They find time to gather around a table in 79’s, the seven of them. Not often, but sometimes. They gather in the corners, in the shadows, wearing civvies that don’t make them so different from each other.
“Here’s to the GAR,” Rex says, and puts a platter of neon drinks on the table. He’s the youngest, so he gets them every time.
“Cheers,” Gree and Ponds echo. Fox grunts and slams one back. Wolffe slaps him on the back, looking amused. Bly rolls his eyes and takes the one with the umbrella. Cody pours one into another and swirls them around.
“How’s the war, boys?” Wolffe asks.
Whatever they do, wherever they are, everything circles back to the war. It’s one thing to be defined by violence; it’s another to be created for it. Nobody responds. Coincidentally, they all take another drink.
Wolffe sighs. “Let’s try that again. How’re the troops, boys?”
Cody launches into a tirade about the latest flea-ridden animal his Waxer and Boil have managed to get on board their ship. Bly laughs at him.
Rex tilts his head back. “Jesse is going to get Kix to start making bombs, soon enough. Echo and Fives – two of my ARC troopers – they’re such bad influences.”
Ponds points at him, and then Cody. “Have you ever met an animal that explodes?” He makes a face. “Because I have, now. It was an unpleasant experience. It was an unpleasant planet.”
Fox says, “I think I’ve seen those on the black market, before. Considered getting one, for Vos.”
Gree, their scout and their ever-aware vod, tilts his head. “Vos?”
Fox goes vaguely green, as if to match his drink. “He’s a jetii.”
Ponds rests his chin on one hand. “Now why do you have a jetii, Fox?”
“Leave him alone,” Bly says. “It’s best he has one, isn’t it?”
“Of course it is,” Gree responds. Then he leans forward, like he’s got a secret to tell. In a way, he does. “But now you know what we mean, don’t you, Fox’ika?”
The boys joke that Vos is like a tooka, dropping criminals on Fox’s doorstep and then sitting back on his haunches to lick his paws, all smug. They don’t know how right they are.
I like you, Quinlan Vos declares the first time he meets Fox. You’re quiet enough to be vicious.
Fox contemplates dumping caf down his shirt and calling it a mistake. Instead he says flatly, What do you need?
Vos sits forward, long limbs sprawled indecently, muscles and dark skin rippling. A little help, he says, and when he smiles his teeth are sharp.
Fox never had a Jedi of his own, being Coruscant Guard. The ones he did meet were polite and distant. Quinlan Vos is a hurricane of a man with the temperament of a tiger pacing in a cage, and Fox, who lives and dies by regulations because it’s his men’s skin if he doesn’t, finds him irritating and aggravating and horribly captivating.
Wasn’t that fun, Commander, Vos asks, standing in a dim sewer lit only by that green lightsaber. The Kiffar’s hands may be hands, or they may be claws. C’mon, don’t tease – you had fun.
There’s soot or charcoal behind Fox’s teeth, in the gaps of his armor. It drips from Quinlan, and when he spins his ‘saber it’s like ink. He tells Fox to call him Quinlan, laughingly, mesmerizingly. When an assassin droid goes for Stone and the new shiny, Quinlan is deflecting it faster than should be possible. While Bruiser is intubating a victim of a Separatist bombing, the Jedi steps in front and dares the bounty hunters to even try. It’s like he’s trying to make up for something, maybe; something like the shadows that seep from his boots. Fox doesn’t care about that, though, even if sometimes Quinlan looms and Fox can’t breathe with it. No, Fox cares about the lives he spares, and the lives he saves.
Fox replies, stubbornness built into his system, I would have more fun if you could follow orders, for once.
Bet you’d like that, Quinlan says, very close all of a sudden. Wouldn’t you, Fox?
It is easiest to see on Coruscant, a planet already made of ghosts. Quinlan is stark against a neon skyline, head resting on his arms. There’s something other to his slouch, to his hands, to the sweat on his bare back.
Fox was created to thrive in danger. Fox can’t look away.
Fox clears his throat. “I do.”
