Rex ushered Ahsoka into his room and shut the door behind her, his knees aching in protest against the short distance he'd walked to find some privacy. Ahsoka strode into the room with her typical self-possession and sat on his bed—the only piece of furniture available. Rex hobbled inside and carefully lowered himself down beside her, stubbornly refusing the hand she held out to help him.
He wondered what she saw in this little room of his. It was tiny and almost painfully utilitarian, but Rex found it comforting. He'd never had much personal space-not in the Grand Army of the Republic, not in hiding after Order 66, and not with the Rebellion.
His old helmet rested on the small table next to his bed, each tally and scratch marring its surface as familiar as his own face. Next to it was a holo of the 501st with him, General Skywalker, and Ahsoka at the front of the ranks. There was a lot of pain behind that image, but it contained people he never wanted to forget.
"Rex, why not just give it a try?" Ahsoka asked, breaking the silence.
Rex sighed. "I'm old and tired, and it probably won't work."
"You being old and tired is exactly the problem I'm trying to fix," she said.
"It's not a problem, it's just the natural order of things."
"Pardon me, but whatever genetic mutations they made to tweak your aging were not natural."
Rex shrugged. "Natural to the clones, at least. We weren't—aren't—like other humans. We have our own normal."
Ahsoka's shoulders slumped and her eyes fell to her lap. "So what, you don't want to live longer? You're just giving up? What do you have to lose?"
Rex was silent for a long moment, and the air pressed down on him with the weight of the electrical storm outside.
"I don't have a deathwish," he said slowly, solemnly. "Something that self destructive wouldn't be desirable programming for the perfect soldier." Rex picked up the chip that projected the holo of the 501st and held it in his hands, the holo projecting into his face and casting his old, weathered features into the middle of the bygone group. "But sometimes I think it would have been better if I'd gone down on the ship with them."
Ahsoka tensed on the bed beside him, and he knew without looking that her features were closing up the way they always did when she was trying to hide her feelings. It was no use, of course. He knew what he'd said had hurt her. He'd said it anyway, trusting her resilience. He knew she could handle pain.
"I've thought long and hard about that day, and I don't have any easy answers," Ahsoka said. "My life isn't worth the hundreds of lives lost on that ship. Does that mean I should have just let you kill me? How would things have been different if I hadn't released Maul?
"I still don't know the answer. What I do know is that everyone serving on that ship cared about each other and was loyal to each other. It wasn't our fault—any of it. We were all put in a situation where we had to make impossible choices—choices that hurt and killed either way. And the only person at fault for that was Darth Sidious."
Rex half-listened as images of the past flashed before his eyes: men congratulating each other on another successful mission after Mandalore, Jesse convincing the medical droid he should be cleared for duty after being tortured by Maul, a line of orange-painted helmets, all chasing down the very woman they'd meant to honor. These were his last memories of his brothers. His genetics and training had rendered him essentially immune to battle-induced mental illness, but not to sorrow.
Rex put the holo chip back on the little nightstand and closed his eyes, squeezing them shut to halt the torrent of memories. It was already so long ago—how had time passed so quickly?
Ahsoka seemed to be waiting for Rex to say something, but after several beats of silence she continued on herself. "Rex, do you really wish you'd died that day?"
"No," Rex said, and as he said it he realized the truth of it. "What I wish most is that I'd taken Fives' warning more seriously. Maybe all of this could have been prevented. No, I don't regret living through Order 66. I just don't always feel like I deserved to survive."
Ahsoka stood quickly from the bed and Rex looked up at her, startled at her anxious energy. She rounded on him, her big blue eyes steeled and flinty, and she brought her hands to her hips like she was a commander again, about to chew out a shiny for a rookie mistake.
"Maybe we don't deserve to be the last ones standing, but we are," she said, "And I'll be damned if I let that go to waste. For Fives, for Jesse, for Tup, for Echo… I'm going to seize whatever happiness is offered me and I'm going to drag you with me if I have to."
Rex's eyes grew wide and he drew his mouth to a line, not sure what to say in the face of such fire. Maybe once he would have argued back with her, but he felt too old to withstand her now. She was right, after all. Rex's survivor's guilt wasn't serving anyone. It certainly wasn't helping any of his dead brothers.
Reading the resignation on his face, Ahsoka's fire dimmer and her face softened. She sighed and knelt down in front of Rex, taking one of his wrinkled hands in hers. It was a foreign gesture to Rex—he'd never had a mother or father to reach for him like this, and this wasn't his brothers' way of showing affection. It felt nice, if a bit unnatural.
