Leia is purchasing supplies for the Rebellion when she stumbles upon it. It’s an old medpack, from the time of the Republic if she had to guess, probably scavenged from one of the many ships on this junkyard of a planet.
She picks it up. Medical supplies are always good to find, no matter how old they may be.
All the typical things are in there, and then some. Hypos, syringes, a few rolls of bandages, some bacta patches that may or may not still be good, a couple old stims, and even a few pieces of actual flimsy. But what surprises her is the comm resting at the bottom.
She pulls it out, throwing the medpack in with all the other supplies she’ll be purchasing today. The comm’s clearly been modified. A small holoprojector is attached to its side, as well as a few other things she doesn’t know the names of.
It takes a while to find the switch, but she manages to get it turned on. It still works, even after all these years.
A list is the first thing that pops up. Each line of text is a string of numbers, coupled with a date. They’re recorded entries, she realizes, though of what she has no idea.
There’s no one else around, so she scrolls to the top and clicks on the first one.
The holoprojector flickers, and in place of the list, there is now a person. Human, for sure. Probably a male by the looks of it.
He’s got the start of a goatee on his chin and a tattooed 5 at his temple. Maybe a few years older than her if she had to guess.
“Hey there!” he says, speaking directly to the comm. “Just got this back today! Cable’s rigged everything up for me, but I figured that before I actually start using it, I should do an introduction.”
“The name’s Fives,” he says, and that tattoo he has suddenly makes a lot more sense now. “I had this comm modified so I can use it to record things.” Fives grins. “You wouldn’t believe the stuff that happens around here. Echo said-”
“I said absolutely nothing about any of this, Fives, this was all your idea,” another voice says. Fives’ grin gets wider and the recording shakes as Fives moves to sit by the other person. Fives slings an arm around their shoulders and pulls them in frame. Their faces are identical.
“This is my batchmate, Echo,” he says.
Leia nearly drops the comm.
“He’s sort of a stick in the mud, but I love him anyways,” Fives continues, laughing when Echo tries to elbow him in the ribs.
“Nobody,” Echo grumbles “Nobody would know. What’s that? Fives is missing? Oh, wow, what a shame, I’ll miss him so much.”
“Ah, c'mon, Echo, you know the only way the 501st wouldn’t assume you killed me is if it was an accident!”
“That’s how I’m going to make it look-”
Leia shuts off the comm.
They were clones.
Her father would tell her stories about the clones sometimes. How he worked relief efforts with them during the war, how they came to his rescue more than a few times. How they suddenly turned against the Republic they fought for and helped instate the new Empire across the galaxy.
The clones were nothing more than traitors. They blindly followed whatever orders they were given, no better than unthinking droids. She should just throw this comm away.
There’s something telling her to hold on to it though. Some little voice inside her head wants her to keep it, despite all the reasons she has to toss it back in with all the junk and let it stay there forgotten.
That little voice has never steered her wrong before.
She pockets the comm and moves on.
Leia is back on her ship, and she realizes she still has the comm.
She pulls it out of her pocket and plays the recording from before. She pays more attention to it this time around, watches it through all the way. And once it’s over, she plays the next.
And the next.
And the next.
She doesn’t know why she’s watching these. She doesn’t like the clones, not with everything they’ve done. There’s no reason for her to watch these recordings.
She keeps watching them anyway.
Leia is on the 5th recording, and suddenly, everything she knows changes.
In these recordings, or at least in all the ones she’s seen, there’s joking, teasing, lots of laughter involved.
This though. This is different.
Fives is the only person in this recording. The room he’s in is completely empty, save him.
He runs his hand through his hair. It seems like a nervous tick almost.
“I know this isn’t normally what happens in these vids I’ve been taking,” he says, “but I just-”
He trails off, looking away from the comm for a moment, but Leia could have swore she saw tears shining in his eyes for a second.
He looks back up, and there is definitely unshed tears there. “I just don’t know what else to do,” he whispers, and Leia jerks back a bit because he sounds broken.
“I- I need to talk about all this, get it all out. But… I can’t. I can’t just go up to someone and talk about everything, it just- it doesn’t work like that. Not in the GAR.” He swallows, closes his eyes. “This is the only other thing I can think of to try. To- to cope with everything.”
“The Separatists attacked Kamino,” he says. “It’s the closest thing we clones have to a home. And they attacked it.” Leia’s heart clenches at his words, visions of Alderaan being destroyed running through her mind.
