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Creation Both Haunted and Holy

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Sixty-Twenty knows that O-Six is a little… strange. He tries not to judge, though. If he was the last of his batch, he might be a little strange, too. 

The rumor-mill has it that O-Six’s batch was decommissioned because they came out just a bit too stupid.

(“Don’t you know anything? The Longnecks had to dilute us ‘cause Prime is too aggressive. That’s why the Alphas are all like that.”)

(“I heard it’s literally bleach, and if your tube gets too bleached, you come out empty. Like, there’s nothing there anymore.”)

(“Oh, it’s totally a worm. I heard the Prime talking to Nala Se about it—we’ve got brain worms. They made ‘em in a lab to eat all the aggression ‘n stuff.”)

(“Nah, intelligence is like… genetic or something. They can just edit us smarter or dumber.”)

But, then again, Kamino’s rumor-mill says a lot of stuff, and Sixty-Twenty really doesn’t trust the brain-worm theory and, when he thinks about it, there’s not much to separate the worm-guy from the bleach-guy in terms of credibility. They’re all only four-standard, and Sixty-Twenty is pretty sure Prime never talked to any of the clones except for the Alphas and some of the command-track. So, he tries not to believe any of that crap as a general rule. 

But, Sixty-Twenty has to admit the facts, and the facts are that O-Six is the last of his batch who were decommissioned for some unknown (but probably not worm-related) reason and that O-Six is a little… off. 

Since the war started, the longnecks started grouping squads together earlier than they otherwise would have. That’s why, even though Sixty-Twenty is only four-standard, he’s getting his squad assignment. He’s excited; who wouldn’t be? His ori’vod always make a big deal out of keeping your brothers close, having their backs, taking care of them and being taken care of in return, and damn if Sixty-Twenty doesn’t want that with everything in him.

(He’s never been particularly close to any of the other clones in his nursery group. Not for lack of trying, either. Some people just click and some just don’t, and Sixty-Twenty decidedly is one of the don’ts. )

It only fuels the rumors that O-Six is brought in separately from and after the rest of them. 

A longneck personally escorts the cadet to their bunk assignment—theta tower, floor thirteen, row twenty-two—while the rest of them were brought in by their respective nursery-droid. O-Six doesn’t seem particularly excited to meet the rest of them, unlike Sixty-Twenty himself, who is practically crawling the walls ‘cause he’s so eager. 

O-Six just kinda’... looks at them. All wide-eyed and lots of rapid blinking.

“On your best behavior, CT-8706,” the longneck reminds him, and the harshness in their voice makes Sixty-Twenty feel on-edge. Like the longneck is already certain O-Six was going to screw something up... like they’re even looking forward to it.

Even after the longneck leaves, O-Six stays off to the side while the rest of them talk.

Sixty-Twenty finds out that none of them have picked names yet, although Fifty-Six-Thirty-Five seems to be really eager to earn one. Fifty-Six-Thirty-Five has a missing front tooth ‘cause he fell face-first out of one of the sleeping pods on their first tour of the cadet facilities just a week ago. He’s by far the most out-going of all of them. O-Six is by far the most quiet.

In fact, O-Six seems really nervous, too—and if there’s one thing their ori’vod were adamant about, it’s that you don’t leave a brother behind.

“Hey,” Sixty-Twenty says, and, to his shock, O-Six flinches.

(He’s never seen a brother last long when they’re jumpy like that. The trainers take notice and so do the longnecks and things can get pretty bad for the easily-spooked ones.) 

“I’m sorry, it’s just really loud,” O-Six murmurs, his voice quiet enough that Sixty-Twenty has to strain to hear.

But, it isn’t loud. Not really. The bunks are kind-of quiet ‘cause row twenty-two isn’t even all the way full yet. It’s mostly just empty sleeping pods and empty lockers and their little squad of five, and they aren’t particularly loud, either. But O-Six looks like he means it—looks like it really is too loud, with the pained way his face was all scrunched up and stuff.

So, Sixty-Twenty drops his voice to a whisper and says, “Do you want to go into a pod? It might be quieter there,” and he watches the way that O-Six’s eyes go wide, like he hadn’t expected that at all.

Together, they prod at the controls until they can get one of the pods on the ground-level to slide open. Sixty-Twenty beams at O-Six when they manage it and the clamber inside, laying flat on their backs with their shoulders pressed together to fit. The pod closes with a smooth, mechanical whoosh.

“Better?” Sixty-Twenty asks. 

The glow from the pod-lights is relatively muted, and Sixty-Twenty can’t really make out what the rest of his squad is saying even though he can still hear the muffled hum of their voices. 

O-Six shakes his head and blurts, “Not really, but you’re loud, so it’s easier.”

“What?”

O-Six seems to shrink back into himself, even though the space doesn’t really allow for it with two whole cadets inside. “I didn’t mean to say that,” he whispers, looking like he’s about to cry.

“That’s okay. I don’t know what you meant anyways,” Sixty-Twenty says, lightly squeezing his brother’s arm. “You don’t have to be scared.”  

They exchange quiet words about everything and nothing for ages just like that, pressed shoulder to shoulder in the muted blue light, until O-Six gradually starts to relax. 

During a natural lull in conversation, O-Six surprises him by blurting, all in a rush, “If I tell you this, you can’t tell anyone, okay?”

Sixty-Twenty knows from his ori’vod that you always keep a brother’s secrets for them, no matter what. “Of course,” he promises. “I swear.”

“When I say it’s loud, It’s not really sound . At least, not like talking. But... our bones sing. All of us… we sing. I promise, you’ve gotta’ believe me. Nobody does, but it’s true. All of our bodies have songs—even the longnecks—and sometimes they all get really loud and it makes my head hurt.”

And it’s so weird— so beyond anything that Sixty-Twenty has ever heard a brother invent—that he kind of has to believe him.

(No brother wants to lie about being special, anyways. Everybody knows that being special is dangerous.)

So that very first day, laying on their backs in the pod, pressed shoulder to shoulder in order to fit, Sixty-Twenty makes up his mind to protect O-Six. Sure, O-Six is weird, but O-Six is his squadmate and he doesn’t want his squadmate to get decommissioned. Not for this or any reason. 

So if O-Six gets distracted real easy, that’s fine. Sixty-Twenty will remind him to come back from wherever he's gone in his head. If O-Six gets overwhelmed by the songs he hears, Sixty-Twenty will hum a different one under his breath to drown out the rest. If O-Six can’t sleep, Sixty-Twenty will let him sleep in his pod, even though they aren’t supposed to. And if a trainer or a longneck starts paying too much attention to O-Six, Sixty-Twenty will act up and bring their attention to him instead.

O-Six may be a little strange, but Sixty-Twenty won’t let him go anywhere he can’t follow. 

 




O-Six is the first of their squad to get a name. 

They’re seven-standard when it happens, running a basic piloting sim under Bric who is, in Sixty-Twenty’s opinion, the absolute worst trainer. And not just because he picks on O-Six, either. The guy’s just an ass, through and through. The piloting sims are designed to be solo exercises, and when it comes to solo-exercises, Bric is always making O-Six go last just so that he can compare O-Six to the rest of them when he’s done. 

“He’ll be fine,” Ninety-Six whispers, giving Sixty-Twenty a gentle flick on the back of the hand.

Will he?  Sixty-Twenty pointedly doesn’t say. Instead, he keeps his eye on Bric, who is watching the monitor displaying O-Six’s live progress intently. 

When the sim ends and O-Six climbs out of the training-cockpit, Sixty-Twenty can already tell that things went sour just by the look on his brother’s face. The resigned, self-deprecating twist of his mouth says, in-short: I kriffed up.

Osik,” Ninety-Six swears under his breath. 

Bric is smiling. That is never a good sign and they all know it. 

“Well, Trooper, I’ve got to admit I’ve never seen that before. What’d you do, fall asleep at the wheel?” Bric jeers. “Were you even trying to pay attention? What do you think is going to happen on a real battlefield, soldier? Huh? Go on, I’m curious. Enlighten me as to how an airheaded ditz like you is going to survive even a single campaign?”

Sixty-Twenty would like to remove Bric’s head from his shoulders. Both Ninety-Six and Fifty-Six-Thirty-Five have got iron-grips on his arm, a reminder and a warning at the same time.

“D-ditz, sir?” O-Six stammers, looking pale and so kriffing disappointed in himself that Sixty-Twenty just wants to scream.

Bric scoffs. “Good to know you really aren’t learning anything. Why don’t you look it up, boy?” he spits. “If you can keep your head out of your ass long enough to manage it.” With a wave of his hand, Bric turns his back on their squad and grunts, “Dismissed. Send in the next group on your way out.”

Sixty-Twenty is quick to swoop in, slinging an arm around O-Six’s shoulders and tugging him hard into his side. O-Six knocks their heads together, gentle as they head for the door, the rest of their squad flanking them. Sixty-Twenty loves his squad—they’ve come a long way from avoiding O-Six like the plague to closing ranks around him as easy as breathing. 

Sixty-Twenty is ready to go full comfort mode. He’s got the heartfelt “you alright?” all queued up and “you’ll get it next time” for a killer follow-up to raise his brother’s spirits. And then he catches the actual expression on his brother’s face where he’s got it half-hidden under Sixty-Twenty’s arm.

He’s smiling.

“Um,” Sixty-Twenty stammers. 

This is not their usual routine. Sixty-Twenty doesn’t know what the protocol is, here.

O-Six squirms out from under his grip, all sharp-elbows and wriggly post-growth-cycle limbs. His brother doesn’t look any different from the rest of them—same face, same clothes, same carefully-cut regulation curls—but Sixty-Twenty could pick him out of a lineup of thousands of brothers at a single glance. It’s in the way he moves. There’s a kind of grace to him that none of the vode have. Like the air itself moves to accommodate him. His brother has never done a thing ungracefully in his life, not even failing.

