The whole thing nearly starts with a very polite fistfight, which sets the tone for the whole event nicely.
“A military ball?” Anakin repeats, lip curling like the very idea smelled rancid. “What’s the point of that?”
The GAR’s head of public relations titters, delicate fingers brushing her lips as she did. “Well, officially it’s for funding,” she says, “but also it’s for, you know, moral! Everything has been so grim, with this war. Our men deserve a night of fun, don’t you think? And I know Jedi don’t usually attend such events, but it would be so good for everyone, to see the heroes of the 501st and the 212th in attendance!”
Obi-Wan and Anakin exchange a Look, a mix of tiny micro-expressions and the Force communicating just what they think of that reasoning. Obi-Wan, however, knows a political opportunity when he sees one — a room filled with high-powered senators and the night’s worth of time to convince them towards peace talks or disarmament— and steps forward easily.
“We’d be delighted,” he says, flashing her a smile. “You’ll send us over the details?”
“Oh, yes, of course General Kenobi,” she says, and Anakin hides his eye roll in his sleeve.
The two of them turn to go.
“Oh, also, Generals,” she adds to their backs, “Bring your second-in-commands with you, too. Everyone is so very eager to meet them.”
“You mean Ahs— uh. Commander Tano?” Anakin asks.
“No, no. The clones.”
Both of them turn around to face her again. “Commander Cody and Captain Rex?” asks Obi-Wan.
She laughs and swipes her hand in front of her face, as if swatting their names away. “Sure, if that’s what you call them. They’re invited, too.”
Anakin presses his lips shut, and Obi-Wan steps in neatly again. “Of course. I assume, with what you’ve told me about this event, that the GAR will be providing the Captain and the Commander with appropriate dress uniforms? I am quite sure they don’t have anything appropriate to wear.
“Oh,” says the woman. “Well, we had been assuming that they would simply wear their armor, for sake of —”
Wrong thing to say.
“A simple oversight, I’m sure!” Obi-Wan smiles, bright the way a blaster beam is bright. “So glad that I’m here to clear up that oversight. I’ll be expecting 2,000 credits forwarded to us along with the details of this gala, so that we can get both Rex and Cody fitted in proper dress uniforms. Won’t that be fun, Anakin? We can make a day out of it.”
Anakin’s mouth is a hard, straight line. At Obi-Wan’s prodding, he nods once.
“I—” the woman opens her mouth, closes it again. Looks at the two men staring at her, and the looks on their faces. “Yes, o-of course, General Kenobi—”
“ Master Kenobi, actually.”
“Right, of course, Master Kenobi. I’ll get everything to you within a day.”
“Lovely!” says Obi-Wan, and turns on his heel. “Come along, Anakin.”
Anakin spends one more second staring at the woman, before following behind Obi-Wan. They walk in charged silence, until they turn a corner.
“Well.” Obi-Wan released a breath, and some of the tension in his shoulders. “That went well, didn’t it?”
Anakin scowled and rubbed the heel of his flesh hand into his eye. “This is going to suck.”
“The gala, or telling Rex and Cody that they need to go?”
“Yeah, that,” says Anakin, the woman’s sugar-sweet, high voice saying ‘if that’s what you call them’ running like starship antifreeze through his veins.
On the night of the gala, Obi-Wan buttons up the cuffs of Cody’s dress shirt.
Cody has broad, square wrists. The right one has a small scar, when his armor had slipped during a grueling ground campaign. Below the skin, muscles and veins pull like ropes.
The dress uniforms they’ve gotten have gloves, but those go on last. Obi-Wan takes a moment to hold on, his thumb over the pulse point, skin warm.
“Sir?” Cody says.
His Commander initially complained less about going to the event than Rex did, but Obi-Wan knows him well enough that he can tell when he’s uncomfortable. And Obi-Wan doesn’t blame him.
