“This planet is a hole,” Rex mumbles. No response, not that he was really expecting one. Sweating, he takes his helmet off and sets it on the hot white sands he kneels on before continuing to bind gauze around a young trooper's injured leg. The man groans, but otherwise does well with keeping still.
Rex generally does his best to maintain some amount of professionalism in his day-to-day, but this planet is an exception. A big ass exception. They’ve only been here for three hours and they’ve already… They’ve already lost men. Lost their general .
And any clone captain who allows harm to come to his general is a failure in Rex’s mind.
He stands up, helmet tucked into the crook of his elbow, the troop’s bandages secured snuggly, and looks out over the rest of his men.
Their young Iktotchi general, Zielyis, had been alerted several hours earlier to some disturbance in the Force which was traced to Tatooine. He’d sensed it on his own-- staggering and nearly falling on the bridge-- which was shortly followed by a comm straight from the Temple on Coruscant. Master Yoda, apparently. Must’ve been something big. Big enough to make them immediately divert course and deploy to the small Outer Rim world.
Why did the 501st have to be the closest legion to the planet? Rex has no idea. The Force hates him, maybe.
The 212th is on their way, though-- surely only a few systems away by now. They’re lucky they’d managed a short message to General Kenobi before comms were disrupted completely. At least he thinks they’d managed one, no confirmation was actually received.
Damned droids. What are they even doing out here anyway? And with so many of them-- armed to the metaphorical teeth with enough weaponry to take down a transpo ship. Tatooine is a useless Outer Rim desert planet home to the galaxy’s scum and lacking even the most basic resources to the point where water has to be imported en masse. For kriff’s sake, its primary exports are dilarium oil and slaves .
Could it be that the Sith had sensed the disturbance as well?
Rex shakes the thought from his head. He won’t pretend to be an expert on the workings of the Force. Or even on the Sith and the Jedi. But the possibility of a Sith on this planet, looking for the same thing they’re looking for makes his heart rate pick up. No way to prepare for that, they can only hope that General Kenobi gets here soon.
All he knows is that they weren’t expecting any kind of droid attack, only that they might have to fend off some Tusken raiders. The droid squad is now reduced to a pile of clanker scrap metal smoking with blaster holes, of course, but he suspects there are more out there.
“Captain.” A shiny approaches at his left with a couple of other men trailing behind him-- the scouts he’d sent out an hour or so earlier, he realizes. “There’s a city four miles or so to the north of here. Looks pretty substantial. We can probably figure something out with comms there.”
Rex nods to each of them, turning to stare down the direction they’d come from. A city. Good. At least they’re not completely stranded.
“Alright, we’ll set out for this city as soon as all the wounded have been taken care of. Then we can rendezvous with General Kenobi.” And then, more to himself than anyone else: “There’s no way to know where the disturbance came from without a Jedi to sense it, so waiting is our only option.”
He surveys the remaining troops. Kix has attended to most of the injuries already-- only a few of which are serious. He’s currently fashioning an arm splint out of shattered droid parts and gauze.
There were more casualties than there were injuries. Casualties don’t slow them down, and injuries are going to make those four miles feel a lot longer, but no matter how much he tries, Rex can’t think of it as a good thing.
He moves to help Kix. Getting lost in his thoughts won’t help anyone, including himself. Besides, the sooner they can get a move on, the better. A desert planet like this must be prone to sandstorms, and getting caught up in something like that… Rex doesn’t even want to think about it.
They work together in silence for several minutes, maybe half an hour (watches Kix snap a bone back into place, gently dab blood from a shiny’s forehead) before Rex deems the group travel-worthy. The heat has brought most of the troopers to remove their helmets, twin suns beating down over their heads and shoulders. It’s certainly a far cry from their rainy homeworld.
Rex sighs. He wishes it was raining.
Rex leads the group, and ignores the empty space of a Jedi at their head. Zielyis had only been their general for a week or so. He was young, younger than any man Rex would put in charge of a GAR legion, but the jetii have their ways. He was a good general, regardless.
He glances behind his shoulder at the plume of smoke that marks their crash site. They’ll be back. Rex isn’t going to leave his brothers, his vode -- or a jetii -- unburied, not forever at least.
Jesse moves up next to him, helmet absent, revealing the black tattoo stark against his scalp.
“What do you think the “disturbance” is. Something serious? Dangerous?” he mumbles the question.
“No use speculating.” A short pause, and then he relents. “All I know is it’s somethin’ big, for a comm to come in all the way from Coruscant.”
Jesse hums. Rex glances at him from the corner of his eye. He’s nervous, even if it’s not obvious, and Rex doesn’t blame him.
It’s another maybe twenty minutes before Rex starts to notice it.
A greying of the distant sky, dark and heavy. Not a herald of nighttime, as the twin suns are still just barely falling from their highest point in the sky. And it doesn’t taste like a sandstorm-- no wind suddenly coming alive to kick up dust, no suffocating grit in the air.