Free from his brotherly grasp ( smotherly, as Thirty-Five likes to say), O-Six turns to look at him and smiles, equal parts shy and wry.

“I like it,” O-Six says incomprehensibly.

“Um?” Sixty-Twenty repeats with emphasis.

“C’mon you two, hurry up,” Ninety-Six urges.

O-Six shrugs. “Ditz. I like it. It sounds right.”

Ninety-Six gets him in a playful headlock from behind. “Yeah?” He croons as O-Six laughs, trying fruitlessly to dislodge his now-conjoined squadmate. “Sixy is Ditzy now?”

“Why not?” O-Six— Ditz— squawks, trying to worm his fingers towards Ninety-Six’s armpits. It is, unfortunately, the only surefire way to get Ninety-Six to move off of them if that is where he has decided to be. “I like the sound of it. And—” he gets his far-away look, the one that says he’s feeling something the rest of them can’t, and Sixty-Twenty waits with anticipation for whatever comes next, “—it feels right.

And, really, what more is there to say than that? 

“Even though Bric was saying it to insult you?” Sixty-Threes asks. He’s by far the quietest of their rowdy squad, but no less fiercely protective over Ditz. 

Ditz has, in a way, become the squad’s unofficial vod’ika. Although Thirty-Five and Sixty-Three were particularly wary of Ditz in the beginning—after all, everyone knows that a brother who’s landed on the Kaminoan’s and the Trainer’s radar for abnormalities is not a brother who is going to last very long—but gradually, they got over themselves and realized Ditz had just been dealt a bad hand. It didn’t hurt that Ditz is naturally charming. Although he’s shy with others outside their squad and has a tendency to lose focus quickly, Ditz is just… easy to be around.

“Kriff Bric,” Sixty-Twenty hisses under his breath, earning a fond smile from Ditz. 

And oh, it’s so new and wonderful to think of his vodika as anything other than O-Six. After everything he’s been through—the incessant testing from the Kaminoans, the scrutiny and the downright ire of Bric, and the whispers from his own damn brothers—he damn well deserves to choose something for himself. 

Ditz says, “Well, it’s not about him. And it isn’t an insult if I don’t use it as one, right? Besides, it just feels like me. I don’t know, I can’t explain it.” 

There’s a lot of things Ditz has trouble explaining. From uncannily accurate reads on others’ moods, to gut-feelings that lead them the right way during sims, to nightmares he can’t put words to—fears he can’t name but that leave him shaking all the same—each and every member of their squad has learned to trust Ditz’s instincts in their own way.  

“You don’t have to,” Sixty-Threes reassures him. “I just wanted to make sure you wouldn’t regret it later.” 

“I won’t,” Ditz assures, flashing him a charming smile. 

“Ditz it is, then.” 

It’s as if Ditz’ claiming of a name sets off a chain reaction. In the coming weeks, each and every member of their squad will claim their own name, one after another. 

Sixty-Threes becomes Bend when another cadet accuses him of cheating during a practice skirmish against another squad. When the furious cadet rounds on Sixty-Threes, spitting, “you broke the rules!” with all the indignant fury of a brother unable to accept a loss as a loss, Sixty-Threes just looks him dead in the eyes, shrugs, and says, calm as anything, “No. I just bent them.” 

Ninety-Six becomes Bughead the week after, proving incredibly adept at slicing (and with tech in general.) “Vod’s got a head for this stuff,” an older, supervising clone had remarked. And since he had a particular affinity for de-bugging glitching systems, Bughead was a natural progression.

Fifty-Three becomes Tricky when, a few days later, Bughead slices into the holonet and plays them all an Alderaanian pop song. The five of them are clustered tight together around the little mouse-droid Bughead had taken hostage for his devious purposes when the speaker on the droid starts blasting, “IT’S TRICKY! TRICKY, TRICKY, TRICKY—” to a drum-heavy, synth-overlaid beat. 

The day after Tricky gets his name, Bric threatens to send Ditz for reconditioning for a sub-par (but by no means failing) score at the range. Sixty-Twenty’s vision goes red. He barely even thinks. He turns right around, stalks up to a cadet he doesn’t even know, and breaks his nose with a well-thrown right hook for no other reason than to start a fight big enough to divert Bric’s attention.

Don’t look at him, is all he thinks at the moment. Look at me instead. Desperate hit after desperate hit, fighting dirty with everything he was ever taught as the other cadet’s squad explodes into motion, all but dragging Sixty-Twenty off of his poor target. Please, look at me.

(He’s punished, of course. Janitorial duty for three weeks and a three mile morning run outside in the rain for two are his reward for saving his brother. But he’s not reconditioned . And neither is Ditz, for that matter.)

After that, Sixty-Twenty’s squad starts calling him Clash.

And, well . Clash doesn’t hate it. 

 




Sometimes, the longnecks take Ditz away for testing. It’s been happening ever since they were little, although the tests have decreased in frequency throughout the last few years as they’ve aged. But, it still happens sometimes, despite how much Clash wishes it wouldn’t.

He doesn’t understand why no one can see that there’s nothing wrong with Ditz. He’s a little odd, sure, but he isn’t defective. Not by a mile. He was flighty when they were younger, definitely deserving of the name Ditz, too. But the whole squad has gotten good at compensating around Ditz’s shortcomings. It’s no different than what they do for any other brother. 

Tricky’s great at talking his way out of situations, but he tends to get tunnel-vision around a goal and charge into it without thinking. Bend is so stoic and deadpan that trainers and other brothers assume he’s being intentionally rude, so he has a hard time working with groups outside of their squad. Outside of that, though, Bend is an incredible shot. He was even flagged for the advanced sharpshooter-modules. Bughead is a phenomenal slicer, but he’s got a wild temper. Clash himself is great at hand-to-hand, but he’s had his fair share of reprimands for disobedience and obstinance. 

The longnecks that have been anticipating Ditz’s failure since day one are getting desperate. Their squad is due to deploy in the next six months, and, for some reason, they’ve redoubled their efforts to find something lacking about Clash’s vod’ika.

They call him to the lab just after dinner. Clash goes to make a fuss, but Ditz stops him. He squeezes his shoulder once and says, low so as to not be overheard, “It isn’t worth it.”

He shoots them a smile that tries to be reassuring as he follows the longneck out of their bunks.

“We’ll wait up,” Bughead reassures him once Ditz and the longneck are gone.

“Of course we will,” Tricky echoes. 

They distract themselves by playing cards for a while. But by the time lights-out comes, Ditz still isn’t back. Anxiety eats away at Clash like a pack of hungry Akk wolves. Eventually, the droid in charge of the dorm watch threatens to write them up if they don’t get in their pods already. Bughead grumbles something harsh about “reprogramming” under his breath, but they don’t move to do anything. They all know just as well that it isn’t worth making a fuss. 

Not when freedom is so, so close.

Six months.

So, begrudgingly, they clamber into their pods and turn in for the night. Clash resolves to stay up until Ditz returns and he’s certain that at least Bughead and Bend do, too. (Tricky tends to crash the moment his head hits the pillow. Although Clash doesn’t doubt that he worries just as much as the rest of them, it would probably take a full scale attack against Tipoca City to keep him from his full eight hours.)

Clash blinks awake without having realized he fell asleep at all. 

He knows the weight of the person crawling into his pod just as easily as he knows his own. Ditz is back. Ditz is back.

Clash lifts an arm and shuffles as far around as he can until his back is pressed flush with the side of the tube. As soon as it closes with a soft hiss and click, both of them safely ensconced inside, Ditz’ shoulders start to shake with quiet, hitching sobs.

Clash curls his arms around him and hangs on tight. They’re still basically the same size, even if Clash is slightly bulkier for his advanced hand-to-hand training. That doesn’t stop him from fitting Ditz’s head under his chin and trapping his legs between his own.

“Shh, Ditzy, shh. I’ve got you,” he whispers. 

The half-smothered, hiccupped sobs continue, eventually dampening his shirt all the way through. Clash only holds him tighter. 

“Six months,” he swears, pressing the words into the tight curls that fall sweaty over Ditz’s brow like a promise. “Six months.”

Eventually, he cries himself out.

(Clash doesn’t fall back asleep. The blaster-hot burn of his rage keeps him awake through the night. All he can do is hold his brother close and hope he doesn’t disturb him when his own tears start.)




They know the moment something is wrong. Mid-way through the morning-cycle meal, Ditz goes ramrod still with a gasp. His eyes are fixed to some middle distance, completely unseeing. His chest starts heaving. 

“Ditzy?” Bughead is at his side and slides a hand around the back of his neck. Ditz, worryingly, doesn’t even react. 

A high noise, a desperate, animal keen escapes his throat and the only word for the expression on his face is pain and terror. Ditz’s hands make an aborted lurch for his own head, going to clutch at his own hair, but Clash is quick enough to snatch them up from across the table and hold them tight in his own. 

“No, no, no, no, no,” Ditz is whispering, a completely shattered mantra.

“What’s wrong?” Bend is quick to slide in on Ditz’s other side. Where Ditz had been sitting on the end of the cafeteria bench, he’s now sandwiched tight between Bend and Bughead.

Tears roll in a steady stream down his face, dripping down to the table below. That, more than anything, is what terrifies Clash the most. More worrying than the shaking, more worrying than the steady chant of barely-audible denials, more than the too-distant eyes, Ditz has never cried outside of Clash’s pod.

He’s always been so careful to never let a single tear fall where anyone but their squad could see. But now he’s openly sobbing in the middle of the packed cafeteria. 

Bughead catches Clash’s worried look and uses his hand on the back of Ditz’s neck to ease his head down, carefully hiding as much as they can. Bend slings an arm around Ditz’s shoulders and all but absorbs him into his side, the unforgiving edges of their plastisteel armor be damned. 