"Look, I'm sorry," Ahsoka said gently. "If you really don't want to do it I'm not going to force you. But I'm probably going to live another few decades at least, and if there's any chance you can get through those decades with me then I'll take it."
Rex looked into her eyes, the blue gone soft now that the fire was gone. She had that tenderness about her that he'd always admired—not many people could be as tough as Ahsoka without losing some empathy. Another image of that fateful day returned to him, and he saw Ahsoka standing in front of the graves of his brothers, face hooded and tears in her eyes. He hadn't abandoned her then, and he wouldn't abandon her now.
He turned his brittle fingers in her grasp and wove them between hers. "Alright then. Let's give it a shot."
Ahsoka and Rex returned to the living room only to find the child and the Mandalorian asleep on the couch, the small green baby resting atop the Mandalorian's chest as he reclined on the cushions. The child's tiny claws dug into the fabric of the Mandalorian's cloak, which had somehow spilled over his shoulder and become accessible to the child. If Rex had to guess, the tough bounty hunter had offered up his cloak as a toy to the little guy while they waited for Ahsoka and Rex to hash out their differences.
Something like regret—or maybe longing—stirred in Rex at the sight. With clone lives just above droids in terms of disposability, parenthood had never really been something worth considering to Rex or any of his brothers. Commanding and training his brothers had felt something like being a father, but Rex knew the family unit that so many normal people grew up with would never be something he'd experience himself. That was something he and Ahsoka had in common.
Heartwarming though the scene was, Rex was surprised to see the battle-hardened bounty hunter asleep in an unfamiliar home. Then he noticed the hand that slid silently down to his blaster while the Mandalorian's posture remained slumped and relaxed. That was more like it.
"Hey, Mando," Ahsoka said, and the Mandalorian—Din, Rex reminded himself—feigned groggily waking.
"Rex agreed to my plan."
Din sat up straight and set the child in his lap, cocking his head to the side. "And what exactly is your plan?"
The child babbled, and all three adults turned their eyes to him. Rex wondered how they were supposed to communicate about advanced aging and Force healing with a child that couldn't talk yet.
"I've been thinking about that since we set off for Kamino," Ahsoka said. "The Force can be used to connect to the thoughts and minds of other beings. That's how the so-called 'Jedi mind trick' works."
"So you want to do some kind of mind meld with my kid?" Din asked, one arm pulling the child closer to his chest.
"Don't worry, it's nothing sinister," Ahsoka said. "All I'll be doing is meditating next to him and seeing if he's receptive to my call."
Din let out a grunt that clearly said sure, that doesn't sound sinister at all, but didn't object.
"If it makes you feel any better, Ahsoka and her master did all kinds of strange Force stuff around me all the time, and it always seemed to work out alright," Rex said.
Ahsoka laughed, then sat down on the couch next to Din.
"If you don't mind, I'd like to spend the rest of the day trying to connect with the child. We won't work on the healing at all yet—just establishing an understanding," she said.
The Mandalorian picked the child up from his lap and stood, hesitating only briefly before placing him in the floating pram by the couch.
"Alright," he said. "He's all yours."
"Thank you," Ahsoka said.
She scooted to the side of the couch closest the pram, then found a comfortable, cross-legged position and closed her eyes. She breathed deeply through her nose, and her chest rose and fell with each breath. Din watched from over by the doorway, his side leaned against the walls and his arms crossed. Rex left them to it to putter around his small kitchen, tidying up his already-spotless home. After a half hour or so of cleaning, he ran out of things and returned to the living room. The Mandalorian was still standing over by the door, his head slumped a little forward as he watched over the two Force users' meditation session. Rex coughed, getting his attention, then gestured to him and started for the door at the other end of the room.
"Come on," he said. "If this is anything like any of her other Force meditating sessions, this could take a while."
Din followed Rex into the small kitchen and then through a hatch in the floor to the cellar.
"This is where I keep all my weapons," Rex said as he descended the ladder into the bunker-like room. "We're not underground, of course, but under water. It may not necessarily be safer than the rest of my home, but it's certainly more secret."
Din's grunt was his only response as he climbed down after Rex. Once he looked at the wide array of blasters, grappling hooks, thermal detonators, and other implements of war mounted on the walls of the cellar, however, he let out a whistle of appreciation.
"Thought you might like it," Rex said, satisfied.
"What's a man living in the middle of the ocean like you going to do with all this?" Din asked.
Rex shrugged. "Not sure. I'd like to think if I needed to I'd be able to put up a good fight, but I'm not really in shape to use most of this very effectively any more. But I'm a soldier. That's all I've ever been and that's what I'll die as. It's hard to feel like a soldier without any weapons."
"Sure you couldn't stand to part with any of it?" Din asked, picking up an EMP grenade on the shelf and admiring it.