“Is that what I think it is?” he mumbles, footsteps faltering. The small group of troopers behind him stops in turn.
“Smells like it. Ozone,” comes Kix’s voice.
“It’s really close.”
“Do you think…”
“...that’s the jetii “disturbance”?”
“Rain. Rain on Tatooine!”
“We don’t know for sure that it’s rain.”
“What is it then.”
Rex starts walking again. It feels like he’s being entranced by the grey storm clouds-- like they’re some kind of siren urging him over to them. “Let’s check it out,” he says absently.
The rest of the company follows him without question. He’s sure any apprehension the group feels is completely overcome by their curiosity.
The closer they get to it, the faster Rex moves. Walking, then jogging, then running with his blaster in hand. He hears screaming .
It’s like a localized storm over this one spot. Blackening clouds twisting around some epicenter. Rain starts to fall over them, soothing the heat of the desert and washing away blood and sand.
A shadowed figure sits hunched over something, shelters standing soaked and bending under the weight of rain around them, dozens of bodies littering the surrounding area. What the kriff . Above the figure stand three men, rifles drawn and aimed as if they were an execution squad. Kriff! Tusken raiders!
“Hey!” he yells instinctively. He raises his blaster, aiming it at the center Tusken, and knows that his men are following suit behind him. “Drop your weapons.”
The Tuskens back up, obviously startled, turning their rifles upon the clones. Then, apparently registering the fact that they’re outnumbered, turn to flee.
The figure-- a young man, Rex realizes-- hasn’t reacted. He holds a woman in his arms, shoulders shaking violently and a blaster discarded at his side. A quick two-fingered signal instructs one of his troops to grab it, leaving the man weaponless.
Rex approaches him, somewhat cautiously. “Are you injured?” he asks.
Thunder. Dead Tusken raiders lie around them. Blood and long cuts mar the woman’s face along with, he’s sure, unseen injuries, red not washed away by the downpour. Her body lies completely limp-- either dead or unconscious. Rex is leaning towards the former.
No response from the young man. Only sobbing.
The rain lets up after only a minute or so, now just a light drizzle falling from a pale grey sky. The clothes under Rex’s armor are completely soaked through though, and he’s shivering in a rather undignified way.
The man-- whose name Rex still doesn’t know-- sits largely unresponsive on the wet sand, the woman laid down at his knees now. His simple tan clothes are also completely saturated with rain water, as well as splattered with blood. He’s hardly said a total of four words to Rex, answering his questions with a muttered “yes” or “no” or “I don’t know.”
Rex’s men come back to tell him that there are no more signs of Tusken raiders in the area. They should get going soon though, in case the three they’d already chased off decide to come back with reinforcements.
The dead raiders around them all bear blaster marks, but the weapon the man had used seems to be jammed or broken in some way. (Rex isn’t familiar with the design. Probably something native to Tatooine.)
“What’s the plan, Captain?” asks Jesse, sidling up beside him. “This must be the disturbance. He has to be a jetii .”
Rex thinks for a moment. “We’ll continue on to the city, bring him with us.” A subtle nod towards the young man.
“What if he refuses.”
“I’ll talk to him. Otherwise… we won’t force him into anything. We can still rendezvous with General Kenobi and he can decide from there.”
Jesse just nods. Rex can’t tell if he approves of the decision or not. Either way, Rex approaches the young man once again, squatting down to his level. The man avoids his gaze.
“Are you from the city to the north of here?” The subtle curves and spires of the city are visible on the distant horizon now, although clouded by the desert winds.
“Mos Espa. Yeah.”
A brief silence. “I-- I don’t know the burial customs of Tatooine, but… we’re willing to help you.” He gestures to the woman at his knees and then hopes the offer doesn’t end up being some sort of offense. The man finally makes eye contact with Rex, and then looks warily over his shoulder at the troopers milling around somewhat restlessly behind him.
“R-right. I need to get back before Watto realizes.” He sniffs and wipes at his nose before his hand comes to clutch at his stomach, almost nervously. His eyes darting back to Rex. “It was raining.”
“It doesn’t rain on Tatooine,” he says. “Was that something you did?”
Rex furrows his brow. Maybe he isn’t a jetii after all. Is something like this even within the scope of a jetii ’s powers? “No, nothing I did,” he says after a second.
The man shakes his head and wipes at his eyes once more before gathering the woman up in his arms and standing, shaky as if his legs were rubber. Rex rises up as well, a little concerned the man may fall.
“Are you going to Mos Espa?” Again, avoiding eye contact.
“Yes. We can escort you there.”
The walk to the city-- Mos Espa-- feels long, although it isn’t particularly.
And it feels heavy .
The rain water dries quickly from their clothes and the storm cloud at their backs evaporates like it was never there within minutes. The only sign left to tell him he didn’t just imagine the whole thing is that he’s still clean of blood and smoke and sand.
