Anakin slid the datapad across the desk with ominous deliberation. In the silence that followed, the only sound in the small room was Rex minutely shifting his weight on his heels. Ahsoka didn't want to guess how long he’d been standing at attention and probably sweating slugs.
“Care to explain this, Ahsoka?” asked her Master, all peevish responsibility.
Ahsoka—not Snips. He used her nickname in front of the men all the time. She must really be in trouble.
Ahsoka looked down at the ‘pad like one might appraise UXO. The word marriage made her blink, and the word crime made her actually grab it and study the text from the beginning.
It was all going to blow up in her face anyhow.
“Spitting Siths, I didn’t think that was legit,” Ahsoka said, as she tried to parse the legalese that told her this was definitely legitimate. She threw enquiring glances over her shoulders at Rex and a holographic Fives as if to ask, are you guys seeing this?
“It isn’t,” replied Anakin. “That’s why you’re here.” Here, in a staff office no one knew he even had ten minutes ago.
“No—I mean, I didn’t think they actually wrote it down. It seemed really basic.”
It was basic—primitive, even. Just some Mordagese waving branches and passing around spliffs while she, Fives, and Rex took turns floating on their backs like corpses, according to the firm instructions of some high priest with a thick accent and an even thicker posse of adherents who lined the bank and tossed fruit at them now and then.
They weren’t getting out of that pool any other way.
“You’re conversant in galactic marriage conventions, then?” asked Anakin, really channelling Obi-Mom now. Could her Grandmaster feel this disturbing irony in the Force? Was his beard twitching at the injustice of not being around to drag his Padawan?
“Oh, come on, Master, we watch all the same lousy daytime holoprogramming—”
Anakin cut her off. “We’re getting off beam here. Fives,” he barked, blessedly turning his attention to the blue ARC stood even more rigidly than Rex, which was impressive, considering the wavy signal of the hologram. “You’re a terrible liar. Please explain how you came to be married to both Commander Tano and Captain Rex.”
Ahsoka had to hand it to Fives, tuning in for a ball-busting like this. Stars only knew where he was; he could easily invent interference or cut out the transmission with some theatrics. But he stayed oncomm and scratched at his goatee, a classic Fives tell for, I am so full of shit and I’m working out how to make it digestible to you.
“Well, sir, there was this … pool,” he began, “and we got caught.”
Ahsoka suddenly imagined how that must sound to someone already prejudiced to believe the worst. Fives had chosen a weird way to begin.
“We were just swimming! With clothes on!” she added.
Anakin looked at her, affronted. “I should hope so!”
“Yeah,” Fives clarified, “we weren’t fooling around or being inappropriate, sir.”
This was worse—Fives was actually making this worse.
Behind her, Ahsoka felt something like a grappling line jerk taut. She didn’t even have to look to know it was Rex, tensing up as Fives inched closer to what they’d really been doing: shamming. That was inappropriate enough for him.
“Turns out that particular pool was sacred. Something about being dedicated to the native fertility god, and only married people were supposed to take a dip.”
“Why were you swimming in the first place?” Anakin asked.
“You remember Mordagon, sir. Stickier than a Hutt’s nards—”
“Sorry, sir. We were just taking a break.”
“Just the three of you. Just the three senior officers on the ground.”
Anakin’s eyes flicked to Rex. It was the first time he’d acknowledged the Captain since Ahsoka had been in the office, and so far he’d been running this little examination as if fully ready to exonerate him. Rex was the star student, and the grapplling line that was his spine felt ready to snap.
“Everything was fine, we left Kix in charge. He outranks everyone when he pulls out one of those bantha pokers,” Fives continued, miming a hypospray and supremely deflecting the actual offence, in Ahsoka’s opinion. “Anyway, the locals caught us paddling around, demanded to know if we were married, and then made us take vows and stuff right there in the water.”
“Uh-huh.” Anakin’s eyes narrowed. Ahsoka could sense him working up to ask something really unpleasant. It didn’t make it any better when he finally did. “I take it they didn’t … make you do anything else?”
She thought the exaggerated outrage delivered by all three was quite well done.
It placated her Master, but the awkwardness persisted in the room like a foul smell.
“Captain, do you have anything to add?” he asked.