“Exactly,” Gree says, satisfied. “Back me up, Kote?”
“With what? You’ve already proven your point.”
Rex nudges Fox in the side, forever the youngest. “Having fun?”
Ponds and Wolffe snicker in unison.
Fox grasps for another drink. He’s not the only one. “Are they all like that?”
Cody prompts, “Like what?”
Fox kind of just – shivers, the feeling of someone walking over your grave, except they’re clones and they’ll never get graves so it mostly just feels wrong.
“Mesh’la?” Bly offers. He means beautiful, because he’s a sap.
“Mirdala?” Ponds says. He means clever, because he’ll be loyal to his dying breath.
"Adenn?” Wolffe adds. He means merciless, because he is blunt and sees the truth of those he loves.
“Hettyc?” Rex says. He means burning, because even then, even now – perhaps he knows just a little how his jetii will die.
Cody, first and last, asks, “Talyc?” He means bloodstained. For that, there is no explanation.
Fox finally settles on something close enough to all of those, but just a step to the right. “Unnerving.”
“Always,” Gree says, those eyes that never miss a single detail. “Every single one of them.”
Gree has General Yoda, sometimes, who hems and haws and then whirls faster than light. The shinies ask him about it only once.
Hm, General Yoda says in that way he does. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. Yes, yes? Know this, you do. More than that which makes up our skin and bones, we are. Indeed, it is so.
He tells them this like it’s any kind of answer. It isn’t, really, but Commander Offee just laughs when he repeats it to her.
He does that, she says. He’s just like that. Nobody questions it.
Gree nods, checks his blaster over in the same rhythmic motions as the knitting Offee flicks between her fingers. The yarn comes together in diamonds, much like the markings on her face, and they flicker like static electricity. Gree points out a discrepancy in the pattern, and Offee thanks him. She doesn’t fix it, just frowns down at it like a conundrum that can’t be solved.
What’s it supposed to be? Gree asks, because he was decanted curious.
Commander Offee hesitates. I don’t really know, she says finally. Master Luminara says it will help me understand the stars.
Gree thinks if she wants to understand the stars, all she really needs is a starchart, and he tells her so.
Logically, Offee says, you’re right. But I don’t think I’m meant to look at it logically.
Sure, Gree says.
When Offee looks up, under her headwrap her eyes shine with starfire.
Gree likes General Unduli and Commander Offee. They’re level-headed, the both of them, and they make decisions that are based on rationale and readily available intel. They believe what their troops have to say, follow when they understand they cannot lead, and listen when they understand they cannot teach. It took a while for Gree to warm up to them, sure, but now he knows Unduli will fall and trust him to catch her, and so he tries his best to do the same.
The Separatists sometimes hit them with nerve gas, when they get too close to the barricade, on planets and moons that have already been choked to death. It does nothing to the droids, but they learned the hard way that even the genetic mods of the clones can’t save them when their insides are quickly liquefying. Yet this time, nothing happens; the gas hits an invisible barrier and fizzles out. The coils around the troops, barely visible on the edges of their vision, are enormous and hissing – they are the same pattern as Unduli’s facial markings.
These are like brands, Glow, their CMO, tells Unduli, horrified at the thickness of the burns on her hands.
Unduli doesn’t sound too concerned. We all wear our scars, my friend.
“Cheers to that,” Wolffe says with a snort. He thumps Bly on the back of the head. “You’re not alone, now.”
“I’ve never been alone,” Bly replies, blinking. “I’ve got Cody, haven’t I?”
Everyone laughs. This is common knowledge. Cody shrugs. It’s not something he’s ashamed of.
“How’s the padawan?” Rex asks Gree. “Commander Offee? I think Tano’s half in love with her after Geonosis.”
Gree snorts. “Are you surprised?”
“No,” Cody says. “No.”
Fox thunks his head on the table, which he normally wouldn’t do but he’s drunk and everyone else there knows it. “I’m not even surprised, and I barely know either of them.”
Rex offers him a glass of water. “You know them well enough, vod. You’ve heard the stories.”
