"For the Republic"

We just have to hold out long enough for the Twi'leks to make it safely through the pass.

Keeli refused to let himself think beyond that single-minded goal. When he'd briefed the men, not one of them had asked the unspoken question. What happens to us then, Captain?

At General Di's orders, they'd blown up their one remaining gunship to block an adjacent pass, cutting off the Separatists from the resistance fighters and their families. They had no way out of here. But, there was no place for them to go anyway. The fleet surrounding the planet was gone. Even his two highly-skilled pilots, Cobra and Mamba, would not be able to evade an entire Separatist fleet without support.

This was their last stand, and Keeli could not be prouder of his men. They'd comported themselves as the finest examples of Republic soldiers throughout this campaign on Ryloth, never complaining despite the hardships of being low on food, medicine, ammo and all other critical supplies.

It was what made it so difficult as his helmet continued to show him the tallies of his men falling. He wanted to blink and change the view on his HUD, but he wouldn't do it. He needed to know, and he owed it to each one of them to acknowledge their loss the moment they fell. It was his burden to bear as their Captain.

He didn't see the det which sent him flying. But, suddenly he was in the air, weightless, like in free fall training. He blacked out as soon as he slammed into the hard packed Rylothian soil.

Keeli wasn't sure how long he'd been out, but when he awoke, he could still hear the sounds of battle raging around him. He'd lost his bucket. His head was ringing, and every sound was too loud. The glare from the sun was mercilessly bright. As long as there was still fighting going on, some of his brothers must still be alive. He could get back into the fight. He struggled to get back to his feet, a surge of pain sweeping up his left leg. He disconnected himself from the pain and focused on his goal.

Hold out long enough to allow the Twi'leks to get through the pass.

They were soldiers of the Republic. Was there any more noble goal than dying to save citizens of the Republic? It was what they'd been created to do. He was fulfilling his ultimate destiny.

General Di was standing in front of him, battling off what looked like an entire battalion of super battle droids single-handedly.

He's protecting me, Keeli realized, with a pang. He shouldn't be surprised. The General had always been good to the men, and gone out of his way to keep them safe in battle. But, seeing his General standing protectively in front of him when he'd been injured took his respect for his commanding officer to a whole new level.

One of the super battle droids took aim at the General's head.

Keeli narrowed his eyes, battle instincts from years of training narrowing down to this single moment. His blaster was in his hand before he even had time to think about it and he blasted squarely through the control box of the SBD. He struggled to his feet with a grunt of pain.

General Di glanced back at him in surprise. "Captain Keeli!"

"I'm not finished yet, sir. We can do this, General." His leg was trembling with the effort of holding him up, and the SBDs kept wandering in and out of focus. He may have hit his head harder than he thought. He narrowed his eyes to better focus on them in the harsh sun of Ryloth. If he was going to die today, then he was going to take some more of these tinnies with him.

"Well, let's make the end memorable," said General Di.

He was always good with the one-liners. Just one of the many things Keeli liked about him.

It wasn't such a bad thing to die fighting back-to-back with his General. Keeli had conversations with other commanders who complained about their Jedi being reckless, or not understanding battle strategy, or not seeming to care about clones. But, he couldn't relate to what they were saying. General Di had always been the best sort of commanding officer. Keeli was honored to make a last stand at his side.

He continued to fire, taking down several more SBDs. Even with blurry vision, his aim was still true. He could somehow just feel where the shots needed to go. The General hinted once he might be different, but never went in any more details. He didn't expect the end to come so quickly. The first blast to hit him in the chest felt like a punch from a battle droid (and he knew that feeling) and a surge of intense fiery pain. But, he still stayed upright. But, the second one came so quickly, he had no chance to recover. The shot seemed to burn straight into his lungs. He tried to struggle back to his feet, sure he could still fight. Without him, the General had no cover. But, his battered body would not obey his command.

He yelled at his body to move. Up! Come on, up!

Krek. His body just wouldn't listen to him.

Stay down, Keeli. I'll be alright.

He was sure that was the General's voice, but it sounded like it was coming from inside his head.

That didn't make any sense. The General was in front of him, still fighting, and Keeli needed to get his shebs to protect him. His wrist-comm crackled to life. "This is Republic blockade runner oh-niner-niner. We have broken through."