Rex gave a curt shake of his blond head, blessedly maintaining their oath of silence about the post-nuptial spliffs and the incident with the walker and one very provoked rancor. “That was pretty much the way of it, sir. I take full responsibility—”
“You aren’t taking bantha poodoo, Rex. There was a time I’d have let you play the martyr, but then Padawan Tano here stepped off that larty and absolved you of all future crimes and misdemeanors. Isn’t that right, Commander?”
Ahsoka rolled her eyes, inwardly agreeing that it was always better her than Rex getting pulled up for ridiculous infractions like this. But she was still annoyed. “I honestly don’t know why they would go digging this stuff out. Don’t they know there’s a war on?”
“You know the first thing to come in after we’ve softened a place up, Commander,” said Fives, “bureaucrats and better freshers for all their—”
“Fives,” Anakin sighed and leaned back in his chair, relaxing at last. “They’re forming a militia. It was uncovered during a census.”
“And why did this come to you?” Ahsoka thrust her finger up and down the screen looking for a direction other than General Skywalker, RSS Resolute, FCO 3 GAR. They’d even cc’d the Temple.
“I am technically your legal guardian, Snips.”
Ahsoka felt it was time to make her legal guardian sweat a little and grabbed the interrogative initiative. “Is that what this is about? I didn’t get your permission?”
Anakin shrugged. “Probably.”
“And what does prohibited relationships even mean? Someone look that up.”
Rex unclipped his datapad, but Fives was already there. “I’ve got it,” he said, clearing his throat. “Prohibited relationships include ancestor and descendant of any degree, brother and sister—half-blood included—uncle and niece, aunt and nephew, persons and … non-persons.”
“Nothing about age?” Ahsoka asked, beginning to feel a little indignant.
“Marriageable age is covered under a different statute. Species-specific.”
“I may be a ward of the Temple, but I’m gonna guess that my personhood status isn’t the one in question here," Ahsoka said. Popular feeling against the clones was one thing—it nettled like walking through a plague of gnats—but to be dragged in front of her Master with his military face on and informed that her men were, in legal fact, non-persons felt like having an arm bitten off.
“Maybe it’s ‘cause we’re vode, Rex,” mused Fives, “though Echo could tear that case apart in his sleep.”
“Fives, if it’s all the same to you, I’d rather you didn’t have a legal right to a third of my stuff. You steal enough anyway.”
“Procurement never covers my expenses.”
“You know,” Ahsoka cut in, “it’s customary on Shili for a Togruta to defend the integrity of her—” she almost said harem, but that wouldn’t have helped her case at all—“clan with lethal force.”
“We’re not on Shili,” Anakin said. “We’re on a Republic cruiser, in the service of the Grand Army, and Master Ti’s class on cultural relativism is about fifty parsecs that way.” He gave a firm coreward jerk of his hand.
Ahsoka gathered herself up and crossed her arms. “Still, I think Padmé might like to hear about this.”
“Why. Why would Senator Amidala care.”
“She takes more than an academic interest in the subject.”
There it was: that look of a nerf caught in the beam. Ahsoka eyed her Master knowingly as his conscience squirmed, oily and guilty, in the Force; then Rex coughed an uncomfortable little cough and Ahsoka eased up.
“You know, her new committee on clone rights?”
Anakin finally exhaled. “Maybe she would. And maybe I can delete this transmission and decline to escalate it.” He flattened his hands on the desk and stood up quickly, as if he could physically move away from the worst kept secret in the Third Systems Army.
“Well, Rex, there go our pensions,” said Fives with a cautious chuckle.
“Don’t listen to him, Commander. We’d have been honoured to join your clan.”
“Speak for yourself. I've always said it’d be a galactic crime to tie me down. I’ve got at least five more marketable years in me.” Fives rolled his winged shoulders with a wink at Ahsoka.
Anakin, who never looked at anyone else except to compare them unfavourably to Padmé, made a face. “You’re all dismissed.”
Once the staff door whispered shut behind them, Rex released a whoofff of anxious breath and ran his hands across his scalp as if to clear any shame still stuck to his stubble.
“Aww, come on, that wasn’t so bad,” Ahsoka said, bopping Rex’s spaulder playfully and running ahead of him. She hoped they hadn't finished jetpack shakedown without her. “And thanks for not spilling about the walker. I mean, I know you were driving, but that local spice!! Stars, who knew a couple hits would make me want to fight that rancor.”
“Wait, what?—Ahsoka, what rancor?! What spice?!”