Bly says, rather vindictively, “Fox’ika has his own di’kut jetii stories, now.”
Wolffe shakes his head mockingly. “How the circle closes.”
Cody lets Fox lean on his shoulder. “It’s alright,” Cody says, quiet and measured as he always tries to be. “Vos is Banthashit crazy. I know.”
“It’s horrible,” Fox responds. He doesn’t move his head.
Bly gestures with his drink, which leads it to have some sort of chemical reaction that turns it luminescent green. He doesn’t seem to notice. “Rex, Kote, you know how Skywalker and Kenobi get? How bad they are when they team up? Gree, Wolffe, Ponds – you know what I mean.”
“We hear the horror stories,” Ponds says, with some faint amusement.
“Vos and Aayla – shut the kark up, Wolffe – are just as bad. There’s some kind of – there’s a bond, isn’t there, between the teachers and their padawans. Right?”
Gree leans back in his chair. “Yes.”
“Vos and General Secura do that thing Skywalker and Kenobi do, where they just.” He pauses, and suddenly their corner of the bar is a little darker than it was before. “I’ve seen Vos send missiles back where they came from, and sometimes Aayla walks into battle with nothing but her ‘saber because the droids can’t touch her. It’s impossible. It should be impossible.”
“You have to wonder,” Ponds says, because they are Commanders and they were built to wonder and to plan, “what they could do if they put their minds to it.”
They’ve all seen Darksiders, at one point or another. Yet even the Darksiders pale in comparison to jetiise like General Windu. The man does not fight often. When he does, though, the sky shakes and the ground cracks, and Ponds knows General Windu, even calls him Mace sometimes at the Temple when they’re sitting together and doing paperwork – but General Windu in battle is a whirlwind of ferocity and a roar that could bleed the sky dry. He is a Jedi Master, a member of the High Council, and he reminds them of it every time he fights.
Commander, Windu says coolly, pulling him off the ground with ease. His robes are scorched, and in his brown face his eyes shine brighter than they should.
General, Ponds gasps out, and then, Pop my shoulder back in, would you?
Windu looks at him solemnly for a moment, then puts his hands on his shoulder. On three.
Ponds exhales through his teeth as Windu counts to one and then shoves. His medic, Indi, is going to be wildly unhappy, but it is what it is.
We must keep moving, Windu says.
Of course, sir, Ponds replies.
Windu does not need to move quickly. Even the Separatist droids know to run from him, when there is rage in his eyes. The air becomes heavy, a little bit, like it is harder to breathe than it should be. The droids don’t notice that, of course, but the wings that flare into the air, the size of starships – those, they can see. The traces of fire and ash linger behind long after Windu is gone.
That’s the thing about the jetiise. If they decided the world would be better with them in charge, who would stop them?
“They didn’t used to fight,” Wolffe says. “Before us.”
“That seems wrong,” Gree replies.
“Not wrong,” Ponds says, thinking out loud. “Not completely wrong.”
“No, he’s right.” Fox has his head propped on Cody’s shoulder. This evening is, ostensibly, for his benefit, but it is just as well for the rest. “They didn’t used to fight. Some factions of the Senate are unhappy that they do.” He calls the aforementioned Senators a string of incredibly offensive words in at least six separate languages. “The – kriffing – separation of religion and state.”
“No, yes,” Cody says. “Kenobi’s talked about it. The Jedi are a religious order. They’re not supposed to be involved in politics like this. They’re really not even supposed to be fighting. They’ve always been peacekeepers, or justicekeepers.”
Rex makes a face. “I can’t imagine General Skywalker keeping any kind of peace.”
Bly looks like he agrees.
Ponds says, “It still seems wrong. Can you imagine anyone except the jetii leading us?”
“Like the Senators?” Fox suggests, disgusted.
“No, that is it,” Wolffe says. “Plo – General Koon – he’s talked about it, a little. They didn’t used to fight, before us. Now, they do. They fight for us.”
My name is Plo Koon, the hooded figure says. I don’t suppose you have an extraction plan, do you?
