This is a prequel to the story Luckier than We Deserve, and the first part of a series. If you want to read the other parts of the series, please look at my other works written for the Clone Wars. Thanks!
Rex only returned to the Core Worlds twice after the end of the war.
The first time was stupid. He'd been on the run, bouncing from planet to planet alone in the Outer Rim for several years when the urge had struck him. He'd been minding his own business, laying low in a seedy spaceport town when the Imps had come to town. Rex successfully avoided them for weeks, but one day his dwindling supplies forced him out to the market where he happened across a vendor being harassed by a small group of stormtroopers. The vendor, a rough-looking young Twi'lek man, attempted to talk his way out of their clutches for a while, then decided to cut and run, dashing right past Rex.
"Halt! In the name of the Empire!" one of the stormtroopers yelled.
It was pure muscle memory. Rex turned around and lunged for the Twi'lek, tackling him to the ground with ease. The stormtroopers caught up to them and put the Twi'lek in handcuffs, thanking Rex for his service while Rex awkwardly covered his face with his scarf.
"The Empire thanks you," one of the stormtroopers said as he marched the vendor away.
Rex didn't think he'd ever forgive himself.
That night he left for Coruscant, determined to reclaim every piece of himself he could from the Empire that had taken even his free will from him. Maybe then he wouldn't always have that urge, that instinct deep inside that told him to fight, to kill, to sacrifice himself for the Republic and by extension the Empire.
It was reckless, he knew. He had an instantly identifiable face, and he was going to the very center of the Empire's control. Clones didn't usually retire, so seeing someone with his face as a civilian was certain to attract attention. Once he managed to get his hands on a set of stormtrooper armor, though, things got a lot easier. The stormtroopers' uniformity made it almost embarrassingly simple to sneak into the old GAR headquarters and find his locker.
Technically only commanders had been allowed permanent housing on Coruscant along with a locker for their personal effects. Anyone below them found their home on whatever cruiser they were currently assigned to, and it was assumed they'd never have enough personal possessions to warrant a space to store them outside of said cruiser. General Skywalker, in typical fashion, had skirted the rules and procured Rex a locker of his own. Rex had never had much to put in it, but it'd still felt good to know if he ever needed a place to store whatever nick nacks he'd managed to collect, he'd have one.
The lockers were still there, in the fourth basement floor of the Republic Center for Military Operations. Rex located his locker in one of the back corners, strategically selected by General Skywalker to be the least likely to attract the notice of anyone concerned with regulations. He punched in his code and stared in dumb amazement as the locker popped open. He'd come all this way, but a part of him hadn't believed that the lockers or the items in them would still be here. But his eyes didn't deceive him, and despite all odds, Rex's old locker still contained his possessions: his first GAR-issue helmet, an old holo of the 501st, a box of candies Senator Amidala had given him once, and a small assortment of medals.
Rex scooped his belongings into a bag and shut the locker, changing the code for good measure. This part of his life was ending. He'd have his own place to keep his belongings from here on out. He headed down the hallway back to the lift, eager to leave now that he was carrying a bag likely to inspire questions. He passed by an abandoned conference room and stopped in his tracks, the memories bringing him back.
It was General Skywalker's office. Well, not precisely, but General Skywalker often commandeered the conference room for his own purposes when he needed to plan with Rex but didn't want to be found by Obi-Wan or anyone else who knew where his official quarters were. Almost of their own volition, Rex's feet steered him into the room and he set his bag on the dusty table. It looked like nobody had been down here for years.
Slowly, meditatively, Rex paced the dimly-lit room, flashes of late night strategy sessions and jokes and earnestly-sought advice coming back to him. General Skywalker had been almost as much a brother to him as his fellow clones, and Rex's heart mourned for his loss. He had no idea who among the Jedi had survived Order 66, but something in his heart told him his friend and general was gone.
Rex walked to the desk at the end of the conference room and he could practically see General Skywalker sitting there, leaned far back in his seat with his feet up on the desktop. There was a drawer just under the desk that Rex knew Skywalker occasionally used as storage, and he absently opened it, not expecting to find anything. The drawer was mostly empty except for one thing: a string of delicate spherical beads. Ahsoka's padawan beads.
Rex's eyes went wide and he picked up the beads to examine them more closely. There was no mistaking it—these were hers. He'd always known somewhere in the back of his mind that she'd had to leave them somewhere. She certainly hadn't taken them with her when she'd left the order. But it had never occurred to him that she might leave them with Skywalker.
Rex's eyes narrowed on the beads, and without further consideration he walked back to his bag and stuffed them in with his other things. He wasn't about to let the Empire have any piece of Ahsoka, either.
He'd parted ways with Ahsoka about six months after they'd gone on the run together. It had made the most sense. They were both wanted and splitting up was safer for them both, but it had been hard. As flawed as the GAR had been, it was never lonely, and Rex struggled to learn to be by himself at times. It wasn't just general loneliness, either. He missed her specifically. She was funny and smart and didn't take shit from anyone. Seeing the beads again filled up, if only for a moment, the togruta-shaped hole in his heart, and as the lift bore him upwards out of the depths of the Republic Center for Military Operations, he promised himself he'd return them to her some day.