“Udesii,” Clash urges, squeezing those faintly-trembling hands in his own. “Talk to us. We’ve got you. Talk to us. How do we help?”

Ditz shakes his head and gasps through tears thick enough to suffocate, “I felt him die.”

Their squad goes still. Tricky adds his hands to Clash’s, squeezing at Ditz fingers.

“Who, Ditz?”

He just shakes his head, coherency dissolving into another round of sobs.

“We’ve got to move him,” Bend declares. 

They’ve already attracted the attention of the nearby tables. Any more and someone will fetch a droid, or, stars forbid, a longneck. Clash can already imagine how this incident will circulate around the vode as yet more gossip that will haunt all five of them. 

Their squad’s official name is Cursod after a particularly swift fish native to Kamino that’s known to eat everything smaller and slower than it. But only the longnecks call them Cursod. Everybody else calls them Cursed. Slightly-lower-than-average marks and the oddball clone of a doomed batch have never been treated kindly by Tipoca’s famously quick-churning rumor mill.

Thankfully, their squad is on the opposite end of Tipoca city as the Incident and they have no trouble ushering Ditz towards the showers because of it. On the Northmost side of Tipoca, things are in chaos around a single training course in particular. Specifically, the climbing gear training course. 

Later, they’ll find out that a trooper’s safety-harness failed about fifty-five feet up. Later, they’ll learn about the neglected safety-checks, the faulty equipment. Later, they’ll learn his name was Trip because he had a penchant for clumsiness.

(Later, they’ll watch Ditz mourn a brother he never knew because he felt his light go out from halfway across the city.)

But for now, all they know is their brother is shaking to pieces. They’ve managed to sandwich him between the press of their bodies, hidden in the farthest shower stall from the door. Even if there are no curtains or doors to the stalls, they’ve made one of themselves. And it would take another army entirely to move them.

Ditz muffles his sobs into Clash’s chest, and hiccups, voice scraped raw, “He was scared. He was so scared and then he was gone.”

“Udesii, Dit’ika,” Bend murmurs, reaching across Clash’s shoulders to scratch at his scalp. And really, what more is there for them to do?

Eventually, he cries himself out, dropping straight from one quiet hiccup into unconsciousness in a blink. Clash, finally, allows himself to uncurl from around his little brother— stars, how can I protect you when I don’t even understand what I’m protecting you from— and it is Bughead’s eye that he catches, first.

So far, Bughead has managed to avoid explicitly breaking regulations by keeping his hair reg-short on the sides and back, but leaving it ever so slightly longer on the top. Their six months has slowly become three and Bughead more than any of them has been increasingly eager to claim any amount of individuality for himself. Now, that slightly-long-on-the-top hair has flopped, sweaty and limp, into his tightly drawn face. The showers are mostly dark right now—what few number of brothers that have come and gone while they’ve been occupying this stall have been smart enough to leave them alone, keeping their little section of the room cast in shadow—and only the faint blue glow of a pad that came from stars knows where lights his brother’s grimly-set jaw.

“Bugs,” Clash whispers. Tricky must hear the ragged edge to his voice because he reaches out to thumb the space behind Clash’s ear in comfort. 

Bughead clicks his tongue. “I’ve gotta’ be wrong about this,” he eventually says, seemingly to himself. 

“Wrong about what? What… what’s…” Clash won’t say wrong with him, firstly because nothing is wrong with his brother and secondly because voicing it like that is asking for trouble. It’s giving voice to a fear he can’t face—that there may be nothing they can do to help Ditz.

“I think he has the Force,” Bughead says eventually, quick and all-at-once, but quiet, like he couldn’t bear the chance of being overheard.

But clones can’t be Force-sensitive. 

“Like the Jedii?” Tricky breathes.

“That’s impossible,” Bend says, immediate, unquestionable.

Clones can’t. 

“It’s the only explanation. Look, alright? I found this… pamphlet from the Coruscant temple—”

“Kriffing how? Tipoca is locked down tight— that one time with the radio was a fluke!” Tricky hisses.

“Me and some others have figured out a work around, for now, and—look, would you just shut up and read this?” He thrusts the pad to Bend, first, and Tricky hooks his chin over Bend’s shoulder to see it, too.

“It’s a pamphlet. So Your Child Might Be Force-Sensitive ,” Bughead tells Clash as Bend begins to read in a quiet, barely-present voice. 

“Does your youngling find increasingly impossible ways to escape their crib? Perhaps they seem unusually sensitive to the emotions of others, or incredibly in-tune with their environment? Or maybe even just plain lucky? Young Force-sensitives all around the galaxy have come into their powers in remarkable ways, from a strong empathic power, to telekinesis, to the uncanny ability to heal injured loved ones. Some have even exhibited prophetic dreams… Some of these fit. Not all of them. I think we would have noticed if Ditz could lift things with his mind.”

“Okay, alright. But look, there’s this forum for parents of Force-sensitives, and this one lady wrote that her daughter knew that her uncle had died in a mining accident before the incident was even reported to the on-site manager! She says her daughter was so distraught that, within the week, a kriffin’ Jedi knight showed up at their door saying he felt the child’s distress. Tell me that’s not Ditz,” Bughead whispers, his furiously gesticulating hands cutting through the otherwise still air.

“Wait, hold on, we don’t even know that anyone actually died,” Clash interjects. He knows the hope is naive almost as soon as he gets a look at Bughead’s face.

His jaw goes tight. He sighs, and says, “It was the first thing I checked, vod. A brother died this morning during the high-altitude terrain sim when his harness failed up on the wall. He was dead the second he hit the ground.”

But it’s impossible, Clash swallows. 

Not for him, another voice says. Not for Ditzy.

“Kriff,” Tricky sighs, followed by a much more harried, “Do you think the longnecks know? Do you think that’s why—?”

“I don’t know,” Bughead says through gritted teeth.

A moment of tense, anxious silence passes, interrupted by Bend, “So, what happens now?”

“There’s no reg manual for this,” Tricky tries to joke, but it falls flat. 

“Hah hah,” Clash breathes, only if for something to say. Then, he steels himself. “Nothing happens now. Nothing changes. No one finds out. Not until we leave Kamino. Once we get our general… then we’ll reevaluate, alright? But until then? Not a kriffin’ word.”

“I’ll keep looking for more,” Bughead says. “There’s got to be some way to help him, right? I mean, generals don’t go around sobbing when people die, right? There’s gotta’ be something the Jedi do for this. Training or something.”

“Yeah, alright. But don’t get caught,” Clash warns him.

“‘Course not.”

They’re quiet for a while, the five of them. Revelations like these need processing time, Clash supposes. When he looks into his brothers’ eyes, he knows they’re all thinking the same thing.

How do we keep him safe?

 


 

There’s some sense among the squad that, as the counter to their deployment runs down, they get closer and closer to a potential solution for Ditz’s problem.

Bughead’s continued (and extremely, completely, one-thousand percent illegal) research has only solidified their unofficial conclusion: their Ditzy has the Force. When they broached the subject with him, late one night huddled around their lockers, Ditz had gone paler than they’d ever seen. He’d simply said, “no,” followed by a dozen, “that’s impossible”s and, finally, when Bughead had presented all he’d found, Ditz had only gone quiet and said, soft and unbearably vulnerable, “oh.”

During their last three months on Kamino, Bughead puts his considerable skills to the test, slicing up and down the holonet from GAR Jedi medical files to public-access texts on the histories and practices of the Jedi order. Between the five of them, any moment not spent training or testing before deployment was spent with their pilfered material. They teach Ditz to meditate huddled around their pods just before lights-out is called. They teach him to shield during meals. They try to teach him to do something called force bonding, but the text they have on that subject is heavily redacted, and it’s considerably less of a success than the rest of it.

Clash even convinces himself that they might just be okay as deployment draws nearer and nearer.

They hypothesize what general they’ll fall under. Tricky and Bughead are hoping for General Skywalker, drawn helplessly to the 501st blue and the trails they blaze at the very front. Bend stays out of the discussion altogether, saying he doesn’t much care one way or the other. Ditz mentions it once and only once, but he’s hoping for General Koon or General Unduli. But Clash?

Clash is hoping for General Kenobi.

He’s heard the stories. He’s heard the talk. Everyone knows what generals are a blessing and which are a curse. Stories from the 104th suggest that General Koon treats his men with genuine care and affection. The tales that come out of the 501st speak to a genuine camaraderie with their general, even if half the osik they get up to is quantifiably insane. Life under General Secura seems to be a perpetual exercise in blue-balls for their brothers that swing that way and an exercise in complete worship for those that don’t.

But the stories from the 212th always leave Clash breathless with some kind of desperate longing. General Kenobi is said to treat his men like family.

(And that’s all Clash has ever really wanted for himself and his brothers, isn’t it?)

But, when they finally receive their assignment, standing fully kitted out amid hundreds upon hundreds of their brothers on the hangar bay, it isn’t at all what they’d hoped for.

It’s a death sentence. 

The brother that reads out the order is stone-faced. Cold. Despite being a senior officer, one that’s been in the field for ages and has by all rights earned his color by now, his armor is still unpainted, albeit worn and scratched. His hair is still cut to strict regulation length. He boasts no visible tattoos, nor any other signifying marker besides his rank painted onto his chest. 

Their general’s name is not one they recognize, not at first. When it’s called, only Bughead goes stiff. Only Bughead goes quiet.

Jedi General Pong Krell.

Clash turns the name over and over again, but try as he might, he has no association with it. He’s never heard a brother tell stories about any General Krell. Doesn’t even know the first thing about the Jedi, not even their species or gender. But the stillness of the hangar bay speaks to… something, as does the plainness of their commanding officer and the harsh lines carved into his grim-set face. 

It isn’t until they’re en route on the carrier, bunking down for the night in GAR standard racks, when Clash notices how badly his brother’s hands are shaking.