The young man-- still no name, Rex needs to ask-- carries the woman tirelessly, her head resting tucked against his chest, limbs limp. She looks older. And… Rex can see similar features between the two, the curve of their noses, the sharpness of their jaws.
Clones may not have mothers, but they can certainly attest to the bond between family. He thinks back to his brothers, gone, dead and abandoned at the crash site. Rex swallows and averts his gaze.
He wipes the sheen of sweat from his forehead, takes a tiny sip from his busted-up canteen, and does his best to calculate how long they’ve been walking.
Mos Espa is tan and rough like the desert around it, the low dome buildings sandblasted and edges worn to bluntness. The twin suns of Tatooine are just barely beginning to set when they get there, an orange glow cast over every surface. The man doesn’t lead them to the main gates of the city, but rather to a cluster of dwellings on the eastern outskirts of the city where he sets down the body of his mother.
Rex and his men help the boy bury her under the white sands, and they all turn away when he kneels and begins to mumble over the grave.
“Comms are back up. Interference has faded to minimal. For now.”
“Good. I’ll contact General Kenobi, give him a sitrep and get an ETA.” Movement out of the corner of his eye-- the boy emerging from around the outer wall. Rex realizes that his tan clothes are completely bloodstained around the middle, and even in the dark blue of early night he can see the tired bruises under the boy’s eyes.
“Who are you?” he asks, arms coming to wrap around his stomach.
“501st Legion of the GAR,” he all but recites.
The slightest raising of an eyebrow.
“Rex,” he adds, placing a hand on his chest. “You?”
The boy looks surprised at first, but then rushes to respond. “Anakin. Uh, Skywalker.”
“And her?” Rex asks gently. Names are important, even in death. It’s the least he can do-- the only thing he can think to do, really.
Anakin looks away. “Shmi Skywalker.” It’s barely audible, accompanied by a wavering in the kid’s voice.
“Well, I’m… sorry for your loss.”
The kid just stares wide-eyed at that. Rex offers him a brief nod and then turns away, opening up comms. The sooner they get off this planet, the better.
The staticky blue projection of General Kenobi flickers to life almost immediately. The Jedi stands tall and regal, neatly trimmed beard, heavy robe draped over his shoulders, and lightsaber hilt clipped to his belt.
“General,” Rex greets him, and begins by informing him about Zielyis and the droids who’d shot them down. Then about the rain cloud. “We also found a young Tatooine native present at the storm.” Anakin’s sitting with his back against a wall well within earshot, not-so-subtly staring at the bright hologram as it casts blue light over the sandstone around them. If the kid isn’t aware that he was the cause of the rainstorm, then Rex doesn’t want to… reveal anything. Or speculate with insufficient information. He turns his attention back to the general. “So this rain was the disturbance?”
Kenobi nods, briefly turning and gesturing to some unseen thing outside the parameters of the hologram before coming back to attention. He strokes at his beard with one hand. “I believe so. Droids you say…”
“Do you think there could be a Sith lord here on the planet? Could they have also sensed the disturbance?”
“Well, I’d like to say it’s unlikely. But it is extremely likely. There is no other reason for such a strong separatist presence to suddenly appear on Tatooine, at least none I am aware of,” says the general, who then sighs deeply. “We’ve almost arrived, Captain. Expect us soon, and hold your position in Mos Espa.”
“Yes, sir.” Rex salutes.
“Oh, and try not to attract any attention,” he adds on before ending the comm. The blue light cuts out abruptly, leaving them in darkness again.
“You heard him, boys. 212th is on their way,” Rex says, relief evident in his tone. That elicits a quiet cheer from the men.
Rex sighs and walks back over to Anakin, the kid still sitting down on the sand. He slides down the wall to sit next to him.
“You live around here?” he asks, surveying the sort of alley they currently find themselves in.
The kid points across the wide road to one of the many dwellings stacked atop each other, precarious stairs zigzagging their way around doorways. “Right there, me and my mo--” he stops, cruel realization washing over his face. He looks down at the sand, elbows resting on his knees.
“Ah.” Rex looks at the kid. Dim moonlight outlines the profile of his face. He’d pin his age at maybe eighteen or nineteen-- still a teenager and much too young to be in the situation he’s in. Rex wonders briefly if Anakin has a father at home to go to, but doesn’t ask. Something tells him he doesn’t.
Rex sighs again and looks up at the sky, pulling out his canteen to wet his mouth. The stars are fairly dim from the city, probably a product of the dusty air. The planet’s moons, however, are bright and clear. Three white crescents scattered across the sky in varying sizes.
“You got names for those moons?”
Anakin looks up. “Ghomrassen, Guermessa, and Chenini,” he says, pointing to each one in turn. As he lifts his hand to point, Rex notices the blood staining his fingers. “Chenini isn’t usually visible. It’s orbit takes it far away sometimes.”