Rex laughed. "You've got a good eye. That's a droid popper from the end of the Clone Wars. Battle droids aren't used so much nowadays, so they don't make 'em like they used to."
Din's fingers closed around the grenade. "I don't like droids," he said, then set the grenade back down on the shelf. "...most droids, at least."
"Take it if you like. I've got plenty."
"Thanks," Din said, "Maybe tomorrow I'll grab a few."
They fell silent and the Mandalorian continued to inspect Rex's impressive collection while Rex leaned against the ladder and watched.
"Don't worry too much about the little one," Rex said after a few moments. "There's no one I trust more than Ahsoka. Your kid's in good hands."
Din nodded in acknowledgment. He set a rifle he'd been inspecting back on its rack then turned to Rex, his face inscrutable as ever behind his helmet.
"Why didn't you want to be healed?" he asked.
Rex shifted on his feet, trying to decide what level of honesty he wanted to display for this near stranger. "I guess… I never expected to live as long as I already have. Doubling my lifespan now? It seems like asking too much of the universe for little old me."
"Ahsoka seems to disagree."
"Yeah," Rex said, a small smile playing at his lips. "She always saw us clones as people—sometimes even more than we did ourselves."
"Sometimes we have to take care of ourselves for the benefit of the people who care about us," Rex said.
The Mandalorian's helmet remained facing Rex for a long moment, then dipped as his gaze fell to the floor. Rex had the distinct impression he was thinking of a small green creature upstairs.
"Yeah," Din said.
Rex fixed dinner for his guests while Ahsoka meditated and Din further explored Rex's weapon-filled cellar. The three adults converged on the fried krill and seaweed soup once Rex was done, but dinner was a quick, quiet affair. They all were used to brief, efficient mealtimes meant to minimize vulnerability to attack, and each of them also seemed to have much on their minds. Once Rex finished his soup, he collected the used dishes on the table and cleaned them before heading out the door. He hadn't been around other people in so long, he was beginning to feel claustrophobic.
"The storm's passed. I'll be outside if you need me," he said as he left.
Din executed his typical silent nod, but Ahsoka rose to her feet and followed after him.
"Mind if I join you?" she asked.
"Sure," Rex said. Tired though he was, he would never say no to Ahsoka's company.
Together they made their way to the platform in front of Rex's house, and Rex rested against the railing that edged the platform and prevented the careless from falling into the sea. Ahsoka leaned next to him, her back to the railing, and looked over her shoulder at him, her face partially blocked by her lek. They'd grown so much longer than they used to be, and the blue and white pattern had lengthened and grown more complicated and distinct as she'd accumulated experience.
In my book experience outranks everything.
"How did everything go with the child?" Rex asked.
Ahsoka bobbed her head from one side to the other, her eye markings raised in uncertainty. "Alright, I guess. We've definitely communicated, but he's pretty young and it's much harder to get complex ideas across."
"So what happens next?"
"Tomorrow I want to give it a shot. It might not work right away, but I see no reason not to start trying. I also don't want to test Din's patience too much."
"OK. Will I need to do anything?" Rex asked.
Ahsoka shook her head. "Just stand there and look pretty."
One side of Rex's mouth quirked upwards. It was good to have her around again.
He looked out at the calmed ocean waters, their roiling depths now hidden beneath the surface after having been churned up by the storm. Sometimes he thought he could catch fleeting glimpses of a memory when he stared into the water—bubbles, the glare of lights, an artificial umbilical cord for sustenance.
"If it doesn't work," Rex said, leaning further out across the railing, "how do we know when to call it quits?"
Ahsoka's eyebrow markings turned downwards, and her jaw clenched. "We'll try here for a week, then Din and I should get going. But I'm going to start training the child. I'll keep coming back, keep trying again and again as the kid grows stronger."
"Until the day I die?" Rex asked.
Rex swallowed the lump in his throat, then turned around and leaned his back against the railing, matching Ahsoka's posture.
"Why all this for me? Do you know how many clones in the 501st died? I'm just another one of them, no better and no worse. If this doesn't work within a week, you should move on."
"You're not just another clone," Ahsoka said, turning towards him with flashing eyes. He always seemed to be making her angry these days. "None of you was ever 'just another clone.' Would you say that about Echo or Jesse? No. So stop saying it about yourself."
"Look, I said I would give it a try, and I'm going to hold to that. I just don't want you to waste your time and energy on this if it doesn't work."
"Rex, I have no interest in living the rest of my life without you."
"Ok Commander, you're being a little dramatic. General Skywalker rubbed off on you too much."
"This is no time for jokes!"