“Bughead?” He offers a gentle touch to his shoulder, and Bughead, never one to shy away from physical contact—in fact, he’s always the one to instigate it—pulls back with a shake of his head.

“It’s not good, vod,” he whispers.

“What do you mean?” Ditz asks, standing from where he’d been tucking away his armor in the locker at the foot of their temporary bunk. “Bugs?”

Bughead takes a breath. In once, then out again. He says, simple but heavy, “General Krell has the single highest casualty count in the entire GAR by a landslide.”

And that… can’t mean what Clash thinks it means. Right?

“Isn’t that a good thing? That means the unit is pretty elite, right?” Tricky asks.

“Not droid casualties. And not enemy combatants, either.”

Clash sits down, hard.

“What are you saying?” Tricky says, low. The brightness in his eyes has been replaced with something scared, something that reminds Clash of the little brother with that missing front tooth and those wild, rambunctious eyes that he could never say no to.

“I’m saying that General Krell has gotten the greatest number of vode killed,” Bughead spits. He looks about a minute from a full-scale collapse. They all do.

“So the objective stays the same,” Clash rasps. He wasn’t expecting his voice to sound as wrecked as it does when he talks, but it is, and there’s kriff-all he can do about it. He’d hoped for Kenobi and gotten so, so much worse. How could they have gotten it so badly? “We tell no one. We keep doing what we’re doing.” He chews the inside of his lip, a nervous habit he picked up and never quite dropped. “We stay alive.” 

“Oya,” Bughead whispers, eyes shut tight.

After a long, quiet moment, the rest of them follow.

There’s nothing else to be done.


 

Somehow, they manage to hold onto the hope that things may not be so grim as they seem. That hope manages to last the unnervingly quiet trip to rendezvous with the General’s cruiser. That hope even manages to last through their first briefing with their Captain—the same wholly unremarkable clone that broke the news of their deployment on Kamino.

“I’m Captain Beeps,” he begins, and Clash has to pinch Tricky hard to stop him from outright laughing at that. It is pretty incongruous, Clash has to admit, considering how worn-thin and grim Beeps looks. Clash would expect a trooper like Ditz to be named Beeps—someone with a lighter air to them, someone with humor, with real mirth.

(Maybe the Captain had all these things, once, is a thought that Clash does not let himself think.)

“But you’ll refer to me as CT-2191. I know many of you may have heard something about serving with this battalion. I know you may have heard rumors. I also know that you might not have heard anything, and that not knowing is just as terrifying. General Krell is harsh. We have rules to cope with that harshness. To mitigate what we can.

“The first of these is that you are never to use your names in front of the General or any of the nat-born officers. General Krell does not care. He does not want to know them and he does not want to hear them.

“Second: you do not speak to General Krell unless he speaks to you, first. And, if he mistakes you for someone else, do not correct him. Third, know that the culture here is not the culture of Kamino. It is similar, but not the same. If it helps to treat the General as you would a Kaminoan, do so. If you aren’t sure how far to take your caution, take it farther. In short, keep your relationships with one another private.

“Lastly, you follow orders. Above all else, follow orders. Even when you think they’re wrong, you follow. Even if you think you can argue for something better, you follow.” There is something profoundly haunted in the Captain’s eyes when he says, with conviction as unbendable as beskar, “The punishment for disobeying is always far worse than you can fathom.”

Clash fumbles blindly for Ditz’s hand. When he gets it, he squeezes. Ditz clutches back, and for a moment, Clash can feel a flicker. It comes like a wash over his consciousness, feeling like Ditz crawling into his pod late at night, fleeting like rare glimpses of sunlight on Kamino. He knows from their studying that Ditz has just tried to touch his mind. He squeezes his brother’s hand as hard as he dares and focuses on one thing and one thing only.

We’ll be alright. It becomes a mantra, of sorts.

They march to their barracks. 

We’ll be alright.

They perform maintenance on their armor.

We’ll be alright.

They head to the mess for a rushed dinner and race to get into formation in the hangar, because the General wants to make a statement of sorts to the new troops.

We’ll be alright.

Krell is a Besalisk man, and when Clash finally catches sight of him, even if it’s from all the way at the back of their at-attention formation, it’s enough to set some sort of instinctive animal warning off in his brain. Danger, his instincts scream, and he tries his best not to think about how easy it would be for the General to crush a human skull in his enormous hands.

When Ditz sees him, he freezes. Bend catches it first, and knocks their pauldrons together hard enough to rattle him back into movement, but not hard enough to make a sound. Clash can’t focus on anything the General says during his speech, Captain Beeps at his side and fully-kitted out, his plain white bucket a warning as much as the General’s own words.

The General expects obedience. The General expects loyalty. The General will not tolerate insubordination, or other clone-delusions.

Clash can’t even begin to unpack it all. He won’t dare touch all the ways it makes his insides freeze, ice-cold. He stands there, at perfect attention, Ditz on one side and Bughead on the other, and thinks: we’ll be alright.

We’ll be alright.

We’ll be alright. 

 


 

Downtime is hard to find on General Krell’s ship. The Stalwart is the name of their venator-class destroyer, and work on the Stalwart never ends. Being squadmates does not mean that they’re schedules are identical. Their numbers are put into a roster with the numbers of every other new and existing trooper, and the duties are divided like that. Only Bughead is tapped for specialized work with intelligence, as his extensive high-marks in all things slicing catch Captain Beeps’ eye.

Clash and Ditz share a shift—active duty from 0300 to 0900—and they stick impossibly close to each other because of it. Tricky and Bend are split up, on opposite shifts and not overlapping with Clash and Ditz, and Bughead’s hours overlap with theirs but on an entirely different portion of the ship.

Clash and Ditz wake up as the other three are going to bed. Sometimes, Clash has caught Bend up when he’s supposed to be sleeping, hunched over a pad reading. When he asks, Bend tells him that he had Bughead find him some basic anatomy and field medicine literature.

“I’ve seen the casualty numbers,” Bend explains, jaw tight and eyes distant. “Krell doesn’t keep a fully staffed medical unit. He uses the funds elsewhere and justifies it by showing low injury reports. They’re low because under his command, basic injuries kill . I won’t let that be us.”

Bughead becomes withdrawn and tense. He is snappy with them where before, he’d only been affectionately strong-willed. Tricky is something approaching quiet for the first time in his life. Ditz spends every free moment he can meditating and Clash either joins him or stands guard for him. Despite how stressed he is—how stressed they all are—Ditz still has it in him to marvel at the colors of hyperspace.

We’ll be alright, Clash whispers like a prayer.

And then comes their first battle.



 

Each battalion has their own specialty, and the specialty of General Krell’s company is trailblazing. The senate sends them to high-priority regions under heavy fire—places where the Grand Army can’t afford to lose face. There are no covert-ops, no air support, no strategic maneuvers and no ARC troopers. There is only a line to be held and the men to hold it. 

Delluhiri is a verdant planet that millions of sentients call home. It is also crawling with clankers. 

(Clash doesn’t know why they’re fighting here. He isn’t privy to that kind of intelligence. He could ask Bughead, but he doesn’t particularly want to bother him. He seems weighed down enough already.)

Despite their squad’s various duties and schedules, they will, in fact, be marching together. It’s a small comfort for Clash, knowing that he’ll have all of his brothers at his side during the campaign. 

The air on the Stalwart was tense before, but the tension of an impending conflict feels different. It’s heavier. Ditz is riding a knife’s edge of tension, even mentally-anchored to their squad as he is. Clash guesses that reading about mental shielding techniques is not the same as being taught how to do it by someone that actually can. Delluhiri is only a day’s hyperspace jump away, and Clash is almost thankful for it. He can’t even get Ditz to eat, as stressed out as he is.

(It is almost a blessing that General Krell expects all active-duty troopers to be fully-kitted-out. It’s much harder to tell whether or not a trooper is present in the moment through their bucket.)

When they land on Delluhiri, they’re told that it will be a twelve-hour march to the point of engagement. Given the densely forested landscape, an ambush by Separatist forces is highly likely. The Seps have been planet-side longer. It’s almost expected. 

Clash has heard that most other generals lead the charge when marching directly into battle. General Krell prefers to be insulated within the middle of their forces. 

Their squad is placed closer to the front than Clash is comfortable with. It’s their first-ever engagement. Their first-ever battle. And they’re nearly leading the charge. 

“This isn’t right,” Bughead growls over their internal comms.

“Quiet, vod. Aren’t these lines public?” Bend interjects, quick.

Bughead’s scoff crackles clear as a bell over the open line. “First thing I did was network our helmets to a private line; just the five of us. Unless someone has a reason to look—which no one will —we’re completely hidden.”

“Oh, so I can say this is kriffin’ bantha osik and not get court-martialed?” Tricky jeers, but Clash isn’t paying it much attention anymore. Ditz has broken formation, lagging a few paces behind, staring frozen up into a tree.

“Ditz,” Clash hisses, jogging over. “Ditz, we have to keep moving.”

“What’s wrong?” Bend asks.

Ditz just continues to stare, neck craned nearly ninety-degrees. It’s like he can’t even hear him. Any moment now, the squad behind them will overtake their position. They need to get a move-on. “Ditzy!”

The others divert to their position, and Bend immediately takes the well-worn position of look out. They’re used to covering for Ditz’s episodes, sure, but never on a battlefield marching head-first into unknown enemy territory.

“There’s a bird in this tree,” Ditz mutters, distant. An afterthought.

“Ditzy, leave the bird, we have to move,” Bughead pleads. Clash gets a hand on Ditz’s arm where his blacks are exposed. Skin-to-skin isn’t an option in full kit, but being able to feel the warmth of them has always helped.

“It’s scared,” Ditz tells them. “It’s seen something terrible. It wants to tell me.” And then, absurdly, he throws down his blaster and starts to climb.

“Ditz!” Clash grabs him around the waist, hauling him bodily down the trunk he had started to ascend with uncanny grace. He knocks their helmets together, hard. “I need you to come back, right now, vod.”

