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A Star to Steer By

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Being Kenobi’s host was really nothing like training. It was the difference between a speeder and a fully powered starfighter. Sure, they’d both get you where you were going, but the starfighter packed a hell of a punch, in comparison.

The forced march had been stressful, but it had also been one hell of a distraction. Now, Rex had The Negotiator in his head, asking swift, directed questions of the mixed company, churning through grisly possibilities and factoring in who the hells knew what.

Amongst all that, the Force hummed through them, a swell of power that could crush droids or hear the whisper of minds, as Kenobi directed.

Kenobi, sensing his unease but misunderstanding the cause, sent a brief wave of reassurance to him. Feeling an emotion from outside himself flowing through his mind, knowing it wasn’t him, was just as odd, but he appreciated the effort.

Kenobi had already talked to most of the men, checking details and seeing if the strange human’s words corroborated what the others had seen on the weird pyramidal ship that had captured some of the 501, then been invaded by the 212. While only a handful of the men had run into the potential Jedi, the details did line up.

There hadn’t been a lightsaber in evidence, or any discernible Force-usage. However, glowing eyes, a strange, dual-toned voice, and an absolute disregard for their allies were things all the witness agreed on.

Plus torture chambers which had seen recent and thorough use.

No one liked the picture they were uncovering.

It was...reassuring, at least, that most of the men had the same impressions of Jack that Rex did – a decent being, out of his depth and outnumbered, but still rolling with the punches.

The fact that via the General, Rex could feel that the man was sincere was even more reassuring. They’d all run into enough backstabbing assholes in the Seps, or their sympathizers, and Jack didn’t feel at all like that to Kenobi. It seemed to amuse the Jedi to no end that instead, the human practically radiated an emotion the General labeled “confused flailing.” Since for the most part, that was covered by professional snark, Rex was fairly certain that the human could be trusted to one degree or another.

The news he had, though, was horrific.

Sith. The men had danced around the word, not wanting to disturb the General with the certainty that Kenobi could sense anyways. Still, they all politely pretended. It was easier to slip into that protocol than glare directly at the notion of Fallen Jedi, mad beings with delusions of grandeur that seemed to enjoy enslaving and torturing entire planets.

Goa’uld, he recited to himself in the private corner of his mind that Kenobi had promised would remain private. Ra. Apophis. Klorel. Hathor. He ran down the list of Sith Jack had given them, names spat out with personal grief and squirming distaste verging on hatred, memories of pain flickering so brightly that Kenobi could see it even without the Force’s help.

No one had mentioned that in training, either.  Kenobi picked up empathic imprints from the people around him – small echoes of their emotions and their intent.  Maybe the padawan Rex had hosted – M’bele – had been too young or too inexperienced for that, or maybe being in classes of clones, with Jedi instructors to make sure everything was on the level, meant there weren’t any foreign thoughts to intrude.

Even as Rex was working to compose himself, Kenobi was giving Waxer details about who to contact and what to do in the worst case scenario. Rex could catch occasional flickers of fond bemusement, hints of words that didn’t quite declare “the man’s no Cody, but good officer material” though Rex could hear it anyways.

Rex tucked a bit of insecurity into that private corner too. Cody really was the one who ought to be replacing 17. Rex was friends with the man, and they’d commiserated plenty of times about their Jedi. For all that, he knew that Cody would volunteer in a heartbeat to make sure the General was safe.

Either General, really, though the notion of Fives doing enough stupid shit to get dead was never reassuring. Whoever had thought Skywalker hosting in Fives was a good idea needed their head examined, then a long bacta bath for whatever the hells was wrong with them.

It was at least reassuring that he hadn’t hesitated, when Boil had seen him and remembered that name aside, Rex was a Commander.

It was not reassuring at all that he’d spent less than a week with the General in his head, and he already didn’t want to give it up.

Kenobi was clasping Waxer on the shoulder, giving it a little shake as the clone gave him a dour look. “Don’t worry, I don’t intend to take any risks.”

“It’s never your intent, Sir.” Waxer shook his head, grinning faintly before nodding a salute to the General and walking off.

#Ah, never any respect,# Kenobi sighed with amusement to Rex.

#Plenty of respect, just not the belief that you’re a fraction less crazy than Skywalker.#

#Some days I do wonder what I did wrong to make the Council think I’m actually a responsible adult.#

He bit back a mental snicker as Kenobi stretched, a strange agitation shimmering through them that was all the Jedi. They walked over to the cave mouth, where weak sunshine was struggling to break through the ever-present clouds. Rex could feel some kind of longing slip into that agitation, all swiftly wrapping up into determination.