Rex sits up from leaning against the stone wall, taking his canteen in hand. He gently grabs a hold of Anakin’s wrist— who froze the second Rex moved— and twists the cap off to trickle some water onto his hands. Anakin sucks in a breath and pulls away like the water had burned him.
“Don’t waste it,” he urges.
Rex grabs a hold of his wrist again. “It’s fine, kid, I promise.” He continues to wash the blood off his fingers and palms, red water a metronome dripping down and collecting into clumps of wet sand. He has to scrub a little, picks dried flakes of it from underneath his fingernails.
“Thank you.” It’s barely audible, just a weak little whisper.
As he cleans, Rex’s eyes drift over what seems like a hundred tiny, raised white scars carving out ridges in the kid’s knuckles. He hums. The scars weren’t visible underneath the blood, but they seem fairly obvious now. In the dark blue of the desert night, he can’t exactly gauge the level of cleanliness he’s achieved, but he’ll call it good for now. He lets go of Anakin’s hands and screws the cap back onto his canteen. The level of leftover water feels like maybe a fourth of the way full now, but they won’t be here much longer so he doesn’t worry over it.
The kid clears his throat, arms crossed tight at his middle now. “So. What’s the Republic’s army got to do out here?” he asks, a trace of bitterness deep in his throat.
Rex hums, considers, and then decides there’s really no point in lying to him. He’ll find out eventually, unless the jetii plan to keep him in the dark forever. “That rainstorm caused quite a stir among the Jedi. We were told to come and check it out.”
“The Jedi? Really?” A look of bright wonder crosses Anakin’s face for a moment. It seems to lighten some kind of weight over him. “Are they… are they coming here? The Jedi.”
“One of them is. General Kenobi is a Jedi Knight.”
Rex laughs and is surprised at how loud it comes out-- which isn’t exactly loud but louder than he meant it. Anakin smiles and Rex gets the urge to ruffle his hair like he might to one of his brothers.
“You don’t got anywhere to be soon, right? The general is going to want to talk with you when he gets here.”
“He wants to talk to me?”
“Oh. Well, um, yeah…” he looks away, into the blue desert outside the sandstone wall. “I’ve got to report back to Watto in the morning. Let him know what happened.” The kid pushes the heels of his palms into his eyes for a moment. “He’s gonna be so mad.”
“Yeah, me and Mom are the only slaves he owns. Now it’s just me.” Gone back to hugging himself now, a wetness in the kid’s eyes starts to reflect under the moonlight.
Rex’s mouth falls open. “Kriff.” He probably shouldn’t be surprised. He knew how common slaves were on Tatooine-- pretty sure they make up more than half the population-- but that doesn’t mean he’s not gonna be angry about it. “Kriff this kriffing planet.”
Rex turns to Anakin again. The kid looks like he might shatter into pieces.
“You wanna show me where this bastard lives? My trigger finger’s itching.”
Anakin’s head jerks up. “No! No way, he’ll-- He’ll just detonate my chip. Please don’t do anything. I’m sorry.”
Rex’s hands lift up into a placating gesture. “Woah, woah. It’s alright,” he says. “I won’t do anything you don’t want me to.”
A weak little “sorry” and Rex shakes his head. He rests his hand on the kid’s shoulder, trying his best to be reassuring.
“Nothin’ to be sorry for.”
They rest in shifts throughout the night. Anakin never makes a move to return to his home, seemingly content to sleep in the sand, so they just camp out by that eastern wall.
The Tatooine night is short and cold, and the twin suns start to show their faces soon enough.
Rex can quite literally feel the tension drain out of his shoulders when they get a comm from General Kenobi in those early hours of the morning informing them of the 212th’s arrival.
“General’s here, boys. We’re meeting him at the main gates.” He stretches out the stiffness in his arms and neck. Kriff, he hates sleeping on the ground. “Kix, we good with the injured? No further complications?”
“No, sir. Everything’s healing up as it should and ready to go.”
The streets of Mos Espa are crowded. Ridiculously crowded. The incessant shuffling of the city’s inhabitants kicks sand up into the air that makes it hard to breath in the already suffocatingly hot atmosphere. The people are rowdy. Shoving matches seem to break out every two minutes and a hundred different alien languages are tangling in the air, forming into a jumbled mess of shouting.
He’s guessing the amount of Republic presence on Tatooine has sat squarely at zero up until today. Everyone seems surprised to see clone troopers making their way through the city. Either that or they seem to go out of their way to avoid him and his men.
Anakin trails behind them, keeping his head down. Nobody even bats an eye at the blood on the kid’s clothes.
It barely takes Rex three minutes to spot the GAR transpo ship that’s so familiar, landed among all the piles of junk that pass for starships on this planet, a gleaming white-and-red shuttle surrounded by desert-worn browns. Cody stands at its head, conversing with General Kenobi.