“Incoming,” Bend warns, real urgency in his voice.

“I—it—,” he stutters, still vainly glancing at the tree.

“Ditz, we cannot.”

“R-right, right. Sorry, I—I’m sorry,” he murmurs, clearly shaken, and stumbles a few steps when Tricky forces his blaster back into his hands.

They have to jog to make up ground, and Ditz still feels off, but there isn’t any time to stop and deal with it. If the unit behind them overtakes them, it’ll be reported to command for sure. Sorry, Sir, my brother was just trying to have a chat with the wildlife, doesn’t seem like it would fly. 

They march for another hour in tense silence, unit after unit of trooper pushing through the underbrush like white-shelled crabs. The tension is so unbearable that it’s almost a relief when the distant sound of blaster fire reaches them.

“Clankers dead ahead!” cuts across all comms, but there’s hardly more than a moment to brace for it. Within seconds, droids are pushing through the trees. It’s a mad scramble for cover, dodging blaster fire and flames as the shots that don’t connect ignite the underbrush. 

“Keep your head!” Bend orders just as Clash makes a mad-dive for cover behind a dense trunk, Ditz at his heels. 

Shot after shot goes off.  Clash takes out a B1 at two-o’clock, and another at three. Ditz drops one from the opposite side, then two more. The comms are ablaze with orders, the static fire of blasters crackling loud enough over open lines to drown out the pounding of his own heartbeat. It’s impossible to tell whether or not they’re winning or losing—the droids just keep coming.

“We have to move!” Ditz shouts over the rush of noise and heat and sound. Not too far from their position, a stray bolt has caught a fallen, dry tree trunk and ignited into a blaze so close that Clash can feel the heat on his back. 

“Tricky, where are you? We need to make a run for cover.” Another B1 drops, four-o’clock.

“Boulders, at your six!” 

There’s nothing for it, they’ve got to run. There’s no cover in between their current spot and the next, only dry grass and scraggly little trees that don’t provide any more protection than flimsiplast napkins.

“We’ve got you covered, go now!”

They bolt, charging straight into the incoming line, blasters firing again and again with hardly any break in between. The rocky outcropping is right there, just a few meters away, and Clash can feel the heat at his back and taste the ozone of blaster-fire in the back of his throat. It’s a straight-shot over uneven terrain—he drops a droid, then another, but there’s one headed straight for them. 

“Flank him!” Clash barks and they split, Ditz goes right and he goes left, waving his own blaster like a club and knocking the clanker’s gun right out of it’s grip. Ditz takes it down with a quick two-shot to the chest carapace and they’re off again, gunning it and they’re almost there. 

Between one breath and the next, Clash is hit. 

In the moment, he barely feels it. They reach cover in a flurry of return fire from the squad, Ditz vaulting over the top and Clash diving around the side. Hands grab him—Tricky, or maybe Bend. 

“Haar’chak! He’s hit, oh— kriff, MEDIC!” Bughead shouts, taking pot-shots at the approaching clankers all the while. 

“I’m—not hit,” Clash says just as the pain registers. His knees give out, he lists to the side, crashing against the side of the rock and fumbling for his side with a ragged gasp he couldn’t stop for anything. It hurts— it’s fucking agony.

Nothing like a stun-blast, the bolt burns through the very meat of him, agonizing. It struck the lucky vulnerability between chest and back plate over his ribs, that much he knows, but the hurt is so encompassing that it’s confused every one of his nerves. Anything more specific than that, Clash couldn’t say. 

Bend’s there—Clash knows it’s him because he’s been planning for this. And he also knows, by the sound of his brother’s voice when he curses, that it’s bad. 

“Hey, hey, hey, you stay with me, asshole,” Bend snaps, getting hands on the wound and pushing and Clash blacks out for a moment—thinks he might scream. 

God, it hurts. 

“We’re getting overrun,” Tricky blurts somewhere Clash can’t see. His head aches something fierce—he might have earned himself a concussion, too. “We’ve gotta’ move yesterday!”

Oh, ka’ra, it hurts.

“It hit lung,” Bend is saying, so shaken he’s audibly choked up, and that’s when Clash knows that it’s real. That he’s dying. “There’s no way it didn’t hit lung, and I— haar’chak, ” his brother’s voice breaks. “I can’t fix this.”

The seal on his helmet pops and there’s a hand on his cheek. Ditz. Clash leans into it even as he gropes for Bend, too.

“S’alright,” he rasps, and ka’ra, Bend must have been right about the lungs because digging for breath is like raking his innards across hot coals. “Hey, hey, Bend, s’alright.”

“No,” Ditz says, and then again, firmer, like it’s an order, “ No.”

“Hey, Ditzy, you gotta’,” he doesn’t have the breath for it, doesn’t have the breath to finish what he’s saying, and he has to gasp wetly for air, tasting blood on his tongue. “You gotta’ go. Fall back, alright? Everybody, okay?” 

“No!” Ditz shouts, wild with his anger, and how could he have ever looked at his brother and not known? 

What’s in the Jedi is in him, too. He’s something so, so much bigger than them.

Hands, pressing in and on his wound and it hurts so much he screams without breath to scream. It’s Ditz, always Ditz, wriggling into space that isn’t there but Clash will accommodate him, always, forever. His Ditzy. 

“You stay with me,” he’s demanding, insistent. “You stay with us.”

“You gotta’ go, Ditzy,” Clash rasps, or hopes he does. Everything is failing him all at once, but his brother is so radiant. Made of light, his Ditzy.

That coiled-up presence in his mind swells like a flood. It feels like hands, reaching for his own across an impossible distance, and Clash will never not follow his brother’s lead.

I’m not leaving you, Ditzy says, but Clash can’t tell if he says it aloud or in his mind.

Okay, Clash thinks, because Ditz is as stubborn as they come and he’s never changed his mind about a damn thing after he’s made it up. He isn’t quite sure what he’s agreeing to. Can’t feel much of anything, now either, not even the pain. But it’s important he listens. His Ditzy is always listening. Listening to impossible songs Clash can’t hear. 

The grip changes, as does the hold. Ditz isn’t holding him, no, he’s pulling and Clash—

Hands in his wound, grasping, pulling, demanding— 

Please, Clash. 

Okay, Ditz. Okay. 

The world fizzles out with a beautiful hum. 

 


 

And explodes into light again— 

 


 

There isn’t any time. None at all. 

He was dying. And now he’s not.

Clash hefts an unconscious— please, please let him just be unconscious —Ditz over his shoulder as Bughead and Tricky throw down a desperate round of cover-fire. Reinforcements are coming, they’re close enough that Clash can hear them, they just need to move. Bend takes point, covering Clash’s other side as they move, and finally, finally, they’re running, falling back.

It’s only seconds before they’re overtaken by reinforcements, brothers in identical armor rushing in to finish the job while they retreat. They fall back behind the new line, Bughead a blur of sound over comms relaying their position and shouting down the whole planet for a medic. 

Gods, they’re gonna make it, and Clash knows it’s true because if Ditzy was dead his whole world would have collapsed with him, and so he must be alive because Clash is still running, his brothers are still running. Carrying on would be impossible if Ditz were to leave the. All of his brothers are standing save for Ditz, and Ditz is exactly where he belongs because Clash has him, has got him in his arms and wouldn’t let go for anything. 

He hears the lightsaber before he sees it. 

“What do you think you’re doing, Trooper?” 

General Krell is an enormous being. His lightsaber throws green light across Clash’s still-shiny armor in the shade of the forest, and the strength of his full attention burns like the fire roaring at Clash’s back. 

And Clash knows. It’s an animal thing—the deepest instinct any sentient has.  

You will kill me, he thinks, looking into the besalisk’s cold yellow eyes. You will kill me and you will enjoy it.

“Orders from the Captain, General,” Tricky lies easily, fluidly, giving a perfect salute while Clash’s entire world reorients around the fact that he is prey and the General is a predator. “The terrain ahead is unstable enough as-is without bodies clogging up cover spots, Sir.” 

General Krell hums. “Very well, Trooper.” And to Clash, he orders, crisp and dismissive, “Leave it here.” And then he’s gone, walking right past them and towards the sound of battle. 

“Clash, I need you to set him down just for a second in case he looks back,” Tricky is commanding, slow and steady like he’s handling a spooked mastiff. “Now, now, now, now, now,” frantic with fear, he starts chanting, and so Clash complies, easing down Ditz’s unconscious form like doing so isn’t tearing him up inside. Clash thinks he might make a noise, a strangled sob of a thing. Even feigning it is too much. How could Clash ever just leave him?

It, General Krell had said. Leave it here. 

“Good, good, he’s gone, grab him,” and Tricky helps shoulder the weight.

And then, they’re running.

 


 

They spend the rest of the battle as far away from Krell as physically possible. Bughead monitors the channels, keeping them appraised minute-to-minute of the General’s position. Under other circumstances, it might feel like cowardice, keeping out of the fight as they are. But it can’t—it doesn’t— because Clash looked up at Krell and knew.

They don’t talk other than to relay positional information. Tricky keeps a hand clamped on the inside of Clash’s elbow, unwilling to let go. Clash supports Ditz as easy as anything. The warm, still-breathing weight of him is a comfort.

When the battle finally ends— victorious, on their side, but having sustained so many losses—he and Tricky manage to prop Ditz up between two of them, like he’s just an exhausted trooper limping and not completely out cold. They rejoin the company just like that; unremarkable armor in a sea of similarly unremarkable armor, limping towards the one and only medical tent.

It’s chaos inside, but General Krell isn’t there, and they’ll take it. 

“Status?” A medic snaps to attention, immediately pulling Ditz from their arms.

“He just—dropped,” Bend explains, visibly rattled when he tears off his helmet. “No wounds, just, out cold.”

“Shock?” the medic asks. 