#I think I’d like to take a bit of a breather.# Rex waited for the little tingle that would indicate he was back in charge of the body, but there was an odd hesitation instead. #No, not–  Outside, I mean.#

A series of memories flickered by Rex, of 17 bitching – though whenever had the man not? – about Kenobi being outside, of a planet and delicate negotiations where Jedi were so foreign, that it was far better for matters if Kenobi was conspicuously outside his host, visible rather than ‘hiding’ in who knew what body, taking over none of the locals could predict what.

Most Jedi rarely left their host, other than during the occasional migrations to a new one, or formal Council Meetings.

Rex reeled a little, as he finally put together fragments of gossip he’d never quite understood.

Kenobi enjoyed spending time outside his host.

#Sir, I think this officially puts you ahead of Skywalker in the crazy category.#

Amused, wry agreement washed over him. Tentatively following that was logic, all tinged with longing. A new host, which had come as several levels of a shock. Travel through that damned “stargate,” which had shocked the Jedi’s system and for a time, left his connection to the Force so tentative that he’d been virtually helpless, barely able to communicate with Rex at all. Days of slogging along at a march, senses spread wide to avoid the rather large fauna as well as their pursuers.

Tucked in the back was something Obi-Wan considered a ridiculous, hedonistic fondness for feeling sun on his fins.

#You ought to stay close, though,# Rex cautioned, finding himself unexpectedly protective.

#As if I wouldn’t.#

Rex sent wry, gentle disbelief back at his Jedi even as Kenobi passed control over to him, and the Captain stepped outside the cave. It was telling, how none of the 212 soldiers batted an eye as Rex cupped his hands, and he could feel the gentle disconnect of Kenobi from his mind. As in training, there was no sensation as the Jedi slipped free from his place around Rex’s spine, not until Kenobi slid over his tongue. It was movement, not taste except for a hint of copper curling at the back of his teeth, a bit of blood he’d probably have to spit out once the General was clear.

It seemed to take longer for the Jedi to leave than it had for him to enter, but at last Kenobi slid entirely out into Rex’s hands. The Jedi twisted, light glimmering off the reddish-brown iridescence of his fins, squeaking at Rex in a tone that could only be called smug. His blue eyes shining a little with the Force, the Jedi twined himself along Rex’s left arm.

He snorted amusement before turning to spit blood. He could feel the General tighten his hold just a little, along with a very distant sensation that was clearly affectionate apology. That was a surprise. Jedi were strong conduits for the Force, but they needed a host to truly exercise their abilities. Without the host, they tended to be limited to very minor expressions of the Force. A touch of empathic projection, maybe some tiny telekinetic feats. To get that strong an impression from Kenobi, even if there was some residual connection from hosting him –

He’d heard that Kenobi was strong with the Force, but few Jedi were quite so...flamboyant as Anakin Skywalker, and he was the norm Rex had gotten used to. Both Kenobi and Tano were far more discreet about their use of the Force, so he’d gotten the impression that they both were, well, weaker. Should’ve known better than to underestimate Kenobi, he thought ruefully.

Something about the apology seemed to have set off the General, though. When Rex looked back, the Jedi had hunkered down along his arm, fins flattened closer to his body and an almost dejected line to his form. They sat still for a long moment, the Jedi motionless except for the fluttering of his breathing, and Rex chewed on the change in atmosphere.

17, he finally decided. I did something that reminded him of 17. He couldn’t stop his own quiet moment of grief. He and the volatile ARC had never quite seen eye to eye, but some of that was just that Alpha-17 could be an absolute utter bastard. Rex admired that the man got shit done, but the methods sometimes grated. From what he’d heard, they sometimes didn’t sit well with Kenobi, either.

Still. Kenobi’s first host. The Jedi had to be at least three hundred by now, and that was a long time to be with one host. It was a damn long time to be with any being. Rex was just surprised that the Jedi had managed to partition his emotions off enough that Rex hadn’t been able to pick up on it.

It...bothered him, on a level he couldn’t quite understand, to see the Jedi so listless. The only other times he’d seen any Jedi outside of a host had been when Echo had begun hosting Tano, and during the training Rex had gotten on his promotion to Commander.