“I rather feel like I am feeding you to the wolves,” Obi-Wan says, “and I would never wish to do so, but this is such a good opportunity for the Vode that I know you’d never forgive me if I kept you from it.”
Cody inclines his head, not quite a nod. “Important people to get on our side.”
Obi-Wan nods. “Yes,” he says, heart lightening at the use of ‘our’ — their side; for peace, for the rights of their men.
The stark white of the dress shirt contrasts Cody’s skin tone — it sharpens his cheekbones, throws appealing shadows under his eyes. He looks, suddenly, as very young as he is.
Obi-Wan’s heart twists. Out of armor, helmet, and combat, Cody is very out of his depth, and he looks it. And Obi-Wan is going to need to change that.
He retrieves the high-collared jacket from off the hanger across the room. It’s a standard level of military ostentatiousness — braiding on neck and cuffs, metals on the breast, golden buttons all down the front. Cody reaches out to take it from him, but Obi-Wan wordlessly shakes his head. He stands behind his Commander and holds it open.
Cody hesitates. Then, he slips one arm into it, then the other, then allows Obi-Wan to settle the thing over his shoulders. Obi-Wan gently turns Cody towards around to face him, and begins doing up the truly unnecessary amount of buttons.
They are a breath away from each other now. Cody watches his general’s clever fingers slowly move their way towards his neck. When they are all done up, Obi-Wan takes a half-step back, and looks.
The jacket has settled on Cody as if it has much more physical weight than it does. His shoulders are pulled into his chest. He’s looking somewhere around Obi-Wan’s middle.
And, oh. No, that won’t do that all.
“None of that, Cody,” Obi-Wan says, very gentle. He closes the gap between them again. He places his hands on Cody’s shoulders, and pushes them until they are square once more. “That is the one thing you must never, ever do.”
Cody says, “Sir?” confusion bleeding into his voice.
Obi-Wan places two fingers under Cody’s chin, and slowly, deliberately, tilts it up.
“Eyes up, Cody,” he says. “Always, always , eyes up. You must never let them see you falter. You must never let them make you small.”
Cody tilts his head to the side, as Obi-Wan sweeps away, back to the case the dress uniform came in. He returns with a few more objects, and begins the process of molding Cody into them.
He takes the tooled leather blaster holster and slips it over Cody’s shoulder, adjusting the buckles so everything fits snugly.
“When we enter that room tonight, we are going to be surrounded by a very particular type of cruelty. It comes with power, riches, and sentience. And all they are going to want to do is make you feel small. They might even succeed. But, dear one, you must never let them see that.”
Next, back to Cody’s hands, with their calloused palms and the three broken-crooked fingers. Obi-Wan slips the white gloves onto them.
“People will want to make you feel like you are less than them. They will want to frighten you. And when they do, you square your shoulders, look down your nose, and tell them that you adore their hat, but you were under the impression that color was last season's thing.”
He runs his hands over the soft gloves, missing the warmth of skin on skin. Obi-Wan turns over first one hand, and then the other, and fastens the cufflinks onto each.
“They are going to want you to get angry. They are going to want you to prove right every horrible assumption they have about you and your brothers. And you, my dearest Commander, are not going to give them that. Because the moment they see you crack, they will have won. So relax your shoulders, look into their eyes, and smile .”
Next, there is a hat, a fancier echo of what the Brothers have for their grays. There is a shiny, black leather strip on the bill. Obi-Wan arranges it carefully on Cody’s head, tilts it so it makes him look taller and doesn’t cover his eyes.
“They might say all manner of terrible things to your face, Cody. Slurs and insults and slights. They might call you an object or an animal, or call you a baby stealer, or a whore, or state that you’re only here as a kriff toy for your Master.”
Cody purses his lips. “Speaking from experience, General?”
Obi-Wan smiles a tired smile in return. “I had a distinctive look, when I was a Padawan. No one would call it intimidating. My Master and I cut an...interesting silhouette, let’s say.”
In their gloves, Cody’s hands clench. Relax again. Obi-Wan continues.