Never do, sir, Boost replies truthfully. They don’t. This time, it may be their end.
As if reading his mind, Koon says to Wolffe, I will get you out of here.
Not so sure about that, with all due respect, General. Wolffe holds the pressure to Amber’s neck, keeping the blood in. He’ll have to pack the wound, if they have anything to pack it with. Dirt, maybe.
Koon seems amused, behind that mask. He says, You will not die here. Not today. I am eager to meet you again, at a time when we are less – stressed.
The three of them – Boost, Sinker, and Wolffe – stare at him like he’s crazy, because he is.
I will protect you, Koon vows, then looks to Amber. If you can get him out, I will protect you.
Wolffe has heard his troops swear over and over that they will die for the jetiise, for the Republic. To hear the same from a general lights a fire under his skin. He says, a little more confidently, Yes, sir.
Since that first mission, they’ve learned that Plo Koon is kind and open and brutal, sometimes, a buir if there ever was one. When he leaves the cave after that first meeting he is silent, and he fights silently too – fights with a bite that knows it will win because there is no life in which it hasn’t. They watch him fly a plane, push it to its limits and press it through maneuvers that shouldn’t be humanly possible. Sometimes they do, too, snarling and marching onward long past when they should drop to the ground in exhaustion, and Plo at the front of it all like a herald of death.
They’re the Wolfpack for Wolffe, sure. But they’re the Wolfpack for their jetii, too.
“Of course they fight for us,” Bly says, a little idealistic and a little hopeful like he’s always been. “They love us.”
The other six exchange the sort of face that means Bly is being a little idealistic and a little hopeful like he’s always been, and it’s insufferable.
“Kriff you all,” Bly says. “Don’t give me that face.”
“Isn’t love the wrong word?” Rex asks.
“Ok, first of all,” Bly says. “Your jetii is ill-informed and also an idiot.”
Cody shrugs. “Sorry, Rex’ika, he’s not wrong.”
“The two of you can’t talk,” Gree says, pointing at Cody and Rex. “Your jetii are the most reckless sons of bitches I’ve ever met.”
“True,” Wolffe agrees.
Ponds just nods, stealing Fox’s drink.
“Exactly,” Bly says, “so second of all – ”
“Hold on,” Fox manages to get out. “Bly, your General proposed before you’d even gotten her in bed, so I don’t think you can talk.” Then, “Oh, sorry, was that supposed to be a secret?”
The table erupts into laughter, and Bly puts his head in his hands. “The worst,” he declares. “You’re all the worst.”
“Sorry, vod,” Cody says once he’s stopped snorting, and leans over to pat Bly on the back. “Where were you going with that?”
“I was just going to say,” Bly tells them, “that the Jedi love because it’s who they are. They learn our names, and they mourn with us, and they fight by our side. Come on, boys. If that’s not love, what is?”
The boys like to say that Bly fell in love the first time he met Aayla. This is blatantly untrue. There was no falling of any kind. Bly walks into love with his head held high, each step measured and true. He’s got a bit of each of his vode in him, and that – that love, it’s something careful. Something planned.
He gives himself an out. He gives himself many outs. He can’t ever take them.
It’s a dance, between him and Aayla. A back-and-forth, words carefully chosen by Bly because he cannot allow himself to mess this up, his descent into love, or madness.
There’s that old tale, a tragedy. He went to battle with his lily-love and promised to be true, and she made him promise in return that he would not look for her, or death would fell them both. And he stayed fast to his path and his blade did too, and when he heard her singing as she cut apart the enemy he turned, just for a minute, just to see her joyous and fierce.
He was killed, of course, when his attention wandered. It was supposed to be cautionary, but really Bly just thought it was beautiful.
Of course he got the jetii whose ‘saber sings with the light of the rising sun. When she whirls past whole battalions, the shadow she casts is a shriek-hawk, as deadly as it is beautiful, and when she speaks – sometimes, the droids just listen. Turn, and shoot each other in the head.