After reaching a certain rank, field soldiers had to get training with Jedi to make sure they could host without any difficulties, since war made life risky. Sure, any clone could do the job, what with guaranteed compatible genetics, but not fighting the Jedi for control could mean any number of lives saved when a transition occurred.

Classes for Commanders had been small, quiet affairs, hosted Jedi going to each clone and presenting the Initiates for a few days of hosting. The Initiates had already had their first lessons with specialized trainers, but that hadn’t made the experience any less odd for Rex. Feeling the Jedi slip into his mouth, then just the odd not quite lack of sensation as the Force and numbing secretions from the Jedi’s fins kept pain at bay as the Initiate moved into place.

Initiates were...eager. Oh, they were polite and respectful enough, but not a one of them hadn’t been squirming around like they were still swimming in the crèche pools. Kenobi’s stillness and grief was a far cry from those excited younglings.

So Rex...dared. He reached out a little cautiously, running a finger down the Jedi’s side along the main dorsal fin. He could feel the way the General’s stillness went from melancholy to something that was probably confused astonishment, but there was no sense of protest or negation from him. Rex kept up the movement, long steady strokes that he was trying to pretend weren’t petting because that really couldn’t be something one was supposed to do to one’s Jedi.

Admittedly, Jedi didn’t really leave the host in the first place, so maybe it was all moot.

Then the General relaxed a little, snugging closer to Rex’s vambrace as his body started to shake a little. That gave the clone a moment of hesitation, until he realized there was a high-pitched, rattling hum vibrating from the Jedi.

No one said they purr, too, he thought dazedly, trying to grasp that this seemed to be the right thing to do. He shifted a little to the side, angling his arm so that the faint sunlight slanted down towards Obi-Wan. I’m petting a Jedi. My Jedi, for the moment. How the hell is this my life?

The General twisted a little, curling a bit tighter around Rex’s wrist like he heard those thoughts. Maybe he did, through that vague, quiet connection. Maybe he just could tell from Rex’s body language, who knew. In an attempt to cover his awkwardness, Rex shifted from petting to the occasional solid stroke along the head, between the top set of eyes. Kenobi churred differently, a deeper, contented sound and he stretched out. For a bit they stayed like that, trying to take in what passed for sunlight on this gods-forsaken planet.

Finally Kenobi lifted his head, mandibles stretching wide. Then a movement rippled through the Jedi, a flex of muscles starting at his head and curling along his body one muscle cluster after another. Kenobi gave a contented little squeaking sigh after the stretch, fins no longer huddling tight near his body, and he nestled his head down near Rex’s gauntlet.

Rex stared, not quite believing as the Jedi’s eyes dimmed, the rib-cartilage fluttering more slowly as Kenobi dozed off.

He had a Jedi, wrapped around his arm, who had just passed out. He supposed the situation could be more surreal, but only if Kenobi started snoring or something, and wasn’t that an amusing mental picture.

For all that, he settled down onto a rock carefully, working to not cradle his arm like he or the General were injured. This being, the length of Rex’s arm, was somehow responsible not just for the entire 212th, but so many of the Republic’s victories during the Separatist Uprising. He’d fought in the Stark Hyperspace Conflict, had negotiated who knew how many conflicts in the universe, could lift boulders with just his mind, and regularly finagled some truly spectacular – and insane – plans from thin air. Yet no matter how many droids Rex had seen Obi-Wan Kenobi shear through, at this moment he literally fit into Rex’s hands.

He’d seen Tano outside of Echo only the once. He hadn’t ever seen Anakin, hadn’t even known his old friend Fives was a host until the man had gone from sheepish to cocky and his eyes had changed color.

Kenobi was so small, compared to humans – most sentients, for that matter. Yet the Republic hinged upon the Jedi. They were needed to lead troops in war, to settle disputes, to be the arbiters of justice for the entire Republic and the broad outskirts of civilization that she interacted with. People asked so much of the Jedi, and these small beings just stepped up and took care of it, as if it were their due responsibility.

Rex was no fool. General Kenobi was a powerful Jedi, sneaky and competent in ways that any Mando’ade could appreciate. He sure as hell didn’t need any coddling.

Despite that, Rex’s mind kept circling, returning to words he would never, ever have used to describe a Jedi before. Jedi were not “delicate” or “vulnerable.” Ever. Not even the padawans he had seen could be called that.

