Summary: Fives is haunted by Echo's death on the Citadel and tries to come to terms with the loss
Warnings: Grief and loss, nightmares, survivors guilt.
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A/N: I got bitten by the angst, so by the rules of fanfiction, I must inflict my pain upon all of you.
Dividers by @/djarrex and @/moonstrider9904
“General Skywalker, a droid is manning one of those turrets.”
Echo, don’t. No!
“This is our only chance. We’ve got to stop him!”
Echo, look out!
Fives jolted awake in a cold sweat. The darkness of the barracks was consuming as he fought to calm his burning lungs. Resting his elbows on his bent knees, he held his forehead in his hands. Hot tears dripped from his unwilling eyes as he continued to be haunted by his twin’s death so many months later. He tried to stay quiet, so as to not disrupt the slumber of his brother’s sleep, above him an exhausted grumble told him to keep it down.
Sleep would only continue to elude him, so rather than stare at the underside of a bunk, he slid from under the thin blanket and scratchy sheets and silently dressed. Helmet in hand, he left the barracks to wander the corridors of the Resolute until he felt tired or chowtime, whichever came first. He walked without a conscious direction, passing the fitness center, packed with clones getting their physical training in. For a moment he considered exercise, but wasn’t much in the mood for boisterous activity.
Just passing the observation window, he came upon a maintenance droid, hovering as its multiple, purpose-built arms rotated around its body as it went about its task of spot welding a small, polished durasteel plate into the wall. Each plate was etched with the name and number of a fallen trooper in the battalion. It took little more than a few minutes per plate, but the task was repeated over and over until the stock it held in a small rack was depleted. Row upon row, plate after plate, a seemingly endless list of lost brothers.
Fives wasn't sure who's idea the memorial wall was, but it wasn't uncommon to see others standing at the wall, staring at a number and trying to come to terms with what they lost. He knew Echo's plate had been installed shortly after the Citadel, but he couldn't bring himself to look at it. Somehow, if he didn’t see those numbers, that name, his best friend wouldn’t be lost. Yet, try as he might to fight against the inevitable, there was no denying what his nightmares forced him to accept night after night, after night. A lump swelled in his throat as he walked forward, heavy step after heavy step. His eyes read the etching of each plate until he finally came upon the one that broke his heart to acknowledge.
He exhaled sharply, resting a hand on the plate. That mission, that wretched mission replayed in his mind, calling forward all he could have done, but didn’t. All he should have done but failed to do. His eyes burned, the cascade of grief finally punching through the cracks of his denial. No more could he ignore reality, no more could he deny the truth.
Echo was gone.
Tears rolled from his eyes as he stared numbly at the placard. He was vaguely aware of his comrades coming and going down the corridor, but couldn’t look away from the pain of his reality. Maybe if he stared at the marker long enough, his chest would stop feeling so tight Maybe his heart would stop hurting. Maybe that damn droid would come back and pry it off the wall because they made a mistake and Echo was still alive, captured and in enemy hands…
“Fives, are you okay?” Rex asked, standing at his shoulder.
For a long time, he didn’t respond, in truth unsure how long his captain had been standing next to him, “Do you ever ask yourself if we left survivors behind?”
“Fives…don’t do this.”
“That day. That…that fucking day. I couldn’t go back to him. There wasn’t time. I wanted to go back, I should have gone back. He…he could have survived.”
“No one could have survived that blast.”
“Echo could. He was strong, stronger than people gave him credit for. Stronger than I gave him credit for at the beginning,” he finally looked at Rex, face furrowed and twisted with guilt. “Don’t you ever wonder if we left the living behind?”
“I do, Fives. Constantly. You’re my men, my responsibility, my brothers. The thought of leaving a single one behind to enemy hands destroys me after every battle. It’s…it’s the unfortunate, unfair reality of what we are.”
His eyes clenched, a fresh wave of grief tumbling down his face, “How do you keep going?”
He straightened at the question, placing a hand on the broad pauldron his brother, earned through the fire of battle and sacrifice, “I keep going for them. I fight tooth and nail every day so their sacrifice wasn’t in vain.”