“I’m not telling you this to hurt you, I’m telling you this because you need to know before you walk in there. Because what they want is your anger. What you’re going to give them is a smile. And that will infuriate them.”
They stare at each other for a long, long moment.
“Close your eyes, Cody,” Obi-Wan says. Cody does.
Obi-Wan reaches over and picks up the last part of the uniform — a short cape that will fall to the center of the back, and is fastened by a golden clasp and chain. It’s a marker of rank, Cody’s rank, in the GAR. Obi-Wan shakes it out, and reaches around Cody so he is surrounded by both Obi-Wan’s arms and the cape. Obi-Wan speaks even softer this time, into the limited space between them.
“When we are in that room, I want you to remember that it is your body between them and all your brothers. Your face, your words, your spirit, between those people and the ones you love. They are all behind you, and you can protect them like this. This is difficult. This hurts. But you need to look like nothing can ever touch you. Because if they see a crack, they will pounce. And if they get through you, they will get to those behind you. Think about that. Embody it. Do you understand?”
Cody nods, and when he does, Obi-Wan draws the cape completely around his shoulders, and does up the clasp.
The cape and this new purpose settle over Cody in neat waves. Obi-Wan steps back from his Commander and sees nothing but easy confidence and resolute command. Shoulders back, chin tipped up, somewhere between confident and condescending. Perfect.
The dress uniform has been transfigured into armor, just has he hoped it would.
“Well,” Obi-Wan says, “I think we’re ready.
A few doors away, Anakin leans against the wall, and watches Rex do up the buttons of his jacket. His fingers slip on them, and he curses under his breath.
“You’d think something this expensive would be easier to put on, huh?” Rex says, and he’s going for joking but misses the mark by a bit. He fumbles the buttons again.
Anakin lets out something that’s almost a sigh. He kicks himself off the wall and crosses the room. He stands in front of Rex, smooths out the collar of the jacket with quick, efficient hands. Then he grabbed the buttons and began doing up the rest of them. He ignores Rex’s shaking hands.
“The more money something costs, the harder it’s gunna be to get on. They think you’re going to have someone around to help you get it on.”
Rex exhales a shaky laugh. “Well, it’s a good thing I have you then, Sir, huh?”
Anakin hums, and finishes doing up the buttons. He can see Rex physically stopping himself from fiddling with his cuffs. He can also see Rex doing the mental calculations — how many medical kits, buckets of paint, shots at bar, repaired blasters, clone lives, this uniform cost the same as.
Anakin can relate. He used to do the same thing. Still does, if he’s tired enough, or hyped up on enough caffeine.
Anakin starts tossing Rex the other parts of the uniform, half smiling as he yanks them on and does up buckles.
“Gunna tell me what’s got you so tense?” Anakin asks.
“What? Tense, Sir? Me? Never, I’m calm and battle-ready always—”
Anakin has it on good intel that, actually, Rex is one of the most anxious people he’s ever met. He’s just usually better at hiding it than he is now.
“How about we skip the part where you deny it, and you just tell me?”
Rex fumbles his words as badly as he was just fumbling the buttons, and Anakin feels a rush of affection for his captain.
“I just—” Rex says, focusing on clipping his cufflinks together, “there’s going to be a lot of people in there. A lot of eyes. Not used to that, I suppose, Sir. Center of attention, I am not,” he laughs, but it’s a forced kind of laugh.
But Anakin jumps on the train of thought nevertheless. “There’s gunna be a room full of rich bastards and people above you in the GAR who all want something and have some kind of expectations, and they invited the four of us to this thing for a reason, and you don’t know what that is or how to keep them from getting what they want. And if you screw something up, that’s it, you’re done.”
Rex shut his mouth. “Uh,” he says, “well. Yes, Sir.”
“Yeah,” says Anakin.
He grabs the shin-length officer’s coat from where it hangs over a chair and tosses it to his captain. Rex catches it easily and starts to shrug it on.