“Ah. Captain Rex, good to see you doing well,” the general greets. His sharp eyes scan the remainder of the 501st group. “I presume we’re all ready to depart?”
“Actually, sir. We have a bit of a problem.”
Speak of the devil, Anakin suddenly darts up to Rex’s side. He’s been insisting that he can’t just leave with them, although he assures him he’s more than willing.
“Rex,” he whispers. “I need to go see Watto or I’ll be in trouble.”
The general clears his throat. He squints, lips bowing into a frown, looking very closely at Anakin-- Rex has no idea why, perhaps the Force is telling him something. “You must be the young Tatooine native the Captain here spoke of,” he says after a second.
The kid nods, wide-eyed and flicks Rex’s elbow through a gap in the armor. “ He’s gonna think I’m trying to escape ,” he hisses, rapid-fire.
“Ah, with your permission, General, sir, I believe our first priority should be seeing to Anakin here’s freedom.” Rex gestures to the kid at his side and prays to the Force that the jetii agrees. Surely, it’s not the Jedi way to be complicit when it comes to slavery-- at the very least, face-to-face with the slavery of a teenager.
An understanding flashes across the Jedi’s face. “Of course. I can speak with the boy’s master, just lead the way.” He nods to Anakin, then turns his attention back to Rex. “Captain, you and your men can get situated on the ship in the meantime.”
Anakin glances at Rex. And it’s not a panicked look, per se, but it makes Rex suddenly feel like he’s sending a shiny off on some doomed solo mission. Ridiculous.
“Actually, sir, uh,” he says. “With your permission, I’ll accompany you.” It’s not as though he’d denied an order or disrespected the general in some way, but Rex’s heart rate increases anyway as he makes the request.
The general hums, one of those hums that means something very specific-- one that a clone trooper with more experience around the jetii might have been able to translate. Eventually: “Very well, Captain,” he says in response.
It seems a perfectly amenable option to the Jedi. Hands folded behind his back, General Kenobi sweeps around them with a nod of his head, and although he’s wearing his white-and-tan armor now, the long brown robe is very much there in spirit.
Anakin sticks close to Rex’s side for the short stretch out of the shipyard and down the main street. He only steps ahead of the Jedi general when Kenobi eventually requests for him to do so, after which he proceeds to lead them through various twisting side streets and an alleyway with enough speed and deftness that Rex nearly loses sight of him multiple times.
Soon Rex finds himself ducking into the back of a shop right on the kid’s heels. Some kind of junk shop from the looks of it, garbage and scraps filling up every inch of shelf space, the corners of the room when that’s not enough, the sickly-sweet smell of engine oil invading his senses even through the helmet. He imagines his eyes would be watering were it not on.
Sounding nervous, Anakin calls out, “Watto?”
A sound around the doorway ahead of them, not quite a crash. “Where’ve you been!” Heralded by the great flapping noise of fleshy wings, a Toydarian rounds the corner wielding a piece of scrap metal, ragged and rusted around the corners. “What the hell happened t’you?” he says, immediately spotting the crusted blood staining Anakin’s previously-tan clothes. The alien quickly disregards that though, upon noticing Rex and the general. “Ah, customers?”
Watto, the scumbag, the owner of a woman and a child-- being in the presence of him leaves a sour taste in Rex’s mouth-- approaches them. Forgetting himself for a moment, Rex half-snarls, “We’re not customers.”
General Kenobi places a placating hand onto his shoulder. “We’re here to-- how shall I put this-- inquire about your… slave.”
Watto narrows his eyes, flinging his piece of scrap metal into the nearest junk-filled corner. “You wanna buy the kid? Give me a good price and maybe-- but don’t think I’m gonna let some fancy Republic scumbags scam me outta nothing.”
The general raises one very unimpressed eyebrow, then, a subtle wave of his fingers. “You very much would like to hand Anakin over to us.”
A shudder runs down Rex’s spine. The jetii mind trick is something he doesn’t often see, but he recognizes it immediately. Rex is usually witness to more blatant uses of the Force, the flash of a lightsaber, mile-high jumps and flashy, dramatic acrobatic feats in the midst of a battle. With this though, a ripple of something seems to pass around the air when General Kenobi employs it, a stone dropped in a lake, a dream-like cadence entering his voice.
Much to his surprise though, Watto seems unaffected. He just levels an accusatory finger (or claw? Flipper?) at the man and says, “Don’t try that shit with me, Jedi. Money! Money only.”
The general seems somewhat surprised as well, although he recovers quickly, resting his hand on his belt, where his lightsaber hilt is clipped.
“Very well,” he says, Coruscant accent a sharp contrast against Watto’s Outer Rim speech. “Name your price. I assure you that the authority of the Jedi Order and the Grand Army of the Republic can meet it.”
Grumbling, flapping-- they haggle.