“And what of the living? Captured, being tortured because we didn’t go back for them?”
The burden of surviving threatened to draw him down to the inky depths of inescapable grief, but the lifeline of Rex’s connection shifted from his pauldron to his face, taking both sides in his hands so he couldn’t ignore the words he spoke.
“Then we tear apart every last clanker standing between us and them and we get our brothers back. That’s what we do.”
Fives nodded, seeming to absorb his captain’s determination to continue.
“What we don’t do is give up. That's what the Seppies want. They want to break us, pull our brotherhood apart until we stop fighting all together. But we won’t, will we?”
“No, sir," he answered, a firm reflex of training.
"If Echo's still out there, would he give up hope that we'll find him?"
"No, sir," his voice gained confidence, but a wavering thread of exhaustion bled through.
"I miss him, too, but we can't get lost in grief. You need to sleep, Fives. Go to the medbay and get a couple sleep tabs-"
"Rex-" he tried to protest, but was cut off again.
"A sleep deprived trooper never lasts long in battle. Don't make me see your number on this wall, too. Get some sleep, that's an order."
The desperate plea behind the gentle command was one he could argue against. "Yes, sir," he quietly replied and turned toward the medbay.
Rex watched him go, shoulders heavy and eyes downcast, knowing even if Fives managed to pull himself from that dark place, he'd never be the same. His eyes traced back to the polished plate and a heavy sigh rose and fell in his chest. What he could never say out loud was that he too questioned if Echo was still alive when they fled the Citadel. He'd seen brothers survive impossible odds and continue to fight on. Painful as it was to consider, they quite possibly left him behind and there was nothing he could do to change it.
Rex walked down the hallway with a singular purpose. It wasn't to shower or eat. He wasn't tired. In fact with the way his body hummed with adrenaline he doubted he'd sleep for days. Regardless that the mission was over and done, there was something he had to do and it couldn't wait.
He passed the fitness center, which was empty given that the battalion had been deployed to Anaxes for the battle, which resulted in victory for the Republic. That victory may have been the shift they'd long needed and for the first time, the end of the war felt within reach. But none of that was what set Rex on his mission. Upon reaching the memorial wall, his pace slowed as he scanned the placards until he found the one he wanted.
Placing his helmet on the deck, he pulled a vibroblade from his belt. He worked the tip under the edge of the plate and, with blows from the heel of his hand, wedged the blade between the pieces of durasteel. It took considerable effort to break the spot welding, but he was determined to correct the error in the Republic's tally. Twisting and jerking, eventually the memorial plate broke free and clattered on the floor. Jagged, broken bits of weld were left behind, which would be ground away and a new plate would undoubtedly fill the gap by the end of the cycle.
Still, as Rex bent to collect his helmet and the warped marker, a heavy smile pulled at mouth and his eyes crinkled. Cathartic tears collected in the deepening lines and trickled down his cheeks. He could hear Fives in his mind's eye, giving a well earned 'I told you so'. As he walked back down the hallway until he found the placard marked: ARC-5555: FIVES. Placing a reverent hand on the plate, he inhaled the tears away.
"We got him back, Fives. We brought him home."
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Ahsoka: what do you guys want for Christmas?
Obi Wan: more than one consecutive second of genuine happiness
Anakin: freedom from the darkness of my mind. Also for my mother to come back.
Rex: to not have to bury any more of my brothers
Padmé: to not have to spend every day afraid someone is going to try and assassinate me
Fives: what the hell is Christmas?
Echo: a day free from the constant pain I feel after all the experiments that were done on me
Cody: maybe some personal space. maybe some rights.
Mace: To know what Yoda’s species is called.
Yoda: have to kill me first, you will.
R2-D2: *beep boop*
C3-PO: No, I will not say that you want Master Kenobi to get some bitches. That is wildly inappropriate.
Rex: Plus Cody has that covered
Cody: *about to murder him*
Dooku: For Qui Gon to be alive again
Maul (who just busted through the wall): for my legs to be reattached to my body and for my mind to be liberated from the confines of my master’s teachings. Also to murder Kenobi.
Ahsoka: I’m sorry I asked?????