Keeli was elated to hear the news the supply ships had arrived. He'd tried to use this surge of good news, to push his body into moving but to no avail.

The General was speaking. He strained to hear his words. "... to fight another day." And, then a loud battle cry the likes of which he'd never before from Di.

He started to drift in and out of consciousness, and every breath was a battle.

Keeli wanted to let go, but he still need to protect the General-

There was a thud in front of him of a body falling heavily and the sound of a lightsaber shutting off abruptly.

No!

It wasn't possible. Not his Jedi.

The General's lightsaber rolled into Keeli's field of view, and he heard additional blast shots.

Kill shots.

"The supplies have arrived at the drop point."

It was bittersweet now, knowing the supplies had arrived, but Di had fallen.

He closed his eyes, trying to fuel his body into one last burst so he could reach for his blaster and take revenge for his fallen General. But, his traitorous body still refused to listen.

Don't move, Keeli. Be still.

Why was he still hearing the General's voice? He was sure he had fallen.

The battle droids stomped around him, one even going so far as to step on him. He couldn't even get enough air out of him to shout at the fekkin' clanker to get off of him. When the second droid stepped on him, tramping directly on his injured leg, the pain was too much. His vision went red and he passed out.

When he awoke, it was dusk in the clearing and so strangely quiet. The area which had been filled with such tremendous noise and activity was suddenly devoid of sound.

Keeli continued to lie there, wondering why he wasn't dead.

I can't move. I can't get up. Why don't I just die already?

Darkness started to fall, filled with the hoots and calls of the creatures which came out at night.

Great. Instead of dying in battle, I'll get eaten by a Rytholian beast of prey.

He continued to lie there, wondering how much longer he was supposed to just stay here, paraylzed and useless. This is no ending for a clone trooper. Why didn't I just die in the battle?

"This is Bead. Does anyone copy? Over?"

Keeli forced his dry and aching eyes to focus, and traced the source of the sound. It was coming from his helmet, still several meters away from him. It might as well be on the other side of the planet from him, in his current state. But, just the thought one of his troopers had survived lightened his spirits tremendously. He might be dying, but one of his men had lived. Or, at least was alive for the moment. Another blood-curdling cry of something that sounded very hungry called out nearby. Much too close for comfort.

"Bead," came a softly spoken, cautious reply, "this is Chip. What's your status?"

"Eh. The klankers got off a lucky shot. Hit me in the hip. Kriff. It's good to hear your voice, vod. Are we the only ones left?"

"I don't know. I just woke up. Took a bad blow to the head. I'm still seeing double. Hold on-" There was a pause, and a muted sound of gagging.

"I think you might be concussed, Bead."

"You think? At least, I managed not to get my bucket off in time. You can never get that smell out. Are you seeing any signs of tinnies?"

"The area seems to be clear. That much I can see from where I am. Send me your location, Chip, I'll try to get to you... " There was a sharp cry of pain. And, then another. "Eh… I can't get up. We might need a new plan."

A third voice came over the comms, strained, but spoken with calm authority. "Both of you di'kuts should stay put. You should know better than to try to move when you're injured."

"Chovi! Is that you?" Bead asked.

"Yes, how many of us are left? I just woke up. I don't want to get up and give away our position."

"Er… I don't know if that's an issue. I think it's just us." Another blood-curtling cry cut through the night air. "And, whatever that is. Gah, what is that anyway?"

"Eh… that's the reason why Captain said to never stray from the camp at night," Chovi responded.

"They come at us, and they'll meet my blaster. Uh- Stand by-" His show of bluster muted by another audible bout of sickness. "Gah. OK, yeah, I think I'm definitely concussed. What's your status, Chovi?"

Chovi let out a harsh laugh which came across the comms as a burst of static. "About as good as the two of you. I was shot in both legs. I can't move. But, I'm not dead. That's something."

"Can anyone see the Captain?"

There was silence on the comms.

"Captain? This is Bead, come in." The men pinged him again and again, on both his helmet and then his wrist comm. Keeli wanted so desperately to reassure the men. But, he would need to be able to reach either his wrist comms or his bucket to communicate with them, and he didn't have the mobility to do either. A horrid growl pierced the night again. He wanted to warn the men.