“There were so many droids,” he murmurs. His gaze has that far-away look she’s seen become more and more common in the members of the Rebellion. “Everyone fought as hard as they could. Our lives, our future was at stake. We were all willing to lay down our lives for that, and so many of us did.”
“The droids made it into the barracks despite all our efforts. We- we did everything we could but-” The tears finally spill over and Fives doesn’t bother trying to stop them from falling down his face. “One of the cadets… He didn’t make it.”
“Gods, they- they’re just kids,” he says, burying his head in his hands. “They’re just little kids, they shouldn’t have had to fight for their lives!” He’s shouting by the end, but Leia hardly notices it. All she can do is stare in horror at the comm.
“I should have done something more,” Fives says. He’s quieter again. “I should have pushed myself harder, should have come up with better plans, paid more attention to droid movements-”
Leia shuts off the comm.
How, she wonders. How could no one have known this? How could they not see that these clones were people? These were living, breathing, beings, not heartless droids. They had a home, they were children at one point, they mourned, they grieved, they beat themselves up about things over and over just like everyone else and no one ever saw it.
Or if they had, they’ve forgotten it now.
She vows right then and there to watch all of the recordings on the comm. The rest of the galaxy has forgotten what the clones were like, but she won’t. It isn’t much, she knows, she’s only one person. But it’s still one more person than before who knows the truth.
She turns the comm back on and keeps watching.
Leia is back from a mission, and she goes to seek out Luke.
“What is it?” he asks when she shows him the comm.
“Something I think you’ll want to see,” she replies, and turns on the comm. It opens up to the recording she found during some downtime on her mission.
It starts in the middle of a conversation.
“-an’t believe I’ve never told it to you before.” The speaker is a young man, a Jedi if the lightsaber at his hip is any clue. The man eyes the comm in confusion. “You’re recording this, Fives?”
“Well, this is a General Skywalker story,” the clone in question says. Luke’s eyes widen at the name. “I reckon it’s gonna get pretty interesting.”
Skywalker laughs. “Would you expect anything less from me at this point?”
Fives grins. “Never, sir.”
Skywalker launches into some story about how he destroyed a Trade Federation control ship as a kid, complete with vivid descriptions and sound effects. Leia doesn’t pay much attention to it, having already listened to it before. She watches Luke instead as he listens to the story his father tells.
The recording finishes, and she clicks off the comm.
“Thank you for showing me this,” Luke says. He wraps his arms around her in a tight hug.
She’s surprised at first, but then she squeezes back just as hard.
Leia is watching as the fleet jumps to hyperspace, away from the Empire.
From the viewport in her quarters, she can see what’s left of their forces. There’s not even half of them left.
She looks away, tries to ignore the prick of tears in her eyes.
Her gaze falls on the comm. She was watching a recording before the Imperials attacked. It was another of the ones with just Fives in it. The ones he made to cope.
She doesn’t think he’s ever needed it more.
Because Echo, Fives’ closest brother and partner in everything, was gone.
Leia’s heart breaks as she watches it, and underneath all the pain, she is angry. Angry that Echo was gone, and Fives is left alone. Angry that he died in a meaningless battle that didn’t even matter in the end. Angry that war reduces these deaths to nothing.
But that’s just how it is. War is long and hard, and it takes and takes and takes.
She wishes it wasn’t that way. She knows Fives does too.
Leia is in an escape pod and clutching Fives’ comm in her hand.
She barely had time to grab it before jumping in the pod and launching away from the crippled ship that the Imperials are now ripping to shreds.
It makes her realize something. There is no place she can leave the comm where it would be safe. Bases could be raided, ships could be destroyed, and unlike this time, she might not be able to go back for it.
She couldn’t lose it. Fives didn’t deserve to have his memory be lost again.
She gets picked up, heads back to their most recent base. It’s easy to find a short leather cord once she’s there, and easier still to securely attach it to the comm.
She slides the cord around her neck and tucks the comm beneath her shirt. As long as she lives, Fives’ memory will be safe.
Leia is alone in her quarters when she hears about Umbara.
She’s grateful for that fact. No one will ever see the way her eyes water with unshed tears in the same way Fives’ does as he recounts horror after horror.
The galaxy has no idea what these men went through. She wishes they did.
Leia is sitting in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon when Han asks her about the comm.
“Must be important,” he says, “for you to keep it on you at all times.”
“It is,” she replies. And then she shows him exactly how important it is. She pulls up a recording. It’s one of her favorites.