“I think he exhausted himself,” Clash finds himself blurting.

“Alright. Other injuries?”

Clash’s hand drifts down to the scorch marks across his armor and the tear through his blacks, feeling only smooth scar tissue under tacky blood. Bend is covered in it—white armor drying brown with Clash’s own blood.

“No,” Clash offers after a strained moment of silence. “No others.”

“And the blood?” The medic raises a pierced eyebrow in Bend’s direction even as he shifts Ditz to a cot laid out on the ground.

“Not ours,” Tricky interjects.

Just then, the flap on the tent rises. Captain Beeps storms in, face dark like thunder clouds. He and the medic exchange quick words before Beeps is reaching for a med-kit of his own, going exactly where the medic directs him. It’s almost astonishing to see an officer bossed around by a medic.

Clash lowers his head, looking back to Ditz. “Can we stay?” 

“Only if you’re useful,” the medic answers without looking at him. “Your friend is fine, by the way. From what I can tell, he’s just unconscious. If we had the equipment or the supplies, I’d look for swelling in the brain, but we don’t, so I can’t. Either he’ll wake or he won’t. We’ve only got two more kits left, go grab them.”

It’s good to have something to do, even if it’s only holding a brother’s hand as they pass so that they aren’t alone. That’s what they end up doing most. There’s only so much that bacta can do, especially in such short supply. Bend coaxes Clash through how to stitch up a wound and their work is gruesome looking, but ultimately deemed acceptable. Hypos are easy enough to administer, although they run out of painkillers first with the number of burns that they’re tasked with treating. If the tent is not silent, it’s filled with moans of pain, whispers as Tricky holds a brother’s hand and murmurs, “It’s alright, I’ve got you. Udesiir, vod. Ni partayli, gar darasuum.” Clash doesn’t know how much time passes, going from vod to vod, bumping shoulders with his squad and with their Captain, but eventually, Ditz wakes up.

He lurches upright with a gasp, though Clash feels him wake, first. The space in Clash’s head usually reserved for his brother lights up with fear-panic-fear and he’s lurching for him before Ditz can even make a sound.

But wherever Ditz is, it isn’t here. 

Fear-panic-fear enough to make Clash nauseous and— 

He sees it the moment it happens. Ditz, spooked by the proximity of the Captain to his bedside, throws up his hands.

“Ditz, don’t!”

And the Captain goes flying across the tent without having ever been touched at all.

He hits the side of a supply crate hard enough to dent it and goes to his knees, eyes wide with shock. The entire tent holds its breath, utterly frozen. Even Ditz is staring sightlessly at his hands like they’re some unpredictable foreign entity. 

“I—I don’t,” he stutters, face blank and pale, “I’m sorry.” Then, he turns his head. “Clash,” he sobs.

Clash goes, helpless not to. Ditz folds into his side, hiding his face in Clash’s neck and hand finding the wound-that-was-but-isn’t, shoulders shaking.

A click. A blaster, drawn.

Bughead stands between them and the Captain, blaster primed but barrel pointing down. Clash watches a bead of sweat roll down from his brother’s sweaty, matted hair towards the line of his blacks. “I won’t let you take him,” he threatens, low. 

Slowly, Beeps raises his hands. “Okay. Okay, trooper, stand down. I’m not going to take him.”

“He saved him,” Bughead chokes, shifting on his feet like he would lunge at the slightest provocation. “Clash was hit fatally and Ditz healed him. You can’t—you can’t send him back to Kamino. They’ll rip him apart.”

“I won’t send him back to Kamino. Vod’ika, drop the blaster.”

“C’mon, kid,” the medic soothes, placating. “We’re brothers. We can’t be pointing that thing at each other.” 

“He’s my brother,” Bughead croaks. “You can’t take him.”

Ditz pulls away, standing and slowly making his way between Bughead and the Captain. Bughead is crying. Clash has never seen him cry before. Not once. Not even as cadets.

“Bugs, it’s alright,” Ditz is saying, wrapping gentle hands around the blaster and Bughead’s hands both. “It’s alright.” And Ditz must be communicating with him through the Force, because after another tense few moments, Bughead lets out a ragged breath more like a sob than anything else. Ditz takes the blaster from him with ease and thumbs on the safety.

“Fierfeck,” the Captain breathes, awed. “Haar’chak, vod, you have the Force.” 

Ditz winces. “I’m sorry I—I’ve never… moved anything before.”

“Who else knows?” the Captain asks as he gets to his feet. The medic, whose name Clash still does not know, quickly swoops in and checks his head for any trauma.

“Just us,” Clash’s throat is desert dry. “Only our squad, Sir. And now you.”

The Captain seems thoughtful, although his expression is grim. “Alright, good. Good. We can work with that.” 

“Sir?” Ditz turns, hands clenched almost as tight as Clash’s own.

There is fire in his eyes when the Captain lifts his head. “I’m getting you out. If you stay, sooner or later, the General will find out. And none of you will be safe.” Another beat, a breath. “I’m getting you out.”

“You want us to go? To desert?” Tricky hisses. Bend flinches at the thought. Clash carefully doesn’t react. He gropes for Bughead’s hand and they grip each other hard as they can bear to.

“No. But I can change your CT numbers, mark yours as dead. And I can transfer you out of this battalion.”

“How? Only generals have that clearance,” Bughead croaks. His face is still wet and red with tears.

“Not just generals. The Marshall Commander can, too. And he owes me a favor. General Krell won’t even notice. We’re set to rendezvous with the 212th in a few days. The locals want to negotiate with the Republic. When they arrive, you’ll join them,” he explains, the plan taking shape even as he speaks.

“Why?” Clash blurts. Something like hope is rising in him and he refuses to let it rise in vain. If this won’t work... If this isn’t real... “Why would you do that? If Krell finds out—”

“He won’t,” Captain Beeps says, firm as beskar. “As for why? Because I can . The times that I can help don’t make up for the times that I can’t, but it’s something. It has to be worth something.” 

They all hear the unspoken. 

Please, let this be worth something. 

 


 

Everything goes exactly as planned. 

When Bughead shows him the records, their own CT numbers marked as deceased— killed in action —Clash doesn’t feel anything. Those numbers have never really been them, not really.

“I didn’t tell them anything,” Captain Beeps says, clasping Ditz’s arm in a Mandalorian goodbye. “All the Commander knows is that your squad caught General Krell’s attention in a bad way.”

“Thank you,” Ditz says with a smile, and grips back tight. “Thank you.”

Captain Beeps carries such a heaviness to him. Clash didn’t understand at first, but he does now. Gods, does he understand now . They make their goodbyes quick, expecting Commander Cody any moment now. They’ll board the 212th dropship back to the Negotiator up in atmo.

“Koy’aci,” the Captain offers. 

“Koy’aci,” Clash echoes back. He hesitates, for a moment. Swallows. And turns back around. “Captain? All I’ve ever wanted was to keep him safe. Thank you for giving us a chance.” 

Something like a smile flickers at the edge of the Captain’s lips. He nods back and Clash knows he’s understood. 

When the transport lands, General Kenobi and a handful of men painted in brilliant 212th gold disembark, heading straight for General Krell’s tent. Clash keeps his head down, too nervous about drawing attention to themselves to want to look at the General and evaluate the rumors for himself. There will be time for that, later. But he still hears Ditz’s small, smothered gasp when he sees General Kenobi. His brother freezes in place. Clash curses their helmets. He wishes he could get a read on Ditz’s expression. 

“Ditz?” he whispers, nudging the back of his hand.

Commander Cody exchanges a few words with Captain Beeps, but Clash doesn’t hear what is said. 

He only has eyes for Ditz and the wonder in his voice when he breathes out, head still turned in the direction of General Kenobi, “He feels like sunlight.


 

According to Ditz, General Kenobi’s ship feels worlds different from the Stalwart. Clash may not have the Force, but he can notice the visible differences himself. 

The 212th troopers paint their armor. They walk around the ship in blacks, they walk around bucketless. They have their hair cut in all sorts of ways, tattoos of all manner and in all places, piercings, hair color… Clash even notices a trooper wearing what looks like eyeliner.  

Even their barracks feel like a home, not at all the sterile quarters of the Stalwart; from little trinkets to non-GAR issued blankets in colors of all kinds to actual printed photos tacked up on walls, there is personality to be found in every corner of the vode spaces on the Negotiator.

Kark, there’s even an actual lounge!

Their Sarge has a little cartoon of a twi’lek painted on the side of his helmet. Beyond that, he has a shiny bald head and a small patch of facial hair on his chin—distinguished from others both in armor and out of it. That sort of thing seems to be the norm in the 212th. It’s almost unfathomable, after Krell.

He introduces himself as Waxer. 

He doesn’t give them any rules, not like Beeps did when they joined his company. He just tells them the basics; where their bunks are, where the cafeteria is, where the showers are, and where they can get their assignments. He’s friendly. Upbeat. Different.

Where is the catch? Clash wonders as he settles into a bunk, his brothers all around him. Vode from all over the barracks swing by to introduce themselves. A pilot with neon-pink hair and a bird tattooed on his arm even openly flirts with Tricky, who stammers and blushes but eventually grins back, sharklike.

Where is the catch? 

Ditz leans into his side and knocks their heads together, gently. “It feels so alive, here. Everything is so warm,” he murmurs.

Where is the catch?

A few hours later, Commander Cody calls their squad to a small conference room. They each hurry to throw on their buckets so they can speak privately as they walk, deciding what to say under what circumstances.

“We don’t tell anyone,” Bughead says. “They don’t need to know.”

“Things seem so different, here. What if Kenobi really is like they say? What if—” Tricky tries, only to be cut off by Clash himself.

“We can’t take that risk.”

Krell, looking down at him, cold. Leave “it” here.

“We just can’t,” he repeats, groping for Ditz’s hand and squeezing once.