Normally, he would tell them to take cover, and band together. But, they didn't have the luxury of either one of these options right now. From the sounds of it, there was a Gutkurrr out there, maybe more than one. They were carnivorous, nocturnal creatures which had thick hides naturally resistant to blaster fire. They'd been warned by the Twi'leks to not be caught out after dark. And, the Gutkurr weren't even the worst nighttime predators on the planet.

His vision started to swim again and his consciousness was fading.

No!

His men were in danger. He couldn't pass out now.

It seemed a traitorous act to not be awake. If this was the end, they would go through it together. But, his eyelids were refusing to cooperate and his head was growing progressively fuzzier.

He was dimly aware of the howling getting closer and his men talking quickly back and forth to reassure each other.

"Aim for the head, alright, Bead? That may be our only chance to take one of these down. I think that's what the Captain said in our initial briefing."

"Oh, I'm ready, Chip. If I'm going down, I'm taking a bunch of these things with me."

"I'm ready to fight," Chovi said, his voice low and steady. "But, the moment we light this place up with blaster fire, you realize we'll alert the Seppies we're still alive. Those Gutkurr will be the least of our problems."

"We don't have a choice, Chovi, they're coming-"

The first of the snarling Gutkurrr entered the battlefield, eyes glowing red in the night. It looked angry, and hungry. More red eyes lit up in the night behind him.

Through the growing darkness that was his vision, he saw a herd of Blurrg pass in front of him, and a slew of arrows headed for the Gutkurr.

"Clone troopers. Hold your fire!"

His brain tried to make sense of what he was seeing and hearing, but the darkness pulled him under.

# # #

He had no idea how much time had passed when he was awakened by warm hands pressing against the side of his neck.

"This one is alive."

He struggled to open his eyes. It took so long to do so, and seemed more of a desperate battle than the one he'd fought against the battle droids. But, he was finally able to crack them open. A Twi'lek female knelt over him.

A male Twi'lek joined her a moment later, dropping to his knees, and pulling a water skin from his belt.

"I recognize this one," the male Twi'ilek said, "he is the leader of these clones. Their captain. It is good that he survived."

The female Twi'lek gave him a dubious look. "He is badly injured. I do not know that he will live much longer. We should not waste resources on him."

As Keeli's eyes' focused, he recognized the male. Gobi. "Go find your brother. Tell him Captain Keeli is alive."

She shook her head stubbornly. "He is busy scouting for weapons and making sure there are no more Gutkurrr."

"Jaluy!" Gobi scolded. "These men sacrificed everything so that we might live. I was angry at them before, too, but we would not be alive if not for them. Now go and fetch your brother."

"I am here." Both Twi'lek's turned to face the newcomer and Keeli immediately recognized the leader of the resistance fighters, Cham Syndulla.

Cham dropped to his knees beside him. A smile creased his features. "Captain, you live. My heart is glad."

"He is too badly injured-" Jaluy started again.

Both Twi'lek men shot her a look, and she was silent.

"He will make it," Gobi said confidently, "and we will see that he does so. Tell Y'banni to bring a litter for him."

The female Twi'lek left and Syndulla addressed him. "I apologize for my sister. She is an excellent fighter, and full of passion, like all Twi'lek women. But, she does not see what I see. You are a very strong fighter, Captain Keeli. If you can survive a battle such as this one, you will continue to live on."

He made the pronouncement like it was a given, and there was no way Keeli could die from his injuries on this day. And, somehow, Keeli believed him.

He pulled a waterskin off of his belt and then carefully eased up Keeli's head to give him water. Keeli drank eagerly, surprised how much better he felt after just a few sips. How long had it been since he'd had any water? They'd been sharing all of their rations with the Twi'leks, and run out of the little they had left. Krek, he was thirsty.

"Thank you," he whispered, both surprised and pleased he could manage to push out the words.

"You're welcome, Captain." He brushed his thumbs against the sides of Keeli's forehead. "Rest now. We will take you back to our caves in the mountains. You will be safe there."

"My… men," Keeli said, trying to raise his head higher so he could see the location of Chip, Chovi and Bead.