“We’ve been stuck up in this ship for week,” Fives says, holding the comm in front of him. “Can’t go planet-side, everyone’s restless, and I am bored out of my kriffing mind.”
He holds up a ruler, grinning. “So, I’m gonna go poke some people.”
The holo shifts as Fives approaches another clone. “That’s Jesse,” she says.
“How can you tell?” Han asks. Only the back of his head and armor can be seen, but even if she hadn’t already seen this recording before, she’d know it was Jesse. The clones were identical, but only in looks. They each had their own differences, subtle though some of them may be, and not one of them was the same as another. Once you understood that, it was easy to tell them apart.
But Han does not understand that, so she just shrugs.
Fives pokes Jesse with the ruler once and the other clone is already turning around. “Fives, what are you doing?” Jesse asks, his face a mixture of annoyance and amusement.
Fives pokes him again. “Isn’t it obvious? I’m measuring your patience.”
Jesse groans as Fives laughs, but he’s smiling too. “You kidding me? My patience is limitless!”
“That’s a lie,” Fives says, going to poke Jesse again. Jesse bats the ruler away.
“Nuh uh,” he says, “it’s completely true!” Fives pokes him again and Jesse makes a grab for the ruler. Fives moves it out of his reach and takes off running.
He stops in the medbay. There’s another clone in there, a medic based off the markings on his armor. Fives gets within four feet of him before he’s stopped.
“Fives, what the kriff are you up to now?” The medic’s voice holds a long-suffering tone that Leia knows is reserved specifically for Fives.
“Aw, come on, Kix!” Fives pokes him a few times with the ruler, but Kix never looks up from his work. “I’m only measuring your patience.”
“Patience?” Kix says. “Oh, I have quite a few of those. I wonder how many. Say, Fives, how about you put your measuring skills to good use and-”
Fives is already leaving the room, but it’s just long enough for a smirk to be seen on Kix’s face.
Jesse is in the hall behind him, grinning. “So. That went well.”
“Shut up, Jesse,” Fives says, poking him once again with the ruler. “Let’s go find someone else to bother.”
They walk into the mess next. It’s empty, save a few people. They scan the small crowd, until Fives smirks and elbows the clone next to him. “Hey Jesse, the Captain’s over there, how much patience do you think-”
“Fives, I swear if you poke me with that ruler, I will personally throw you out the airlock,” the man in question says, sipping from a cup of caf as he walks past them.
Fives and Jesse are silent as the Captain leaves. As soon as he’s out of earshot, Fives turns to Jesse.
“You know, I don’t think the Captain has any patience at all.”
Jesse bursts into laughs, and the recording ends.
Leia shuts off the comm, putting it back on the cord around her neck.
“I didn’t know that’s what the clones were like,” Han says after a few moments of silence.
“I didn’t either,” she says.
Han looks from her to the comm. Then he nods and leaves the cockpit.
Leia is on Endor, and the Empire is finally dead.
The Rebellion has won. After years of fighting, they’ve won. Leia’s happy, of course, who wouldn’t be after such a victory?
But there is still much to be done. There’s reports to be filled out, death counts to be confirmed, messages to be sent out across the galaxy explaining their victory here today, remaining Imperial holdouts to be dealt with, an entire government to be set up, the list could on forever.
Now, however, is not the time for all that, Leia thinks, fingering the comm around her neck. Now is the time for celebration. It’s not every day you take down a tyrannical government after all.
She sits down in front of one of the many fires being started, Luke on one side and Han on the other, and lets herself enjoy the party.
It isn’t until much later, after the party has been in full swing for a few hours already, that she hears it. One voice amidst all the other cheers and shouts of the Rebels. It sounds familiar. A bit older than she’s used to, maybe a bit more subdued, but familiar all the same.
She turns to Luke, who has a better view of everyone from his spot, and asks him if he knows the person the voice belongs to.
“That’s Commander Rex,” he says after shifting in his seat to get a better look at the man’s face. She’s heard of him a few times over the years, known enough about him to be glad when she saw his name on the list of members of the strike team to destroy the shield generator. She’s never had a chance to meet him though, not with everything that had been going on.
Hearing his voice, coupled with his name, she wonders why she never put two and two together until now.
She goes to talk to him later that evening.
“Commander Rex,” she says, holding out a hand. He takes it, grip firm and strong.
“Princess Leia,” he greets. “Don’t believe we’ve ever met before.”
“No,” she says, smiling, “Not in person.
"But I recognize you from somewhere else, Captain.”