So maybe Bly turns around, and watches. He’s not dead yet.
Why don’t the Jedi love? He asks.
What – of course the Jedi love, she says, and even puts down her paperwork. Her lekku move, a little agitated. Sometimes in the silver speckles on them, Bly sees eyes. If we did not love, what would we be?
Bly shrugs. Still Jedi?
Of course not.
It’s commonly held, though, that the Jedi don’t take partners, or lovers.
Aayla scoffs. There’s – there’s attachment, and there’s love, Bly. Attachment often comes with a partner, which is why many Jedi do not take one, or if they do, they are sure to balance it with that of family, friends, or another partner. That is a poor explanation, really, but the gist of it is that when someone we love dies, we must be willing to let them go. Her accent starts to bleed in; her voice, so full of light. Love is innate. It is essential. How can we serve a galaxy that we do not love?
Bly smiles, and for a moment thinks he’ll get by leaving it there – that’s the end of that, and it’s her move.
She narrows her eyes. Were you – was this an interrogation, Commander?
Of course not, sir.
Don’t get smart with me, Bly.
Her lekku unfurl. In the sunlight, she’s something otherworldly. A goddess, maybe, but goddesses aren’t for men like Bly. When she spins the pistols and the krayt dragon pearls catch the light, she’s tangible and flickering, both at once. She sets them down in front of him. What are the words? She asks, teasing but not. Then, Raise warriors with me.
One of her eyes winks at him. It’s his move.
Bly, you di’kut, he tells himself. She’s too beautiful to be terrifying. Or maybe it’s the other way around; he never could tell, really.
He doesn’t think it matters. After all, they’re two sides of the same coin.
They all drink to that, too.
“Don’t make that face, Rex’ika,” Wolffe says, peering over at Rex. “Your jetii is just a little strange.”
Rex defends, “He is not.”
“He has the self-preservation of a shiny and the destructive capacity of a tank,” Fox says.
Gree and Cody snort at the same time. Bly sighs.
“That’s not untrue,” Rex replies. “But he’s one of the good ones. They’re all good, really, but he’s one of the good ones.”
Rex, too, is a little idealistic. The older vode shake their heads at each other and don’t forget – Rex is the one who keeps them sane, and keeps them centered, and keeps them fighting. He’s the best of them, in a way, just as his jetii is.
"Do you ever think they’re lonely?” Rex asks, after a minute of silence, sounding like he’s thinking about a lot of things at once.
They’re all a little drunk – or in Fox’s case, more than a little – and they seem to have reached the point in the evening where even after the laughter of Bly, they cannot forget the shadow that looms over them.
“Not lonely,” Ponds says. “But – separate. They’re separate.”
“Not to us,” Wolffe replies. He taps his drink with Bly’s.
Gree is ever reasonable. “Well, maybe that means something.”
“They’re strange.” Cody’s voice is quiet. “But they’re ours.”
Rex says, offhand and only once, They’re terrifying.
Of course they are, Senator Amidala says. They’re Jedi. Like the concepts are inseparable. Indivisible. She’s married to Skywalker; of course they are.
Rex doesn’t disagree. After all, Anakin Skywalker is a dying star, collapsing in on himself. Rex just tries to keep him whole.
Commander Tano sometimes eats the animals native to the planets they march across. She shows up in the barracks with blood smeared across her mouth and across her fingers. She’s a little girl, but she’s also battle-hardened. She’s attached to Rex’s hip, and every day they two look out at the shinies that get sent in, and every day those shinies get younger and younger.
I want the war to be over, Skywalker says to Tano. Things will be easier once it’s over, Snips. Your training will be – probably more in line with what Obi-Wan thinks is correct.
That’s no fun, Tano replies, poking him to make him laugh. Whatever will I do without droids to kill?
That’s what it means to be Anakin Skywalker, Rex thinks sometimes, as he watches the man interact with his world. He sucks the air out of a room, draws it around him like a cloak, lightning flickering and jagged like the scar on his face. He flows through battle like he’s not even solid, like he was born into a fight he has to win. His padawan’s not too different. They’re strange, even for jetiise. Skywalker is strange, even for a jetiise.