Anakin gravitates over to Rex, standing close but not touching, turned slightly away from his slaver and the general. Head ducked, he fiddles with something hidden by his sleeve, and, after a moment, takes it out and raises it up to his face. It’s some kind of fruit, pink and fuzzy, a couple bites missing out of it already to reveal a spattering of black seeds on the inside. When did he get that? Rex doesn’t say anything, in case it ends up alerting the Toydarian, but huffs slightly, sound muffled under his helmet.
Rex can practically feel the waves of nervous energy rolling off the kid, who ends up more fussing with the fruit than eating it, one nail peeling up parts of the skin into rolled-back patches. He supposes it makes sense. In fact, Anakin is holding up extremely well considering the circumstances; he’s watching a Jedi General bargain for his freedom right in front of him, his mother not even buried for twenty-four hours yet.
Rex grimaces at a spot of blood on his sleeve.
“Deal,” Watto says, enthused, snapping Rex out of his thoughts. Deal?
Rex peers up through his visor. General Kenobi looks vaguely annoyed, lines at the corners of his mouth, one eyebrow raised-- must’ve ended up being more than he expected-- but they transfer credits anyway.
Rex hears a sharp intake of breath, Anakin stops fidgeting at his side.
The general, exchange complete, turns back towards the archway leading back into the sidestreets. Rex follows, looking forward to being off this Force-forsaken planet.
“Wait!” It’s Anakin. He grimaces when General Kenobi looks back at him, but then, after a moment, gestures at Watto all the same. “The transmitter.”
Watto, still bright-eyed at the pinging confirmation of a credit transfer, huffs and flaps his way into a back room, pushing aside a ratty maroon-colored curtain and vanishing around the corner.
The kid stands perfectly still. The line of his shoulders is rigid and his hands are fisted, trembling at his side, yet he seems to lean forward almost, like a man stood on the edge of a cliff facing a storm on the horizon.
Rex wonders at what the transmitter is. And why do they need it? Maybe it tracks the locations of slaves. Rex grits his teeth.
Returning through the sandstone doorway, Watto flaps past Anakin without a second glance and hands something to the general before essentially shooing them all out. He comes just short of saying “get the hell out.”
Anakin stumbles out on Rex’s heels. “I didn’t tell ‘im about Mom,” he mutters after a second, sounding a galaxy away. He doesn’t lead them back to the shipyard now, just trudges through the packed-sand streets behind the general.
“That’s alright,” Rex responds. He’ll find out soon enough anyway. Rex can’t find it in him to pity the Toydarian, slaveless now. Then he realizes Watto, believing Shmi to still be alive, had just sold the woman’s son to strangers in her absence. “He doesn’t need to know,” Rex all but growls.
Anakin nods. “Where are we going? Offworld?” he asks.
“Coruscant, most likely,” Rex tells him.
Ahead, General Kenobi suddenly stops. Anakin, feet stuttering, stops too, simultaneously with the Jedi. His reaction is much too fast to be in response to the general, more as if they’d both noticed something.
“Sir?” Rex asks, unsure as to what the pair is responding to. His eyes dart down the line of his visor, scanning the dusty streets, the chorus of alien faces passing by, the surrounding rooftops.
“Back to the ship, Captain,” Kenobi says. Then adds, “Hurry. Take Anakin.”
“Sir--?” Rex starts, his tongue rushing to ask questions. Being in the dark never sits well with Rex, especially not since the jetii is clearly sensing some kind of danger. A trooper in the dark is a trooper at risk. He bites his tongue though. “Yessir,” he says.
Rex turns again down the street, a few taller fins and wings of parked ships visible now in the shipyard past a small grouping of buildings. Anakin doesn’t follow.
“What’s going on. What’s that?” he asks, questions directed to Rex rather than General Kenobi.
“I don’t know,” he says simply. “C’mon, kid, we’re regrouping with the 501st.”
Then he hears it. First: something he’s heard a thousand times, enough to recognize it before the milling citizens of Mos Espa do. An ignition, a hum, a red glow thrown along a sandstone house ahead and to the right of them.
Then: a searing thrum whirring with movement, a cry, screaming, a surge of people.
Anakin side steps the coming crowd, bumping into Rex in the process and grabbing hold of his forearm, but only for a moment before letting go. A green-skinned Twi’lek shoves past them.
The general, not visible to Rex, presumably clear of the crowd, ignites his own blade with a blue hum.
Rex grips Anakin’s wrist and pulls him away, with the crowd enough to not be hindered by going against the tide, without the crowd enough to slip into an alley, no further down the main street.
Rex’s boots skid in the sand, sending him onto one knee, blaster already out and in his hands, ready to blindfire around the corner if need be. Anakin stays on his feet, plastering himself to the wall.
Peering around the corner, Rex spots the general first. Blue saber held in one fist, pointed into the sand, his stance is relaxed to the untrained eye-- coiled, ready to spring to the trained one.