"We are looking for other survivors now. We have found five already." He gave Keeli a look of respect. "You clones are very resilient."

Five? Keeli's heart surged again. It was more than he could have asked for, yet...

"The General?" Keeli asked, knowing it was a foolish question. He knew General Di was gone. He'd felt it. But, he had to ask.

Cham closed his eyes sorrowfully and tugged something from his belt. He opened his eyes and placed the lightsaber carefully in Keeli's palm. "I'm sorry, Captain. He was a great man, your Master Jedi, we will not forget what he did for us. What all of you did for us. I think he would want you to have this now."

Keeli almost gasped at the feel of the lightsaber in his palm. He could feel the General once again. Hear his voice.

Live to fight another day, Keeli.

He fought back a tear which threatened to spill from the corner of his eyes.

He would say a remembrance for the General and all of his lost men everyday from now on. Cham was right. They would not be forgotten.

The litter arrived and Keeli passed out as he was loaded on. He awoke as they were still traveling into the mountains. They must have stopped at some point, because the upper half of his armor had been removed, and he could feel the itch of bacta patches against the achy pain of his injuries. His left leg has been splinted. The night was cold, but it was a brilliant evening. He stared up into the stars.

A Republic issue thermal blanket was produced from somewhere, and tucked securely over him, keeping him warm. He glanced up to see who had given him the blanket and was surprised to see Jaluy. She gave him a thoughtful look, walking beside his litter. "Perhaps I misjudged you, Captain. My brother is right. You have a stubborn will to live." She gave the blanket one last tuck and then disappeared from his sight.

His body was numb, and for the moment, he couldn't feel the pain from his injuries. He was light-headed and almost a little giddy. He wondered if he'd been injected with a painkiller at some point.

He continued to stare up at the stars as they journeyed higher up in the mountains, and he started to wonder if one of those stars was Di.

The Force will be with you, Keeli, always.

He clutched at Di's lightsaber.

In the end, they had won. The Twi'leks were safe and the relief supplies were delivered. They would live to fight another day.

# # #

Notes: This is the end, but I imagine the story of Keeli and the freedom fighters goes on. According to canon, after the annihilation of the Republic garrison, Ryloth became completely occupied by the Separatist Droid Army, with Wat Tambor overseeing the occupation from the city of Lessu. He dispatched his forces to pillage, ravage and rob the Twi'lek villages of anything of value, and also sent TX-20 to capture the city of Nabat and its inhabitants. While Tambor tightened his grip, the Twi'lek resistance continued to harass Tambor's forces, though at heavy cost. Syndulla was able to maintain a secret hideout and manage a network of spies to report on Tambor's activities. Ultimately, the Galactic Senate would answer the Twi'leks' plea to liberate their planet from Separatist occupation, sending Jedi Generals Mace Windu, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker with the Republic Army to free Ryloth from the Separatists.

So, it seems it takes some time before the Republic returns to the planet for a second siege and Keeli and all of his men are assumed dead. Determined to keep fighting for the Republic in any way they can, they join up with the freedom fighters. They have a common goal of Wat Tambor and the Separatist Army. Altogether, there were ten survivors of the Republic garrison, including their Captain Keeli.

They integrate fully into the freedom fighters and the Twi'lek people come to respect these skilled clone soldiers as one of their own. Cham declares them a member of their clan.

Fighting together and nearly dying together leads to some romantic entanglements. The Twi'lek people are passionate in everything they do. Cham's sister has a change of heart and insists on always fighting alongside Keeli.

Keeli continued to hear the voice of his former General, and it is a great comfort to him as they struggle to defend Ryloth on their own as freedom fighters. He becomes very close with both Cham Syndulla and Gobi, the three of them forming the leadership team of the Twi'lek Resistance. Keeli impresses both Cham and Gobi with some of his uncanny abilities and how quickly he learns new skills, and soon is as skilled a Blurrg rider as Syndulla himself. The clones spend many hours helping the Twi'leks improve their skills in all forms of combat.

Together, this brave group of clones and Twi'leks fight many battles and perhaps could be considered the start of a rebellion.

# # #

Many thanks to MoonWatcher404 for submitting the clone names Cobra and Mamba for use in this story.