A civilian in a village on the path of war tells Skywalker, Please, save what you can.
We’ll do our best, he says.
She still looks at him with fear, though, because he’s careful but he’s not always careful and perhaps she can see, just a little, how much he has the capability to destroy. How he is put together a little wrong, how he is too bright in the dim landscape of war, and how sometimes, he hemorrhages more than just blood.
Heard you got the crazies, some clone Commander tells Rex, a few months into the war. Sorry about that.
I’m not, Rex replies truthfully. And kindly kriff off.
That’s the thing about it, really. Rex has chosen to love them, even as terrible as they are.
Think it’ll work? Skywalker asks Rex, discussing some plan that’s already gone off the rails and it hasn’t even started.
I doubt it, Rex says honestly. But that’s never stopped us, sir.
Tano and Skywalker laugh at that, really laugh, and it always puts a little ball of warmth behind Rex’s chest and inside his ribs.
Sir! Rex shouts, when Tano goes down. He charges forward, through the blaster fire, but there’s no need for it, not really. Her master is already up, spinning in a circle and face contorted into something horrible. The droids are dead before they even realize what’s going on.
Sir, Rex says again when he finds them. Tano is pale, and Skywalker is shaking with barely contained rage. Kix goes immediately for Tano, and Rex grips Skywalker’s hands, hands that he trusts. General Skywalker is a man and a legend and a storm, all contained in a tall and too-young body with far too many scars. Rex is – unbelievably, impossibly – his friend. They’re not so different.
They both, in many ways, want more from the world than what it will give them.
“You’re quiet over there, tonight, Kot’ika,” Gree says.
"’Cause Cody is always so talkative,” Fox grumbles, and Rex elbows him in the side.
Cody responds, “Just the war.”
“As usual,” Bly says into his drink.
Wolffe just shrugs. “It brought us the jetiise, didn’t it?”
“And each other,” Ponds points out.
There’s something in Cody’s face, but the other vode can’t pick it up. Either way, they’re not expecting him to lean back and say, “Cheers to the jetiise, boys. And the war that with them, maybe we can win.”
Cody asks his General only once, what the truth is.
The truth is, the Force is not a cosmic entity, Obi-Wan says. There is something in his face. It should be deeply frightening, but he has proven himself to deserve Cody’s trust, time and time again.
So Cody listens.
It is made up of midichlorians, Obi-Wan continues. Bacteria. They exist in all of us, just a little, but they die without sufficient care, or training – they must be cultured. You see, Cody, we are not a conduit, not a channel for the Force. We are a host. His eyes are intense, and in them are contained multitudes. And it makes us something more.
Cody doesn’t doubt it. Normal people skitter around the Jedi, stay well away from them, like they can already tell. The same kind of wrongness that comes from a Tooka with two heads, or a door where there shouldn’t be one.
The truth is, Obi-Wan tells him, you’re the only ones who don’t treat us differently. You’re the only ones who seem to see us for us.
Only because that is how we must see each other, Cody says.
Obi-Wan becomes the General once more, stroking his beard and thinking out loud. His head is tilted though, birdlike, and it’s impossible to forget what he is. That is an interesting outlook on it, isn’t it?
It’s the only one, Cody replies with more honesty than he means.
At night, Cody and Obi-Wan lay together. They are both the kind of people who have lived lives built around what they can be for others. Sometimes, it is best to know they are enough for each other as they are.
We destroy each other, dear one, Obi-Wan tells him. The Jedi and the clones. Our fates are knotted together so tightly, no one can find the end.
During the day, Cody holds his men together. At night, he holds a man made of bones and sunlight in his arms. Ni kar'tayl gar darasuum, he says. I will hold you in my heart forever.
Obi-Wan presses their foreheads together, pupils swallowed up by light. Yes, he replies quietly. The jetiise live on forever, swallowed up by their Force and returned home to it. So when he returns the promise, Cody knows it means something. And I you.