"Why is this upsetting you so much?"
"Because I love you!"
Rex stopped short, his eyes widening in surprise. Ahsoka was right in front of him, breathing hard and leaning forward with fists clenched behind her. Since Order 66 and especially since her time in the World Between Worlds, Ahsoka had grown into an unfailingly composed, wise and collected woman. She seemed almost like a sage or a prophetess in his eyes, untouchable and unflappable. Right now that other-worldly goddess was nowhere to be found. He hadn't seen her this emotional in decades.
Rex also tended to be on the stoic side, but he'd softened somewhat in his old age. In his youth he might have reacted to Ahsoka's confession with discomfort and leaned on titles and protocol to avoid the situation, but he'd grown enough since then to be able to meet her halfway.
"I love you too, Commander," he said with a small, affectionate smile.
He must have read something wrong, because Ahsoka frowned.
"No, you're not understanding, Rex. I love you," she insisted.
Rex's brows furrowed and he met Ahsoka's piercing gaze with uncomprehending eyes. "What?"
Ahsoka's head dropped to her chest and she sighed. The fierceness drained out of her, and when she raised her head again, there was a softness about her that Rex had never seen before. She raised a hand to Rex's cheek and stroked her thumb slowly along his leathery, aged skin, and Rex couldn't breathe.
"It came on so slowly, I don't know when I realized it. But I think I first started loving you the day you came back from the Battle of Umbara," she said. "I was sixteen, I think, and you were twelve, or twenty-four, or however you want to think about it."
Comprehension of what Ahsoka was saying—of what it meant—slowly dawned on Rex, but he still couldn't find anything to say in response. That seemed fine for now, since Ahsoka wanted to talk.
"The battle had been horrific," she continued. "I'd heard it was a bloodbath, and I was so happy to see you back safe and whole. You'd lost so many men, and been betrayed by your own Jedi general. I heard your debriefing, but I also heard from your men—from Fives and Jesse and the others who were there. You'd threaded that needle of duty to the mission and responsibility for your men masterfully. I'd never met someone so confident in their ideals, so full of integrity. I'd respected you a long time already, but that was when I started to think I might never meet someone I respected more."
Rex swallowed nervously, his pulse hitching as Ahsoka's fingers threatened to glide into the thin white hair he'd let start to grow out around the crown of his head. "I had no idea," he managed to choke out.
"And I didn't want you to know. I was a superior officer, and I wasn't supposed to have attachments, and I was certain you saw me as more of a sister than anything else… And then of course there was the bizarre age situation that I didn't know what to think about."
"But later, we were on the run together for months after the war. You never said anything," Rex said.
"I was responsible for the deaths of almost every soldier in the 501st. I was devastated, and every time I looked at you all I could feel was guilt. I didn't think you'd want me, and I didn't think I deserved you. I didn't think I deserved happiness," Ahsoka said, her other hand rising to hold his other cheek. "But I do, and so do you."
Rex met her warm gaze as long as he could, but eventually looked away. Ahsoka let go of his face and took a step backwards, giving him space to breathe. He wasn't sure if that was a tradeoff he was happy about or not.
"I don't expect anything," she said. "I just wanted you to know."
Rex's gaze fell to his gnarled, weathered hands, and his face contorted into a grimace. "Why didn't you tell me sooner?"
Ahsoka looked up sharply, a bright beam of hope cutting through her tender expression. "Do you mean…?"
Rex shook his head. "I don't know. I don't know! But I would have at least appreciated some time to figure it out."
Ahsoka's face fell. "I'm sorry."
They both fell still, and Rex turned back to face the railing so he could look out at the sea. The sun had almost disappeared behind the horizon, and the water was dark and temperamental. The day was almost gone, and time was almost up.
"You're just doing this because you want to see me young and fit, aren't you?" Rex said after a long silence, his gentle attempt at a joke easing some of the ache between them.
Ahsoka laughed a soft, half-hearted laugh. "That doesn't matter to me. Even if this doesn't work if you could accept me I'd want to spend the rest of your life with you."
It was Rex's turn to laugh. "If I could accept you?"
Ahsoka turned around to look over the sea with Rex, and her hand found his as the orange-purple sunset played out in front of them. The sky was unusually clear after the afternoon's fierce storm.
"Yes," she said simply.
Rex didn't respond, but he let his fingers tighten around hers. He couldn't just open up his tightly-wound heart all at once, and she seemed to understand that. They said no more as the last rays of sunlight disappeared beneath the horizon and the first of Kamino's three moons became visible in the darkening sky.
One celestial body died while the other ascended. Rex had spent a lot of time today thinking about the past, but maybe it was time to start considering the future.