“There’s no place to hide in there. No other Brothers and no helmet.” Coat now on, Rex pulls on first one glove, then the other, staring at his fingers. “There’s no place to blend.”
Anakin says nothing for a long, heavy second.
“You can blend anywhere, Captain,” he says. “It’s not about hiding, it’s about posture. It’s about how you think about yourself. You think it hard enough, they’ll all look straight through you. You want to be, I don’t know. A conservator. A caf machine. Something useful and functional but not anything people pay attention to.”
Rex snaps his head to look at his General, eyes wide. Anakin points sharply.
“And that. You can never do that , either.”
“Do what, Sir?”
Anakin crosses the space between them again. He reaches out and grasps the back of Rex’s neck, puts pressure there, like he’s about to be pulled into a Keldabe Kiss. Rex ends up, instead, looking somewhere close to Anakin’s knees.
“You gotta keep your eyes down, Rex. Even if you’re spitting mad, even if everything in you is screaming to jump in and start screaming, even when the kriffing injustice of it all burns you like the suns, you keep your head ducked and your eyes down and you let them look right through you. Because there’s nothing safer than being invisible, and what matters is keeping yourself safe.”
Anakin reaches out with the Force and calls the last piece of the dress uniform, the hat, to his hand. He jams it over Rex’s distinctive blonde hair; he pulls the bill down so his eyes are shielded.
“If they think someone else has broken you, they won’t try to do the same thing.”
Rex peers up from under the hat, mouth in a thin line. “Speaking from experience, Sir?”
Anakin turns his face away and half-shrugs, the way he usually does when he’s going to refuse to talk about something.
“Tell them what they want to hear,” he says, not reestablishing eye contact. “Keep your answers short and the conversation on them, if they even want to keep talking to you at all. These people want to talk about themselves. Let them. Answer them just enough to keep them happy, and no more. If they try to provoke you, pretend you don’t pick up on it. You have no idea how those kinds of social cues work. Answer as if they said something perfectly normal. They’ll get bored. They won’t like boring, they’ll ignore boring. And being ignored is safe.”
Anakin reaches up and cups Rex’s upper arms. “And no matter what you do, keep your eyes down. You understand?”
“I — yes, I understand, Sir.”
“Good,” says Anakin, before looking his Captain up and down. “You finished getting dressed?”
“Yeah, think so.”
“Good. Then I think we’re ready to go. Let’s get Cody and Obi-Wan.”
They move to the door but, before he opens it, Anakin speaks one more time. “And, Rex? If anything does go wrong, I’m not about to let anything happen to you, okay? I promise.”
Jedi formal robes look very similar to Jedi everyday robes, but are made out of a slightly finer fabric. Both Anakin and Obi-Wan have added their own touches to them, for the occasion — Anakin has his hair pulled back into a low ponytail, tied at the nape of his neck and secured with a rose-colored hair ribbon. Obi-Wan has a dangling yellow teardrop hanging from his one pierced ear lobe.
The four of them stand outside the giant double doors of the ballroom. Rex and Cody take each other in — the cape, the coat, the hats at different angles.
“Well,” says Obi-Wan, “shall we go in?”
Cody sighs. “Yes, Generals, I suppose we should.” And then he held out his arm to Obi-Wan, in a very specific and deliberate gesture.
Obi-Wan looks at it, and then very, very slowly begins to smile. “Oh, Commander, I have always loved the way you think.” And he takes the offered arm.
Rex and Anakin exchange a look, and then fall behind them as they sweep into the room.
And a good chunk of the senators of the Republic and high ranking members of the GAR are greeted by the sight of High General and Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi very much decorating the arm of his Clone Commander, who has his chin tilted up, eyes sharp, cape rippling in the air behind him.
In the wake of them, Anakin and Rex step in with evenly matched steps, heads tilted down and eyes scanning the room for a good place on the wall to set up camp.
It’s going to be a long night.