paced. I always kind of felt bad for you all. If I think he runs a little hot, I can’t imagine what it’s like under his command.”
Rex held his brush perfectly still. “It’s not like that, exactly, Commander,” he said. “You said you’d give General Kenobi three days before he collapses. I’ve watched Skywalker collapse after two. But then I’ve seen him work on no sleep for five, a month later. I’ve watched him take hits that would knock him down for a week, and then the next time he’d get hit worse, and he’d be on his feet in the hour. He takes damage, for sure. And then he gets up and it’s like he’s twice as hard to knock down.”
Cody swallowed a gulp of caf. “Five days, you said?”
Rex nodded, sharply. “It’s hard to know when to pull him back. It’s hard to know what he can and can’t do, because—Commander, I think he has limits, and then sometimes he just… forgets them. Forgets them, and makes miracles instead.”
Or horrors, Rex didn’t add, thinking of the absolutely still look on General Skywalker’s face mere hours ago, when he’d reached up with his gloved hand and slowly curled it into a fist, and the engines of an escaping Separatist shuttle shuddered, collapsed. As the vessel had spiraled to the ground, Skywalker had offered Rex a crooked grin and said, and now we’ve won, and it had raised the hair on Rex’s neck. He trusted his general—trusted him absolutely, in ways not many clone captains and commanders could—but to trust the likes of Anakin Skywalker was to lay your faith at the feet of a hurricane. And that was how Rex thought of him, most days; a hurricane in a bottle, a force of nature, and he was proud of that, most days. Most days it was his highest honor and a source of pride, to serve with, to keep up with, because not many else could, not many else would want to.
Most days, Rex remembered there were battles the 501st shouldn’t have survived, there were days they shouldn’t have seen, that they only continued to march through because Skywalker had seemingly bent reality to his will and led them through it. Competent was too small a word, for the way that Skywalker seemingly could invent new ways not only to survive, but to win. Most days Rex tempered his interactions with his general with his professionalism, but there was some feeling, some undercurrent of awe beneath it all. But then there were the days like today, where Rex thought of that nonplussed, unassuming look on General Skywalker’s face as he ripped a shuttle out of the air like it was nothing—those days where Rex couldn’t help but think that the Republic was damn lucky that every ounce of the wellspring of power in Skywalker’s blood served them, that the galaxy itself was damn lucky that all of that infernal power was tempered by Skywalker’s allegiance to the Jedi. Luck, and nothing short of that.
“What brought this on,” Cody said, mildly.
A tremor ran through Rex’s fingers, and with a long-suffering breath of air, he sat up and laid his helmet on the table. The mess was mostly deserted, currently; no one was listening. But Rex pitched his voice lower anyway. “I don’t know how Jedi powers work,” Rex said. “I won’t pretend I do. But—do you think—do you think they can get in too deep?”
Cody cocked a brow. “How so?”
Rex waved a hand. “You know, the—the way anyone, with any kind of power, can. Imagine you had these crazy powers. Imagine you could, I don’t know, rip starships out of the air, if you wanted. Not sleep for days and keep moving. Fight for days without dying. Even getting hurt makes you that little bit more unstoppable every time. He’s like a tank, Commander.”
Cody grinned wolfishly. “That’s a good thing, Captain, in case you haven’t noticed.”
Rex snorted. “Sure, sure it is. It’s a good thing, except—power corrupts, doesn’t it? We’ve seen brothers get raised to higher positions and loose touch with us, loose their way. If you could do anything with—with just your kriffing mind—where’s that line?”
“Are you scared of General Skywalker?” Cody asked, bluntly.
Rex knew the undercurrent of what he was asking—that if Rex answered in the affirmative, that Cody would suggest trying to file a transfer, that Cody would want to look into options. That if Rex answered in the negative too hastily, Cody would still be looking, because at the end of the day, it was brothers who looked out for brothers. “Not in the least,” Rex said. “Not as he is. He respects us, never asks the 501st to do something he can’t, or something he wouldn’t. It’s—you have to see it, Commander. He pulls off these—every month, he breaks the limit of what I thought Jedi could do. Effortlessly. Even unintentionally. Power like that, it’s intimidating.”
Cody inclined his head. “I get that. I’ve—I’ve seen some of it. Not as much as you, but some.”
But what Cody hadn’t seen was Skywalker strung out on days without sleep, living off of the cosmic power in his blood; the manic edge he would gain, even if he should have been, by all rights, exhausted. He would talk faster, louder, more confident, but then with that came rapid swings from unbearably irritable to downright bubbly, a fuse that had started out fairly short but was now maybe the breadth of a hair and almost entirely inscrutable. And then, sometimes the worst of all—that when Skywalker thought no one was looking, he slumped like a puppet with its strings cut, and looked so genuinely hopeless it took everything Rex had to remember the man wouldn’t be exactly appreciative of anyone reaching out to him. It took everything Rex had to keep walking, and to nudge the little Commander, warn her to give her master time.
“I don’t think it’s—corruption,” Rex said. “He’s still the General Skywalker I was assigned to. He’s a good man, but sometimes—sometimes I think I’m watching him get eaten alive by something I know kriff all about. Maybe I’m imagining it, but I think one of these days he’s going to either hit a limit to what he can do, or a hit a limit to what he can take. No matter which comes first, Cody, I’m terrified of that day.”
Cody’s face was tight; he liked General Skywalker, Rex knew, but Cody was protective of his brothers, protective to a fault. Rex didn’t mind that—they were, after all, all each other really would have, when push came to shove. Rex tried not to think too much about what would happen after the war ended, just as much as he tried not to think of the day where something in Skywalker stretched too thinly.
“You ever feel like that, with General Kenobi?” Rex asked, quietly, knowing the answer.
Cody leaned back, taking his time to answer, letting his eyes settle on Rex’s. “Not for a single minute, Captain. Not for a single damn minute.”
Rex swallowed. He tried not to think about what would happen to him if he expressed these kinds of reservations where a Jedi could hear him, tried not to wonder whether the outcome would be worse for him, or worse for his general. The list of things Rex didn’t let himself consider got longer by the day.
“Fair enough,” Rex answered.