They haven’t talked about what happened. They haven’t talked about his death-that-almost-was. Clash wouldn’t know what to say if they did. 

Commander Cody and Sargent Waxer are the only two people in the conference room. Both are without their helmets.

“Take a seat,” Waxer suggests, smiling. He seems so genuine. Clash still feels cold.

“I want you to be honest with me,” the Commander begins, his face unreadable. Clash occupies himself by tracing the scar that curls around the Commander’s brow with his eyes. “And I’ll be honest with you. I don’t know anything about your situation. Captain Beeps sent me an encrypted message cashing in an old favor, but he wouldn’t say much. I’ve heard things about General Krell. I’ve heard that he treats clones no better than droids. I’ve heard that he intentionally cripples his medics’ ability to provide any kind of aid. I’ve heard that he hardly prepares for battles at all. I won’t push for what happened with your squad, not if you don’t want to share it. But, for the sake of all the vode, I want to know if the rumors are true.”

Ditz twitches at Clash’s side. A muscle in Bughead’s jaw jumps, but he says nothing. Bend is impenetrable, as always. It’s Tricky who answers.

“With all respect, Commander, we weren’t with General Krell’s company for long. I don’t think we have the information you’re looking for,” and Clash feels cold.

“Anything you can tell me might help build a case against him,” Commander Cody urges. “Even something that feels insignificant could be something important.”

But they can’t. They can’t afford the attention that those kinds of allegations would bring. 

Clash thinks of that med tent, thinks of the medic who never offered his name and their Captain, streaked in ash and blood, rolling up his sleeves and patching up the wounded because no one else was there to do it. He thinks of the hands he held, the injuries he saw, and the fact that not all of them could be explained by blasters and fire. He thinks about the quiet halls of the Stalwart, the colorless bunk room, the little touches and kisses and gestures hidden in the quiet and in the dark.

“We aren’t looking to make waves, Sir,” Tricky says with a smile that is intended to be disarming. “We’re just grateful to be here.”

Commander Cody stares at them in inscrutable silence for a few more moments.

“Alright. You’re dismissed,” he acquiesces. “And if you ever change your minds, you know where to find me.” 

Clash hesitates at the door, heart pounding. When Ditz looks back at him, he urges him forward, “Go on, I’ll catch up.” 

Tricky shoots him a look. It says, don’t be stupid. 

Bughead takes Ditz by the arm and leads him away with a nod. Bughead understands. He always has. Ditzy is important. He’s so, so important. Protecting him is a duty that comes even before their duty to the Republic. (Tricky and Bend had been affronted at the idea of deserting, but Clash would have done it in a heartbeat. Just as Bughead would draw on a superior officer, he would spend the rest of his life branded a traitor if it meant Ditz would be safe. It sets the two of them apart from the squad, Clash and Bughead. They’ve always been willing to put whatever it takes on the line, and kriff the rest.)

Clash turns to face the Commander and his Sergeant, and swallows down bile. He can’t look at them, not in the eyes, and so he aims his face in their direction, lets his gaze go unfocussed, and hopes for the best.

“During the battle, I was carrying an injured brother out of the line of fire when General Krell stopped me. He told me to ‘leave it’ there. I pretended to set him down, but I couldn’t. As soon as General Krell was gone, I picked up my brother and I ran.” 

Clash closes his eyes against the wave of nausea that threatens to rise. Clenching his fists, he says, “I want no part of any case against Krell. None of us do. Frankly, I never want to be anywhere near him again. He could have killed me. And I think he would have.” And that’s if I hadn’t died earlier that day. A breath, a beat. “All I want is to keep my brothers safe.”

He doesn’t wait for their response. Can’t look at their faces. Clash turns and exits the room. He said what he needed to say. All he wants is to keep his brothers safe. His family.

(What about the brothers still under Krell’s command? A voice whispers.)

Ditz says the ship feels warm to him. Said it’s full of light, full of song. 

All Clash feels is cold.





They adapt.

Hells, they even manage to relax a bit.

Bughead grows his hair out to a length he’s always wanted, although it’s slow going and currently at an awkward length curling just under his ears. Tricky makes fast-friends with the brother that flirted with him that first day, a pilot named Jet, and Tricky even dyes his own hair pink on a dare. Bend starts shadowing one of the medics in his free-time, and even Ditz feels comfortable enough to sleep in his own bunk a few nights a week, not always crammed into Clash’s under the cover of darkness, even if no one in the 212th would even care. (Hells, just the other day, Clash spotted a group of four troopers, mattresses piled on the floor, having sex right there out in the open on the barrack floors. All anyone did was jeer good-naturedly, or, in Tricky and Jet’s case, call out pointers.)

It really is a whole other world aboard the Negotiator.

After a few months of battles that don’t feel like death-marches, a ship that doesn’t feel like a prison, and glimpses of the General with the commander—genuine smiles, small, lingering touches, a real and palpable camaraderie if not more— Clash starts to relax, too.

It’s still war. It’s still war and there are losses, but nothing like they’ve seen under Krell. 

Clash eventually gets his hair cut—an undercut, long enough on the top for a small nerf-tail and buzzed short on the underside. And then he gets a tattoo.

A 212th brother named Scratch tattoos Ditz’s handprint over the scar on Clash’s side. His wound-that-was-almost-fatal. Ditz sits with him through the whole process, hand clenched in Clash’s own, his eyes shiny with unshed tears.

(I love you, Clash doesn’t say. He’s been missing him in his bed, lately. And he’s seen what his Sarge and Sargent Boil have. Clash wants it, wants that kind of love. He wants him. )

After the tattoo, Ditz and Clash lay together on top of the covers in Clash’s bed. The beds are just slightly bigger than the pods back on Kamino, but they still lay with their shoulders touching. 

“I don’t want to be different,” Ditz confesses. “I never asked for this. I hate how you all feel that you have to protect me. You don’t need to sacrifice anything for me, Clash. Especially not yourself. You’ve been doing it since we were small. I just want to be me. And I want you to get to be you.

“Oh, Ditzy,” Clash murmurs, tugging him closer. The fresh ink splayed across his ribs stings. It’s nothing like the bone-deep ache Clash has for him . “I am me. Protecting you is part of me.”

“I don’t know what I would have done, if you died,” Ditz whispers. He touches impossibly gentle fingers to the smarting ink on his ribs. 

I love you, Clash thinks, wishing he was brave enough to say it, as brave as his Ditzy, and pulls his brother closer. 

 




General Kenobi gets captured by a group of local insurgents during their next campaign. One minute, he’s there where he always is, at the very front of the battle carving into droid after droid, pulling men from the line of fire, shouting orders into his comm. And the next, the ground beneath the army’s feet caves in, sending them all scrambling for solid ground, and he isn’t.

In the aftermath of the sinkhole—triggered by charges set strategically around the abandoned, apocalyptic-looking city that has become their battlefield—no one can find him. It isn’t until the ransom appears a full ten hours later that the battalion finds out what happened.

“They’ve apparently got a pharmaceutical stock strong enough to keep the General down,” Waxer relays to them, grim faced. “And I’ve seen him shake off seds like no other.”

“What do they want?” Bughead asks. He’s come to care for Kenobi, in their time with the 212th. All of them have, in their own way. It isn’t precisely what Clash had imagined for them, back before they left Kamino. They’ve all been marked by General Krell and that blind faith in the Jedi will likely never return. On his darker days, Clash thinks that maybe Krell broke them, and the family that the rest of the 212th seems to find here will never exist for them, not in the same way. But Kenobi is good, they all know it. And Ditz even feels it.

“Money,” Waxer sighs. “And a lot of it. Way more than the Senate will give up, even for the General.”

“But he’s on the Council,” Tricky splutters, affronted. “What about the Jedi?”

“Politics, likely,” Bughead interjects, and continues when Waxer nods with a sigh. “If the Senate says no, the Jedi can’t move, either.”

“It’s up to us to find him,” Waxer confirms. “We have until the Senate pulls us out. Cody is trying to get ahold of Skywalker as we speak. Bughead, why don’t you join Peak and Trapper—see if you can pick up anything on the radio.” 

It’s chaos. The whole kriffing planet is a warzone—seps, sep-supporting locals, Republic-aligned locals, and insurgents who want them all gone, regardless of their alignment in the greater conflict—and even things that should be easy, like locating a single Jedi in one single (mostly abandoned) city, are unfathomably complicated. It’s becoming increasingly clear as the days creep forward: Kenobi has all but vanished . Whoever has him covered their tracks well.

The longer he’s gone, the less time they have before the Senate calls the whole campaign a bust and pulls the 212th out without their General. Commander Cody has been trying to get in touch with Skywalker, but apparently the 501st General is on a communications black-out while conducting a highly sensitive mission on behalf of the Chancellor himself, and it’s looking more and more unlikely that they’ll reach him before their hands are tied.

“Kriff,” Cody mutters, scowling down at a holomap of the city. Their squad has ended up working closely with the Commander these last few days because of Waxer’s position. It’s jarring, to see the unflappable Marshall Commander so rattled.

Kenobi’s disappearance is taking a toll on the whole battalion, but none are taking it as hard as Cody.

“Sir,” Ditz starts, standing from where he’d been pouring over flimiplast maps with Bend. “I think I might have something.”

Clash’s heart sinks.

“Ditzy—”

“I think I can find him,” Ditz says, and the whole command tent falls silent.

“Ditz,” Bughead hisses, reaching for his arm to pull him back.

“Sorry about him, Sirs,” Tricky is already saying, talking a mile-a-minute, but Ditz just plows right on. 

“Commander, I think I can find him,” Ditz repeats, louder, jaw set. He shakes off Bughead’s hand. “I’m doing this,” he declares, eyes finding Clash’s. “You’ve all spent our whole lives trying to protect me. I’ve felt General Krell. I’ve seen what a Jedi like him can do. And I’ve felt our general, too. He’s worth it. And I think I can save him.” Again, softer, “He’s worth it.”