Before him stands a Zabrak man, face painted in harsh red and black contours, crown of horns circling his skull. And Rex can’t see the angry, feverish bruise of an aura writhing around him, nor even the yellow of his eyes, the twist of his mouth, but he can see the red of his saber. He can see the mound of cloth and smoking flesh, a prone arm cast out, at his feet. A Sith.
Rex comms for backup.
“What--?” Anakin gasps, now crouched down and looking around the corner, hands digging into the sand like he needs purchase on something.
The Sith leaps forward. No warning but a flare in the Force, General Kenobi dives out of the way. Feet sliding over the sand sends up a plume of dust. He throws up his lightsaber, cutting a swath of cyan in front of him. It meets with red, two burning switches spitting on contact.
The Sith twists his hands and the dual saber’s twin ignites and swings up, trying to catch the Jedi’s unguarded side.
Rex pushes Anakin backwards by the sternum. “Stay outta sight, kid,” he hisses. “You gotta get to the ship. Is there a way to the shipyard other than the main road?”
Anakin’s mouth twists into a frown. “Who is that? What about--”
“Hey,” Rex says, stern tone making Anakin flinch a little. “Path. To. Shipyard.”
“Uh.” Anakin glances over his shoulder to the back of the alley. There’s no way through, only dumpsters backed up against a wall. Then he looks up. “I could go over the rooftops?”
A yell sounds out from the main road. Rex doesn’t check who it was.
The edge of the nearest rooftop looks something like fifteen feet tall. “What?” he says.
But Anakin is already darting to the dumpsters at the far end of the alley. He clambers onto the lid of a bin, balancing, shooting upright, then scales the sandstone. His fingers seem to find grip where there is none, toes lodging into non-existent cracks. Rex’s heart rate increases with the stress of a mid battle. But the kid’s up. So Rex guesses it’s good enough.
Anakin crouches on the lip of the roof, looking down at him.
Rex cranes his neck and gestures silently in the direction of the shipyard, not wanting to yell a command.
Anakin climbs over the dome of the building and then slips out of sight.
Turning back towards the alley’s mouth, Rex checks his blaster, backing himself up against the wall, keeping low but not sitting.
Backup will be approaching from the opposite end of the street, having come from the shipyard Anakin just set out for. At least they’ll have multiple angles.
Rex grits his teeth and swears. Clankers are easy. Target practice, basically. But a Sith? The Zabrak will just deflect every shot Rex takes at him, and he knows it.
He squints around the corner. The jetii and the Sith fling away from each other. The Zabrak’s dual saber cuts an arc into the sand as he stumbles. General Kenobi leaps forward with a downward strike. Sabers catch, spitting spindrift like waves from the depths of Kamino crashing together.
They shove apart again, black robe of the Sith whipping around. They go still, a moment of rest, the silence in between heartbeats. He straightens up and lets it drop off his shoulders, the line of them heaving with his lungs. Then he laughs, a dry splitting sound, like lightning through the dusty air.
“I can… feel it,” he says. “So loud. Kenobi. Can you hear it?” He turns towards the rooftops and Rex’s blood runs cold. Can he… sense Anakin? Will he go after him?
The general waves his saber, the tip of it clips the sand with a hiss that makes the Sith’s gaze jerk back to him. “Nevermind him, Maul. You wouldn’t flee from me, would you? In the midst of a battle? How disappointing.”
“You may have found it first. But the source will belong to the dark side soon enough.”
Kenobi’s feet shift in the sand, a wider stance, steadier. “I wouldn’t count on it.”
Rex holds his blaster up around the corner, staring through the sight at the face of the Sith, checking the stretch of street behind him. He doesn’t take a shot though.
“You will fail.” Rex watches through the sight as Maul grins. “Again.” An experimental twist of his dual saber paints the air with an electric red. “I’m glad you are the Jedi dog that was sent here. You will be easier to fell than your master was.”
The general jumps forward, attacking first with an uncharacteristic snarl. He sweeps his saber towards Maul’s legs, ducking back when the Sith jumps and swings high. A curtain of sand flies up as they scuffle, dodging swings. Their blades clash together with a violent hum and then don’t separate.
Maul pushes his lightsaber against Kenobi’s, down towards his face. “I can feel it here, on the planet still.”
Kenobi shoves, Force-enhanced strength managing to push Maul back a step before twisting away and striking at his back. He’s only met with a lightsaber though.
A yell sounds out across the street-- backup finally arrived, chorus of blasters raised and aimed. Maul jerks around, but only for a second before turning back to the general. He feints a blow, and Kenobi barely manages to block the ensuing attack.
Blaster bolts fly through the air and the Sith twists away from the general to deflect the well-aimed ones. Not back into the troopers, perhaps because he’s preoccupied, but into surrounding buildings. Black marks sear across the sandstone, troopers scramble for cover. There’s mostly only market stalls available, hardly any good vantages from building corners or walls. Their jetii cuts down diagonally at the Sith.