The next time Rex went back to the Core he was an old man who'd just heard of his closest friend's death. The Bridger boy told Rex what had happened to Ahsoka, struggling to get the words out through his tears, but Rex already knew. Not the details, of course, but he'd felt a shift in the universe that could only mean her departure. Rex wondered if maybe that was what the Force felt like, and he thought that if the Force was going to connect him to anyone, he was glad it was Ahsoka.
Rex had lost many a brother in his life, and though he knew he would mourn Ahsoka's loss keenly, he was still caught off guard by how much it hurt. Her death left him essentially incapacitated for several days, and in that time he only left his small room in the Rebel base once or twice when Gregor's enthusiastic babbling drew him out for food. Clone Wars Rex had lost hundreds of men and still soldiered on, but this time he found himself unable to bounce back. He supposed it was because he was going soft. He'd gotten used to his friends not dying.
After about a week of moping and general uselessness, Rex decided to do something with his grief. He asked permission from Mon Mothma to borrow a small shuttle and went by himself to an unnamed moon in a near-empty system in the outer edge of the Core. He brought with him a heavy coat, his final set of GAR armor, some rations, and the silka beads.
Rex slipped the beads back and forth between his fingers as he waited in hyperspace, cursing himself for forgetting to give them to her when he'd had the chance. He'd meant to, but she rarely returned to the base and his aging brain always forgot until she'd gone off again, doing whatever spy work the Rebellion asked of her. Now he'd never have the chance.
The moon itself wasn't hard to locate, but the site of the crash was. It had been almost fifteen years, and the seasons had worn down the cruiser's wreckage while the snow made it difficult to spot from above. It took about a week of searching, but eventually Rex found it. He landed near the spot he and Ahsoka had somehow managed to crash that Y-wing all those years ago.
Snow covered the wreckage, and the cruiser had degraded and lost much of its recognizable shape, but it was undeniably the same spot. Rex put on the pieces of his armor that still fit then pulled on the heavy coat over it, storing the beads in one of the front pockets. He made his way towards the crash with his old blaster, grabbing a utility shovel from the shuttle along the way. He felt a sense of deja vu as he disembarked the ship, only this time Rex was alone.
Most of the helmets he and Ahsoka had painstakingly propped up on torn limbs of durasteel had fallen over, appearing as lumps of snow in the frigid landscape, but a few remained standing proud and tall. Jesse's helmet, with its Republic cog, was still standing, and Rex used it as his compass, guiding him back to the biggest turning point in his life.
The men represented by the helmets in front of him lay buried beneath the memorial, each mound representing a soldier, a brother-in-arms and in blood. Rex didn't have a body to bury for Ahsoka, but he dug a mound for her anyway, breaking the stubborn frozen earth with his shovel. He found some comfort in the repetitive process, the mindless motion providing him with some escape from his thoughts.
Once the work was done, Rex stuck his blaster into the freshly-turned earth, knowing there were likely durasteel beams available to use instead but wanting some part of him to be buried with her. He made sure the blaster was wedged deep in the earth, then crouched down in front of it, pulling the beads out and carefully tying them around the end of the blaster. His calloused, aging fingers fumbled with the delicate beads, but after several minutes he had them tied in a way he was confident wouldn't blow away.
He rose to his feet and looked down at his makeshift memorial, the completion of his task allowing his thoughts back into his brain. She would appreciate this, he was sure. He knew she'd always felt a deep connection to these men she'd grown to know in the 501st, then commanded in the Siege of Mandalore. And in a way, both he and Ahsoka had already died once on this spot, so commemorating her second death here only felt natural.
Rex rubbed at a stinging pain on his face only to realize he was crying, the icy air freezing his tears to his face. Funny, he was pretty sure the last time he'd cried had been aboard the wrecked ship in front of him.
Rex didn't know much about religion—his two main points of reference were the Mandalorians and the Jedi. The Mandalorian beliefs venerated battle and power and victory, but those promises felt empty to Rex now. The Jedi only believed in the Force, and Rex supposed he believed too, but a faceless, soulless, omnipresent power wasn't much comfort in times like these.
Rex thought about how Ahsoka had comforted him on the Venator. It had been simple, nothing dramatic or over-emotional. All she'd done was remove his helmet and touch his shoulder, but that modest gesture had eased the ache in his heart—had given him the strength to move on. What he wanted right now was that—what he wanted right now was her. What did you do when the only person who could comfort you was the very person you mourned?
A plaintive cry drew Rex's eyes to the sky, and he saw an owl-like bird circling above, its movement slow and peaceful. He felt something tug at his heart again, like it had when she'd died, except this time hopeful. For a brief moment, Rex was certain that Ahsoka wasn't dead, as certain as he was of his own serial number. The moment passed, though. He'd heard from Ezra and Kanan what had happened on Malachor, and felt the passing of his friend himself. That was too much evidence to willfully ignore.
Even so, as Rex made his way back to the shuttle, the inexplicable hope remained with him. No matter how much he told himself not to be a fool, he knew he'd see Ahsoka again.