Yet this sleeping being coiled around his arm could be. He’d never felt more protective of a Jedi than any of his brothers, but it seemed that had changed too. He’d always been loyal to the Republic, never been remotely like one of those clones who wanted nothing to do with the Jedi or the Order. The life of a farmer, or who the hell knew what those brothers did when they left the service, did not appeal to him. He was made for the Republic, and for the Jedi. He’d always known and accepted that, and done his best to work for and with those institutions.

He wanted this, to host this Jedi, take on what were bound to be strange responsibilities and the duties of hosting one of the twelve Jedi Councilors. That, of course, didn’t even touch the fact that this was Kenobi, who’d taught Skywalker. Even though Anakin Skywalker hadn’t been raised in the crèche pools, all that crazy wouldn’t be so...gleeful, without at least some encouragement.

I am in so far over my head, aren’t I. He kept petting his Jedi anyways, because Force take it, if this was temporary he was going to make the most of the opportunity.

He heard Jack well before the man got to him. The man wasn’t trying to be quiet, or sneak up on Rex, but neither was he the type to go bumbling around. It was also reassuring that Kenobi gave another little squeaking yawn, eyes glimmering back to full brightness before the new guy got within range.

Not so asleep, then.

“That? That is not a cat.”

Rex blinked and turned to see the man standing a good distance away, glaring at the General with distaste and a hint of panic in his eyes.

“What the hell’s a ‘cat?’

“A small furry thing you pet. Eats rodents and leaves hairballs everywhere. Pretty far spread in the universe, from what we’ve seen.”

Ah. That could be any number of creatures. Rex shrugged. “No, he’s not.” He could not resist poking the man, though, not with that expression. He shifted a little, extending his arm towards the man. “He seems to like it, though. You want a turn?”

“Uh. No. Thanks.” It was pretty obviously taking all Jack’s self-control to not hightail it back to the cave, so Rex pulled his arm back, shrugging as casually as he could.

“He doesn’t bite.”

“I can’t begin to tell you how many shits I don’t give.”

Even as the clone was snickering, Kenobi turned a little and nipped at the fingertip moving past his head. It wasn’t nearly strong enough to draw blood; more a gentle bit of scolding that came along with the mental image of a voorpak and a strong sense of negation.

It might have left a stronger impact if the impression of a dressing down hadn’t been underwritten by gentle hilarity.

Rex frowned right back down at his Jedi. “Not normally, at least.”

Kenobi gave him a string of reprimanding squeaks even as the newcomer shook his head, disbelief coloring the distrust in his expression. “Nothing,” he declared, pointing a finger at Kenobi, “is normal about him, or this.”

Then Jack sneezed, near doubling over with the force of it.

Both Rex and Kenobi sat up as Jack straightened, trying to maintain some kind of dignity around a hell of a sniffle.

That’s not good. Rex nodded towards the man. “What kind of thermals does your ‘suit have?”

He had a hell of an expressive eye-roll. “Sorry, I left my long johns at home this mission.”

What? He shook it off and snorted. “You’re telling me your unit doesn’t even bother handing out decent uniforms?”

“They’re perfectly decent, and I’ll have you know camo is all the rage this season.”

“Do you bother making sense more than half the time?” Rex stood, Kenobi twining around his arm closer to his hand. He cupped them together, bringing the General up to his mouth.

“Aw no, not aga – Guys! For crying out loud, you’re in public and everything.”

Kenobi settled in, sending a disoriented burst of affirmation, affection, and encouragement to him. Rex straightened, rolling his shoulders a little as if his armor hadn’t quite settled right, even though it was more his brain or body instead. “Come on,” he offered, nodding towards the cave. “Kix probably has a spare bodysuit, and you need to be healthy when our ride out of here arrives.”

Jack didn’t move, instead pointing an accusatory finger at him. “That is such a reassuring thing to hear from a guy who just voluntarily swallowed a goa’uld.”

Rex decided to ignore that, turning around and starting to walk. “Bodysuit, undersuit, call it what you like. During the last push on the ‘Rim sieges Kix was complaining about how he couldn’t keep a clean kit, so chances are good he’s got a spare.”

“Sieges? You guys have sieges?”

The man sounded flabbergasted. Rex had to pretend to misunderstand. “Not in the last few months or so, no.” Kenobi sent another burst of amused scolding.

“You guys have the weirdest lifestyle,” Jack muttered, finally following them.

Rex snickered. “Sounds like you’re not too normal yourself.”

“That is true,” Jack allowed, sneezing again as they entered the cave.