Distractions, too much to keep track of, surely-- Rex aims, takes his shot. Maul clashes blades with Kenobi, then turns just enough to Force-push a trooper into a wall, and the bolt goes undeflected. It hits his shoulder, burning an amber-lined hole into the black sleeve, red skin blistering underneath. He jerks away, shoulders surging with a roar.
The Force ripples, shudders, under Maul’s hands and Rex is thrown into the opposite wall of the alley he’s sheltered in. Helmet slamming into the sandstone before he falls, a sharp pain, the feeling of sand under his shoulders. The air is knocked from his lungs, chest gone hollow, but he manages to roll off his back and prop himself up on one elbow. Coughing, blood on his tongue, he aims his blaster again. Shaky, vision blurry. Into the street.
All the other troopers were knocked down by the Force blast too. The general stands--barely-- holds up his saber as a defense, a trembling one. Before he can counterattack though, his feet lift off the ground.
“General!” Rex yells. Desperate, he shoots once more at Maul, only to duck when it’s deflected straight back at him by a wave of Maul’s free hand. It sears into the sandstone a hairline above his head. He scrambles forward again.
Lightsaber dropped into the sand, Kenobi claws at his throat. The blue glow bouncing off the surrounding buildings vanishes, leaving only the red.
Behind the ringing in his ears, Rex can hear his vode yelling. Yelling, but not panic for Kenobi, for this Sith who’s probably about to slaughter them all.
Someone rushes into the main street, blood and sand-crusted skin-- Anakin.
“Kid!” Rex yells. Get the kriff out of here! And he throws a pinched-brow, watery-eyes glance at Rex, who’s a bit too nauseous to see it properly, but his attention isn’t there. It’s on Kenobi. It’s on Maul.
And Maul’s is on him. One side of his dual saber goes to Kenobi’s face, casting his features in red, the red of a main sequence, the red of klaxon-ringing, all-hell-broke-loose death. He coughs, choking, face contorted with pain but eyes wide with panic that Anakin is here and not away .
“You,” Maul mutters, his voice a mix of awe and irritation. “So loud. So much. I can teach you to shield, I can teach you to do anything . If you’ll let me.”
“Shut up. I don’t want you to teach me,” Anakin says. Something convulses through the air. In some sickening sense of familiarity, Rex knows immediately that it’s Force shit, from the way it shudders down his spine, the way it crashes against him like ocean spray on Kamino. “Let him go.”
Maul narrows his eyes.
Let him go!
And Maul does. Kenobi crashes into the sand, coughing, a drowned man sucking in air. His lightsaber flies to his hand, activates, but doesn’t move. Because now Maul is frozen, gasping, his eyes wide, gold shining under the light of the twin suns. He doesn’t claw at his throat, like the general had just been doing, and Anakin’s hand isn’t up, like Maul’s just was. No, Anakin’s hands are fisted at his side and Maul is gripping the fabric over his chest. He falls to his knees, his dual lightsaber, still held tight and still activated, hits the sand with a hiss. It crystallizes into white-hot glass under the blade.
Rex gets his knees under him, bolting up clumsily. His legs are rubbery and he feels like a kriffing shiny again, fresh out of his first battle, but he manages to make it to the general. They need to get out of here.
One hand landing on his shoulder, the other wrapping around his middle, Rex helps the jetii stand.
“Anakin,” Kenobi says, letting Rex support his weight, and his voice is calm. A bit raw from just being Force-choked, but calm.
Rex helps him skirt around where Maul is splayed out on the sand, over to the troopers who all surge forward, seemingly snapped out of some daze. 501st blue and 212th gold all point blasters at the prone Sith.
“Anakin, stop. We’re safe now, we must return to the ship.”
The kid jerks his gaze away from the Sith he’s… doing something to. His face is contorted in some kind of almost-pain, eyes a little watery but still without tear tracks.
Kenobi grabs hold of the kid’s wrist. “Stop!” Which makes him flinch and his hands unclench and Maul’s body goes lax and his horrible gasping ceases. “We’re leaving,” Kenobi tells him, an edge of finality to his voice. He sounds relieved, maybe relieved that Anakin actually stopped, or maybe relieved that they’re not all dead.
“Leaving,” Anakin repeats. He bows his head down a bit, as if in prayer. “Leaving.”
Their return to the ship is hurried, basically an evac. Not that he’ll call it that in his mission report. Rex is dizzy-- he sees stars when he finally removes his helmet and the HUD vanishes-- which he vaguely recognizes as a sign to see Kix, but he doesn’t yet. He just sits and lets Anakin cling to his arm. It’s the closest the kid seems to want to be to anyone.
“Never coming back to this planet again,” Rex mutters.
Anakin doesn’t answer, not that Rex was expecting him to. He just chokes back something that definitely isn’t a sob and, minutes later, falls asleep with his head heavy on Rex’s shoulder.