(He feels like sunlight.)

“I don’t understand,” Cody is saying, brow creased deeply.

“I’m Force-sensitive,” Ditz says, and it takes all the breath out of Clash’s chest to hear him admit it to a room of leadership that could get him decommissioned, sent back to Kamino. “I think I can find the General by his Force-signature. I know what he feels like and I think, if I was on-ground in the city, I might be able to follow it to him.”

“You’re what?” Sargent Boil barks out, disbelieving. Waxer just stares, jaw dropped.

“You have the Force?” Cody repeats, slow and measured, like if Ditz says the wrong thing, he’ll punch a hole right through his chest. The bags under the Commander’s eyes are so dark. His patience looks so thin.

They don’t believe him.

Ditz closes his eyes with a heavy exhale. And he raises his hand. The conference table rises with the motion, teetering four feet off the ground. 

Ditz sets it back down with a clatter. It’s louder than any gunshot. 

“I think I can find him. I have to try.”

“Okay,” Commander Cody says, voice tight. “Okay. We’ll try.”






“I’m sorry, but I have to do this,” Ditz whispers. They’ve stolen a moment, tucked between the command tent and the wall of an abandoned building the 212th has long since secured as part of their ground-camp. Clash wasn’t selected to be part of the party going into the city. It’s Ditz, the Marshall Commander, their Sarge, and six ARCs.

For the first time, Ditz is marching somewhere that Clash can’t follow. 

It threatens to drown him.

“You come back to us,” Clash demands, pressing them together crown-to-crown. “Alright? You come back to us.”

“Hey,” Ditz begins, a smile pulling at the corners of his lips. His hair has started to get long enough that it is practically a riot of tight curls. Neither of them have showered in a few days and his hair doesn’t smell good, but it’s Ditz and Clash wants to pull everything of his into his lungs, into his chest, and keep it there forever. 

A thumb brushes his cheek as Ditz cups his face. “I’ll come back. There’s no way I’ll die before I can convince you to kiss me.”

It punches a sound out of Clash like a sob. “Ditzy, I—”

“I know,” Ditz murmurs, the press of his mind to Clash’s own is the tenderest touch he’s ever known. “And you can tell me when I get back, no matter what happens after.” They pull apart, breaking the sustained keldabe kiss. Ditz’s smile is brave. Radiant. “Don’t worry, Clash. The Force is with me.”

I love you, Clash thinks. 

He watches the convoy disappear into the greater city, crawling with all manner of seps, spies, and insurgents, and hopefully, somewhere, their General.

Don’t go anywhere I can’t follow.



 

The convoy returns fourteen hours later. Their whole squad is running for it as soon as they hear the engines of the speeder bikes and the ground transport, and Clash’s whole world becomes whole again when a beaming Ditz launches himself off the back of one of the speeders and crashes into his arms. 

“We got him,” Ditz is saying, over and over, giddy with it. “We got him.” His armor is streaked dirty with mud and dust, but he’s beaming, and his body is warm and real and alive under Clash’s hands.

Bughead stifles a sound like a sob into the back of Ditz’s head, squeezing him hard on the other side. The whole squad presses him in between them, and they simply hang on.

No matter what comes next, no matter what the Commander or the General decide about their brother, they’ll face it together.

I love you, Clash hears echo across his mind, and he finds Ditz already watching him, smiling. 

When Ditz tugs him forward, Clash goes. The touch of his lips is everything. 

“Keep it in your plants, please,” Tricky grumbles, knocking their heads together gently as the kiss breaks, Ditz giggling like he’s still a starry-eyed cadet. “Some of us don’t want to watch you two suck face.”

“Speak for yourself,” Bughead jeers. “I’m just happy that they’re finally in the doing-something stage of the pining.”

And no matter what comes next, Clash knows they’ll face it together.




 

They don’t sleep. The five of them wait, exhausted but wired, for someone to tell them what happens now. Their earlier giddy relief has worn off and they all fear the worst, now that the dust has settled. What do you do with a Force-sensitive clone? What do you do with someone that, by all rights, shouldn’t exist? Nothing they can imagine is good. 

Ditz dozes lightly, if it can even be called that, against Clash’s shoulder. The sun has already set, the camp has been secured, and the Senate has been informed that the General has been rescued. All that’s left is the terrible waiting.

“Try not to almost shoot the Marshall Commander,” Bend whispers to Bughead as the man in question exits the medical tent and heads their way.

“I’ll shoot who I must,” Bughead hisses, even as they all scramble to their feet. True to form, his hand twitches towards his blaster.

“Sir,” Ditz greets him with a wan smile.

“The General would like to see you,” Cody says.

Ditz makes an attempt at a reassuring smile—and that’s his Ditzy, always trying to reassure them even when facing down the metaphorical firing squad—squeezing Clash’s hand. “I’ll be alright.”

“All of you,” Cody interrupts, raising an eyebrow. 

Together, Clash thinks, taking a fortifying breath, and doesn’t let Ditz’s hand go. 

The private medical tent is occupied by a large cot, which in turn is occupied by a very thin, very pale-looking Kenobi. He leverages himself into a sitting position as they enter, blue eyes bright for all that he looks like utter shit.

This is the closest Clash has ever gotten to the General himself. The man’s hair seems to glow orange even in the low light of the tent. There’s something about him that makes you look and go, simply: wow. It’s the same quality that Clash has always thought Ditz possessed. The otherness that comes from living with another sense that the rest of the galaxy doesn’t have. The other-wordly grace of the Force.

How could anyone have ever looked at Ditz and not seen it? 

“Sir,” Ditz begins.

“Hello,” Kenobi says, smiling. “Are you Ditz? I’d apologize for not quite remembering you, but I’m under strict instructions to, and I quote, ‘stop apologizing for being kidnapped and drugged off my useless shebs .”

“Damn right you are,” Helix grumbles from the corner where he’s doing something or another with a microscope. 

That is a whole mess none of them are equipped to handle—especially not the implication that the CMO might be bullying the general.  

“Yeah, that’s me, Sir. I’m Ditz.” His brother takes a shaky breath. “Sir, no matter what you decide to do with me, please, leave my brothers out of it. They only ever wanted to help.”

“‘Do with you’?” Kenobi blinks, confused.

“I’m a clone, Sir,” Ditz says, quiet but steady, “and clones can’t be Force-sensitive.”

“But you are. Now that I’m looking, I can tell, ” Kenobi gentles. And then, asks, “May I?”

Ditz takes a moment, but eventually, he nods. Clash knows the moment that Ditz’s shields have dropped. Kenobi’s eyes go wide and he gasps, quiet but there.

“Oh,” the General breathes. Ditz shivers, head to toe. Clash wonders what it must be like, to be buffeted on all sides by the presence of this man.

“You’re brilliant,” Kenobi murmurs, beaming. No one but their squad have ever looked at Ditz like that, like he was something special, something of value. “You’re absolutely brilliant. Your control is just remarkable, given that you have no formal training. It’d be an honor to help you, if you’d like.”

“Sir?” Ditz squeaks. “I don’t understand. Aren’t—you aren’t going to decommission me?”

Decom—? Gods, no,” Kenobi breathes, appearing genuinely shocked—genuinely angry at the thought, just as angry as Clash himself feels when he tries to imagine it. “Ditz, of course not. I’d like to offer to teach you, if you’ll have me, but now I rather think that there is something far more important to discuss.” His brow furrows. He folds his hands carefully. “So, let me ask you, Ditz, what do you want?”

It is a question that none of them have ever heard before.

We’re clones, Clash thinks, looking at this General who is defying every single expectation in the span of minutes. We’re clones, and you’re asking us what we want. 

Clash watches tears spill over his brother's eyes, cascading down his cheeks. 

“I want to protect my brothers,” Ditz sobs, squeezing Clash’s hand so tight it aches. He grips right back.

“Of course,” Kenobi smiles. “Then Ditz, let me promise you, on my honor as a Jedi, you and your brothers are under my protection.”

Ditz sobs, collapsing to his knees like his strings have been cut. “Thank you,” he gasps, and Clash curls around him like he could hold him together with his arms alone. “Thank you.” Bughead piles on, followed closely by Tricky, and by Bend, who’s wiping tears off his own cheeks.  

“Udesii, Ditzy,” Clash murmurs, pulling him tight. “We’ll be alright. We’re gonna be alright.”

And for the first time in a very long time, Clash even believes it.







EPILOGUE



Even after Ditz and his squad shuffle off to get some much needed and well deserved rest, Cody remains. Even when Helix goes to bed, giving Obi-Wan yet another stern talking to about not being a kriffin’ di’kut and calling if you’re in pain, Cody stays. When Obi-Wan buries his face in his hands and sighs, dropping every pretense of being a man that is put-together, Cody is there to place a hand on his shoulder.

“Obi-Wan,” Cody says, gentle.

“How did we miss this?” Obi-Wan breathes, cursing himself and the Kaminoans and the whole damned council up and down. “How did we miss this? All this time, a force-sensitive clone… Cody.”

“I know,” he says, and he does. Obi-Wan can feel the tension running through him as easily as he can feel his own. “We have him now. We’ll take care of them.” 

“Yes, we will,” Obi-Wan affirms. He couldn’t fathom doing anything else. He can’t bear to think of all the ways the Jedi have failed the vode. This is just another damning bullet point on an already unbearably long list. 

Suddenly feeling every bit as tired and sore as he is, Obi-Wan shuffles as far to the edge of the cot as he can, holding out a hand for Cody to shuffle in after him. They both need reassurance, tonight. And it isn’t as though Helix doesn’t already know about their relationship.

“It makes you wonder what else we’ve missed,” Cody whispers into the bacta-smelling sleeve of Obi-Wan’s robes.

They drift off together, buffeted on all sides by the song of the vode in the Force. And their sleep is peaceful for it.